Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 22, 2011

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Gili, Binyamin, Tikva Shira

Nadine returned, as did Binyamin, giving us a more normal session than last week's.

As I noted on my blog, I will be moving to Raanana in August. The fate of the JSGC will be left in the hands of Nadine and Gili. Hopefully they will be able to keep it going while I'm gone (at least a year, maybe more).

Fairy Tale

Jon 39, Nadine 35, Gili 35

I saw that several of my cards were going to be worthless by the end of the game, so I was pretty sure I was going to lose. How did I win? Seven of the nine cards I scored averaged 6 points or so. Nadine and Gili had several cards that scored only 2 to 4 points each.


Gili 70, Nadine 70, Binyamin 69, Tikva Shira 67, Jon 62

I requested this, since I loved it the one time I played it. Binyamin thoughtfully brought it. First play for everyone else except for Binyamin.

I may love it, but I'm also bad at it, or at least I'm bad at the strategy; the tactics I can handle. I bought an early ship-building house and had essentially no income for the next fifteen turns. Everyone else had little houses or colonies and raked in 100+ income on markets; I pulled in 20 or 30, and I couldn't afford to buy houses or colonies, which made is a catch-22. (Binyamin, with his extra sail action, swooped in and took the only colony I could have afforded.) I figured that this early mistake set me back about ten moves. And I barely even used that ship-building house during the game.

By the end of the game, when everyone else was pulling 250+ or more from markets, I was finally pulling around 100. I scored as well as I did because, other than that early mistake, I get the tactics of games like this. I can focus on points in a game rich with intriguing mechanics that distract from the end-scoring. As I said, I love the game. I just have to figure out how to play my start-game correctly.

T"S was the first to pull ahead in worker-building advancement, and Gili followed. Nadine had the most ships and the most blue disks. Binyamin had the most colonies.


Jon 12, Tikva Shira 8, Nadine 4, Binyamin

There wasn't time for a full game, so we let T"S choose a short game. Binyamin would have gotten more points if he had been actually playing. Which is odd, since he's pretty colorblind.


Jon/Nadine 550, Binyamin/Tikva Shira 0

Three hands of Bridge. Nadine and I set them one trick in two hands, and we bid and made one game in the other.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

June 16, 2011

Participants: Jon, Gili

I thought that missing a week would bring extra people this week. Instead we get a number I don't expect unless it's August (when everyone is on vacation). Actually, Nadine is on vacation.

Guardians of Graxia

Jon 65, Gili 26

A bit of a blowout, as you can see. This was the second play for both of us. Gili won her first game against two other people at Games Day. The one time I played, my opponent and I discovered the numerous rules we were playing incorrectly. So this was my first play with the correct rules.

I think. The rulebook it lacking. Many simple and obvious questions are not clearly answered. For instance, there are four decks of cards, and four cards from each deck are face up in the "draw area" at all times. The game ends when a particular one of these decks (the monster deck) runs out. Does that mean "the deck", or does it also include the four face up cards from that deck? There's a spell that lets you draw cards when you play it during combat; can you play it and then play the rest of your spells, or do you have to play all spells at once (and therefore can't rely on drawing more spells as the result of this card)? How many cards can you buy each turn? Etc.

In a two-player game, when the monster deck consists of an entire 10 cards, this makes a big difference. We played that the deck and all four face up cards had to leave play for the game to end. It seemed too short, otherwise.

In this game I found that an early heavy money strategy worked well. It worked, in fact, rather too well, as you can see from the end scores. If you can buy early high powered cards, not only are you far more powerful, you also have more early victory points (which, unlike Dominion, don't hurt you). I expect that you could try to attack rich players, who have probably neglected some offense or defense capabilities in order to get their money. But the window of opportunity for doing so is very tight, since, owing to the limited size of the initial deck and the vast amounts of cards you can draw due to early purchases, you can play your high powered cards by turn three or four (like I did).

That's not the big problem with the game, if all players can do the same thing, more or less, and I expect that some other strategies will show themselves after additional plays.

The problem with the game is its reliance on a "these cards are available for purchase, and each card is replaced by one from the deck" mechanic, a mechanic that has destroyed (or nearly destroyed) countless games. La Citta is an example. Unless you have some ability to pay to cycle away all of the cards on the table in favor of a fresh batch, you eventually end up with the great dead pool of low-powered cards that nobody wants. Therein lies stagnation.

Owing to my early wealth, I pretty much sucked the pool dry by mid-game. Only by sacrificing myself (or by my opponent doing so) was there any possibility of buying new cards, and each of these appeared one by one. We then immediately bought the good ones when they came out, if we were lucky, or left a good one for our opponent if we were unlucky enough to turn it over after we had finished buying our own cards. Ho hum. Please, designers: don't do this.

I'm thinking of allowing players to cycle one or more cards as an action. In fact, I'm definitely allowing players to do so.

The "bonus"es earned from killing the monsters are additional cards from the dead pool, which wasn't thrilling. I ended up buying any card with a victory point on it just to keep things cycling. Of course, eventually none of the cards even had victory points on them.

What kept the game interesting was planning attacks against monsters and fellow players (I wouldn't have attacked Gili, but Gili wanted there to be at least some inter-player combat during the game, so I killed one of her armies). The success of these attacks relies partly on the play and partly on what spells you drew, which keeps it fresh.

The game went down a point in my ratings. However, I would still play it to explore other kinds of strategies; though it's hard to see how you can complete with early, repeatable cash.


Gili 63, Jon 61

I wasn't a fan of Jambo, nor am I a fan of the other two-player Kosmos games (having played two others). Gili likes the series more than I do. I hadn't played Jambo in a sufficient amount of time to make me wonder if there was anything I should be missing. Actually, there was. Well, there's more to the game than there is to Odin's Raven, in any case.

Again I took a commanding lead, and both of us were pretty sure that I was going to win by a fair amount. We both had three items working for us, and Guardians exactly when we needed to prevent others from destroying them.

I was a bit luckier with some of my draws. I reached 25 quickly, and then (dropping down and up again, of course) went to 30, 40, and finally 46, while Gili was only slowly climbing to 25 and then 30. She had a marketful of goods, though.

Finally, on my turn, Gili had a choice of paying me 2 coins or letting me take two cards. She paid me the two coins, bringing me to 48. I played a card that let me dump my remaining 6 goods for 2 each, bringing me to 60. And I took 1 more coin instead of my final two actions, for a net of 61. Gili still had 30.

Gili top-decked the 6-good card. She cashed it for 18, and then another for 12, tossed her last good for two more (with the same card that I had used), and somehow earned one more on her last action. Net total: 63.

I bowed to her superior play.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

June 01, 2011

Participants: Jon, Gili, Nadine, David K

Quiet night.


Jon+, Gili

Gili is not into abstracts, but she agreed to try this quick game. I vaguely recall that when I first got the game, I could shake the dice while they were in the box; I see that this is not possible, so my memory must be faulty. This inability detracts from the ease of setting up the game.

Otherwise, it's a very nice, quick, and pretty abstract game.

San Juan

Gili 36, Jon 33, Nadine 24

We had some trouble coming up with a filler game to play until Gili finally suggested this. I played several buildings to help my production and trading, and a Smithy. I had all 12 buildings built, two of them large buildings, and a Chapel going, too. But, in the end, Gili got a mid-game Guild Hall and that was that.

Time to a) change Guild Hall or b) disallow multiples of production buildings. It's simply too unbalancing. This happens in nearly every game.


Gili 58, Jon 56, Nadine 51, David 50

Gili suggested this and I never turn this game down, as it's my favorite game (or thereabouts, anyway). It's enjoyable the first few times, and gets better as you learn all the possibilities. I can see that I'll want some variant buildings maybe a few dozen more plays down the line; but we have a long way to go before that happens.

I thought I started out ok. I managed a good balance of trade chips. But I realized on turn five that I was severely lacking in trade goods: no gold, cows, or copper. Thus, I wasn't able to take Church on round 5 or 6 like I generally aim for. Instead, Gili was the one with the early gold mine, and David swiped the other one. Gili saw me going for Church on round 7 and easily stole it from me.

I finally acquired good resources (a cow machine) and money as we neared the end, but not with enough sway to get the two Railroad Stations; David took those, though he paid a lot of resources to do so (bidding 16 in round 10, plus the coast of the three buildings). He didn't have enough in the way of other VPs and he lost a lot paying off his final debts.

Just like San Juan, Gili had fewer buildings than I did but beat me by a few points. Nadine passed a few too many times, taking the 3 points on the railroad track at least twice.


Jon 83, Nadine 78, David 53

First play for David. I thought I could teach this quickly and we could play it fairly quickly (only 25 actions for each player, after all). I taught it quickly. And it didn't appear to bog down at any point. But it took longer than I anticipated, around 2 hours. David had to leave before the last two turns were taken, so we played his turns for him.

We also played the missions correctly for the first time. In previous games we simply kept all of our missions, having missed the little note where it says to discard one of each color after the first and second passes.

I chose the 6 points per ship with smokestack, sail, and propeller over the 4 points per used water tile. The latter can be nice, but there's no way to get multiple water tiles in a single action. My other mission was 3/10/17 points for 6 piece ships. I ended with 35 points from my missions, far more than David's 22 and Nadine's 18 or so.

My three boats scores 15, 15, and 18. Nadine's one big boat scored 30 (10 speed, and landing on a 10 space flag, plus assorted other scoring features, and another scored pretty well, too. David concentrated on his missions, which included double smokestacks and number of ships, but missed out on some other scoring possibilities on the way. One of his boats only scored two points.

David adds: I had actually given up on winning quite a bit earlier. My strategy had been based on my bonus cards. I think if I had known how to play better it might even have been viable, but for a newbie it was WAY too ambitious as it required me to sail 6 ships. When I realized (fairly early) that I wouldn't be able to accomplish that I took your advice on setting a lower goal for the game.

Nadine adds: I had 15 bonus from having everything [every type of item] and 8 or 10 from blue and yellow cards, more than 18 [this works out to 23 or 25]. It's hard to work on two bonuses at once, and we used to play with six.