Thursday, March 26, 2009

The second shipment (Container, Domaine)

We liked Container so much the first time, it was picked again this week, along with a game we haven't played in quite a while... Domaine.


Our second session was quite different from the first. The biggest difference was the length... this one lasted 2.5 hours, which felt too long. The dynamics of the economy where different as well, though it's hard to describe what. I personally felt that I saw opportunities I missed the first time. For example, the advantage of buying from the factory store on your left revealed itself this game (freeing up space in the factory store encourages that player to produce more, and when they produce they pay a dollar to the player on their right). Similarly, it became apparent that a player can become blocked if they produce and store all they can, and then no one buys from them. Shemp found himself in this situation for quite a while, ultimately having to firesale his goods to get himself out of it. It was in intriguing situation, and it made me see that it would be possible for the game to choke if too many people miscalculated demand and then simultaneously started playing defensively.

Luch started out the game with a huge lead. He literally filled his section of the island with containers while we only had 1-3 of a single colour (so, you know, 0$ worth). Unfortunately for him, he couldn't capitalize on it. Although I don't know the exact reason, he couldn't finish the game as quickly as it looked like he was going to (it may be that he was saddled with debt... carrying as much as three shares at a time. And yes, we did figure out that the limit is supposed to be two, but since we started the game that way, and since other players had done the same, we finished it that way). Regardless, since he was SO far ahead with his goods, every other player had no incentive to finish the game until we could approach a similar stash. It took a long time, but ultimately myself and Kozure got a lot of goods to the central island. When the scores were tallied, it turned out to be unbelievably close: Me: 104, Luch 102, Kozure 101. Shemp, well, Shemp tried hard (kidding aside, he had a monstrous amount of cash in hand, but couldn't bring himself to bid the required amounts to get containers on the central island. He only netted 1$ from his containers there).

Still quite a good game, but if the next session lasts this long, I'll be removing some containers from the pool to make it shorter.


Wow, it turns out I really suck at this game. Luch boxed-in one of my three castles a few turns into the game (in a move that happened to me in a previous game as well, apparently). I couldn't get anything going with my other to castles. Meanwhile, Shemp and Kozure were jockeying for first place, way ahead of me. Shemp had an impressive economic engine going, with three mines producing for him every round. Unfortunately, I was the kingmaker in my last move, either giving Kozure the win or Shemp, depending what I did. I played the move I was planning to make before I realized what was happening, and that meant Kozure won. Sorry Shemp!

Glad to get that one out again. There's a lot of game there in one hour. And we even managed to play it correctly!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

You can't drink glue... (Down in Flames-Aces High x2, Container)

Unfortunately for Luch, his bike got a flat tire on his way to Kozure's place. Although Container was the main event for the evening, we played a hand of Kozure's "Down in Flames - Aces High" while we waited.

Down in Flames - Aces High

This is essentially a reissue of a game we've played before called Zero!, with updated graphics and gameplay. I haven't played the old version often enough to really see the difference, so I'll talk mostly about the new version.

Down in Flames is a card game about World War 2 aerial combat. Each player gets a plane with characteristics such as "performance", "number of bursts", etc. From a common deck of maneuver cards, each player gets a hand. Players then proceed to take turns attempting to gain position on each other's planes and taking shots when the opportunity arises. The system consists primarily of maneuvres and counter maneuvres. If I play a "barrel roll", you can counter it with a card that lists barrel roll in the counter section.

From memory, I'd say that the game feels pretty much the same as the previous incarnation. There seems to be a lot more countering involved, however (in other words, when you lay a card, most times it gets countered). I suppose this makes it more like real aerial combat, where maneuvering can go on for a while before a good shot is available. From a game perspective, I was wondering once in a while what I could do to increase my odds of success, and I couldn't figure it out. Players draw cards at the beginning and the end of their turn, so a cautious player can easily have a full hand most of the time. This means that most of the time you have what you need to counter the other player's card. I assume that experienced players get to know the relative rarity of the cards, and can therefore estimate how likely a particular card is to play successfully. For a new player, success and failure feels fairly random.

That's not really a bad thing, however. As a card game, it plays pretty quickly and the "dance" is simulated well. Taking a chance on a big shot and having it succeed is fun, and getting out of a tough situation and turning reversing the situation leads to memorable moments. Of the various war themed card games Kozure owns (and he seems to own a few), this is easily my favorite.

I was the first to go "down in flames". When we played again as the evening closer, I went down first again. Come to think of it, I typically go down first in Wings of War as well... Hmm.... I should make it a point never to fly a plane in real life.


Luch having arrived, we set up Container. I've been intrigued by this game from the moment I read about it, but for whatever reason I held off purchasing until now. It's a game about manufacturing and shipping containers that successfully creates a mini economy between the players in the process. I've heard it can be somewhat fragile, in the sense that if players play "incorrectly", the game can grind to a halt, or some players can be shut out. I was very curious to see if the issues were real.

The system is simple enough. Every player starts the game with one factory (each producing a different kind of good), one good produced and one storage shed in the docks. There is an island at the center of the table. Players try to produce goods, sell them to each other, load them onto ships and deliver them to the central island for sale. The trick is that at every step of the way, the players control various aspects of supply and demand... How much of a given good will I produce? What price will I set for the goods I produce? What price will I set for the goods I sell at my docks? Which goods will I bring to the island for auction? In addition, each player has a secret goal card which describes how many points the different goods are worth to that player, ensuring that everyone sees the goods on offer a little bit differently. A final twist is that there is a bonus for getting at least one of every type of good, and the good you have the most of on the island doesn't score...

The whole system DOES do a good job of creating a mini-economy. We didn't see the economy stall in our learning game, so I imagine it's not that fragile. Early on, it appeared that Kozure, Shemp and Luch where expanding their docks while I was adding factories. I flooded the market with goods I ultimately wanted on the island, in the hopes that they would eventually get there. As the game went on, I started making black goods available ultra cheap, because they were my lowest scorer and I obviously wanted that to be the colour I discarded when scores were calculated. It worked. I managed to get a lot of high scoring containers on the island and had enough black ones to cover them. Although I had -4 cash in hand, the cash generated on the island was enough to win me the game.

This game kept me thinking for a while after we played it. On one hand, I was engrossed in a way very few games manage to do (El Grande comes to mind, but few others). Trying to figure out how you can manipulate the economy, trying to guess what your opponents are trying to do and how you can turn that to your advantage, etc, really had me thinking. I definitely enjoyed myself quite a bit. On the other hand, there aren't many different things to do. On a couple of turns, it was a struggle to find two actions worth doing. It's far to early to tell if the game would get repetitive quicker than it should, but for now I can say without reservation that I'm looking forward to playing again.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Calpulli - in - space!!! (Mexica, Space Alert! x2, Jungle Speed)

It's been a few weeks, I was glad to be back.

I traded away a few games recently for Mexica, an older title from the Kramer & Kielsing's "Mask Trilogy" (Tikal, Java and Mexica). Tikal is a game I really like, and Mexica has been described as a faster playing and shorter game that still has interesting gameplay. I've had a few opportunities to get it at trades over the years, and always passed. Finally, curiosity finally got the better of me.

Like the rest of the Mask trilogy, Mexica is essentially an area majority game. Here, players place canal tiles to subdivide a large island into smaller regions (which is worth points), and then try to earn further points by gaining majorities in the created regions (the measure of a player's influence in a region is determined by having the largest temples).

Another characteristic it shares with Tikal and Java is that it's based on the action point system. Mexica gives 6 points with which to build canals, temples, bridges, or simply to move around the board. One twist is that up to 2 points may be carried over to future rounds.

I found that the game is certainly shorter than Tikal, but that the level of confrontation and opportunity for "screwage" is far higher than I would normally associate with a "light" game. In my mind, this is much more of a medium weight game... in line with Settlers of Catan and the like.

We started by settling the edge of the board and working our way inwards. There was a substantial amount of nasty blocking and stealing of majorities by all players (a good thing), but Kozure seemed to always be a few steps ahead. The fact that he secured the majority in the unfounded region at the center of the board when the game ended only cemented his win.

I've now played twice (once with WAGS, and once with my in-laws) and both games have been very enjoyable. I have this strange feeling that the incentive to actually end the first round might prove to be lacking, since the first player to do it is at a substantial disadvantage, but we'll see.

Space Alert!

We attempted Space Alert! again, this time with 4 players. After we got creamed in our first session, we decided it would be best if we tried again. Hopefully experience counts for something, right? No. We died again.

This game is certainly an odd duck. My enthusiasm for it has not diminished, despite our continued dismal showings. On the other hand, the group still doesn't seem sold on it (not sure what Luch thought of it). The chaos factor is high, and apparently our ability to self organize under pressure is lacking.

- We have difficulty setting targets, like "fire guns in the red sector on the 6th phase" and making them happen.
- We don't pay enough attention to the text on the threats that come up. In this session, we coordinated an attack on an internal threat, but it was unharmed because none of us noticed it would move around the ship when it crossed the "X" event.
- etc. etc.

Anyway, I had a great time, despite sucking at it. I'm sure that if we kept playing it we'd get better and eventually succeed frequently but I don't get the sense that our group will ever find out! Oh well, at least it plays solo.

Shemp also mentioned that he was surprised I liked the game since I have often complained about unnecessary "fiddliness" in the past. He's right, but for the type of gaming experience this game offers it doesn't bother me. I wish it had been streamlined more, of course, but I also give it credit for being an original idea for a game.

Jungle Speed

We ended with Jungle Speed. It's been a while, so we were all quite rusty. I warmed up in time, and won the game after a shaky start. Fun game usual... perfect for what it is!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Now that we've got THAT out of the way (Caylus)

I wasn't there, but the group played Caylus this week.

As a group we kind of avoided this one when the hype was on. Sounded too long, too complicated and too samey for me to seek it out, and Kozure didn't seem motivated either.

Bharmer got it. It sounds like the group liked it, though Luch noted it's probably best with fewer players due to length.