Thursday, October 12, 2006

The LUCH factor (Quo Vadis? x2, PowerGrid: Italy)

Some games have a lot of luck, and others do not. However, some would argue that the actions of other players is a form of luck in and of itself, regardless of the game played. I have always agreed with that idea, but last night really brought it home.

Luch, a member of WAGS, has always been a bit of a wildcard. He plays to win, but "winning" sometimes involves achieving goals which the rest of us don't understand. Maybe it's entertainment value, maybe it's blocking a particular player, maybe it's winning in the traditional sense (i.e. according to the rules of the games). We never really know what he's planning at any given time.

It's pretty interesting. I only mention it because the game of PowerGrid had a pretty surprising moment. More on that later.

The evening started with 2 sessions of Quo Vadis? With 5 players, the game started to show it's true potential. The board was quite constrained... we came to realize that there are exactly enough spots for each player to have two politicians in the low committees. Getting on the board after the second round was pretty tough! Quite a few deals brokered during the game involved simply trading votes for openings in committees. Surprisingly, the laurels seemed to take a back seat to movement on the board. Blocking committees, scratching each other's back in order to get into the senate, etc, seemed to be the prime motivators.

In our first game, I tried to crowd the 5 seat low committee in the hope of getting a good amount of bribes and "vote laurels" from other players as they went through. Along the way, I pushed up a loner to the central committee so that he could use Ceasar's favour to enter the senate. It was working out, but the Ceasar marker was moved just before I could use it. As that committee filled in, I had to give up on that route. I worked up the left side of the board with JayWowzer's help, and just as the game seemed about to end, I made a very risky deal with Shemp to have him vote me to the senate for the hefty price of 10 laurels. The move would freeze Kozure out of the senate entirely, and he seemed to have a fair bit of laurels so I went for it. I won over Shemp by 3. Close.

In our second game, Shemp seemed in control from the beginning. He absolutely dominated the 5 person low committee (4 politicians!) at one point. He, too, was blocked out of the central committee for a time until he and Kozure traded favours to vote each other into the senate. JayWowzer had sneakily amassed quite a few laurels himself, so I really had no idea who would win (other than the fact that it wouldn't be me). JayWowzer and Shemp wound up tied! Jaywowzer had entered the senate first, so he won the tie-breaker.

Quo Vadis? has turned out to be a pretty good game. I'm pretty sure there is opportunity here for good, fast and creative negotiation fun. It still doesn't capture the level of "Wheeling and Dealing" that we used to do in our Monopoly sessions back in the day, though. For all the faults of that game, I still haven't come across a negotiation game which had as much opportunity for creative deal making (I've tried Traders of Genoa, bohnanza, Intrige, and many others). In fact, I'm curious if introducing a set collecting mechanic in Quo Vadis would help to give the laurels different valuations for different people. Maybe the laurels come in colours and their value increases if mulitples of a colour are owned at the endgame? That might be fun to try.

PowerGrid, using the super cool Italy map, was next. For those out there who know PowerGrid but haven't yet played on the expansion maps, let me just say this: This board changes the game considerably (France, in comparison, seemed pretty tame. We haven't played it, however) The north is literally choked with extremely inexpensive connections. The south is sparsely populated and expensive to build on. The dynamic this creates is pretty predictable... fierce competition in the north, overflow to the south. The only change to the game other than the map is a greater scarcity of starting resources and slightly different "restocking" rates.

Sicily was out of play, making the south unviable as a starting location. All bunched up in the north, it looked like it was going to be quite a fight. I thought it was interesting that with so many connection fees set at 2 or 3 the cost of jumping cities was negligeable. Having been surrounded immediately in my starting position, I thought it would be most useful to establish beachheads in a few directions a few cities away (for future expansion) rather than snap up the closer ones which would ultimately leave me with few/no options in a couple of rounds. I headed south first, since there wasn't going to be as much competition there (and because it put me close to a double city). I had to leap Kozure to get there. Kozure didn't like that. It seemed I inadvertedly robbed him of his turn (he only had enough money to get to the city I built on, so he had to pass).

Improved my prospects and screwed over a competitor. This was going well.

Before long, we were approaching "step 2". Everyone had exactly 6 cities, and just about everthing north of Rome was purchased. Shemp and I were the only ones with a presence in the south, and Shemp had no incentive to build because he had gone green and would accumulate money faster than I if we just sat and waited. I figured I would be forced to take a hit and buy an expensive connection to get myself to 7, breaking the logjam. For whatever reason, Kozure thought otherwise and leaped over me and built up the 3 remaining cities in the south (it was quite expensive to do). That was a lucky break for me, since I could save the money and build 2nd cities in the north next round. I passed.

I was going second, with only Luch before me. I had a fair bit of cash. My power plants had power, and resources in reserve for the next round (which I was sure would be the last if I couldn't end it now). I just needed to see if Luch would build anything, but he had not been particularly aggressive to this point, so I figured I was safe.

Remember I said he was unpredictable?

Luch had been saving money, apparently, and no one noticed. On his turn, he decided to spend it all in order to block me from winning. He built 10 cities (going from 6 to 16) in as many spots as he could to make it impossible for me to finish. He subsequently removed a few when he realized that this would end the game and he could only power 8 cities, but the fact remains that the board went from empty to nearly full in a flash and all by a player who wasn't planning on winning! I responded by building 5 cities were I could. JayWowzer and Kozure put a few down. Shemp passed on building, maybe in protest, I don't know. All told, we went from 30 to 55 houses in one round. It was really cool and very surprising. In retrospect, it doesn't sound like much, but at the time I was just staring at Luch placing houses on the board and thinking "OMG, when is he going to STOP?"

Still in Step 2, we all knew we were going into our last round. It came down to Shemp and I. He built to 15, and had enough fuel to power all of them. I had a capacity of 16, but couldn't muster enough cash to build that many. With 15 plants of my own on the table, it came down to money... and I had 3 dollars more that he did! Close. Again.

That was easily the most fun I've had playing Power Grid. The Italy map was a blast to play on since it was so unique (however, I think in the long run it might get stale faster than the original boards exactly because the experience is so unique. Gameplay might wind up being a little too constrained to stay interesting. Time will tell, I suppose). Ironically, Shannon Appelcline recently posted that games which are overtly mathematical (as PowerGrid is) suffer to a certain extent when players with different perspectives play together since the calculation-type players will likely win over those playing "with their gut". My track record with PowerGrid is pretty good... is my winning streak due to the fact that I'm taking more time to do the math? Is it unfair that others play by instinct and I spend time adding up all the values to make sure I buy only the cheapest connections, or strictly the resources I can afford? Am I the only one who does that? Am I taking too long as a result? It would be ironic that one of my main complaints about the game is that it's too calculational and it turned out that no else but me was bothering to do all this constant (and somewhat unpleasant) adding.

Anyway, like I said, it was quite a bit of fun. Thanks to JayWowzer for brigning the expansion!

No comments:

Post a Comment