The Games We Play

The Games We Play

A repository of reports on the Wednesday night sessions of the club and anything else related to the club or boardgaming in general, which may be of interest to anyone who may be passing by.

Tuesday 31 July 2007

Session Summary - 25 July 2007

There was a good attendance this week, with Simon and Gordon in attendance and various younger members due to Summer Holidays. Dave, ran a Talislanta game downstairs for the children downstairs and his report is online here. Dave Maybe you could ley me have details of the players?. Meanwhile that left 6 of us and a game of:

Power Grid 120 mins
Player Posn. Points
Dave D 1 15++
Gordon 2 15+
Mike 3 15
Simon 4 14++
Steve H 5 14+
Richard B 6 14

I don't recall ever playing Power Grid with 6 players before, it's been suggested but rejected in the past on the basis of expected game length. These days everyone in the group, has played the game a fair amount and in this case we also went with the Benelux board with it's low connection costs and an extra rule speeding the cycling of the plants by taking out the lowest every turn so I was confident that game length would not be a problem.

At the beginning, no body paid much if anything over the face value for their plants and this was the general pattern throughout the game. I picked up the #13 wind plant, which put me in the position to build last in the first turn, giving me a chance to look at where everyone else set up. I went with Brussel, just by Steve & Gordon, but with expansion room to the west and south. Mike was next to the north east, while Richard sat in the North of the board near the cheapest connections and Simon, who I think was the only one with a 2 capacity plant, staked out a couple of cities in the east. In the following couple of turns, every one got intermingled, the low connection costs allowing everyone to jump over each other.

From turn 2 the high value plants started coming out, with some over 30 making it into the current market, this caused a bit of thinking (at least it did me) as to whether it was worth buying at this stage as the cost of the plant would severely curtail building in the short term. I eventually bought the #21 hybrid (2 fuel - 4 cities), Richard picked the #34 nuclear (5 cities) and Steve took (I think) the #32 (3 oil - 6 cities).

People expanded over a couple of turns to 5 cities and during this time, I picked up the #30 plant (3 trash - 6 cities) for 42, which I think was the highest premium paid in the game and even so I think it was very good deal. The game did not stall at 5 cities however as Simon immediately took the game into step 2. I did not need to use the #30 immediately and by the time I did, the trash price had reached rock bottom, due to the high refresh rate in a 6 player game in step 2.

The plant market now stalled somewhat as lower plants came out and I competed a little with Steve for #24 (2 trash - 4 cities), before letting him have it, not being too concerned about losing the trash monopoly and hoping something better would replace it. Unfortunately the new plant was #23 (1 nuclear - 3 cities) much to my (and Gordon's disappointment) and everyone passed for the rest of the round.

I was now a bit apprehensive because I was behind on capacity to Steve and Richard, who could power 14, but I was hopeful that Step 3 would turn up when we got to bureaucracy. It didn't and the plants on offer next turn weren't good, but fortunately no one could finish that round and when Step 3 did arrive for the following turn, I was able to pick up #25 (2 coal - 5 cities) giving me 15 capacity, Gordon also went to 15 capacity and Mike was on 16, while the others were on 14. I think Gordon ended the game and the game was decide as it frequently is on the money tie break. I think Mike said he was 8 away from building a 16th. city.

There had been some discussion during the game about the desirability of limiting the number of plants you buy during the game to 5. Thinking afterward, I know that both I & Gordon had only bought 4 during this one, so maybe for 6 players, with a smaller (14) end condition this is the way to go.

Until next week (well that's tomorrow now).

Sunday 22 July 2007

Session Summary - 18 July 2007

3 Players and a game new to Wednesday evening.

Caylus Magna Carta 130 mins
Player Posn. Points
Steve H 1 61
Matt 2 60
Dave D 3 50

According to my records, I have played Caylus 4 times, actually winning on a couple of occasions, this however has been enough to decide that the game isn't really for me, seeming as it does to be far too dry with too much going on and a play time such that the game has outlived it's welcome, well before the end. Some (though not all) of these problems I would also attribute to Puerto Rico.

Now we have Caylus Magna Carta, the card version of Caylus and I have been interested to see whether I would find the same with this as I have found with San Juan, the card version of Puerto Rico and a game I like so much that I note it is the game for which I have most recorded plays, 31 and I know there are others that haven't been recorded.

Anyway enough of all that, what was the game like. First of all, as I have heard said, this is a lot closer to Caylus than San Juan is to Puerto Rico. It retains much of the board game, with the castle and the road and the provost moving to specify which buildings can be activated. The difference is that the road is now built (except for a few starting buildings) with cards from players hands. Unlike San Juan, when cards are drawn from a central stock, each player has a small(I seem to remember 10 cards, but may be wrong) individual deck, identical to all the other players, with various buildings on one side, each being backed by a residence into which each can be converted later on. There are also seven prestige buildings in a general supply that can be built from a residence. Again unlike San Juan, the cards are not multi purpose and only represent buildings (rather than money and production), building costs are payed using resources.

So what's the play like?

Each player gets a hand of 3 cards at the start, which he can choose to discard and draw 3 new if they are not to his liking. If he doesn't like the new 3 then it's tough.

At the start of a round, each player gets money equal to 2 + the number of residences he has.

Then each player, in turn, may pay 1 to take one of the following actions:

1.Place a worker on an available building.

2.Draw a card.

3.Exchange all cards in hand for a like number from supply.

Alternatively they may build a building from hand by paying the required resources or pass after which they may take no further actions that turn, the first one to pass receives 1 money.

After all have passed, bribery takes place as in Caylus, with each player in pass order able to spend up to 3 to move the provost, following which buildings are activated (if workers are on them) in order from the top of the road to the position of the provost. Each building has 2 effects, first giving something to the player whose worker is on them and then something (usually less) to the player owning the building, which can act as a disincentive to moving the provost back, if by so doing, you lose something yourself (in addition to the bribe cost).

After this parts of the castle are built (again in pass order, this being unlike Caylus), with early parts earning 4 VP each, while later parts are worth 3 and then 2. Whoever puts in the most or is first in the case of a tie, gets one gold.

Finally the first player moves to the next in clockwise order (a much more natural thing to do than the awkwardness in Caylus) and play continues with the next turn.

This goes on until all parts of the castle are built at which time the game is over and VPs are scored for Castle sections built, buildings built that are still on the road and 1 for each gold, each 3 of the other resources and (I think) each 3 money.

In this game, Steve earned a lot of points from castle building, plus building the major prestige building, Matt ignored the castle for a lot of the time and earned a lot from building a lot of buildings. I think I made a mistake at the start by not changing my starting hand which included 2 out of 3 buildings needing stone (which you don't start with) and then I was reluctant to build the remaining one because Steve built an identical one immediately before me, thinking it was may be not good to duplicate buildings, my thinking being that people were more likely to use his because it wasn't so far down the road. In retrospect, I now don't see the problem as the supplies of goods to the owner are limited for the cheaper buildings and the provost soon moved far enough, so as not to make much difference. Equally, after the 4 point castle sections ran out, I was reluctant to go for them when I didn't have a chace to get the gold, perhaps in this way giving Steve more points from this method than he should have had. I think maybe I was in a Caylus mindset here, but as far as I can see in retrospect the points would have been useful and the bonus of a gold in this game is nowhere near as significant as a favour in Caylus. It is worth noting here that the situation here with Steve so often building before me, indicates that there is far more of an incentive to be first to pass than in Caylus.

Inevitably, there is an element of luck with the card draw in this game, perhaps particularly in getting your Lawyer built, because if you can get it down early before people start building residences, you stand to make a lot of money. Matt did well with this and Steve to a lesser extent, whereas I didn't get mine until the end of the game and only made the VP from it. Then again there are ways of cycling your deck in this game, which I consistently forgot about, so this factor should be somewhat controllable with more competent play. I made the bulk of my points from some early castle building and a couple of big prestige buildings.

So what do I think?

I'd definitely take this over Caylus, the elimination of favours takes out most of the fiddly complication which most disappoints me about that game. A random factor is present, but because of the small deck size and ways to cycle, this should be somewhat mitigated. My problem with this play of the game is with the game length. In this game, possibly because of my reluctance to join Steve in building the castle, when I couldn't get gold and because of Matt's lack of interest in same, there was a long period when only one section was built every turn, so delaying the finish. I'm hoping (and expecting) therefore that this play was an aberration (like the 2 hour Industrial Waste game). Comments on the geek suggest that 15-20 minutes per player, shouldn't be too far out and if that is the case I could see this getting a bit of play (including by me). Steve has suggested he think 90 minutes would be normal, but I have to say that sounds a bit too long. I can see this as one of 2 approximately equal length games for a session, but am not so sure about the idea of playing it with only time for a filler at the end.

I've started giving each game I play a rating on the geek and have currently awarded this 6.5, which is my standard when I'm fence sitting, this will rise if the length question resolves OK or otherwise probably drop to 6.

Until next Wednesday

Friday 13 July 2007

Session Summary - 11 July 2007

After the long & delayed report from last week, this promises to be somewhat shorter, despite having 2 games to talk about, as I have to be honest and confess I can't think of much to say.

Il Principe 90 mins
Player Posn. Points
Richard B 1 53+
Matt 2 53
Steve H 3 49
Dave D 4 45
Mike 5 41

Steve mentioned this one in his Rosliston report and I'm inclined to agree with what he says. There is a lot to think about here with multiple ways to score Victory points. The basic mechanism of the game is a series of auctions (of the round the table type) to acquire buildings of 5 different colours which are used to build cities (granting Victory points) and when laid in front of a player, allowing the majority and second place holders in a particular colour to gain roles in the 5 colours, which give an immediate special privilege and also the opportunity to gain VPs when other players build cities using buildings of that colour. There are also pieces to be placed on a board (due to building cities and one of the colour roles) which give VPs using an area majority system at game end.

In this game Steve seemed to be running away early on but was hauled in at the end when all the sundry end game VPs were given out. I was in a position at the end of the game of having quite a lot more money than the rest, probably an indication that I had been a bit too thrifty earlier on, but it did get me a bonus 2 VP at the end, and I was also able to get a role for another couple. At this point I must say that I have discovered an error in regards to money, apparently (according to a post on the geek by the designer) it is not open. I don't know what it says in the rules, but it seems a bit crazy when the currency is in the form of cardboard coins of different colours and sizes and no player screens are provided that this should be the case.

Verdict - interesting game, must play again, jury still out regards longevity.

Medici 75 mins
Player Posn. Points
Matt 1 120
Richard B 2 95
Steve H 3 92
Dave D 4 84
Mike 5 73

This is a game I've only played sporadically (make that 3 times including this one) and always find myself in the position of having to remember what I'm doing at the beginning. The theme of the evening was obviously auctions as this is just really one auction after another, this time of the once round type, with the player initiating the auction having the last bid. The clever part is deciding what to bid on as there are 2 goals, getting the highest value and accumulating majorities in the different commodities on offer that are often contradictory. This game seemed to go on a bit long compared with memories of the previous 2 games, but maybe that was due to more players than previously and possibly faulty memory.

There was some discussion comparing this and Ra and opinion is split. I can see that this game is popular (it must be or it wouldn't keep getting reprinted), but to me Ra is considerably better.

Verdict - OK, I can't see that I'd ever refuse a game if it was all that was on offer, but there are a lot that I'd play in preference.

Anyway that was quite enough auction action for one session. I think I need to steer clear of auctions for a bit, unless they're in a Power Grid context (or may be Ra).

Until next week

Tuesday 10 July 2007

Session Summary - 4 July 2007

Sorry for the delay in this report, I've been thinking long and hard about the coments that follow.

There were 4 of us tonight and we played one game.

Colosseum 120 mins
Player Posn. Points
Steve H 1 107
Matt 2 93
Mike 3 88
Dave D 4 65

This was my first play at this. What we have is a game where you represent impresarios in Imperial Rome competing to put on the best attended shows in your arena at the end of 100 days of celebration for the opening of the Colosseum, so that would put us at 80AD under the emperor Titus. On each turn players have the opportunity to invest in upgrading their arena in some way or to buy the rights to produce a particular show. Following this there is a series of auctions for the various component assets required to put on the show (such as gladiators, horses and quite a few others) and some special tiles . Then there is a round where players may trade assets and money between themselves. Following this each player rolls a die or dice to move important persons (in the hope of getting them, either into their arena where they add to the attendance of the upcoming show or into the local resting place to gain a medal which can be exchanged for money, an increase in the value of the upcoming show or the opportunity to make an extra investment in a following turn) before putting on their show which will cause the loss of one of the assets used. Money is earned according to the number of spectators at the show and the players score at the end will be that for the best attended of the five shows that he will produce during the game.

In this game I went last on the first turn and had the chance to see what the others did as their investment, Matt & Steve went for an Emperor's loge giving an extra die to roll, while Mike went for a season ticket giving +5 spectators at all future shows, I went with Mike, but this was a mistake in retrospect as having now played the game, it seems like a complete no-brainer to go with the loge as having 2 dice as early as possible seems vital, also the loge is 5 coins less giving you more money to spend in the coming first round of auctions.

As the game progressed Matt was in the lead and earned the podium (given to the leader each turn and granting +3 spectators at future shows) for the first 4 rounds, the rest of us were reasonably close together early on, but Steve was building up a large number of medals. Although I kept up for the first four turns, I dropped back at the end as I had not upgraded the size of my arena to the largest size, so couldn't produce one of the larger shows. It was at this point that Steve leapt ahead by virtue of his stock of medals, Matt who was somewhat short in that regard fell behind and was almost caught by Mike.

Now some comments about the game, it is beautifully produced as one would expect from Days of Wonder, has an interesting theme and is set in a period of interest to me, that said most games are pretty well produced these days and I think the period was largely irrelevant, you could for example have just as well used another (e.g. Elizabethan England, you too can be Shakespeare). I want to like the game and will try again as I think, in this case, that it will take one game just to know really what you're doing. I do, however see a few issues with it, these are:

1. Randomness: there are several random elements which can have an effect. Most prominent is the die rolling, it cannot be stressed enough how important it is to have a stock of medals and it is here that they will be mainly be gained, if you are lucky with the dice you gain, if you are not you lose. As you will only roll a maximum of 10 dice during the game there is not much time for good & bad rolls to even themselves out. Another point is the random availability of assets, there may be nothing very useful available, when it is your turn to initiate an auction, you can of course choose to pass in the hope that something good will come up later, but then you are at the mercy of another player to put the assets up, which he is unlikely to do if they are clearly advantageous to someone else. This happened to me on turn 4, when Matt declined to auction (correctly for him) a combination which would have given me 2 of the star performers. I got the tiles the following turn. Finally there is the factor of the random starting distribution of assets and shows, it seems to me that it is a big advantage if a player gets a favourable combination, for instance a lot of commonality between the shows received or (as Matt got this time) an exact match between assets received and one of the shows, as it leaves you freer to go for long term planning without having to worry so much about putting on your early shows.

2. Analysis Paralysis: as the newbie watching the three who had played before, it was clear that long term planning was going on with regard to what assets and shows to get, it is obviously an advantage to be able to reuse your assets in a series of shows. This showed itself sometimes, with players spending a long time when deciding what assets to put up for auction.

3. There seems to be a problem with players wanting the same assets to put on a show, if a player gets hold of them first, they are not going to want to trade and this situation is unlikely to change, if they are (as seems logical) trying to reuse those assets in successive shows.

4. It may be because I was new and did not know what I was doing, but the game seems too long. Certainly I was looking forward to the end some time before it actually occurred.

As I usually try to do after being taught a game for the first time, I have been and had a look at the rules and I think we may have been doing a few things wrong (please correct me if I'm wrong about this as I may have missed it).

Firstly, although I never did it, I thought people were exchanging a single medal to make an extra investment, the rules say it should be two. As I say I never did this and I may be wrong and other players were doing it correctly.

Second, I distinctly remember medals being requested in trade, I do not recall if any such trades were actually made, but the rules are clear that only money and assets may be traded.

Third in the auctions, the rules are clear that a player may not win more than one auction in a turn, we weren't doing this. I notice that there is an "Extreme Auction" variant in the rules, which would make this right, were we playing this?

So that's my first impression, I will play again with the benefit of more knowledge of what I'm doing, but after one game I do not get the immediate good feeling I got from Pillars of the Earth or, to a lesser extent Notre Dame.

See you tomorrow.

Monday 9 July 2007

Rosliston '07

OK - I'll get the important stuff out of the way first, five gamers shut in a lodge in the countryside for a long weekend. 18 games played, here's what we did:

1. Taj Mahal

1st Gordon 62
2nd Steve 45
3rd Mike 41
4th Rich 37
5th Matt 29

A nice Knizia loosener, Matt's first try and I think he liked it. Gordon got a phenomenal score from connections, and he probably had it too easy. I blame the others because I was concentrating on elephants / resources...

2. Ra

1st Gordon 41
2nd Mike 34
3rd Steve 30
4th Rich 28
5th Matt 27

More Knizia, another Gordon win - was it going to be another winning weekend for the G-Man? We shall see...

3. Poker

1st Matt
2nd Rich
3rd Steve
4th Mike
5th Gordon

It was getting late on Friday so as per tradition the poker came out(!). A morale boosting win for Matt.

4. Age of Empires

1st Steve 83
2nd Gordon 72+
3rd Matt 72
4th Rich 66
5th Mike 64

Now this is what games weekends are about - what a game! Four hours of intense activity, all of us in the hunt for the win. This is a game where you can follow five or six different strategies in the discovery-of-the-New-World theme. Matt, Gordon and Richard tended to focus on Discovery, which is medium risk but potentially high yield. Gordon and Mike also went heavy on merchant ships and trade, and the latter in particular had frightening amounts of cash by the end. I did my usual in such situations and focussed on the military and colonising other people's discoveries. Only Mike really fought back (in the vicious Battle of Peru) and I may have had enough troops elsewhere to discourage others from restricting my VP mountain. Superb experience, I loved this game.

5. Colosseum

1st Mike 77
2nd Steve 71
3rd Rich 65
4th Matt 62
5th Gordon 59

The jury's out on Colosseum - I really like it but others worry about the random elements in the game. Great theme, great production; it always feels like something good's going to happen when you set it up.

6. Amun Re

1st Steve 39
2nd Matt 38+
3rd Rich 38
4th Mike 36
5th Gordon 32

All in the 30s, you can see how close this one was. I sprang a bit of a surprise by hording cash and then building 8 blocks on the last turn.

7. Power Grid - Germany

1st Steve 14
2nd Mike 12++
3rd Gordon 12+
4th Matt 12
5th Rich 10

This was a very odd game because all the high plants came out first and players disdn't know whether to gamble all on the high plants or not. I ended up with a 6 and a 5 very early on, and it was really a race from there to get 15 connections out. There was no scarcity at all of raw materials due to the high efficiency of the plants that came out. Won in Phase 2. This was turning into my best ever boardgaming day.

8. Medici

1st Matt 132
2nd = Rich 102
2nd = Steve 102
4th Gordon 88
5th Mike 80

I'm surprised this one doesn't surface at the club more. Very playable one hour game.

9. Poker

1st Matt
2nd Rich
3rd Steve
4th Gordon
5th Mike

10. Poker

1st Rich
2nd Gordon
3rd Mike
4th Steve
5th Matt

Two games of poker to finish the day. We vowed not to get the cards out again that weekend...

11. Caylus

1st Gordon 65
2nd Matt 56
3rd Rich 54
4th Mike 51
5th Steve 50

The final day started with a classic. Gordon is very good at this game.

12. Great Wall of China

1st Matt 30
2nd Gordon 29
3rd Steve 27
4th Rich 25
5th Mike 22

This was only an hour but it seemed longer and was a trifle dull. Another win for Matt though.

13. Il Principe

1st Steve 58
2nd Rich 52+
3rd Gordon 52
4th Mike 43
5th Matt 38

This was one of those games where you spent the first hour querying the rules, and then at the end realised you got them wrong anyway. I won but I'm not sure how. We agreed it was worth another try or two on club nights.

14. Puerto Rico

1st Gordon 45
2nd Mike 40
3rd Rich 39
4th Steve 37
5th Matt 34

On went the somewhat anti-climactic Sunday. We all pretty much agreed that PR is broken , and you can't play it "straight". By that I mean everything I did seemed to play into the hands of Gordon and Rich who were like a pair of vultures waiting for me to do what you're supposed to do, ie produce goods. I'm really surprised that PR is so popular...

15. Web of Power

1st Mike 50
2nd Gordon 47
3rd Rich 37
4th Steve 36
5th Matt 31

Ugh it got worse! I've played this game half a dozen times and can now conclude that it is an absolute stinker. About 5 turns in a row I was compelled to play one card, while opening up vast opportunities for the other players. Mike tells me that if I'd done my Geek research I would have gone for a smaller territory to break the cycle. My response is, not worth the effort, and I know it's short but then so is a Robbie Williams single, and both are ghastly and best avoided.

16. El Grande

1st Rich 79
2nd Matt 74
3rd Gordon 72
4th Steve 68
5th Mike 59

The last of the five-player games and by contrast to the previous few this one was great fun. El Grande is a really charming game where lots of wild things happen. Sometimes that's good for a change of pace.

We'd decided on a simple points system that concluded with this game. It was 5 pts for a win, descending to 1 pt for 5th in each game. Unfortunately that meant Web of Power was equal to Age of Empires, but hindsight etc etc..

Rosliston 07 Championship (!)

1st Steve 52.5
2nd Gordon 52
3rd Rich 49.5
4th Matt 45
5th Mike 41

I hope I added it up right (over to you Dave??). A good time was had by all anyway. For an alternative scoring system based entirely on wins, see below.

17. Caylus Magna Carta

1st Steve 51
2nd Rich 49
3rd Gordon 45

Two fine 3-player games to finish with. I'm too knackered to do a review but this was probably at least as good a game as the original in my view. More emphasis on building, no emphasis on favours.

18. Pillars of the Earth

1st Steve 48
2nd Rich 47
3rd Gordon 45

Incredibly close and a very satisfying game as usual. I'm edging towards Dave's view that 3 is best for this game, although still very playable with 4.

Here's the alternative table, based on wins and including those last two:

1st Steve 6
2nd = Matt 4
2nd = Gordon 4
4th = Mike 2
4th = Rich 2

Here's to next year!