For some time now, Miss B has been eyeing up the copy of Rune Age with a mix of expressed feelings. At first it was terror at the picture of the undead necromancer on one side of the box, but more recently this mutated into interest, and then near-obsession with the picture of an elf on another side. Eventually she managed to persuade me to get the game out so she could try it.
Rune Age is another flavour of deck building card game, but here there are a small number of shared cards that you can acquire along with a few more specific to your faction — and everyone plays a different faction, which all work in very different ways. Furthermore, there are effectively three currencies: gold, influence, and military strength, each of which can buy certain cards, many of which provide a different kind of resource.
Another little quirk (some would say major selling point) of Rune Age is that in the basic set there are four different scenarios to choose from, and these set objectives so that the game could be a pure cooperative game (well, almost — one event card gives an option for a solo victory) at one extreme, or a full-on last-man-standing war. Miss B chose the competitive scenario where the aim is to be the player to defeat the big bad boss monster and which allows, but does not require, attacks between players. This scenario also has events which cause damage to players after a few turns, so that’s a big incentive to get yourself in gear and go for the win, as it is entirely possible that everyone will lose.
It took a little while for Miss B to get the hang of things, but she got into making reasonable decisions after a few turns, though neither of us really ended up with particularly efficient decks. As we usually do with deck building games, we generally put our cards on the table during our turn and played them from there, which meant that if necessary I could offer advice to Miss B. This was needed a few times as she hadn’t yet developed a feel for combos in this game. We did attack each other a little bit to steal cities, and this didn’t prove to be a problem.
Eventually we got to the point where we were attempting to defeat the boss dragon, and after an attempt each and some nasty events (which, when you get to the endgame, start recycling scarily fast), it was looking like we would both lose. Miss B was launching her do-or-die attack (I, having failed in the previous turn, would not have survived long enough to have another go myself) and needed a good draw from her deck. Now this is one of those rare points where I “tweaked” probability a bit. I figured she had about a one-in-three chance of drawing one of the cards she needed, so when I reshuffled her deck for her (I generally do the shuffles at the moment to speed things up) I ensured there was something decent on top.
I’m not sure if I did the right thing there, as it may have been a worthwhile experience for us to both lose. But it made for some good excitement as she was still relying on a not-awful die roll to seal the deal. So that was a win for Miss B.
I think Rune Age is a little fiddly to be playing with Miss B, largely due to the levels of indirection brought about by the currencies, but if she wants to play again, that’s fine by me.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 6¼): “It was 10 out of 10, if it was out of 20 it would be 15. I liked the part where there was 12 fighter skills to get the dragon as a prize. That was quite a lot but not as high as the 18 dragon which made us win and I got it.”
The game: Rune Age (Fantasy Flight Games), 1 to 4 players aged 13+.
Over the last couple of years or so, there seem to have been a few space empire building card games released, probably the top rated of these being the trio of Race for the Galaxy, Eminent Domain, and Core Worlds. We finally have a copy of one of these, Eminent Domain, and Miss B was good enough to play with me as we learned how it works.
Eminent Domain is a deck building game like Dominion, but in most senses completely unlike Dominion. The main part of your turn is that you choose one “role” from a selection of six (Survey, Warfare, Colonise, Produce, Trade, or Research), and doing so adds a card for that role to your deck, effectively making you better at that role in future. Furthermore, when you choose a role, the other players have the option of playing cards to also follow that role (sometimes with reduced effectiveness). There’s a little other stuff like special technology cards, but this is the real core of the game. You earn victory points for controlling planets and having certain technologies at the end of the game, and for trading resources during the game. There is also no direct conflict between players during the game, which suits us fine.
The two of us followed very basic but very different strategies: I colonised a few worlds and then started producing and trading resources, while Miss B spent her efforts surveying new worlds and sending waves of invading spacecraft to subjugate the indigenous populations (she loved arranging the plastic spaceships that represent military resources into formations). Who knew she was such a warmonger?
The game took a lot longer than the advertised 45 minutes. Something closer to 2 hours this time. I don’t think future plays will be as long, but this game will be a major undertaking for a little while. Part of the problem this time was Miss B getting the hang of the difference between taking an action (which is a minor effect related to the roles, which other players are not permitted to follow) and selecting a role (which can be followed). This is a little weird at first, but we both got the hang of it eventually.
Something to note here is that Miss B played with her hand open most of the time, which meant that I could help her if necessary, but I also generally had a good idea of what cards she had available. This could be a problem in a “proper” adult game as knowing what cards another player holds may affect your role selection, but when playing with Miss B I did my best to not take advantage of this knowledge.
When the game was finally over, we counted up the victory (sorry, influence) points and found that it was close. Miss B had won by just a few points and was appropriately delighted. No, I didn’t deliberately throw the game. My excuse is that I was just learning the game, and I’m sticking with that. 🙂
So, I like the game and Miss B seemed to get on well with it. I think this will be high up on the playlist for when we want to spend over an hour on a game.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 6): “When I win the first time I play a game, I call it a really good game.”
The game: Eminent Domain (Tasty Minstrel Games), 2 to 4 players aged 10+.
After spending quite a while trying to come up with some clever way to introduce Miss B to Dominion, I finally decided that I was over-analysing, so decided to just cut the game back a bit and give it a go. If it all went horribly wrong, we could give up and try something else later.
In case you don’t know Dominion, it is a game that spawned an entire new style: deck building games. It has a lot in common with some collectable card games in that there are relatively simple rules and cards with effects that can interact in exotic ways. What happens here, though, is that players begin with a small, skeleton deck which allows them to buy other cards from a selection on the table, and these make the decks grow during play, adding more options as you go along. Dominion has a selection of 25 stacks of ten “kingdom cards” in the basic set (several expansions are available) of which ten are selected for each game. If you do the sums that means that there are over three million ways to set up a game, which means that the game offers enormous variety, especially when you start buying those expansion sets.
I thought that one major cause of problems could be having too many options available, so we used just five kingdom cards, selected by me picking cards that I figured wouldn’t cause too much confusion and from that set, Miss B chose cards she liked the look of: Cellar, Woodcutter, Smithy, Feast and Mine. Plus in order to shorten the game, we only had five cards in each pile, including victory cards, with the game ending after running out of cards in any two piles or just the Province pile. Aside from that we played the standard rules, though I played gently without trying too hard.
Another likely issue was with shuffling. A feature of Dominion is that there is a lot of deck shuffling, and Miss B only has little hands. Sometimes she went through a simple “deal to a few different piles” shuffling routine, which is pretty effective, if slow. Other times I did the shuffling for her. We even tried using an electric card shuffling machine a few times which, though fun, was not particularly quick when Miss B had to first split the cards into two even halves, and isn’t really designed to be shuffling a 20 to 30 card deck. Now Miss B has tried it, though, she wants to use it at every opportunity.
Overall the game went really well and we both had fun. I think that one of the trickiest parts of Dominion is in figuring out when to start buying victory cards, and this is still a problem in our cut back version, so it may be worth coming up with some tweak to help with that. Or maybe I’m over thinking things again and we can just leave things as they are.
The verdict from Miss B (aged 5½): “It was good. I liked the shuffler and getting gold.” So, swayed by gadgets and bling!
The game: Dominion (Rio Grande), 2 to 4 players aged 13+.
A few days back I got hold of a game I have been hearing good things about for a while but haven’t had a chance to try: Dominion. It has been around a few years now and seems to have kicked off a new style of gaming: deck building games. My early experiences with the game are great: it plays quick and slick, and is full of juicy options. There are three-million-odd setups for the game and if they lose their lustre, several expansions are out there adding new cheese to the old cracker.
So now I need to work out how I can try this with Miss B. She helped me sort the cards out when we first opened it up and was very interested in the whole thing, asking me about what the cards were. So I think I am going to have to dream up a simplified version to play with her. It probably doesn’t need to be massively simplified, but fewer options would seem sensible. And we need to reduce the amount of shuffling: small hands are not great with shuffling and tend to achieve the desired affect by making use of the floor. Something like the Leicester shuffle.
I’ll report back when we have something working.