Thursday, December 31, 2009

How are we doing so far ?

Since we are closing off the decade, I quickly compiled all the games we have played so far since our start in 2004... just to see.

Games played 10 or more times:

16x Carcassonne
16 Ra
15 El Grande
11 Domaine
11 Jungle Speed
11 Power Grid
11 Princes of Florence
11 Puerto Rico
10 High Society
10 Race for the Galaxy
10 Tigris and Ephrates
10 Traders of Genoa
10 Zombie Fluxx

Games played between 5 and 9 times:

9x Glory to Rome
9 Railroad Tycoon
9 Robo-Rally
9 Through the Desert
9 Tikal
8 China
8 Clue: The Great Museum Caper
8 Dominion: Intrigue
8 Pirate's Cove
7 Colossal Arena
7 In the Year of the Dragon
7 Last Night on Earth
7 Modern Art
7 Pandemic
7 Taj Mahal
6 Blokus
6 Blue Moon City
6 Duel of Ages
6 Falling
6 Maharaja
6 Pueblo
6 Way Out West
6 Zero!
5 Agricola
5 Antike
5 Beowulf
5 Betrayal at House on the Hill
5 Bohnanza
5 Castles
5 Citadels
5 cosmic encounter
5 Diamant
5 Excape
5 For Sale!
5 Formula-Motor Racing
5 Fury of Dracula
5 Goa
5 Ideology
5 San Juan
5 Santiago
5 Settlers of Catan
5 Shogun
5 Space Alert
5 Tower of Babel
5 TransEuropa

There are other 88 games we have played between 2 and 4 times. 46 games have been played only once.

That's 718 sessions of 194 different games.

I was thinking I'd do a top 10 list of games to accompany this, but I find that it gets harder and harder to make such a list. My favorite games will change according to the situation (# of players, type of gamers, type of gathering, etc). That being said, if I could choose the ideal gaming group for each # of players, I'd probably pick as follows:

1 player: Ghost Stories, LOTR, Space Alert
2 player: Dungeon Twister, Conflict of Heroes, Duel of Ages
3 player: Ra, Tikal, Galaxy Trucker
4 player: Taj Mahal, Steam, Galaxy Trucker
5 player: El Grande, Steam (Mare Nostrum might also figure here in the future)
6 or more: Robo-Rally (but more often I would choose a party game like Things, Apples to Apples or Time's Up)

If I had to only pick one game, I would still pick El Grande as my absolute favorite.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 in review

Well, it's that time again. Here are the stats on the games we played this year:

10x Zombie Fluxx

8x Dominion: Intrigue

5x Cosmic Encounter
Space Alert

4x Steam
Galaxy Trucker
Glory to Rome
In the Year of the Dragon

3x Age of Conan
Last Night on Earth
Through the Ages

2x Die Macher
Roll Through the Ages
Mare Nostrum
Taj Mahal
Through the Desert
Chicago Express
Down in Flames
So Long Sucker!

1x Android
Race for the Galaxy
The End of the Triumvirate
The Republic of Rome
Railroad Tycoon
Mission: Red Planet
Small World
Blue Moon City
El Grande
Le Havre
Jungle Speed
Fury of Dracula
Battlestar Galactica

That represents 117 sessions of 52 different games (games played with expansions haven't been identified). Having Zombie Fluxx at the top is rather embarrassing, but I will note that those were almost all in one sitting during our Halloween session. Dominion: Intrigue saw multiple plays on multiple days, so that is far more legitimate.

My favorite game this year : Steam
My favorite new filler : Excape
My biggest surprise : Mare Nostrum (reviews on BGG are mixed, but I really enjoyed the two sessions we had)
My favorite expansion : Pandemic - On the Brink

Random notes:

- Vegas Showdown has been very popular with my extended family, as well as Thebes. Neither Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride saw much play this year, though TtR seems like it will have enough legs to see some play for quite a while.

- I acquired Ghost Stories in a math trade somewhat against my better judgement (did I really need another cooperative game?). I'm glad I did. I enjoy playing games solo and this is my favorite so far. Other games that I own that I've enjoyed solo are limited by the fact there are no winning conditions... they are simply a race for VPs. Given a random setup each time it's hard to really compare how you are doing between plays (ex: Agricola/ Race for the Galaxy/ Steam (with expansion map)). Lord of the Rings is great in this regard because you have a concrete goal to achieve. The problem is that it's quite long to setup and play. Ghost Stories has both a concrete winning condition and short play time, yet still manages to offer a different game every time (since the setup is random, the player powers are random, etc). I have no idea how this one will play with a group, but even if it stinks I will be very happy owning this game.

- Conflict of Heroes : Storms of Steel is my only new wargame acquired this year. I did manage to play a session with Kozure that was lots of fun. I like the changes to the rules... the gameplay is more fluid and it feels more wide open than before. The planes work well without changing things to much. Good stuff.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tastes great, less filling (Cosmic Encounter x2, Steam)

Shemp, Luch and I played this week to the heat of Shemp's brand new furnace.

Although I've read many times that Cosmic Encounter is not at it's best with 3, I was really itching to play it so we tried it anyway. We played with yellow aliens and added in the technology deck, and then only played to 4 planets. I drew Kamikaze, Luch drew Tick-Tock, and Shemp drew the Calculator.

Due to Tick-Tock's ability to win the game when any 8 battles end with a defender win (or on any successful negotiation) both Shemp and I zeroed in pretty quickly on Luch. He lost his alien power pretty quick. Meanwhile, it took a couple of tries before Shemp found any success with his race's ability (call odd or even, if correct, deduct the higher attack power from the lower). I managed a couple of high powered attacks using the kamikaze's ability to sacrifice ships for bonuses but predictably I became low on ships pretty quick. In the end, Shemp was able to string two successful attacks and get to four colonies in short order (the game took only about 40 minutes).

I was torn about my next choice because I had End of the Triumvirate and China in the bag as well, but we play rarely play Cosmic so we played a second session.

In our second game, I drew "Fodder", Luch was "Ameoba" and Shemp was "The Hate". The Hate is brutal. At the start of his turn, Shemp could discard any type of card (attack, negotiate, artifact, etc) and we needed to follow suit or lose 3 ships! Suddenly, Tick-Tock's power seemed very reasonable. We hated the hate. At one point, Luch activated a reincarnator flare and forced Shemp to draw a new race; The Hate became Human. I tried in vain to capitalize on my cool fodder power which allowed me to add to my attack strength any number of cards that were higher the mine but lower than the opponent's. Unfortunately, I kept tying the opponent, which makes it quite impossible.

Shemp came out of nowhere for the win once again.

I really enjoy Cosmic encounter, and I was surprised that three player wasn't as bad as I had heard. Still, it's much better with more, and much better when played to 5 planets. With four, players can theoretically win on their second turn and in essence go from halfway to the finish line in the blink of an eye. It's somewhat unsatisfying. Regardless, Cosmic is an experience game more than anything, and seeing things interact in unexpected ways is quite fun and funny.


We finished off the evening with what is turning out to be a real favorite of mine: Steam. Since we were three players, we played the USA map and seeded the city growth spaces with two cubes instead of three (as the rules require) and we were off. I kind of expected the game to feel loose with this many players, but I was WRONG. Removing a third of the goods cubes from the City Growth spaces had a dramatic impact on the game. 3-4 rounds from the end we were already looking desperately for potential future deliveries. We were crowding around each other and stealing cubes for opportunistic shipments (taking 2 and giving 2 is much better than allowing your opponent to get 4). It was a tough game which, ironically, lasted much longer than our typical 4 player games have lasted.

Although I think I will eventually give the auction variant (the "Standard" game) a try, I really feel no rush. The tile powers already have a cost (in dollars and future turn order) that values them pretty accurately. If the powers were to be auctioned, I don't think they would end up costing what they should because a number of them are pretty equally decent if you take away the turn order consideration. The one aspect of the "Standard" game that I like that I feel is somewhat missing from the "basic" game is the engine cost (in the "Standard" rules, each player has to pay equal to their engine level at the end of every turn). I like it because it opens up the possibility of being a contender with a lower engine level if you can keep your expenses down, and it forces players to think about "when" they should make the commitment and increase their engine... as it is there is pretty much no reason not to if the opportunity arise.

Anyways, great game. I look forward to trying out my new "Disco Inferno/ Soul Train" map!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Let me tell something about my mother... (Android)

Kozure likes the big, sprawling, thematic games. He recently purchased Android and asked that we indulge him with a session, despite the knowledge that the odds we would get through explanation and gameplay in our typical 3.5 hour window were slim. I think he was surprised when we all responded enthusiastically! I, for one, have always been quite curious about the game, though I would never have purchased it based on estimated playtime alone.

I'll say this to start: Android is one of the most ambitious boardgames I can think of. It's trying to interweave a number of different kinds of games into one, and to that it adds a couple of new ones. It's a character driven murder case set in a dystopian future. It's Blade Runner meets Shadowrun meets choose your own adventure.

Thematically, each player plays a character that is involved in trying to solve a murder. Each player is dealt a "hunch" regarding which of the suspects is guilty, and which is innocent. Over the course of the game, a conspiracy unfolds that explains who are the puppet masters behind the scenes, thereby framing the murder as a singular event against a larger picture. Meanwhile, each character has a backstory that develops over the course of the game, where a player needs to resolve a personal crisis and individual actions can lead to facing his/her demons or succumbing to them. As I said, it's very ambitious.

Individually, each aspect of the game is rather simple. The suspects are all known and the characters fly from location to location gathering evidence tokens that are scattered around the board (using a very interesting protractor-type device that measures how far the character's ship can "fly" in a sinlge round). This evidence is then either pinned on a particular subject, or used to uncover the larger conspiracy. If pinned on a suspect, it takes the form of a simple numerical modifier and the character who has the highest positive total at the end of the game is the murderer. There are other minor rules, such as the possibility of alibies, purjery tokens, etc, but they are just further modifiers. In effect, players are building cases against a character (read: framing) rather than solving anything in particular. If, at the end of the game, the character's "hunches" were right he/she will get VPs.

The conspiracy itself is developped by gathering clues, but instead of pinning tokens on suspects a player draws from one of three stacks of puzzle pieces and places it on the board. Each piece shows lines going through it and players are trying to connect the "murder" (in the center of the puzzle) with various conspiracies at the edges of the board. Characters are quite literally "piecing together the puzzle" of the conspiracy in the game. At the end of the game, the conspiracies that have been connected to the murder will provide VPs in certain ways (political favours retained at the end of the game are worth points, etc).

Lastly, the character is presented with a piece of backstory and two possible results based on whether the character can meet certain criteria. For example, a character might have a rocky relationship with his father and need to make amends to achieve a positive result. Throughout the game, the player will play "light" cards that further their personal goals AND play "dark" cards on other player's characters. This is meant to represent the good and bad traits of each character coming out in the story. Once more, the result of this personal backstory is that a number of VPs are awarded based on how successfully it all panned out.


It's impossible to really judge this game based on a single play. There is so much going on that it's necessary to just "do stuff" to keep things moving. Only at the end did it all really start to come together in my mind. There is definitely some good stuff in here. In comparison to Arkham Horror, a game of similar complexity and length (and by the same designer and publisher) I liked it much better. The multiple interlocked mechanisms work together well and don't lead to downtime for the sake of downtime (where you spend lots of time moving stuff around, coordinating multiple modifiers, etc). Just as with Age of Conan, it's possible to create a game with lots going on where things feel like they fit together well once you get a grip on it.

My biggest complaint would be that the whole thing resolves in a very abstract way. For all the layers, for all the mechanics, for all the chrome, it's all just a race for VPs after all. Solving the murder isn't really the point. The card play, with the light and dark aspects of a character's personality coming to bear on the story should feel different than any other "take that" style game, but doesn't really. The worst offender, however, is that uncovering the conspiracy doesn't feel like anything at all except a game mechanic... dissapointing thematically even if it offers interesting gameplay possibilities. It's not that any of these things don't work... it's just that the result is muted thematicaly rather than being over the top, which is what I expected after hearing the overview of the game by Kozure. Perhaps there is so much going on that the designer felt the need to abstract the scoring to bring it all together. Perhaps it's because if it were a story, you'd be discovering that there was a murder, then through investigation you'd discover that there was a conspiracy behind it, etc, etc, all the while grappling with your inner demons in a way that would surely play into the story, wereas in Android you are operating in reverse: you know who you want to pin the murder on, you are motivated to reveal a particular combination of conspiracies and the light/dark card play is divorced from any of these other events. Hard to say, but I wish that there were more "Ah-ha" moments in a murder/mystery/ uncover the conspiracy game.

Regardless of the mild dissapointment related to the exploitation of the theme, Android remained a game I enjoyed playing. It works well, weaves an interesting story if you remember to look for it, and plays shorter than I expected (we finished the whole game, with rules explanation, in 4 hours). Maybe in our second play I'll be less bamboozled by everything going on and will be able to appreciate the theme more, who knows?

For the record, I can't remember who won the game. Kozure, I think? I had my guilty hunch become innocent and my innocent hunch be guilty. My rocky relationship with my father ended very well, but I ended up using my best friend and nearly lost her. I came a distant and convincing last.

Still had fun though, and that's what matter.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Towards a more balanced bashing of skulls (Age of Conan)

Age of Conan was selected again this week. The most notable difference between this session and previous ones was a lack of runaway leader, which is good. Must be getting better at it, or something. Or, it could be because this was the first time we played with 4 players.

Since we once again chose factions based on our standard player colours, I once again played red. I've only personally played this once before, and that was a while ago, so I had a hard time getting a grasp on the rules for the first half of the game. Luckily, the game has a relatively long period where players can mostly stay out of each other's way, so I had the luxury of picking up most things as I went along. Conan has a hell of a lot of little rules and subsystems, something I normally find annoying. I'm glad to say that despite the fact that I've had the same feeling of being overwhelmed both times I`ve played, by the end of both games I had internalized the moving parts and it plays smoothly once you get to that stage (in other words, all the mechanisms mesh well, and it doesn't feel like work to remember them all while you are playing).

I find the game to be an interesting balance between a RISK variant and a resource management game. You know the others are out there, you know that you will have to deal with them, but in the meantime you have to conquer provinces (a game unto itself), attempt to achieve objectives each round and keep an eye on the endgame bonuses as well (the Crom tokens for fighting and the treasure/ monsters/ women tokens for Conan). It's ultimately an impressive feat that both parts seem interesting and worthwhile. With this type of game, there is always the danger that the player that turtles wins because the other players hurt themselves by fighting each other. I can't really tell if it's an issue here, because none of us tried it. It could be possible that a player would do well just developing uncontested land and controlling Conan as much as possible. Don't know.

The game ended with Kozure crowning Conan, but unfortunately for him he did not have the majority in monsters he thought he had (I had more). I won the game.

So far, each of our sessions have ended with Conan being crowned. I wonder if that's the norm?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Back at the polls so soon? (Die Macher)

Luch decided that he would always pick Die Macher when we played at Bharmer's place. Given that Bharmer rarely plays with us now, the odds of it being Luch's pick at Bharmer's place are pretty low. You'd think it would take a while before something like that would happen again. Well, here we are, just a month after the last time he picked it, and Die Macher graced the table once more.

It's worth noting that I wasn't at that session, and so until this week I firmly believed that Bharmer's wife was fictitious. As it turns out, she's not. I was glad to meet her, but I have to admit that I enjoyed the concept of the imaginary wife. I may choose to stick with it.

Die Macher

Although the others played last month, I haven't played in over a year... and Die Macher takes a bit of time to get the hang of when you are rusty. In the first election I tried very hard to win and wound up tied with Bharmer... but then remembered that one of the key benefits to winning an early election is to put a media cube on the victory point track. You'd think I would have placed one in the region if I was trying to win it, wouldn't you? That was 25 vps out the window.

I managed to stay in the lead for seats throughout the game, and it seemed like a decent enough strategy. Although I fumbled through most of the game, I set myself up well for the final two regions and scored a major comeback (it was the 80 region, and no one else was well setup for it). Kozure, on the other hand, had been consistently playing well throughout. Was my last big score enough to win?

No. Kozure won by 10 points. Well played, sir!

Die Macher is a good game, but I can't say I love it. For it's length, there are simply too many large swings of luck. The 80 province that came up in the last election effectively neutralized all the gains Kozure made in three whole elections (two 20s and a 40). That's 1.5 hours of playtime, folks! I was understandably irritated when it came out.

It's fascinating to watch so many interlocking mechanisms work together, and getting good at manipulating them all must surely come with a certain amount of satisfaction. For me, however, I look back fondly at the days of simple, streamlined and short euros... like (sarcasm) PowerGrid (sarcasm).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Steamy Trucker, or Trucker McSteamy? (Galaxy Trucker, Steam, Excape)

a.k.a. The night Luch learns a new strategy: it's called "Strategy".

Galaxy Trucker (w/The Big Expansion)

We started out with Galaxy Trucker. In the past few games, I've found that the first flight has lacked some tension, so I decided to introduce a few elements from The Big Expansion in order to liven things up. We added the new tiles and the Rough Road Ahead cards (at difficulty level:1). After a brief explanation of the new rules, we were off.

In our first round, the Rough Roads Ahead card we drew was a brutal one called "Remorseless Fate". Among other things, whenever a Combat Zone or Sabotage is encountered it automatically affects all players except the one with the highest relevant stat. Sadly, no events of this sort occurred in the first round, so the card had no impact. Once again, very little occurred at all. It may have been even worse for the others because at least I was in first place and got to face the weak challenges along the way... the others just sat and watched. I will have to introduce evil machinations and/or the new ship classes next time, because now that we know what we are doing round 1 feels like wasted time.

In our second round, we drew the "piercing projectiles" RRA card. This one causes any meteors or blasts that blow off a piece of your ship to also take the next one behind it. Sounded very interesting, but once again very little actually happened in the second round, so the card didn't have any impact. The round was mostly notable because Shemp realized just as we were about to start flying that he had built the round 1 ship again! He was a little embarrassed that despite his mistake, he only finished building second...

Anyway, either we are getting better at this, or we had an unusually tame 2nd round. Once again, I'm thinking evil machinations next time.

In our third round, we drew "Metal Fatigue". This one has us roll a coordinate on the board every time we cross open space. If a piece exists at the coordinates rolled it is destroyed. Ouch. This flight was more like it. We flew through meteor shower after meteor shower. Then, we flew through more meteor showers. It was insane. My left wing broke off early. The front of my ship was smashed by a large meteor. My starter crew cabin was destroyed (was it metal fatigue?). I limped past the finish line with the back right hand quarter of my ship still in one piece. It was really fun.

Despite my big lead from rounds 1 and 2, my disastrous round three knocked me back. The final tally put Luch in front, me and Kozure tied for second and Shemp last.

The new tiles didn't add as much to the experience as I'd expected. Mostly, they serve as modifiers to other pieces so they end up making the ship construction a little bit trickier as it's much easier to fill up your ship and discover that vital items (such as cannons, storage, crew quarters or thrusters) are entirely missing. My favorite pieces were the reactor furnace and the statis chambers (the engine booster also seems quite interesting, but it didn't get used in our game). My least favorite additions were the armor plating and the luxury cabins since they seem to do very little in practice. I quite liked removing a random number of pieces at the start because it adds an element of the unknown tot he distribution and could create shortages of certain types of pieces that players need to deal with. The RRA cards are a great idea and I like that players can set a difficulty level and simply draw more than one to make each flight harder. Overall, I'm very glad I bought the expansion because Galaxy Trucker is a game that is only fun when it is challenging, and the base game does get easier with time.


After our last game on the germany map, I wanted to revisit the USA/Canada map with four players since it's the tighter of the two. When we first played it a few months ago, we each stayed in our respective corners as we learned the ropes of the game. Would it play the same way now that we know what we are doing?

I started right away in the same section as Kozure since he was the leader in our previous games and I was determined not to let him run away with it. The two of us spent the entire game battling over the south and east of the board. Meanwhile, Luch and Shemp were coexisting much more peacefully in the west. The force competition with Kozure led to some very tight and intertwined track, as well as some strong competition and tension over the while game. Unfortunately, since the folks in the west were keeping to themselves it was much easier for them to prosper. Shemp got all his ducks in a row and also benefited somewhat from a very well place link that netted him a fair number of points on other player's deliveries. He won the game, I came in a relatively close second, followed by Luch and then Kozure.

When the board is open enough, or when players are feeling peaceful, all players can coexist in the game and the winner is solely determined by the best forward planner. I guess the trick is to identify who is in the lead and build networks that hamper that player, while simultaneously advancing your own agenda. We'll have to pay more attention next time!


We played with the house rule that the leading player can't benefit from rolling doubles. It worked well as a variant, and I think we'll be playing with it from now on. I won the game, which is something I've never managed to do. I pulled ahead to a significant early lead but stayed close to the end for quite a while. Shemp eventually overtook me, but it was shortlived and I made it to the end first. Luch started out playing his usual style, rolling high and placing low in order to bump as many players he could (and not getting himself very far in the process). At a certain point, he switched gears and started playing to benefit himself as much as possible. When it started working, he said "so this is why you guys use strategy!".

Of course, he has often won at this game and yet in the game he discovers "strategy" he does poorly. Shows what we know.


Galaxy Trucker and Steam are two of my favorite games in a long while. Yes, Galaxy Trucker could use a tweak in the difficulty of the first round. Also, yes, I miss some of the tactility of Railroad Tycoon (taking shares, the plastic trains, etc). Regardless, they are excellent games that do what they set out to do very well. When I get around to putting together an updated top 10 list, I'm sure both of these would find themselves there somewhere.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Skulligan (Roll Through the Ages x2, Glory to Rome, Race for the Galaxy, Dominion)

It was Kozure's pick this week, and he was lookin' to play some quick n' light civilization building games.

Roll Through the Ages

We opened with a relatively recent purchase that hadn't yet seen any play at WAGS... Roll Through the Ages. A long time ago I used to play computer yahtzee quite a lot, but I can't say this type of "combination seeking" dice games have really been my thing since (I'm not counting games like Excape, Liar's Dice or Can't Stop, because those aren't really the same type of game). Still, with the recent crop of dice games I started to get interested and settled on this one to try. Ra: The Dice Game and Settlers of Catan: The Dice Game just seemed too derivative of their parent games, while this one seemed fresh.

You roll a number of dice based on the number of cities you've built. Building cities or monuments requires "workers", while developments require "goods" and/or "money". Cities need to be fed, so more cities means more dice but also means more upkeep. All the while, any "disasters" that come up must be set aside and the more a player gets the worse the result (with one exception, where if exactly three disasters are rolled the other players are penalized). At first blush, I was disappointed that it wasn't more Yahtzee like. I was looking to make combinations, to satisfy certain requirements based on series or the like. Luckily, my initial fears were unfounded. Trying to get the dice faces you are looking for, trying to finish items that have been started, trying to push for just enough disasters to affect the other players instead of you... it all boils down to trying to achieve the same sort of thing, but it's more fluid and situation dependent. There appears to be a couple of different ways to get ahead, from focussing on monuments to racking up goods and going for big technologies. It might have been cool if another path to victory was opened up along the lines of "wonders" (or whatever) where rolling a particular combination of dice signified the discovery of something important... maybe in a future expansion?

Anyway, it's a fun light game that doesn't take very long to play. The interaction is pretty light, but there is an optional rule for trading that we haven't tried that might help.

Kozure pulled ahead in our first game and ended just as it seemed Shemp was catching up. Lucky for him, he did it just in time and he won by a just a few points. Shemp coined the term "skulligan" by combining the "disaster" face of the die with the word "mulligan". It wasn't an intentional combination, but it worked and we thought it was pretty funny. In our second game, I had a huge streak of luck that gave me an enormous amount of points but I had been hit so hard by disasters and a particularly brutal turn where I lost nearly ten points to famine that I was pulled out of contention. Who won that again? Don't remember (sorry).

Glory to Rome

We then moved on to the quirky world of Glory to Rome. This game is usually best when played a few times in succession because it is so deeply weird that it takes a bit of time to adjust to it. You have to come to terms with the fact that there are a large number of highly unbalanced combos to be found, and that the game is won by the player best able to set one up and exploit it (which ultimately makes it balanced, in a weird way). When we go a stretch without playing, this often seems to come as a surprise that these ridiculously powerful things happen, and it can feel a bit unsatisfying because it feels rather random when it happens.

Oddly, just like the last time we played I managed to build the Garden, which allowed me to execute the patron action once for each point of influence. Just like last time, I had a ton of influence and wound up with a *large* number of patrons. I completed several powerful buildings and stuffed my vault full of goods. The funny thing was I couldn't end the game because I wasn't getting any marble buildings, and therefore couldn't use up the last foundation, and was very afraid someone would build one of those "instant win" buildings. No one did, and I won by a landslide, but it was interesting to me that even in a situation where I am so far ahead the game is such that I know I could still lose at any moment. That's a good thing in my book.

Race for the Galaxy

Here's a game we haven't played as a group in a really long time. I personally play on occasion against the computer in the free downloadable version at BGG. It's amazing how the iconography becomes second nature the more you play, but Shemp reminded me how difficult it can be on beginners. He had a few run-ins with symbols he couldn't figure out, coupled with his colour-blindness, and had a frustrating time of it (this game is stupid, is how he put it, I think). Anyway, I had a great game. I started with Epsilon Eradni and a mitfull of military worlds. Everything fell into place beautifully and I put out larger and larger military worlds until I got to twelve card played (which happened the same turn Shemp did it). Here again, I had a very good score and won handily (mid forties, I believe). Experience matters in this game, and I therefore have an unfair advantage.

Shemp has mentioned on a few occasions that games with low interaction are rarely his favorites. Although I do find that I am constantly aware of the other players, from the point of view that I withhold certain cards I think others need and don't bother playing role cards I think others will play for me, I can't argue that the interaction is pretty thin. Oh well, I still like it!


Dominion puts me in the opposite situation as Race for the Galaxy, because here I'm the one with less experience. I'm not sure why, but I have a hard time wrapping my head around the powers on the ten cards each time I play. I therefore kind of float through the game doing my best to keep up but then always ending up a distant last. I must respond better to multiple symbols than to blocks of text (actually, I know I do). Other than my general inability to play well, it is a fun game.

I had abrief moment where things were going well for me. I had the coinage card that doubled all my copper, and it worked to get me a couple of provinces very early in the game. Unfortunately, I kept purchasing cards and my deck got bogged down. From memory, I think that Luch won the game by a nose. He is quite effective at this game. He mentioned at the end of the game that he tries to go as quickly as possible to purchasing the 6 VP provinces, and tries not to get distracted by the the cards. I'll have to take that advice...

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Hunhh, wha? movin'! ungh... zombies gah. (Last Night on Earth x3, Zombie Fluxx x8)

Luch, Kozure and I gathered for a belated halloween session at WAGS. The flu has been having it's way with many of us of late... I couldn't make it last week, and Shemp was out of action this week. Maybe zombies aren't all we have to fear.

Last Night on Earth
We've played LNoE every halloween for a few years now. It's a notable improvement over the Zombies! games we tolerated before, but it's not our favorite type of game either. Still, it's a nice yearly diversion.

We started with the "Burn 'em out!" scenario. Luch and I were the heroes and Kozure was the zombies. In this scenario, the heroes need to find explosives and then detonate them in three of the zombie spawning pits. As the sexy cowgirl, I ran to the barn and took on some evil dead with the help of a meat cleaver early on. Sadly, I was outmatched and she fell. By the time we managed to destroy our first spawning pit, we were already halfway to the end of our time limit. Luckily, the three last three heroes did manage to find some dynamite and rushed the infested pits and successfully destroyed them with a few rounds remaining.

We then switched to the "Defend the Manor" scenario. I played the Zombies, and rolled 11 starting zombies. They lumbered towards the manor as the heroes ran about looking for a way to defend themselves. As quickly as it started, the scenario was over... the zombies made it en masse to the manor and Kozure and Luch were helpless to prevent it. It was too quick, and therefore unsatisfying. We rebooted and tried again with the exact same setup. In their second attempt, more attention was paid to drawing out the zombies from the manor using their "hunger" against them. It came down to the wire.. on the final turn the zombies momentarily overran the manor (I say momentarily because the heroes then drew them out). Since we thought the zombies needed to end the turn with enough in the manor we ended the game thinking the heroes had won, but in fact the rules state that the zombies win instantly if they EVER get enough zombies in the manor.

Zombie Fluxx

We played several hands of Zombie Fluxx to end the evening (I'm estimating 8, but I don't really know). Things started out slow, because understanding the cards takes a bit of time. As the hands went on, things started getting a lot faster and the experience became much more fun. The humour is decent, too.

You'd think a game this random would eventually allow all players to win. Not so. I was winless for all 8 rounds... Maybe I just suck.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

This is your brain. This is your brain crushed by CONAN (Age of Conan)

I wasn't able to attend last week, but for the sake of posterity I will note that Age of Conan was played, and that Shemp apparently crushed all opponents in his debut session. In a result that is eerily reminiscent of my first session some time ago, Shemp was a distant first and crowned Conan for the win. Either that is a bizarre coincidence or this baby's got serious runaway leader problems!!!

Halloween gaming was postponed to next week's session.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Be My Cube Tomato Coalition Buddy

Let me be clear: Die Macher is a good game. It is also a loooonnnnggg game... for a Euro, anyway.

Die Macher is a game of very complex, interlinked/co-dependent strategies, with great theme and a fair amount of tension.

Why don't I look forward to it more?

Why does it fall solidly into the "daunting" category of Euro games for me?

Why does it not leap immediately to the front of the line in terms of being a Euro-masterwork?

I gave it a lot of thought this past weekend, and it suddenly occurs to me right now that it's something that I seldom talk about... because it usually isn't an issue.

It's the "detail work to payoff ratio".

You have to put a lot of fairly detailed effort into planning for and winning a State. Winning a State gets you (potentially) between 15 and 80 points (depending on the state), plus putting a media marker (between 10 and 25 points, depending on what round you're playing), plus solidifying a national issue (between 10 and 25 points, again). The national issue then nets you between 1 and 11 (? - I'm not sure) party membership points, assuming you are able to place a national issue which accords with your party platform.

When you consider the number of manoeuvres which are necessary to gain you victory, as well as the number of manoeuvres which your opponents can execute which will suddenly tank your potential votes from 4 (or more) x 10 party conferences = 40 to 5 (!)... well, it becomes a lot of headache for potentially very little gain.

Of course, someone will no doubt argue, if you plan properly, with strategically placed media control and opinion polls, as well as advance placement of conferences for conversion to votes before issues reduce opinion, you can orchestrate fairly masterful campaigns.

That's true, but what a tangle to get there.

We had what I would assume was a fairly decently played novice-level game last Thursday night. Bharmer played well and Shemp put in an excellent showing for a first time play of Die Macher, considering the complexity.

Mid game scores were very close. Bharmer and I pulled away in the late game, and Bharmer's clinching of the final state election gave him the ability to swap out a national issue and switch out the 25 point issue which I had matched, resulting in a 50 point swing in his favour +(25 points for him, -25 points for me).

It was still a satisfying game - I felt that I had played much more successfully than previous plays, paying much more attention to party membership and saving my best shadow cabinet cards for key states, as well as playing party conferences in advance on states, and converting to votes while the opinion was high.

A good game, and one we should play again soon while the ruleset is fresh in our minds.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Déja Vu (Steam, Pandemic: On the Brink, Excape)

Shemp thought enough of last week's games that he picked them again this week.

(That, and I suspect he was feeling too lazy to think about choosing different ones)


Our second game of Steam was played on the German map, which is designed for 4-5 players. As it's designed for more players than the USA/Canada one, we expected it to be more wide open, and for the most part it was. That said, when the game was completed every single town and city had been built to. I wouldn't have predicted that (in fact, I predicted quite the opposite because I pointed to a particular town, Seiglen, in the bottom right corner and asked why anyone would ever build there!).

The four of us kind of picked an area to start with. Kozure was North-East, Luch North-West and Shemp and I started in the middle at Düsseldorf(though with the intention of developing in different directions). Right off the bat I got into trouble because Shemp was able to steal the cubes out from under me, and I got no deliveries on the first round. Luckily, with my newly upgraded train and a good corridor of deliveries setup in the south-west I was able to make up ground over the next few rounds. While Luch was building in the south-east and Shemp was developping the middle of the board, I noticed that Kozure had set up a very lucrative east-west delivery network (Arnhem/ Dortmund)and was making lots of points shipping lots of goods. Since the blue city had already been urbanized, it was difficult to stop him (and being way down in the south I couldn't do much to steal cubes). I concentrated on making sure I`d have as many six link deliveries as possible and did pretty well at that, but it wasn't *quite* enough. On our last turn, Kozure built track to one of my northermost cities and scooped up my last 6 point delivery, making the situation even more difficult. Although I came in a close second in the VP race, Kozure had better income AND more links, so with those VPs he won decisively.

Now that we`ve played a second time, I think I've come to understand what makes Railroad Tycoon an easier game for casual gamers (I was definitely wondering though. It's much longer to play and somewhat longer to explain due to the cards and barons... not qualities I would expect in a "casual gamer" targetted game). The first reason is obvious: The income mechanic is less forgiving. In RRT, every step forward increases your income by a few thousand, but every share only reduces that by $1000. In Steam, it's 1:1 so getting out of debt and staying there takes a bit of effort (though already in our second game it seemed much easier to do it). The second, less obvious reason is that the the mechanics and financials in RRT encourage players to stay at low engine levels much longer than Steam. Visualizing deliveries in RRT is a simple affair of looking for cubes and nearby cities of the same colour, with only maybe half or a third of the game spent delivering 3/4 links and up. Also, since the vast majority of cubes used in the game are present from the start, the number of them to consider becomes smaller by this stage and therefore easier to visualize anyway. In Steam, the need to start planning for long deliveries happens early. I was making three link deliveries on my 2nd round this game! Further, more goods will wind up on the board from the goods track than from the initial seeding, so this planning process needs to consider what's available on the goods track as well (and grabbing those goods needs to be done early if a particular set is important to you, or else someone else might take them). The amount of forward planning is certainly less than Age of Steam, but more than RRT, and definitely leads to a more "thinky" game.

Not sure how the others feel on this one. What do you say, guys?

I think that ultimately Steam is better suited to my tastes, and I certainly appreciate the smaller footprint and shorter playtime. However, there are things I liked about RRT that are missing: I like the effects of some of the cards, particularly hotels. This type of card succeeds in altering the texture of a map from game to game in a way that isn't replicated in Steam. Similarly, the major lines add a second set of goals to the game that I enjoyed, as long as they were laid out at the start of the game (this is why I wasn't crazy about the service bounty cards, as they often seemed to just give bonus points to however happened to be closest). In theory, I also like the hidden roles aspect of RRT, but in practice the ones supplied in the game were oddly imbalanced and unsatisfying. Finally, I liked the fact that income started decreasing over time, somewhat keeping the leader in check (Steam has a rule that could have a similar impact in the advanced game, where the level of your engine is deducted from your income every round, but we haven't played with that yet).

Since Kozure also has RRT, I'll be able to play it once in a while even if I trade away my copy. If that does come to pass, I think I'll be keeping the Europe map so we can play that on occasion, because it really was a lot of fun.

Pandemic: On the Brink

For our second crack at the Pandemic expansion, Shemp decided he wanted to try the "Mutation Challenge". This one introduces a 5th disease, purple, but otherwise plays very much like the original. Purple is easier to cure, and doesn't seem to spread very rapidly, but the number of cubes is very low so if it starts to spread players can easily lose because the supply runs out.

In this game, Luch was the Operations Expert, Kozure was the Medic, Shemp was the Archivist and I was the Field Operative. The purple disease didn't show up until late into the game, and then mostly just sat there so it didn't appear to be very threatening. Then, suddenly a chain of events caused it to explode all over china and we were suddenly very close to losing. We got it under control, cured it and three of the other diseases, and then struggled to find a way to cure the last one before the deck ran out. We were *1* action short of winning, but ended up losing (I had the 3 samples and the 3 cards I needed, and I was at the research lab, but didn't have an action left to perform the cure.

Doesn't get any closer than that.

All in all, I think I preferred the virulent strain expansion, but this was certainly fun as well.


We played a couple of games of Excape. We laughed a lot. A lot. More than in Steam, even(?). At one point, Luch kicked Kozure off the 2 step of the track and I saw his eyes roll back further than I`d ever seen them go before. It was classic. This is a great game to end a night of thinky games with. Although it looked like I might win the first game, Luch came back from behind for the win. In the second game, it was Luch all the way on a series of lucky double threes.

Kozure and Shemp mentioned that they felt the "doubles" rules dissatisfying (pawns move forward the number shown on the dice if they are doubles). I like it, because it both moves the game along and allows a player to come back from behind. Their complaint had more to do with the fact that it can also puch the leader to a distant win, which is true. I suggested that a simple fix would be to dissallow the first place player to benefit from the rule, for the second place player to only be able to move on double 1s, the second place player to move on double 1s or 2s, and the third place player to get 1s,2s and 3s.

Even simpler, the rule could simply not apply to the leader.

I`ve only played this with 4, but as much as I like it I don't think it would work well with 6. With four players, the balance between taking a risk on a number and having it sometimes make it's way back to you seems pretty much spot on. With more, I would imagine the odds of having your dice get back to you are pretty remote, and the game might therefore take quite long.

Also, Kozure mentioned that he preferred Can't Stop. I like Can't Stop, but it's a longer game, with more downtime between turns. There is certainly more depth there, but I didn't have as much fun so I think I have to give the nod to Excape.

Edit: I forgot to add a (semi) interesting tidbit: Not only were the games the same as last week, but the results are also quite similar. Kozure won Steam (last week was a draw between him and Shemp), we lost Pandemic and Luch won Excape (well, last week Kozure won once/ Luch won once, and this week Luch won twice). Ok, maybe not so interesting after all.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hmm. Steamy. (Steam, Pandemic: On the Brink, Excape! x2)

More new games!


I've always really like Railway Tycoon. Despite this, and despite the fact that I like many heavy strategy games, I've had very little interest in Age of Steam. It's reputation as being a particularly unforgiving game and some of the discussion I've read about wonkiness in some of the rules kept me from giving it a try. That being said, Railroad Tycoon has it's own set of issues (well known by now... huge board with sections that will never get used even with 6 players, a card system that can unfairly advantage a player if the right cards come up, component colour issues, long play time, etc). When the Railways of Europe expansion came out, I was thrilled because it really fixed a lot of the things that bugged me about base RRT. I liked it a lot, but it remained a long game and the cards never really felt right.

Anyway, when I heard about Steam I was definitely interested... smaller box, shorter playtime, streamlined design... it sounded like it was the refinement in the system that I was waiting for. I've had it for a while now, but this week we finally were able to try it out.

I'm not going to list all the differences between the two games, but I will talk about a few of the more interesting ones. I will say that for a game that is ultimately very similar to RRT, Steam felt very different.

Steam's biggest difference, in my opinion, is the fact that the victory point chart is separate from the income chart. When delivering a good, the player has to decide if the want to put the points into the company (income chart) or into his pocket (VP). Whereas RRT sees players start on a slow progression to sustainability as the income levels grow, in Steam you start at "0" and can go up or down based on the shares you take out and the various items you can build/ buy. Achieving profitability is it's own goal for the first part of the game, and the decision to go to VPs is not an easy one. This is a change that I quite liked, but it gives the game a much less forgiving feeling than RRT.

The second biggest difference is that turn order is determined by selecting roles. Each role gives the selecting player a special power for the turn, such as delivering cubes first, building extra track, urbanizing a town, etc. The clever aspect is that the role you pick this turn also determines the order you will select roles in the next turn (and picking early can be very important if you need a specific action). Although I like that the system manages to accomplish more than the RRT auctions could do in a fraction of the time, in practice I was surprised at how long it took us to feel comfortable with it. The was something about remembering the turn order, and the exceptions to the turn order due to powers, that had us stumbling a lot. Also, the freedom available in RRT to do anything you want on your turn instead of hoping you are able to grab the right role tile proved frustrating at times. Time will tell whether the initial awkwardness will fade, and whether the constrained action selection will reveal itself to be an interesting strategic layer or a simply an artificial stumbling block.

The third biggest difference is the impact of a series of minor rules changes on gameplay. In RRT, City Growth and Urbanization were rarely used in our groups due to the prohibitive costs and uncertain result. Similarly, high cost kept many players from increasing their engine level to beyond 4 in a typical game. In Steam, these actions become part of the role selection mechanic and are therefore theoretically used one a turn. With the goods cubes visible from the start, and the actions much less expensive, new cities and City Growth and high level engines were the norm. The board just felt like it was transforming more than the RRT maps do.

All in all, I liked the game quite a bit. I'm not sure that I'd go so far as to say that I like it better than RRT, but I do like it as much as that one (and with the shorter playtime it's likely to see more play as well). I found it odd that on many turns none of the special actions appealed to me, and found myself picking solely for turn order.

In our game, I started on the east coast, while Luch was in the north-west, Shemp in the south and Kozure a bit more in the middle. I became profitable earlier than the others, but a couple of bad decisions meant that I was missing opportunities. Luch unfortunately figured out too late that his starting setup was less than ideal. Far from other cities, he started taking a hit on the income track and flirted with the "stock death spiral" but managed to get a few deliveries in and dig himself out of the hole. In the end, the game was a tie between Kozure and Shemp (Luch needed to make a delivery on his last round that would see either Kozure or Shemp get the point, and whichever got it would win). We called it a draw instead.

Pandemic: On the Brink

Finally! The expansion I'd been waiting for for so long has finally arrived! The game ships with nice petri-dishes, many new roles and special action cards and 3 new ways to play the game.

We tried the "virulent Strain" expansion game.In this one, a single colour of cube becomes "Virulent" and gains a new characteristic every time an epidemic card is drawn. It's interesting that, unlike Lord of the Rings co-op, the added challenge isn't balanced by added powers. This game is just harder than the base game. I can imagine that combining these expansions and playing on the newly introduced "legendary level" would be pretty challenging for just about anybody.

It turns out that Red was the problematic disease in our session. The added challenge made it harder to concentrate on all the other diseases and in the end, a series of yellow and black outbreaks ended the game. We worked together as well as we could, but in the end we succumbed. I liked the new roles we played with (I was a field operative that could collect "samples" of diseases and use them to make cures more easily).

I really liked this expansion. It felt like we were playing a somewhat more interesting version of the same game, with the added bonus of a lot more roles to choose them. I suspect that the mutation expansion and certainly the Bio-terrorist will make it seem more like a substantially different experience.


What do we do? Excape? Why? Who cares?!!!

I bought this filler just because of the name. There is a single funny line in an old Jack Black movie called "Orange County"... a stoned Jack Black says "we have to Excape!" (in the movie, it's funny). It's stupid reason for wanting a game, but it was cheap and it's Knizia so I took a chance.

I really like it. It's a simple push your luck game that allows players to bump each other out of contention but the balance achieved between the main scoring mechanic and the various other results keep it interesting an unpredictable throughout (pairs advance tokens immediately, Xs end your turn and make you go back, etc). We played twice and each game lasted only 10 minutes. We laughed and groaned a lot, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.

It's worth mentioning that both the winners (Luch and Kozure) ended the game in the same highly unlikely scenario: The rolled a 76 (the highest roll possible) on their last turn. The only way to beat this is to also roll a 76 and then bump them. Even more unlikely: I DID roll a 76 to bump him! E V E N more unlikely, the newly bumped Kozure immediately rolls double 3s to advance for the win.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Hail Shaempsar (Mare Nostrum, Glory to Rome)

Mare Nostrum made it's second appearance in as many weeks, and Glory to Rome is also played in order to ensure that we do nothing but play ancient Roman themed games.

Mare Nostrum

For our second game, we shuffled around who played which civ.

Agent Easy = Rome
Shemp = Greece
Kozure = Egypt
Luch = Carthage

We also added the expansion board, even though we were not playing with the other expansion elements (apparently, it evens out the number of unowned provinces near all the players).

As Rome, I was playing a combat oriented civ. once again (I was Carthage last time). In order to avoid the combat which was so detrimental to Rome and Greece last time, Shemp and I called a truce and I immediately set sail south. I won a battle against Alexandria and "occupied" his two resources there. I then went west and grabbed the province just east of Carthage from Luch (I couldn't aggravate, err, pick on only one other player, could I?). I was gathering lots of resources through my occupations, but my forces were spread thin to maintain the occupation and several angry opponents were gathering up their forces to take back what was theirs. Before I could even purchase a single hero or wonder, I had to pull back. Unfortunately for me, Shemp (who had been sitting around quietly expanding while I was pillaging) sailed his cursed greek ships and sank my triremes. My soldiers were trapped, and the truce was over.

Unfortunately, he had the upper hand.

Suddenly, Rome had very weak. Few cards per turn, and with many enemies. And Egypt over there was starting to look pretty powerful, too. I was being called to reign in Greece, and tried, but failed. I briefly gained the title of director of commerce and mandated that large numbers of cards be traded in an effort to break up the tax cards being accumulated by Egypt and Greece. It worked as a stalling mechanic, buying me a few rounds more. Then Greece took the director of commerce role from me. I was forced to try a bold (read: desperate) move where I tried to position a trireme south of Athens (amongst two greek ships) and planned to strike at the heart of the greeks with 6 legions, crossing my fingers that the greek blockade wouldn't sink it. Unfortunately, they did.

Shemp had by now won all three roles (again!). He made his final purchase and won the game (again!).

Mare Nostrum is quite a remarkable game. It feels like you are caught up in a very delicate balancing act where everyone is forced to make a move, but they also know that any move can lead to the whole thing crashing down. The pressure starts right away due to the limited caravan and city markers available and the close proximity between players. Turns pass quickly, and it feels tense all the way through. Quite an achievement. I'm looking at Antike now and wondering if it should remain in my collection after all...

Glory to Rome

We finished the Roman themed evening with Glory to Rome. Shemp proved to us that he is quite the powerhouse when it comes to games set in classical Rome by winning this one as well. The highlight for me was completing the card that gives me a patron for every point of influence (and I had +/- 10). That was a lot of patrons. Not enough to win me the game, though!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Another game about classical Romans (Mare Nostrum, Ra, Dominion:Intrigue)

I've mentioned this a few times, but I've always been on the lookout for a good civ. type game that plays in a reasonable amount of time. I've tried a whole lot of them, and none have really satisfied. It's hard to cram politics, war, technologies, etc into one game that plays in roughly 3 hours, so it's understandable that most have dropped one or more of these facets.

Mare Nostrum has been on my watchlist since it's been released. It has had a much publicized falling from grace on BGG due to it's inability to live up to the Civ-lite hype, but I wanted to try it for myself because it has a very attractive presentation and an admirably simple ruleset. I received it and the mythology expansion at the most recent math trade, so I got my chance.

Mare Nostrum

Since we were only 4 players, and since it was our first game, we played with just the base game despite the fact that I've heard so many positive things about the expansion. We DID include the Greek blockade rule, and the revised heroes, etc. We set it up and got started. I was Carthage, Shemp was Rome, Kozure was Greece and Luch was Egypt.

There was a standoff brewing north of the Mediterranean between Rome and Greece. Meanwhile, on my side of the pond I focused 100% on producing resources. My sole, starting legion wandered eastward and attacked an undefended Cyranae. I was able to convert it and hold it for a few rounds, and during that time I had quickly amassed 2 heroes and a wonder. That last wonder seemed easy to get, but just then Luch managed to take back what was his. I was just a resource or two short of purchasing that last wonder/ hero, but by then the fleets and legions of Rome and Greece were heading southwards to make sure I wouldn't make it. Helen of Troy was doing her best to make my enemies love me, but it wasn't enough. I was decimated. Meanwhile, Shemp had managed to claim the military leader and the director of commerce roles and Rome was unstoppable. Despite a failed attempt to disrupt the Greek trireme chain to Carthage, which would have stranded many of Kozure's forces there, Shemp still managed to pull together enough resources to get the win.

We made a few rules errors: We forgot to carry over 2 tax cards from turn to turn, and during my reign as director of commerce I didn't know I was supposed to give a card from my hand to even out the trades if one player ended the trading period with one less card than the others. Given the difference a single resource card makes in this game, I'm glad I didn't win because I would have felt like I cheated.

All in all, it was a very fun game. The constant exchange of cards is irritating, but in most other respects there is a lot to like. The small number of... everything (legions, caravans, triremes, etc) keeps the game moving along, both in terms of forcing players to act aggressively in order to avoid getting shut out AND because there simply aren't huge numbers of units to consider. The heroes and wonders aren't really the same as a technology tree, but the impact (your civilization gains an advantage over the others) is quite similar. The combat mechanic is simple, but the fact that it integrates randomness keeps things unpredictable enough to be exciting. Lastly, the competition for resources and space makes a certain amount of alliances and deal making inevitable. Having players take on various roles to determine turn order and determining the trade limits is equally interesting aspect which also opens the door for a certain amount of diplomacy.

Speaking of trade limits, the trading mechanism in the game is very peculiar. The way it works is that the director of trade names a number of goods and every player HAS to put that many down and then the director chooses one of the available cards. That player can now choose an available card, and so on until all cards have been chosen. If you can't put down the number of cards, you can't participate. The reason this makes any sense is that the board very cleverly groups goods in various corners of the board, making most starting civs able to produce a couple units of a couple of different goods right from the start. The trick is that in order to use goods to purchase things, you need to make sets of DIFFERENT goods. This means that in the beginning, it is very easy to accumulate one or two sets of three different cards to purchase military units, caravans and influence markers, but getting sets of 6 or even 9 different goods requires some conquest and/or trading. The act of exchanging cards creates diversity without forcing players to take a province in each corner of the map, and simulates the actual exchange of goods that would take place in the world without taking the time necessary to actually barter between players. Already in our first game, certain strategies emerged. With four players, it's possible for three players to exchange amongst themselves and shut out the fourth player. This was used to good effect against me, forcing me to put all my doubles back into my hand, and thus not having the set of 9 needed to win before Luch started taking back provinces. Taxes seemed less popular than goods, but a few players started taking advantage of this and specifically targeted these easy to get cards (the rule that allows 2 tax cards to be carried over would make this even more attractive). I'm less sure how to make the most out of limiting trades to zero, unless the director of trade has more diversity than the others. I'm sure there is quite a lot more than we are seeing. I can also see that players looking for a traditional trading game could be disappointed, and that others might just not "get" this very important stage of the game and might dislike the experience because of the seeming uselessness of it all. Gladly, I thought it was quite interesting, and I think the whole group did, too.

I do have one big concern, however. Most games that revolve around resource gathering force players to build up their stockpiles over several rounds in order to afford bigger purchases. This makes it necessary to budget over time, and to weigh the short and long term benefits of the various items up for sale. In Mare Nostrum, players get resources every round, and must spend all of them that round. Then, the game makes the winning condition the purchase of 4 of the most expensive items, heroes and/or wonders. This means that a player who is able to generate 9 resources one round is also probably able to produce them the next round and the next round unless provinces are taken away or trading is shut down. Once a player gets to 9, the other players essentially have a two turn window to smack down that player or the game is over. So the first part of the problem for me is that I found this a little strange, that a player goes from nowhere to the verge of victory so quickly. The second part of the problem is that once the other players decide to take down a player, there probably isn't too much that player can do to stop them, and I don't see any reason why this process couldn't go on forever (one player rises up, others conspire to take him down). It reminds me of Ideology, another game where the leader can be bashed forever and the game can go on for much longer than it should because of it. I would have liked to see a kind of timer mechanism like end of the Triumvirate to ensure an end to the game after a set period of time. Anyway, with only a single game under my belt I have no idea if it will actually be a problem, but it is a concern that I have. Now that we've seen how the game can go, we will certainly be more wary of letting anyone get ahead... will it lead to a vicious cycle? Who knows.

So, ultimately Mare Nostrum is a world domination game more than a civ-lite game, but I am happy to say that it's an upper tier one. I look forward to playing it again, and to eventually including the mythology expansion.


We played a quick game of RA, which is always fun to play, and I'm glad we did... I won by healthy margin! (Ha!) I think I had the better part of the Nile sitting in front of me, and a fortunate grab gave me a number of monument points right at the end.

Dominion: Intrigue

Luch made up a semi random set of cards, and we quickly realized it was mainly composed of expensive cards and powers that screwed other players. For this reason, it took some time before anyone managed to get an engine going in order to start purchasing the 6 victory point cards. I never got there, but Luch starting grabbing them at an alarming pace. My saboteur robbed Kozure of 2x 6 point victory point cards, but otherwise I did very little in the game. I came in a distant last, Luch came in a distant first. A postgame recap revealed that Kozure would have narrowed the gap considerably if I hadn't made him lose those cards. Sorry, man.

It was an enjoyable game, though frustrating at times. I feel like I'm not very good at quickly processing the combos I need to get going. Like Race for the Galaxy, I enjoy the game despite not feeling like I'm any good at it. For me, the two occupy a very similar space... optimising random cards for VPs. Whereas Race for the Galaxy feels like a far more strategic optimization game with more options than Dominion, there is less direct interaction as well. I'd say I still like Race better, but I think I'm in the minority at WAGS.

One thing that clicked for me this game, however, is that you really want to do whatever it takes to draw as many cards as possible at all times. HAving multiple actions and buys is often useless if you are only holding five cards (or 4, as I was for much of the game due to Shemp's constant play of the torturer. Grrr.) Maybe I'll do better next time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Out to sea, with no Romans in the Boat (The End of the Triumvirate, Mexica)

Another Math Trade has come and gone, and this one has been particularly good to me. New in my collection are Mare Nostrum+ expansion, Steam, Attika and End of the Triumvirate. I'm sure they'll all eventually see some table time (well, not sure about Attika), but this week End of the Triumvirate was chosen by Shemp along with Mexica.

End of the Triumvirate

When this game came out a few years ago, I was intrigued. Games that play well with three are probably the most difficult to find, and this one comes along that is specifically designed for three. It was also getting good reviews, which didn't hurt.

It's a game set in (where else?) ancient Rome. Caesar, Pompei and Crassus are vying for control of Rome in the dying days of the senate. Players take on the role of one of these leaders and try to win by achieving one of three possible victory conditions:

1) Military victory: Control 9 regions.
2) Political victory: Get elected consul twice, or get elected consul once and then get 6 senators under your influence.
3) Competence victory: Reach the maximum level of competence in politics and military skill.

On a turn, a player checks to see how much income or legions his controlled provinces generate, then moves around the board collecting said resources and/ or conquering new ones. The last step of the turn is to take up to three actions, with the available actions changing depending on the province the player's marker ended on. Possible actions include swaying politicians, training military units or advancing competency on the political or military track.

A few things struck me as I played the game:

- Mechanically, this is a very streamlined, very abstract euro. The game is essentially a variety of ways to push around cubes, and these types of games often have thinly applied themes. Surprisingly, the theme comes through very well and I consider that a testament to the quality of the design. To me, there was a real feeling of balancing three spheres of influence (military, politics and competency). The conquest of provinces worked well, and the combat mechanic was very nice (essentially, it's a one for one loss system, but supplemented with a cube draw from a bag. Any cubes drawn count as extra casualty for the other side. Simple, not fussy, but adds a little excitement and risk).

- The component design is excellent. There are a number of little touches that make reinforce the rules in unobtrusive ways. For example, players are given 9 province markers. When they are all placed, one of the victory conditions is met. Another example: the player marker is an odd flat square. When moving around units (which happens a lot), the piece is perfect for loading up the units and bringing them together to their destination.

- The ability to win through three distinct paths meant that everyone was in the running until the very end. It was anyone's guess who would win, and it's also possible to make it look like you are pursuing one path while secretly going for another.

- The game has a distinct "Tug of War" feeling with the military. Provinces are taken and lost throughout the rounds, but there is never a feeling of futility because the voting for consuls and progression in competency means that the end has to arrive eventually. A player going for a military win needs to act quickly to succeed, while the political win takes more time. The competency track seemed like it progressed at a similar pace between players, and it seemed like the most likely way for the game to end early. It's also the one way that players have no way of directly countering the leader's progress (provinces can be retaken, and politicians can be swayed back).

Overall, I was very impressed with the game. As a three way tug of war with a timer continuously running in the background, the action started right away and the tension did not let up until the last round. The mechanics are impressive in their elegance and simplicity, and the playtime is short for this type of game at one hour. My only concern is that the whole thing is simple and streamlined enough that I'm not 100% sure how much it will be re-playable before it gets stale. Luckily, few of my games get played often, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem...

For the record, I took a rather aggressive tact as Caesar and amassed a number of armies and conquered quite a few regions. Meanwhile, I had designs on winning a political victory while the other two were focussed on combat. Unfortunately, Shemp slyly stole the first consul vote from me. By the last round, I had managed to get my first consul vote and had the choice to end the game by improving my competence for the win or enlisting the 6 senators I needed. I went for the senators, because it seemed cooler...

I think Shemp liked the game quite a bit as well. Luch, well Luch seemed like he had more fun sending the player marker out to sea without soldiers than playing the game itself. He said at the end that he wasn't crazy about it. Oh well.


Afterwards, we played Mexica for the second time a a group. Not much to say, except that there was a lot of nasty bridge moving by the end and the area majorities where hard fought. We concluded that we probably spend too much time defending our regions by attempting to block bridges, etc, than allowing the chips to fall where they may while being aggressive elsewhere (I don't want to make it sound like we were playing in silos, however, we WERE all over the board and in each other's faces... ). Anyway, Luch managed to out Aztec-temple us for the win.

In the end, the board was an absolute mess of canals and bridges to blocked spaces. If we were in charge of Aztec planning,
they may not have become such a great civilization after all.

It's a very good, fairly abstract euro. I'd say I like it nearly as much as Tikal, and yet they are different enough to keep both for now.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Games with "tik" in the title (Tikal, Antike)

It was Kozure, Luch and I this week, joined by a surprise visitor, David.

It was my choice, and I chose a few older favorites that played well with three (though, luckily they also play well with four!)


We played this long time favorite for the first time in a while. I love the game, and I'd say that it's probably one of my favorite games to introduce to people when I want to show them what these games are like. Simple rules, straightforward but interesting decisions, beautiful board and components, it's all there. The only problem is the downtime when played by new/ hesitant players, which is why I prefer it with 2-3 players. Luckily, the four players in question did their best to keep things moving.

As an aside, the recent acquisition of Mexica has been interesting because it offers a similar package but with shorter playtime and less AP. Having played it a few times, I'd say that it's also quite compelling but even though it's slightly shorter or easier, I wouldn't say the difference is significant. Further, the components are fine but not nearly as appealing to me. For now, both can exist side by side in my collection.

It was a pretty close game. David managed to keep up admirably considering we all had more experience with the game than he did. Kozure managed to sneakily make my life quite difficult by adding pawns on a couple of temples I was counting on keeping to myself late in the game. On his second last move, he stole a 9 temple I had been building for a while and it was impossible to get it back. To be fair, I had just claimed a temple under his nose a few turns earlier. Ahhh, these types of plays are why I love the game.

Kozure won by a nose, but everyone was close. Well played.


Antike is yet another game I claim to like a lot, but then don't play. I guess I should say instead that I appreciate the design quite a lot, but I constantly have this feeling that I'll play a game and THAT TIME I'll have a bad experience like the ones I read about on BGG (where people just build up their forces eternally and exist in perpetual stalemate for hours until people get bored and quit). It's never happened to us, and I've never seen signs of the possibility, but the doubt remains. I suppose it could happen, but in practice when we play there seems to be a compelling force which causes us to avoid this situation game after game. I'm not sure what to make of it, except to say that it must boil down to some sort of group-think.

I started out with just a few land units, expanding the empire and focusing on gold. I had successfully won in the past by focussing on tech. David was building a lot of temples (a strategy I've never tried), Kozure was building quite an army and Luch was expanding very rapidly. I failed at an attempt to destroy one of David's temples because I miscalculated a little bit. Advertising my intentions in this way unsurprisingly came back to bite me... but I was still doing ok. I was one point from winning but I couldn't find an avenue for that last point. My army was too small, my borders were threatened by Kozure and David, and Luch was quickly heading to victory. We weren't able to stop him, and he won by getting his last point by completing all the technologies.

I still admire the game, and I enjoyed the session quite a lot. In my opinion, every player would need to decide that an arms race was required in order to lead to an interminable game. If even a single player opts out, others are forced to react and keep up. Anyway, if I had to criticize the game it would be more because much of the theme is left on the cutting room floor when streamlining a game to this degree. It's chess meets Risk, not civ-lite.

Friday, September 04, 2009

It's for the good of Rome... (The Republic of Rome)

Ummm. Wow.

Kozure chose to play an old Avalon Hill game called "The Republic of Rome" this week. Although we all knew we likely wouldn't finish due to length, we gave it a try.

The Republic of Rome is a game that attempts to recreate the feeling of operating in the Roman senate during the time of the republic. A such, the core element of gameplay revolves around voting for various things... whether Rome should raise troops, go to war, and who should lead the armies. Who should the next leader be? Who should be sent out of Rome to be the governor of a faraway conquered land? Around this central concept, players attempt to increase their senator's influence, popularity, etc. Random events occur, such as the advent of war, labour strikes, plagues, etc. So many things are happening, it will make your head spin.

This is definitely an old style game. The rules are long and complex, play time is very long, luck is highly prevalent, it can take a long time between player turns, each turn has an enormous amount of steps to go through, etc, etc. I would normally really criticize this type of game, but in this case it seemed to work. Not for me, because I could never get this long of a game to the table, but at a different point in my life I can see myself enjoying the game.

The cool thing is that most games of this type graft a political system onto a war game. This means that the process of building units and moving pieces on a board usually dominate the experience. RoR dispenses with all this and leaves the players with a multi layered exercise in politics which seems to work quite well. The wars, the revolts, the natural disasters, etc, are all abstracted, but the experience of working in the senate is elaborate and flavourful. Deals need to made constantly because no player can advance his/ her own agenda without the help of another player.

The other thing I really liked is that all the players need to work together to prevent Rome from falling to wars, etc, but parallel to this each must try to fulfill conditions which will guarantee their victory should Rome survive to the end of the game. In our partial session, this worked very well to keep us all focused, to force us to arrive at solutions, but also to encourage players to keep an eye out for any/all opportunities to gain every small advantage for the possible win.

In this session, Kozure and Shemp quickly rose to the top ranks. Shemp became the field consul and promptly won a war. Upon his return, he threw some games for the people and he became quite popular. Kozure was the Consul of Rome and seemed to be skyrocketing in influence. A death in my faction on the first round was a blow, but Counsellor Furious offered himself up to lead troops to the next battle. Upon doing so, he failed myserably. Meanwhile, Senator Fluvius became governor of some God-forsaken place. He intended to steal from the coffers of the populace. My senators were all out of Rome, and I paid for that somewhat. When Furious did come back victorious, he tried to use his new-found popularity to become consul of Rome, which worked. However, it was too little, too late. I was very far behind and when we wrapped up I wasn't close enough to be a challenge. If I had to guess, I'd say that Kozure was winning.

Anyway, in theory I quite like the game. I think we only scratched the surface of the political intrigue that is possible in this game. It would be great if someone could somehow use this system in a game that would be half the length.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Forever, and a day (Through the Ages)

The pick this week was Through the Ages.

Shemp hadn't yet played. Kozure and Luch had played 3-4 times each. My mind must have been eslewhere, because I had a downright awful time trying to recall the rules from my single previous session. Granted, it's not the most intuitive game, but I was really struggling for the first little while. I did eventually get it, thankfully (and then, of course, it seems simple). Oh well.

I was skeptical last time regarding certain aspects of the game, and now my opinion is solidifying somewhat: It's an interesting resource management game, but the military aspect is (in my opinion, of course) fundamentally broken.

There was a very interesting snippet of conversation that occurred halfway thorugh the game where Shemp mentioned that this was superior to the Sid Meier Civilization boardgame because the feeling of civ. growth wasn't bogged down by endless fiddling with purchasing, deploying and managing various military units. Kozure then replied that for many people, that fiddling about is the highlight of the game. I feel somewhat differently than both of them: Fiddling with military unit purchasing and movement is normally the main source of downtime in a world domination/ civilization game, and that is a problem that few games of this type have managed to solve (RISK suffers least due to the simplicity of the system, but even Antike suffers from this problem despite having elegantly streamlined most of the typical civilization game timewasters). On the other hand, if you abstract this part of the equation entirely, as Through the Ages tries to do, you have to somehow maintain the logic of why/how conflicts happen. In a typical game that involves conflict (of any sort, not just war), a player needs to size up a situation and ask themself what they hope to gain.
Are they trying to pry away a resource from the other player? Do they feel vulnerable to a possible future attack and wish to preempt it? Can they satisfy a pertinent goal by conquering a specific territory? Further, where goals do not determine an exact path of action, frequently geography does. Who is adjacent to who? Is one unassailable due to superior positioning? etc.

Unfortunately, ALL of this is lost in Throught he Ages. The system features a series of mecanisms that all boil down to allowing the strongest to benefit at the expense of the weakest, regardless of goals/ positioning/ etc. Raids, conquering the territories that come up, the future events, Wars, etc, all revolve around two players... the strongest and the weakest. The effects can be quite punishing on the losing player as well.

Given the terribly punishing nature of falling behind on military, it's unfortunate that keeping up with military is so highly dependent on the luck of the draw. The mecanism for developing you civ, the card track, is quite interesting because of the way it forces each player to stay on their toes and grow their civ based as much on opportunity of available cards as planned long term strategy. I like that part a fair bit. You might be behind on ideas, ahead on culture production, doing ok in food, catching up on ore, etc. Each civ is different and the it's up to the player to address the areas they are deficient in in time. However, orchastrating the aquisition of the right leader/ wonders/ military technologies/ military units/ and tactics cards requires a fair amount of luck of the draw for something this critical. If someone happens to hit you when you are catching up, you can end up nosediving as you then become the easy target for all future aggression. I can't see a way out of it if the other players really take advantage of the situation. I think that an experienced player going strong on military probably wins most games, as long as that player is willing to use the power at his/her disposal (I make that comment mostly because it feels so cheap to use military might that I'm convinced many players often won't because it's distasteful).

Anyway, other that the significant length, I like the rest of the game. It's fiddly, but most of the things going on seem to be there for good reason. Too bad about the military.

We didn't complete the full game, ending after the second era. Shemp read a few strategy article prior to starting and went hard on military just as I had last game. I tried to go strong on a culture engine, but was severly hampered by lack of food early, too much food late, and very few ideas. Shemp destroyed my Eiffel Tower after I had sunk many turns constructing the first two thirds, which was a big blow. Luch ended up being the real wipping boy, however... after leading most of the game, he sunk his military too low and we all decended like vultures. I succesfully waged a war against him and there were a number of aggression. Sorry, man.

Kozure won, though it was quite a tight game scoring wise. I am convinced I made significant errors in the beginning which distorted my score somewhat (I think my score should have been lower). Practice makes perfect, I guess.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Apparently, I'm hot (Railroad Tycoon: Rails of England and Wales, Mission: Red Planet)

It's getting late, so I'll keep this short.

We played the brand new Railroad Tycoon map, Rails of England and Wales. Now this is a map I hadn't even heard of until it was staring me in the face at Probably, this is partly due to the fact that it's actually an expansion to the upcoming Rails of the World game and not Railroad Tycoon. However, it's by the same designer and is 100% compatible, so that's good enough for me.

This expansion comes with advanced rules to play a game that more closely resembles Chicago Express or an 18xx game, but we didn't bother with that just yet. As an expansion to Railroad tycoon, it is pretty good. Better than the base map, but not as good as the Europe one. The city density is incredibly high, to the point that the board becomes quite hard to read by the time you are 3/4 through a game. The railroad engineer card, which gives you 4 free tracks, loses some of it's value because you rarely need to build that many.

We played with a series of variants which seemed lifted from Martin Wallace's recent "Steam". Six piles of goods are available at all times to choose from for urbanize actions, turn order is auctioned, etc. Most interesting was the mechanic that forced a player to choose between gaining victory points or income when claiming deliveries. Unfortunately, while the goods cubes setup was a great addition, the income/ VP split was less interesting in practice. I can't say whether it feels different in Steam, but the sliding income scale in RRT meant that we all pretty much gave up on increasing our income at the same level. I'd have to see how the income track works in Steam, but ultimately I think I'll stick with the combined track for RRT in the future (one benefit of the Europe/ England tracks is that the income reductions come sooner, providing a more tangible impact on the leader).

I enjoyed the map. Amazingly, colour issues persist. Grey appears to be blue when the two aren't side by side. Purple is also similar. How hard can it be to get this right?

I had a good lead for much of the game but I boxed myself in to a region that had no future. As other players were starting their long deliveries, I was struggling to find ANY deliveries. Shemp, Luch and Kozure had a pretty tight finish, but if I'm not mistaken Shemp ended up victorious with the help of a north/south track that tied in well with a couple of his own hotels and proved quite lucrative.

Mission: Red Planet

We haven't played this one in a long while (January 2007, to be exact), and I was wondering if it was worth keeping. Now that I've played, I think I'll keep it for a while longer. There is a mixture of chaos and relatively fast play which is pleasant and fun. Kozure said he felt that with a few tweaks, he would consider this better than El Grande. I absolutely disagree, but in the end neither Kozure's comments or my disagreement are very surprising. As entertaining as the whole choosing of roles + launching mechanic can be, the area majority part of the game is kind of lacking. The situation on Mars seems pretty static throughout the game, and the scoring mechanism (giving only the majority any points at all) is a little heavy handed.

Anyway, I amassed a large stash of Ice as well as the 3 point resource, fullfilling both the 9 point bonus and my secret mission, for the win. All three other players used their seductress to convert my cubes, so I must be pretty hot.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

There is sizzle, but is there steak? (Caylus, Dominion: Intrigue)

I have a confession to make: I had never played Caylus until this week. A further confession... the same goes for Dominion.

Neither game interested me much, despite the massive hype around them. Caylus seemed like more of the same, but longer and with particularly ugly art. Dominion just sounded like too little game with too much shuffling.

I didn't think I'd be able to make it this week, but luckily things worked out. Even more luckily, both these games I hadn't managed to play yet got to the table and I was able to determine first hand whether my initial reactions were correct.


Where to start with this game? Caylus is a monster eurogame, similar in weight to Die Macher or Le Havre (not quite, but close). Reading the rules gives the impression that the game is unplayable, but playing the game is not nearly as hard. In a nutshell, there is a castle and town under construction. Players use their worker pawns to build parts of the castle or new buildings for the town. If a player builds a building, that new building can be used as an action later on (to get goods, build a special building, get a gold piece, etc). The advantage of building is that a victory point will be awarded every time another player uses whatever you've built. If a player builds a part of the castle, it is possible that he/ she will be granted royal favours (VP, money, goods or discounted construction actions), if various criteria are met. Whoever gets the most VP wins.

There is a lot more to the game than this brief synopsis talks about. There is a bailiff that moves up and down the road, which can limit which buildings can be used, there is a provost which times the end of the game, there are a couple of mechanisms surrounding the order that players choose to withdraw from the round, buildings can be converted and upgraded, etc, etc. Most of the mechanics are intertwined with the other mechanics.

The result is a euro which has a distinctly "kitchen sink" feel. There seems to be a little bit of everything in here, and it will surely take a few games before it's even possible to know if it all works. It's a long game at 2.5 hours for 4 players, and there is the appearance of tons of options at every turn. Something didn't feel right, though. Many subsystems seem underused. The royal favours track seems uneven, and some buildings appear significantly more useful than others, etc. One space, the bridge, had us all scratching our heads regarding why anyone would ever choose it! A BGG search afterwards revealed a large number of posts on the topic, and the conclusion seems to be that under certain specific circumstances it can be useful... but not many. A couple of things that seemed odd:

- Why would anyone pull out before they run out of money 90% of the time? The disadvantage of acting fewer times seems like a big sacrifice for a single coin. And potentially preventing another player from acting because the action cost has gone up seems equally undone by the fact that you also cannot act anymore.

- The favours seem underpowered. Money is useful, but building buildings is a much more lucrative source of VPs than going for the VP track. At the final level of the various tracks, you achieve benefits in line with many basic building actions... so why go through the trouble of collecting 3 different goods and contributing more/ first than all the other players just for the benefit of getting something so lame? I tried it out but I couldn't see the benefit of the castle beyond the base VPs it provided.

- The whole mechanic of withdrawing and recording player order doesn't seem to have much of an impact on the game.

Bharmer mentioned that different strategies become more or less useful depending on the order the various buildings are built. If that is true, and it works, then my opinion of the design would change significantly because that kind of thing is hard to pull off.

Given it's popularity at BGG, and particularly given the rest of the group's positive reaction after a few plays, I'd like to think further play will put my doubts to rest. I did enjoy the game, because exploring this type of system is usually pretty enjoyable.

Anyway, Bharmer won the game but it was very tight. I made a couple of boneheaded moves where I would try to build buildings and then spend the resources I needed before getting to that step... wasting the turn. Still, I think I did well considering I hadn't played before. I know it doesn't sound like it from my post, but I do look forward to playing again!


Dominon is a game that supposedly scratches the CCG itch but in a boardgame format.

Every game features a set of 10 stacks of cards (each stack consisting of all identical cards). You start with a small deck consisting mainly of money cards, you draw 5 cards and decide what is the best use of your hand. Normally, this means spending that money on a new card, which is then added to your discard pile along with your entire hand (no matter how much of it you used). That new card will eventually be reshuffled into your deck, and then will eventually be found in one of your hands. The idea is to "buy" cards that give you additional actions, special moves and combos with other cards. You need VP cards to win, but generally speaking these are dead weight in your hands to you have to be careful how soon you want to start adding these to your deck. The game ends when a certain set of stacks are depleted.

It's certainly an interesting game. It's harder to pick up than I expected, though that might boil down to a particular card that I couldn't quite grasp at first. It goes VERY fast. It's fun watching your deck grow and change, and trying to look out for potential combos.

I doesn't really feel like a CCG, though. It's very peculiar that the cards you build your deck with get dealt to you in discreet sets of 5, which are then discarded together. The concept of combos in a CCG involves drawing cards and then having them come together in your hand... in Dominion the hand you draw might as well be your entire deck as far as you are concerned. Well, that's not really true because one of the main mechanics of the special cards is allowing you to draw more cards into your hand, in order to hopefully make those combos you had planned. It's not worse than a CCG, but it does feel different.

I like Dominion a fair bit. It's definitely a different experience than most of our games, so that's always a plus.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

"Raffi can go to Hell!" (Dominion: Intrigue x 3, Small World)

The blog title has nothing to do with the games we played - it was just a statement that came up at the end of the night after I noticed a Raffi CD on Shemp's table and commented that I used to listen to Raffi when I was a child. He said that he had it on loan from the library, then commented as quoted above. I can't remember the actual quote. He may have used harsher language; "Raffi can go %$@# himself" or similar. Shemp has very specific tastes in music. Apparently Shemp harbours no love for Raffi.

Anyhow, our fearless dictator Shemp decided on a "same as last week" agenda, so we played three games of Dominion: Intrigue and a game of Small World.

I ran away with the first game of Dominion, squeaked the win on the second, and was blown away on the third. We played a random deck in the first game, then used the rulebook-described deck "Secret Schemes" on the second and third.

There are certainly interlocking card combos which can become evident on repeated play. For example, the Swindler can be used to swindle players into losing a copper in exchange for a curse and the Trading Post can be used to cycle curses out of your hand to get silver back. The Minion can be very handy if you're finding your hand stacked with Victory cards.

All three games included the Saboteur, which I used to fairly good effect against the others in the first game, costing Shemp 12 VP and Luch around 6 VP. Consequently I won by a fair margin (54 or something vs. low 30s for the others).

I couldn't get my mojo working in the third and came up with my all time worst score in eight games - 9 VPs. I believe that Shemp won the third game using his newfound strategy of "ignore the shiny card combos".

Our game of Small World was very close. I drew the powerful combo of Alchemist Skeletons early, surprised that it had not been taken (Luch, going first, took Bivouacking Ghouls, and Shemp took some Sorceror combo). As the Alchemist power gives you two points every turn as long as you stay out of decline and the Skeleton race has one of the best staying power of all the races, I did quite well with them. Shemp and Luch were not idle, with Berserking Amazons making an appearance. Flying Orcs did their damage, as did Underground Tritons and Hill Wizards. I switched horses to Fortified Halflings mid-game, then finished with Wealthy Ratmen.

Final scores were 92 for me, 84 for Shemp and 82 to Luch.

I'm still amazed at how quick this game plays. Needs a bidding mechanic for first player, though, I think.