Thursday, May 10, 2007

Where's the Sheriff hidin'? (El Grande, Way Out West)

Luch's pick this week. JayWowzer was along for the ride.

El Grande

We started out with El Grande... one of my all time favorite games (and oldest... it's the second Euro I purchased, right after Puerto Rico...). I like puzzles more than I like math, so I tend to favor games where I'm trying to work out the best move rather than constanly adding. El Grande has a bit of both (as you weigh the pros and cons of various moves), but I beleive that winning the game has more to do with intuitively manipulating the board and second guessing your opponents than with min/maxing every individual move. Either way, the end result is extremely fun for me. It's definitely a thinker, though, and not what I'd call a lively game. Thank goodness there is enough chaos in the game that thinking too far ahead simply isn't possible.

In this particular session I came out with an early lead thanks to good scoring positions in various regions and a solid string of "special scoring: choose one region" actions. In fact, leading into the last third of the game, I was ahead by a good 20 points. Of course, as everyone knows El Grande is not the game where you want to be identified as the leader, and the last three rounds saw my position on the board chiselled away rather quickly (by the way, from a design perspective one of the things I apreciate most about El Grande is the way that the action cards permit leader bashing but in an oblique way... a player is free to determine how an action will be used, but he/she is limited to the actions available).

As the final scoring occured, I saw the entire pack of players come screaming towards me on the scoring track. Luch, Bharmer and JayWowzer all came within striking distance but in the end I held on by 1-2 points. Fun.

Way Out West

Up next was Way Out West, the very interesting brain buster by Martin Wallace. Every single time I play this I fail to fully comprehend the way the endgame scoring works. For whatever reason, I am attracted to going for the town bonuses but largely through cattle. I never seem to finish a game with much BUILT. Then, I watch helplessly as the other players rake in the building VPs. This game should have played out similarly, since I did the same things I always do, except that this time it led to a surprise victory! Here is the long list of unlikely events which conspired to make a losing strategy the winner:

1) Luch, the player with the most building leading into the final rounds, had several buildings stolen from him. This resulted in no players having a significant lead in buildings... an unusual end condition which diluted their scoring power
2) Luch was also the most combatitive player. By all rights, he should have had 2-3 times the amount of wanted posters the rest of us had. Unfortunatley (for him) he lost FAR more times than he won... even when the odds were well on his side.
3) In my last turn, I saw two opportunities to gain majorities in various towns. I had to win to gunfights, and the best odds I had were 50%. Although according to the odds I should have won 1 or none of the conflicts, I won both and grabbed the majorities (largely from JayWowzer).
4) The Sherrif afforded to a player for owning the Jail proved to be a curse throughout the game. Luch owned most of the jails, and he lost just about every battle he used him in. I could have used my sherrif in one of my two final battles with JayWowzer, but accepted a 50/50 battle instead of throwing him in, suspecting the corruption would undo me as well!

Anyway, it's a fun game (this is a game where the heavy luck factor seems in keeping with the theme, so despite the fact that the strategy it demands can easily be undone by a few bad gunfights the whole thing seems to work anyway).

A stats expert might know this for sure, but I have a strong feeling that a slight numeric superiority in a Way Out West gun battle is a dissadvantage when there are a lot of participants. For example, if the battle is 2 vs 1, there is only a 33% chance that the single gunman will score a hit before the others can react. However, in a 5 vs 4 battle, the odds are quite high that 1-2 hits will occur before the other side shoots back (meaning that 4 vs 4 might have been a safer option).

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