Snakes & Blogs
2013-09 ‹ By Month
Bruno Faidutti's Citadels provides attentive players the exhilarating possibility of absolutely ruining another player's turn with an educated guess. It is held in high regard by many employees of the cafe, as most of the Snakes Staff play games like their namesake; virulence is a virtue. We decided to sit down after-hours and give Mascarade, the designer's latest, a go.
Simple rules conceal surprising depth in this endearing hidden-identity memory game. The game begins with each player handed six coins and one of several role cards face-up; games with additional players have additional role cards placed in the centre of the table. All cards are then turned face-down; players can no longer freely look at any cards, including their own. The first four players begin the game by switching the card in front of them with any other card on the table. This is done sight-unseen of all players, so the turn player may very well retain their original card. After the initial four, a player may then, as her turn's action:
- Peek at the card in front of her (just to be sure),
- Swap or not swap cards sight-unseen with another player or the middle of the table (mind games), or
- Declare herself to be a role. "I'm the Judge!"
All other players are then given the chance to claim that they, too, are the named role. If nobody else does, then the player carries out the benefit of the named role, which is usually to take coins. The player does not have to reveal her card. If one or more other players speak up (No, I am the Judge!), all claimants to the role expose their cards. Any player telling the truth gets the benefit of the named role. Anybody else gets hit with a Pretender Tax, and has to pay a fine of one coin to the Courthouse board. This can get lucrative for the Judge, who can claim all coins on said board. While most roles like the Peasant or the King generate varying amounts of coins for the claimant, other roles penalize players for playing too obviously (Inquisitor), or for commanding a lead (Bishop). Roles like the Fool sow uncertainty amidst players, while others, like the aptly-coined Thief, simply steal money from unassuming opponents. The game is won in one of two ways: Either a player reaches thirteen coins and claims immediate victory, or a player goes bankrupt, wherein the currently most affluent player wins.
We played one game with seven players and two games with six, by the book with the recommended roles. It took a few games for the players to comprehend that attempting an all-out cash-grab right from the get-go is generally a bad move; far stronger is first sowing doubt by spending turns "swapping" cards with others. Time spent doing so presents opponents with the opportunity to make a mistake, and allows savvy players to candidly capitalize on ill-timed role calls. There are many facets to the strategy, but they require players to examine closer, past the seemingly superficial surface mechanics. Luckily, a poorly-played game will be brisk, allowing for a quick rematch made much better by the lessons of the round previous.
It appears to play quite a few people, but it is likely that new or weaker players could serve as marks and be quickly parted with their coins, radically altering the entire table's experience. It may be hard to convince neophyte players of its merits; hopefully, the gorgeous art and satisfying component will convince people to give it a play past the inaugural. It would be a lot of fun to play many rounds in succession with the same group, as players learn each other's proclivities, crafting increasingly elaborate schemes to reveal themselves and seize victory in appropriately dramatic fashion. A caveat: for full entertainment value, It does demand all players embrace an inner skulldugger and assume particularly pragmatic mindsets. Accordingly, it may not be to everyone's taste.
Citadels is an excellent game for providing moments. The Magician on the cusp of victory sits silent as his number is called, the unfortunate target of a well-timed assassination caught trying to sneak his final building on the board. Other times, the savvy prince of prestidigitation sneaks by scot-free and triumphantly concludes the game. By virtue of only occasionally being certain of a player's own role, Mascarade provides many moments and ample opportunity for obfuscation and legerdemain, lending a setting to plenty of "sick read" stories to come. It's possible to trick another player into activating a role she is not, or claim to be a role parted ways with three swaps ago and get away with it. As a result, it is incredibly entertaining for fans of bluffing. It's difficult to conceal our enthusiasm for this game; after all, we had a ball playing it.
Snakes & Lattes was honoured on Wednesday to receive the Canada Post E-Commerce Award for the Best Multi-channel (Small) Retailer in Canada. We have always strived to provide the best experience to all of our customers. Board games are our passion and being able to spread that has been an absolute joy for us. We've only been open a few short years but we would not have received this award if it weren't for all of you. Thank you all. We look forward to many years of gaming to come.
Ben Castanie, owner of Snakes & Lattes, would also like to extend his gratitude to the staff.
"I wanted to thanks everyone here at Snakes & Lattes who made this award possible. Your daily interactions with our customers and your efforts to make the website part of the Snakes & Lattes experience has been recognized by our peers. I couldn't be more proud! "
Congrats to the Multi-Channel Small Retailer award winner @Snakesandlattes #EcommAwards13 pic.twitter.com/Jc8ShHjVEU
— Shipping Solutions (@ship_cpc) September 26, 2013
Welcome to Puerto Rico.
You've heard its name spoken with reverence, you've heard it described as the best game ever. You might even know it's a role selection game, or a worker placement game, or a near perfect information game. Whatever you know or think you know, you've decided it is time to take the plunge and try the great Puerto Rico. There's just one problem - you don't have the faintest idea what you're doing.
Don't worry, I've got you back.
The first thing you need to do is follow the set-up guide in the rule book. It is VERY thorough and will tell you exactly what you need from the box (because depending on the number of players, some components will not be required).
The next thing you need to do is accept the following truth: The first time you play you will have no idea what you should do on any given turn. You will have a tremendous number of options to choose from every turn and it is OK to choose the wrong one. As you get further into the game and more familiar with the mechanics, some choices will make themselves apparent as better or worse. When your first game is done, your brain will be filled with ideas for how to play better the next time, but give yourself the freedom to suck the first time you play.
Now that you're set up and relaxed about the idea that not knowing what you're doing the first time is the price of admission to this wonderful game, here are some tips to help you suck less:
At its heart, Puerto Rico is a role selection game. This means that every turn you will have to choose a role (basically a job) to perform. The good news is that whatever you choose, you get to do a super special version of the role. The bad news is that EVERYONE gets to do the job you chose, not just you. So you choose a role and do the privileged version of it, then all you opponents do the basic version, the your neighbour chooses a new job and does its privilege followed by everyone (yourself included) doing the regular version, and so on.
The key to succeeding at Puerto Rico is the timing of your job selection. The privilege rule means your version of the job is always better than what your opponents get to do, but your timing will make the difference between "good for you & ok for them" and "great for you & terrible for them". If you time your choices poorly, you can wind up with "Ok for you & great for them" which is absolutely not what you want. Each role does something specific and you can see by looking at your opponents' supplies, just how well they will be able to capitalize on your choices. Choose the role that will give you the most advantage while granting the least to your foes. For example, if you take Trader, you get to sell your goods at a higher rate than everyone else. That's good. But if you can sell when no one else has anything they can sell, that is fantastic.
One of the great things about Puerto Rico is that there are many different ways to prosper and succeed. A good rule of thumb in any Euro game is look at the things your opponents are doing and DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. The more people there are competing for the same path to victory, the harder it will be to follow that path, so take a different one.
There are five different large buildings that each grant you additional victory points in a unique way. At the start of the game you will not be able to afford any of them, but you should be planning for your future. Pick one of the buildings early and make sure that the actions you take in the early stages of the game lay the foundation toward obtaining and exploiting that building. Of course, the flip side to this strategy is to do whatever feels right in the early and mid-game and then buy the large building (or buildings) that will properly exploit your choices.
During your first play, build as many buildings as you can so you get an idea of how they work and interact with the other parts of the game. Once you know what they do, you'll have a better idea for next time which ones will support the strategies you want to employ.
One final note about money. Money is a very important tool in the game, but it is just a tool to get you victory points which, in the end, is all that matters. Don't get hung up on getting rich at the expense of scoring victory points.
In addition to being a Game Guru at Snakes & Lattes, Steve Tassie is an actor, comedian, certified English & drama teacher, writer and game designer. Follow him on Twitter @RealSteveTassie or read the blog he shares with his wife, novelist Christina Upton onesfunnytheothersinsane.wordpress.com.
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