Thursday, February 22, 2007

Four Corners of Gaming

This week's theme was "Connect Four"; games which work well with four players. Agent Easy had informed us in advance he would not be attending, so we were prepared. We began the evening somewhat late with Blokus, a game that really doesn't work well with any other number than four. While we were waiting for the inestimable Bharmer to tear himself away from work, we tried the three-player variant of Blokus, which requires three players to take turns placing the fourth colour's shapes.

As seems to be the case in many games we play where there is an "automated" or "group controlled" extra player, the red "bot" won. Shemp came in second, so I suppose technically he won. Bharmer tried to argue that since we were playing his seat until he showed up, he won. I don't think this would stand up in a court of law.

At this point, the suitably four-cornered vegetarian lasagna was ready. We dug in over an actual four player game. Ouch (or Luch, or Hapi, or whatever he's calling himself these days) tried an innovative but ultimately unsuccessful compressed strategy of ignoring the usual dash for the centre area and concentrating instead on placing his own pieces largely in his own corner. Bharmer did quite well for his maiden foray into the game, catching on quite quickly as is usual for him. It came down to a relatively close match between Shemp and I - I squeaked through to win by finding a way to place my pieces which I don't think many people saw until the endgame. I put down all of my pieces. I believe Shemp was second with something like 7 or 8 squares remaining. I usually do middling well in this game, so I was pleased to take the laurel.

We moved on to Vegas Showdown. This game continues to improve with additional plays, at least for me. The bidding is competitive without being overly frustrating or overlong, the mat tile-placement strategy is challenging without being convoluted, and there are definitely several strategies for success. I think that four players is probably a sweet spot for this game because with five you might have a lot more "thwarting" due to being outbid in auctions (there isn't an additional premier tile slot in a five player game). I don't recall playing this with five players yet, though we might have when Jaywowzer came by, so it's hard to say.

I won by a margin of 8 fame (I believe), taking something like 64 total (?), with Shemp giving me a definite run for my money. I often ignore income (revenue) early in the game, concentrating on quick fame grabs. Since the restaurants and lounges often give quick fame boosts from events, building them early on is one definite strategy which helped me out. I often fall behind in revenue, but this game I managed to have a fairly substantial income by the end of the game. Also unusual for me was my achievement of filling both Hotel and Casino sections and connecting the two entrances, something I haven't been able to do in all but one of my sessions with this game. I usually come in second or third in this game lately, so it was satisfying to win it as well. Four points from three-quarter finished red corners and the bonus points from the Famous Chef card probably put me over the top, but I did quite well in all categories.

Due to my incorrect reading of the rules, we played with the renovation rule incorrectly - forcing players to take one renovation action to remove tiles and a second to place previously removed tiles. This affected Shemp and Ouch adversely. We will review this rule again next time we play - I believe the correct reading is "remove 0, 1 or 2 tiles, then place 0, 1 or 2 tiles" with no limitations on replacing tiles which had just been removed.

This game has become one of the long-term favourites in my collection. Definite top 10 material, and quite possibly top 5.

We've taken to using 11.5 gram clay composite chips to substitute for the plastic chips provided with the game. It definitely improves the feel. If I could mount the player mats on more sturdy material, I think the overall impression of the game would improve even more.

My winning streak ended with a horrendous crash as we finished the night with TransEuropa - the version of TransAmerica set in Europe. I am not very good at this game at all - I have consistently played poorly with it, and last night was no exception. I was the "game ender" in both sessions. I think Ouch won the second game and Shemp won the first. I enjoy the simplicity and speed of this game, but I do feel that the random card draw can have a significant affect on one's odds of winning, even over three deals. For instance, in the first game, I was dealt Oslo twice. As far as I can make out, aside from Madrid and Bilbao, it's one of the most inaccesible locations, especially if no one else is dealt Stockholm or Malmo. Bharmer decided to leave a little early so as to catch up on rest, so we were playing with only three, which is not optimal for the game system (or so I gather).

I am getting better with additional plays and I do enjoy the game, but I am not good at this one.

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