Friday, July 10, 2009

Review -- YETISBURG: Titanic Battles in History Vol. I

YETISBURG: Titanic Battles in History Vol. I

Oh how I wanted to like this game.
Yetisburg: Titanic Battles in History Vol. I was a game which sent all the right signals when I first came across it. It was a card game loosely based on the American Civil War, and that is something I've always held an interest in.
The game also pastes a neat fantasy theme over the Civil War aspect, adding the idea that both sides in the conflict have Yetis in the army, not to mention mastodons as artillery units. Corny, sure, but it sounds like a lot of fun too.
So the game arrives, and the art on the cards is fantastic. Clean designs, with a style that is very much caricature in nature.
Then a few flaws start to emerge.
There is a set of markers to punch out. Generally no big deal, but these are some kind of pressed paper, and if not very careful punching them out, they would start to expand and come apart. If they ever got a tad bit of moisture they'd probably puff up like popcorn, and even repeated play could cause these to fray a lot.
So then you have the cards and pieces, and find they no longer fit into the box. That is a major annoyance for several reasons. One the box is great in that it has two snarling Yetis on it, one in grey and the other in a blue uniform. To toss the box is a shame.
Boxes also store far better than a game stuck in a sandwich baggie.
A better design here would have been a huge plus. It doesn't affect game play, but it does nothing to endear one to the game either.
Next is game play. Designers Joshua J. Frost and Mike Selinker have kept this 2008 release from Titanic Games pretty simple. In fact, the game may be a tad too simple for its own good.
Players essentially line up their forces (a selection of their cards), and do battle across an imaginary battle line.
Now I have read enough books on the Civil War, and watched enough documentaries, to recognize the battle field was a terribly random place. Muskets were not the most reliable of weapons, and the battlefield was often a place of chaos. Yetisburg captures that in the sense of a lot of randomness. For example, it's the luck of the draw which direction among the three forward shooting arcs a soldier actually fires.
It's also random who among your forces actually attacks on a given turn too.
The problem is while the mechanics reflect the vagaries of a Civil War battle, there isn't a real sense of drama to it. So suddenly randomness becomes simply randomness.
Players have very limited control over game play, with limited opportunities to make decisions which ultimately impact the game.
Granted, there is humour in a Yeti rushing through its own line, bashing friendly soldiers as it goes. There is humour in a mastodon blowing up and wiping out friendly soldiers with 'chunks of flying meat.
However, it's an element of humour which fades with a few plays. A joke loses its punch once you've heard it a few times.
If you get a chance to play this one, do indulge. It's good to experience a few times. Just hope someone else has bought it, otherwise you are left having to find a place to store a game in a bag, since you will play it rarely.


-- Review first appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper July 1, 2009 - Yorkton, SK. Canada

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