Thursday, August 26, 2004

Land Ownership in the Efficient German Style

Well the games of choice this week were Löwenherz and Puerto Rico. ????? had bought Löwenherz after being impressed with Domaine. Löwenherz, or “Lionheart” when translated from the German, is essentially an earlier version of Domaine. The principal differences are that the number of land tiles is cut down by three from nine to six in Löwenherz, and the turn mechanic is bid-based, rather than simple draw-or-play. The elder game also uses a different method for scoring areas, and adds “treasure” and “parchment” cards which are good for extra gold and end of game scoring respectively.

Due to its reduced size, Löwenherz feels much more “cramped” by comparison – but as a consequence, domains come into contact with each other quickly. As a result of this, knights, alliances and desertion/traitor cards become important much earlier in the game.

The bidding mechanic is interesting, and lends a social/negotiation aspect to the game which is largely absent from Domaine. Of course, negotiation and social aspects rely very heavily upon the make-up of the gaming group, which is why I imagine it was removed from the revised Domaine. Simply stated, each turn, an action card is turned over which has three actions listed on it. Each player bids for one of the three options with a special bidding card. Since there are only three options, two or more players can compete for the action in a “power trail”, essentially a negotiation of how much one player will pay the other to perform the action; if neither can come to an agreement, or three or more players bid for the same action, there is a “duel” – players secretly bid gold or treasure for the card and the highest bid wins, with the rest keeping their money.

The mediaeval tapestry look of the game board is appealing, but overall the newer Domaine wins in the looks department. A few other minor tweaks (cards for money, altered silver mine rules), combined with the major changes mentioned above makes Löwenherz significantly different from Domaine as to not be simply a “variant”. They play differently, with a few similar mechanics.

Easy won the match easily with a devastating combination of really knight-heavy domains and shrewd bargaining. My attempt at a massive early land grab was subsequently smacked down by a surgical expansion which effectively cut the entire domain in a 1/6 to 5 /6 portion, leaving me with the smallest bit.

As a side note, I thought it was amusing that Löwenherz features a king who is dying (rather than in Domaine, which features a king who is returning from a far-away land) since Richard the Lionhearted of England was famous for being an absentee king and having to deal with squabbling nobles and a prince brother when he returned.

Our second and third games of the night were Puerto Rico, an old favourite which we haven’t played a lot recently. As we’ve become more familiar with mechanics of other German games, we’ve been carefully re-reading and clarifying previous rules, especially the Captain phase shipping rules, which we have played incorrectly previously. Given our collective brainfreeze on the first game of Domaine last week, this is a very good thing.

We were also careful to watch the timing of certain actions, especially with the Settler phase and haciendas, which can make for some confusion, especially with ?????.

The first game felt oddly rushed for some reason, with no one managing to get large buildings completed in time for some reason. Both money and goods seemed in short supply, so much as to elicit a careful recount of components before proceeding. Even colonists were recounted, since the game seemed to be over before anyone was ready. We had no one to blame, though – we had the correct number of everything.

I believe a major factor in the rapid depletion of colonist reserves was the presence of multiple hospices, as well as haciendas, the combination of which can spell a very quick draw from the pool. There also seemed to be more concentration on erecting buildings which had long-term pay-off, rather than actual production buildings. Other than that, none of us could quite account for the odd feeling of our first game.

In the end, Shemp and I tied for first place, with exactly the same amount of victory points and combined goods and doubloons. – 23 victory points and about 12 combined points of goods and doubloons.

The second game felt much more right, with people managing to develop strategies well (confusing Shemp at the same time) with two people building large buildings before Easy brought the boom down by grabbing the Mayor card.

It was a good thing too, because Shemp looked to be pulling away from everyone with not only a harbour and plenty of goods to ship for VP, but also the doubloons to pick up the Custom House in the next building phase. Shemp carried the day with 47 VP, I came in second with 44, and Easy and Hapi brought up the rear with scores that I can’t remember, but were relatively close.

An enjoyable evening, with three solid games (well, two solid games and one shaky one) and some tight races. Also, I tied for first in Puerto Rico for the first time since the first or second time I played. Yay me! I'm usually the bridesmaid for Puerto Rico. One day, I will win, my precious, one day...


  1. You forgot to mention the very big, very expensive sandwiches!!!!
    I thought about the differences between Lowenhurtz and Domaine as I was driving home last night. I think in most ways, I prefered Lowenhurtz's rules. I liked the bidding for actions, I liked the political cards, but most of all I liked that it fixed the biggest flaw in Domaine: the big land grab winner. Since there is no set goal, nobody can win just by sitting in the middle of the board. Even if you do get a pile of points this way, you might lose them very quickly (Like Kozure did). It was a little complicated to grasp, and I have no idea if we eventually got it right, but I think it's worth figuring out for the balance it brings to the game.
    As for winning, it's a little debatable whether I would have held on to win if the King had been sorted properly in the stack (as an "E" rather than a "C"). He happened to come up during 1 of the only 2 turns when I was in the lead!
    Fun game, I'd give it an 8.

  2. Anonymous11:12 PM

    It's me, Easy, posting anonymously because my password isn't working for some reason.
    I just read something interesting... there are two piles of political cards in Lowenhurtz because when you draw one, you get to look at one WHOLE PILE and choose a card. Having two piles keeps players guessing as to which cards other players have, while making the political action much less of a crapshoot than it currently is.

  3. Well, that would change things considerably, and for the better, I think - if one could intentionally grab treasure, or parchment, or whatever your strategy dictated, it makes the politics cards MUCH more attractive.

    I think that personally, I liked the feel of Lowenhertz more than Domaine, BUT only because of the quicker conflicts and lack of fixed end point. I agree w/ Kozure that Domaine looks better (Mos Def), and think that the "final land-grab" method of winning actually won't work any longer. All players are too aware of it, and will want to stop it from happening. With a little co-ordination, it would be fairly painless to chop up any large expanses of territory. (This is a lot like the time that ?????? used the "Many Many Farmers" strategery to kill everyone at Carcassonne - it worked wonderfully once, but is now useless, as everyone is wise to the tatctic and it can be fairly easily stopped).

  4. And the big sandwich, it was big. No more needs to be said about THAT, my friends.

  5. Shemp,
    I think we need to play Domaine again to test your theory. I'm not so sure that we could stop it... The game really encourages the problem by making walls so hard to aquire. I can't see anyone NOT building one or two domaines on the edge of the board to keep them cheap, so the periphery is likely to enclose the middle at some point. The only thing I can see would be that more people will place a third castle in the middle and attempt to carve up the middle in larger chunks by connecting to existing periphery domaines.
    We'll have to see, because as it was the winner almost always won by chance (though the game was still fun)

  6. Yeah, what you said - I think that the initial placing of castles is one method to preventing the LLLG (Large Late Land Grab). The other approach, which I think would avoid the wall problem, is to just expand a kingdom linearly towards the middle from the edge. Shape of kingdom, as we've discovered, doesn't really matter, and this kind of expansion could be discussed and co-ordinated to slice up the centre of the board fairly early.

    We do need to try it again, anyhow.