Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Machu Picchu - Careful What You Wish For

Well, after not playing any biggies for awhile, suddenly I get a couple "big boxers" in.  Last night I played The Princes of Machu Picchu with my wife.  It was actually us playing judge, jury and executioner.  I'm looking to clear out some more cabinet space but wanted to test out some games that were almost on the chopping block.

The deciding line of the argument?  Afterwards my wife said:

"We played Machu Picchu for over an hour and a half and my head doesn't hurt in the least."

She then went on to say she got more brain burn out of 30 minutes of Metropolys or Race for the Galaxy.  This was her way of saying "why did we play that?"

And I'm pretty much with her.  I don't have to have a good brain burn, but if I'm not getting a brain burn I better be getting something else such as laughter and tears.  Especially if a game lasts 90 minutes.

And after playing Machu Picchu again, I think I get more brain burn in Lost Cities or Battle Line.  And those games last 20 minutes.

So what was up with Machu Picchu?  This is the third and probably the last time I'm going to play it.

Moving the bits just takes too long.  To generate goods I have to turn in units of corn and take back units of goods.  And I probably do this 4 times per game round.  Then I turn back in some of them to place Incas.  I turn back in some others to buy Priests and Virgins.  I know other games have this whole currency exchange, but they don't take up the whole dang game with it.  In Puerto Rico for example you don't turn in Coins to Produce Only Indigo.  That would just take too long.  And all that time is *not* adding decisions.  In Machu Picchu almost every good is always worth more than a single unit of Corn; unless you are desperately low on Corn which is your own dang fault.

It's like he tried to go for Micro Turns.  And yes, the choice each turn is fairly Micro, but the execution of it can be tedious.  Especially the market.  I realize it's a nice way to balance out the supply and demand of resources, but giving a player unlimited buy/sell in a single turn is just asking for Analysis Paralysis.  I was suffering of it myself.  And each buy/sell involves another transaction with the Corn Bank.  I swear over 60 minutes of the 90 minute playtime is just pushing corn back and forth.

The strategy isn't really *deep*.  Get Incas -> get Priests / Virgins -> get Cards.  Choose cards that match your Incas & Priests and Virgins.

I realize that sometimes the whole "Spanish Victory" might threaten.  But really, it hasn't in the 3 games I've played.  Hell, it hasn't even made it into the last day yet.  Why?  Because I'm efficient about getting all my Incas down early and churning up a boat load of resources.  I suppose I could avoid doing this, but then another player would and they'd be ahead of me on resource generation.  Last night my wife would have won if the Spanish had conquered.  But she knew they weren't going to by the 6th or 7th turn so she had to help buy out the Priests & Virgins or she would lose horribly.

Teaching the game is a real chore too.  For some reason the score cards really mess with people.  I really want to just say "It's a Sumproduct of the Active Symbols on your cards crossed with your Incas and Priests / Virgins".  Some people understand that and move on.  Others get distracted by the big pictures on the score cards.  I honestly never even noticed the big pictures on the score cards until someone asked me what they meant.  I eventually figured out they were just large representations of the small highlights on the left.

There are other odd gotchas:

There are two distinct places to set up Incas that allow access to mutually exclusive Inca areas.

There is one place to buy Priests but two different places to Sacrifice to the respective types.
And yet the Virgins have one place to buy and one place to sacrifice.

The board regions still mess with me every time I play.  The Llama field being connected to that Watchmen's Hut; I always miss that.  The map shouldn't be a game of Hide and go Seek.  I think it would have been better done with Areas connected by lines.

How did the last game play out before it hit the trade pile?

My wife and I opened with quickly getting 3-4 more Incas down.  I continued pounding the Incas until I had them all down by turn 4-5ish.  My wife slowed down and yoinked a Virgin to claim a couple extra early cards.  This let her focus on Llama Inca scoring and dumped all her remaining Incas in the Llamas slowly over the rest of the game.

She eventually bought out the Condor Priests and I bought out the Puma Priests.  I then leveraged my resources to really ramp up card production.  I didn't have much common symbols on my cards, but I also had a minimum of two Incas in every production area so that wasn't a big deal.

I bought out the final Priest and Virgin at the end of turn 8.  My wife scored a whopping 6x5=30 points on Llama incas.  My sheer number of cards and consistent 4-5 vp per card netted me 5 more points than her in the end.  We both ended in the 60-70 point range.

Are there some redeeming qualities of the game?  Yea there are a few.

The bits are AMAZING.  When you get a llama, you get a Llama!  That's just above and beyond in these days of euro cubes.

The idea of the micro turn is very solid.  There are no phases to the game.  Each player just continues taking turns until the game ends.  All the "sun tile" does is trigger the renewal of the Production and Sacrifice regions.

There is tension in the order of production.  If you are placing incas this turn you'd like to get them down before production hits.  That's sometimes hard to do.  It's also rough sometimes when you run too low on corn and an opponent forces a production you can't benefit from.  (Fairly easy to avoid by selling to the market when you get low though...)

There is tension in card collection.  The early Priest/Virgins give the best ramp up the card track.  The more Priests/Virgins that are bought the worse they perform.  That's a rough bit of diminishing returns to deal with.

The Market actually does work at equalizing out Supply and Demand of resources.  If a production region is short on Incas, you better believe the Market price for those goods will soon Skyrocket.  In my final game I really wanted to shift one of my Shirt Incas because they weren't matching my scoring Symbols.  I didn't do it though because there were only 3 Incas collectively in the Shirt District and the Shirt prices at market had already hit the upper limit.  It was better to churn more shirts so I could afford the Puma dudes that did match my Symbols.

So, after all that, my final verdict is "Meh".  It's heading to the trade pile.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Behave. Your mamma could read this.