Thursday, November 27, 2008

November 26, 2008

Participants: Jon, Nadine, David K, Avraham

No Gili, but Avraham came, so we still had four. Maybe I need to advertise again?


David K 9, Jon 7, Avraham 6/7, Nadine 4

I bought this game knowing it wouldn't really be my type of game, but hoping it would appeal to some of our players who might want more in the way of civilization/conflict games. It seemed something of a hybrid, which had worked ok for Wallenstein.

I figured that David would win, and when Avraham came, that he would come in second. Turns out I was right, although I came in second, barely.

Antike uses a nifty "rondel" mechanic which forces you to take a spectrum of actions in sequence unless you pay to skip some. And the game is not about conquering territory, though that is helpful, but about acquiring victory points, which is more about resource collection and management. Some of the victory points are easy, and then you have to figure out the quickest path to the rest of the points, while not incurring aggression from your neighbors. That means a) laying low, and b) not building too tempting a target. Turtling is prevented by the fact that you simply must expand and build temping targets if you're going to get the resources you need.

One of the biggest problems I have with conflict games is the negotiation aspect tends to play the same in all games: some have it, and some don't. I tend to burn out quickly and then have no chance for the rest of the game. A partial solution for me to to insist on enforcing agreements made by players. In other words, I will only enjoy the game if, when two people make a non-aggression pact, they are bound to hold it. War gamers like to break pacts and laugh about it. I simply don't enjoy playing games like that. If people want to play that way, do it without me.

David and I made a non-aggression pact for the entire game, which worked to both of our benefits, but, of course, even more to his. Nevertheless, it allowed me to enjoy the game. Avraham and I almost made a pact close to the end of the game, but we couldn't work out the details.

Nadine didn't quite grasp the conflict mechanisms, so had problems building the resource engine she needed. I let David take a better position on the board, and that left me having to deal with Avraham, the aggressive neighbor, while he had time to expand his kingdom. Still, I remembered fairly early on that victory points were the point of the game, not aggression, and I headed for the Known-Hows early, gaining several before David swept in and started doing the same.

Avraham was too aggressive in the early game. It took a coordinated effort by all three of us to prevent his winning too early, which occupied too much of his time.

David liked the game, after some initial hesitation. I liked it more than I expected too, so long as the house rule about pacts is in place. Avraham really liked the rondel. I'm not sure about Nadine's feelings.


David/Nadine 400, Jon/Avraham 400

We played three hands to wrap up the evening. I considered calling Tichu in the first, but decided against it, which was a good idea. David and Nadine both went out first.

In the second hand, I called Tichu, but a series of unlucky card positions let David go out first. 170 to them, 30 to us. In the last hand, I was seriously considering calling Tichu again, bu Avraham called Grand Tichu, to give us a chance of winning. Naturally, I was easily able to go out first this time, but had to work hard NOT to go out first. Avraham managed to pull it off in the end, and I went out third. 270 to us, 30 to them, ending the game in a tie score.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

November 19, 2008

Participants: Nadine, Gili, David K

Still a small group of good friends.


Jon 21, Gili 17, David 16, Nadine 15

We spent some time looking at the new games, wondering which one to learn on the fly, before I remembered that I kind of learned the rules to this already. Also, it would be a quick game. Or, it should be a quick game.

Trias is a lovely little game of drifting tiles and migrating dinosaur herds. There is nearly no luck, but a small level of chaos, as the other players will make moves that derail your plans.

The drifting tile mechanism is simply awesome. Islands are created, reconnect, split, and so on in lovely patterns, in ways that give fantastic opportunities for tactical play. Elegant. There is also ample room for strategy, as you have to decide whether to form your own areas or infringe on others. Proper first placement is critical for this.

Like Dvonn, on first play the beginning of the game seems very random. As the game went on, and I "got it", I can see now how little randomness there really is. Unfortunately, my fellow game players either didn't "get it", or didn't find it very interesting. They complained throughout the game and were happy to see it end.

I thought it was excellent, as you can tell.

David started spreading out before everyone else, which made me realize how limited my areas of control were. So, rather than reproducing like everyone else was, I spread out. As a result, I had babies left in my supply for most of the game, while the others ran out. That's when we realized the tactical opportunities to kill off your babies, so you have more to place. But only one player actually managed to do that.

We had an amazingly large island at one point, but it eventually split. Even so, I won the game by controlling a land mass of 10 hexes.

The game may be even more fun if you add special genes like the ones in Evo and Primordial Soup.

Year of the Dragon

Nadine 103, Gili 102, David 102, Jon 82

I would like to say that YotD is kind of a dull game once you realize that you have no chance of winning, which was the fact in my case. However, Nadine and Gili also thought they had no chance of winning, as David took strong books and jumped over 20 points ahead by the last round. We were all resigned to his victory.

In particular, I knew I had no chance of catching up, as I had taken a similar strategy of "books", but David was always going before me, and, though I could pay to take books once in a while, I couldn't catch up.

The board layout didn't help with this, as the plague was the second to last event, so I had to keep the stupid medicine men the whole game. And the tax collection was last, so using my last bit of money for books meant sacrificing people; I did it anyway, netting a few more points than I lost.

But Nadine and Gili played different strategies, ending the game with 18 people points and 15 buddha points in Gili's case, and twenty people points and 12 buddha points in Nadine's case. David ended with only a single person.

The tallies were then David at 102, Gili and Nadine at 100. Then Nadine and Gili cashed in their final chips and money, and Nadine eked out the victory. A rousing finish for them. But not for me.

Race for the Galaxy

David 41, Nadine 40, Jon 38

This game somewhat annoyed me with its ability to run out with quick building by one player. I decided to simply let that be and play with that, anyway. Once I accepted it, the game was a little more enjoyable, because I wasn't playing against the nature of the game, but with it.

As a result, I didn't score too badly. I had 3 6-cost buildings out, although they each only gave me around 4 points. David was able to consume twice for 10 points each time. Nadine was close behind. Luckily, she didn't get her "Brown strategy" going.

All of us are still convinced that the Military strategy can't really compete.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

November 12, 2008

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Gili, David K

Small groups are ok if they're good friends and quality gamers. Still, I wouldn't mind the group growing again.


Nadine 35, David 34, Jon 27, Gili 21

Fourth play for me, second play for everyone else. David loves the game. Gili likes it, but requested that we play something else next week. Nadine also loves the game, although she's still clinging to the idea that Puerto Rico must be better, somehow.

For my part, I do think that Puerto Rico is better, but only once you add variable buildings. Why? It's a little shorter, a little more elegant, and I simply like Puerto Rico's role mechanics better than Agricola's placement mechanics.

Furthermore, I'm still a little bothered by the "2 points for this, 2 points for that" aspect that takes up the last few rounds of the game. One other thing that kinda bothered me, although I am willing to accept it as part of the design, is the imbalance of the Occupations and Minor Improvements, as well as how often you simply can't play a Minor Improvement when you are allowed to (Start Player and Family Growth).

I've tossed about a few ideas on how to rectify all these issues for me, without seriously destroying the nature of the game, and my current idea is to add Prestige cards ala Princes of Florence. The idea: whenever you are allowed to play a Minor Improvement, you can instead opt to draw a Prestige card. Prestige cards give you 4 points at the end of the game for most sheep, most stables, most food, etc..., or 3 points if you're tied.

This allows you to make somewhat more interesting decisions at the end of the game, and also give you something to do when you can't play a Minor Improvement.

In our game, I built a strong base in the first two stages, but forgot entirely to ensure an adequate food supply. As a result, the remainder of the game I was scrambling for food while Nadine and David pulled ahead. David got the first family expansion, while Nadine has a card that let her take family expansion even when somebody else had, which was huge.

Nadine also had synergistic cards that gave her tons of stuff for planting and sowing. She didn't build her home much, ending with only 3 wooden rooms, but she ended with 4 points in fields, grain, vegetables, and so on, which was as much as David's full stone house. Her additional bonus point gave her the victory.

Gili and I were shy in all sorts of areas, and Gili also never got her house fully expanded or her fifth worker.


David+, Jon, Nadine-

I played this once at the last BGG.con and loved it. I taught it to Nadine and David.

It's definitely in the family of Tikal and so on, which unfortunately is not really the type of game that either David or Nadine likes a lot. Especially later in the evening. And they both suffer from a bit of AP, which can drag the game out a bit. Otherwise, it looks like the game should move fairly quickly, quicker than Tikal.

This time around we also ran into a few game design problems which I didn't notice during my first play. We're not thrilled with the way the turn ordering works, in that the first seated player can never respond if someone else finishes the game. Unless we read that wrong, it seems that the game always ends with the player who went last, not with the player to the right of the one who ends the game. Which is a problem, especially if you can't use your accumulated action tokens.

The second was the accumulated action tokens, which isn't broken, but makes for silly game play. The rules seem to indicate that you can take two per round, but can accumulate as many as you want and use them all in one turn. I would change this to being able to hold no more than two at a time.

I still very much enjoyed the game, but David wasn't sure and Nadine said it wasn't her type. It's always frustrating to bring home a game and not get a good response, but that's the way it goes. Maybe others in the group will like it more.

We all finished pretty close to each other, David 8 points more than me, and me 8 points more than Nadine. We got a rule wrong about building districts around the center sacred area.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

November 06, 2008

Participants: Jon, Avraham, Gili, David K

New shipment of games arrived, so we played the most anticipated one.


David 42, Jon 41, Avraham 34, Gili 23

This is my second play and the first play for everyone else. I spent some time reviewing the rules. A few minor rules I learned during my first play turned out to be incorrect. During the game, we also found a rule change here or there, and occasionally I would describe a rule only to be misunderstood. Most of these occasions were not too significant. At least, the mistakes we all made were more significant.

Everyone loved the game, which I suspected. David especially.

Everyone, including me, thought I was doing ok, but in the end I still lost to David by one point. Sucks. Here is the scoring breakdown:
Fields2421Avraham was the field and pasture king. I built an early field, but did nothing with it until the end of the game.
Pastures2312Avraham used all of his fence posts.
Grains113-1David did a late plowing.
Vegetables121-1I spent rounds 12 and 13 getting one of everything. See below for commentary on that.
Sheep131-1Gili missed a lot of basics, as you can see.
Unused Space-1-1-1-6I got caught with a lot of this in my first game, and was lucky enough not to do so this game. Gili wasn't, as you can see.
Hut10286I had a full house of stone. Avraham never had more than two rooms, even though he got two extra people at the end of the game who didn't need rooms.
Family1512159I considered getting people to be my prime mission. See below.
Bonus841013I got three from a bonus card that rewarded you for having 5 people at the end; David also got the bonus. My five were from some improvements. Most of mine sucked. Avraham was the occupation king, which were nice and all, but obviously to the detriment of getting any actual farmwork done, other than plowing and fencing. David got more major improvements than I did. And Gili played a slew of minor improvements, all supporting each other, but nothing else came together for her.
My primary strategy was to ensure that I had 5 working family members, which did fairly well. David realized the same thing and was only slightly behind me in building a family. I think failing to do this will hurt you significantly.

My major complaint about the game last time was the end-game where you spend two to three rounds simply acquiring one of everything, since everything you don't have one of is a two point differential. The idea of a balanced board is not bad, but the idea of balanced end-holdings doesn't work quite the same. It's not like you score whatever you have the least of. You simply need one of everything. That makes the last few rounds of the game somewhat dull and anti-thematic.

After my first game, I realized that I would have to play many more games to see how this really worked out. My inclination was to simply drop the -1, thus making acquiring one more of something the same as acquiring the first of something. But that seemed like a hatchet job for what needed a scalpel. Furthermore, it might actually make things even more boring.

After this game, although the last few rounds were still a little dull in this way, I was still bothered by it, but somewhat less so. I knew a bit more about what I was doing, and I already knew that I would be doing it. But it also still seemed like a problem. I'm thinking that a possible solution would be to give a bonus for specialization. E.g. most vegetables = 2 points, most sheep = 2 points, etc. That way, you still have to balance, but you're not forced to pick up one of everything, since you can also get the 2 point swing bonus from something you have a lot of.

I'll play the game a few more times the regular way before trying it, though.