Thursday, May 28, 2009

May 27, 2009

Participants: Jon, David K, Gili, Abraham

Night before Shavuot, Nadine is away, so low attendance expected.


David+, Jon

Path is a new route planning abstract (think Metro, TransAmerica) from an Israeli publisher for two players. The board is a cloth board of 9x9 squares. Pieces are plastic (Bakelite-ish) with routes and colors.

Each tile is unique, other than the black starting tiles and the black blocking tiles. Each tile has four corners, each of which is in either green or orange. Each tile has silver or black pathways crossing from side to side, between the colored corners. All possible variations are also represented. Paths are silver; black indicates no path.

Your job is to create a path from your starting point to either of the two opposite corners.

Nine black tiles with silver paths are place on the board to start. The remaining tiles (color tiles and black blocking tiles) are drawn randomly from a bag. The center tile has four silver tiles leading into it, but a black obstruction in the middle, so cannot be used as a crossing point.

On your turn, you have four random tiles to place (think of what to do with them on your opponent's turn). Each tile must be placed so that it continues your path from your starting tile (eventually the two players' paths may merge), so that adjacent colors match at corners (black counts as both orange and green), and so that paths match (black to black, silver to silver).

You must continue to place all of your tiles, as long as you can. However, you may choose to place them in an order that does not let you place all of them. If you have no legal moves at the start of your turn, you may rotate or replace a tile on the board (it must still be legally placed), or you may place one of your tiles off of any black tile on the board (I doubt that this action will ever be chosen).

That's it.

Reactions: Hard to tell after one game. The majority of our time was trying to figure out what our legal plays were. Having to match both corners and path colors is hard enough, let alone having to do that with four pieces in a row. And that's before considering if the plays are more beneficial to yourself or your opponent. For us, it was all tactical. With players who are very experienced and can count which tiles remain in the bag, I imagine that there will be actual planning involved.

Both David and I are reasonably intelligent, and were also willing on our first game to offer advice to our opponent if we saw better moves than the ones made. It should be noted that the four tiles that your opponent will play on his turn after yours are public, and therefore also must (if taken seriously) be considered when placing your tiles.

So there is room to explore. On the one hand, it didn't really give much of a bang. Most of the time was spent figuring out "what" you could do, not "whether" to do it. On the other hand, tile laying and route planning is one of my favorite mechanisms, so I'm happy to try it again. It's not one of David's so I don't think he enjoyed it as much.

A note must be made about the rulebook: it pretty much sucked. For pete's sake, non-English speaking designers, get your translations and rulebooks done by professionals. We ran into a number of questions that the rulebook didn't answer or only obliquely hinted at. Like, where we could put the blocking pieces, whether a tile could be placed that adjoined your tiles but didn't extend your path, and a number of others. We eventually figured most of them out, but on some we're still scratching our heads.

La Citta

David 34+, Abraham 34-, Gili 28, Jon 27

We played with a random setup, and Abraham managed to snag not only a prime food location (2 spots with 5 food), but a prime mining location (2 spots with 2 mountains each). David managed as well as he did because he was somewhat of to the side, and only lost people from his dead middle city; Abraham had to fight with both me and Gili a number of times in the middle.

I thought I was doing reasonably, but David and Gili managed to kill one of my cities and I had a hard time recovering from that.


Abraham 33, Jon 16, Gili 16, David 12?

We played with (2) Chapel, Moat, Workshop, (4) Thief, Militia, Feast, (5) Festival, Market, Library, and the guy that draws 4 and everyone draws 1.

I had never played with Chapel and was eager to abuse it. In my first game, I was way too tame in my abuse. I dropped 2 estates, but nothing else. There were a bunch of thieves walking around which discouraged me too greatly in getting silvers and golds. I took a Festival and a Militia, which did well. In the meantime, Abraham took silvers and golds, two libraries, and a few thieves of his own, and was able to clean up.

Abraham 38, Jon 34, Gili 31?, David less

I realized my mistake, and asked to play the same set again. This time I dropped estates and coppers, leaving myself only a few golds and silvers, some moats, and some festivals and one library. I did much better, but I should really have had two libraries. I might have won, then. Actually, I might have won also if Gili hadn't militia'd me when Abraham had a library in hand (and so didn't care) and I didn't have a moat, or had David not ended the game right before my play.

David claims that the following is the correct strategy: buy libraries and festivals and NO treasure at all. Chapel away every single estate and treasure. Use only the Festival bonuses for buying. Every round should give you a Province, assuming that you have at least four Festivals (could pick up a militia if they run out, I guess. This strategy is immune from the thief and the militia.

Friday, May 22, 2009

May 20, 2009

Participants: Jon, Hershel, Gili, Abraham

Small game night. Also game night has been moved back to 7:00 pm until mid-August.


Jon 16, Abraham 6, Gili 5, Hershel 5

We played with Witch and no card whatsoever that could block or mitigate the Curses: no Moat, no Chapel, no Remodel, nothing. I took here early on, and began toasting all them. I ended up with 3 curses, which was nothing compared to their 8 or 9 each.

Otherwise, the set had no two cost cards, and only Bureaucrats for other attacking. Plus Village, Mine, and Market and maybe Lab. Once the curses were done, we realized that that was one of the three piles completed toward the game ending, and the Duchy and Village finished it.

Hershel 41, Jon 32, Abraham 21

We played another game to close the evening. Witch again, but this time there was Remodel. Also Thief, Feast, Adventurer, Throne Room. No 3 cost cards. Hershel had much of his copper stolen, and then played Throne Room/Adventurer at least three times, which was incredibly powerful. Throne Room/Witch a few times, too.

I played Throne Room/Feast to snag two Duchys at least once, and bought a slew of other Duchys. Ended with Estates, Duchys, and curses.

Pillars of the Earth

Hershel 45ish, Abraham 33, Jon 32, Gili 26ish

Having complained about the luck in Stone Age last week, especially in contrast to this game, I decided to pull this out to show Abraham how it's done. First play for him.

Boy was I made a fool of.

The luck in this game revolves around a) which professionals are available for purchase in phase 1 versus available by means of Master Workers in phase 2, and b) the order of the Master Workers drawn in phase 2. I've had a little trouble with a) a few times, but nothing to write home about. b) can get a little annoying and tight with money on occasion, but generally speaking, even if you miss first chance to get what you want, you usually have a chance to get something decent. With really bad luck, you get screwed for an entire round.

I got screwed THREE TIMES IN A ROW, in rounds 4, 5, and 6 (out of 6). With my three pieces in a bag of twelve Master Workers, mine didn't get pulled until after AT LEAST 6 others were pulled each time. In one of the rounds, only after 8 others were pulled. There is simply nothing you can do with that. Nothing at all. I'm amazed that I scored as well as I did.

Hershel got the professional who give money for wood, and so had flush cash the whole game, which let him buy things with his Master Workers every round, even at the higher prices. Abraham and Hershel both converted cash into VPs at the end. Gili lost out to my buying all the stone out from under her once, and then she did it to me when I was already dying a slow death, anyway. Otherwise, she doesn't understand what she's doing wrong.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

May 13, 2009

Participants: Jon, Hershel, Nadine, Abraham, Bill, Max

All regulars. Nadine is off to the US for two weeks after tonight.

Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation

Jon++, Hershel

I taught this to Hershel. In the first game, he played black. Already near the beginning of the game it was fairly clear that he wasn't doing too well. Black typically kills a number more characters than white. In my case, Gimli killed the Orcs, Boromir took out Sauron, and Gandalf killed something like 5 black pieces as he stormed into Mordor. Black had one piece left to my five, with no chance of finding Frodo.

We switched it around. Gimli still killed the Orcs (on the third move, or something), but his Gandalf only managed to kill one or two dark pieces. After half the cards were gone, the Black Riders rode from Mordor nearly all the way into the Shire and began picking off the weaker characters. Finally he came to the Shire and found Sam, Frodo, and Legolas. Sam tried to save Frodo, but the Black Rider killed them all, and that was that.

Stone Age

Jon 198, Nadine 187, Hershel 152

Hershel brought his copy. This was my first play.

Stone Age is a worker placement, resource management, and set collection game. It artistically and mechanically resembles Pillars of the Earth very closely, but it's a bit lighter. Instead of paying taxes, you have to pay food, which requires a bit more effort.

There's no master builder phase. Instead, the big gimmick here is that the number of workers you put onto an area determines how many dice you get to roll to see how many resources you collect from your location. There are 5 things you can collect, each numbered 2 to 6. When you try to collect the resource, you roll a number of dice equal to the number of workers you allocated to the collection area and then divide the number you rolled by the number of the area, rounded down. For instance, food is 2; if you roll a total of 11 in the food area, you'll collect 5 food. Gold is 6; roll a total of 11 in the gold area, and you'll collect 2 gold.

Therein lies my first and major problem with the game. Dice. Over the course of the game, dice will kind of even out, but not entirely. And the type of decisions you make seem to be full of strategy, but in the end your success is pretty random. There's no trading resources to make up for bad rolls, as there is in Settlers of Catan.

See our final scores? Would it surprise you to learn that I rolled the best, Nadine rolled slightly less well, and Hershel rolled poorly? There you go.

The winner is the one with the most victory points. You gain points in two major ways:

1) by collecting action cards which are available each round. Each action card has a cost of a few resources, gives some immediate benefit, and also gives a point bonus at the end depending on what else you collect. For example, some give you a certain number with which to multiply against the value of your automatic food production at the end of the game. If you get three cards of that type with 2, 1, and 1, and your food production is 8, then you gain a bonus of 4 times 8 at the end of the game.

Some of the cards just have symbols, and you get the square of the number of different symbols you collected in bonus points at the end of the game.

2) by collecting bonus tiles. Each bonus tile requires a certain combination of resources, and gives a bonus in victory points equal to the number value of the resources required to buy it. For example, a bonus tile that requires a gold (6) and two bricks (4 each) to acquire gives a bonus of 14 points when you buy it.

There are ways of increasing your food production (so you pay one less food per round), tools (so you can add to your dice rolls each round), and number of workers (pay one food per worker each round or lose 10 points for each unfed). And each resource area, other than food, only allows 7 workers per area, so occasionally you may be locked out of a particular area (which rarely makes any difference).

The game ends when either the cards, or one stack of bonus tiles runs out. One player can rush the game end by buying tiles from a single stack. That's not unfair, but I don't really like that mechanic too much.

You basically decide to concentrate on one of the few sets to collect. If two people go for the same set, you're both probably screwed and someone else who is trying for something uncontested will win. In our three-player game, we were all acting pretty independently, but people will probably clash more in a four player game.

The master workers drawn from the bag in Pillars of the Earth supplies a tad too much luck, but it's not in the same category as Stone Age. Planning in PotE is more rewarding and more interesting than in this game. But this game is still a decent game with ok mechanics. If a certain strategy is known to be dominant, this will balance out because more than one player will be trying to get it.

I would be much happier to play the game without dice: with dice rolls available for purchase with workers (roll 12 dice, and let players buy the dice rolls with their workers each round) or with each player drawing a random set of how many resources are available to them or to everyone each round, or some-such. Dice. Shudder.

In our game, I estimated the value of the cards versus the tiles and decided against trying for the card collection sets. Instead I took only cards that gave bonuses for the number of tiles you had (and some for the number of people you had), and then took 8 tiles. This gave me the regular points from the tiles and additional card bonuses for the tiles. And I rolled fairly well.

Nadine and Hershel each had a complete set of the card symbols (64 points each, or 8 points/card). Nadine also farmed a lot of gold with a lot of people and took a few tiles that netted her some 40 points for each one. Not enough.


Abraham 54*, Max 34, Bill 16

First play for both Bill and Max. Abraham taught the game using the standard introductory set of cards. But he played the Villagers incorrectly, effectively playing them without using up actions to do so, and ending up with far too many actions than he should have. Bill noticed this mid-game. So his final score doesn't really count.

I receive the two BGG bonus kingdoms in the mail, but we haven't played with them, yet.

Cosmic Encounter

Hershel 4, Nadine 3, Abraham 3, Bill 2

Bill hasn't played this since 1991, and this was the first play for Hershel. I tried teaching Max, too, but his head wasn't into it. Too late, too complicated, and too crazy.

Hershel played Anti-Matter, Bill played Bully, Abraham played Vampire, and Nadine played Vulch. I don't usually think of Anti-Matter as very strong, but everyone else did, and he won (they played to 4 bases).

Traders of Carthage

Jon+, Max

First play for Max, first two-player play for me. Everything went along docilely for some time, and no ships were pirated after scoring until mid-game. At that point, I managed to score a 5 point ship alone, and then shortly afterward a 6 point ship alone, at which point Max resigned. He was too tired to be playing anyway.

Friday, May 08, 2009

May 06, 2009

Participants: Jon, Gadi, Hershel, Max, Nadine, Abraham, Gili, Claude

Gadi is the guy who organized the Board Game Studies Colloquium in Israel a few weeks ago. He came to return my games that I had left for the colloquium members to play, to learn how to play Ark of the Covenant, which someone had left him, and to learn a little more about the game group. He is starting a Board Game Studies department within the folklore department of Hebrew U. He dropped by early, around 5:30.

Claude is someone who spoke at the conference about four pretty wooden games that he developed - all abstract or word tiles - and which he is now trying to get manufactured. Turns out that he is also a friend of Gili's. This was his first time enjoying games longer than a half an hour.

Ark of the Covenant

Jon+, Gadi

I'd never played this version of Carcassonne, but it took me only a few moments to learn the rules. It's closer to Hunters and Gatherers than it is to regular Carc. The main changes are a) and ark piece you can move around when you have nothing better to do, and each time it passes a meeple that meeple gains a point; b) single-tile cloisters (or keeps or something) where the person with the most people on or adjacent to it when it is surrounded by tiles on all four sides gains 7 points; c) a double-scoring meeple that you can use once in a city; and d) unfinished items score at the end of the game: full points for roads, half points for cities and cloisters.

On a few of the tiles it was unclear when a road ended or continued, and whether a road that was broken in two by rubble meant that the two sides of the road should be considered a single field or two distinct fields.

I had no problem playing, having played versions of Carcassonne many times. Gadi played around half a game and didn't quite figure out the strategy in that time. We stopped when many more people arrived.

Jon, Abraham

I enjoy Carcassonne but rarely get to play it with my group, but Abraham was willing to try this version. He had played other versions before. When scoring the end of the game, we removed meeples too quickly, and thus are not sure whether Abraham had control of a certain field or we both shared it. So I can't tell you who won.


Hershel+, Dvonn

First play for both. I figured that the best first introduction for Claude would be an abstract. Nadine had borrowed Yinsh, so I gave them this. I think they both liked it, although it will of course take several more games to get a good feel for any sort of strategy.

I saw the last few moves, and on the last move Hershel could have won with a complete victory (total elimination), but he missed it. Instead he won something like 20+ to 3.


Hershel+, Claude

Yes, Claude named (temporarily) one of his games Claude. It's a pretty wooden game based on Crossword Squares, but each player places three dead spaces before the game starts, there is a limited supply of letter tiles, and you score only if an entire line (wall to dead space, or wall to wall) is a word, 1 point per word length.

I enjoy Crossword Squares, so I enjoy this game, and the components are really nice. of course, it helps if you are fluid in English, which is not the case for Claude.

Gili, Gadi

Or Gadi.

It's Alive

Nadine 50, Max 40, Gili 37, Gadi 33

This is a great gateway game. First play for Gadi, and probably not too many more for Max. I didn't see the game progression. Gadi complimented me on it, afterward.

El Grande

Max 117, Nadine 111, Abraham 102, Hershel 101

It took a while to decide what to play next with newbies in the group, but a few jumped when I mentioned El Grande. Nadine usually wins, but she claims not so in four player games; she nearly won anyway, and anyway I don't believe her. First play for Hershel and Abraham, I believe. Only second or third for Max.

Max was slightly ahead after the first third, 35 to Nadine's 34. By the second third, he was way ahead, 93 to 77. This gap closed considerably at the end, as you can see. But the order didn't change throughout the game.

Settlers of Catan

Jon 10, Gadi 9, Gili 6, Claude 4

While they El Grande'd, I broke out the big guns for Gadi and Claude. Claude had some trepidations about a game that took longer than half an hour, but we assured him that that was because he wasn't playing the right games, aka games that are actually fun to play the whole way through.

Gili gave a lightning explanation all in Hebrew; apparently she's done this for SoC many, many times.

Both Claude and Gadi were suitably impressed by the game; for the first time this evening, Gadi actually came close to winning. On the last round he stole Longest Road from Claude and could have won if his development card was a VP, but it was only a soldier. Claude actually traded him the card he needed to steal Longest Road, much to his chagrin. I was guaranteed the win when Gadi finished, turning up a soldier to claim Longest Army.

It was a crowded board, as it normally is with four players. As first player, I placed my second settlement in the second best remaining spot instead of the best one - the best one would have nearly entirely choked Claude off right from the start of the game, and I didn't want his first game experience to be entirely frustrating. I think I make the right choice.

I ended up forgoing Ore because of that, but I was able to trade for it when I needed it. Wheat was in short supply in the early game, but eventually I built cities and more settlements on the wheat hexes and pulled in 5 at a time. The robber also played a part - I blocked off Gadi's 6 Ore hex several times, while the 8 didn't roll when it was on my 8 Brick hex. So yeah, there was some luck.

Magic: the Gathering

Gili+, Jon

First play for Gili. I taught her how to play in about five minutes, and then I pulled a random bunch of cards from my commons collection; lots and lots of junk. I had to toss half of them just to get anything resembling playable cards. Then I tossed 15 lands and 25 cards to Gili (blue and green), took the same for me (red and white), and we played.

We both had to struggle to come up with anything good to play, but eventually Gili got out a Craw Worm and an Illusionary Forces. I tried to Fissure the Worm, but Gili could Power Sink me for more than I could pay. I sacrificed a lot of little guys for a while, but eventually succumbed.

I gave Gili the cards to take home. I think I need some more lands. If anyone has MtG lands lying around, I could use some extras (especially swamps).

Fairy Tale

Abraham 45, Max 39, Nadine 37, Hershel 34

First play for Max, and possibly Hershel as well. Yeah, the game is pretty random in the end, but it's still a quick and decent filler.