Thursday, August 17, 2006

Having a Breakthrough day (Maharaja, Conquest of the Empire)

From Shemp:

Having a Breakthrough Day: I've had a total recalibration of my mind, you know. I mean, it's like, I've been banging my head against this 19th century type, um, what? Thought mode? Construct? Human construct? Well, the wall doesn't exist. It's not there, you know. I mean, they tell you, look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Well, there is no tunnel. There's just no structure. The underlying order is chaos.

-From the film Slacker.

I can't do a full post right now, but last night was a breakthrough night! After roughly two and a half years, our little gaming group finally killed a leader! We identified the person out front, banded together, and TOOK THEM DOWN. It was beautiful. Petty differences were set aside. Screwage was minimized. Victory points were graciously shared amongst the alliance.

We've grown as gamers. I commend Kozure and Luch on their fine, fine work.

There is no tunnel.

From Easy:

A breakthough, indeed.

First things first... This night we played two games. The first was Maharaja and the second was Conquest of the Empire. The breakthrough in question occurred during Conquest of the Empire.

This was our second game of Maharaja, and I for one was determined not to make the same mistakes I made in our first session (which ultimately allowed Bharmer to walk away with the win). Tili joined us in place of Kozure, so she was in the unfortunate position of being the only new player! I did pretty well for myself. I was winning a good number of income by sticking with the #1 role, zooming to the next scoring city and securing a majority (or strong 2nd place). More importantly, I was consistently building a palace every turn. Unfortunately, I had to skip a round and Bharmer didn't. He won again! Shemp was trying a strategy which can work very well in other area majority games... go for the easy 3rd place points in lots of cities. Didn't work for him, but that doesn't mean it couldn't work in the future.

I like the game. It seems complex at first, but once you get used to it the whole thing is quite streamlined and smooth. I think I enjoy it about as much as I do Puerto Rico or Power Grid. They are all interesting and enjoyable, but neither are huge hits with me for whatever reason. Like Power Grid, Maharaja is ultimately a race between all the players to get to a predefined goal... and in both games I feel like my options are a little bit "railroaded" or "constrained" by that fact. To put it another way: In games like these, everything boils down the efficiency with which you reach that predetermined goal. by way of contrast, games which use victory points can be much more open ended and offer several different ways to play the game.

Next up was Conquest of the Empire.

The initial spread of forces was interesting. Bharmer had 3 of his 4 starting influence tokens in italia. My influence started just to the South and West of there. Since the other three were scatterred around the rest of the board, it became clear that it would be mutually advantageous to myself and Bharmer to cooperate. I cozied up to him for a second place in Italia, and spread out to grab nearby neutral influence tokens. Bharmer, unfortunately, felt so much pressure to keep his lead in italia that he was somewhat paralysed and couldn't really break out of there. While the other players skirmished and jockeyed for influence and position elsewhere on the board, I had grabbed a lucrative empire. By the end of the 2nd season, I had a huge lead. I had also snagged 4 Army Training cards (!!!), so I wasn't really an attractive target, either. With zero chaos to my name, things were looking good.

Then it happened. This is when the breakthrough occurred. This is how we learned that There Is No Tunnel: The other three players decided to work toghether to take me down (not surprising). Then, they actually worked effectively towards that goal (extremely surprising. Unprecendented, even). Remember, Luch was in that group. It boggles the mind.

Anyway, the next two seasons saw bharmer and I as allies against the world. I didn't have enough money to work my way into a different alliance, though I REALLY wished I could have. Systematically, they raised and sent armies to the locations where I had influence. In many cases, I was spread too thin to defend myself adequately, so I started losing ground immediately (though I was satisfied that I managed to keep just about all of my influence long enough to score the 3rd campaign season, even though my armies had been mowed down). Other than a few token representatives in italia, I had only two major forces left: One just south of Spain, and the other which threatened Kozure in Numidia. Despite this, moving into the 4th season I still had high hopes that my lead was enough. Unfortunately, in order to survive the onslaught, I had begun special taxing and raising armies quite a lot... my chaos was quite high.

In the last season, Shemp snuck into italia and converted all my influence in many of my old powerbases in the surrounding areas. Luch built an enormous army and knocked me out of a few regions. I poured my reasonably large and highly trained army out of Italia through a back route into Spain since it was not as well defended after Luch's advance. Unfortunately, it didn't go as well as planned, and I was forced to retreat. I made a mistake and went south, where Luch and Kozure successfully kept me pinned until the end of the game (Kozure had quite a fleet. He used one to block my exit though Afrika and the others to destroy any triremes I built before I could use them). Only my campaign to boot out Kozure in Numidia was a success. As my last action, I took Bharmer's advice and bounced Luch out of first place in Egypt (it didn't net me any points, but it did reduce his score).

When the dust settled, the scores became incredibly tight. Prior to taking chaos into account, I was ahead of Shemp and Luch by one point. However, since I had the most chaos, and Luch the second most, it ended with me and Luch tied for second... and Shemp all alone in the lead!

So, lesson learned... don't make yourself a huge target early in the game (duh). Either way, the whole experience of having a lead, becoming the target, seeing all the forces mobilize against me and all the big battles we had... well, it was a lot of fun and quite exciting. I think I did about as well as I could have, other than my big mistake retreating south instead of north from Spain (and maybe putting a bit more effort in swinging the alliances). I look forward to playing again!


  1. I had the unusual experience of going into this game thinking that last time I played I didn't like it, but then realizing that I had actually liked it. Bizarre.

    I was arguably in the most spread out starting positions in the game (Hispania, Asia and Numidia, with a single influence in Sicilia which was promptly gobbled by Easy), so I knew it would be an uphill struggle for me. Bharmer was perhaps a little more diffuse, but he had a solid lock on Italia, which gained him an easy 25 points every season, where I had to struggle in Asia, Numidia and Hispania for scraps of 10, 10 and 5 (second place to Luch), or 25 points a turn.

    Eventually I pushed my way into Achaeia, but getting tagged with highest chaos two seasons in a row, -20 points (even though I only had 2 chaos points in the first turn and 5 in the second!) contributed to my last place status throughout the game. The only place I was unchallenged was in Asia, and even then I had to keep a wary eye on Shemp's forces in Mesopotamia.

    It's a poor man who blames his tools, as I always try to remember, so I'll concentrate on where I screwed up:

    I should have kept in mind that Luch's city reduced his chaos by 3. This left me near the end of the second season thinking I was well below the highest chaos level with 5, when Bharmer grabbed a vote that removed ten of his chaos (from 12 or so to 2), and Luch reduced his by three (from 7 or 8 to 4 or 5), leaving me in the highest slot (tied? I can't remember) with 5. -10 points, unnecessarily.

    We should have never let Easy get four (!) Army training cards. When two were turned up, I noted to myself that we shouldn't allow him first pick, but it never occurred to me (duh!) that a possible move would be to buy both in the same turn. Consequently, Easy's elite army of ninja-legionnaires chewed up three massive attack efforts (two by Luch and one by Shemp) and a lesser attack by me. On two occasions, the attacking forces were victorious, but so badly decimated that the controlling player had to spend a turn or two rebuilding that army. My attack went surprisingly well, considering, but there were only three or four defenders to my eight or more attackers, so I got off easy. Easy mentioned his campaign in Numidia; despite the presence of a near equal (or perhaps slightly larger) number of defenders, Easy's superior training carried the day. In addition, his skillful grab for a Numidian diplomacy card (which I had forgotten about earlier in the season) made sure that almost all of the few casualties he received were taken first from his hapless allies. With four army cards and a leader, his attacking armies rolled eight (!) attack dice compared to the usual three or four with a leader.

    Forgetting about the Numidian diplomacy card was costly for me. I might complain that I was actually looking to buy it earlier in the season, but thought it had been purchased, when in fact it was merely under another diplomacy card, but that is just sour grapes.

    It's also never productive to only be negative, so here's what I did right:

    I did manage to secure an early Naval superiority by grabbing an early Commandeer the Fleet card and picking up three new galleys in the Achaean. This allowed me the ability to reduce Easy's mobility to a great extent in the third and fourth campaign seasons and prevent the escape of his units from southern Spain (name of the province eludes me) across the Gibraltar narrows . It also allowed me a great deal of mobility, which was pretty key, given the separation of my powerbases.

    Teaming up with Luch and Shemp in season three and four did not assist me greatly, but neither did it hinder me - it did reduce pressure on my influence markers in Achaea and Asia - at that point I was far enough behind that there was little chance for my forces, but working with the other two more powerful players made it possible to take down Easy. Obviously no one likes to be a minor power that is a partial power broker, but in the end it's better than just being a minor power.

    I am pleased with being a major force behind the identification of Easy as a threat in this particular session, and working with the others to prevent a runaway win.

    This game seems better with additional play. We should play it again sooner rather than later to prevent the rules amnesia that accompanies long periods between plays.

  2. Anonymous2:55 PM

    Great reviews!

    I played Conquest of the Empire demo at last years ComicCon in Toronto. It was fun even though we did not manage mroe than 1 1/2 campaign turns.

    I read the review on The Fury of Dracula and it sounds cool. I may have to pick that up. Scotland Yard was fun but this has more potential I think.

    Do you guys know of any gaming groups that may add the odd new player. I play with friends but not often enough and it is always fun to play new players to see a different perspective.

    Again, great reviews!