Fortnightly, the Hawk gives you the good, the bad and the ugly of the whole Xbox Live Marketplace content. This week, we delve into the Board games section.
The child in all of us, and our children as well always delight and marvel at board games. Of course, I don’t mean the classic ones (like Chess, Chinese Checkers, Reversi or their oriental counterparts, like Go and Shogi ), but those that comes with seems like an interminable amount of pieces and accessories (the first time I played Life I was amazed by the tiny cars, with seats for you, your spouse and children). These games always become the delight of families and friends, and will take some hours to play. Maybe the primary vision that will always appear in our minds is Monopoly, with the bills, silver pieces, hotels and houses, various character tokens, and the community cards.
Of course, the best memories come from having a lot of friends to play with, or the whole family. Alas, as we grew up, it became more difficult to gather people to play with, and thanks also to our videogames, our beloved boxes rest on a shelf in the library or the closet.
Never fear, various developers have come forward to bring us the great experience of playing against other players around the world (or the AI opponents), and revive the love for these games (Hasbro has even included some of their line of board games on the Family Game Night collection). Unfortunately, the availability of them has been sparse, as there are not too many games available in the marketplace. So it is a good thing that the ones we do have are some of the greatest.
In recent days Germany has become the heaven of board games. Companies and developers are challenging each other to win the precious Spiel des Jahres award, a sort of Oscar for this market. One of the aspects that some authors are including in their creations is the basis of a non-fixed board; that is, the game board is never the same on each round of game. Suddenly, you have to apply a different strategy depending on the position your tokens or playing pieces have on the board. This is the basis of Carcassonne and Catan, two jewels that have their niche of fans and followers alike in Xbox Live.
In Catan the players start the game by setting up the pieces of the game board that represent mountains, grain fields, mortar fields, forests and sheep lands, one player at a time. When the time comes to set up your village, you will have to truly strategize where you’re going to set it up, as you will receive resources from those lands your village is touching. Maybe you will be able to get from 3 different kinds, but it could be that being the last player, you take the worst spot (maybe only 2 kind of resources or God forbid it, the same kind!). You will have to capitalize on these resources to build up roads, more villages and other developments that will help you win the game.
In Carcassone the game board is being assembled as you play. Each player has as many pieces as needed to build up the countryside (with forts, villages, monasteries and roads included). The main rule, you have to include a piece of the board that fits with the rest already set up by the rest of the players. The game ends when all the players have setup the pieces of the board.
During each of your turns, you can set one of your soldier/farmer pieces in either part of the land. If you put it on the initial section of a keep, and you’re able to finish up forming it, the keep is yours, and you get points for it (and also your soldier/farmer piece back to reuse it). The trick: you cannot occupy a keep if it’s initially taken by another player, unless the board piece you’re using is not touching that enemy piece. When the keep is finally formed, it will be shared by all the players forming it, unless someone has more soldiers on it than the rest of the players. This rule also applies when you’re forming roads. In case of lands, anyone can partake of it. In the end, you get more points by controlling more lands, keeps and roads than the rest of the players (yeah, I know it’s difficult to get the idea, but if you’re interested, go forward and download the demo. You’ll enjoy it). (He’s not joking. It is one of the most addictive games on XBLA.~ Ed.)
The last German-style board game available in the Marketplace is Ticket to Ride. Your goal is to get as many train routes as possible, which are given to you by using destination cards. The strategy is to get the empty routes available before other players use them to establish their own train routes. You will also collect railway car cards, which are colored, and can only be used depending on the route you have to build up. And of course, you will have to us your best judgment for the color cards; there are wild cards which can replace any color, but it could happen you will need to use them latter to replace the standard color cards as they’re being used up by the rest of the players.
The American board game market is represented by Risk: Factions and Panzer General: Allied Assault. The former has been renewed with new rules, and a new style of game, which you will find quite amusing. You will also find the standard rules, but thanks to the new set, game mechanics get refreshed and you will play it really fast. The latter has kept the best of the famous computer game of the 90’s. You will move your troops to control the towns in the board as fast as possible, while using cards to help your units with air support, reinforcements and so on.
At 800 MSP each one, you can’t miss them. Get them all to keep a great library that you will enjoy as much as you did before with the real boxes.
Notes from the author: I can’t finish up this article without sharing some details with you. For a great analysis on Catan, read the following article at Wired magazine: http://www.wired.com/gaming/gamingreviews/magazine/17-04/mf_settlers
Also, developers: You are aware that we’re still missing some great classic board games, like Axis & Allies, Harpoon, Clue, Diplomacy and Acquire?