Thursday, January 26, 2006

Choo-choo-choosing (Settlers of Catan, Railroad Tycoon)

Not only did JayWowzer, our occasional visitor from California, join us on this cold Toronto evening but so did Shamus… a brand new player! It's always great to meet new people, and I hope he enjoyed it enough to come back (he'll always be welcome, but WAGS can be an oppressive* and intimidating* place, so he may not want to!)

* WAGS is neither oppressive or intimidating, but we ARE geeky. Oppressive and intimidating sounds cooler, though.

Being new to the group (and german games in general), we started him off with the "mandatory german intro game"… Settlers of Catan. Kozure, JayWowzer and I set up the board and explained the rules. We used the suggested starting layout from the rules to level the playing field and ensure a balanced game for everyone. We also used the "tournament rules" I read about at BGG, starting everyone with a city and a village. Shamus seemed to catch on pretty quick, so we dove right in

One awkward aspect of introducing new players to eurogames is that you want them to have fun, so there is sometimes a sense that you might have to play "sub-optimally" so they don't get trashed. I shouldn't have worried... In his very first game, not only did Shamus play a very tight game BUT HE WON.

Impressive…. Most impressive.

Shamus won by building on his lucrative patches of land, connecting a few ports and establishing the largest army. JayWowzer built up the coast of Catan, running away with longest road and founding quite a few villages and cities along the way. Kozure was building his own little empire on the opposite side of the board (he made a run for longest road near the end but never made it). I started in the center and eventually was blocked from any paths for expansion. Still, I had 3 cities and 2 VP cards in hand, so I was hardly out of contention. I spent the endgame buying development cards in the hopes of surpassing Shamus' largest army or gaining a few more VP cards. When he won, it was close. All scores within 1-2 of winning.

Next up was Railroad Tycoon. By now Luch had arrived and Tili wanted to join us (baby Kozure had gone to sleep). I was initially concerned that a 6 player game would take too long, but the whole thing wrapped up in 3 hours including rules explanations!

Many of us had played at least once before. Shamus, of course, hadn't and JayWowzer only had experience with Age of Steam.

Last game I kept getting beaten to the punch by Kozure when attempting to get the operation card bonuses, so I resolved to be very aggressive on those this game. I started by bidding enough to go first and quickly grabbed the card which gave me two actions. With those two actions I built a link to (?) and made a delivery… netting me a bonus for making the first delivery AND for claiming the "Service Bounty" card (first delivery to that town). It was a very lucrative first turn which put me in the lead and I worked the rest of the game to stay there! (unfortunately, the other 5 didn't feel like letting that happen).

I next set my sights on the first delivery to Mobile and grabbed that soon enough. I was getting worried, though. The folks building up the East Coast were upgrading their engines and starting to make longer deliveries. At this rate, my lead would evaporate quickly and I wouldn't have much in the way to catch up.

As an aside: I may have been more effective than last game with the operations cards, but I was having some serious lapses with my track building. On a few occasions, I built less efficiently than I could (placing 2 tiles where I could have placed 1, etc). Lucky for me, on one particularly terrible mistake (I was laying 4 tracks where I only needed 2), JayWowzer "suggested" I should reconsider... Thanks!

While I spent the entire game connecting the mid to lower half of the board, Kozure, Shamus and JayWowzer continued to battle for control of the East Coast (Luch was also involved, but he started south and moved north as opposed to the rest of the group). Tili spent her time in disparate areas, focusing on the Detroit/ Toronto area and the South East. Some of the action eventually moved over to the Chicago area, but the big dollars never really made it there (and no one built a Western Link).

Hotels played a big part in the game. My Baltimore and Atlanta netted me quite a few points, and Shamus had a goldmine one in New York. Luch has the distinction of holding the record for most shares issued, ever (22). Kozure has the similarly dubious distinction of "most shafted this game", for having his attempt at completing the "Major Line" from Atlanta to (?) blocked by Luch. A double blow, as it also prevented him from potential long deliveries after the fact.

In the end, it was a race between myself and Shamus for the win. Clearly, this guy has a knack for these games! I did win, as I had fewer shares and a good setup for a large number of 5 link deliveries for the end run, but he was not far behind. Most of us didn't fulfill our Tycoon cards… I think the only exception was Tili (most money).

I enjoyed myself quite a bit. This is a great game to accommodate new and experienced players alike. The cards available and goods cube distribution really shape the game, making it develop differently each time so far. I was also pleasantly surprised that it works just as well with 6 as it did with 4. If they had only thought a bit more about the board (design and production values), and the functionality of some of the bits, this game could go from great to truly exceptional.

Since JayWowzer is the only WAGSter to have tried both this and Age of Steam, I hope he can chime in with some comments on his experience.

1 comment:

  1. I was stunned at how well Shamus did at both games.

    We had to think a lot about the best "introduction" to German style games for Shamus. I actually thought that "Ticket to Ride" would be a better candidate than Settlers, but Tili thought that two railroad games in an evening would seem repetative to a newcomer unfamiliar with our theming concepts.

    Settlers is fun to revisit once in a while, but poor rolls can absolutely destroy you if you are unlucky. It's nice and light, and still a decent introductory game, but not a star in my books.

    Railroad Tycoon is very fresh and interesting, and after three plays, there isn't a distinct sign of repetativeness showing up yet. Certainly there are common strategies, but nothing set in stone.

    I admit two major mistakes this time around that will certainly inform my strategy in the future - when you draw a Tycoon like Vanderbilt, who must connect New York to... er... I think it's Chicago, or something like that, you must build a line out of New York (or whatever city) as soon as is reasonably possible. Since the connections to New York are limited (three, I believe), this becomes even more critical. Since the large link operations cards from Boston-Washington and New York-Chicago are very dependant upon a link somewhere in the New York vicinity, it can be a lynchpin in strategy to have at least one line out of the city.

    The second mistake (and I have done this in two of three games thus far) was to not start building track out to the midwest and western cities earlier in the game. It's easy to get caught up in the little deliveries on the east coast, and forget about expanding your network for the later 6, 7 and 8 link deliveries, which become very lucrative in the end game.

    I'm pleased with this game in that there are seldom occasions where I feel the sense of not being in control of your own destiny (witness resource rolls in Settlers, or various other randomly controlled events or card draws in other games)- the "screwage" I got at the hands of my opponents was mostly avoidable, had I had the foresight to prevent them. Even Luch's end-run around me to Atlanta I might have prevented if I had expanded my network in that region prior to it being a hot-ticket (excuse the pun) item later in the game.

    Even in Power Grid, another game I enjoy quite a bit, there are times when you feel that the random draws of plants (in certain combinations) more or less made the difference between first and second place.

    Although the Railroad Operations cards are random, you see all of them that would become available before you start the bidding, and most of them (with a few notable exceptions) aren't things that instantly make or break you. You have to work towards a specific goal, and fufil that goal in good time.

    ...and Shamus -if you're reading this- you're a darn good player.