Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Common, Rare and Strange

A pseudo-“bye” night; the vagaries of child-raising combined with Tili’s urgent need to complete a deadline made it necessary to play at Kozure’s place two weeks in a row. As it was technically Shane’s pick, he selected Settlers of Catan and Robo Rally, two games which are well known to the group and very commonly played by euro-gamers.

Kicking the evening off with Settlers of Catan, it was nice to play a game which was familiar and simple. Very little thought needed to be given to the mechanics of play; we could then focus on the strategy itself. Strangely, the number “5” came up several turns in a row, with more common numbers like “6” and “8” being given a miss. Kozure jumped into an early lead, but Hapi caught up quickly, wresting the longest road card away from him a few turns after gaining it. Shemp toiled in relative banishment for much of the game, but pulled off an excellent come-back in the last few turns.

The kill-the-leader strategy was in full effect, with the thief being judiciously assigned several times to one of Kozure’s key territories. Easy and Hapi shared the brick monopoly, but careful road and settlement placement allowed Kozure to trade and amass enough resource cards to accomplish the 2:1 ore and 4:1 trades he often found necessary due to the occasional wood and brick shortages. Hapi scored a few times with the usually rare “2” resource roll, and Easy blocked an early effort by Kozure to corner both Hapi and Easy in one area of the map, but Kozure eventually overwhelmed the market and built his way to victory, winning with the longest road, three cities and two settlements.

Left with a mitt full of resource cards at several points (especially Kozure), all the players reflected on the rareness of the thief roll (at critical points) and the boom/bust nature of the economy, which resulted in an uneven pacing of the game – long periods of no building, followed by windfalls of resources and frantic construction. A strange game.

Settlers of Catan is the equivalent of a Harvey’s burger for me; not subtle or complex, easy to digest, not really hard to swallow, nor challenging, but relatively satisfying nonetheless. It therefore falls on the other end of the brain-burn scale for me from, say, El Grande or Tigris and Euphrates, which, despite being fun in themselves, cannot be taken lightly.

Robo Rally, Richard Garfield’s fun little work, was similarly odd. Though off to an early lead again, Kozure found himself stymied by luck and fellow players on the second flag. A more jammed than usual first flag resulted in several comical results, with Shemp pulling a C3PO as he blindly navigated through a sea of dangers – pits, conveyors and fellow robots – to touch the flag despite his damage and the dangers and clawed his way back into the running after some initial set-backs. A series of battles around the second flag resulted in Kozure’s demise, which, combined with his problems in noticing key wall segments behind other players’ pieces earlier in the game, resulted in his last-place finish. Shemp flew past the other players and pulled off the win, with Easy and Hapi taking second and third place respectively.

In both games, Shemp came from behind to finish very respectably (second and first). As his stats prove, he's no pushover.

Robo Rally is a fun little game, but it depends heavily on players being able to select their actions quickly. The tendency is to over think. Strangely -and more than once- Shemp’s accidental selection of cards did not result in his death, though it usually proves fatal. I think a potential variant for the next session of this game is to auction off a set number of option cards (Princes of Florence or Power Grid style) with an arbitrary amount of cash (say, 10 electros from Power Grid), with each player being permitted a maximum of three options. Another potential variant is a timed planning phase, in which a set limit of time is permitted for planning (egg timer or digital countdown stopwatch). Unplanned registers are filled randomly from the player’s hand. It would be frantic, but would add a new twist to the game.

A fun evening with WAGS. Are there any other kinds?


  1. Kozure,

    I thought your comparison of Settlers of Catan to a Harvey's Burger was a good one. I'd like to add one thing, though: When I get toghether with other friends for the express purpose of having a good burger, I would be unlikely to choose Harvey's. I enjoy Settlers, but much moreso as a game to play with non-gamers. With WAGS, I prefer just about anything else.

    Robo-Rally, on the other hand, I like quite a bit. It's chaotic and random, and isn't particularly elegant or balanced, but is always FUN. It's a little frustrating that by the last half of the game the winner is normally fairly obvious, but we've had a few games lately were we've all been surprised!

    For the sake of stats, I'd like to point out that I actually won that game of Robo-Rally. My Rear laser came in handy many times over, and I went from the third to last flag pretty much unchallenged. I seem to remember that your robot had it's last save point marginally closest to the flag, putting YOU technically in second place, with Shemp and Luch tied for last (of course, it's really hard to guage anything past the win in this game, so probably the three of you tied for 2nd).

    I also want to clarify that if there was an award for "Most improbable escape from oblivion" it would go to Shemp, for managing to sit for MANY turns within a few points of destruction and in the middle of a frenzy of robots and still guide his hopelessly register locked robot to the flag without dying.

    I think you might have gotten confused with the game we played this weekend, where Shemp was hobbling to victory, only to be turned around and sent on a wild goose chase by his locked registers... giving Rick the win.

  2. You are correct in that Shemp won - my notes on the game confirm this.

    While my save point was closer to the flag, Shemp and Hapi's bots were closer to the finish than I - reading the notes, the actual finish order was:


    ...based on distance from the flag at end of game.

  3. I think subliminally, you want Shemp to have won that game.

    You say, once more, that Shemp won, and then list me as the winner.

    Did I do anything to offend you? Am I not worthy of winning Robo-Rally? Won't somebody think of the children? What came first, chicken or the egg? Leggo my eggo?

  4. Stop, Drop and Roll!
    No, Go and Tell!

  5. Seriously, I wasn't aware that you fellows were sick of Settlers, or I would never have selected it to play. I just saw it on the shelf and figured that it had been a while, and I wanted to see if it had grown on me any more.
    Maybe it's grown on me a little, but not too much. Same issues as before.

    As far as Robo-rally, I'd really like to try some of Kozure's suggestions at the end of the post.

    And as far as my luck, well, I'd rather be lucky than good anyday. Or something.

  6. I'm not at all sick of Settlers. It's a nice diversion game. I personally don't enjoy serious brain-burning games quite as much as medium-weight games, so it's a nice change to throw it in once in a while.