Friday, July 28, 2017

Dave Reviews: A Game So Bad It's Not Even A Fucking Game, What The Fuck


There are times, no matter your job or hobby, when something comes to your attention that's so bad, that is such an egregious misuse of human capital, putting it aside and not making use of it doesn't seem like an acceptable option. However small your influence on the world--and it doesn't get much smaller than what I have here--you are compelled to use it to guard other people from wasting even a minute of their precious time left on this Earth on something which should have been set alight the moment it came off the production line.

Ladies and gentleman, this is Shahrazad.

It looks really nice, right? The art is very good, I won't deny that. If you wanted a bunch of tiles to use as small, attractive coasters, you could do worse than the game pieces in Shahrazad.

Thus ends our compliments section.

Let's start with the theme. You're telling stories. This makes sense, since the aesthetic is clearly ripped off from the myth of FUCKING SCHEHERAZADE, NOT SHAHRAZAD, IT'S NOT COPYRIGHTED, YOU CAN USE THE ACTUAL FUCKING NAME, OK? Except maybe it's better her name wasn't tainted by this trash pile, because you don't tell shit for stories. You put tiles down that refer to parts of stories, but there's not even anything on the back. If it had a story that ran from tile to tile, maybe you could get an extra three minutes of mild amusement flipping the tiles and reading them after playing.

It's not even the first game to use 'Shahrazad' as a name that points towards the mythical figure. Magic had a card named that, down to the letter. It's not a particularly egregious issue there, though, because it was part of the Arabian Nights set and the card's effect didn't have anything to do with the myth. So these fucking people didn't just come up with a dogshit non-game, they straight up swiped the off-brand name for Scheherazade from somewhere else.

As for the 'game': There are twenty-two story tiles numbered 0-21, of four different colors. You have two goals: line them up so any tiles that touch also go up numerically as you move left to right, and also try to make as many tiles of the same color touch as possible. (Tiles are placed in staggered fashion so that each tile can touch two from the columns to its left and right.) The color strings or blocks earn you points; having your stories go in numerical order and avoiding gaps in the tiles keeps you from losing points.

The game is scored on a sliding scale. You play two rounds, with a maximum of twenty-two points per round possible (having all the tiles of each color touching, with no penalties for borking the number ascension or leaving gaps in the lines). If you play with two people, 35+ is required for the highest ranking. If you play alone, 40+ is required. Since there's a limit to how much two players can communicate, the lower score for them makes sense... except they're also limited to a maximum of three tiles per column, whereas someone playing alone can use four. Thus, if you're solo, you can just create a line for each color and place or swap tiles as needed to keep their stories in order. It's possible for a very bad draw to leave you unable to finish a perfect round, but only needing 40 out of 44 points, it's extremely unlikely that you'll ever end up with less than the highest ranking once you figure this out.

Alright, so maybe the single-player rules were inserted as a way to give it a little more playability than if it was advertised solely as a two-player game. That happens all the time in the industry, right? How many games have 'variants' so you can play with only two people, even though it says on the box it fits from two to whatever? How many are simply not that good with certain numbers of players? It's an understandable decision.

Except the game is still completely solvable with two people. The only things that make it harder are a) the fact both people need to know the puzzle, and b) the deck of tiles runs out a little earlier, and you can only swap a tile with one in your hand if there's another one you can draw. The rule that you can only use three columns is a bunch of arbitrary bullshit; if anything it should be the other way around, with that limitation placed on a solo player, since that player has an easier time of it. But once you figure out how to place the tiles, with three columns or four, none of that matters. There's a correct placement for every tile if you want a max score, and if you know what that is, there is zero reason to experiment with anything else. You can't do better, and you don't have an opponent to outmaneuver. The game's done. There's nothing else to do.

Maybe the reason I keep seeing glowing (or at least positive) reviews about this game is that it would take longer to solve if you only play with two people. The reviewers didn't play long enough to realize just how dead the game becomes once you figure it out. I've written a lot of reviews for the store where I work--I started putting them here because I wanted to swear--so I understand how an opinion can be formed which would have been altered by just a bit more information. And the one very, very mild thing the designers did well is create something that does take a little effort to solve while rarely, if ever, being prone to bad draws screwing over the players. That can look like a reasonably good game.

But holy fucking shit, this thing is a travesty. If I was looking for an industry job and this was the only thing on my resume, I'd hand them a blank sheet of paper.

Score: Two mythical figures weeping in the pages of the books that are actual, competent creative works, unlike this shit, out of seventeen. Both of them like the pictures.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dave Reviews: A Game That's About, Essentially, Where Jerky And Burgers Come From

Great Western Trail

The only surprise about seeing it's been a little over two years since the last post is that wasn't a hell of a lot longer. So I figured, if I'm going to try this again, I may as well get off to a positive start, and what's more positive than games about giant slabs of beef?


Yes, thank you.

The whole idea behind Great Western Trail is that you're a cattle rancher from Texas trying to sell cattle in Kansas City and locations westward. Like any good rancher, you want victory points more than money, because victory points indicate the joy of your work that goes beyond mere capitalist interests. But the stationmaster in Kansas City is all, "Fuck your victory points," because he's a joyless prick, so as the game progresses it's necessary to sell better and better herds in order to make it worth shipping them farther west if you don't want them to be stuck in KC.

This is a game that's fairly easily learned, but not easy to describe without explaining how it works, so here goes: You start out with a cowboy, a train, and a deck of cattle cards. 
  1. The deck is what you draw from to create the herd that will be sold once you make it to KC; your goal here is to have as many different types of cattle in your hand as possible, because each type only counts once. 
  2. The cowboy moves up to four spaces (this can be increased later), and can make use of whichever building he stops on each turn. Important note: only spaces with something on them (buildings or hazards) count against the movement limit, so early on it's possible to run your cowboy from Texas to KC in just a couple of turns. As the game progresses and buildings are put up in the blank spots on the board, the cowboy can't go as far each turn unless you upgrade his movement.
  3. The train is, I guess, something you're invested in as a cattle rancher? Certain buildings will let you move your train car forward, and certain abilities can force it back as well. The farther forward it is, the cheaper it is to ship your cattle to more distant cities.
At the beginning of the game, there are only seven buildings on the board. These allow for the basic mechanics--hiring more workers, putting up buildings, trading in cattle for money along the way (this is the main method for manipulating your hand in order to have different cattle types when you reach KC), buying more cattle, etc. Right away you're forced to prioritize. Do you stop in to hire workers? Put up a building while there are more spaces available? Four of the seven neutral buildings let you trade in cattle for money and draw new cards. How necessary is that for you? If you have three 2s and a 1--the best possible hand with the base deck--do you race to KC for the quick money and make use of more buildings on the next trip through?

Prioritization gets more complicated as the game goes along and the board fills... kind of. You end up with more options overall as you place buildings, but you're not allowed to use your opponents' buildings; all they do is slow your movement and, in some cases, make you pay the player who owns that building a coin or two. You also never see buildings that let you hire more workers or construct more buildings apart from the neutral ones that are available from the start. So you end up having to decide what you can (or need to) accomplish to max out the money and points you're earning while not having that many more options compared to the start, unless you focus hard on hiring craftsmen and putting up buildings every chance you get.

That doesn't mean you're working around the same few goals the whole game, though, which brings us to the strength/weakness of the game: the absolutely fucking bananas number of ways to score points. You don't count points until the end, but once you're there, there are eleven different things to score. They give you a score pad, but still, that's a lot of possibilities to keep track of while you're playing. You can't possibly chase them all, but you'll have to go for more than one to have a chance, so sometimes a strategy might come down to how many different possibilities you can keep track of, in order to take advantage of the ones that become most readily available. It could be owning station master tokens, fulfilling more objective cards, buying better cattle and pulling together more VPs at the end by hitting the furthest-west stations, and it could also involve synergy between the goals you're chasing or just getting stuff that all adds up to a bunch of points on their own.

You know what, though? It works. It doesn't feel as overwhelming as it could, even as a first time player, although being a board game vet helps a lot. This might not be the game you want to convince your boyfriend that board games are actually a lot of fun and he should play them with you more often, unless you only like two-hour-plus games that require mucho consideration to maximize the effects of each turn. At least then you're being honest with him about what he'll be getting into playing with you.

Score: Eleven jumbo bags of Great Value peppered beef jerky out of twelve.