Backtracking, a bit

Hey everyone, those of you who read my latest weekly shop update may have noticed my somewhat negative reaction toward the Z-Man and AEG games that were recently released at GenCon. More specifically, I stated that the games from both publishers were “largely forgettable”. Well, after reviewing the expanded info that has made its way from GenCon attendees to the greater digital world, I need to backtrack on that statement a bit, at least for the Z-Man games.

My reaction to the Z-Man games releases was largely based on what I was discovering about their flashiest title, Atlantis Rising, and quite honestly, my initial reaction to this game still stands. Atlantis Rising is a slightly unique cooperative game that uses a worker placement mechanic, which is actually a favorite mechanic of mine, found in games like Lords of Waterdeep and Agricola. But at its core, Atlantis Rising is really a generic cooperative game, bad things continue to happen and the players need to communicate about how best to deal with them while accomplishing a single goal, in this case to construct a cosmic gate to get the heck off of Atlantis. Now there is nothing wrong with the standard cooperative formula, games like Pandemic, Forbidden Island, and Castle Panic use the formula very well. But unlike these games, Atlantis Rising has a $60 price tag, so you are getting more of the same for about twice the price! That makes this puppy largely forgettable in my book, which is not to be confused with it being a bad game though, so definitely give it a go if you are a fan of cooperatives.

OK, so Z-Man’s next game at Gencon was Alcatraz: The Scapegoat. Here is a game with a nice new twist. Everyone is trying to escape the famous prison by forming partnerships to complete tasks, such as digging tunnels or creating shivs. But every turn one person is voted the Scapegoat and that player does not get rewarded as the other players do. The scapegoat, however, can use blackmail cards to mess with the others. There is much more to the game, but the unusual aspect of voting every round for a scapegoat brings something fresh to the cooperative game realm. This game also has a more reasonable price tag of $40, and plays in about an hour. So this game may not be as forgettable as I originally surmised, though it may still lose table time due to the hurt feelings that can develop during scapegoat negotiations.

Finally, Z-Man presented Battle Beyond Space, a very fast tactical space combat game. Originally this game looked like just a miniatures battle game, but the information coming from GenCon suggests much more. Now I’m picturing something like Kingdom Builder with a real theme. At its heart, the game is a combat game, you earn points by destroying other players’ ships, as well as by collecting tokens from the board or occupying specific locations. What makes this game fascinating though is its very limited rule set. Like Kingdom Builder, a very small set of basic rules can lead to some interesting fleet maneuvering choices. Also like Kingdom Builder, the addition of just a few special actions, and the fact that those special actions will be different every game, makes the whole of the game so much more than the sum of its simple rules. I am now actually looking forward to this game, especially since the price is a standard $50, less than I originally thought.

So I apologize Z-Man for being so harsh last week, and I apologize to the Z-Man fans. We’ll know much more about these games in a few weeks when they hit the shelves.

Posted: August 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm
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