Thursday, July 13, 2006

Getting Greedy (Pitchcar Mini x2, Antike, Fantasy Business)

6 people tonight.

We started out with my new copy of PitchCar Mini (with expansion). It's a nice set, with sturdy MDF components (not wood, as some have claimed). Some of the pieces seem a little thicker than others, which can be problematic as you flick and watch your disc bounce off the board and across the room, but I'm willing to forgive it these imperfections... it's a good, fun, silly game. I'm looking forward to trying this out at a family gathering with 8 players!

My first game was just against Luch, who trounced me (I was nearly lapped!), but my second game was a threesome with Bharmer and Luch and I recovered my honour by winning a close match. The shot of the night was in the first game, when Luch expertly flicked his car along a full third of the track! By comparison, all my attempts at ambitious shots failed miserably, so I played it pretty safe. I'd still like to play the full size version some day, but I'm happy with the purchase.

With everyone now arrived and ready, we broke out the main event, a second playing of Antike. JayWowzer was kind enough to bring back his copy, and I was really looking forward to another match. Our first game had been a lot of fun, and I was really impressed that a civ. type game could be so simple and short while still providing a satisfying feel for the growth of a world power, an impressive feat! Still, the reviews I had read since then were decidedly...mediocre, with frequent complaints of long playtime, tedious endgames and general lack of "spark". Needless to say, I really wanted another go at it to see if my first impressions were incorrect.

Last game, I went for an all out civilization advancement strategy. Mainly, I had done so because it seemed like the "wild" currency bonus for completing all the advancements seemed very powerful. It worked, I won without ever having a battle! (the others WERE hot on my heels, though) . I'm sure part of the reason it worked is because we were all learning the game, and the others only realized what I was doing when it was too late, but it did seem a bit out of balance. The rules have been updated, however, so that the trades are now 2 for 1, which seems much more balanced (though I am still unsure about the bonus victory point for completing all 8 which was added at the same time... it didn't come up in our game, however).

We played the german board this week, and I was assigned 3 regions in the lower right corner (+/- greece). I thought this time I would try two things: boats and suicide runs. Basically, knowing that victory points are aquired and then kept no matter what, I wanted to see if I could repeatedly stretch myself extremely thin to reach a victory point and then concede the ground I gained without contest. I hoped to make the majority of those points by building cities and getting boats into sea spaces. I got the point for 5 cities and 7 sea spaces quickly, and then started angling for 10 cities as the land areas were getting crowded faster than the sea spaces. I figured I would penetrate deep into other territories where cities were still available, get my 10, then use them as beachheads to build boats for further sea points. The problem was Luch started threatening my thinly spread out forces and Shemp was eyeing the same territories to the north that I was (there was a bit of a conflict there, as Shemp could not understand why I was heading in that direction). I did manage to advance my defenses in time to ward off too many losses, but getting the 10th city ended up taking too much time, and I lost a few boats on the way. Despite picking up a few advancement VPs, I still needed 2 more and my prospects looked like they would take too much time (there was no way I'd get to 15 cities, and it would be hard to get to 14 boats). My only hope was to diversify into temples or advancement VPs.

Things were quite tight near the end. Shemp had quite a large and solid empire in the north, despite having made zero progression on the advancement track. JayWowzer was building a city of temples in the north west. Kozure and Luch were spreading out in the mid board.

Things were getting quite congested. Territories were changing hands and everyone was scanning the board trying to formulate a plan to get their last point or two. Kozure managed to win by purchasing the last unclaimed advancement before anyone else could get it. He played a good game, because it certainly appears that the players in the middle of the board should be at a dissadvantage by being threatened on all sides. All in all, the whole 6 player game took less than 1 1/2 hours and played just as simply and cleanly as I'd remembered. I'm glad to say that unless Tempus turns out to be really incredible, Antike will definitely fit the bill as a great, simple and short civ style game (maybe world domination would be more accurate). Antike has achieved this by focussing it's efforts on being a good, clean strategy and resource management game... anyone looking for anything beyond basic negotiations or politics should look elsewhere. Also, the "advancements" track, while important to the game, do not really feel like the slow buildup of technological innovation which some might want. To me, the tradeoffs are worth it. I really like the game.

Last up was a game of Fantasy Business. When we last played this game I absolutely sucked at it. I started screwing people too early and simply couldn't make up for the masses of cash the other were making by playing it straight. As I recall, Shemp was excellent at it, winning both games. I was determined to turn a new leaf and try something different.

I purposefully avoided monopolies, but focused on high valued goods. I wanted to keep the incentive high for the other player selling the same types of goods as me to stick with the max. value, so I tried to ensure that I had equal or fewer cards than they did in a particular good. More importantly, I stayed honest until round 7.

Meanwhile, Shemp had become the Herbs and Armour king, having substantial monopolies in both. The cards which break up monopolies never surfaced, so he seemed to be doing quite well. Bharmer struggled at first to stay in the black, but eventually recovered. Kozure and Luch seemed to be playing a conservative game, occasionally screwing their trade partners, but otherwise laying low. JayWowzer had a number of horses which were taking in a LOT of cash. In my mind, the lead was either Shemp, JayWowzer or I, so on the 7th round I started shafting the market (I undercut Jaywowzer for the horses and used a card on Shemp which denied him income from his armour, for example).

I was most proud of the following, though: I had a card which allowed me to wait until the others fixed their prices, and then I could look at them and alter my prices to undercut them. Problem was, I had just screwed everybody moments ago, and I feared they would all drop their prices to the minimum in order to avoid having that happen again. Obviously, if they did that my card would be useless (the best I could do would be to tie them, giving everyone the same income). To avoid this, I wrote my prices in plain view, giving my opponents the assurance that they could safely match my prices! It worked, I played the card and 2 of the 3 were denied their income that round. Hey, I was proud I pulled it off!

The result: I beat out Shemp by a hair for the win. Surprisingly, Luch, who was laying low most of the game, was also very close to winning.

Like Intrige, this is a game where the metagame is probably just as important as the ingame. I could never try the same tricks twice, because everyone would see right through me. Also, if the same player wins a few times in a row, they are likely to be targeted and not have a chance. Unlike Intrige, Fantasy Businee uses special cards to introduce chaos and chance into the system (for example, I was lucky that I drew the powerful and useful cards I did, and I wouldn't have been able to blindside my opponents without them). Not sure if that means the game will have increased long term playability, or a shorter one (once the novelty wears off and the surprise moves stop working). Time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't get a chance to play Pitchcars. Looks like a great game for kids, as one might expect.

    I quite enjoy Antike. It's the best blend of empire building/development and a playable game (with good playing time) that we've done yet. This game, more than some others, seems to be a case of "sneak in past the leader for the win", since kill-the-leader tactics can be quite effective.

    I was actually thinking I was going to lose for a better part of the game I won, but then I saw a way clear to victory when people somehow missed the number of cities I had managed to conquer. It's a bit of a gamey tactic (the city grab to get up to ten cities and grab the second 5 city card for a VP) but it worked for me.

    Fantasy Business is still fun, but I can't help thinking that there's some game mechanic missing that would prevent the all or nothing bidding that tends to go on. Also, as mentioned by Easy, it really depends on a friendly, competitive but not overly vindictive or easily-hurt group, much like Intrige. There are definitely people I would not play this game with.