Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cronberg: Not perfect but still somehow compelling

Cronberg is a game that has come close to leaving my collection many times. I think it's a game where luck of the draw can really make too strong a difference. At the same time, there's something appealing for me. I think it's an honestly flawed game but one I keep finding fun.

Cronberg is a tile laying game where you're playing rhombus tiles on a hexagonal grid of triangles. It's themed around city building or holidays at the beach, which kind of means the theme isn't the big thing here.

On your turn, you either place one of your pawns on an intersection in the grid OR draw a rhombus tile that will cover two triangles on the grid. Every tile has a number on each corner, either positive or negative and ranging from a puny one to a whopping eight.

There will be orphan triangles that can't be covered over the course of the game. There are three different kinds of spaces that offer special effects. Parks will double the score of pawns next to them, which includes negative scores. Coat of arms will make negative points happy positive points. Guards will make pawns leave the board without scoring, which I haven't seen happen but that's because guards make everyone paranoid.

Pawns score when all the spaces around them are full (which gets you back that pawn for later play) or at the end of the game if there's an orphan triangle by them. You add up all the numbers on the tips of tiles that touch the pawn and apply any special powers. 

Here's my beef. The luck of the draw can be brutal, game deciding. The high value tiles are so powerful, either for getting points or attacking opponents. Low value tiles are little more than space fillers.  Yeah, I do enjoy chaotic games but every other element is under the players' control. When just about everything else in the game is very deterministic, the swing of the tiles just seems very strong and feels odd.

And yet, I still like Cronberg.

It's a short game, under a half hour. So the random factor doesn't sting as much. It's easy to teach without being boring for more experienced gamers. And, let's face it, the rhombus tiles are neat. They were rare when Cronberg first came and they're still uncommon. And with the special powers of the orphan triangles, the choice of rhombus has a mechanical effect, not just an aesthetic one.

But the real draw for Cronberg is tension. Tile or pawn? The tile might create a scoring opportunity for someone else but placing a pawn can leave you open to be attacked. And for such a light game with such seemingly non-confrontational mechanics, there's a lot of room for spite.

I will admit that a friend gave me his old Kronberger Spiele edition so I have a manufactured copy. However, most of its existence, Cronberg has been a free PnP game. Frankly, Cronberg had to be pretty amazing as a free PnP in 2003.

 Cronberg isn't a perfect game. I'm not even sure it's a great game. But I keep on having fun with it so I keep on owning it.

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