Here’s our third and final article about game families (which we define as collections of games that all originate from the same source, like Vinci and Small World). Just as we did the previous two days, a few of the Opinionated Gamers will give their preferences for which game in the family they like the most and why they do. Today we’ll finish up with the most recent group of families, where the originating game was published in 2000 or later. These games may be the most familiar to many of you, so hopefully you’ll be able to chime in with a few opinions of your own.
Battle Cry (2000)
Memoir ‘44 (2004)
Command and Colors: Ancients (2006)
Command and Colors: Napoleonics (2010)
After many frustrating attempts, Richard Borg finally got the first game of his Command and Colors system published in 2000 and it was an immediate hit. There are rule differences between the various titles, but the most obvious distinction are the theatres being portrayed: the U.S. Civil War (Battle Cry); WW II (Memoir); fantasy combat (BattleLore); and I bet you can figure out what the last two are simulating.
Battle Cry preference: (3) Joe Huber, Brian Leet, John P
Memoir ‘44 preference: (5) Mark, Ted Cheatham, Patrick Brennan, Patrick Korner, Erik Arneson
BattleLore preference: (0)
C&C: Ancients preference: (0)
C&C: Napoleonics preference: (0)
No preference: (2) Dale, Greg Schloesser
Mark: Though all of these games are top-notch, I find that Memoir ‘44 has the best overall support (including an excellent online implementation) and the cleanest design to balance playability and “simulation”. Plus, the blocks are just not as cool looking as the plastic minis.
Ted C: I think this is just the era for me. WWII is what I grew up with. Ancients and Napoleonics are not my thing and I don’t care for the blocks. Battle Cry was a great game, but I had that and Memoir and Battlelore….only one ever seemed to make it to the table. Now, the harder thing for me is, I think I really should prefer BattleLore. I really like the whole lore idea and special powers and the bonuses. To me, this is really the best game of the series for just cool stuff. In the long run, Memoir is clean, clear, and crisp and fits the niche with simple straightforward, expandable game play. BTW, this is the only version left in the collection.
Joe: I’ve never played BattleLore (the theme leaves me cold) or Napoleonics (because I have played Ancients). For me, this system is one that works most effectively with a simple, straight-forward rule set. Ancients broke that for me; while the rules are not overly complex, for me they’re too complex for the system, and the game was not enjoyable as a result. My preference for Battle Cry is simply a matter of significantly greater interest in the period covered.
Patrick K.: Purely for thematic reasons. WWII seems to be a genre / theme I enjoy more than the others.
Brian Leet: I’m really torn on this one as I like both of the first two listed versions. I settle on Battle Cry because while Memoir ‘44 has a ton of variety, theme and support, I do think I prefer the simpler civil war version.
John P: I like both Battle Cry and Memoir ‘44. For me (like Joe), simpler is better in this series.
Hollywood Blockbuster (2006)
Traumfabrik has the players bidding to cast actual movies from the Golden Age of Cinema, using real stars and directors. Hollywood Blockbuster updates things to more modern performers, but uses jokey names and images for licensing reasons.
Traumfabrik preference: (12) Fraser, Larry, Mark, Joe Huber, Dale, Mary Prasad, Patrick Korner, Erik Arneson, Greg Schloesser, Brian Leet, Jeff Allers, John P
Hollywood Blockbuster preference: (0)
No preference: (1) Tom R.
Larry: The production values for Traumfabrik are much better than those for Hollywood Blockbuster. In addition, the real stars and real movies of Traum enhance the experience considerably when compared to the lame names and caricatures used in HB. Finally, as a fan of older movies, I find the performers used in the older game resonate better than the more recent, but less glamorous ones found in HB. Just remember, Vertrags are points!
Dale: I like the usage of real names and movies in the original. I’ve always found that people are more engaged in Traumfabrik for this reason.
Mary: What they said!
Greg: Yeah, what they said! :o)
Patrick K.: The ability to hire Reiner Knizia as a hack performer in your crappy production is something wonderful. Also, the CD of period music some of the Traumfabrik editions came with rocks pretty hard.
Erik: Repeating what I said above: I believe Ra and Traumfabrik are the two greatest auction games ever designed. For me, nothing could possibly improve either one. And in the case of Traumfabrik, I might need to be restrained from physically injuring anyone who damages my copy.
Jeff: All of the above. I was fortunate enough to get into German boardgames in just the nick of time to find this on clearance sale, with the rockin’ CD soundtrack included!
John P: What they said!
Web of Power (2000)
Web of Power (originally published in Germany as Kardinal und König) was Michael Schacht’s first truly big success and gained renown as a design that packs a lot of game in a short duration. China uses most of the same mechanics, but changes the map, adds a few new rules, and speeds things up even more.
Web of Power preference: (9) Mark, Joe Huber, Larry, Ted Cheatham, Patrick Brennan, Dale, Patrick Korner, Erik Arneson, Greg Schloesser
China preference: (1) Tom R.
No preference: (0)
Mark: The intermediate scoring is a feature not a bug – and removing it from China was a mistake.
Joe: Only having two cards showing is also a feature, not a bug…
Larry: China is one of the few games I know that seems too fast. I prefer the pacing of Web of Power and find the choices a bit more interesting as well.
Dale: I feel that Web of Power is almost too fast as it is… And, without the intermediate scoring, it just isn’t as interesting. There’s no agonizing decision about when to play cloisters and when to play advisors in the first half.
Patrick K.: Web is pretty much perfect. The other version made changes that did not need to be made.
Tom R.: The addition of the fortification tile in China is a critical improvement over Web of Power. Close games can often come down to the use of your fortification tile so learning to time when and where to use it is essential. This becomes a major element that pervades the rest of your decision making throughout the game.
Power Grid (2004)
Power Grid: The First Sparks (2011)
Funkenschlag mixed auctions, crayon drawing, and economics in a scintillating combination, as players rushed to power the most cities. Power Grid kept the same setting, but eliminated the crayon drawing and shortened the duration; the result was one of the highest rated games of recent times. First Sparks keeps the same concept, but pushes things back to prehistoric times and takes out the auctions to make the game even shorter.
Funkenschlag preference: (2) Joe Huber, Larry
Power Grid preference: (9) Ted Cheatham, Fraser, Nathan, Patrick Brennan, Patrick Korner, Erik Arneson, Greg Schloesser, Brian Leet, Jeff Allers
First Sparks preference: (2) Mark, Dale
No preference: (1) Mary Prasad
Mark: All the things I like about Power Grid without all of the things I don’t like are found in First Sparks.
Ted C: Caveat, I have not played First Sparks yet. Power Grid wins on eye candy. In our games, there was never a lot of crayon blocking going on in Funkenslag. I debated long and hard about my “upgrade” to Power Grid for that one reason. And, if Funkenslag would have been awesome production quality, perhaps the change would not have happened. I have no regrets on the change.
Fraser: I own and like all three. First Sparks is the quick one, similar is some respects to Power Grid, but quite different in others. Possibly because I played Power Grid before I played Funkenschlag, I do have a preference for Power Grid if only due to the lack of crayons. I know some people find the different payouts to be a big difference that drives them to Funkenschlag, but that is not the case for me.
Joe: IMHO, the timing for Power Grid is wrong. In trying to shorten Funkenschlag, to make for a more commercial offering, Friedemann didn’t get the balance right, at least for me; I’ve seen far too many games end in phase 2. Add in the lack of variability in route costs – a feature of the crayon system of Funkenschlag – and the original clearly wins out. I consider First Sparks to be an independent (albeit related) game, which I enjoy, but not nearly on the level of Funkenschlag.
Larry: Funkenschlag is one of my all-time favorite games and Power Grid is, mechanically, almost as good. In addition, PG has far superior production values than Funk, is considerably quicker, and I prefer PG’s streamlined connection cost system (the crayon drawing in Funk has its charms, but not enough to justify the extra time it adds to the game). And yet, whenever I play PG, I find myself missing Funk. The big reason is that Friese, in trying to speed up PG, went too far IMO. Usually, there’s three stages of power plant buying in Funk–your first three plants get you started, then the three that replace them get you to the 10-12 city range, and then you start planning for your endgame. In PG, after you buy your first three plants, you pretty much have to immediately start planning for the plants that will power up enough cities to win. I find that I miss that in-between stage when I play PG. You’d think with all the expansions to Power Grid that there would be at least one that mimics the speed of Funkenschlag, but I’ve yet to hear of one. And so, the thought of playing PG is diminished by my memory of a game that, because of its scarcity and amateurish appearance, I’ll probably never be able to play again.
First Sparks is a fine game and certainly shows its connection to Funk/PG. But it’s much faster and not nearly as deep or multi-faceted. Ironically, that will probably allow me to enjoy it more than Power Grid, but it really doesn’t stand up to either of its predecessors.
Nathan: This is probably the only game in the list that I feel strongly about one over the other. I also played Funkenschlag first, and thought it was miserable. The slow, painful crayon rail aspect just drove me up the wall. So when I tried Power Grid, I was overjoyed to see that had gone away. It’s not a perfect game, but it’s one I really enjoy as is. Mostly, I love the auctioning, and the decision to hang back or shoot forward. With First Sparks, I felt like the elements I loved had been castrated from the game; no auction and hanging back is really the only choice. Bleh. Give me regular Power Grid any day.
Dale: To partially quote Larry: “First Sparks is a fine game and certainly shows its connection to Funk/PG. But it’s much faster and not nearly as deep or multi-faceted. Ironically, that will probably allow me to enjoy it more than Power Grid”. For me, the reduced game time coupled with similar decisions makes this the superior game in my mind.
Funk is a great game, but it just goes longer than I want right now… it feels like it’s a lot of time spent figuring out how to draw your crayon line to save a buck here vs screwing someone else out of a buck later – and that just doesn’t interest me anymore. Oh, it used to… and Funk used to be in my top 3 all-time, but I just don’t have the patience/attention span for that sort of game anymore where I’m fighting for a dollar here or there (same goes for Age of Steam which doesn’t get played much anymore either). To be clear, this isn’t a problem with the game, but rather a reflection on my changing game tastes.
Mary: I haven’t played First Sparks but I like both Funkenschlag and Power Grid. I’m a huge fan of crayon rail games and Funkenschlag adds a bit of this to the game. I like Power Grid in general but some of the more restrictive boards give me a headache.
Patrick K.: Power Grid is tense and wonderful. I have not played the original Funk, but First Sparks is a pretty poor game. No tension, not much fun. Sigh. Faster is not better!
Brian Leet: Intellectually I understand those who prefer Funkenschlag. However, I’ve found Power Grid to be such a wonderful and adaptable game I don’t miss it’s older brother.
Jeff: First Sparks is a very clever system, and I admire that. It’s still not a short game, however, and it takes some of the tension away from Power Grid, as no one is ever locked out completely, so I’d rather play Power Grid.
Age of Steam (2002)
Railroad Tycoon (2005)
Railways of the World (2009)
Age of Steam was Martin Wallace’s successful attempt to include 18xx-style track building in a Euro-style train game with a reasonable duration. The system has been licensed several times to different publishers, amidst lawsuits and legal entanglements, but always to critical and popular acclaim.
Age of Steam preference: (3) Larry, Dale, Patrick Korner
Railroad Tycoon preference: (1) Patrick Brennan
Steam preference: (0)
Railways of the World preference: (3) Ted Cheatham, Mary Prasad, Greg Schloesser
No preference: (2) Joe Huber, Tom R.
Ted C: Railroad Tycoon/Railways of the world are the same to me. Although Age of Steam is a superior game for gamers, it is very unforgiving. I prefer the lighter “family” version. It is a mainstay at the house and I have many expansions.
Larry: Age of Steam is the most challenging and unforgiving of the group and that’s why I like it best. You really have to be at the top of your game to manage all of the game’s difficulties and I love the challenge, even though I’m a mediocre player at best. Railroad Tycoon softens things up too much and the board is so huge that it seems to discourage the contentious play I love in AoS. The Basic version of Steam has some improved mechanics IMO, but in an attempt to make it more approachable, Wallace and Mayfair made it too easy. I did play one 2-player expansion map of Steam which was very good (the Belgium & Luxembourg map, by Morgan Dontanville); maybe future expansions will replicate the harshness of AoS, but until they come along, I’m sticking with the original. I’ve never played Railways of the World.
Dale: I just mentioned above that I don’t play Age of Steam as much as I used to. But of these four, it’s still the only one I ask for. I like the harsher rules with taking loans out only at the beginning of the turn. Yes, it can slow the game down. Yes, it can eliminate a player who doesn’t plan well. Yes, it can totally handcuff someone who gets unexpectedly screwed over. But, it’s one of my top 3 games all time. FWIW, I’ve stopped trying to collect all the expansion boards. In fact, I stopped around 2008, and I don’t feel like I’ve missed a thing. About half of the time now, we end up playing the Rust Belt board anyways, and I still have at least 10 expansion boards that I haven’t played yet (not including the 20-30 boards I haven’t bought).
Mary: I don’t care much for the harshness of Age of Steam; I much prefer to play Railroad Tycoon or Railways of the World. The Railroad Tycoon board is a bit too oversized, so I give the nod to Railways of the World.
Patrick K.: The unforgiving nature of AoS is what puts it over the top. Not a game for the faint of heart, but the 4p games I’ve played with skilled opposition have been among the best games I’ve ever played. Railroad Tycoon is too damn big and takes away too much. Steam is just not tough enough.
Jeff: I’ve only played Railroad Tycoon, and finally traded it away. I had Age of Steam for awhile, but then traded it away. Still trying to get Steam to the table after purchasing it some time ago. I’d like to have at least one game from this family in my regular rotation!
Tom R.: The debate among this series of games is way overblown. They are so much more similar than you’d ever guess from just reading everything that’s been written about which game is better. My no preference above is slightly off because I do tend to prefer Age of Steam, but I recognize that it’s really only because I played it first and most often. Upon eventually trying Railroad Tycoon and Steam, I was struck by how similar they are and how exaggerated the arguments over which is better were. In my mind, Railroad Tycoon and Steam are just like map expansions for Age of Steam; they fiddle with the rules slightly, but are otherwise the same system. You might like one or the other, the exact same way you might like the Ireland or Korea map for Age of Steam.
Wallenstein raised more than a few eyebrows as that rarest of creatures, a wargame from a mainstream German publisher. Battles are resolved through the use of a cube tower. Shogun changed the setting from the 17th century Thirty Years’ War to Japan’s Sengoku period (about 100 years earlier in history).
Wallenstein preference: (5) Joe Huber, Patrick Brennan, Dale, Greg Schloesser, Brian Leet
Shogun preference: (0)
No preference: (0)
Joe: Very simply, the long, thin board of Shogun is less interesting and leads to less direct interaction than the more square board of Wallenstein.
Dale: What he said.
Brian Leet: Yup, that simple. I also enjoy the slightly more obscure feeling theme of Wallenstein.
Caylus Magna Carta (2007)
Caylus wasn’t the first game to use Worker Placement mechanics, but it sure made it popular, as it swept most of the gaming awards for the year. Caylus Magna Carta is the card game version, which unlike many card game versions of successful boardgames, is actually quite similar to the original.
Caylus preference: (8) Fraser, Ted Cheatham, Patrick Brennan, Dale, Patrick Korner, Greg Schloesser, Jeff Allers, Tom R.
Caylus Magna Carta preference: (4) Joe Huber, Mary Prasad, Larry, Brian Leet
No preference: (1) Nathan
Joe: The card game has two big advantages in my mind. First, it provides some opportunity to counter my general issue with worker placement games (the lack of ability to carry out a plan in some reasonable manner) by giving everyone a set of cards to add to the proceedings. Second, it’s shorter. Still not enough to get me to play the game much…
Nathan: I was surprised that Caylus Magna Carta played pretty much as advertised: a shorter lighter Caylus. I went in as a fan, though not ardently so, of Caylus, so I can say that I can see where there would be a place for both. The fact that I own neither, though, probably says more about that place.
Dale: I like the somewhat longer game that Caylus gives you. I never found enough difference in CMC to play it much. Of course, my group has been known to play speed Caylus where games come in around 60-75 mins. So, the shorter play time of CMC was never something that appealed to me.
Mary: (CMC) I like everyone having the same set of cards as well as the shorter game.
Patrick K.: Caylus is just right. Once again, shorter is not always better.
Larry: My preference is mostly due to circumstances. Caylus is the better game, even though it might be a trifle over-designed. But it didn’t get much play early on in our group, so we never got the duration down to manageable levels. Consequently, when we got the chance to try CMC, which is 80% of Caylus in half the time, it worked much better for us. It would be nice to get a steady diet of Caylus, to give me a better appreciation for its strategies and knock the play time down; that would probably give it the edge over CMC. But with the constant influx of interesting new games, it’s hard to revisit neglected older ones like that, even the classics.
Brian Leet: Joe sums up my feelings well. The simpler and shorter play made for a better game for my tastes.
Jeff: I agree that the changes made in Magna Carta were positive ones. Still, I did not get either game to the table much, and when it came down to trading one away, I chose Magna Carta. The original is still the classic, and the game board is much more visually exciting to me.
Tom R.: Caylus Magna Carta rips the heart and soul out of Caylus. Without the favor track, you’re left with no real worthwhile game. I’ll stick with the masterpiece that is Caylus, please.
Jenseits von Theben (2004)
Jenseits von Theben was a word-of-mouth hit at the 2004 Essen fair, a huge surprise for a first-time designer’s self-published game. Among other things, it introduced the concept of using time to determine player order. Thebes is the updated version, with some altered mechanics and far superior components, but the same theme of competing archeologists.
Jenseits von Theben preference: (1) Nathan
Thebes preference: (6) Mark, Joe Huber, Ted Cheatham, Dale, Patrick Korner, Erik Arneson
No preference: (0)
Mark: This is an excellent example of the right way to republish an already very good game: deal with some fiddly rules and up the production values all the way to “11”.
Joe: As you’ve likely noticed by now, I tend to have a preference for the original version of most games. It’s not universally true, but it’s a good guess with me that I’ll prefer the original. This is an exception. The rules of Jenseits really aren’t that fiddly, but the production of Thebes truly is wonderful, and the game is much easier to get others to play in the new form. I still own the original (well, the 2nd edition; I’d love to find a copy of the very first edition, which included a type of card removed from the second Prinz Spiele printing), but I haven’t played that copy in ages.
Dale: I love the charm of the original – I do have the first edition (which was the last real “find” I had at Essen), but the component quality of the Queen version simply trumps that charm.
Patrick K.: The Queen edition cleans up some of the rules and makes it a more accessible game.
Age of Industry (2010)
Designer Martin Wallace didn’t have very high hopes for Brass, his take on the economics of the Industrial Revolution in the Lancashire portion of England, but thousands of enthusiastic gamers proved him wrong. The system was so successful that Wallace modified it for Age of Industry, which opens the game up for expansions.
Brass preference: (2) Larry, Joe Huber
Age of Industry preference: (1) Ted Cheatham
No preference: (2) Dale, Tom R.
Ted C: I find Age of Industry easier to work, and cleaner. It also has expansion maps.
Dale: I honestly gave up on Brass because of the shoddy rulebook. After three aborted games in the month that it was released, I haven’t touched it since (again going back to my theory that there are too many published games that are produced well for me to have to slog through something that isn’t done well). I’ve played Age of Industry a few times now – thanks to Luke – but I find it a cold experience. At least AoI is playable with the rules, but not playable enough for me to say I prefer it.
Larry: My preference for Brass isn’t a strong one, as AoI is a very good game and the expansions give it some nice variety. But Brass is more challenging and (just as with Age of Steam), I tend to prefer the tougher game when dealing with complex designs like these. I also like the two ages of Brass and the more differentiated industries. Finally, I’m usually fonder of games that are strong enough to provide repeated interest with a single board; in some ways, expansions can feel like a bit of a crutch. But this is one of the few cases in the games we’ve looked at where I’m very happy playing either game in the family.
Tom R.: As Dale explained, neither is really worth playing, hence the no preference selection. They’re just both so bland and fail to engage, whether it’s the slightly more complex Brass or the slightly simplifed Age of Industry.
Le Havre (2008)
Ora et Labora (2011)
Fresh off of his amazing success with Agricola, Uwe Rosenberg’s follow-up of Le Havre was almost as successful. Ora changes the setting from a French port city to managing a monastery, but the two games are definitely related, with the more recent one also including some mechanics from the Farmers of the Moor expansion to Agricola.
Le Havre preference: (3) Fraser, Tom R., Joe Huber
Ora et Labora preference: (4) Larry, Nathan, Dale, Mary Prasad
No preference: (2) Ted Cheatham, Patrick Korner
Larry: This is really premature, since I’ve only played Ora twice. But I honestly think it improves on Le Havre in multiple ways. For one thing, you can actually build an engine in Ora. It’s not really possible in Le Havre, since ownership of a building means so little, but in Ora, your chances of getting to use your own building are much higher, plus you can arrange to use it on the same turn that you build it. I also like the spatial element that Ora provides. There seems to be more paths to victory in the newer game, although I can’t be sure about that yet. And Ora is much less fiddly, thanks to the snazzy new resource wheel. Really, the only thing about the new title that isn’t an improvement is the theme, which does nothing for me. Le Havre was my game of the year in ‘08, so it’s obviously been a favorite of mine. But if you asked me to play it, my reaction right now would be, can’t we play Ora instead?
Nathan: I hated Le Havre, so really this is damning with faint praise to say that I prefer Ora. In both games there is too much to track, and I really don’t like having to know what’s on the little text on a million individual pieces spread everywhere (and in Ora’s case, on a card so you can know what’s coming up in the future). I’m sure when you know the game well that becomes second nature, but there are too many other good games for me to worry about putting in that effort. That said, I do want to try Ora again, just to be sure.
Dale: I like Ora better because it feels like I am actually putting a plan into action (and having time to see that plan come to fruition). My beef with Ora is that I need a huge table to play it on! A 4 player game takes an entire 8-foot cafeteria table so that all players have enough space to build out their territory.
Mary: I don’t care for Le Havre but I really like Ora. I’ve only played Le Havre a couple of times but in both games we had a runaway leader problem (although it was expected in the first game since the rest of us hadn’t played before). Ora offers more bang for the buck (see Larry’s comments).
Patrick K.: I like them both. Possibly a slight edge to Ora, but it’s very slight for now.
Tom R.: These games are so remarkably similar it’s ridiculous. On your turn, you choose between gathering a handful of resource chits of one type, or building a building with those resources, or using a building to convert some resources into some other resources (generally by upgrading from primary to secondary resources). If you do the first thing then you get a number of resources based on how many turns it has been since someone last took that resource type. If you build a building (of which new ones become available as the game progresses) it will be worth a good number of points at the end, but anyone can use it, for a small fee. They’re nearly identical games, except that they have different resource conversion paths. The underlying structure is essentially identical. It’s like having a different map for Age of Steam or Ticket to Ride. The reason I’m not enthused with Ora is having to relearn a whole new set of buildings and resource conversion chains, when I might as well keep exploring Le Havre.
Forbidden Island (2010)
Matt Leacock’s Pandemic is the most successful cooperative game ever created, as the players join forces to save the world from plagues and the galloping crud. He then modified the system for a younger audience in Forbidden Island, which features treasure hunters desperately trying to escape from a sinking island.
Pandemic preference: (6) Mark, Nathan, Patrick Brennan, Erik Arneson, Greg Schloesser, Jeff Allers
Forbidden Island preference: (1) Ted Cheatham
No preference: (3) Dale, Brian Leet, Tom R.
Mark: Pandemic has slightly trickier decisions… and an excellent expansion. But don’t get me wrong – I’m glad I have both of them in my collection!
Ted C: I just sold my Pandemic w/ expansion. Does that give you the message? Forbidden Island is just easy to explain, anyone can learn quickly and it gives you the same feel. I must say as I have in other comments, Pandemic is the superior game. I prefer the “family” version these days.
Dale: I’d rather go home from game night than play cooperative games.
Brian Leet: To me these are both good games for the right audience and mood. My preference may be for one, the other or neither at different times.
Jeff: Pandemic is more tense and more thematically compelling, but I’m glad I have both in my collection, as Forbidden Island (the Schmidt version with the cool painted figures) is a great introduction to cooperative games for not-yet-gaming families.
Tom R.: They’re both so great and serve such different needs that I couldn’t pick one. It’s remarkable how Matt Leacock managed to reimplement the core mechanism from Pandemic in a game with a completely different feel to it. Forbidden Island is the more visceral of the two, while Pandemic is more thinky, but it’s fantastic that both exist.
So that’s how we feel about the latest group of game families. What do you think?