Monday, January 18, 2010

Union vs Central

Nathan Winchester stopped by on Saturday night so that we could finally play Union vs Central (a winsome 2-player game). We actually started the night with me teaching him to play Thunderstone. I had just sleeved the majority of the cards and wanted to give it another go. We used the base set of village cards, but randomized the heroes and monsters. With two players, it was a bit different than 5-players - mostly because our decks got fairly large. We also ended up having the Thunderstone as the second to last card in the deck. This meant we faced and killed 28 monsters between the two of us (compared to the say 4 or so I killed the previous night). Still, it isn't bad as a two player, just longer than I expected.
After we sorted out and picked up Thunderstone, it was on to the main event of the night (and early morning) - Union vs Central. Union vs Central is basically a card game about building rail lines. Each player plays the cards in front of them as they build things from their deck of cards (each has the same 90 card deck). Like a lot of CDGs, the cards are used for multiple things. Cards come in multiple types - land (clear, rough, desert, hills, and mountains), land features (rivers and forests), trains, settlements (depots, town, and cities), and events. Also on the cards are the number and types of goods the cards can be used for when producing goods. Finally, you must use a card to lay track - the backs of the cards have a track on them. There are 6 types of goods in the game (iron, coal, wood, food, water, workers) and pretty much everything but certain event types cost you some amount of goods if you want to play the card. On your turn you can do one of 4 actions:
  1. Dump your hand for a new hand (useful when you need to cycle through cards trying to find a certain type of card)
  2. Produce - you gain the goods listed on a card as well as produce goods on any cards already in play that produce something.
  3. Move - pay to move each train you wish to move. This action lets you maneuver your goods from place to place. Each train can move once a turn (if you can pay to move it)
  4. Play a card - paying if required.
So the game is pretty straight forward. You need tons of goods because nearly everything costs some amount of goods to build - most things cost at least one of each type of good. Movement costs one coal and one worker and trains can only carry a load of six goods - this is critical, as you typically have to take along a worker and coal lest you strand your train once it finishes moving. So moving goods to the end of your line so that you can extend your track on future turns is basically what you are doing. If you can, you enhance the territory so that you are producing extra goods and making life easier on yourself. Of course, if that's all there was to the game, it'd be boring as hell. Oh no - about 1/3 - 1/2 your cards are SERIOUS "take that!" cards. And when I say SERIOUS, I mean the kind of card that make you want to punch the other player in the jimmies kind of card. Because it is such an arduous task to get the goods you need and move them about, and since train cards are in limited supply in your deck, losing the ability to move your train, or worse - losing your train makes your life pure hell. It also makes the game really long. The "short" game is played to 8 rail. After 4.5 hours of playing, I had 6 rail and Nathan had just finished his 6th (well, he finished his 2nd 6th, since I wiped out the middle of his track in a mudslide about 30 minutes before that). It was 1:30 in the morning, so I called the game a draw as I was dead tired.
So what did I think? There are one or two cards that are flat out unfair (worse than the dreaded Bear Trap in Twilight Struggle). The best way to describe the feeling of playing the game would be like playing Agricola. Your goal is to get through the 14 turns (at which point your farm should be filled out). However, the other players can do things to you, which cause the game to reset 6 turns. So, there would be a flood card that would kill all but two family members, take any goods you had, and destroy all but the first column of stuff on your farm board (BTW - that is no exaggeration on the severity of a couple of cards in UvsC). So, imagine trying to finish Agricola when someone can do that to you every couple of turns. And while it is kind of funny to do, it sucks knowing that is going to happen to you too. There was a one hour stretch where I frustrated Nathan to no end - everytime he moved a train, I killed his goods and left him without the ability to move any train he had. That or I just killed his trains. He had to cycle his entire deck just so he could get back to his train cards. On the flip side of that, I ended up cycling my deck to get the one card that could get rid of the bandits he played on me. The bandits were stealing my goods each turn and I couldn't ever get to a point where I could do anything. Once Nathan got his trains back and was ready to move the 8 billion goods he had stockpiled, I played the war card which destroyed all the goods on both player's boards (I didn't care as the bandits had taken all of mine). Not only did that set him back a bit, it re-stranded all his trains again. And so on and so forth - that's how the game is.
I won't say the game wasn't interesting or fun - it was both of those. However, after 4 hours, we each were only halfway to the goal. Whether we got tired of bashing each other or got focused on our own stuff I don't know, but we both knocked out the next two pieces of track pretty quickly. The economies of the game made it look like the last two track (to get to 8) were going to take a VERY long time to get out. Given the nature of the game and the length of time it takes, I'm doubtful whether or not this will get played more than once a year. A couple of other knocks on the game: it is a Winsome game, so of course the quality is a bit low. The card decks are nothing more than cardstock with black ink printing. You have to wonder how long they would stand up. The edition I got came with a set of 90 micro dice for the goods. If I had tried to play with those, I'd have killed myself or quit playing in 15 minutes. As it was, I had upgraded the dice to 12mm and it was still a bit fiddly. With six types of goods, I'm not sure chips or wood bits would have been any better. We got a lot better with them after 3 hours of practice, but it was a little annoying. I'm not sure I want to keep this one in the collection. I don't play a ton of two player games, and this one is long and vicious. I'm not sure I'd pick this over Twilight Struggle or Hannibal if I was going to play a really long two-player game. I'd have to really be in a patient mood to handle all the crap this game throws at you.

1 comment:

Mike G. said...

Sounds miserable.