Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Board Game Review - 2 de Mayo

In the ten years that I've been writing game reviews, I've reversed my opinion on exactly two games. The first was one of my very first reviews, and I can't exactly cry over spilt milk (by the way, Nexus Ops is a pretty cool game). The second time was today.

When I posted my review of 2 de Mayo at BoardGameGeek, more than a dozen people showed up to emphatically inform me that not only had I not understood the game, but that I was probably illiterate and possibly retarded (I may have paraphrased a little). When one person takes offense, I know I did something right. When every single person hates the review, I may have overlooked something. So I talked my son into playing this with me one more time, to see if I might have been struck blind.

I was not blind, but I did mistake this game for something it was not. We played it all wrong (by which I mean we followed the rules, but didn't understand HOW you play), and now that I see what we did wrong, and the point of the game, it's actually a pretty damned fun game. It's short and interesting, and actually has a huge element of bluffing and sneaking and out-thinking.

Also, tonight the Spanish won.

I think a huge part of why this game irritated me so much was that my initial three plays were ruled by a ridiculous amount of bad luck for the Spaniards. Cards refused to work in their favor, no matter who was playing them, and the French seemed to be crapping gold nuggets. There are a few cards that the French can get that can really turn the tide, and several Spanish cards that rely on good timing to be effective. That just didn't work out in favor of the poor Spaniards, and the French just kept tearing through them like Rosie O'Donnell at a Vegas buffet.

Another factor was that the game doesn't really tell you what it is. It's not an area control game, and the Spanish don't win by outfighting the French. They really can't compete at all in a fight, but what they can do is run faster and hide better than the French. If you play this game thinking you'll score an early win by killing a bunch of Napoleon's finest, you're doing it wrong. You know, like we did.

The mechanics are really cool. The hidden orders and simultaneous movement is the kind of mechanic I would love to see in a regular tabletop wargame. The card play - well, honestly, I could live without it. I would just as soon see this whole game play out without any of the cards. I think it would be a much more interesting game if you weren't relying on luck to pull your fat out of the fire.

So my verdict is officially changing - and take a picture, because this doesn't happen a lot. 2 de Mayo is actually a very fun game. I will definitely play it again.

Now, just because I'm changing my stance on this one does not mean I'm making a habit of it. Look at my reviews of Shadows Over Camelot, Apples to Apples or Mutant Chronicles CMG - I'm not changing my mind on those. Still don't like 'em, and the number of people who told me I was wrong actually outnumbered the feedback for this game. But the way I see it, if you're going to be able to trust me when I tell you a game is good or bad, I need to be honest, even when it means I have to eat a little crow.

But I'm still not playing Puerto Rico again. SOOOO boring.


Cool order and movement mechanics
Plays fast
Outbluff and outmaneuver your opponent - it's fun, I swear

Card play can completely ruin it
Should probably tell you what kind of game it actually is

This is the original review. I'm keeping it up for posterity.

Some of the most exciting games come from historical events. The battles of World War II have spawned more games than nearly any other piece of the past, for example. Something about playing out actual events that actually occurred where actual people actually died makes people think, 'man, that would be a fun game.'

However, if you're going to make a game based on actual events, you should probably pick a day where one side didn't run through the other like crap through a goose. For instance, a game recreating the exciting events of Saint Valentine's Day would probably not be particularly engaging for anyone involved.

Another confrontation that would not make a fun game would the events of May 2, 1808, where the Spanish finally figured out that Napoleon was not bringing massive armies through Spain to help carry all the gift baskets. Because what actually happened was that the French completely decimated the Spanish, but they were so mean about it that the entire country rose up in rebellion. The day is celebrated in Spain as the birth of modern Spain.

While that is an important day, it's not exactly a balanced scenario. There were an absolutely ludicrous number of French soldiers in Madrid when the Spanish decided to get all testy, and it took them less than a day to kill just about every Spaniard in the city (well, that's an exaggeration, but the Spanish did take one hell of an ass-kicking). And when you faithfully recreate a bloody massacre as a game, it doesn't really lend itself to startlingly exciting game play. It's more like playing tetherball with a triple amputee - it's great to win, but you can't really be all that excited about it when the only time the ball was returned to you, it's because it bounced off the other guy's face.

The game has some potential - if it was a different game. You draw cards that can change the game and give you huge benefits, unless you're the Spanish and they won't actually do you any good. Then you write down your orders in secret, moving your soldiers all over the city. Both sets of orders are carried out at the same time, and then anywhere that one group is bigger than another group, the other group gets shot in the junk. If the two sides were balanced, this could have a ton of potential. The idea of bluffing, out-guessing and out-maneuvering another force is an interesting concept, and could really make for a fun game, if you don't start out with one side so beat down that they don't have a snowball's chance in Hell.

This is not even remotely fair. The French have a four-to-one numerical advantage over the Spanish, which means that if the Spanish don't win in the first two turns, they're probably screwed. And if they do manage to make it past the third turn, they're still probably screwed. The French run roughshod over the Spanish, and no stilted victory conditions are going to make up for the fact that one side is going to lose nine out of ten games.

In fact, I'm not really sure I would call this a game, as much as a history lesson played out with wood cubes. I'm all for theme and historical accuracy, but if you're going to try to be all historical, how about something like the Tet Offensive or Anthony versus Augustus? Some of the cards actually relate true stuff that happened - like French soldiers executing Spaniards in firing squads. The Spanish have lame cards that slow down one guy in a huge group, so that instead of being outnumbered five to one, they only have to face four times their number.

Call me crazy, but if I'm going to play out stuff that really happened, I don't think I would choose Kent State or Wounded Knee. I don't think I'm overly picky to want a game with some semblance of balance. If one side is going to slaughter the other, that's not a good scenario for a board game. That's a good scenario for a horror movie that ends badly.

It's a shame, really, because there are some cool parts of this game. The secret order and simultaneous movement could have a ton of potential in a different game. And the map is nice, too. But I don't ever want to play 2 de Mayo again, because I'm so dreadfully irritated at how hard it is for the Spanish to win. Take those cool mechanics and put them into a tactical game with a little balance to it, and I'm in. Instead, the Spanish player is going to finish every game waking up in the shower and wondering why his ass hurts.


Some potentially cool mechanics
Nice map of Madrid
Plays fast, and easy to learn

Unbalanced, unfair and unfun
Stilted, wholesale slaughter might make for great history lessons, but it makes a crappy game

For an unbalanced game that might actually be entertaining, I propose Carrot Top versus this guy:


Anonymous said...

Matt, I was really very interested in this game at one point, and wondered how that situation could be made into a good game. Thanks for the review, man, that's clears up a lot.



Iain said...

@Matt Until I read your last comment, I didn't read the top review, as I thought that was the original.

Maybe you should identify the original more clearly somehow for other speed-reading retards like me? :-)

P.S. Are you on Twitter?

Yoricks bones said...

Also, I guess there is a site where one can get this game? Because the current 'posterity' link sort of leaves a sour impression, being the only link in the post. Perhaps a new link would be in order?

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