Thursday, January 31, 2008

January 30, 2007

Participants: Jon, Gili, Nadine

These two were the only ones to brave the cold and snow to my house.

Odin's Ravens

Gili 5, Jon 4

We only played this until Nadine came. Once both players get the hang of it, each round can be fairly close. But before we're completely used to the patterns, rounds are still a bit too long. As a result, it wasn't an entirely thrilling game, but I expect that it will be a bit better with two more experienced opponents.

Notre Dame

Gili 81, Jon 72, Nadine 58

Both of them were eager to get to this game, again. It seems like a fascinating game with many avenues to explore, but well balanced; time will tell. In the meantime, we're all still exploring. Like the other best games, you always want to do so much more each round than you can.

Gili won with the cumulative VP track this time. I kept handing these cards to Nadine because they weren't useful enough to me, and she kept handing them to Gili because they weren't useful enough to her. I blamed Nadine for not keeping them anyway, and she blamed me for giving them to here. There may be a slight issue with the game if your RHO is overly nice or harsh.

I tried the Park VP bonus strategy again, but it couldn't compete with the amount Gili got from straight cumulative VPs. I also had lots of cubes at the beginning and picked up five messages. Once again I thought I was doing pretty well, but it wasn't well enough. Nadine followed something similar, but I made it more difficult for her, as she was my LHO.

Lost Valley

Jon 24, Gili 23, Nadine 21

When I first played this I really liked it, but after a while huge flaws in the mechanics began to appear. Or rather, abusable mechanics. Essentially, once you are comfortably ahead, which can be primarily due to luck, you can massively push forward the end game and solidify your victory. This is not only unfair but very frustrating.

While it didn't happen in this game, it's only because Gili was gracious enough not to do it, claiming that the game would have been boring if she had done so.

Even without her having done it, there's still something lacking in the game play, which is a bit overly fiddly and mechanical. I suspect that it's because of the very narrow path to victory relying entirely on gold chips. Like Thebes (which is a better game), it is annoying to play well but get unlucky when panning for gold. In Lost Valley, gold is your only source of victory points, and you don't get too many of them, so random victory points just sucks.

Designers take note: just because something is realistic doesn't make it a good game mechanic.

I'm thinking that I'm going to have to fix this game, somehow. First I'll check BGG for variants. But minimally:

- There has to be a limit to the amount of territory that may be explored while there are still unclaimed gold chips.

- Gold chips have to be more determined, or have to have less to do with victory points.

- While it is not a horrible mechanic that one fears expending resources on items that will benefit everyone (sawmills, mines, etc), it also isn't a great mechanic. Many other games at least give you some benefit for doing it, such as VPs when you build it, or VPs when others use it. LV needs a similar mechanic.

- And, as I already go, each player must start with 2 gold nuggets.

These should go a long way to helping restore the fun into the game.

Friday, January 25, 2008

January 24, 2008

Participants: Jon, Gili, Yitzchak, Nadine, Sigal

This week's game night was help on Thursday instead of Wednesday owing to a wedding on Wednesday night. Yitzchak brought the amiable and lovely Sigal (I think ... damn, I'm bad with names) for her first visit.

Notre Dame

Nadine 60, Jon 59, Yitzchak 54, Gili 46, Sigal 23

My top secret santa gift, I played this in November on my trip to BGG.con at the Tuesday night Dallas group. I love it and though the group might, too. Sometimes when I like a game the group ends up not liking it.

Luckily, they all liked this one. It's mostly from owing to the large range of available strategies and the scant few actions you can take each round, despite needing all of them. It's definitely up there with Princes of Florence and so on.

When I played in Dallas, the person who taught us had one of the rules wrong. He said that the Park gives you -1 rat each time you use it and +1 VP every second time you use it. No one could figure out the point of using it, unless you had nothing better to do. However, the real rule is -1 rat each time you use it and for every two times you've used it you get +1 VP every time you gain VP from any other action from then on. Big difference.

Yitzchak was trying some mass VP strategies that quickly left him idling. I was also idling along, but I was still gaining more VP than Yitzchak. Gili was also fairly close with Nadine behind her. I felt like I was on the way to win.

Unfortunately for us, round 7 opened with everyone except Nadine drawing the Notre Dame action and no cash to use it. These 4 cards all went to waste. On round 9, Nadine then drew here Notre Dame card. She used it for 6 VP, and then pulled in an uncontested 12 more points at the end of the round. 18 VP took her from 4th place to beating me by a single point at the end of the game. Life's not fair.

It's Alive

Sigal 42, Jon 37, Nadine, Yitzchak, Gili

I usually don't recommend playing this with five players, but we needed something for five that was more than light but less then heavy. And it's still a great game.

It worked out very well for us. Nadine managed to scoop three coffins as her three first cards through heavy bidding, outbidding me by one twice, and I was convinced she was going to win, regardless of who filled their board. I publicly hoped she would draw a Villager before she could replenish her cash, which she said was mean. And she actually did draw a Villager before she could replenish her cash. Sweet revenge.

Sigal finished her board with low pieces, but it was still enough to win.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

January 16, 2008

Participants: Jon, Binyamin, Nadine, Ben, Yitzchak, Gili, Cliff, Raphi

Nadine invited Cliff, who lives in our area. Strange that he's never come before, as he has experience with many Euro and war games. Not only that, but he brought his daughter Raphi who also plays. Hopefully, they will begin coming often. (Nadine says that he has four children and thought the game night ended earlier, which is why he hasn't come sooner.)

Blue Moon

Binyamin+, Jon

I took out Blue Moon to learn how to play it. As I read the rules, I began to get a sinking feeling.

I like Knizia's board games, but I find his card games to be too simplistic. Lost Cities, Flinke Pinke, and so on are clever and diverting enough for a child, but not for me. They are basically number games; throw the numbers around and hope to end up with the right ones. The decisions are usually fairly trivial and entirely too mathematical.

I honestly expected Blue Moon to be something entirely different, given its rich theme and comparison to Magic-lite. Yet, upon reading the rules, it became clear that this was just one more game of numbered cards and little else.

To make matters worse, the price of the game was inflated, as often happens, with fancy bits of useless pieces; it's a card game, and could be sold for four dollars if created simpler. To make matters even worse, the pictures on the cards are horribly sexist and borderline pornographic. This is a common complaint about the game, but it's still true.

Nevertheless, I gamely decided to try it out with Binyamin, looking at the rules as we played. We played around halfway through one game until wee essentially got the rules, and the restarted a fresh game.

Thankfully, the game turns out to be better than expected. Far better than Lost Cities, anyway.

Each round, you must place a creature or withdraw from the battle. If not withdrawing, you can also play a booster card on your creature or a support card. Any creature you play next round covers up any previous creatures and boosters that you've already played.

Each creature and most support cards have two sets of numbers on them: fire and earth. The first person to start a battle decides which number will be used for comparison during this battle. Every time it's your turn to play, you can only play if the relevant number of the creature you put down plus support cards will at least tie the corresponding total of your opponent.

Some cards have special abilities that boost the numbers of other cards or cancel cards of your opponents, so long as they're in play and uncovered.

So the essential mechanic is: if you put down your high card first, your opponent might withdraw and you'll win. But if he can answer your card, you will have to cover over your creature with another one which might be lower, in which case you would have to withdraw. So you might be better off placing a lower card first, rather than a higher one, saving your higher one for when you really need it. Or something like that.

After every battle, the person who won gets one or two points and all cards played are discarded. The game ends when someone has three more points than his opponent and is about to get his fourth. Otherwise, when someone runs out of cards, the score at the end of the game is your point differential over your opponent. Play a number of games until one person has won five points.

It's an ok game. There is unexplored tactics and strategy still to discover, which I'll happily do when I play again. The real interest in the game appears to be in buying the expansion sets and then creating decks, ala Magic.

Mr Jack

Jon (Criminal)+, Binyamin (Detective)

Binyamin wanted to see how to successfully play Criminal. Unfortunately for him, he left everyone in the dark at the end of round three, and it was then possible for me to escape at the beginning of round four.

I've come to appreciate the possibility of Criminal to win by simply not trying to escape. It's more of a puzzle than a game. And it's a bit frustrating that your strategy is entirely dictated by the card flips. If they flip one way, you have to do this, and if they flip the other way, you have to do that. It's a nice game, however.

El Grande

Nadine 132, Yitzchak 117, Ben 113, Gili 96

A high scoring game, as you can see. Nadine ended up ahead by the end of round three, and so it was expected that she would win by the end of the game, as she usually does. And so she did.

Round three scores: Nadine 52, Yitzchak 38, Gili 34, Ben 31
Round six scores: Nadine 86, Ben 74, Yitzchak 72, Gili 59

Magic: the Gathering

Binyamin+, Jon

This is rather pathetic. Binyamin and I Rochester drafted with some of my new cards. I ended up with a far, far, far superior deck of white flyers and tons of red direct damage. Binyamins was a basic hodgepodge of creatures. I lost the one game we played because I didn't draw a red land until I was down to 6 points, and my non-land cards were all red. Pure mana screw.

We didn't have a chance to play another game.

Power Grid

Cliff 11+, Jon 11-, Binyamin 11--, Raphi 10

I taught them this game, as it's a good game to get into for people who already know some gaming. We played on the easy US Eastern seaboard. I pretty much started out well and stayed that way.

I decided to end the game by building six cities right before Stage 3 started, as I had a reasonable hope that I would win on money anyway. Binyamin, Cliff, and I could all power 11, and Raphi could only power 10. But I had lots more money. Still, at th end, I was left with 30 and Cliff still had 49 or so.

If I had waited one more round, it would have come down to auctioning over the three 6 city power plants that were available. And that meant leaving my fate into the hands of others' possibly irrational actions.


Ben, Jon, Binyamin, Yitzchak, Nadine

Binyamin and I both took up hands during Power Grid with the other three players.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

January 09, 2007

Participants: Jon, Mace, Shachar, Nadine, Gili, Yitzchak, El-ad

El-ad is a friend of Shachar's who showed up in the middle of games night.


Mace 42, Shachar 25

Mace and Shachar arrived early and played this two-player while I finished organizing my life. They needed a few rule lookups during the game, but otherwise managed ok. By the time they were done, El-ad showed up.

Down Under

Gili 28, Jon 23, Nadine 23

I like this little filler game. After this play, my third play, I just started thinking about new levels of strategy and tactics for the game. I believe that a careful player should be able to count several moves ahead to determine if a path is worthwhile or not. Also, the game becomes more confrontational as it goes on.

It's quite nice. I wish I could get the others to like it as much as I do.

Pirate's Cove

Jon 41, Gili 36, Yitzchak 35, Nadine 31

This was my first play, and second or third for the others. As was expected, I really don't like dice combat mechanisms, and this one was no exception. Which is a shame, because I liked every other aspect of the game.

Pirate's Cove is a blind bidding game. Each player has four stats: initiative, two combat stats of which the lowest one determines how many combat dice you roll, and treasure capacity. Each round, five cards are revealed, one in each of five locations, and each player secretly decides which one to take or whether to cash in treasures already earned. Four of the five locations also allow you to increase one of your stats using earned gold, while the fifth allows you to buy power cards.

If two people go for the same card, they fight. Alternately roll dice; hits are subtracted from an opponent's stat of your choosing. An any time, or if one of your stats falls to zero, you can withdraw and fix your damaged stat and draw a power card, or draw two power cards and pay two gold to fix your stat. The remaining player gets a VP and the fought-over card.

Cards give random amounts of VPs, gold, treasures which can be cashed in for VPs, and/or power cards. Power cards are worth VPs, great benefits in attacking or defense, and so on. Naturally, like the dice rolls you need, the power cards you get may or may not be the ones you need. Some are greatly better than others almost any time.

It was readily apparent to me that given a rather straightforward choice between VP's or treasures, VP's were a better strategy. They don't require you to waste a turn cashing them in for treasures, can't be stolen, and require no particular capacity to store. Naturally, if everyone has this idea, there will be lots more fighting over the cards that give better VP bonuses; and, generally speaking, the player with better stats or better power cards will win fights. Or the better roller, naturally.

Adding to the mix is a Big Pirate that travels around to areas 1-6 in order. Anyone who wants the card in that area also has to fight this guy first. He's hard to kill, can do some nasty damage, and may be worth a nice or small amount of VPs.

In our game, the Big Pirate gave a fair chunk of VPs. Everyone else was avoiding him, so I decided early on that the best chance of leaping ahead was to save my best power cards and take him on. Not only will I get the VPs from beating him, but then I will get the card from the area uncontested.

I waited until he was in an area with a nice VP card. Took him out, gained nice points, gained even more nice points, and that was basically game, because the next Big Pirate flipped up to replace him was just as nasty but gave only half the VPs. Furthermore, it was already near the end of the game and people hadn't been saving up just for a battle like that.

So even with my average dice rolling, my planning won the day. Which made me appreciate the game. But still: dice rolling combat. Shudder. There must be a universal way to fix all games with dice rolling combat.

Settlers of Catan

Mace 10, Shachar 7, El-ad 4

I can't believe that Mace has never played this before. El-ad was a total stranger, so that he hadn't played it before wasn't a shock. Anyway, Mace won as you can see, and they continued on for second place, which ended up being Shachar.

Vegas Showdown

Jon 50, Nadine 41, Yitzchak 40, Gili 38

Nadine and Yitzchak had played this once before, while Gili and I hadn't. They had figured out most of the confusing rules from the last play, but we still had to work out a few rules issues. I really liked it, even though I wasn't totally happy with the card flipping mechanics, but once again my enthusiasm wasn't shared by everyone else. Others' opinions ranged from ok to boring to a bit long.

Vegas Showdown is an auction game with bidding similar to Amun-Re except you can rebid in the same place. You're bidding on rooms to lay on your hotel/casino area.

Each tile has doors that must connect (a lot like Alhambra) and gives varying bonuses to your income, people count, or VPs. Unlike other games, the granted income bonuses are not great; still, it's always better to have more than less. Your best method for income is to punt and not build anything once in a while. That starts you off the next round a building's worth of money ahead of everyone else (unless they did the same).

Each round, buildings drop in prices. As the game goes on, the better and more expensive buildings show up. These require you to have bought earlier buildings (like Attika) and they have less doorways so they are harder to place.

At the end of the game, you get points for transitory points gained along the way, filling in certain areas of your board, highest income or people, and having arranged the more expensive buildings in certain ways (this is the hardest and least profitable strategy, from what I could tell).

In fact my victory is based on having acquired the plush transitory VP buildings around midgame, and ensuring that I got roughly the same bonuses everyone else would gain at the end of the game. I can see someone else winning by gaining one or two of the very last buildings to show up, however, which no one ended up purchasing in our game.

After special buildings are bought, new ones are replaced according to a card that flips up indicating what building stack to pick from for a replacement building as well as an "event" that affects the remainder of the round. While these "events" are cute, they don't really add much to the game. In fact, they could easily have been dispensed with and the game would have been must better. It's not because they are "event" per se, it's that they're not good ones. Too many of them randomly give out bonus points to people in a game where victory is not decided by too many points, or otherwise disrupt the game flow too much.

Still, I greatly enjoyed this game and would love to play again, if I can find more willing parties to join me.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

January 03, 2008

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Mace, Shachar, Shlomtziah, Yitzchak

First meeting of the year, and only two of the regulars (other than me) showed up. Not very auspicious. In any, Mace and his two kids returned, making it a complement of players.


Shlomtziah 30, Nadine, Mace, Jon, Shachar

I thought this would make a friendly opener for five. Shlomtziah wasn't really here to play, so of course she won. She and Shachar has a number of early battles, and she won all of them. Then she won the last battle.

I had a hard time every getting a turn after the first few rounds, as people to my right would call Havoc, and the people to my left would win the battle, skipping me altogether. It's a bit of an annoying mechanic to the game.

Robo Rally

Jon+, Nadine, Mace, Shachar, Yitzchak

We had five again, and decided on this rather chaotic game versus the more sedate Euros such as Princes, Puerto Rico, or El Grande. I laid out two board and two flags, which proved to be about the right length.

We're still not playing with all the correct rules, mixing up turns for phases, and so on, yet it still works out pretty well. This time we also played with the options. Each player started with one, and some additional ones were acquired during the game. Definitely better that way.

Mace was pretty close to winning, but he couldn't draw the right cards. Of course, he was severely damaged which was one of the reasons he couldn't. I managed to sneak in a win.

Jon+, Mace, Nadine, Yitzchak

And unfathomably, Mace wanted to play again. He laid out a course with four flags and I said "uh, no". We only had time for a single flag game on a a single board. Turns out I was right, and even that took an hour.

The same thing happened again. Mace was this close to winning, but I came up behind him and shot him with an option that also pushed him one space, and he fell into a pit. In another few turns, I was then able to rush to the flag before anyone else could push me away.