Sunday, December 24, 2006

Enjoying Ameritrash (Robo-Rally, Railroad Tycoon)

If last week was about excellent eurogames, this week we played some of our favorite "Ameritrash" (I actually dislike this term, but whatever)

We started with Robo-Rally. As usual, I chose a "short" course... "Chess" I think it was called. The board layout features a large double conveyor belt which surrounds an alternating grid of single spaced empty squares and single conveyor belts. 2 flags.

With 5 players, I didn't expect things to be too crowded (it is a course designed for 5-8 players). I feared interaction would be minimal. That didn't happen.

Right out of the gate, Shemp committed the mistake I normally make, he mistook his robot for a different one. Poor Twonky flew right off the edge of the board.... My path went smoothly, with one exception: By the end of the first turn I had been shot so many times my first register was locked! Trying desperately to get out of the line of fire didn't help. By the end of the second round I had four registers locked. I was on the double conveyor belt, and for the rest of the game I circled the other players, unable to get off (Having only a single register left open meant I was only being dealt one card, and it was a "turn left" card ON EVERY ROUND until the end of the game). Oh well, I find this game fun even as a spectator so there you go.

There was some good competition for the first flag. I beleive that Brian, Luch and Kozure all achieved it within a few phases of each other. Shemp wasn't too far behind. In the race for the second flag it looked like bharmer had it in the bag until a bad card draw left him spinning his wheels for a turn. Luch stepped in and bumped him off course... inadvertedly correcting bharmer's path and leading him to victory...

Well, such is life in Robo-rally.

Railroad tycoon came next. I decided to try a variant I had come up with which I felt might address a few of the minor complaints I have with the game... namely that the player to the left of the auction winner is often at a large advantage and that cards don't refresh with enough frequency. The variant is pretty simple: Players bid for turn order, not just first place (Over the course of the game, we settled on a method stolen from "For Sale!". Bid goes from player to player according to the previous round's turn order. Bid starts at $1000, and the first player to drop out goes last, second player goes 2nd last, etc. Half of your current bid goes to the bank, rounded up, when you withdraw). Also, a number of cards equal to the number of players is turned up every turn.

It took a bit of getting used to, but I think the turn order modification is a winner. It didn't make an enormous impact in the game, but I definitely felt that players were earning their advantages a bit better. One nice thing I hadn't anticipated: Since bid order is determined by last round's turn order, the player who went first is less likely to be able to lead again (since he/she bids first, the value of the bid will always be higher than the other players). It turned out to be a nice balancing mechanism.

The change in rate for revealing action cards also worked reasonably well, but it wasn't perfect. Having that many cards turn up every round certainly kept the game interesting by injecting good reasons to compete for turn order into the mix, but it also led to every card getting turned up before the end of the game. On one hand, this means that players can reliably count on all the major lines eventually coming out and plan accordingly, but on the other hand it begs the questions: "if all the major lines are going to be revealed anyway, why not just start with them all revealed"? and "Is the game better when everyone knows all the major lines will be revealed"?

In the end, I think I'd like to try the next game with a different rule for the cards: Split out all the major lines and reveal a number equal to the number of players. With the remaing cards, reveal a number of cards equal to the number of players minus 1. I think this would do a better job of keeping each game fresh (by alternating the available major routes), but keeping the auctions interesting throughout the game.

In this session, I had the tycoon card for building a western link. I decided to focus on a section of the east coast to start off and build a bit of income before heading west. Kozure and I wound up trying to carve our own little section of that area, but we coexisted reasonably well. Bharmer was further south, Luch went central and Shemp was all about Chicago.

Early on, things were looking good for me. I grabbed the hotels for New York and Chicago, and both were proving to be quite lucrative for me. Shemp, in particular, couldn't help but give me points on most turns. Unfortunately for me, all routes out of chicago were snapped up by Shemp and Kozure, leaving me with the unfortunate prospect of giving one of them points every turn when I built the western link. I did eventually head out there, and since I was raking in the cash it wasn't onerous to build the tracks and the western link to give me a lucrative 4 link run for Kansas City to Chicago via Kozure's link. OF course, since Shemp had tied up most of Chicago and had a very good network out of there, he actually profited more than I did from the western link... but I hoped that my lead was big enough to give me the win (and increasing my lead over 3 players seemed worth it, even if Shemp might catch up a little). That's when Kozure steady progression west paid off: he picked up a major line (washington - Chicago?) worth 10 points and a second (New York - Kansas + western Link) for 20. The lead I had evaporated. I should still have been within striking distance, though. Sadly, my delivery network went dry and I couldn't catch up! Very well played on his part!

A very fun evening. There is some chance we'll be playing next week, but in case we don't I wanted to wish anyone reading this a happy holiday and new year!

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