Pacific Typhoon: Strategy or Fun

April 12, 2010

When John first explained Pacific Typhoon to me I was excited. It sounded like 500 (a game my family loves to play) but with a cool combat mechanism to it. The first couple of games I played was with 4 people. It was OK, but it just seemed like there weren’t enough cards out to generate big battles. A few games later with 5 people still seemed lacking. I really wanted to like this game, but I find myself avoiding it.

My main criticism with the game is the way it limits your options each turn. In the game each player starts the game with 6 cards. Each card has a date, time of day and combat rating for each of the four suits: air, surface, sub, and combined. The first person each round chooses a battle. That player will decide the year, time of day and suit for that round. Obviously the first person will choose the battle that will allow him to play his biggest or best card. The rest of the players will need to look at their hand and first determine which cards are eligible and then choose a side to battle for.

The year and suit greatly limits your options. For example, if the player chooses to fight the 1941 battle of Manila at night and calls the submarine suit, only 6 cards of 150 are eligble and have a combat rating greater than zero. Chances are the first player will win the battle without opposition. OK, so this is the extreme case, but several of the combinations only have 10-25 cards. All the 1941 battles will have a good chance that some players won’t be able to participate in the battle. Strategically, the battle chooser should pick the earliest year battle that they have a good card. Also, if they have a decent sub card (day or night) or night aircraft cards they should choose those suits. Thereby reducing the opportunity for opponents and increasing their chances to win the battle. But is this fun? Playing the combined suit each time always opens up your options (~85 of 150 cards are available in 1945 at day). Everyone will play and there will be a big battle which is fun, but its strategically risky.

The next limiter is the big gun cards. The battleships such as the Yamato and New Jersey have surface combat ratings of up to 8 and 10, respectively. With the average surface combat rating of all the cards being just under 3, it would take 3 other players to gang up to take down one of these ships. Let’s say we’re playing with 4 people: the first player has the Yamato, and the next three have the cards to take it down. However, at the end of the battle, there would only be 2 cards to distribute as spoils among the 3 people who teamed up. This means someone is getting left out. You can negotiate a deal, but no deal is binding. Players can do what they want at any time. So the person who plays last is likely thinking “They say I will get a spoil, but I’m not garaunteed one. However, if I play an Axis card, I garauntee myself one of the Allied cards as spoils.” This ‘backstabbing’ is fun and will score you points, but the negotiations won’t last long.

It seems after a few rounds, everyone picks up on the strategies to score the most: play your big cards when you have them and sit out the other rounds. At that point the game loses all interest for me. Sure everyone is playing ‘strategically’ – they are scoring points when they know they can – but the fun factor is gone. Your chances of victory are purely determined by the luck of the draw.

Is the game terrible? No, I will play it again and I think it could still be enjoyable. With 6 or 7 players, the chances of cards available increases. With the right people negotiations could be done well and throughout the game. I’m also interested in trying one of the variants that allows for team play: one team draws and plays only Axis force cards, the other plays Allied. If 4-5 people want to sit down to play the base game, though, count me out.

I’m interested in your take: Am I playing with the right strategies? Is it really fun or strategy and not both?

Gaming on the Go: Guatemala Preview

January 13, 2010

Gaming on the Go is a feature about boardgames and travel.

In a few days, I’ll be headed down to Guatemala for the first time, leading a group of students on a service trip. The past months have been all about getting passports ready, transportation arranged, and fundraising coffee sold, but as I start to pack for the trip itself, I think about our free time (and gaming). We’ve been told by the volunteer coordinators at our service site that things get pretty quiet at night, and we are encouraged to bring along cards and small games for entertainment.

Fully aware that my group consists of senior (17-18 years old) boys, I’m opting to bring  rules for some simple but highly interactive card and dice games. Here are my choices:

  • Mafia (known commercially as Werewolf) is a basic interaction game in which a group of villagers attempt to discover who is secretly killing them off one by one. I used to play this with my campers when I was a camp counselor–good gory fun. I greatly enjoy playing the Narrator and just watching the action.
  • Cribbage is small and versatile–you can play with partners or individually. A few of the other trip participants are bringing boards down too, so there’s the potential for a tournament over the course of the week, on the plane ride, in airports killing time, etc.
  • Dirty Clubs is a very simple trick-taking card game that is equally fun with five or ten players. At the start of each round, you wager how many tricks you think you’ll take based on the power of the cards in your hand. Bid over or under the actual number of tricks you take and you lose points. Lots of tension in this game.
  • Ten Thousand (known commercially as Farkel) is a dice game in which players simply roll six dice, determine which ones score them points, and then opt to pass or keep rolling dice. Stretch yourself too thin and you’ll get nothing. I was introduced to this by my in-laws, and it fills a certain niche: an incredibly simple game that a seven-year old could play that allows you to hold a conversation about something else while playing.
  • Pacific Typhoon is a WWII-themed trick-taking game from GMT. I just got this for Christmas, and have quickly found it is easy to learn but hard to master. Lots of opportunities for backstabbing, with a theme they’ll find accessible and interesting.

It’s amazing how much you can get out of a deck of cards, a cribbage board, a set of dice, and a very small gamebox. Hopefully these will provide some evening entertainment after a long day of physical labor. I’d love to hear about your favorite travel games; leave a comment below.

Holiday Wishlist?

November 10, 2009

Since I started getting into hobby games in earnest 2.5 years ago, I’ve picked up 28 new games. Of these, I’ve only purchased five. Sara and I try to limit ourselves to a pretty small “entertainment” budget, which means that the lion’s share of my games show up in neatly wrapped boxes on my birthday or under the Christmas tree. My family usually asks for some sort of holiday wishlist around this time of year, and I thought that posting it here would allow for some feedback and perhaps others posting their own wishlists. So, in no particular order…

Conquest of Paradise: Despite some slight negative feeling towards this game, it really intrigues me. I learned how to play this from the designer at the 2009 World Boardgaming Championships (WBC), and there’s a lot of neat mechanics at work like “blind” exploration, hidden fleet movement, etc. It seems to suffer a bit from too little playtesting, but I think with a few house-rules, it could really be excellent. Plus, GMT is selling it quite cheaply!

Endeavor: This Euro-ish game of exploration, colonization, and conquest has been getting a lot of good press recently. Players compete to grab resources in the New World, and use them to grow in power back in Europe. I read a review in which the author described it as “the post gateway game,” which is sort of a weak point in my game collection right now.

Pacific Typhoon: A  card game about the Pacific theater in World War II. This is GMT’s sequel to Atlantic Storm by Avalon Hill. I had never really heard of this game until I noticed the number of people playing it in random corners around the WBC. This looks like a good cross-over war game.

Small World Expansions: At $10 apiece, Grand Dames and Cursed! look like cheap ways to spice up the base game for those of us who have been playing like fiends since it came out.

War of the Ring: Although I am a huge Lord of the Rings nut, I’ve never sat down to play this game. I know it won’t get to the table much due to its playtime, but I can’t pass up the chance to marshal the forces of good against evil, or vice versa.

Wits & Wagers Expansion: From what I saw at the 2009 WBC Wits & Wagers game show, these questions are most obscure than ever–perfect!

That Mystery Game I don’t know the name to yet: I’m putting a call out for suggestions. My brother is getting married soon, which means when we meet over at Mom and Dad’s house for Sunday dinner, there will be six of us (Mom, Dad, brother, his wife, Sara, and me). I’m looking for a light game that can be played in 60-90 minutes for a group of six people that like to play Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan. Any titles come to mind?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about my wishlist or have you share your own.