I played three different new-to-me games in the past week. I’m in the midst of my transition out of routine board gaming and into the daily (awesome) grind of football coaching. Gotta get gaming in while I can.
First up was a game I Kickstarted called Compounded. Given the chemistry theme you might think this is an educational game, but it really is just another resource acquisition and set collection game. We had a blast playing it though (four players) and the production quality is stellar. I’m not sure of all the differences between the current retail version and what I got via Kickstarter so don’t be surprised if things look a bit different.
A brief description of the game:
- Players collect raw elements as their base resource (hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, calcium, and sulfur). These elements are usually randomly drawn from a bag and occur with frequency (ostensibly related to natural occurring frequency, e.g. hydrogen much more common than sulfur)
- You are collecting these elements in order to acquire compounds comprised of these elements
- The key choices in the game (my opinion) are what compounds to claim and what advancements to take. On each player board is a tracker where you can advance among multiple capability categories. These can bring more elements to the player each turn, allow them to have more claim markers out on compounds, put out more elements on compounds each turn, and allow for more element storage between turns.
- There are special one shot and permanent improvements that a player can also obtain as a side effect of acquiring a compound or advancing along a research track
- The game would be a boring min-max engine building puzzle if it weren’t for compound volatility. Some compounds don’t like to sit on the shelf waiting to be completed and will eventually blow up. Don’t ask me to explain how it works thematically that a compound not even started will combust. It is this feature that adds some randomness and risk taking. You can also take advantage of how elements spray out from an explosion to advantage other compounds you’ve claimed
We played with four and I think opinions were positive if not overwhelmingly so. There’s an educational aspect to the game in that the compounds seem to be somewhat accurate in terms of elemental components and structure. At least that’s what the chemist in our group claimed.
My family enjoys Forbidden Island as a great cooperative gateway game for kids and adults, so I recently picked up its successor Forbidden Desert. This has a bit more going on without losing the simplicity of the original. Instead of an island sinking into the water you have a desert storm ravaging the terrain. The storm movement brings it’s own chaos, and combined with more complexity in how the treasures are discovered the game requires more planning and coordination. We struggled to win our first game on easy level. This is a keeper and should be good with kids.
If you are a wargamer you’ve probably had some exposure to the Kickstarter saga surrounding the reprint of have classic game Up Front. I Kickstarted the game and have no expectation of ever getting a copy. But Doug has one and we played last weekend!
This is the game that was supposed to evolve and popularize the tactical system in Squad Leader through a few key mechanisms:
- A better simulation of local combat command by reducing the amount of control the player has. In Squad Leader (and Advanced Squad Leader) each player has god-like visibility and command. Up Front does this by limiting actions to the cards in hand.
- Increased fog of war along at least two dimensions: you don’t always know what terrain you will find as you advance, and you don’t know what actions the other player can conduct
- Economy of actions through hand tension: do I take this one action with a squad and nothing with the others, or do I discard and draw with the hopes of a better hand on next turn?
If this sounds like Combat Commander there’s no coincidence — the inflict of Up Front on CC is obvious. Up Front however fully abstracts out the map and counters – this game is pretty much all about cards. Engagement and range or managed through a relative range calculation as units advance. I get the feeling however that this part of the system could have used more development and refinement as I had a hard time grasping the mechanism and mapping it to some reality.
Doug and I played the first two scenarios and I loved it. I also won both games but the second scenario should have been a loss. Doug was playing the Russians and had me on the bring of elimination (one more unit kill and it would be an automatic win) but I held on with some fortunate back-to-back attacks. Three or four consecutive kills led to his units going berserk then charging my unit, only to die quickly in close combat.
Thanks Doug for teaching this classic!