I went to my friend Bryan's place last night to play some games. We played Merkator a ponderous game that is too complicated for what it is. So complex in its game play I barely know where to begin. Players can buy and sell Bonus Cards and Buildings at the start of their turn. Then they can travel to locations to collect resources and when they do this, the adjacent locations connected by a rope (don't ask) on the board gain 1 addition resource on their location. They can also travel to these locations to complete Contracts.
Players start the game with 4 contracts ranked 1-4 and are only allowed to keep 5 Contracts. Contracts can be completed over and over multiple times. Each Contract has a location and a set of requirements the player must deliver to that location to complete the contract. If the player completes it, he gets money and a new contract 1 level higher than the level of the Contract he complete. Players have to travel to these locations and depending on the location ether takes a Time Token or pays Time Tokens (its all feels very arbitrary). When the player takes a Time Token for traveling to certain locations they flip it over and the Letter on the back is the Column (on the players warehouse) that all players must discard a Good from their warehouse. Also, other players can then pay that player time tokens to travel with him to perform actions on their turn. This makes it important to know that focusing on one area or one set of Contracts is the wrong way to win the game.
The game ends when all the Time Tokens are depleted or a player scores the single Level 14 Contract. Bryan crushed us mostly by cheating (Unintentionally). He was keeping more than 5 Contracts and several round went by before we caught him. But he also just had the most options of things to do at the most locations. I focused on two really good combos, but it cost me too much time to do those combos over an over to be worth it. Bryan was getting a lot done on our turns and doing a lot on his own turns.
I like the concept but there was so much abstract, vague, and arbitrary rules and mechanics that, In the end, I just did not have a good time playing. It was all of our first times playing and we discovered several rules that were over looked, or lost in the original translation that we were all just guessing at some points. I would be willing to try it again, but we would have to go another round on learning the rules and check the errata online first.
After a dinner break we came together to play Age of Empires III. This was sold to me as a 3+ hour game. In that sense I was not lied to. It took just over 5 hours to play. Let me start by saying this is not my type of game. I could have played 2-3 games in the time it took us to play this one game. Bryan taught us the Rules and after 40 minutes we started.
This game is big and Epic. To try to explain it all here would take forever. Here is the Abridged Version. Each player is a European contry trying to expand and colonize the New World. You do this by placing colonists on one of many possible actions. Colony Ships let you move your people to any place that has been discovered. Trade lets you take one of the 4 trade goods that are available. Trade Ship acts as a wild card for your trade goods (you only get money if you have 3 of a kind), Construction lets you spend your money to buy buildings. Discovery lets you send a group over to try to open up a new area for colonization. Specialists lets you get one of the special characters that have additional abilities depending one where and how you use them. And last is Warfare that lets you attack other players.On top of all the special places you can place a colonist, there are 5 special types of colonists. Soldiers, Captains, Merchants, Builders, and Clergy. Each one can be used in different ways depending on where you place them. Soldiers give bonus money when you used them for discovery and they are used in warfare as a colonists. Captains count as 2 when bidding on the Trade Ship and when used for Discovery. Merchants give 5 gold when they land in the New World and they count as 2 when bidding on the Trade Ship. Builders make buildings cost 5 less and they make fortifications in a Colony that act as End of Game Victory Points. Clergy count as 2 colonists when they land in the new world.
At the start of the game only the Caribbean is available to Colonize so it gets crowded fast. In the image above you can see Orange and Purple have piled their people on there. I got blocked trying to get the Trade Ship twice and I got blocked on getting the building I wanted. I ended up getting a lot of Soldiers, but no money or trade goods. So I went on the War Path. Half way through the game I was sure I was in the lead. I was scoring so many points from the colonies that I had conquered, I knew it was down to Alex and me.
But in the end, it was Ben who pulled out all the stops. He had generated enough money to buy some really valuable buildings that gave him score multipliers on how much money he had. He had also got a ton of points from his trade routes. Alex and I were dead last! Once we understood what were doing and how all the different Colonists are used, the game started to pick up speed and play faster. I think with people who really know what they are doing the game could be played in about 3 hours.
Its interesting that on the scoreboard, the two people who where in the lead ended up being last. And the ones in last place on the board pulled all the way to the front. While I did enjoy this game, I do not like 5 hour games, so it is unlikely that I will every play this game again, but I would consider it.