Friday, August 19, 2005

Microwave Popcorn

I tried to come up with a theme for this Wednesday, but couldn't. The closest I came to a common thread between this week's games was during my thoughts on food for the evening, and it occured to me that microwaved popcorn nicely tied together RoboRally and Power Grid . Couldn't get Colossal Arena to fit, though.

I broke out my somewhat recently aquired RoboRally (the re-release by Avalon Hill). We had all played with the earlier version before, so I was curious how they would compare. I'm going to assume that anyone reading this already knows how to play the game, and focus on the changes which have been made. To put it succinctly, they went for quantity, not quality. The new box has all sorts of counters (life tokens, damage counters, power down tokens), bits (plastic robots, plastic flag markers, players mats, timer) and boards (4 double sided boars + 1 double sided starter board). None of it, however, is up to the quality standards of the original. The robots are squat, largely undifferentiated plastic figures which are painted to look like pewter. The boards are thick, but do not match the originals in heft and quality of finish. I don't want to be too harsh, however, because some of the additional stuff is pretty good. The plastic flags are quite nice because they do not obscure what is beneath them. The player mats are a nice idea (although they could have been MUCH smaller), and the timer is a welcome addition. The biggest change, rules and component wise, are the starter boards. Gone are "virtual robots", the kludgy mechanic which made robots indestructible for a turn as they scrambled away from the start position. Now, every 'bot gets it's own start spot on the new 1/3rd sized board and it's off to the races. I also want to mention what is probably my favorite part of the new release... the revamped course guide. There are now LOTS of layouts to choose from, categorized by difficulty and length (many with interesting variations, such as capture the flag, team play, moving flags, etc).

I chose a single board expert course described as "short" called "Raid the Vault" (I think). On my very first turn, I completely missprogrammed my robot (because I thought I was a different robot on another starting space). Basically, I flew right into a pit... That was the start of a very "interactive" race, which saw us interfering with each others' plans more often than not (and since we were making efforts to play quickly, we fairly often made mistakes on our own). In short, it was exactly what RoboRally should be: Chaotic and unpredictable. I died again on the second or third round (pushed by another robot off track, and spent several turns sitting in front of Luch's lasers until I killed myself to start fresh with my last life). Despite this, I successfully caught up to Kozure, the leader, and managed to make it to the end first for the improbable win!

We followed with Power Grid. The game started quite oddly with quite a few large power plants making it out very early. This had the effect of stalling the regular process of the "future" power plants making their way into the "present" market because every new plant we would draw was lower than those to come (and yes, we did remember to get rid of the highest one each round). I started strong with control of northern Germany (kozure, Shemp and Luch divied up the south), and a lead in powered cities, which gave me the cash to buy up some of the expensive plants early. Thinking that I could safely wait until later on to develop the rest of the north, I started hoarding cash so that i could make a charge south once step 2 came along... however two things messed up my plans: 1) Kozure made a daring push through my 2 city thick barrier to the north, and started gobbling up my cities and 2) My ranking as first bit me, because Luch had the same plan to charge the south of Germany once step two came around... since he was last he acted first and bought up ALL the cities I planned to take with his hoard of cash. i tried to learn from my mistakes and purposefully fell to last place in the ranking by not building for several turns. I thought of a plan: My early aquisitions of big power plants mean that I had capacity to power a large number of cities (14), while the stalled power plant market meant that even late in the game the other players still had small plants. I decided to hoard cash and wait for step 3, then buy up all remaining cities i needed to finish the game (9 of them) before the rest bought enough power plant capacity to power more than me. Amazingly, it worked! I ended the game before anyone suspected it was close to finishing (I think).

All this, and we still had time for a game of Colossal Arena. I hadn't played before, but I had heard very good things from my fellow WAGSters (who had played it on a few occasions when I couldn't make it). The game, on the surface, is very simple. 9 creatures (from a pool of 12) are layed out side by side, and the story is that they are fighting in an arena. On your turn, you MAY place a bet on a creature and you HAVE TO play a card numbered 1 to 10 on any of the creatures (not necesarily the one you bet on). Once all the creatures have a numbered card, the round ends and the one with the lowest value is "killed". Therefore, you bet on the ones you think/ hope will make it to the end of the 5 rounds of combat (bets in ealrier rounds are worth more), and you play numbered cards to boost the ones you want to survive or weaken the ones others have bet on. It's a tough decision, though, because you can only play one card each turn. The game is complicated somewhat because each creature has a power which can be activated by the player with the biggest bet riding on it. I didn't really get comfortable enough to benefit from the powers, but I'm sure that in the long run they should add some additional strategic depth to the combat.

The game started out normally (I assume). Kozure went long on two creatures by using two of his 5 bets in the first round. The third round seemed to go on forever, as players opted to save the creatures they invested in rather than attack and finish the round. With so much of the deck spent, the game ended when the last card was drawn. After the dust settled, I tied Kozure for points, but he won on the secondary win conditions.

I thought it had the potential to be a very good game. I was a little shell-shocked on this play because I tried to absorb the creature powers right away, and i don't think it was necessary. I definitely look forward to more plays, though! It's amazing what knizia does with the numbers 1 through 10!!! (High Society, Lost Cities, etc)

2 wins and a virtual tie. Not a bad night! (though we never did microwave any popcorn)

Colossal Arena: 7


  1. Anonymous3:02 PM said there were huge power plants at the beginning. Are you sure you sorted the 8 of them as per the rules? Top four cards is the area which can be auctioned and the lowest to highest starts here then the bottom four are the future area.

  2. Yeah, we played correctly. After the starting plants, the first several plants drawn were in the high twenties and low thirties.

  3. Ayup. Top eight were 2 through 10, the next plant on the top pile was 13. Phase 3 card on the bottom of the pile.

    It was just an odd coincidence of power plant card shuffling. Not all of them were high, but enough were that it really slowed down the middle phase of the game. I didn't look, but I suspect that some or many of the cards that were randomly removed from the power plant pile as required by four player rules might also have been in the 14-29 range, which might have also exacerbated the situation.

  4. Kozure, it does my heart good to see someone on the Interwebs use the word 'exacerbate', instead of the grating 'exasperate'.

    The vocabulary and grammar nit picker within me thanks you.

  5. Heh. You're welcome, Shemp.

    Now, lessee... post-game analyses:

    The new chrome for Robo Rally does help, especially the hourglass sand timer, though Hapi seemed to lose interest in it after we all started getting faster at programming. I also like the stand-up transparent flags, which make placement of archive markers much easier.

    Game play was pretty tricky in this particular course. I managed to stay in front for most of the race, but a decision to not power down after taking four damage points in order to try stay in the lead ended up costing me in the end, combined with Easy's remarkable come-back, of course.

    Robo Rally remains pretty random. It's fun lies in dealing with chaos and minimizing its impact upon you, while maximizing the randomness to kill off/slow down your opponents.

    Strangely, I prefer the graphics and art on the register and option cards in the previous version over this one.

    Power Grid. What a great game.

    I was actually pretty surprised by the strategy employed by both Hapi and Easy during the game. I've never really thought to save up my hard earned electros for a few turns to make a massive city-grab. I guess I'm always so focused on a slow and steady model of growth that I miss the opportunity for big moves like that.

    I think the unusual spread of high-numbered power plants in mid-game made this play an anomaly, rather than a textbook example. I actually saw the possibility of a big city grab about two turns before you did it, Easy, but I wasn't able to snag the plants that would allow me to power as many cities as you were able to.

    Colossal Arena was also unusual for the length of the third round combat. In five plays thus far, I haven't seen any round of combat go on that long. As I commented during the game, there was a definite enemy/ally team-up going, largely unintentionally, which resulted from placement of bets on the same creature. Thus, we had four people in teams of two pairing up to try to dispatch the enemy team's monsters while saving their own. With effectively two hands as resources, I can see why what happened, happened.

    I was pleased that I squeaked by in the end... it was a tough battle.

    So, two anomaly games (Power Grid and Colossal Arena) and one straightforward but hard-fought one (Robo Rally). A challenging evening.

  6. Anonymous9:20 PM

    re. Colossal Arena: aren't you supposed to start with eight creatures? If you started with nine I can see the game lasting a little longer than normal...


  7. We did actually play with eight. Easy remembered incorrectly. I was going to correct him on that count, but it seemed inconsequential enough that I didn't put in the effort to post.

    Now that it's pointed out, I thought I should correct the record.

  8. My memory, she ain't so good sometimes.

    umm. Most of the time.

    where... am... I?