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.

Caylus

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.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You were making up rules?!

Nadine

Yehuda said...

Such as, how you're allowed to place the pieces.

Jon

Mikko said...

Yehuda, as you seem to be of the tinkering type, I'm sure you'll get plenty of enjoyment out of Lost Valley. The game is just screaming for expansions and more things to do...