Sunday, October 05, 2008

Best Laid Plans of Mice and CONAN (Imperial, Power Grid... sorta)

When speaking of analysis paralysis in boardgames, the compliment must be paid to Ouch that he is the one least frequently affected.

We have a term in our group for choosing actions/moves with a minimum of thought; to act on instinct and gut feeling rather than belaboured machinations:

The term we use is "Conan Brain" or "Conan Play".

Like the loinclothed, bulgy barbarian of Ron E. Howard's creation, Conan brain-based play is direct, straightforward and accomplished with a minimum of fuss. It is often helped by an egg-timer.

This week, Ouch (as dictator) declared that we would attempt to play two games at once with Conan brain-style play. The games he chose were Power Grid and Imperial. I'll pause a moment for all the alarmed gasps from hardcore hobby gamers to die down.

The WAGSters Code (currently unwritten) demands that we try as gamely (pun intended) as possible to follow the dictat of the dictator. So, we gamely set up both Power Grid and Imperial adjacent to each other on the same table and gave it a shot.

We abandoned the concept after one turn. Neither game lends itself well to long pauses between turns - Power Grid in particular requires player interaction from every player in every phase. Imperial is only somewhat better, given the nature of the investor card and keeping track of bonds. We decided that this concept of simultaneous play, while interesting as a thought exercise, might be better conducted in practice with games that are more suitable - games that have long periods of downtime while one player decides actions and the others are doing nothing.

The idea of simultaneous play is not without merit. Certainly it would give our brains a good work out. We should attempt it again in the future with games that are famous for downtime - Tikal, perhaps, maybe paired with multi-player wargame like Shogun or Conquest of the Empire.

In any case, we played a relatively rapid game of Imperial. I did my best to think with Conan Brain. I had originally planned to try a three power strategy of trying to get Germany, England and Russia, but somewhere along the line I lost any chance of England and ended up with a bumper crop of Austria-Hungary and Russia.

Using both nations together to split up the Balkans, Greece and Turkey guarantees a huge development base, and their position on the map allows for simple, one front wars, unlike Germany, which often gets sandwiched between France and Russia (occasionally Italy) .

I made one attempt at taking over England but was promptly slapped down, so I shrugged and gobbled up Russian and Austria-Hungarian bonds like they were hotcakes. Ouch and Shemp seemed content to steal countries from each other, so aside from a pre-emptive invasion of Northern Italy (which they both held bonds for), I did very little but build up my two empires and snatch small snacking portions (Sweden, North Sea, Baltic) from England and Germany when I could.

By the time they noticed that I had two powerhouse empires which weren't constantly attacking each other and made a play for higher bonds to wrest control from me, I had enough capital to buy 50%+ of the available bonds in both nations and cement my control. I then made threatening overtures toward Germany (I had no German bond) and Italy, which kept things hopping on my warfronts, while simultaneously taxing and building factories as often as possible.

Although I had pulled fairly far ahead in the endgame both Ouch and Shemp made a creditable effort to catch up. I think the final scores were 181 for Kozure, ~155 for Shemp and ~120 (?) for Ouch. I ended the game with Russian pegging the 25 power point x5 spot, with a lot of nations still languishing in the x2 range.

Strangely, this ended up being almost the opposite of my intended "three separated nations with a smattering of other investments strategy".

I'm liking Imperial more and more with each play. It may displace Power Grid and Tikal from my number 2 and 3 positions in my favourite Euro game rankings. I appreciate that the turn order is mutable but straightforward, and even the initial starting player is determined by bid. I also enjoy the limited wargame nature of the game combined with the economic aspect.

This also marked the first time I have destroyed a factory during an invasion of Italy. In this case, both my opponents several held bonds in Italy, while I only owned a 1 or a 2. As destruction of a factory can slow down the power point progress of a nation, it can be very useful to use against nations where you have no investment.


  1. what's your number one game? Puerto Rico?

    El grande/ Tikal could work for simultaneous conan brain. A triple threat could be setup by adding carcassonne to the mix.

    In fact, why stop there? It actually could work well to have one game per player going, where every player is taking a turn at one of the games at any one time (add Tigris and Euphrates and railroad tycoon to the mix for a 5 player evening).

    Dammit Jim, this could WORK!

  2. My number one Euro is Railroad Tycoon. It combines fun, strategy and theme with quick and entertaining play that also isn't lightweight.