(So, Robert and I played Romans v. Carthaginians again. I lost again. I hope to get some pics of the battle up soon.)
However, the majority of the evening was spent playing Titan by Valley Games, a weightlifter’s dream of a boardgame containing more cardboard than a box-making plant. We started playing this game around 7:30pm, and I got home sometime around 2:30am, shortly after the game ended. For those a bit slow on the math, THAT’S 7 FREAKIN’ HOURS!
Now, to be completely fair, only two of the players actually played that long. Robert and Paul went the distance. Robert eliminated Billy early in the game, sometime around 8:30, and Paul eliminated me sometime around midnight. So, yeah, if you’re staying with the math, Billy would have been watching two other people play the game for 6 hours if he had opted to stay the whole time.
By now, you can probably get a sense of how I felt about this game. I’m glad I played it. In the roll dice and kill each other genre of board games, Titan is a standard, and I’m surprised it took me this long to play it. However, I doubt this game is going in the gaming rotation any time soon, not least of which because it seems that playing it takes about as much time as a full-time job.
The rules to Titan are a little daunting at first, but by about the fourth turn, we had most of them down. There are a few special exception (special times you can muster new creatures, for example) that are a little tricky to remember, but the rulebook is efficient (and the help guides downloaded from Boardgamegeek were also useful). Basically, in each turn a player can split up their Legions (the name given to a stack of creatures in your army), move their units, fight enemies, and muster new creatures. Movement means rolling one six-sided die and moving at least one unit the number of spaces on the die. Each space on the board has symbols that direct how a Legion can move out of that space. (For example, some areas funnel Legions in one direction–the outer ring became notoriously hard for us to escape once we were on it, with only every other space allowing access back to the middle of the board.) If you move into an enemy Legion, you fight, and only your Legions that moved are eligible to recruit new troops at the end of the turn.
When you fight, you pull your creatures off the main game board and fight your opponent’s creatures on a mini-board that represents the terrain of the space to which you had moved. You spend a few minutes fighting each other’s creatures (rolling a number of dice equal to the creature’s power and trying to get rolls that are higher than a number decided by a matrix comparing the two creatures’ skills, usually a 3-5), and whoever eliminates all of the opponent’s creatures wins and scores points based on the power and skill of the opposing creatures he killed. When your running score reaches certain points, you get special things (new creatures or the ability to teleport around the board).
At the end of the turn, you get to recruit new creatures into your Legions based on the terrain of the square you are in and the creatures already in that Legion. For example, if you end your turn in the Plains, then you could recruit a Centaur. If you already had two Centaurs in your Legion, you could recruit a Lion, and if you already had 2 Lions, you could recruit a Ranger. You could also generate a “like” creature. If you had a Lion, you could create another Lion. However, aside from a few hard to get, quite powerful creatures, most of the creatures in the game are finite. When they are killed, they don’t go back to the general stock of creatures, meaning that their deaths can deny opponents chances to recruit them.
So, what did I like about this game? I really like the potential strategy in the game. Much like Monopoly, it appears to be a really random game with lots of dice rolling, but the truth is that an experienced player will probably win most of the time. The dice rolls that control movement, for example, also control who you get to fight and what you get to recruit. Knowing the chances of getting certain creatures can keep your Legions from becoming a hodge podge of random creatures. The game also relies on good memory and tactical wargaming ability. Carefully keeping track of what’s in your opponents’ Legions can keep you from getting into lopsided fights. (The contents of each Legion are hidden to your opponents, so keeping track of where the big guns are is essential.) And the mini-battles require a little bit of maneuvering skill. (I really like that the battles are actually fought as a mini-wargame instead of just throwing a handful of dice, a la Risk.) I also like the variety of creatures, and the way there is a hierarchy of creatures for each terrain type. It’s unlikely that every player’s Legions will look the same. Some will have Hydras, some Giants, some Dragons–at least in theory. (Our game actually wound up quite similar, but I think that’s because we’re noobs.) If I had world enough and time, I would play this game a lot more.
However, I don’t. And that’s what makes me neutral on this game. The game’s suggested play time is up to 4 hours, and while we went way over that limit, I just don’t have time for even 4-hour games in quantities that could make me actually “good” at a game like this. And if I, and my opponents, don’t have that kind of practice-time, we’re likely to continue to play games where one person is eliminated early and winds up snoozing on the couch while the other people keep playing into the night. In the game itself, there’s also a lot of down time. When two players fight a couple of mini-battles, the uninvolved players are looking at 20-30 minutes of thumb-twiddling. All in all, you spend a lot more time not playing the game than you do playing. Three things I’ve come to enjoy are games with a reasonable play length, games where everyone is involved as much as possible, and games where players can’t be outright eliminated. Titan goes against all three of these things. If I had met this game in college, I probably would have played the heck out of it. (We defintiely did with Avalon Hill’s Civilization, a different genre of game, but one that sometimes took multiple days to complete.) As it is, repeated replays of Titan may have to wait until I am retired.
(I’m going to try to start posting some other useful sites for my game reviews as well–other reviews or interesting info. I’m only linking to independent reviews and assuming most people know of Boardgamegeek and BoardGame Info. I’ll list the big guys in the sidebar.)
Here’s another site’s review of the game: BATs Cave of Games
Here’s a link to a discussion by the board’s artist about the development of the board: Mike Doyle’s Art Play