Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 26, 2010

Participants: Jon, David, Gili, Nadine, Miriam, Abraham

Miriam is a new visitor, and new to modern gaming. But she's sharp and so picked up the games pretty quickly. She said she'd return, and I hope she does.

David came early.

Magic: The Gathering

Jon++, David

So of course, we drafted, still using the cards I picked up more than a year and a half ago. They're still new to us. Unusually, I felt like I was doing poorly in the drafting; usually I feel like I'm doing ok, and then I lose. Around a third of the way through this draft, I decided to start paying attention to the creatures that boost other creatures of the same type, something that only works in the modern expansions; but our draft was from mostly modern expansions.

I ended up with a deck of nothing but Elves, Giants, and Goblins, as well as a few utility cards. I had an Elf that brought another Elf to the top of my deck when it came into play (and the same for a Giant), an Elf that replaced any dead Elf card with an Elf token, an Elf instant that gave me an Elf token for each Elf I had, and a few others. Also, an enchantment that could be moved to another creature of the same type when the enchanted creature died.

In our first game, I had 17 land, mostly green with even amounts of red and black (7/5/5). I ended up with too much land, and, even though I kept dragging things out of the graveyard, too much land slowed me down enough for him to overrun me. I tossed out two lands (G and R; none of my R's were double), and proceeded to win the next two games, though they were close. While a synergistic deck can be disrupted, it has to be thoroughly disrupted. Fun games.


David 80, Jon 71

Second play for David, and he had to re-learn the game. The first time he played he was overwhelmed. He was still overwhelmed in this game, but in a good way.

I have to say that I'm really, really liking Homesteaders. Unlike nearly every other game I've played, it has a tremendous re-playability value. There are just so many avenues to explore packed into those ten rounds. I've played five times now, and I'm nowhere near knowing what I'm doing. And yet, it's clear that one can eventually learn to know something about what one is doing. Kudos to Alex for making a game that may actually rival Puerto Rico. What's amazing about Puerto Rico, however, is that PR does it without auctions.

In our game, I racked up some debt, but I never produced any strong goods, such as copper, cattle, or gold. David had some nice gold and trade chips going, which netted him the late game win. He stole 5 points from me by taking the last building that could really have helped me, and as you see, a 5 point swing would have done it.

Jon 56, Abraham 53, David 51

We played this again later in the evening. Second play for Abraham, who also really likes the game. David now officially likes the game, too. This time, in addition to the more competitive auctioning, I managed to get the trade chip/gold thing going, which just squeaked out a victory for me. The building that let me substitute gold for cattle or copper also helped a lot.

Abraham scuttled a late building bid by David, which apparently hurt both of them.


David 34, Jon 33, Gili 25

We played with Cellar, Chapel, Workshop, Feast, Spy, Laboratory, Torturer, Salvager, Outpost, and Envoy. We mostly played with Cellar, Spy, Laboratory, and Salvager, though I made effective use of Chapel, dumping my three Estates and a Copper on turn four. They each started with a Silver instead of a Chapel. I don't know why I lost, actually.

It's Alive

Miriam+, Nadine

Nadine taught this to Miriam. They played the basic game very quickly, and Miriam won by one card. She didn't really like the game. Oh, well.


Gili+, Nadine, Miriam

First play for Miriam, who started off strong but fell behind as the game progressed. Still, she liked the game.


David 20, Abraham 27, Jon 46

David did in this game what Abraham did the previous time he played, which was manage to avoid taking nearly anything for most of the game. Still a cute filler game.


Jon-David/Miriam 1080, Nadine-Abraham 720

David and I started off behind, down a few hundred points. Abraham bid and made a number of Tichus. Then David had to go.

Miriam took over for him, and this was her first play. She played well. I bid and made a Tichu or two, including in one hand, when both Abraham and I bid Tichu, and I made it, putting us in the lead, finally (we went from 480/620 to 650/550. Then we were both tied at 700.

The penultimate game gave us 80 points. And then I bid and made Tichu, and Miriam and I both went out first, which gave us the game.

Friday, May 21, 2010

May 20, 2010

Participants: Jon, Abraham, Nadine, Ksenia

Regular game night was pre-empted by Motzai Shavuot, and I put out a call if anyone wanted to play a mini-games night on a Thursday. Abraham was the only responder. However, Nadine joined a little later, and then we rope Ksenia in.

Summoner Wars

Jon+, Abraham

First play for me. I played Orcs, Abraham played Elves.

Summoner Wars is one of a number of recent grid based fantasy combat card games. I guess some people just can't help but want to try to turn the random draw of a card game into something more akin to a war game. I haven't been too impressed with attempts I've experienced until now. They tend to be slow and cumbersome games.

Worse yet, Summoner wars uses dice-based combat resolution, which I generally abhor; that, at least, I recognize as personal taste. Its inclusion is not an objective detraction from the game.

My verdict from my one play is that this is the best of the lot. While I still don't enjoy dice-based combat, those who don't mind it will find this game at least not cumbersome. It plays quickly, with ample room for both strategy and tactics, although the strategy might be gone after the first few rounds.

Essentially: you start with some guys on the board, each of whom rolls a number of dice. Each die roll above a 2 is a hit for one point of damage. Each guy takes some number of hits to kill. The object is to kill the opponent's Boss. You draw up to five cards each round, and can summon more guys using your stash of mana. You gain mana by tossing cards into your mana stash at the end of the round, or by killing opponent's guys. You also have a number of instant spells which don't cost anything (other than not throwing the card out into your mana pile).

Move around, attack, move around, attack, etc.

I played aggressively, which is what usually gets me killed in war and CC games. However, as this was a quick game, it worked quite well here. It may not always work quite as well in this game, but it should always work well enough to be a decent strategy.


Jon 61, Abraham 43

First play for Abraham. It might have been my first two-player game of this.

While a very tightly-controlled game flow, and oh so obviously from the mind of a Puerto Rico fanatic, I really like this game. A lot. I hope to play it many more times. I think Abraham liked it, as well, though maybe not as much as I do.

Dungeon Lords

Abraham, Jon, Nadine, Ksenia

First play for all of us except Abraham. Dungeon Lords is a vast and sprawling epic of a game, which to me left me with the same uneasy feeling I had after playing Caylus: about 20% too much work for the game. There is both a whole lot more calculating than there should be, and then too many times when you're just turning the cards over to see what comes next without anything to do.

That said, it's a very interesting and potentially fun game. FWIW, Nadine and Ksenia both thought it was much better than Caylus and thoroughly enjoyed it, without my reservations.

It has so many mechanics and moving parts, but they think that they fit together so nicely that it's not a problem. I'm just kind of overwhelmed. We played for 3 hours, and almost half of that time was explaining the game play. The other half allowed us to make it through one year, which is half of the game, after which we called it quits for the night. Abraham was slightly ahead, despite having almost no defenses in his dungeon. I think I would have been ahead if I hadn't overlooked that I was a gold short for taxes (worth -3 points).

I suspect you will be reading more reports here on the game, soon.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

May 12, 2010

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Ksenia, Abraham, Sara, David, Gili, Eitan, Emily

Ksenia was able to join us again, for once. I think she was inspired after having won In the Shadow of the Emperor on shabbat. Also nice to see Sara coming more regularly.


Jon 51, Ksenia 41, Nadine 32

Scores approximate. First play of Dominion for Ksenia. Both Nadine and Ksenia started on VPs a tad too early, imho. We played with the Seaside Village that give +3 actions and +2 gold which is incredibly under-priced at a measly 3 cost. Tack on some card drawing cards (such as Nobles) and the play was pretty straightforward. Ksenia also took a Sea Hag, who was a minor annoyance since there were no cards that trashed other cards.


Abraham+, Sara

This may have been Sara's first play. Abraham won by a good margin.


Jon 31, Sara 30, Abraham 27

First plays for Abraham and Sara. Trias is one of those games that I love to pieces but don't get to play much because the older regulars in the group don't like it that much. Luckily, Abraham and Sara and Eitan and Emily are relative newcomers and so I can inflict these games on them at least once.

Also, Abraham is closer to my own feelings regarding which games he likes, and so he tends to like the games I like. He's willing to play Santiago, for instance.

Abraham and Sara both loved Trias, so I'm thrilled. It didn't take them long to get the hang of the basics, so most of the game was spent on tactics. Abraham managed to leach hex after hex away from other islands onto one on which he was alone, and the end scores were close. But he wasn't quite diverse enough, and I managed to end with control of a 12 hex island, which just edged me into first place.


Nadine 80, Emily 79, Ksenia 67

First plays for Ksenia and Emily. Nadine started teaching a different group of people, but people showed up during the explanation, thought of joining and then some of them split off to start another game. I only played Cuba twice, and while I like it, I find the horizontal/vertical building activation mechanic on the players' boards annoying.

In this game, according to Nadine's notes: Nadine changed sugar into rum and shipped, Emily got money and had both shipping and building, and Ksenia had a blue stone and changed to VPs, but didn't do it every turn.

Taj Mahal

David 53, Gili 53, Eitan 44

This was formed from the overflow of Cuba. First play for Eitan. A tie for David and Gili.

Reef Encounter

Abraham 38, Jon 31, Sara 24

Sara's score is approximate. First play for me.

Some have compared Reef Encounter to Tigris and Euphrates or Go. Tom Vasel even claimed that once you have Reef Encounter, you can trade away T&E. While I've only played one game, so far it appears that nothing could be further from the truth. The only thing that RE and T&E share are the player screens and the tiles.

It's certainly a pretty and colorful game, and the theme is fresh and interesting. It's a good game, with quite a lot of depth to be explored. I enjoyed it fine, and will play again. But it's no T&E.

Not simply because it wasn't as good as T&E, which it wasn't. But because the strategies and tactics are so different from each other, it's like comparing apples and Chevies. They're simply different games, plain and simple.

In RE, the object is to collect tiles of high value. You collect tiles by starting your turn with one of your markers on an area containing five or more tiles of the same color (you collect N-4 tiles from a reef that you eat). The values of the tiles are partially under your control during the game, though the values only matter at the end of the game. Each tile of a color will be worth between 1 to 5 points at the end of the game. So, in addition to your having to collect the tiles, you have to spend some time locking high values onto the color tiles that you are collecting.

The same part of the board that controls the end values of the tile colors also controls which colors are "dominant" during game play. When one color is dominant over another, tiles of the dominant color can be used to kick tiles of the recessive color (replace them) off the board. You can use then use the tiles that you kick off the board to control the tile values/dominance, or you can place them back on the board later.

At the end of each round, you get some more tiles from random piles, as well as a "control cube" - you spend a control cube on a color each time you want to place one or more tiles of that color.

Lastly, you have four markers, which sit on reefs and protect the spaces immediately orthogonal to them from being eaten by other colors, regardless of which color is dominant. Add to that some wacky board geometry, and you spend a lot of your time trying to figure out where the best place on the board is to grow your reefs so that they can get big before you eat them - and without other people's tiles eating yours before you can harvest them.

In our game, both Sara and Abraham had large reefs that they ate, but Abraham got the colors locked in his favor. I had the choice on the last round which way to swing one of the tiles, and I swung it in favor of Abraham because I thought Sara had eaten more than Abraham had in his color specialty. Turns out I was wrong. If I had chose the other way, Abraham would have had 8 less points, and Sara 8 more points, and I would still probably have lost by a point or two.


David 16, Gili 15, Eitan 5

Also first play for Eitan, which surprised me.


Jon/David 515, Nadine/Ksenia 385

First play for Ksenia. This did not start out well for us.

In the first round, they both went out first. The next round we gained 15 points to their 85. The third round we split 50/50. David and I had crappy hands all three times.

Finally I got a decent pull and I called Grand Tichu (2 aces, 2 kings, Phoenix, jack, and 2 nines). It wasn't a cakewalk, but I made it, plus another 50/50 break. We were still losing, and Nadine wanted to quit while they were ahead. I coerced her into playing one more round, in which David and I both went out. David went out first, and Nadine was on my right with only one card. And I had several cards and the Dog. Luckily, Nadine's card wasn't higher than a jack, and I was able to slowly play through all my cards and exit with the Dog.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

May 05, 2010

Participants: Tal, Hershel, Gili, Nadine, Jon, Bill, Shirley, Liza, Abraham

I arrived a little late, to Tal welcomed the first guests. Hershel returned after a long absence. Bill and Shirley brought a friend Liza, who had not played any modern games.


Tal, Hershel, Gili

Tal entertained them with this until I arrived. I don't know how it went.

In the Shadow of the Emperor

Nadine 23, Hershel 19, Gili 16, Jon 15

First play for all of us. I read the rules for this last shabbat, and read them again as we set up. It looked like it wasn't going to be too complicated a game, but strategies were not obvious from the first. We all started making essentially random moves until about a third of the way into the game.

This is an area-control, negotiation game with some twists.

The game doesn't specify any kind of negotiation in the rules, but at several points in each round players may decide the fortunes of other players, which leads inevitably to negotiation. I'm not exactly thrilled with that mechanic, unless negotiations are enforceable; I don't enjoy backstabbing games (except Diplomacy, which is nothing but). And, with negotiation over fairly important points, much of your success or failure is a result of other people's whims, which means he who whines most generally wins.

In this game, negotiation plays a strong role unless you play carefully to avoid it. So it's kind of a mix. And we played with hidden victory points (they were trackable, like in Puerto Rico, but no one tracked them), so you couldn't always figure out to whom to give the points, assuming that you wanted to give them to the losing player and gang up on the winner. In actuality, we always guessed correctly. Nevertheless, the other players would have preferred to play with victory points open, so that they didn't have to guess.

Anyhoo ...

Other than that, the game was quite good. It reminded me of a more intense interactive version of Tribune.

It's played over five rounds. On each round:

- you collect income (a bit more if you have certain things on the board)
- all of your pieces on the board "age" (some die)
- you get a new piece or you get a VP or another gold
- you take as many actions as you can afford, and you may get some bonus actions if you had control of an area the previous round; there are various different actions, to age or youthen one of your guys, add new guys, move guys, take a victory point, gain bonus voting power, increase your income level, and so on
- you figure out who has control of each area, winning 2 points if you gain control of it (but not if you simply keep control of it)
- all players who have control of any area now vote for the new emperor, between the current emperor and the contender if there is one; the emperor gains a VP or two and some other bonuses on the next round (and the voters each get a point)

You gain points for: one of the actions, gaining control of an area, being in control of one particular area, voting for the emperor, or being the emperor. All of these are 1 to 2 points each, so final scores are low. All of the other mechanics seem like a lot of work to gain these few points, but it never felt like it was dragging or uninteresting.

In our game, I kind of got knocked out from all areas in mid-game, which made coming back very difficult. The only reason I did as well as I did were the few points thrown my way because everyone knew I was losing. None of use knew for sure who was winning, but we all essentially figured out the correct order. Nadine took the most straight victory points directly from the cards, and also had the highest income the earliest; I don't know how she managed that, yet.


Shirley, Bill, Liza

First play for Liza, I don't know what happened. Nadine coached.


Shirley, Bill, Liza, Abraham

I didn't think this was the best first game for a new player, but at least, as Nadine said, the mechanics repeat themselves and are not too difficult. Shirley won.