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.

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