Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 27, 2009

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Binyamin, Avraham

Game night moved to Tuesday due to scheduling conflicts.

Carpe Astra

Jon, Nadine

Carpe Astra is the next game produced by Reiver Games, who also produces my own game, It's Alive.

Carpe Astra is a simple set-collection, money-management game set in space. The game lasts ten rounds. On your turn, you can cycle cards, place one tile, turn tiles, place your workers in a connected string on the tiles, and collect chips for your cards if they match the symbols on the tiles on which your workers were placed. Alternately, you can force someone else to lose a chip, as well as optionally pay a coin to take the lost chip for yourself.

Most actions cost a coin each, other than refilling your hand up at the end of your turn to two cards and placing your first two (out of a total possible of five) workers.

There are six colors of chips, and at the end of the game the first or second place holders in each color score points. Winner has the most points.

As for the positive aspects of the game, which are only really relevant in a two-player game, you need to manage your money. This means that, like Taj Mahal, you'll skip one round of placing workers, maybe two. There are no positive aspects to the multi-player game (we tried two player and four players).

Unlike most of the other games we play, a) turns are long, b) there is nothing at all to do when it's not your turn, and c) in a four player game, you can't plan since the state of the board will have changed completely by the time it gets back to you.

In some instances, one of the players and I could pretty much plan what we were going to do the next turn, assuming that no one messed with our pieces on the board. When no one did, we made our moves fairly quickly. But that didn't happen often.

Turns are not short. You have to plan all your money and all your moves, and this can take some time. By the time three other players have done this, you're pretty bored. And this happens ten times. Our game took two and a half hours, bearing in mind that our players are prone to AP, that it was our first game, and that we were so bored that we started playing side games when it wasn't our turn.

For all the time it takes to check your choices, the choices are not interesting. The decision-making is "can I do it, or can't I?" That's not a choice; that's a calculation. A calculation is not a decision. Either you can play all your cards, or you can't. If you can't, you play N-1 cards. And so on. The only choice you have to make is which opponent to hit, but even that's not a choice: the vast majority of the time you have no choice, and when you do, you hit the one who's winning.

There is a little choice as to whether to wait to play a card the following round when it will be more valuable. That's something, but not much. There is a choice as to when to conserve money, similar to the choice as to whether to pass a round of fighting in Taj Mahal. It's not one you have to make if you're lucky with your card picks, however. If you pick cards with matching symbols, you're going to spend less money.

In a four player game, the "choice" between networking cards and slander cards is not a choice. Networking cards are irrelevant in the last half, and much easier to use in the first half, of a four player game. And you NEVER want to slander and not pick up the slandered points, not only because you will lose them, but because you give them to the player on your left. In a two player game, this is not quite as clear; sometimes your opponent is out of one or two types of chips. If it's less clear, it goes back to having to manage your money. If you have enough money, there's no decision making. And if your opponent is our of several types of chips, he's losing anyway.

Without any blocking cards, "instants", or defensive maneuvering, you have zero control as to what happens to you in the game. If you're lucky, other people will be easier to slander and they'll get slandered instead of you. If you're unlucky, you'll get slandered multiple times. By the time it comes back to your turn in a four player game, you may have gone from winning to out of the game, without having done anything wrong. It's entirely random.

The symbols, colors, and name used in different places were confusing, especially with regards to the players also being of the colors used in the game. The yellows looked like oranges, and the oranges looked like reds. Not enough contrast.

The event bonuses for each round are not interesting enough. And, in general, we didn't like the mechanic of replacing other people's pieces with your own. Some sort of additional cost would have been nice. Or combat mechanism, or something. The publisher indicates that removing other people's workers is supposed to be a "strategy" to help protect you from slander; it costs nothing to replace your pieces, however, so it's just not the case. You were going to pay the same amount to move your pieces onto other spaces with symbols matching your card colors, anyway.

The two symbol cards are nearly always better than the three symbol cards, and thus unfairly give an advantage to those who draw more. In a two player game, sometimes a three symbol card will be better if your opponent doesn't have the symbols on the two symbol card with which you can hit him; this is never a problem in a multi player game.

Some of this criticism may be unfair: we have an AP heavy group, and we got bored with the game after a few rounds. In the four player game we finished the game, but we played side games in the meantime. We abandoned the two player game after a number of rounds.


Jon 42, Binyamin 40, Nadine 34, Avraham 34

My first or second win, I think. Second or third play for Binyamin, and third or fourth play for Nadine and Avraham.

I am now more firmly convince that plowing and sowing strategies will always win against renovation and building strategies. While the earlier extra person/actions is nice, it doesn't quite up for the several actions you had to take in order to get those extra actions. While you were building extra rooms, I was plowing and sowing.

I'm going to get extra guys a little later than you did. In the meantime, I have solidified my food base, will score full points for fields, vegetables, and grain, and am free to take extra points at the end of the game while you are wasting those hard-won extra actions to get food.

Even so, it's a well-balanced game. You can't entirely ignore building your home and expanding your family. You just don't have to rush to do it first, that's all I'm saying.

Although I started with a field, I didn't get it planted until mid-game. I only played two occupations and two minor improvements, even through we booster-drafted them before starting the game. Binyamin played all of his, I think, which gave him lots of bonuses, of course, but also slowed his development. He still could have won if he had taken the right choice somewhere near the end; at least he would have tied me. Two or three synergistic occupations still make a world of difference, perhaps a little too much, in my opinion.

Nadine had a six room stone house, but no points in produce or animals. Avraham was first to five people, and even got an extra three point bonus for that, but was also produce and animal shy. I had only one sheep, but multiple point bonuses in all other areas.


Nadine 128, Avraham 111, Jon 107, Binyamin 99

First play for all of us except for Binyamin.

Medici is another "pure" auction game, or so they say, comparable to Modern Art, Ra, and Traumfabrik. It's certainly elegant and streamlined. However, it is subject to even greater swings of luck than any of the aforementioned (which is saying a lot).

There are three rounds to the game. In each round, you take a deck of cards, remove some of them at random, and bid on the cards in lots. The cards are in five suits, numbered 0-5, with a single bonus card "10" of no suit. Each player decides to flip over 1, 2, or 3 cards (deciding when to stop after each card). Players then bid cash to take the cards. You can't take the cards if it would give you a total of more than five cards. That's one thing to consider when deciding how many cards to flip up.

Once all but one player has five cards, the last player simply fills his collection up to five cards from the top of the deck for the cost of 1. That's where a lot of the luck comes in. In the first round, Nadine took all five cards from the deck, having won no other cards, and the cards she flipped up were better cards than all of ours; Binyamin's collection was destroyed entirely because of what Nadine flipped up for herself. And the funny part was that I suggested that this might be an optimal strategy at the beginning of the game: paying nothing and taking five cards at random. Turns out that I was right.

Anyhoo, after all players have their cards, players score first based on how big their take was this round (by the highest numbers). Then they move their marker forwards on each color track once for each card they have of that color (numbers don't count here). This track is cumulative from round to round. Players further along the track gain points, but less than the number scoring. The exception to this is if you hit the last two spaces in the color tracks, in which case you gain some good scores.

Nadine had the most points numerically in the first round, and hit the last space in one of the color tracks in the last round. I repeated her performance, gaining my last cards in the second round entirely by luck and doing extremely well because of it, but then I bid too much in the third round. If I hadn't bid so high, Nadine probably would have won anyway, but I would have been much closer.

Since you don't know what cards will be flipped up next, you have no idea of the absolute value of the cards you're bidding on. If the 10 flips up next after you bid high to get high numbers, you're screwed. Similarly, if you bid high to get certain colors, and then those same colors flip up again, you're screwed.

And you have to bid high to prevent others from taking cards low, but it's a game of push your luck. In particular, I didn't like the "fill your hand with random cards" mechanic after everyone else has cards. That's push your luck taken way too far.

So I don't think I'll get the game, but I wouldn't refuse to play it. In fact, I feel the same way about Ra, Modern Art, and Traumfabrik.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

January 21, 2008

Participants: Gili, Jon, Nadine, Avri

Game night in Gili's house as she had to babysit her kids. Avri from the Beit Shemesh group was in town so he came over for the night.

Pillars of the Earth

Avri 46/6, Nadine 46/2, Jon 46/0, Gili 39

First play for Gili. First four-player game for Nadine and me.

I loved the three-player game. I see it as a far better worker-placement game than Caylus, which is just fiddly, long, and tiresome. On the other hand, I can see how others could like Caylus better, as Caylus has less luck and more meat.

There is luck in PotE, not just randomness, 'tis true. But the better you get in the game, the less the luck affects you. I was hit by one instance of bad luck because I didn't plan well. Unlike other games, planning for the bad luck is not a "waste", because you can usually convert all of your reserved cushions for victory points on the last round, anyway. There is, perhaps, a bit more luck in four-player than in three-player. The order the master workers are drawn can be a problem.

In our game, my instance of bad luck was that I needed either of the two metal converting craftsman to be available for purchase on the last round, since I grabbed first-player position on fifth round. Unfortunately for me, neither one showed up on the bottom row for purchase, and instead both were only available for master worker acquisition in the second phase. And, my master workers were not drawn before others could grab these craftsman in the second phase.

But the reason that the bad luck affected me was because I let my money drop so low. If I hadn't, I would also have benefited just as much from the craftsman who converts gold to victory points. Instead, Nadine picked up one of these and Avri picked up the other. So my bad luck was partially my fault.

And as you can see, we ended in a three-way tie, with me losing the tiebreaker even after all the cash conversion by Nadine and Avri. Gili was the one who picked up the nice bonus card that let her look at the upcoming events, but most of the events were good events, and the ones that weren't didn't really hurt anyone.


Jon/Gili+, Nadine/Avri

I taught all of them how to play Rook. Rook is a nice partnership, trick-taking, kitty card game, not particularly better or worse than any other partnership, trick-taking, kitty card game (such as Whist). The Rook card is not really a great mechanic, especially if played with the real rules, but we played with the standard variation that the rook could only be played as a usual trump card. Then we decided to limit it even further, by making the rook only function if it is played in response to, or starts, a trump trick; i.e. it cannot be used to ruff another trick. It's still not a great mechanic.

I think the point was to encourage a particular dynamic from an age that appreciated it. Modern gamers would prefer the 1 of trumps to be worth 20 points - not the top trump which is guaranteed to win the trick anyway. That gives you more need for careful tactical play.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

January 13, 2009

Participants: Jon, Nadine, David, Gili, Avraham

Game night moved to Tuesday, as I had an event on Wednesday.

Carpe Astra

Nadine 12, David 10, Gili/Avraham 10, Jon 5

First play for all of us, we took a little time to learn the rules as we started.

OK, rather than slam the game here in an open forum, I'm going to write to the publisher to see how many ways we screwed up the game. Suffice to say, our first play did not go well. Look for a review on my blog sometime soon.

Magic: the Gathering

Jon++, David+

Played at the same time as Carpe Astra and Bridge. A very rare win for me this evening; David usually wins.

We drafted as usual, and I just couldn't drop down to 2 or 3 colors, so I ended up playing a four color deck. I had 3 to 6 lands for each color, depending on requirement, plus three other cards that gave mana bonuses, including one that gave a multi-color mana bonus. Incredibly, I had no mana problems whatsoever during the game.

David played White/Black. He got the white from negative drafting against me, but his white cards weren't as good as mine. And he never plays white.

First game went down to the absolute wire. David won by a single point with an instant that boosted one of his creatures by one point. I would have taken him out on the next round.

Second game I slaughtered him, getting out an early 7/7 creature, and then making him a) fly, and b) every time I hit him with the creature, I get a number of 1/1 green creatures equal to the amount of damage I did. He resigned when I had 14 1/1 creatures.

Third game again came down to the wire, but was most unusual. I knocked him down to 3 points and then couldn't get any more through, which is when he began hitting me slowly.

The unusual part was that we both made a number of plays to help the other players creatures, for a a variety of reasons. I had a piece of equipment on one of my creatures, and I really wanted it on another creature, so I attacked with it, hoping David would just kill it. David couldn't afford to let it through, so he blocked it and then healed it.

Then, I cast my enchantment that makes a creature fly and also gives be baby 1/1 creatures for every point of damage the creature does onto David's creature that had been poking me. This neutralized him, as he could not now afford to give me swarms of creatures.

And so it went. I finally left my defenses open, and David took the chance to kill me by attacking with everything. Then I played an instant which canceled all combat damage and left his creatures tapped for an extra round. That let my 1/2 creature walk through for the final 2 points of damage that I needed to give.

Fun game.


Gili 62, Avraham 58

Played at the same time as Carpe Astra.


Nadine ?

Played during Carpe Astra, while David and I played Magic, and Gili and Avraham played Jambo. Lot of downtime in Carpe Astra.


David/Nadine+, Jon/Avraham

David and I also played Magic while playing Bridge. Second play for Avraham.

David and Nadine got the cards and did well, making a slam, and a doubled contract. In the other hands, Avraham made a number of beginner errors; he still plays well for a new player.

Friday, January 09, 2009

January 7, 2009

Participants: Jon, Binyamin, Nadine, Gili, Avraham, David K

I lost my notes.


Binyamin 26, Jon 24, Nadine 20

I simply love this game. Honestly, I was expecting to thing that it was an ok filler. But it's elegant mechanics and chaotic patterns are exactly my style. In the first game you have no idea what you're doing and why, but it soon begins to come clear.

Unfortunately, everyone else I've played it with at the group doesn't feel the same way. Especially, there are some people who take a very long time to take their turns, ala Carcassonne. Nadine is one such person. She also claims that it's simply not her style of game, being too spacial (yet somehow, she always seems to beat us at El Grande).

First play for Binyamin, who is especially irked when other people take a long time to play. I would like to play it 2-player a couple of times.


Avraham+, Gili

Gili taught Avraham. The Kosmos two-player series is Gili's type of game; I think they're ok filler games. They didn't have time to finish, but agreed that Avraham was probably winning.


Jon 9, Avraham 8, Binyamin 7

My third game of Antike, and another game that I simply love a whole lot more than I expected to. Possibly it's because I'm playing with not too aggressive players; if I played with war-gamers I might feel differently. As for now, the game seems to be perfectly balanced, where the victory mechanics don't favor aggression over non-aggression, or vice versa.

Binyamin's first play, Avraham's second. I decided to try setting the victory condition to one less than the book indicates. It does make a difference. That one extra point would have dragged the game on into a lot more forced combat situations and probably close to another hour. We finished our game in under 2 hours.

I started with gold and the first Know-How, but Binyamin quickly stifled my hopes of getting a landslide of those. I played Arabia, and pretty much had my side of the board to myself for most of the game. Just once, Avraham who played Greece conquered one of my outlying cities in the south. And I won the game with a quick unexpected strike to destroy one of Binyamin's temples in the north.

Binyamin started with two legions and expanded into 12 or 13 cities as his first several rounds. He then hit up against Avraham who attacked a number of his cities. He then concentrated on acquiring the rest of the Know-hows (he got 6, I think) and building temples. But he was too slow to win. Avraham also expanded early, but he spent too much time on expansion, building no temples and achieving no points through know-hows. He was still poised to win the game two turns after me.

Year of the Dragon

David 74, Nadine 55, Gili 45

A favorite of all three of them, they consider it a tighter and less random version of Notre Dame.

Traders of Carthage

Avraham 15, Jon 14, Binyamin 12

Avraham taught this game to both Binyamin and me. It's a light filler game. To me, it seemed to fit into nearly the same space as R-Eco, with its point in four goods, piles of cards that appear and disappear, and low scoring. It's also fairly chaotic and low on the planning side, with just enough planning to make you feel that you have some relevant decisions to make. This is probably exacerbated in a four-player game, and lessened in a two-player game, like all similar games with chaos.

In our game, I probably should have one but I made two mistakes. The first one cost me a card. The second one gave Binyamin the shipment and lost me several cards and point opportunities. But Binyamin didn't quite grasp the right plays. Between the two of us, we let Avraham take a close but smooth victory.


Jon/David 990, Binyamin/Avraham+Nadine 0

Avraham hasn't played this (he's played online? read the rules?), so he teamed up with Nadine to play one position with Binyamin as partner. I ended up with all the points over four hands. I played the first three hands, and Avraham insisted on stealing the last hand, but went down two.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

December 31, 2008

Participants: Nadine, Moshe, Gili, Avraham, Jon, David K

Happy New Year's Eve, something we all forgot about until 11:58. Game night went on a tad too long tonight.

I came late, and Nadine opened up for me. Moshe is a newbie who came in for his first visit to the club, and his first exposure to new games. His previous game experience is Chess.


Moshe 12, Nadine 8, Gili 5

First game, Moshe won. He later said that he really enjoyed it, as it was the only game he played this evening that wasn't going to take several plays to understand the strategy.

It's Alive

Avraham 58, Nadine, Gili, Moshe

This was the game they were starting when I finally arrived. I told them to continue, since I like to see my game played, and so that I could get some Magic drafting in with David when he arrived. David arrived and we did some drafting.

Avraham completed his monster and scored well. Nadine came in second.

Pillars of the Earth

Nadine 54, David 53, Jon 44

This was my secret santa gift, which just arrived on Tuesday. So first time play for all of us.

I've never really liked Caylus, and this game is why. Caylus may be the standard game with the worker placement mechanism, but it's way too fiddly and long.

This game doesn't exactly replace Caylus' mechanics, but it fits in the same genre and it's simply better. A number of mechanics work together well, things are tight, but not TOO tight, and competitive but not TOO competitive. And there's always more available than what you are able to do.

It comes with some overproduced wooden pieces that probably drive the price up, but they're kinda cute, at least. There were also a few niggly rule issues that came up and can be found in hidden corners in the rule book, so it's not perfectly elegant. But, despite many random elements to the game, it's definitely a planning game, and lots of fun.

We played our first game without peeking at any of the cards, so we had no idea as to what possible events would occur or bonus cards would become available. Since none of us knew the best strategies, Nadine started the game off by going for the pretty blue cubes. I said at the beginning of the game that she'll probably win because of this, and she did.

David seemed to be falling behind, with too much gold and not enough to do with it. Luckily for him, one of the bonus cards that came up translated every 3 of his gold into victory points, which allowed him to shoot from well behind to one point away from winning in the last round of the game.

I decided to use up my money and concentrate on vp production, which did me pretty well until the above last round, as I mentioned. I was a little money shy in rounds 4 and 5, but not too much to worry about; again, except for that one bonus card which David got.

Player positioning didn't seem to be too much of an issue in our three-player game. We occasionally considered it, but there was always something more directly worthwhile to do. It would have been nice if Starting Player came with a victory point or free cube or something. It could be that it's a more worthwhile choice in four-player game, when the better spaces are already taken, and when starting player may matter more.

Settlers of Catan

Avraham 10, Moshe 8, Gili 6

Settlers is a good game for a new player. Avraham had also only played it a few times, and Gili still loves to play it. I don't know what happened in the game.


Moshe++, Avraham

They played two games of this while waiting for us to finish PotE.

Magic: the Gathering

David++, Jon

We got to play Magic again, and David won twice, as usual. The first time in a short game, as I had the wrong mana and he had a great start. The second was closer, at least. I cleverly took out one of his annoying creatures, but he had another one going that I had to sacrifice against for several rounds, until he was finally able to remove my last defenders. I didn't draw any of several cards that could have taken it out.

Puerto Rico

Moshe 56, Avraham 47, Nadine 44

Nadine taught Moshe while I banged my had on the table listening to her. They played a straight set of buildings, and Nadine gave her usual new player advice, which meant that the new player did well while she suffered. Moshe had both coffee monopoly, Harbor, and guild Hall. Nadine would also like it to be known that she didn't pull any corn throughout the game, which weakened her Factory. Avraham had many early corns, in contrast.

And that was the last game of the year; technically, it was also the first game of the new year.