I arrived late to find them playing on the wall outside my apt; sorry!
Apples to ApplesDavid, Nadine, Binyamin, Gili
They played a few rounds of this, and David said he enjoyed it. I guess any game played on a wall outside is probably enjoyable.
Merchants of AmsterdamJon, Nadine, Gili, David, Binyamin
This is a Knizia auction/area control game with a nice but mostly irrelevant 16th century Amsterdam theme. It's not bad in some respects, but the auction system sucks. Really.
The game uses the Dutch auction (naturally), which means that the price starts high and gradually falls until someone is willing to pay the price. Why is this so bad?
First of all, it uses a mechanical spring-loaded component which is almost guaranteed to break fairly quickly. Ours is new and seems fine. Second, the thing is loud. It doesn't just silently spin until it dings at the end; it makes an awful stream of clatter which my wife immediately banned from the house.
Third, it's terribly boring to sit and watch a clock tick down. I guess it's supposed to be tense, but that gets old after the first auction. And we're not talking 1 or 3 auctions per game. We're talking an auction on every player's turn! That means the vast part of the game is simply waiting for the damn thing to spin down to a reasonable price.
Fourth, it's just not an exciting auction type. It starts, there's one bid, and it's done. Only one person gets a chance to do anything.
So, one dutch auction in a game could work, but not every turn. Moving on ...
We considered alternatives to the auction given. We ended up having the first player count down from some reasonable starting point, but this gave the person counting down an unfair advantage to be first to call a certain number. We also had no way of resolving auction ties (with the clock, the first person to slap it wins, which should result in fewer ties).
David pointed out that the auction is actually similar to blind bidding, since each person simply chooses what bid they want to make before the auction starts. Our group isn't too keen on blind bidding, though (I kind of like it). It could probably be played with either turn or free-for-all auctions, as well.
The rest of the game is somewhat better, but still has some problems. For one thing, at different points in the game, certain cards are simply much better than others. If you draw them when you want to, you're lucky. If you don't, you're unlucky. That's the problem with many card games, but not all card games. There should be a more equitable distribution of cards so that all players can get roughly the same opportunities. Otherwise, the game simply devolves to chance.
The game looks like it has a decent progression. The beginning is investment, with payoffs on your investments coming later in the game. That seems to work. And there are just enough areas and types to make the choices of where to place what interesting.
Nadine didn't like that the time track moves forward at random times, especially that it disrupted people's turns. The cards themselves were repetitive; not actually that bad if the game moves quickly, but nothing really special.
It took all I could just to get everyone to agree to finish to the third scoring year, and then they all happily quit. Oh well.
AgricolaBinyamin 55, Nadine 32
Binyamin is till trying to figure out the game, and this was his first two-player game. He was not interested in winning, per se, but in pursuing a particular strategy. This game, the strategy was to get lots of bonus points. He succeeded, with an incredible 21 bonus points (to Nadine's 2). He also had all five members, and a 4 room stone house. He didn't plow once.
Nadine had a more traditional farm layout, but most of the game only 3 members, a simple clay house, and not near enough of everything else.
Pillars of the EarthDavid 52, Jon 50, Gili 38
Meanwhile, we played our own worker placement game and had a great time. David was a little reluctant to play, remembering only sort-of amused by the game, but when our game ended, he said he really enjoyed it and would play again. Excellent. I didn't change my opinion, in that I still really like it.
However, I do note that the worker drawing mechanism really makes a big difference to the game if you're really unlucky/lucky, and it seems to be happening in nearly every game. I need to think if maybe something needs to be done about it, when some player gets drawn several times in a row for costs 6, 5, and 4.
In our game, I was doing super conversion and thought I was going to end well, but I realized at the beginning of round 6 that David was going to beat me my a few points. It was the first game that I acquired one of the "convert gold to points" craftsmen, but I wasn't able to use it in either 5th or 6th rounds. The other one wasn't bought. That makes the first time in my four games experience that one of these cards didn't swing the victory.
I'm not entirely sure how David won the game in the end.
We played a few hands, and the other guys got all the cards.