Thursday, July 26, 2007

July 25, 2007

Participants: Jon, Nadine, David K, Adam, Gili, Yitzchak

A relatively quiet evening. Actually, I kind of like it that way.

Lost Valley

Nadine++, Jon, David

This was one of my few recent unplayed purchases, and I was happy to get it to the table.

Lost Valley is a game of discovering terrain, acquiring resources to swap for gold, trading the gold in for better equipment, and getting even more gold. The one with the most gold wins. Like other games of this sort, a person who is ahead has a tendency to stay ahead, but not entirely, as resources become depleted in the area you are working, and your cart becomes fuller giving you less maneuverability.

There are dozens of little things you can buy to enhance your powers, three types of resources needed to do things on the board, random event chips you can pursue, and common buildings you can build that anyone can use. The idea of the latter is to gain more benefit than any other player by building them in an area where you are and others aren't.

We first started by playing out a round or two to get the feel of the game and then restarted. Nadine is somewhat impatient when it comes to new games, and was fairly convinced already that the game had too much luck or didn't make sense. Patience!

We then played a game out. Nadine took an early lead having gone first and acquired the early river gold without much trouble. Unfortunately, she kept hanging around in my area. This is a problem in the game, because you don't want to expend resources building access to treasures only to have someone else then waltz in and take them.

Meanwhile, David was by himself slowly panning for and collecting gold. Only when we managed to convince Nadine that she was better off striking out on her own did she move ahead. She then mined some gold out of the mountains and won fairly easily.

The first several moves were played extremely slowly because the players kept trying to figure out how to do way more than they could in a single turn. They kept reviewing and reviewing what could be done hoping that there was some way to do a lot really quickly.

Eventually we realized that this was not how the game worked. Finally we just did our teeny single action each round, and the turns became very quick.

When the game ended, we were all convinced that somehow Nadine had received a huge advantage from her first turn. And this was complicated by having received twice as much from her random gold chips as we did.

These face down treasure chips are a favorite among designers, but, while they advance the theme, they don't really advance the game play. I prefer the Through the Desert idea where the chips are placed randomly but are placed face up.

In addition, the random discovery aspect works fine so long as it always provides at least something to do, like when you draw tiles in Tigris and Euphrates. In games like this, however, if you draw tile after tile of the same thing that is useless to you, you can't get much out of it (which is what happened to Nadine in the second game).

You could just play the game the way it was designed and write up the results to the story of the game, which is fine for some people. Our little group likes better play and planning to be more obviously rewarded, however, so we try to mitigate these types of random events.

One way would be to always assign the gold chips in a certain order to newly discovered lands (e.g. a single gold for the first two chips, and then 2 golds for any additional chips on a land). And/or have players decided which type of terrain or terrain type they will be discovering next.

In our second game, we didn't do anything that radical. Instead, we looked at the startup of the game and decided that the initial discovery of a few gold while everyone else remains poor is too much of a swing in luck. To mitigate this, we gave each player two gold to start with.

The result of this is that each player could start the game by buying something which will color the strategy he will be taking (a sieve or a fishing rod, for example), or set out hoping to be the first to gain the easier gold.

Our second game was much tighter and more balanced than the first. Nadine had some bad luck with her tile draws, and the river closed into a loop quickly, which made the game end by ice flow. David bought a sieve initially, but then failed to use it properly. We thought that maybe the events were very powerful, so he found and used four of them. While the events are good, the time and material he lost in pursuing them ended up not being worth his while.

Bottom Line: I think it's a really good game. After two games, we still have many many avenues of strategies and tactics yet to explore, and the changing nature of the game is always enjoyable. While the rules are not always thematically sensible (a cart can carry extra stuff but a horse can't?) most of them add to the game play.

There are a number of rules issues not covered entirely well. I had to make up some of the rules as we went. I'll look online to see if our questions have already been covered by others.

It was fun, and we were all willing to try it again, even Nadine.


Yitzchak 121, Adam 111, Gili 92

This game took four and a quarter hours and I'm glad I wasn't involved in it.

We build six prestige buildings among us. I build three, Yitz built two, and Gili built one. --Adam

Power Grid

David 17, Jon 16+, Nadine 16-

We always play the game with the top four plants arriving from the stack face up. This eliminates the biggest element of luck from the game, which is one person getting a better plant while others have no idea if another large one is coming or not.

Even so, David managed a coup in acquiring the best plants. Nadine's situation looked hopeless - her income was generally only two cities for most of the game, and she powered none - while I would have been fine except for my production capacity.

We were ready to throw in the towel early, but we decided to play it out. Somehow, even though David still won fairly handily, Nadine and I both made a good comeback before it ended. I ended up beating Nadine by a single dollar.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

July 18, 2007

Participants: Jon, Binyamin, Tikva Shira, Zvi Yehuda, Tal, David K, Ben, Nadine, Adam, Dylan

I'm doing this without notes again, for some reason.

Shadows Over Camelot

Binyamin, Tikva Shira, Zvi Yehuda, David K, Ben, Nadine

They took this out to start the evening, which is a good choice as people can join as they come. I'm not thrilled about the game, so I sat out until some stragglers showed up. I believe that the Loyalists won. I don't know who was the Traitor.

Order of the Stick

Jon, Adam, Dylan

Even though this is quite the American style game, I thought I would give it a go seeing as it's such a funny comic. It was certainly enjoyable dealing with the theme: the cards, the notes, and so on. I playacted Elan, too. Fun.

As a game, it's really a typical American game, a little like Munchkin. You add your bonuses and have to roll above the monster's strength, picking up loot and gaining abilities as you go. Not at all bad, and I would play it again, but the theme is really critical to my enjoying it.

Dylan had to go before we could finish. We were about halfway through.

Shear Panic

Binyamin, Tikva Shira, Zvi Yehuda

Nadine showed them how to play it. They used all of their best cards early on, so that, in the last phase, all of their cards were totally useless. Which annoyed them.

Either they have to reserve their cards better, or there is something a bit clunky about the game.


Binyamin, Tikva Shira, Nadine, Ben

They played a few hands as a filler.


Adam+, Jon

I'm still pretty low ranking in Go, even though I love the game. Adam gave me the first move to even it out.

I didn't play all that badly. I threw away some territory in favor of solidifying an area I was nervous about. Adam connected territory across the middle of the board and had an entire side. The result was something like 35 to 14.

It's Alive

Adam 51, Jon 35, Tal 31

I suggested this, and Adam was willing. Tal was too. Adam preferred the basic game, but we coerced him into playing the advanced game.

Tal and I were both hit with Villagers and Adam won, so maybe there is some truth to the luck bit. Still, I mismanaged my money early on, so Adam's win was as much his good play as that.

Power Grid

David 15, Ben 13, Nadine 11

We're now playing with the house standard variant that the top four cards of the upcoming stack are visible. It actually shortens the calculation time, because you no longer have to guess what may or may not be coming. And the game is much better as a result.

David took a runaway win here, apparently.


Jon, Binyamin, Tikva Shira, Zvi Yehuda, Adam

This was the first play for Adam and me. This game is big with way too many components. Other than that, it's a fairly standard Eurogame with auctions, trading, and set collection.

It is supposed to be played for 5 rounds, but we only had time for 2. I would play again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

July 11, 2007

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Ben, Binyamin, Adam, Gili, Ofek, Dylan, Yitzchak

Game night was back in my house after being hosted by Nadine for several weeks. Thanks Nadine!

Atlantic Star

Binyamin 55, Yitzchak 48, Ben 39, Jon 36

Among several new games that I have, this was the one I wanted to try most. We almost had a five player game, but Nadine didn't like the look of it so she bowed out.

Ben hated the game, when the specific routes he wanted early on didn't pan out. After that he was sour for the remainder of the game. Yitzchak and Nadine were basically agreeing with his assessment that it was almost entirely a luck based game. E.g. the way that I feel about Alhambra.

Binyamin was also not thrilled with it. I was the only one who loved it. And as you can see, I came in last.

I'm also the only one who thinks that there is far less luck than everyone else was complaining about, and that you have to play what you're given rather than try to ope you get a rigid set of cards in a particular order. Sure, sometimes you'll win that way, and sometimes you'll lose badly that way. But that's the wrong way to approach the game.

So I had a good time.

Settlers of Catan

Ofek 10, Gili 9, Nadine 9, Adam 9

This was a long game, and as you can see, ended very closely.

Shear Panic

Ofek, Gili, Adam, Nadine

They started this game, but Adam quickly began to hate it (I'm not sure why, as it's very much like Go). However, they had to end early, either through having played initially incorrectly or simply because Gili and Ofek were tired. Nadine said that she liked it, because most of the information was out in the open.

Cosmic Encounter

Ben+, Yitzchak+, Jon, Binyamin, Dylan

We bandied about a few choices and settled on this (sorry, Elijah). Ben has a history of winning this, even with poor hands, and this time he got a good hand to start with. I think I got his hand by mistake.

He went for a solo victory against Yitzchak, who played Emotion Control, whereupon they swapped base for a base for victory.

I was Wraith and Prophet, which don't work together in one respect, and work together in another. However, I never really got to play my Prophet power.

Binaymin was Reincarnator and something, and he ended up as Grudge at one point which was annoying.

Ben was Witch and Mesmer. The former he used fairly effectively, sometimes simply as a threat against attacking him.

I forget the other powers.


Ben, Binyamin, Yitzchak, Nadine

They played several hand of this to wrap up the evening.

Queries and Theories

Jon, Dylan, Adam

We tried a game of this, but it isn't quite as interesting as Zendo when played by the straight rules. At some point, there are simply N possibilities of what the rule could be, and you have to try them all by trial and error. In order to make the game quicker and more fun, I allowed a yes or no question to be asked before each player's turn.


Nadine/Dylan, Adam/Jon+

Nadine and Adam left an unfinished game. When I picked it up to play against Dylan, I was up a queen against a knight and bishop. Even with this, it was difficult for me to pull off a victory; eventually, I played the easy strategy of swapping pieces hoping for a better material advantage in the end. It felt like cheating, and it was still rather close.

I only won by getting my last pawn to turn into a queen after everything else was gone (and two other queens has bit the dust).

July 4, 2007

I wasn't here, but I hear that Adam has the scores. Nadine writes:

We played Tower of Babel for the first time - Adam, Nadine, Binyamin, Ben, Joel. Binyamin won by a mile, Adam was second, and both of them had played before.

Then we played Princes of Florence - Binyamin, Adam, Ben, Elijah, Nadine. I was last, all luck....