Theme Game Day #6 – Alan Moon Games

21 Jan

Last time, we did boat games. In the mix of potential games was a little obscure Alan Moon game called “Surf’s Up Dude” which doesn’t have boats…but that’s beside the point. As an excuse to get it played, we decided to make a week all about Alan Moon games.

Game #1 – Ticket to Ride: The Card Game

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While waiting for others to arrive, my friend Matt and I played a quick game of Ticket to Ride the Card Game. In this game, players are trying to fill route cards by playing sets of cards to the table, and hoping that the cards stick around so you can score them on your next turn. If an opponent plays more cards of a color than you have on the table, however, you have to discard all of that color from the table (your train has been robbed!). At the end of the game, you take your pile of cards that you were fortunate enough to score and try to match up  all the destinations on your route tickets. There was another very similar game called Nile (reprinted as Nile Deluxor) that came out around the same time as this one. I think I like this better because of the theme, and the use of destination cards, but both are fine games. I’m also terrible at this game. I managed to score 8 yellow cards…which would have been wonderful if I had ANY YELLOW ON MY TICKETS AT ALL. Seriously, my mind is like a…like a…one of those strainy thingies.

With two players, there’s not much train robbing going on, so it’s a bit solitaire-like, and a bit on the dull side. With more players it can get fairly mean with several trains getting robbed every go around. I like this game as an opener or filler, and it’s probably going in my travel case of games. Which is another topic I probably need to write about someday!

Game #2 – Airlines Europe

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Even as big of a Ticket to Ride fan as I am, I think this is Mr. Moon’s best game. Airlines Europe is an update to Union Pacific (which itself was an update of 1990’s Airlines), a 1999 nominee for the Spiel des Jahres award. In Airlines Europe, players either buy airplanes to expand a company’s influence and raise the stock value, or they play stock cards from their hands – which will give them influence in the airlines themselves as well as gain more points when scoring happens. This game plays quickly, but it always gives you tough decisions. The only negative I really have is the random nature of when the scorings happen during the game. As the score cards are randomly placed into specific parts of the deck – it’s easy to gauge to an extent when they will take place, but it’s impossible to be sure. I’ve had it happen a few times where I’ve set myself up for a major score, only to have the game suddenly end on me. With that one quibble aside, I do love the presentation of this game, it’s very easy to get into and play, and it has a great pace and energy to it. I just plain love this plane game.

Game #3 – Surf’s Up, Dude!

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I can remember when this game came out, there was a lot of snickering and mockery going around. “Why would Alan Moon make a surfing game?” Well, he didn’t really. Surf’s Up, Dude! is more of a light area control game, with simultaneous action selection as a mechanic. Players are trying to get the best placement on waves during a surfing competition. If they stay on a wave all the way to the beach, awards (in the form of cool trophy tokens) are passed out, and if you have the “Prime Position” you get a Beach Babe card…because, of course, all the surfers are male (did I just get PC there? I did, didn’t I?). There are three intensities of waves, which also indicates how many people can be on each wave and how many points they are worth if you stay on all the way to the beach. We played this twice with 2 and with 4 players. With 2, there wasn’t much here at all. With 4…there wasn’t much more, honestly. It looks good, but there wasn’t as much interaction as we’d hoped. This is the rare case where I want more take that in a game, and I didn’t get it.  Also, it’s darn near impossible to tell the gold and the bronze trophies apart. That’s probably a minor quibble considering I’ll probably not play this game again. I give credit for a unique theme and great graphic design, but a terribly average game.

Game #4 – Skyline 3000

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This was a game that had been gotten for free from CABS years ago, and had been relegated to the back of the shelf for quite a long time. Players are trying to gain area majorities by placing buildings into the three different “blocks” of a city section. There are three blocks in each section. Turns are broken down into several phases. The first phase is where players will use the cards in their hand to both construct buildings, and place them on the board. There are very specific rules for what buildings can go where, and how tall they can be. If you just read the rules, this part will make your head blur for a minute. Once you’ve seen it a couple rounds, though, it’s easy to remember. The second phase is a series of auctions where you use the unused cards from the first part of the turn to bid on ways to improve the various sectors on the board. Finally, there’s a scoring phase which can take a while given you are doing nine separate scorings every turn. I like this game (though for full disclosure’s sake I did unload my copy in a game purge a couple years ago), and hope people seek it out and give it a try. It’s not great with 2 players, but with 3 or 4, it gets to be quite a battle for control of different areas. Skyline 3000 re-implements another early Alan Moon game, 1990’s Capitol.

Game # 5 – Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania Map w/ Dice Expansion

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It just wouldn’t have been an Alan Moon game without Ticket to Ride. We wanted to get a game in with the new Pennsylvania map (after I left, another game was played with the new Great Britain Map, I hope to play that one soon myself). We also wanted to throw in another twist, the Dice Expansion.

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Let’s start with the map. The Pennsylvania map brings up an entirely new aspect to Ticket to Ride: stocks. The stock market works fairly similarly to that in Airlines Europe, except you don’t need to spend a turn playing the stocks – you just get them into your collection. The stocks really amp up the points in Ticket to Ride. Most TtR games, I score in the 100-115 point range. I ended this game with 260 points. I also (rather hilariously) avoided actually placing in Pennsylvania, with the exception of 3 trains to finish route tickets. I was able to do most of this because of the Dice Expansion.

What the dice do is completely replace the draw deck. This seriously changes the game. Ticket to Ride has always had a bit of a push your luck / timing element to it. You want to wait as long as possible to build routes on the board, but you can’t wait too long or else your route might get stolen out from under you. The dice pretty much eliminate that aspect. On a turn, you get 2 rolls to try and get the sides you need. There are single and double railed track sides (which ONLY allow you to build on that specific type of track). There are Locomotive sides which act as wild, and a side with a station that allows you to draw as many tickets as you rolled stations – with the beneficial rule change that you don’t have to keep any of them. This reduces the inherent danger in ticket taking, but also eliminates you from getting totally hosed if you do a Hail Mary ticket pull on the last turn. You may also spend 2 dice in order to take a token, these tokens help make building the 6-7 length tracks possible. There are even special black tunnel dice for the Europe map.

I loved everything about this game. I think the stocks are a great addition to the Ticket to Ride game. I also love the completely different, bolder mindset the dice forced us to take. As a spoiler, in the next installment, we play again on a different map, and I forgot what I learned here…the results won’t be pretty.

The only downside about the Dice Expansion is that it wasn’t very popular when it came out, and now sells for stupid amounts of money on the secondary market. I mean really stupid. I think this cost me $12 when it came out, and now sells upwards of $150 online. Don’t pay $150 for this, but if you can scare up a cheap copy, try it. I think you might enjoy it as a twist.

The next post is probably going to be very short because we only played two games, and one of them we kinda got the rules wrong, but liked it anyway.

 

 

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