Thursday, May 31, 2007

May 30, 2007

Participants: Jon, David, Nadine, Elijah, Zack, Jack, Binyamin, Gili, Adam, Tal

Game night was interrupted for a half hour by a visit from Kindershpiel's representative, delivering a few boxes of different versions of Apples to Apples to me, to assist me in my work in creating Hebrew versions of the game.

Jack came about half a year ago, so this was his second visit. He knows some games already, so was prepared to enter into anything we could throw at him.

For Sale

Zack 85, Tal 84, Elijah

These three began with a light game, while the rest of us started something a little heavier.

Power Grid

David 16, Binyamin 14, Nadine 13, Jack 12+, Jon 12-

I suggested Princes of Florence, but somehow this ended up on the table, yet again. The only problem I have with it is that a) Nadine and David tend to take a long time to think through their moves (and end up playing better because of it), and b) too much cooperation going on, with everyone figuring out the best moves for everyone else.

As a result of a), Binyamin and I played a side game of Netrunner while this game was going on, whenever it dragged down. Amazingly enough, aside from a few points at the beginning of the game, it didn't drag down too much, even though it certainly took a long time to play (around 3 hours, not including a small break we took in the middle).

Note that we also played with a special rule change: A third row of power plants was added atop of the other two. This row merely revealed the next 4 plants coming up in the deck (no reordering or taking the highest or lowest from this row, surely a stack). As a result, the main other complaint we had about the game, which was the luck of a good power plant coming out, or a bad one coming out, after you made the best play, was entirely eliminated from the game. In my opinion, the change was an excellent one, and I intend to play with it from now on.

In our game, we played on the U.S. map with the Southwest blocked off. I had never tried starting on the expensive Northwest but decided to give it a go. It is, without question, the reason that I lost. I was expecting fighting in the East coast to offset the slightly higher prices I was paying on the West, but there wasn't any real fighting on the East. As a result, I was simply paying more and getting less each round, and that was all there was to it. In the end, I had a line of plants stretching from coast to coast, but this was not a pick up and deliver game.

David and Binyamin took the East coast, with Jack and Nadine in the center. Jack ended up going all green, while I had some early nukes. Coal and oil were therefore incredibly low priced for the entire game, as was most of the fuel.

Children of Fire: the Board Game

Zack 11, Gili 9, Elijah 6, Adam 5

Adam taught them all this game (reminded Elijah, actually), but somehow lost anyway. They finished it in reasonable time, so I guess didn't need the round limit that I generally impose on the game.


Binyamin+, Jon

This is a game whose main luck component is hidden cards and picking from them blindly. What this means, is that the shorter the game, the more luck and therefore the less interesting.

Our game, in contrast, was a long slow buildup, which made the game lots and lots of fun, very interesting and pleasurable. I still wish the game had a few more "Instant" like cards and direct targeting cards; I may need to buy a few more packs of cards.

I played the Corp and Binyamin the Runner. He played no hardware the entire game. However, he had a card that let him take the top card of his discard pile and a card that let him look through his deck and choose any card, As a result, he spent two actions almost every round simply picking any card he wanted from the deck.

I had a good deal of ICE out, but ultimately he found a way to my HQ through my Archives and pulled the last Agenda out of my hand.

San Juan

David, Nadine, Jack

While Kindershpiel was talking to me (and Binyamin), these guys played some San Juan, abandoning it mid-game when we resumed Power Grid.


Adam/Tal 1000+, Elijah/Zack 500

While we wrapped up Power Grid, these guys played an entire game of Tichu to 1000 points. At least once, a nine card straight from Adam was beat by a higher nine card straight from Zack.

Quite an interesting game, though playing to 1000 takes quite a long time, relatively. There were many tichus and grand tichus called and made and lost. On the first turn, Tal made a fairly silly pass to the opponents. But after that she played well. --Adam

Lo Ra

Nadine 37, Jack 35, David 27

Jack is an experienced Ra player, so it didn't take him long to adjust to Nadine's Jewish themed version of the game. He had quite a collection of monuments, so I'm surprised to see that he didn't win in the end. It's mainly due to his first round score of -5 to Nadine's 9.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

May 16, 2007

Participants: Jon, Nadine, David, Elijah, Zack, Gili, Adam, Carrie, Peter, Rachel A

A cast of the usuals joined us on this Jerusalem Day. In addition, my Scottish guests, Carrie and her son Peter also decided to join us for a game at the end. I mentioned my guests earlier in the week, when I taught Peter Yinsh, but I had been looking forward to teaching them something to play together, and especially Settlers of Catan.

And you know what? Nailed it.

Lost Cities

Nadine+, Jon

I started off with this slight game, giving it one more chance to prove that it was anything better than a rummy game. Didn't happen, again. It's basically on the level of a light card game. Yeah, you have to decide what to play and what to discard. And the cards are pretty. Uh huh.

Anyone want my copy?

This was Nadine's first play, and she, too, was not impressed.

Elijah+, Zack

Elijah watched us play, and played with Zack when he arrived and the two were waiting for Adam. I didn't hear any shouts of glee.


Jon 102, Gili, David, Nadine

I wanted to play this because we hadn't brought it out in a while. We were going to play it three players, but Gili joined us just as we got started.

I didn't forget that Nadine and David were going to be their usually overly analytical selves, so it didn't surprise me that they were. And, once again, it didn't seem to help them. Really, games like these are better played with a little thought and a little instinct, both for the end results and the patience of all involved.

On the other hand, they all believe that I just naturally take to area control games, which is why I'm unfair about it.

In our game, my win was primarily due to my low bidding. The other three spent upwards of twenty or more points bidding on hexes in order to control the treasures. As a result, they gained slightly more than me each round, but they couldn't close the gap I achieved simply by taking whatever hexes came my way.

In truth, I also locked temples earlier than they did, used the action points not involved in excavating treasures to good use, and also avoided the same areas that they were competing in for the most part.

Nadine doesn't like the game that much, mostly because of the ugly treasures.

Cosmic Encounter

Adam (Reincarnator, Plant)+, Elijah (Worm, Anti-matter), Zack (Warrior, Mind)

Elijah's first request every night, Adam and Zack acceded. They also played with comets and asteroids, and I refused to give them any rulings on how these work, since I don't like them.


Adam, Elijah, Zack

The only winner of this game was me, since I didn't have to play it and I could lob insults at the players to which they could not respond to since not talking is one of the rules of the game.

OK, I think they all enjoyed it, too. Lord preserve me from ever having to play it.


Elijah+, Adam

Adam taught this to Elijah, who surprisingly managed to win.

Settlers of Catan

Peter+, Jon, Carrie

I taught this to both of them, and they picked it up with almost no difficulty. In fact, after explaining the rules, Peter went first and dropped his first settlement on the best spot without any consultation. In shock, I then realized that not only was it the numerically best place on the board, it also have great resource diversity, and was the best location for all three of those resources.

His win is therefore not much of a surprise, even with his generous and promiscuous trading, and the bad luck I had at the beginning of the game didn't help matters. Peter managed both Largest Army and Longest Road and got to 8 points reasonably quickly, while both of us still had 2 (I actually had an additional VP from a development card).

Despite this, I managed to work my way up to seven points, and lost only one or two rounds before I would have won by stealing away Peter's Longest Road. Carrie had a harder time, being on worse resources and numbers.

As the game wound down, Peter insisted that they buy the game, so Carrie will contact me for where to get this in the UK.

Puerto Rico

David 67, Rachel, Nadine

Rachel was keen to play with Nadine, and to play Puerto Rico, of course. David was willing to play them. I didn't see the game, and I left the scores at home. David won.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

May 09, 2007

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Gili, Tal, Annette, Eliezer

Hmm. I must have scared away all the regular game group participants; the only regulars to attend were Nadine and Gili. Where did everyone go?

Annette and Eliezer came back for another visit, although it's a long trip for them.


Jon/Tal, Annette/Eliezer

I introduced them to Team Hearts for a quick light opener. I had to refresh Annette on the rules of Hearts, and it appears that she wasn't too thrilled with the game. She asked if we could play President.


Jon/Tal, Annette/Eliezer

So I tried them on Tichu for one hand. Annette appeared to like it more, but she will need more than one hand to really get into it. In our game, Eliezer went out first, Tal last, and they ended up with all 100 points.

Puerto Rico

Jon 54, Nadine 53, Annette 44

At this point we did our usual dance of what to play. Annette wanted to play Puerto Rico, while Eliezer didn't. I assumed that more people would be coming, so I decided to play Puerto Rico at the same time that I played something with Eliezer. Little did I know what trouble I was getting into.

After Tal went off, and Gili arrived, we were five for the evening, yet, instead of playing a five player game, we ended up playing two three-player games, where I played in both games throughout the evening. How do I keep ending up in this position?

In Puerto Rico, we played with the straight building set. I was first. Both Nadine and I did a fairly straightforward four goods/Factory strategy. Nadine got a fifth good going while I took Harbor, passing up Guild Hall. In the end, she had three large buildings to my two, while I edged her out in shipping points.

Annette had nice goods production going and two quarries (to my none), but none of them were trade goods. So she remained cash shy.


Jon+, Eliezer

I introduced this to Eliezer and played simultaneous with Puerto Rico. As a result, I had to split concentration between these two games.

Our game was very crowded in the center. I won solely based on the fact that I understood the patterns of the game better than he did on his first play. Typical moves I used included my having a ring with two of his pieces extending one way and two of mine the opposite way. Jumping his pieces gave me five in a row.


Jon+, Gili, Eliezer

I let Gili pick the next game as she arrived in the middle of the Yinsh game, and this is what she chose. Oh well. Not my favorite, but I'm willing.

It's hard to describe a Caylus game. Suffice to say that I managed two large buildings including the 25 pointer, as well as a lot of castle points and favors therefrom. Gili also got two buildings, and more building points, but less castle points. In the end, she made a small mistake in building in the castle. Even without it, she probably wouldn't have won, but it would have been closer.

Eliezer didn't quite get the green-blue building dynamic. He spent the last part of the game getting straight victory points and gold cubes. Actually, now that I think about it, he was about 20 points behind Gili, but he had a fist full of cubes and cash that we didn't bother to count at the end. It's likely that he was closer to Gili's score than we realized.

The Menorah Game

Nadine+, Jon+, Annette

We played two games, Nadine winning the first and me the second. In the second game Annette was very close to winning but got hit with a soldier and we managed to fill in our tiles before she could build up again. These were her first plays.

Nadine still doesn't like the soldier mechanic in the game and would prefer to play with out them.

We managed to hit a situation that I had never hit before not covered in the rules. The last two cards were both soldiers. After the first was dealt with, the second is put aside and another tile is supposed to be drawn, after which the soldier set aside is returned to the deck. This makes the first time that a soldier was mixed into the deck on the second time through the deck.

Even after a few hundred plays, things like this happen.

San Juan

Nadine, Annette

Nadine taught Annette how to play this but they only played a few rounds before they had to go. Annette appeared to like it.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

May 02, 2007

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Binyamin, Zack, Elijah, Annette, Eliezer, Gili

Annette and Eliezer are a mother and son from Ramat Beit Shemesh who came after wanting to come for a long time. The son plays every shabbat with his friends, and the mother also enjoys the games.

Unfortunately, it was a long trip back and forth for them without a car, so they will probably be looking to play more in Beit Shemesh than with us. But they're welcome back, and they especially should consider Game Days.

We had the usual initial confusion about how to sort people into games. Not everyone was entirely happy with the division, but there you go.

Railroad Tycoon

Jon+, Binyamin, Elijah, Zack, Gili

I love a good train game, and I had some good hopes for Railroad Tycoon, having heard that it was a "nicer" version of Age of Steam. Now, despite everything I'm going to write next, I did like the game.


I'm appalled. Appalled at the production and development of this game. Let's start with the physical problems.

The game is freakin' big, and there is no reason for it to be that big, large areas of the board are simply not used. The boards didn't fit on my table, which resulted in them being bumped all the time.

The board comes as three sections, and they managed to cut words, cities, and round marker circles right down the middle, so that those areas of the board were constantly shifting and unsteady, right where you needed to read information or place items.

The cities were so small that when you placed the marker cubes on them, you could no longer read their names, and therefore find the cities. Furthermore, the colors of the cities didn't match the colors of the cubes. A yellow cube went to a yellow city, but a blue cube went to an indigo city, which looked more like the purple cubes, which actually went to the lavender cities. And the indigo cities looked almost like the black cities.

And speaking of colors, unlike Through the Desert where they managed to use five colors for the camels and five different ones for the players, here the user colors and cube colors overlapped, which caused confusion.

Information on a board this big should be written at various angles and rules summaries printed on all sides. Instead, the writing was small and facing only one way on one side of the board, totally useless for all but the rightly situated player. What's wrong with player aids for each player?

The game had ridiculously overproduced plastic pieces that went on the board only to mark areas that were now empty (and obscured the board), undoubtedly raising the price of the game by a considerable amount. Yet they didn't include a round marker to go over the three round mark spaces on the board! We had to use a spare track hex for that.

The trains were more overproduced plastic which toppled frequently and served no other purpose than to mark the tracks, where simple train meeples would have worked better. If they were going to make something so fancy, why not at least give the trains space to hold the wooden cubes?

Like many other games with hexes overlaid on natural maps, their natural terrain not only made it more difficult to read the writing, but to figure out what type of terrain some of the hexes actually were. Is this a mountain? A plain? It's got a bit of both in it.

Each space in the scoretrack could only hold a single piece, which made it useless for five players. The cost of upgrading a train from 1 to 2 is printed on the side with the 2 on it, rather than the side with the 1 on it; in other words, instead of "this is how much you need to pay to upgrade to the next train" you get "this is how much you had to pay to have upgraded to this train, said information being in the entirely wrong place".

I could go on, but really.

For the most part, the game is a classic build track and deliver cubes game, which is what I like. Unlike Age of Steam, you can't completely wipe out at the beginning of the game. However, we had some issues both with what was there and what wasn't there.

What was there: The bidding for first player was a flawed mechanism. Only the top player pays, and then the round goes clockwise. As a result, if you only want to ensure that you go before someone, you can bid high enough to make that happen and then drop out without paying anything. A bidding for turn order mechanism makes more sense here.

While there are a few ways to get cubes onto the board midgame, for the most part it seems that the cubes are all put out and then empty. Once they are emptied from the congested area, it appears that the game is going to peter out. That was the feeling that we got, and the reason that we decided to end the game at that point.

However, I think we were probably not entirely right about this. Binyamin pointed out that he had a number of high-link movements in the wings. Also, we never got to the Eastern links or most of the delivery bonuses (we did some). I think the game fell victim to the large amount of time it took us to get to this point and some bad group-think. As a result, I am happy to assume that this problem will go away.

Furthermore, Age of Steam's strong point isn't the cube renewal aspect, anyway.

The rules don't cover some obvious situations, such as when a card like "first person to connect to so-and-so gets points" flips up way after this has already happened. I believe this is a FAQ, however. And there was one card which read "take two additional actions", which looked like it would be a Bad Thing if those two actions were to allow you to take two more cards (or even one more card).

I can't tell how the strange income reduction mechanic works, since we didn't reach it, but it looks just as artificial and non-sensible as the backwards movement in Age of Steam.

What was not there: There is far less screwing with other people than there should be. It was almost serene, which was a little dull. The role cards of Age of Steam are greatly missed. The event cards from Empire Builder are also greatly missed.

But, despite all the above, and the likelihood that we will be changing some of the rules asap, the game is still a rail-building pick up and deliver game, which is just great fun. I enjoyed myself, although I didn't have to think overly much.

Like most games of this sort, there is a nice curve you need to follow from beginning to end; invest in the beginning, switch to point making in the middle, make points at the end.

Puerto Rico

Nadine 54, Annette 49, Eliezer 45

Nadine got to teach these guys Puerto Rico, and it looks like a good time was had by all.

Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation

Elijah++, Jon

I played this simultaneous with Bridge, and I think I suffered at both a bit because of it. As black, Elijah did a good job at wiping out my guys, with only Frodo left, he only managed to get him right on the doorstep of Mordor. In the reversed roles, Elijah managed to retreat Frodo and sneak around me before I was anywhere near the Shire.


Jon/Zack, Nadine/Binyamin

We played five hands of this.