December 19, 2012

The 13th B'aktun

The Internet seems abuzz with the Maya calendar and 2012, but it's rare for that buzz to include anything factual about the Maya.  I contemplated a long ramble, but decided to direct you to David Stuart's succinct explanation here.

For anyone boarding themselves up on the 21st, the correlation between our calendar and the Maya calendar is still a debated issue.  The PARI Journal just published a paper that advocates for a correlation that would push the much-anticipated date to Christmas Eve (link).  That paper's kind of technical, so here's a more general explanation of correlations and the complications of the Gregorian Calendar, which favors the 584285 correlation (link).

However much I'm not worried about the world ending, I am excited to see a b'aktun complete.  I will not be alive for the next one in 2407.  So I'll be celebrating how we celebrate most things around here: treats and boardgames.

See you all next year!

ETA: And, of course, as soon as I post this, David Stuart's blog pops up with an accessible-yet-detailed explanation of  the breadth of the Maya calendar, here.

December 4, 2012

Galaxy Trucker vs. Mondo

Galaxy Trucker, by Vlaada Chvatil from Rio Grande Games:  In a galaxy far, far away... they need sewer systems, too. Corporation Incorporated builds them. Everyone knows their drivers -- the brave men and women who fear no danger and would, if the pay was good enough, even fly through Hell.

Now you can join them. You will gain access to prefabricated spaceship components cleverly made from sewer pipes. Can you build a space ship durable enough to weather storms of meteors? Armed enough to defend against pirates? Big enough to carry a large crew and valuable cargo? Fast enough to get there first?

Of course you can. Become a Galaxy Trucker. It's loads of fun. --Description from

Mondo, by Michael Schacht, from Z-Man Games: In Mondo, players compete against each other while also racing against the clock. Each player has a small world board with empty spaces on it, and all players simultaneously pick tiles depicting different animals and environments from the middle of the table and place them on their world board, trying to create complete areas of the same environment. A new tile must be placed next to an already placed tile, but the environmental borders don't have to match. (These errors will earn negative points when the board is scored.)

When the timer runs out, players score bonus points for each animal and each completed environment and score negative points for volcanic tiles, empty fields on the world board and mismatched tiles (for example, a tile with a forest border connecting with a tile with a water border).

Mondo includes three degrees of difficulty, in addition to additional goals and ways to achieve (and lose) bonus points, as well as rules for solo play. --Description from

I'm partial to both of these games.  Each uses a similar mechanic...which I don't have a name for.  Tiles are placed face-down (or face-down-ish) in the center of the table.  Players can pick up one at a time, then decide to either add it to their board, or pick another one.  Everyone does this in a jumbled hurry, working against the clock and each other.

In Galaxy Trucker, players have to line up the various kinds of connectors, and grab the right kinds of pieces to make their ship fly.  After the ship is built, players face a randomized stack of cards.  Sometimes there will be asteroids (hope you built shields into your ship), sometimes pirates (you'll hurt if you don't have lasers), or cargo pick-ups (for which you'll need cargo spaces).

There's something exciting about playing through this phase of the game with the ship you've built, but it's also occasionally frustrating.  If you finish your ship first, you play first, and many cards affect players in order.  So, pirates start with attacking the first player.  If the first player defeats them, he or she gets a bonus, and no one else gets the chance to fight.  First player gets their choice of cargo first, too.  I've found that playing with a group of people who know how to put a ship together, going first is usually a huge advantage.  It's possible to pass someone and take over the first position, but it depends on what cards appear.

In Mondo, your objective is to build an island, matching habitats to habitats with their animals.  There's something my control-freak-self really likes about this.  I know, when I put down certain tiles that I'm going to get certain points out of it.  The cards deliniating bonus points also change every round, so the game doesn't get stale.

Mondo also has a nice check on runaway leader syndrome.  Usually players are only docked points for active (red) volcanoes on their island, but the winner of a previous round is also penalized for dormant volcanoes, which makes putting together a high-scoring island rather difficult.

I enjoy the puzzle-like play of putting space ships or islands together.  Galaxy Trucker is a bit more random, but there are space pirates.  Mondo lets me be meticulous.  My tastes lean towards Mondo, but I can't pass up a game of Galaxy Trucker, either.

Has anyone played a game with a similar tile mechanic?  These are the only two I'm familiar with.