Thursday, January 28, 2010

January 27, 2010

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Gili, Binyamin, Avi K, Eitan, Emily, David K

A bustling night, though only seven of us were here. We played some meaty games and then looked up and it was a quarter to midnight.


Gili 68, Binyamin 53, Jon 39

Binyamin wanted to learn how to play this. Second play for me, third for Gili. I played by instinct again; last time my instinct served me well. This time it didn't.

Last time I started pulling in early steel and trad chips, and that gave me access to many other good buildings mid-game. This time I didn't go steel, and I had more competition for the buildings. I kept settling for whatever came my way. I still made that work efficiently, but I wasn't raking in points like Gili was, or goods like Binyamin was.

My biggest mistake was forgetting that gold disks were the equivalent of 5 silvers as far as money goes. I didn't notice that the gold that Binyamin was producing was essentially giving him lots of extra cash to outbid me; instead I was stuck with buildings that gave two silvers, which, while it looked nice, wasn't enough.

Gili once again beat me to the mid-game 10 point building. Binyamin ended with 8 workers.

Robo Rally

Avi K, Nadine

Says Nadine: Avi did very well, planning correctly on his own, even on a track moving off the edge of the board. He won, one board, one-way.


Nadine 23, Avi 15

Scores approximate. Says Nadine: I won, he got the no pollution bonus.


Jon 35, Eitan 33, Nadine, Emily

Scores approximate. First play for all of us, although I'd played Age of Steam three or four times before. I read the rules while we set up.

One change from Age of Steam is that the components are more attractive; AoS had that old wargamey cardboard and black text look and feel. The biggest changes are in the income/share calculations and the cube distribution, both of which have been streamlined and simplified.

Income/Stocks: Each player starts with no cash and at 0 on the income track. Every space you move back on the income track gives you $5. Every time you deliver a cube, you get 1 bonus/link. Each bonus can be spent on either moving forward on the income track or moving forward on the victory point track. At the end of each round, you have to pay if you're negative on the income track, or you gain income if you're positive on the income track. Simple as that.

For the first few rounds, we all went negative and back up to 0 or -1. For the rest of the game, we hovered around the -1 to +2 area of the track. I'm sure the match could tell you if it's worth it to simply go high up the income track so you don't have to keep spending a bonus or two there each round.

The only other thing to note is that, at the end of the game, you get +1 VP/+2 on the income track, or -2 VP/-1 on the income track.

The cubes. At the start of the game, a bunch of piles of three cubes each are place on the side of the board. Every time someone takes "city growth", which costs $2, they can take one of the piles and place it onto any city that hasn't already had a city growth. Also, any time someone takes "urbanize", which costs $6, they can take one of the piles and put it onto the new city, which can't have any city growths after that.

Straightforward, no dice rolling, no surprises when you draw cubes from the bag. All the randomness is done before the game starts. There are no random elements in play during the game.

Another change: you don't bid for turn order. Each special ability if numbered. Holder of the lowest value from the previous round selects a new value first, followed by second lowest, etc.

Otherwise, it's the same basic game: acquire special ability and turn order card, build tracks and pay for them, run cubes, collect income or pay debt. Repeat 8 times (in a four player game). The rules about building track are still pretty difficult to explain, but the game flows smoothly.

It's still a great game. I definitely thought I was losing, but I had the most tracks on the board and so caught up in the final scoring. I also had some late 5 to 6 point cube runs.

Eitan was the first to get to 6 on his railroad track, but he seemed to be taking mostly 3 or 4 point runs, or 6 point runs that gave 2 points to Nadine. Nadine didn't get beyond two on the railroad track for most of the game, but she delivered two cubes over two links nearly every round.

The major problem with this game, and it's probably true of Age of Steam as well, though for some reason it never bothered me in that game, is the ability - necessity - to give points to other players, and to choose whom to give them to in the process. Scores are sufficiently low that this introduces a strong element of kingmaking into the game, and it's blatant and unfortunate. Plus, as Nadine says, giving points to other players is simply a "not fun" mechanic.

I'm definitely happy to play more times, but this does bug me.


Binyamin, Gili, David K, Avi K

First play for all but Gili, second play for her. She had trouble explaining it, so Nadine gave a lot of attention to their game (instead of ours), but I don't think it helped them much.

Nevertheless, Binyamin liked the game. David misunderstood one of the tiles and played wrong because of that. I think this contributed to his feeling that the game was only "ok".

Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 20, 2010

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Gili, Binyamin, Bill

Back to normal sized, we got two new games to the table this week.


Binyamin 62, Gili 57, Nadine 41, Jon 37, Bill 35

First play for all of us, except Binyamin. Scores approximate.

Binyamin took this home last week to learn the rules and brought it back to teach us. He sure made it seem complicated; in truth, it's not that complicated, and I guess I could do a quicker job at explaining the rules than he did. There are a lot of little components, however, which makes the game feel more complicated than it is, anyway.

The object is to get the most points by a) moving forward in your four tracks, b) controlling cities and connections on the main board at the end of the game, and c) acquiring cards with bonus points on them.

The game lasts for seven rounds. Each round players acquire a building, resolve the bonuses they get from their tracks, and play actions using buildings or chips, until all players pass. Then players discard any excess cards they have acquired this round.

The four tracks give you cascading bonuses:

- One gives you the ability to buy better buildings.

- One gives you more people to work with each round (into your "Harbor"). Each player has an unlimited supply of people, but can only use the ones brought in his Harbor from the supply. The ones already placed onto the main board can't be reused; the ones assigned to buildings are also stuck, but see the next track.

- One lets you take people assigned to your buildings and put them back in your Harbor. Not only does it give you more people to play with, you also can't reuse a building if it already has a guy in it. You get them out of the buildings with this track.

- One lets you keep more cards at the end of the round.

The buildings either bumps you up on one of the four tracks, or give you one of four types of actions: a) claim a free city, b) steal a city from someone else, c) claim a shipping space, or d) take a card. Better buildings let you do either or multiples of these.

The main board consists of seven regions: Europe and six others. Each region has cities, and between nearly all cities are connections. Some of the connections span two regions.

Every city has a chip on it, and every connection between two cities has a chip on it. The first player to claim the city gets the chip. The first player to control two cities that have a connection between them gets the chip on the connection. Each chip either bumps you up on one of the tracks, or gives you a bonus action, exactly like the ones on the buildings (claim a city, steal a city, claim a shipping space, or take a card).

To claim a city, you need to use a building or chip that lets you claim a city, and you need one person to go onto the city you want to claim, and another if you used a building (if you used a chip, you don't need the second person, you just throw out the chip). To steal a city, you need the steal action, and you also have to toss one additional guy back to the supply.

At the start of the game, Europe is already "discovered", and so players can claim cities in Europe. All of the other regions start off-limits. Each region has a "shipping" track. Players can claim spaces on the shipping track until the track is filled, and then the cities in that region are available, too. To claim a shipping track, you need one guy for the track space, and one if you use a building action (or not, if you use a chip)

Each region also has a stack of cards (Europe has two). The cards are ordered numerically, 1 to 5. Cards either bump you up on one or more tracks or are worth some number of victory points, or both. To claim a card, you need to a) have as many of your guys in that region as the number of the card (guys on cities and shipping track spaces count), and b) use the card action, which costs one guy on a building that gives that action, or no guys if you toss in a chip with the card action on it.

The top card of each card stack (other than Europe's) is a special card given for free to the player with the most number of claimed spaces on the shipping track when the tracked is finally filled (if tied, the player who most recently claimed a space on that track).

At the end of each round, you toss down to the number of cards you can keep. You lose any bumps you gained this way in the process. The cards get put back on top of the stacks from which they came, which covers over the better cards that are there. Since cards from stacks must be acquired top down, this can be annoying to whomever was planning to get the better card you just covered over.

At the end of the game, each city is worth a point (some are worth two), and each connection you control is also worth a point. Your progression on the stack is worth one point for each space of progress (except not exactly: you get dinged some points here and there), and you add any points on cards you managed to retain.

That's it. It's a very nice game, and lives up to the "many paths to victory" ideal. It's definitely hard to know what tracks are best on first play, though early cards seem to be a good choice. Keeping cities is difficult, since other players can pretty much kick you out of them at any time. So whomever wastes the most amount of time on them wins out there. Each track is limited to 15 points, so you also have to worry, should you be blessed enough to get to the end of a track, that some progressions are not worth anything to you anymore.

The game is fairly quick. In the first three or four rounds, you don't get many actions, so they pass quickly. Only in the last two or three rounds do players have many actions, but you already feel a bit like you're in the endgame.

There are three glaring downsides. The first is that the game tends to paralysis, as you're stuck in situations, where anything you do gives you 1 point and the people following you several points. The only way around that is if you have managed to get the buildings that give you multiple actions simultaneously. Otherwise you're screwed and it's not enjoyable.

The second is that there are several unnecessary complicating mechanics that don't seem to have much point: some cards are slave cards. Slave cards and the bonus cards you get for first opening a region both have special rules about how many you can keep. The victory points on the tracks are unevenly distributed until you get to at least ten. And similar things just seem to unnecessarily complicate the game. I'm sure the playtesting required these changes for balance, but they're annoying.

The third is the "player on the left" syndrome. A bad player can easily hand the game to the player on his left, and any player can gang up on another player, which introduces a king-making problem.

Otherwise, a nice Eurogame with heaps of mechanics from other games, but freshly arranged.

In our game, Binyamin knew what he was doing, and so victory wasn't that difficult for him. We were surprised that Gili came as close as she did. I think it was because she was sitting after me, and I didn't play particularly well. We were just as surprised that I beat Bill.

Robber Knights

Nadine 24, Binyamin 20, Jon 16

First play for all of us. Like Clans, this is a quick abstract game with a pasted on theme that is entirely irrelevant.

Each player has a stack of tiles and a bunch of knights (disks). There are lake, plans, forests, and mountain tiles, and plains and forest tiles can have castles, villages, or towns.

On your turn, you place a tile orthogonal to any other tiles. If it is a castle, you may place 1 to 5 of your knights on the tile. You can then move those knights as a stack onto adjacent tiles, leaving behind at least 1 knight in a plains tile, 2 in a forest tile, and 3 in a mountain tile. If the tile onto which you are placing knights already has knights, you put yours on top of theirs. However, no tile can have more than four knights on it.

The board is artificially constrained to an NxN grid, whose sides are determined as you play.

At the end of the game, you control any tile where your piece is the one on top. You score 1 point for a castle, 2 points for a village, and 3 points for a town.

And that's it. On our first game, we didn't know what to do with village and town tiles as we pulled them out, as they seemed to be just helping the first player who picked their castle. But it's not easy to claim everything you want to immediately and decisively. You have eight castle tiles, but only 30 knights, so you can't play 5 knights on each castle.

It was nearly equivalent to Clans. Puzzle-like, quick, an ok filler, nothing to write home about. Willing to play whenever, but won't suggest it, probably.

In our game, I thought I was clever and passed on two castles in mid-game, leaving me the only one with my pieces near the end. But somehow I miscounted my castles, and ended up with five useless knights on my last turn, which wasn't a castle after all.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

January 13, 2010

Participants: Jon, Gili, Nadine, David K, Ben, Binyamin, Abraham, Bill, Shirley, Eitan, Emily

A nice complement of gamers return. First time we had three simultaneous games going in a while. Bill and Shirley return from a US visit.

Dominion / Intrigue / Seaside

Nadine 36, Jon 31, David, Gili

We played with random cards from all sets, and ended up with four cards that let you trash cards in your deck. I used Remodel, Wharf, and Nobles. Nadine seems to win by simply taking Silvers.

Binyamin 19, Ben 18, Abraham 17

While we played with one set of treasures, they played with the other set. I didn't see the results, but apparently Ben ended up with 11 or so curses.


Jon 65, Gili 48, Eitan 43

First play for me and Eitan, second play for Gili. I had been wanting to play this ever since it was demo'd for me at BGG.con, but it never worked out. However, when I can get three games running simultaneously at game night, working things out becomes easier.

Homesteaders is up there with the great Eurogames, nearly all pure resource management and optimization, tons of routes to victory, a stark progression throughout the game, and interaction through auctions and denying other people scarce rewards.

It's hard to get everything you want or need, and yet (in our game) money wasn't too tight or painful, since you can always try something else, instead. It will take several playing to figure out play beyond mere "decent" to "focused". Which is how it should be. I really love it. It has Alex Rockwell's signature all over it.

It's not perfect, however. It's actually a little short (!). And, while elegant, sensible, and straightforward, and theme looks like it should be dripping from the pieces, the theme doesn't come through much, and the game is not so ... immersive as Puerto Rico, Agricola, or some other games. It's very nerdy and calculating. You have to love planning and calculating. Trade this for that, these for those, swap these other things for one more of these, build a better income to get more of these, and gain move vp's with these others.

It's also a bit much for my analysis paralysis gamers, because they want to calculate all the possible points for all the possible swaps, and the time to value ratio for this is low. As for me, I just picked a few good paths and stuck with those that enhanced them, dismissing without calculating many other paths as not worth time thinking about. I figure that I'll play several more games, trying out a bunch of paths each game, and then I'll have a better idea about which ones work best.

In the meantime, as you can see, I won handily. I started with early steel production, and then used that for early trade chip production. Not too many of anything, but some of many things. I ignored apples and cows entirely, and only got a gold at the end for the 2 vp it gave me. I also got a few buildings that gave points for buildings of type X, and a few buildings of type X, which I recognized as fairly efficient. Lastly, the end buildings that let you buy them and then let you buy an additional building are killer buildings.

Nearly all of my buildings required no people, so I was saved in having to get people, and in having to pay for their upkeep. I wasn't contested enough in the buildings; only once, when I had to pay $9 for what I wanted. I'm sure that won't happen again, and money will feel more tight. I can't tell you much about what the others were doing; Gili had warned that trade chips were essential, and so Eitan ended up with too many of them. Gili stole the 10 point building that generates 2 points a round away from me, but I got several other nice buildings instead.

One other thing: I think the debt taking is a tad too easy. You can take them whenever you want and there is no sense whatsoever in paying them back before the end of the game. They should really cost $1 a turn to maintain, like people.

Le Havre

Binyamin 137, Abraham 121, Emily 99

I foisted this onto them; Binyamin actually wanted to play Homesteaders, but we needed to divvy the people up. First play for him and for Emily. Abraham had played once before.

Binyamin didn't like the game so much, although he may have warmed a little to it by the end. I think he compared it unfavorably to Agricola.


Ben 29, David 26, Nadine, Bill, Shirley

First play for everyone except Ben and Nadine. Nadine loves the game. Ben enjoys it, too. David didn't warm to it much, though I don't know why. David and Ben were the only ones who fulfilled the victory conditions, so once again it came down to who finished them first for the 2 point swing. David claims that he lost due to a specific mistake he knows that he made.


Jon+, Eitan

I taught this wonderful little two-player quick game to Eitan, who also liked it. I wish the box would allow a tad more room to shake the dice. Otherwise, it's a neat and pretty little two player strategy game that plays differently each time and takes only about five minutes.


Jon/Nadine, Ben/David/Binyamin

We managed to play several hands of this at the end of game night. Bridge is always fun, always good, always challenging, and always will be. It's what a great game should be.

Eitan looked on and tried to learn.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

January 06, 2010

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Ben, Binyamin, Gili, Abraham

Welcome back Ben. I wanted to play Homesteaders, but once again didn't get it to the table.


Binyamin, Ben, Gili, Nadine

First play for all but Nadine. I taught them. The game is pretty straightforward when you play it, but, like Ra, each little piece has its own set of rules. As such, they appeared to be overwhelmed. Even though, all the rules and exceptions are brilliantly printed in the right location on all the game components.

Often, players forget that they can get this benefit OR that benefit. Often, they forget that they can do this thing ONLY if they also have that things. In this game, they all forgot about the chariot bidding for most of the game.

As a result of the last mistake, Ben ended up losing by a coin or two; if they had remembered, he would have won, fairly handily I hear. Instead, Binyamin won. Though he thought it was a bit confusing, he enjoyed it


Jon 66, Abraham 50

Meanwhile, Abraham and I played with kingdoms from all three sets. This was only my second play of Seaside, and third of Intrigue.

Our first set had no bonus actions at all. What it had, instead, was Chapel and Treasure Map, which are a freakingly deadly combination. In four or five rounds, my hand was stripped to nothing but four Golds and a Copper or two.

Abraham tried the same strategy, but took longer to get the second Treasure Map, and didn't get the Treasure Map combo until several rounds later. He took Smugglers, however, and matched many of the cards and points I drew. Not enough.

Jon 27, Abraham 27

Our second mix was more interesting, perhaps. Bonus actions for Upgrade and Treasury, the latter of which I though was pretty nifty, as the gold they provide essentially continues to accumulate until you buy victory points. We also had Throne Room to turn these into double actions. None of the cards cost less than 4.

Abraham Upgraded away all of his Coppers, and I took Thief to try to rob him of his higher valued treasures, but Throne Room / Thief several times in succession only managed to nab one Gold and one Silver. Pathetic thieves. We both carefully cycled through our entire deck each round, and ended in a tie.


Jon+, Abraham

First play for Abraham, who had played Yinsh once. Yinsh is more "fun", but I think Dvonn is the best game in the series (I only played Tzaar once, however, and I loved it as well). Abraham also appreciated it. We don't play this game enough.


Abraham 38, Ben 32, Binyamin, Jon, Nadine

Since Gili left, we were able to play a five-person game. It was nice to bring out a new game for a second play. Hopefully it will see many more. First play for Ben and Binyamin.

I think we all liked it, although I once again did very poorly. It is possible to partially catch up during the game, but not significantly enough to affect the eventual outcome, which is a tad frustrating. Abraham was pretty much leading by mid-game, and the outcome was forgone.

I have no idea what I'm doing wrong, yet, but I suspect that I'm making very bad decisions as to the relative value of different paths of progression. Last time, Abraham was producing poorly, but had many discounts and came in one point away from winning. In that game, I produced well, but had to throw out some items due to lack of storage space. This time, I had storage space, was producing poorly and had some discounts, but I wasn't really in contention. It didn't help having additional competition (five players) for the items I needed.

Friday, January 01, 2010

December 30, 2009

Participants: Avraham, David, Gili, Sara

I had a wedding scheduled, so tonight's game night, the last of 2009, was hosted by Abraham. Here is his session report ...

Four players, four games, and four winners in a balanced game night.


Avraham 29, Gili 23, David 18

David hadn't played it before, and Gili had forgotten what it was like, and
so they felt like trying it out. I explained the rules, David absorbed them
easily, and Gili remembered how it was once I started explaining. David
asked for strategy advice, I said that food is better at the beginning, gold
is better towards the end, and that you can pick up treasure by taking
advantage of shortages. I also said that moving forward is good, but I
didn't explain well why it was so, and so Gili and David didn't take that
advice to heart. By the time we shuffled our cards mid-game, they
understood why it was important to be moving forward.

We each rolled a double on our first turn as captain, taking a good amount
of decision-making put of the first round. Gili had a lot of cannons at the
beginning, but lagged behind and so didn't make good use of them. David
floundered in the middle and somehow managed to avoid the treasures that
Gili and I didn't pick up. I took an early lead, used it to get first crack
at the treasures, and mostly maintained the lead until the end of the race.

Gili 29, David 28, Avraham 24

After the first game, David felt he had the hang of it and wanted to give it
another shot, and Gili and I were willing as well. Our pirate ships in the
second game were much more belligerent. Gili would plunder David, and I
would plunder both Gili and David. I had the treasure that gave me +2 to
all my combat rolls, but it didn't matter because I kept on rolling stars
anyway. Gili rolled a double six at just the right time to finish the game,
David managed to build a good horde of treasure and gold despite being
repeatedly plundered, and I managed to come in last despite my victories on
the high seas.

Stone Age

David 122, Sara 120, Avraham 120, Gili 117

A very fun and close game of Stone Age. David went for the starvation
strategy. I went for the food production strategy since I came after David
and he was starving. Gili was annoyed that I didn't let any food production
slide to her at the beginning, and went for collecting symbols. Sara went
for the "roll obscenely high numbers and opportunistically grab points"

David was worried that he was losing terribly to both Sara and I for most of
the game, but David plays a lot better than he assesses position. He had a
lot of leftover resources when he finished the game, but he also managed to
get around 40 points worth of buildings on his final turn as well. I only
had one wood leftover at the end of the game, but although I managed my
resources efficiently, I didn't quite collect the cards I needed to push me
over the edge. Gili tried to copy Sara's dice-rolling technique of slamming
the dice cup on the table, but was unable reproduce the same results. She
did quietly amass eight symbol cards with only one repeat however, which is
no easy feat in a four-player game. And although Sara rolled the dice
tremendously well at the beginning of the game, this was matched by her
dice-rolling futility in the second half of the game, and I think she would
have won if it were not for one round where she took a starvation penalty.

Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm

Sara 40, Avraham 39, David 30

David wanted to play one light game before he left. Sara suggested Traders
of Carthage, which was a good suggestion, but David didn't know how to play
and wasn't in the mood for learning a new game. I suggested Race for the
Galaxy, which is my favorite "light" game. Okay, it's not light at all, but
after playing Sara maybe about a hundred times, and playing against the Race
for the Galaxy AI a couple hundred more, I can
make my decisions pretty quickly, and so I consider it a quick game, if not

Sara started with Epsilon Eridani, went for a military strategy, and claimed
the Greatest Military goal. David started with New Sparta, and explored in
vain for good military worlds. I started with Old Earth, went for
produce/consume with blue production worlds and claimed the Largest Industry
goal. I was a turn or two behind because of my two failed naked produce
attempts at the beginning of the game... I was spoiled by playing against
the AI.