Friday, February 09, 2007

Lucrative Shizzle Coming Up!

This week LUCH! was the dictator; this week he also was on crack. Well, he definitely was the dictator -- the being on crack part is an assumption, albeit a well-founded one.

Our beloved dictator decreed that we would play RA, Wildlife, and Railroad Tycoon, in untried, previously undisclosed variant versions. Seeing as our typical game session is 4 hours, and the named games would not be playable in that period of time, we were all intrigued. Easy waggishly suggested that the Railroad Tycoon variant must be to not play it at all. I hypothesized that LUCH! was going to bring 20 giant eggtimers to the session, to better realize his mad variants! THEN, our dictator was late, further compressing things - how would this work?

Well, Agent Easy was correct. The Railroad Tycoon variant was, indeed, to not play it at all. Having said that, we still got a couple of rounds of Ra in, as well as a nice session of Wildlife.

The first round of Ra was 4 player, Bharmer/Easy/Tilli/Shemp, and did not vary from the standard rules of the game in any way. It was a fairly uneventful play; I had decided to call Ra everytime play came around to me and there were more than 3 tiles on the board before play started, and it payed off. In the first epoch I was the only one that was able to use all three of my sun tiles, and built up a fair lead. Tilli had a monster 3rd epoch, but it wasn't quite enough to catch up. I ended up winning w/ 59 points, which I only note for the purposes of comparison with the next game of Ra we played.

The next game of Ra we played was (drumroll ...) LUCH's variant. Players were Bharmer/Easy/Kozure/LUCH/Shemp. It was very confusing, and someone else will need to recap in comments. I didn't understand it. This is most assuredly because of my own lack of brainpower, but there it is. (Alternate explanation: LUCH IS ON CRACK.) The variant involved mummies and upkeep. Ra tiles were repeatedly drawn. In the whole first Epoch, I think a total of all players scores was less than ten. We were thinking that was OK - surely, a cruddy first age would result in even better subsequent ages, right? Of course! We were hyped for some LUCRATIVE SHIZZLE COMING UP!!. Only, it didn't. Not in the second epoch. Not in the third epoch. Somehow, nothing good was ever on the board when Ra was called. It seems impossible, but there it was. Wholly disappointing. Bharmer and I raced to the bottom, but disappointingly, neither of us finished at zero. Final scores were 12 for Bharmer and I, with LUCH! winning his own variant, with a score of something or other that was higher. Easy and Kozure had less than that, but more than 12. While we were packing up the game, the board attacked Bharmer. I think that may have tipped this over into the category of Most Farcical Session of Ra, EVAR. [ PLEASE NOTE: I don't think that necessarily condemns LUCH's variant. It was too weird to tell if it works out or not. Might need more crack. Or less. ]

On to a game of Wildlife, which we've played before. Second play of this for Human Easy and Eagle Bharmer; Third for Crocodile LUCH and Snake Shemp; Bear Kozure has played more frequently. I'm enjoying this game a lot - it feels very open ended, as if there are many possible strategies and tactics to pursue; as a group, we are clearly still crawling at this point. I don't think I'll get too much into the play by play, other than to note that the Snakes quickly evolved and were able to quickly create a large herd across four regions, opening up a large lead in the first scoring round. The other players remembered that there is no tunnel and took steps to prevent serpentine hegemony from winning out, while keeping a close eye on each other. End result? A three way tie for first until the final points for remaining food were scored, handing a narrow victory to the snakes, with eagles and humans close behind, and the crocodiles only a couple of additional points back. Very close!

I think the balancing mechanisms incorporated into the game are extremely clever, particularly the way that it becomes quite difficult for the player in the lead to hold on to advancements, which not only confer advantages in gameplay, but are also potentially worth points during scoring rounds. Some numbered points to ponder, hopefully to further our own evolution as players:

1. The Movement Ability: What would be an effective way to use this? What strategies need to be implemented?

2. How practical is it to co-ordinate actions between players to negate certain advantages? What level of "table talk" is acceptable? [ example: Player A holds a Defense ability. Player B steals the Defense ability. This is only useful if Player C, D, or E then attack A. ]

3. Roughly how many actions, total, occur before the game is completed? Does this vary to a greater or lesser degree? Would this information be useful in formulating a strategy?

4. To what extent would a strategy be useful in this game? Is it largely strategic or largely tactical?

5. Is this an area control game, or do the other methods of scoring turn this into something else? Rephrased, is there any real value in holding areas? Monopolies are worth only slightly more than leads, remember.

6. Should we change LUCH!'s name to Lucrative? I say yes.

7. What other factors in Wildlife could bear fruit if analyzed?



  1. Ra: ouch.

    3 player RA is fabulous. I've played 4 and 5 player games online, and even though I could tell they weren't as good as the 3 player ones, I enjoyed them anyway. It seems that face to face, 5 player games of RA suffer even more (funny, considering that's how I learned the game). Our 5 player game, with or without Luch's variant, was pretty aweful. How is it even possible to draw every single tile in the game and still feel like absolutely nothing of value was pulled ?!!!

    Wildlife: To me, this is a bit of a "kitchen sink" game. There is so much going on, so many design elements and mechanics that it feels like a bit of a mash-up. I like it, but I think I'd like it better if a few things were removed... The advancements? The abilities? The terrain preferences? The trading phase? I'm not sure. I find each of them to be a little clunky in their own way. Anyway, despite this feeling the game works and is enjoyable.

    I agree with you that it's "almost" an area control game at heart. I say "almost" because as you pointed out, other factors end up being worth more. In fact, chains are so much more lucrative than majorities that I wasn't surprised that most of us spent the majority of the game working that way (in contrast to our first game, which saw most of us with two clumps of creatures going for majorities). Abilites and advancements appear to be aquired at roughly the same pace by all players, so the winner of these points seems to almost be a crapshoot.

    Still, despite all this, the game is refreshing in one way: It's a really confrontational, civ-like eurogame. You feel like you are growing an empire in size and ability, and duking it out for supremacy. Civ-style games tend to be pretty compelling for some reason, and I'm sure that once we become more comfortable with the rules Wildlife will become even more exciting to play.

  2. Anonymous6:33 PM

    luch's ra variant:

    1. pharoahs that are killed with the kill-pharoah tile are kept in reserve and can be put into a set of 3 monuments as a mummy for an extra 5 points at the end of game. its silly but i like it...

    2. pharoahs go away each round like civs. because it can be easy to run away with pharoahs...


    3. pharoahs and civs can be retained between rounds by paying an upkeep cost of 1 point per pharoah and 3 points per civ.

    i did these variations for no reason than i wanted to change it up a little. i play this game incessantly, and i love it but.....incessantly!


  3. Luch's Ra variant: crack-addled. Not for general consumption. Thanks for trying to shake it up, Jason, but I fear that did not work.

    I'm liking Wildlife more every time I play it. It has euro elements with a fair dash of wargame flavour. It's almost more of a wargame than the Shogun/Wallenstein system.

    I think the various advancements and abilities make for a competitive and asymetrical power situation, which is more interesting to me than the usual equally powered area-influence mechanics - somewhat like Ideology in that regard.

    I agree that it feels somewhat "kitchen-sinkish", but I feel it's successful as a game. This is a game I feel I could play many times in a row and feel challenged and interested.

    The points gained by advancements and abilities are decidely not a crapshoot - you must save food chips from auctions, then buy them at critical times, but you must also keep up with the other species.

    I have no idea how to work the Mobility ability card angle. Next time I play I think I will grab it just to see what happens.

    I think table talk is acceptable to a point - to me table talk is an important social aspect of casual (read: fun) play. If it was a tournament, no, not acceptable, but in WAGS meetings - acceptable and desireable.

    The number of turns varies, as a player could conceivably fill areas quickly or slowly. It will also vary with number of players. It's useful to think ahead to try to estimate, but because an unexpected play by several players could lead to a early end game condition, it's important not to assume you have more time rather than less.

    The game is largely strategic, with some tactical elements (timing and location of "attack" actions, and to a lesser extent, mobility). I think a specifically "largest herd" strategy or "diverse territory" strategy might work, but in an informal situation where tabletalk is acceptable, a "grand strategy" might quickly be recognized and countered, especially if a player was well in the lead.

    Another factor that might bear fruit on analysis is the success of specializing in only one or two terrains while ignoring or mostly ignoring the rest. This last game saw a lot of diversification. I wonder how well a specialist approach would work?