Barnes on Games- Valeria: Card Kingdoms in Review, Baseball Highlights, Cruel Necessity, Pax Porfiriana

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Barnes on Games- Valeria: Card Kingdoms in Review, Baseball Highlights, Cruel Necessity, Pax Porfiriana
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Barnes v Maths

This week's review at the Review Corner is Valeria: Card Kingdoms. This looked like a cool blend of Catan-styledice-rolling, Machi Koro-style tableau-building, Thunderstone-like monster smashing, and Splendor-style card drafting. All in a very accessible package with unique illustrations. Well, it is all of that. And that's kind of a problem because it isn't as good as any of those games and it's kind of egregious. The root of the problem is that the math in the game doesn't work. I can't believe I'm saying something like that, I have never said anything like that in 15 years of games writing. But it doesn't.

The widely reported "too many resources" issue is definitely not make-believe. Each game I've played starts out well enough, with decisions to be made about which cards to buy and weighing their potential benefits. But halfway through, after getting something for each die and the sum of a 2D6 roll on every player's turn AND THEN more if you roll doubles and have multiple cards of a particular just gets kind of stupid when you've got 20, 30 resources to spend. And there's not really a "Robber" mechanic to keep you spending them. With more players, the problem is even more pronounced. The tacked-on solo game isn't particularly interesting either.

So not very favorable at all on this one, I think it's a game that has a good foundation but it just is not executed well. I think that younger gamers that haven't played the games that influenced it are liable to rate it higher, and as a sort of "advanced" Machi Koro/Splendor surrogate it's not bad. But I'm already quit of this one.

Baseball Highlights 2045 on the other hand is EXXXXXXCELLENT. Great card game, whether you care about baseball or not. I do not. But the competition, the drama, the team-building, etc. transcend all of that. It is actually a cool setting though, sort of an old-timey baseball thing with robots and cyborgs. The deckbuilding is tight (and appropriate to the setting), the cardplay is exciting and simple. I've played with two and really loved the back-and-forth, and the solo game is just as fun even though it lacks the psychological elements of bluffing and trash-talk that puts it into the top tier. The only issue is that the rules are awkward. The entire process is like a half a page. The FAQ is ten pages. There's always some corner case, timing issue or confusing situation that sends you back to the phone to look at the document. It smooths out- especially the weird IGO (u kind of go) UGO (I kind of go) structure.

I've also been enjoying Cruel Necessity, VPG's English Civil War game. It's all about Cromwell, beating back Royalists and their deviltry, smashing King Charles at every turn, dealing with Irish troubles, and big pike and shot battles. It is by far the best States of Siege game, it's a lot closer to feeling like a full on GMT-style wargame than the others. It's SUPER dicey, but a big part of the challenge is in measuring when to take a risk on a roll to push a political marker or to battle an army back. There is a lot of dimension and lots of depth in terms of how you can approach or manage situations. The battles take place on a side tactical mat with its own event cards. So far I've just run through the first ECW but I've gotten destroyed every time. You can run all three as a campaign.

Valeria actually got traded for Pax Porfiriana, I thought it was time to give it another shot since I kind of just shrugged it off before. Well, it is still Phil Eklund and all that entails. So you get what Frank Branham has called Eklund's "Dr. Bronner style graphic design", which makes the game unusually complicated and hard to grasp. But I stuck it out a little more this time, and now I think I finally get it. But I doubt anyone I play with will have a lick of interest in it- historically, Phil Eklund games have had a huge failure rate with folks I game with other than Frank. It's a crazy little game...I mean, how do you come up with 200+ cards for this setting? I got the old edition, but it looks like I am not missing anything but the board (which looks terrible) in the "collector's edition".

I've got some good stuff inbound...Warfighter and Thunderbolt/Apache Leader...trying Imperial Settlers out again...trying to get a review copy of Hoplomachus...and in the mail is a little game called Star Wars: Rebellion.





Michael BarnesFollow Michael Barnes Follow Michael Barnes Message Michael Barnes


Sometime in the early 1980s, MichaelBarnes’ parents thought it would be a good idea to buy him a board game to keep him busy with some friends during one of those high-pressure, “free” timeshare vacations. It turned out to be a terrible idea, because the game was TSR’s Dungeon! - and the rest, as they say, is history. Michael has been involved with writing professionally about games since 2002, when he busked for store credit writing for Boulder Games’ newsletter. He has written for a number of international hobby gaming periodicals and popular Web sites. From 2004-2008, he was the co-owner of Atlanta Game Factory, a brick-and-mortar retail store. He is currently the co-founder of and as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Miniature Market’s Review Corner feature. He is married with two childen and when he’s not playing some kind of game he enjoys stockpiling trivial information about music, comics and film.

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Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #225081 31 Mar 2016 18:28
Stick with Pax, it is excellent despite it Eklundism.
qwertymartin's Avatar
qwertymartin replied the topic: #225088 01 Apr 2016 04:11
Pax Pamir is fantastic too. Enough of its own game, and with much more professional graphic design and rules (different designer).

Totally agree about Baseball Highlights - easily my favourite of 2015.
JEM's Avatar
JEM replied the topic: #225090 01 Apr 2016 08:02
The only way we could figure out how to balance Valeria was to only let players immediately right and left of the active take resources. That locks resource gain at a three player level. They didn't go even that far in the mid-kickstarter rule change, so the P&P is being stripped for sleeves.

We did have fun with the very first iteration of the game, strictly with three or four players. It feels like they broke it pushing for stretch goals and five player support.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #225091 01 Apr 2016 08:43
The entire English Civil War in 60 minutes? Sounds suspicious.

I'll be interested to hear your take on Imperial Settlers, especially if this is your second pass at it. It's not a game that you have figured out after your first play.
jay718's Avatar
jay718 replied the topic: #225093 01 Apr 2016 08:57
"Dr. Bronner style graphic design" is the most apt description of those cards I've heard yet. All-one!
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #225095 01 Apr 2016 09:14
Very surprised you gave Pax another shot as you've been the most vocal hater on this forum. Good for you though.
ThirstyMan's Avatar
ThirstyMan replied the topic: #225104 01 Apr 2016 12:54
Warfighter, Thunderbolt etc are definitely NOT good stuff they are kinda tedious resource management games.
Michael Barnes's Avatar
Michael Barnes replied the topic: #225107 01 Apr 2016 13:14
But that kind of management-y pseudo-wargame is GREAT for solo play...even some of the best of the best solo wargames, like Navajo Wars, fit that description.

Charlie, I never hated Pax...I kind of just didn't get it. And the Dr. Bronner thing was a nuisance.

I played it solo last night and I think I FINALLY get it. I'm still not QUITE sure what the fuss is, but it is a good game...and I can see where with other players shit can get knives out. Lots of opportunities to just mess with people, cool combos, tight decisions...OK, I guess I can see where the fuss is coming from. Pamir...better than or as good as Porfiriana?

Sag- the first ECW is about an hour or so. If you do the whole thing, it's probably 3-4 hours. But I don't know if I'd want to do it all at once, these games can get kind of repetitive and the good ones tend to end right when you start to feel it grind.

Jem- You know, I think the bigger issue with Valeria is actually that there is no geographical/logistical limitation in the numbers you invest in. In Catan, you are limited by where you build. When you put down a settlement, you are betting on three numbers to hit with a rough idea of how often they'll hit. So you wind up with "golden" numbers as well as resources that have a natural scarcity because some doofus put the 2s and 12s on all of the brick hexes. And that leads to shortages, which leads to trade. But if you take away those things, and enable players to invest in ALL numbers with only three (and not five) payout types and then you give them a roll every turn on top of wind up with 30+ resource tokens by the time your turn comes around. Last game, I had something on EVERY number. Whereas in Catan, I might just have three or four payout rolls.

I think the designer's train of thought on this was that it was more "fun" and accessible for players to pick cards rather than be limited by a tight budget. It's like they said "hey, it's fun in Catan to get something even when it's not your turn" and then quadrupled that. I've seen the argument that is more about what you pick than how you spend, that's bullshit. Because by the second half of the game, you can buy anything you want and the combinations tend to just give you MORE resources. And the scoring is full of option A=1vp, option B=1vp logic.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #225115 01 Apr 2016 14:19
Hmm for some reason I thought you hated it and vaguely remember a couple of very negative comments. Searching your old stuff it appears you always thought it was very good. My bad.
JEM's Avatar
JEM replied the topic: #225123 01 Apr 2016 15:59
In the original P&P of Valeria, we were tight on resources. They changed the citizens mid-kickstarter and we were suddenly swimming in so much income it was Supermarket Sweep. Before those changes, everyone who played it enjoyed it and were happy to find a Machi Koro style game that wasn't broken.

That doesn't take away from your observation, even so.
CranBerries's Avatar
CranBerries replied the topic: #225127 01 Apr 2016 18:29
I had Greenland for a year, knowing I would never play it. I ended up trading it for Android Netrunner and an expansion. But I am so enamored of the setting for Pax Pamir and that entire era, and keep hearing so many great things about it, but I can't imagine every playing it with my family or talking any of my current gaming acquaintances into playing it the 4+ times it would take for the mechanics to disappear into the background so that the game could really shine. I think I've said all this elsewhere on this site. Someone called Pax the closest thing to Dune as a portable card game. Also, I love the term "Eklundisms". I think he's a climate denier too (making him more Dr. Bronner-ish).
wadenels's Avatar
wadenels replied the topic: #225129 01 Apr 2016 20:02
It takes a half-dozen or so plays for the mechanics of the Pax card games to fade into the background, but when they do the games are damn good. It helps a lot if one player knows the rules inside and out and can operate almost at the gamemaster level for the first couple games. That player is always me, because we just don't play them regularly enough for the mechanics to fully fade. They're worth the effort though.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #225135 02 Apr 2016 09:51
The Pax games are not games that one would think are great playing by themselves. The basic mechanic in Pax that works is that all the players are sitting at the table and not only can they affect other players with take that, or by messing with them, but they can actually manipulate the game state itself to their own advantage. So the messing with other people thing is pretty common, but the ability to change the game everyone is playing to, say, make it so the player with all the expensive property and huge army is at a DISadvantage is the brilliant part. You can strangle a table with the right tableau if you tank the economy into depression. If they're successfully playing city builder (loyalty), for example, you can put together your own win by plunging the table into depression and/or anarchy and just killing off your own cards and liberating their plantations.

I feel like I wrote this up on the site somewhere but maybe I'm just hallucinating.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #225139 02 Apr 2016 10:33
I haven't played a LOT of Pax Porf, but I just bought the Collector's Edition (which has a much better rulebook -- though it coudn't get much worse than the original). This is a game in which I think the theme, while carefully researched, overwhelms. It kind of obscures the gameplay, which is a fairly straightforward tableau builder. The card design and the amount of superfluous detail in the explanations make it seem far more complex than it is. If someone made a "themeless" version of the exact same game, I think it would be cake to teach and learn, but the game presents itself really opaquely.
Dan Thurot's Avatar
Dan Thurot replied the topic: #225207 04 Apr 2016 14:51
Pax Pamir is better than Pax Porfiriana in a lot of ways. It's a cleaner design, easier to learn, though winning can be even trickier to parse than the victory conditions in Pax Porfiriana. It was my GotY for 2015, and my group can't get enough of it.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #225208 04 Apr 2016 14:55

Dan Thurot wrote: Pax Pamir is better than Pax Porfiriana in a lot of ways. It's a cleaner design, easier to learn, though winning can be even trickier to parse than the victory conditions in Pax Porfiriana. It was my GotY for 2015, and my group can't get enough of it.

I'd just like to say that it's about time a second saint found this place. It's been mighty lonely preaching to the heathens on my own all this time.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #225219 04 Apr 2016 15:41

Sagrilarus wrote:

Dan Thurot wrote: Pax Pamir is better than Pax Porfiriana in a lot of ways. It's a cleaner design, easier to learn, though winning can be even trickier to parse than the victory conditions in Pax Porfiriana. It was my GotY for 2015, and my group can't get enough of it.

I'd just like to say that it's about time a second saint found this place. It's been mighty lonely preaching to the heathens on my own all this time.

I've only played a partial game of Pamir so far. None of us really got what we should be doing in it, so I can't really say how it compares, but I'm eager to try again. Main thing is that we were three and it looks like you really need 4-5 for it, which is a tough sell in these parts. I'd love to get in a game with someone who already knows it to help out.
Legomancer's Avatar
Legomancer replied the topic: #225647 10 Apr 2016 09:10
Last night I read through the rules of Pax Porfiriana in the hopes of getting it played today. I now have the Collector's Edition, which I bought almost specifically for the revised rulebook (which has, as far as I recall, one or two revised rules). IT IS LIKE NIGHT AND DAY. This rulebook is SO MUCH BETTER. Clearer text, lots of illustrations and examples, rules actually in the rules and not hidden in the glossary. They really should make this downloadable, as it's a vast improvement over the previous ones.