Wednesday, July 28, 2010

July 27, 2010

Participants: Jon, Gili, Miriam, Nadine

Game night was moved to Tuesday night at 7:30 owing to a conflict. And it's summer, so attendance is bound to be down.

In the Shadow of the Emperor

Jon 25, Gili 21, Miriam 18

My estimation of this game shrank a little, though I still enjoyed it. I really don't like game mechanics that put person A in a position of deciding to give a bonus to either persons B or C, where person A doesn't even get anything for doing so. Ugh.

I would say that this is what happens in this game with three players, but the truth is that it happened with four players, too. Maybe the game only shines with five players? Being both an election and an area control game, this is probable.

One other thing to note about this game is that, like Greed Incorporated, how you actually get victory points seems non-intuitive. It's not holding the electoral seats, but gaining the electoral seats that gives you points. Which means, it's best to lose control and regain an area every round, rather than simply keep it. Which makes little sense.

Otherwise, victory points are sparse and hidden within all of the other mechanics of the game. That's not necessarily bad, but it is, as I said, non-intuitive.

In our game, I did well in the beginning and then slid a little as the game went on. It appears that it is better to do better in the beginning of the game, rather than at the end, as it is worth slightly more points. Also a rather odd feature in a game.


Jon/Gili 60, Nadine/Miriam 40

Miriam had time for one hand. They had nearly all of the good cards: Nadine had a bomb of queens, and Miriam had a full house of aces over kings, as well as the phoenix. Miriam went out first, but Nadine found herself left with a 9 and the Dog, which was not ideal.

Oltre Mare

Jon 107, Nadine 90something, Gili 70something

Nadine asked to try this again, and then complained at the beginning that it was too complicated, and then admitted at the end that it was good but too complicated. She is not good at games where a single choice of cards determines a number of different consequences; on the other hand, that's also the story with El Grande, at which she generally wins. So I don't know.

I don't like the trading mechanic, where other players get a bonus for trading on your turn. First of all, it's another kingmaker mechanic. Second, it discourages people from trading on their own turn.

I also didn't like the end mechanic, where one player ends the game and the game continues until all players have had an equal number of turns. I don't like it because many times you plan on one turn for the next turn, and it is not fair for some people to know that the game has ended when they take their last turn, while others don't. To solve this, I had the game go around one more time after the game ending condition. This worked very well.

In our game, we all started off in close proximity on the board, which was a little unfair for Gili who was in the middle. Nadine was getting points from playing only one card a turn but having the "X-3" chip, which is not ultimately as powerful as simply playing more cards each turn. All of the chips are worth about 2-3 points, but the gold symbol one is the most reliable.

I'm still not decided on the idea of buying cards. Obviously you have to buy or get cards when you are required to play a certain number. But how often do they return their purchase cost, I wonder?

Still an interesting game.

Friday, July 23, 2010

July 21, 2010

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Elijah, Gili, Abraham, Sara, Miriam, Binyamin, Zvi Yehuda

Binyamin returns after a long absence, with his son Zvi Yehuda. Abraham, Sara, and Miriam will be leaving soon.


Jon 39*, Elijah 32, Nadine 31

Kingdoms: Woodcutter, Remodel, Thief, Council Room, Mine, Adventurer, Coppersmith, Upgrade, Lighthouse, and something else.

I didn't read the Lighthouse carefully enough. As a result, a few times I played it as if I also gained an extra action at the beginning of my next turn. So my score is in doubt.

I played a heavy trashing games, often upgrading 5 cost cards to 6 cost cards, and then remodeling them into provinces. Nadine played fairly straightforward, but both she and Elijah took thieves, which, due to lighthouses, were fairly ineffective.

Gili arrived shortly after we started playing, but I made her wait. I should have restarted, I suppose.

El Grande

Nadine 109, Gili 108, Sara 108, Elijah 90, Abraham 88

Nadine usually sweeps this game with no trouble, so the surprise is how close it was. After the first scoring she was ahead 55 to 47, and after the second 92 to 84.


Binyamin 75, Jon 73, Miriam 53, Zvi Yehuda 37

First plays for Miriam and Zvi Yehuda, and second or third for Binyamin. I think this may have been my first four player game.

Still a fantastic game. Of course, you need to know about the final buildings in order to plan for them throughout the game. Balancing the need for trade chips without getting drowned by them is possibly the biggest challenge. Far better to be drowned by them than not have enough, however.

I thought I was winning, so it surprised me that Binyamin won in the end. On the other hand, he got both of the two best mid-game buildings, so maybe it shouldn't have surprised me so much. Bidding went high in the last two rounds; I passed on round 9, and Binyamin passed on round 10.

Miriam misbid on round 10 and we didn't let her take it back after Binyamin had already made a different bid as a result. Then we let Zvi Yehuda take something back from the previous turn, which wasn't exactly fair. However, Zvi Yehuda is a young boy, and he was losing by a mile, anyway. In the end, Binyamin moved to outbid Zvi Yehuda, and Zvi Yehuda moved to outbid Miriam, so Miriam got to redo her bid, anyway.

Friday, July 16, 2010

July 14, 2010

Participants: Jon, Elijah, Nadine, Max, Sergei, Alona, Miriam, Eitan, Emily

Being the nine days, I wasn't sure if anyone would come. Gili was probably recovering from the bat mitzva of her daughter. Also, I sadly must report that Abraham and Sara will be leaving Jerusalem soon, and also that Miriam is going back to the states in a week or two.


Nadine 41, Elijah 37, Jon 33

Kingdoms: Chapel, Throne Room, Gardens, Laboratory, Baron, Conspirator, Torturer, Upgrade, Harem, Tactician

This looked like a nice set, and I should have done fine. Unfortunately, I had the worst luck ever known to man with my card drawing. I bought an early Chapel and did not once get it together in my hand with an Estate. Not once. (In retrospect, I should have just trashed the four coppers, rather than trash one and buy a Silver.)

I bought Throne Room and only twice pulled it together with another action card, and that was Torturer, both time near the end of the game. It was a freaking nightmare. I really wanted to play the same set again, but other people came in the meanwhile.

Nadine avoided most of the kingdoms, bought Silvers and Harems, and did just fine.

Eitan 42, Emily 38

They played this when they came late and waited for others to finish longer games.


Jon 8, Elijah 6, Max, Sergei

First plays for Max and Sergei. I warned them several times to keep track of points and go for them, rather than mess around with armies and battles, but in vain. Still, they really liked the game. I started with marble, while all the other guys started with iron. I also had a slight advantage in starting off in the corner (Phoneticians), though all the other players moved in my direction and boxed me in.

Princes of Florence

Nadine+, Miriam, Alona

First play for Alona, and possibly for Miriam as well. No surprise that Nadine won, but she says the game was close.

Tigris and Euphrates

Jon 5/5/5/9, Eitan 5/5/5/7, Elijah 4/5, Emily 2

Another game I don't get to play often enough. First play for Eitan and Emily, and a reminder to Elijah who had played once. I set up a few monuments mid-game, giving dozens of green points to Elijah and blue and black points to me. I didn't care about the green points, because I knew Elijah had plenty of them already, anyway.

I won mostly because I ended the game on my turn.


Max, Sergei, Alona, Nadine, Miriam

First plays for everyone but Nadine. Unfortunately, the game went slowly and it was late, so I had to kick them out after round 3.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

July 07, 2010

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Miriam, Abraham, Tal

Light night. Gili is planning for her daughter's bat mitzvah.


Jon 48, Nadine 44

Nadine may actually have had 45; she forgot to count her cards for Gardens.

Kingdoms: Village, Woodcutter, Feast, Gardens, Council Room, Secret Chamber, Scout, Trading Post, Duke, Ghost Ship

Two VP cards makes Scout an interesting buy. One Trading Post, one Council Room, one Woodcutter, two Villages, and Feasts completed my deck. Nadine doesn't play trashing cards, so she skipped the Trading Post in favor of more Council Rooms; she also didn't get Scouts. I'm surprised she did as well as she did.


Nadine 53, Miriam 49, Jon 47, Abraham 43

First plays for Miriam and Abraham. Nadine and I had played this before and had not been impressed; not bad, but not quite gelled, we thought. After this play, we both felt a but better about it, but still think there are too many positive and negative ideas to juggle on each turn, for not enough reward. I would compare it unfavorably to Oltre Mare, which has the same juggling idea with less variables.

Abraham started out strong, but lost tempo mid-game. I started off weak without the brick building, since bricks were in short supply and it then took me some time to be able to afford a building of level 3. Nadine was actually the only one to buy a level 5 building, though Abraham also got to that level at one point, while Miriam reached it on the last round (which gave her points, at least).

I sat in front of Miriam, and consequently she felt that I was purposely acting to thwart her the whole game, to the point that she actually got frustrated. On her last play she deliberately thwarted me to prevent me from getting three points while getting two for herself. It took some time to convince her that, in fact, she had a better play elsewhere that netted her 5 or 6 additional points, and I could get 2 points elsewhere, so I would only end up losing 1, anyway. Reluctantly, she changed her play, and ended up beating me with those few points. I think that ameliorated her.

Meanwhile, I sat behind Abraham and felt that he was thwarting me the whole game, but I took it in stride.


Abraham+, Miriam

I reminded Abraham how to play, and Miriam tried it for the first time. However, she doesn't really like abstracts, so I guess she won't play it again. Abraham removed two disks, and then Miriam took off two. The last one went back and forth until Abraham found a subtle forking play.


Jon/Tal 455, Abraham/Miriam 145

We played four hands. In the second one, Miriam and I both called Tichu, when Tal was planning on calling it originally. I managed to go out first with the Dog, and then Tal went out. The score was 370 to -70. On the last round, Abraham bid and made Tichu, while Miriam struggled not to go out first. Tal was able to go out after her, and then I went out. Miriam's last cards were a pair of 5s.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

June 30, 2010

Participants: Jon, Gili, Nadine, Elijah, Maxim, Sergey, Alona, Miriam

Maxim and Sergey return after a long absence due to conflicts, and they brought Alona with them. I guess Alona has played games with them before.

Game night was very chaotic, partly because everyone was trying to learn new games all at once, and partly because Nadine was trying to both teach one game and learn another at the same time, something which I should have stopped much earlier.

Oltre Mare

Elijah+, Nadine, Gili, Jon

We picked this to learn. I had never even read the rules, but it was simple enough to read them out loud and go through a sample turn.

OM is an expanded version of Bohnanza; that's all I could think the whole way through the game. They're not really identical in mechanics, but trading away cards you don't want to get what you do, and then planting them in sequenced groups, is the core of both games, and so it naturally leads to that conclusion.

Oltre Mare has more to it. Each round, you have to play a certain number of cards and gain the value of these cards. It's just that each time you play, you determine not only this turn's results, but the points you get based on the order you discard them, what you played last time, and will play next time, as well as your hand limit at the beginning of your next turn and the exact number of cards you are required to play next turn. Since the cards are designed to ensure that you can't generally get the best of all worlds on each play, you simply have to decide where to compromise each round. This is not that big of a deal, because, owing to the trading that happens on every players' turn, you can often make up for the compromise by the time it gets back to you again.

I thought it was a lovely game, with a few caveats. One is the mechanic that gives you a trade chip each time you trade with someone else on their turn. The player with the most trade chips at the middle and end of the games gains 6 points. Since this is entirely dependent on other players' whims, I dislike it. It's an unnecessary mechanic, anyway, since you already have incentives for trading. It's not too much of a deal, however.

What's bad is the trade rules. Each card has a "type", as well as symbols that indicate the types of actions you get when you play the cards, and the hand limit and number of cards you must play if the card ends up on top of your played stack. And the rules clearly say that you must tell the other players what types of cards you are trading them but may LIE about the other symbols.

As a Eurogamer, that mechanics simply turns me off, entirely. Some people may like it, war gamers mostly, and that's fine for them. In our game, we simply didn't bother to mention anything else on the card, trading entirely by card type.

One additional mechanic which I really dislike is the same one which annoyed me in a few other games, and it's the combination of a) a variable game ending trigger, and b) that the player to the right of the starting player always gets the last turn. This mechanic entirely screws the player who goes first, who typically has no control over when the game will end and is therefore typically caught entirely sunk after he has invested resources for his next turn, only to suddenly find that he has no next turn. Which is exactly what happened to me in this game, but I will point out that I objected to the mechanic already when the game started, entirely for this reason.

Other than these issues, the rest of the game is simple and should, in theory, be relatively quick. Our game wasn't, because of the chaos I mentioned above. And, strangely, Nadine came close to winning, despite not really paying attention and having an 11 card run in her stack of which she could use only 5. I didn't pay close enough attention to the final scores and how they came about to see how that happened.

Nadine writes: I thought the ships and ship tokens would be more relevant than they were, and they're about equal including the pirate blocker. It's different from other games, you're actions are very constrained so you have to plan within that which is hard. I was sure I had started off with 3 torahs, but I guess I hadn't. Even with the other game, I could have remembered that if I had concentrated.


Sergey+, Maxim, Alona, Miriam

Nadine taught this to Sergey, Maxim, and Alona, and continued to teach them throughout their game. Miriam had played twice before, but she was still somewhat shaky on the rules. I think they all basically enjoyed it.

Nadine writes: Near the end I noticed that the money was an obligatory condition, but I said they could decide to play without it, I think it hurt Miriam but I'm not sure.


Elijah/Gili 95, Jon/Nadine 5

We played one hand of this, and both Elijah and Gili were the less experienced players, as you can tell from our final scores.

Pillars of the Earth

Jon 45, Miriam, Maxim

Unfortunately, the people who played this game last time had not separated the expansion cards from the main set, and there are no distinguishing marks or reference sheets that enables one to distinguish between the original cards and those of the expansion. I made a reasonable guess for nearly all the cards, excepting one of two character cards, one of which showed up during play and I didn't understand its special ability at the time. We managed to muddle through.

First play for each of them. I taught them very straightforward and they picked it up nearly immediately, with only some confusion as to the difference between placing the workers and placing the master builders. I also showed them the later craftsman cards early on so they would have an idea what to look for as the game went on.

They both enjoyed the game. Maxim had been hoping to try Stone Age as an alternative to Caylus which he thinks is too long (as do I), but I was glad to play this instead (Gili owns Stone Age, but she didn't bring it).

Notre Dame

Nadine 53, Sergey 46, Gili 46, Alona 45, Elijah 35

Nadine writes: Only Gili and I had played before. Sergey started out strong with a lot of points from cars, and money but then couldn't keep it up. After two rounds the scores were close, 28 and 29 for 4, 25 for 1 person.