God’s Playground

Over the last week I was able to get in 2 different games of God’s Playground.  This is the Martin Wallace game about the invasions of Poland through its long history.  So in a minor way you might think of comparing it to Britannia – but that would be wrong.  There is no similarity in the play of these two games.

This is not a game I expected to like.  I don’t have any special interest in the history of Poland, and have never read the book the game takes its title from.  And in truth, this game is overly complicated.  The author chose to tie the game mechanics to the unique history of Poland (or so I assume, being ignorant of any details).  So while the rules around the enemies of Poland are largely the same for the Swedes and Russians, every other power has some special rules.  The Cossacks in Lithuania might fight with the Tartars.  The Ottomans will never accept a treaty, and will eventually attempt attack the Hapsburgs.  And the Hapsburgs… they induce so many special rules that I almost wish the author had not bothered.

But despite the heavy chrome, or maybe because of it, I really like this game.  It has a semi-cooperative feel to it.  In a minor way it reminds me of Red Empire, a card game from GDW years ago about the Soviet Union.  In that game players had to cooperate just enough to avoid having the game win.  The situation is different in God’s Playground.  You really can let Poland burn.  There is even a special rule where you can dissolve the parliamentary body (the Sejm), which would make it even harder to defend Poland.  But due to the unique rules around how enemies travel within Poland once they have a foothold, most of the time players will want to control enemy incursions due to enlightened self-interest!

The same day I played God’s Playground, I also tried Dominant Species.  Wow.  I kind of think there is a chance I will like Dominant Species.  But it was like trying to take just a small sip from the end of a fire hose.  There was way too much to process, and with three new players we were quickly aware the experienced player was going to wipe the floor with us.  Which I honestly don’t mind.  But it was clear to me that some of the players were not enjoying the game, which also limits my ability to enjoy a gaming experience.  So I will try again sometime.

But the dichotomy strikes me.  God’s Playground could honestly be described as overloaded with chrome.  Dominant Species is clearly a bigger, wider, deeper sort of game.  Is it simply my experience with GP that allows it to rise in my estimation, where my first impression of DS was a bit more shaky?


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