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, 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.


  1. Firstly: It was always 2 medals for an extra build option.

    Secondly: depends on the rules' definition of the term 'asset'.

    Thirdly: We were playing the extreme auction variant. Both games I've played have been under those rules.

    Pretty much agree with the rest of it except that inexperience might have been more of a factor in that game that it would be next time. You, for example, held onto the two horses you got dealt and competed with Mike and myself, who had horse shows. Trading them away (and offers were made) may have resulted in a)less competition for horses and gladiators and b) Steve beiung uncontested in the lots he was bidding on.

    I take it you no longer feel it suffers from runaway leader then, after Steve beat me on the final turn?

    Comparing this game and the one at Rosliston, the scores were much higher. I think there was more of a concerted effort to get the star players in this game, they certainly helped swing it for Steve. I wonder if the extreme auction varient leads to this in that there are more tiles out and therefore more chances to collect trade for and keep teh stars?

    I'd like to play the normal auction rules for comarison.

  2. A fair review overall I think, although I don't think it was right that I won just because of my medal horde. My gap over Matt was better explained by my three star performers who I had all game but only used as a threesome in the final show. And that was all down to being uncontested in those assets. I had 1) a good deal of random luck and 2) too easy a time of it. I'd be surprised if that score is matched in a hurry.

    Medals aren't a gamebreaker as long as you aim to keep the "arms race" even. But I agree that the Emperors Loge is a no-brainer for turn 1.

    I agree with Matt's comments on the rules. I used two medals for an extra build once during the game. I did take one medal from Mike in trade so we'll need to look carefully at that one. Gained us both three VPs I think.

    Here's an alternative setup variant that might work: you get dealt the random assets as normal. Then "Settlers-style" the first player picks a small show, then player two, then player three, then two for player four and reverse back. It will add to the analysis paralysis but it would be fairer and less random (and arguably more realistic - you're not going to design an opera if you only have horses and gladiators...)

  3. As I said in my comments, I wasn't sure about the rules problems, I was obvioulsy mistaken about item 1 and the Extreme variant accounts for item 3, although I would have thought the standard version limiting each player to a single buy would make for a better game.

    On item 2 the rules are clear, only event assets and money are allowed in trade. Event assets are later listed being the tiles you are dealt initially and others you acquire later at auction and through trade. Medals and future favours can't be used.

    On the subject of medals, although I didn't count them I think, looking at the thicknesses of the different piles, Steve's extra medals made the difference, his star performers being exactly matched by Matt's podia. Even if you aim to keep the arms race even, the fact that medals are distributed in a random manner will sometime make this difficult.

    I can't argue with Matt's comment about my inexperience, it was definitely a factor.