Thursday, October 25, 2007

October 24, 2007

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Yitzvhak, David, Gili, Orah, Hillel

This was my last games night in Israel before a trip to North America. Nadine will be hosting game nights for the next three weeks.

Gili finally returned after her vacation, and she brought her mom, Orah, with her. Hillel is a new player who found us through my blog. He enjoyed himself, so hopefully he will be back. I didn't get to play with either of them, however.

Colossal Arena

Nadine 11, Jon 10, David 3, Yitzchak 0

The last time I played this I was not impressed. And no one has been hankering for it since then. So I was thinking of adding it to my trade list. Before I did, I wanted to give it another try.

Essentially, the game consists of selecting 8 out of the 12 available creatures to do battle. To do this, you need to separate out the 12 cards for each creature type from the pack of cards, as well as 11 spectator cards, and a few referee cards. The others are set aside.

You lay out the descriptive cards of each of the eight creatures at the top of the table. Each battle is "fought" in successive rows on the table beneath the top row. At the end of each battle, the lowest valued creature is no longer in play. The next battle is fought one row further down, with one less creature. After five battles, only three creatures remain.

Battles are fought by players placing cards corresponding to the creatures in the current battle row one by one. You can cover up a card already in place. As soon as all creatures fighting in a round have a card, the creature with the lowest number is eliminated. If there is a tie for lowest number, keep playing until there isn't. Cards are valued 0 to 10 for each creature and must be played on that creature. A card from single set of spectator cards valued 0 to 10 may be played on any creature.

Each round, you bet, place a card, and draw back up to 8 cards. Special cards or abilities may come into play.

During the game, you place bets on these creatures. The earlier the battle, the more valuable the bet. In the first round you can also place an additional secret bet. Only one person can place a bet on one creature each round, and only after the creature already has at least one card on it from this turn.

The last rule is the one I missed the first time I played and makes all the difference. It is a critical rule that makes the game far more enjoyable. Without it, you can bet on anything you want and then play a card on that bet. Instead, you have to play a card which might enable someone else to place the bet on it before it gets back to you.

Each creature also confers a special ability for you if a) you place a card on it this round, and b) you have the highest valued total bets on this creature.

It's actually an interesting game. The most interesting part is that you can place either low cards on creatures you don't like or high cards on creatures you do. You can end the game with a high card on the last remaining creature without a card yet, dooming some other creature, or a low card on that creature, dooming it instead. Assuming you have the card you need.

However, the game still has a few problems, which we noticed the last time, too.

The biggest problem is the point system, Like Quo Vadis, point scores in this game are simply too low and therefore likely to tie all too often. It's just not enough, and not enough ways to score. Furthermore, the betting system makes most of the bets fairly worthless and most of the creature special powers also fairly worthless. It's a drag on the game. Higher valued bets, the last row being worth something, and interim scoring opportunities ala El Grande would make the game much better.

The second problem is design. The spectator cards look exactly like the creature cards and are impossible to distinguish except by reading the fine print. They should have big words saying "Spectator" on them. And many of the creature cards have nearly the same coloration or name, making them hard to distinguish, too. There is no special corner symbol; you have to hold the cards so that the entire top of each card is visible. This makes setting up the game, and figuring out what you have in your hand difficult.

One other problem was remembering which creatures were eliminated from play each round at a quick glance. This information is important since you need to know how many creatures remain this round. Flipping over their card in the top row wasn't good enough, and in fact made it worse. Instead, we collected all the cards previously played on those creatures and made upside down piles in their column in the current row.

I think my problem last time also may have stemmed from too few players. You definitely need a full complement of betting to make the game interesting.

It's not going to hit the table often. However, it's also not too expensive, so not worth my effort in carrying it over to the U.S. to trade, as I doubt I would get much for it.

In our game, Yitzchak had bad luck and got eliminated often. Nadine and I seemed to overlap on most creatures, which made us allies. I had the nicer bets, but she had a secret bet which gave the final win.

San Juan

Gili 40, Hillel 34, Orah 34

Gili taught this to Orah and Hillel and they played the entire game with open hands.


Jon/David, Yitzchak/Nadine
Played as a filler. I opened 2c on one of the hands.

Power Grid

Jon 18, David 17, Yitzchak 16

A win for me, which either means I'm getting better or that my opponents are making more mistakes. In an unusual turn of events for PG, it seemed like I was winning most of the game and then I actually did.

David took the early 8, I had the 5, and Yitzchak the 4. Yitzchak grabbed an early 20 which set the stage for too much coal usage. I seemed to lose the battles for all the best plants, but the others had to spend an extra 10 or 20 to get them. Instead, I built a lot of cities, kept the plant market cycling quickly, and ensured that I wasn't too dependent on the fuel others needed.

They eventually bought some green plants which reduced the resource supply problem, although coal was always still in short supply. I avoided it, since I was always buying fuel last and didn't want to be stuck without any.

Near the end, I had the least plant capacity, but I had 15 cities to their 10 each. But they still needed to buy plants because, even though they had more capacity than me, they still didn't have 17 or 18. So they were stuck buying plants and cities, while I only had to buy plants. And there were enough big plants to go around in Stage 3. In the end, neither of them could afford to get to more than 17 plant capacity, while I raised mine to 18 and bought my last city.

Pirate's Cove

Gili 34, Hillel 30, Orah 27, Nadine 27
Gili brought and taught this. There seemed to be an awful lot of dice rolling and combat from where I was looking. Nadine said the game was nice, but essentially a nice war game, with Eurogame chrome. Battles didn't eliminate your ships, just your cash, so it wasn't entirely war gamey.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

October 17, 2007

Participants: Nadine, Yitzchak, David, Jon, Binyamin, Tal, Ginat

Game night was at Nadine's house, since I thought I would be late. I only arrived a little late, at 7:15.

Puerto Rico

David 62, Yitzchak 56, Nadine 47

They opted to play this as a starter game, promising to play quickly. It took an hour, which is quick enough, for them.


Jon 30, Tal 28, Binyamin 24

Tal doesn't play heavier games, and this is one of her favorites. Or it used to be, until she realized that her strategy of always waiting to win the last two battles didn't always mean winning the game.

Binyamin won both the first two battles, but nothing more until we finished the first seven. Tal and I took 2 and 3 of the next battles, respectively. I was ahead in points now, but it came down to the remaining two battles. If either won both of them, they would win the game. If they split, I would still be ahead.

My hand was seriously depleted, so I wasn't in the running for the last two battles at all. Binyamin was convinced that he wasn't going to win either. He had the opportunity to simply not call Havoc at all, basically handing me the victory, since the eighth battle wouldn't be fought and the remaining points wouldn't be enough to beat me. But he didn't. They ended up each winning one battle, which gave me the victory, anyway.

Blokus Trigon

Binyamin+, Yitzchak
Binyamin brought this out as a filler game. Yitzchak had only once played the regular Blokus.

Princes of Florence

Yitzchak 72, Binyamin 63, Tal 54

They played on the fancy graphics new version in German. Jesters were selling cheap.

Power Grid: France

Jon 16+, Nadine 16-, David 13

End scores in Power Grid give you little information about how the game went.

This was our group's first time on an extension board. Nadine and David spent some time picking which country and provinces in which to ply, finally settling on Western France. We played with the correct France rules which tossed out the 13 plant, put the 11 in its place, and added more nukes to the initial setup.

Both of them had the opportunity to place cities on the board before me, and both chose not to take Paris fearing imminent enclosure. Instead they both placed right outside of Paris. I took Paris.

And after my fourth city build, I was enclosed. Despite this, I was earning more cash than either of them, which allowed me to jump across the board to mid-France, and then all the way down to the south coast.

Resources were in short supply. Coal went first. Nadine and I were sitting in Phase 3 with 13 cities each, to David's 10. He had plant capacity to power 15 cities, Nadine 13, and me 10.

All of us were able to take a 6 power plant, giving David 17 capacity, me 13, and Nadine 17. Except Nadine couldn't really power 17, since I kept running out the garbage fuel she needed.

In the last round, we finished all the big power plants, netting me a maximum power capacity of 16. There were no more plants I could get, so I was bound to lose if David could build the cities. Nadine tossed her 7 garbage plant, since she could never fuel it, and instead took the 50. So she was also now limited to 16 capacity.

The game had to end that round for me to win; otherwise David would just build 3 cities this turn, 4 the next, and power all 17. Luckily he wasn't able to get even to 16 cities in this turn, so I built to 17, being able to power 16 of them. Nadine could also build to 16, but had far less cash, even having to build one less city.

If you followed all that, you're a genius.

It's Alive

Binyamin 46, Yitzchak 42, Ginat 37

Binyamin find the new graphics gross.


Jon/Yitzchak, Binyamin/Nadine
Yitzchak played two 5c contracts. The first he made. The second I jumped to 5c as a sacrifice bid over my his 2c bid followed by Nadine's 2h. Binyamin doubled, and Yitzchak redoubled. Yitzchak is still a bit new to the bidding game, and so didn't realize I was sacrificing; he thought I was powerful. And forgot that I had initially passed.

Turns out we only went down one. He had 7 clubs. And our opponents were cold for 5h, and might have made 6h.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

October 10, 2007

Participants: Jon, Ben, Nadine, David K, Adam, Binyamin

Group attendance still light, but I don't mind. We still argue about what to play.

Power Grid

Ben 17+, David 17-, Adam 14

They played in the middle of the Germany board. Third phase seemed to come early, but there was a dearth of high-producing power plants. Some fierce bidding over the last plants, up to 130.

Ben won by cash. David expended his cash in order to beat out Adam to a plant, but it turned out that her didn't need to, since Adam wasn't going to be able to build enough cities. As a result, David lost to Ben in the cash situation.

Cleopatra and the Society of Architects

Binyamin 58/1, Jon 57/5, Nadine 73/6

This was a basic set collection game taught to us by Binyamin. It uses a lot of fancy components to built a palace for Cleopatra, including the entire box cover. So if your box cover rips, you're out a component. Although really the box cover is not necessary.

There are three piles of cards. Each turn you either take a pile of cards and add one card to each pile (the one you took from is now a single card). Or you meld your sets and earn points. As the palace gets built, less set types are available to meld.

Many of the better cards give you corruption points, as does going over ten cards at any point. Once or twice a game there will be a blind bid of victory points, with the highest player losing 3 corruption points, and the others gaining some more. Everyone loses their bid.

In the end, the player with the most corruption can't win the game. Of the remaining players, the one with the highest victory points wins. Tie goes to least corruption.

That's about it. The corruption point element and had size limit adds some nice decision making to the game. There are a bunch of other flavor mechanics adding details, some of which seem rather dispensable.

In our game, I was convinced I was losing the corruption count until midway, when I thought that Binyamin finally passed me. He managed to win both blind bids, however, and so reduced his corruption to almost nothing. In the end, he beat me by a single victory point. Nadine had more victory points, but she lost by a single corruption point to mine.

Magic: the Gathering

Jon++, David+

I won a rare game sequence against David. We drafted from random cards. There are still so many of my later common cards that I just don't know that it's like opening fresh packs of a new expansion.

I somehow ended up playing blue/white, since I had enough fliers and creatures in them together with artifact creatures. I splashed black for a swampwalker and sunburst payments.

David played his usual Black and a second color red, because he managed to steal all the direct damage cards during the draft. Nevertheless, my deck was able to get out and get around defenses better than his could.


Ben, Nadine, Binyamin, Jon/David

While playing Magic, David or I would fill in for the fourth hand in bridge. I didn't pay much attention to what was happening, however, and whenever it came to playing, the dummy would take over the hand.