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Archive for September, 2004

Game Review: Space Beans

Posted by Brian on September 8, 2004

New review, Space Beans:

Did you ever want to be the Lord Ruler of the Beaniverse? Well, neither did, but now you have the chance to reach such stellar heights with a sci-fi addition to the Bohnanza universe: Uwe Rosenberg’s Space Beans (Rio Grande Games).

I’ll get the obvious questions out of the way first: Is this game similar to the more popular Bohnanza? Well, yes and no. Yes, it is a bean game. And yes again in the sense that some of the mechanics work the same way. As in Bohnanza, players are planting beans in bean fields, only this time in space, which are then converted into points later in the game. The similarities end pretty much right there, as there is no trading or negotiating in the game.

The gameplay involves collecting cards in any of the seven suits, er… types of beans. Cards are acquired by drawing two at the start one one’s turn, though this draw is not required unless the player starts the turn empty-handed (see below). The collections are planted in front of the players, with each participant limited to one open field (face up) and one secret field (face down). In other words, at any given time, players can be collecting at most two types of beans. Like Bohnanza, if a player is unable to add to a current field, he must trash a current crop and start a new collection. Beans can be converted into points if and only if the number of beans in a field matches the number on one of the bean cards in that field (from 1-9, with the value indicating the points given). For example, if I have 3 cards, and one of them is a 3, then I can trade it in for 3 points.
The twist in the game is that once a player finishes his turn, he then has to pass his hand of cards to his right (meanwhile, the play proceeds around the table clockwise). So a good part of the decision making in the game involves keeping an eye on what your right-hand neighbor is doing… you really do not want to pass him any cards that will help his current position. While this does sound like a neat trick at first, it leads to a very serious problem with the game. Let me explain…

When we first started playing Space Beans, the players were all pretty fast and loose with their turns; just everybody drew cards on their turn, and a large number of cards were circulating around the table. But then, over the course of several games, one by one we started seeing the problem with such an approach: it helps your neighbor a bit too much. The ideal play, we learned, was to starve your neighbor by only drawing cards when you absolutely had to. By giving your neighbor as few cards as possible, you force them to trash their bean fields without getting any points from it. Eventually, we all started adopting this strategy and the game turned into a fairly boring affair with very few cards working their way around the table and a player’s success or failure often being decided by their draw of two cards at the start of their turn.

You can see this problem in action by inviting a newbie to play with several experienced players. The newbie is likely to go after a lot of cards but end up passing most of those to their neighbor on the right, who will win the game. Just watch.

With such a serious shortcoming, it’s hard to recommend the game strongly. It was fun at first, but it’s just one of those games where the optimal strategy is just a bit too, well, optimal, leading to boring and predictable gameplay. As a light game for non-serious gamers, it might work well, as those involved would probably play a looser game, but the moment the players catch on to the winning strat, the game will lose a lot of its enjoyment.
The game isn’t a total waste, however. It is pretty easy to get into, and the beans based on famous sci-fi characters are pretty cute (I like Darth Bean myself, as well as the Battlestar Galactica bean) and quite likely to appeal to your non-gaming friends. The problem, as I said, is what happens to the game once the winning strategy is discovered. If you can overlook that one flaw, give Space Beans a try.

Posted in Gaming, Reviews | 2 Comments »

I see how it works…

Posted by Brian on September 7, 2004

Korean-American golf phenom Michelle Wie? She’s Korean.

Korean-Russians involved in the recent Chechen terror attack? They’re Russian:

“They are basically Russian nationals, not Koreans,’’ Lee said.



Posted in Korean Issues | 1 Comment »

Game Review: Battle of the Bands

Posted by Brian on September 6, 2004

Uber-gamer Tom Vasel (google his name to see what I mean) complained to me that while I have Games listed as a category on my blog, I haven’t posted anything game-related in quite a while. And he’s right… I haven’t. So to remedy the current shortfall of game-related stuff, I’ve decided to post some game reviews that I’ve written here on my blog. Maybe a reader will read my review, think the game sounds cool, and want to come by and try it. If not, at least it will offer a brief respite between all the political mudslinging that goes on around here nowadays.

So here’s the first one… Battle of the Bands:

With Battle of the Bands: Encore Edition, designer Dan Smith and Third World Games give you the chance to live out your own Spinal Tap fantasy (or would that be nightmare?). Form a band, grab some instruments, and replace your drummer who just died in a bus crash… it’s all here.

Battle of the Bands is a light, humorous card game about creating your own band and winning gig “battles” that give your band Star Points. The first band to get a certain number of Star Points (it changes based on the number of players in the game) wins the game.

Players win gigs by creating a groovy band that is hipper than their opponents’. Players start with a Me card in front of them, representing themselves in the band. During the course of the game, players will add new members to their group (up to a maximum of four), eventually creating their own tabletop motley crew. But of course, some members are cooler than others, which is represented by each member’s Hip Points. Every band member can have is or her Hip Points changed by playing Instrument cards (positive) or Reputation cards (both positive and negative) directly on the members. For example, Johnny T. with a Sampler (instrument) and a positive Fan Club (reputation) has a total of 4 Hip Points.

The band’s total Hip Points helps determine the winner of each Gig. Once a Gig card is played, players have a chance to play various Monkey Wrench cards, cards that have some effect on the outcome of the gig and are then discarded. Some are good and help you win the gig (such as High Voltage), while others are played to screw your opponents (such as Lip Synching). Once all the Monkey Wrench cards are played, add up the total Hip Points for each band and role d6 (handily included in the box), the band with the highest total sum wins the gig and get the gig card, along with its Star Points.

Bands can also sign Contracts, which allow them to release Hit Singles, both of which contribute to the player’s Star Points.

The final card type in the game is the Music Biz card, which functions as your basic “action” card. A common effect of these cards is to discard another card in play, such as a band member (Crash) or a Hit Single (Bootleg).

The gameplay itself is simple: draw a card, play a card. During the course of the game, each player will place his band members, Contracts, Hit Singles, and any Gig cards he won up in front of him. The cards that provide Star Points are conveniently marked with large star symbols, making it easy to determine how everyone is doing at a glance.

Battle of the Bands is fun to play, and a big chunk of that fun comes from the running commentary made by the players as the cards are played. Instead of just playing a Crash card (killing a band member) and discarding your opponent’s hippest band member, expand on the card. Where did the crash occur? How did it happen? Were drugs involved? The theme provides fertile ground for each player to make the game that much more fun and interesting by cracking jokes (some tasteful, some not) from start to finish.

Unfortunately, Battle of the Bands suffers from the same weakness as many other light, humorous card games: once all the funny cards have been seen several times, does the game lose some shine? Invariably, yes. But the running commentary I mentioned above should go a long way towards keeping the game fresh and fun.

All in all, our group found Battle of the Bands to be a lot of fun. It’s not a deep game, by any means, but it is an entertaining one that functions well as a filler-type game between your more “serious” games (though the game may be a tad bit too long to be considered filler for some). I recommend Battle of the Bands highly.

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