by MIKE SIGGINS
While I have played very few games over the summer, those that I have played have mainly been card systems. No special reason for this, it just represents what came along and what I like. Three of these have been good to very good, one so opaque that I have not yet managed to work it out.
The latter is Wizards of the Coast's Jyhad, the follow up card game to Magic, a game about which you may have heard. The theme this time is vampires and the game system is markedly, though not completely, different. The problem is that the rules use such a plethora of terms that I really had no idea where to start. The general structure is apparent, but the mechanics of playing and winning aren't --- and no amount of re-reading seems to unlock its charms. Certainly a game that you need to be shown how to play. As I, unlike many, hold scant respect for Magic's system, I can only conclude at this point that Garfield has no great talent for game design, but seems to have fallen on his feet in the marketing and craze creation departments. I hope I'm proved wrong though as even Jyhad has a couple of interesting, but undeveloped, concepts. I for one hope they do a better job on the rules for the forthcoming Middle Earth game.
Spellfire is TSR's answer to Magic and in typical TSR fashion, they go for it in a big way: 400 cards in the set, but with around 100 hard to find and 25 `rares' you may as well abandon hope of getting them all. The good news is that it doesn't matter a jot which cards you have as you can play well enough with one starter pack. TSR have tapped their AD\&D artwork reserves to good effect and the cards look impressive. The best thing about it though, as far as fantasy card games go, is that it is a far better game overall than Magic. The structure is more consistent and understandable, the play is quick, logical and even atmospheric at times. It even has a natural end game. Best of all, and deadly news for collectors, is that the cards aren't interleaved in that same sad way that they are in Magic. Worth your time, especially as a lead-in for the kids.
Plague & Pestilence is a limited run, multi-player card game from California, notable for some excellent medieval line graphics and a smell (from the plastic card coatings) reminiscent of overstressed Scalectrix cars. Odd. Production is of a very high standard for a card game and well worth the £10 or so asked. The game isn't at all bad in a beer & pretzels type way, and we had a couple of good end of session outings recently. The general idea is to increase your town's population throughout the prosperous times of the middle ages and then to survive through the inevitable plague years. Card plays such as sewage systems and aqueducts help your survival chances, while city walls and weapon developments assist you in going to war against neighbours and defending against Mongol hordes. The game works on the Modern Naval Battles/Mille Bornes level (ie not too brain taxing), is well executed and surprisingly good fun. A much better bet than Black Death or Barsky's Plague, in my view. Thanks to Ken Tidwell for the copy. P&P can be obtained from Hillary's Toy Box, PO Box 1954, Orange, CA 92666-1954, USA.
Avalon Hill's Guerilla is everything that Assassin wasn't: a well designed, playtested, balanced and challenging game. Following in the traditions of Up Front, this one has no board but as with UF, that hardly matters --- the atmosphere generated by the cards and actions fills in the gap for you. Although there are elements of Cosmic Encounter and Junta in here, the game comes out at the wargame end of the general games scale. This is evident in two ways: the subject matter (fictitious combat in a Banana Republic) and the slightly heavy card system. I have evidence that this can be too much for players used to Modern Art or similar, and one game fell over very quickly due to a lame gamer, but that was my error.
The game itself is actually rather good, and would certainly suit Attack Sub or Up Front fans. There is plenty of action based on the simple action point system, and the cards pretty much run the show once the short rules have been digested. I liked the card system a lot, primarily because it is clever in cause and effect and there were absolutely no anomalies I could spot --- everything that happened hung together well: mortaring airfields, strafing runs on the presidential palace, propaganda broadcasts, choppers buzzing around and heroic blunders were all easily reproduced. The atmosphere really is spot on and it plays in two hours or much less once you've grasped it.
My only concern is whether it has much in the way of replay value. I think it would easily last five games, especially with varying numbers of players, but beyond that I don't know. Perhaps AH could be tempted to release booster packs of cards? Not one that is going to appeal to all fluffy gamers, and I would think some familiarity and affinity with wargame systems would be a necessity. Otherwise, another good one to follow on from We the People.
On to the Letters or back to the Return of the Fives and Tens.
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