Friday, July 24, 2009

Hello, Goodbye (Elasund, Blue Moon City, Carcassonne)

With Kozure on vacation, and Bharmer not attending this week, we were left with three players: myself, Shemp and Luch. Although Kozure seems to dislike picking for three, I certainly don't mind as there are a number of games for 3 that I love playing. I settled on a new aquisition through the latest Toronto area math trade (Elasund), an game I wanted to play to see if I felt like keeping (Blue Moon City) and an old favorite (Carcassonne, with the Traders and Builders expansion).


Elasund is part of the Catan Adventures line by Klaus Teuber. I haven't played the first of the series, Candamir, and I'm decidedly lukewarm to Settlers of Catan, so what would make me want to give this game a chance? Well, I had heard god things from trusted sources (JayWowzer had recommended it, and Chris Farrell likes it). Also, I wasn't aware of it's lineage when I traded for it. I was a little concerned when I read the rules and realized just how much the core mechanics reminded me of Settlers. Oh well, worth a shot anyways...

We set it up, I explained the rules, and we started. Elasund is a game about building up the first city of Catan. The board represents a grid onto which the buidlings that make up the city will be placed (interestingly, before buildings can be built, building permits need to be placed). A wall surrounds the city, and merchant docks line the western edge. Each turn, the acting player rolls two six-sided dice to see which docks the merchants will visit. Any buildings in that row pay the player that built it a reward of either gold or influence cards. Over the course of the game, players will gain victory points by building certain buildings, participating in the construction of the church, building city walls and/or increasing their standing on the windmill track (that's surely not it's name, but whatever). As in Settlers, placing buildings in the spots that increase their chances of paying out is very important. When a "7" is rolled, the merchant becomes a pirate and steals from another player. Another similarity: the winning condition is that the first player to 10 VPs is the winner. There are other similarities, but it's not worth going on about them.

Despite the similar core mechanics, the game doesn't really feel like Settlers at all. Probably the biggest difference is that there is a real mean streak to the game: It is possible over the course of the game to build over other player's buildings, to knock them back on the windmill chart, to interfere with their plans. From this perspective, I would say the game is more similar to Domaine in competitive feel.

As we played through the first few rounds, I wasn't really sure what to make of it. Every round I would take my actions, and then see what happened. It took until the second half of the game, when the board started filling up and buildings started gettting bulldozed, and the church started getting built that I really started getting a feel for the possibilities. Oddly, Shemp suddenly announced that he finally was starting to figure out what was going on at the same time I was thinking it. I'm still a little perplexed about what it was that made us feel this way, because it's not overly complex. I curious to see if Kozure feels the same way.

Anyway, here are a few things that dawned on me as we played:

1) The windmill track is best used to get a few last points at the end of the game. Buildings on those spaces are likely to get built over, so any advancement is temporary at best.
2) There are some other ways of playing offensively other than building over other player's buildings. Placing a building permit that equals or exceeds those of another player can really mess up his/her plans because they no longer control the building site.
3) Money and resources are so tight that any unexpected expense can force a player to re-evaluate his/her plans. If you can put a building permit in an intimidating place, the cost of upgrading it might be enough to make the player lose a couple of turns.
4) The "0" permit is your friend. Sure, it's easy for another player to outgun you, but you avoid spending resources every time you place it. Those can really add up.

In our game I ended up winning by building a big 2vp building along the coast (where the windmills necessary to move up the track are located), along with a number of other buildings, some wall VPs and some windmill track ones. It was fairly exciting, though, because it was down to a matter of turns before myself or Shemp would manage to place our last cube. Luch gave me a setback by placing a strategic building permit, but it wasn't enough to keep me down... Luch unfortunately fell behind because he built a large building within the footprint of the church and it was eventually booted it off the table.

So, in the end I liked it. Not sure it's fantastic, but I felt pretty happy with it near the end. If I had any complaints, it's that it's fairly luck dependent. We'll see how it fares with time.

Blue Moon City

When I first played this game, and for many sessions afterwards, I've really enjoyed it for the clever card play it made possible. Lately, in never comes off the shelf, and I realized that I might have "played it through". I figured we'd try it again to confirm my suspicions... Now I know that even though I do still like it, I won't really miss it if I traded it away.

Shemp won this game by a fair margin.


It was nice to give some table time to this old classic (which also happens to be a game Kozure dislikes). My favorite way to play is with the Inns and Cathedrals + Traders and Builders, with a handful of tiles removed at the start of the game.

We opted to do "speed play", as we often do. Certain aspects of the game suffer disproportionally when we try this, for example very few farmers get placed and once you start a road or city, it's less likely to get contested.

I got the majority in all three resources, which netted me 30 points. Although I was behind in the overall counting, the little boost those majorities gave me enough points to win.

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