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.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Merry Xmas

Just a note that as next Wednesday is Boxing Day, there won't be a club meeting, I'll be posting my usual summary at some time in the near future, but in the meantime, here's a listing of the games we played over the year.

Here's wishing anyone reading this a Merry Xmas & Happy New Year.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Mayan Calendar - it really is the End of the World (but at least it’s not World Without End…).

Okay - let me state straight away that I think Tzolk’in is, in all probability, an excellent game. I love worker placement; I love bits that interact; I love difficult decisions in games… I had, to a point, a really good time playing it. … However, I have issues with the game, most of which are not to do with the game itself, but more to do with how I operate.

 Tzolk’in, if you haven’t heard of it, is a game based on quite thorough research of the Maya Calendar, its Long Cycle, Short Cycle and the various periods which make up those (I’d be interested to know if the different cogs have numbers of teeth which equate to the various short periods which make up the numerous elements, but as I couldn’t remember what those period numbers were, I couldn’t check).

In essence, it’s a worker placement game (yay!, my favourite (not joking)), but with a twist: the main mechanism consists of a series of interlocking cogs which are an active part of the board. By active, I mean that the board itself affects your decision making, and it will change, not necessarily to your liking, dependent on player actions. For the most part, you could regard the board action as predictable, but you can’t guarantee it.

 On their turn, players have one choice: place workers and pay the cost for placement; or remove workers and receive the benefit which results from their board positions. Players may not combine placement and removal - it is either/or, in a similar fashion to The Manhattan Project. The number of actions is limited by how many workers the player chooses to place or remove and, in the case of placement, whether the player has enough food to pay for the placement.

 Once each player has taken their actions the turn has one last phase, which is for the interlocking wheels to rotate, thus moving all the workers to new spots where you may or may not like the benefits.

Now, I don’t want to spend too much time describing how the game works because there’s far too much going on in this game (FAR too much) for me to describe it adequately in less time than the game plays. (Maybe you can do that, but I can’t, or am not willing to. If you know me, you know what I mean and shall be thankful; or if you’re just browsing this, then you have to take it as read that, really, this is the easier option and you can all thank whatever god you pray to, or just shrug your shoulders and live-and-let-live.) Instead, try to imagine someone making a design decision to combine Caylus with Mousetrap (slightly facetious of me) and a funky mechanical version of the card-shifting function in Through the Ages… but you only get cards for which you have placed a worker on a previous turn…

 Yes, it sounds shit when I explain it like that, but then I try not to compromise when it comes to quality.

 So, here we are, with the genius of the game: the rotating actions/costs/benefits; which also happen to be, in my case, its downfall… or should I say, in everyone else’s case, should I happen to be one of the players. The problem is this: I have a problem. I am not a linear thinker. I do not absorb rules by reading the rule book and knowing what happens. I absorb rules by practical experience, by iteration and re-iteration, and I communicate my experience in the same fashion. I think this is a function of my employment - for more than twenty years, I have worked in an industry which demands prioritisation: thinking is cyclical and rewards an approach which discards everything but the most important and immediate event and its effect, then, once that event and effect is processed and accommodated, one can proceed to re-process the list of required events, select the most important, discard the others and work on the event required. This makes me quite successful in some game genres, especially those which are tactical rather than strategic.

The trouble with Tzolki’in is it requires assessment of the current, future and far future possibilities simultaneously, and my brain just doesn’t work like that. The result is that I suffer from an embarrassing - and almost debilitating - level of analysis paralysis.

Now, AP is not something that I find predictable. In many games, I don’t feel I suffer at all (though my wife would disagree); but there are some in which I brain freeze like I’ve swallowed a pint of Cherry Garcia. Of all the games I’ve encountered, Tzolk’in is the Primate (in the sense of first, rather than ape-like). And this is my problem with the game: if I’d been playing against myself (not solo, because solo games bore the hell out of me - I mean, who wants to play games which don’t involve other people - surely that’s the point?), I wouldn’t have felt so self-conscious. But from the first turn, I knew I would be the game’s problem and started apologising. This is a good game (gimmicky, yes, but still a good - and perhaps even great - game). I liked what it did. I REALLY liked how it did it; I loved the fact that the game principles can be communicated in a sentence, though it needs an in-depth explanation to give details of what that place-workers-or-remove-workers mechanism actually entails; I was excited and entertained by the novelty of worker movement.

What broke the game for me was ME: because I was so consciously aware of the time I was taking, as the game progressed I felt I was getting wearing for everyone else. Whether this was true or not is irrelevant (it’s true, by the way): it’s how I felt. This meant enjoyment for me decreased as the game progressed, and my ability to apply my analysis to the game diminished as my worry about how I was impacting others outside the gamespace began to crowd into my play.

 I won’t bore anyone else with further details, but suffice to say that this is the best and most interesting game I’ve played and which I’m unlikely to play again. I’m just too boring when I get like this. It’s no fun for anybody else, and it’s no fun for me when I know I”m affecting the enjoyment of others.

Seldom have I played a game when I’ve finished feeling so torn; and never have I played a game and finished feeling so psychologically aware of my own failings.

Make no mistake: this is a game I feel warrants extended play, and which I’m itching to play again, but I feel my inability to process its information quickly demands that I step away.

 I am very disappointed.

Friday, 23 November 2012

The Burbs 31/11/12

On Wednesday evening Mike, Andy S and I played Suburbia a recent Essen release from Ted Alspach, a designer perhaps best known for designing and publishing a vast multitude of Age of Steam expansions.

Like Age of Steam, Suburbia involves cardboard hexagons, a track for income, wooden pieces and is a game that is good.
Anyway…. In Suburbia everyone is in control of a borough of one City, and the aim of the game is to make your borough the bestest (sic) in the City, with bestest defined as being the most populous. To make your borough the most populous you need to place building tiles which improve the reputation of your borough, so people will flock to it. However in order to afford tiles which will improve your reputation, you’ll need some industry or commercial tiles which will generate income but sometimes come at the expense of reputation e.g. no one wants a landfill site next door.
The gameplay itself is relatively simple, take a tile, and place it adjacent to your existing tiles. This may generate a one-off windfall in income or population, and may then affect your income or reputation. What’s quite nice about the game is that the tiles you place can not only affect the tiles you have in your borough but may affect everyone else’s borough. For example If I build a Freeway next to a residential tile, and next to a Commercial tile, it will damage my reputation for being next to houses, but increase my income for being next to Commercial buildings. And if I build a farm, every time someone (including me) builds a restaurant – my income rises. Or if I build a Hotel, every time someone except me builds a residential area it improves my income.
So improving your income generates cash, which you can then spend on tiles which will add population either through one-offs or by improving your reputation. Layed on top of this are goals. If you achieve a goal, and no-one else does you’ll gain a population bonus. Each person has a secret goal, plus there is one known goal per player in the game. In our game, I went for the win by building an affluent city with a high reputation – plenty of Commercial buildings, nice place to live and an International Airport – basically Solihull if you want a West Midlands analogy. My population by the end was soaring each turn. Andy S built Bilston, some cheap housing and lots of heavy industry, some growth and income but ultimately let down by poor town planning. I’m not sure what Mike built. A hodgepodge of lakes, and civic buildings with negative reputation throughout much of the game. Unfortunately for me, Mikesville generated a lot of cash, and was also consistent with most of the goals, earning him a massive boost in points by the end of the game for the win.
I really didn’t help myself with by accidently building a residential area, gifting a 20pt goal to Mike (which was coincidentally the winning margin), but hey ho, live and learn.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Conquest of Nerath 07/11/2012

Steve P brought along Conquest of Nerath and we were joined by another Steve and Andy. The game does what it says on the tin, i.e. it’s a conquest game set in the Kingdom of Nerath, which is Wizards of the Coast D&D IP. Each player takes one of the four factions/races and proceeds to try and conquer other players’ regions, which earns them victory points and income, from which you can create more units. Players can either play as two teams, or all against each other as we did. Perhaps the best way to sum up this game would be to describe it as ‘pleasantly old school’.

Most of us have games we played in our youth (90s, 80s, or 70s – delete as appropriate) that we retain a great deal of nostalgia for, yet when we revisit those games we are more often than not reminded why we don’t play them anymore – their rough edges forgotten in the passage in the time quickly chafe our gaming palettes which have been refined by successive generations of innovative game design. What Conquest of Nerath achieves is a design that allows you to keep your rose tinted spectacles on; it feels like a great game you played many years ago yet a number of subtle modern game design choices prevent it from bursting your bubble. Yes there is a fair bit of downtime between turns, but the well-balanced and varied asymmetric factions present players with some interesting options and strategies that keep you interested between turns.

Unfortunately we didn’t manage to finish in time, but it’s definitely a game I’d like to play gain.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Power Grid comes to Britain

After years of waiting Power Grid has finally reached Britain (barring unofficial versions) and this was our first go with the new board (Thanks to Paul from Gameslore, who brought it back from Essen for me). To celebrate this momentous occasion, I thought I’d jot down a few notes regarding both the UK map and the played game (note that the other side of the board is Northern Europe, but this report will not cover that side as we haven’t played it yet).

The Map
The board covers both of the main British Isles and has a total of 40 cities, 12 in Ireland divided into 2 regions (Northern and Southern) and 28 in Great Britain in 4 regions (Wales, Scotland, Northern and Southern England) Southern Ireland is the single nuclear free region, so if you only have cities there you can’t bid on nuclear plants. It's interesting to see the selection of cities on the map, when you know a bit more about the place than I do for the other maps, noting things like the absence of Coventry, a large city, presumably because of its proximity to Birmingham which is present and the presence of small towns such as Haverfordwest, in this case I would guess due to the need for a location at that position in Wales. I suppose, if I were a native of some of the areas covered by other maps, similar things would be apparent there too.

Game wise there are 2 unusual features of this map when compared to any other so far released. There is no connection between Great Britain and Ireland, meaning that each player must establish 2 networks, one on each side of the Irish Sea, if he wants to build on both sides (assuming regions on both sides are in play). A second network can be started at any time by building in any available city in the island not yet built on and paying a one off 20 electro charge. The other unusual feature is  that the numbers of cities in the regions is not uniform. Here they vary in size with Northern Ireland only having 5 compared with 8 for Southern England, Wales has 6 cities and the other regions (Northern England, Scotland, Republic of Ireland) have the normal 7 each. This means that the total available cities will vary depending on the regions chosen which could increase or decrease competition on the map. If regions with low numbers are chosen, then it is possible that a situation could arise, with no one able to reach the step 2 threshold, so step 2 can now begin when all available cities have been taken in step 1.

Other Features
This board has an earlier Step 3 due to the fact that when setting up, the card is placed 2 cards up from the bottom of the deck, rather than on the bottom, the two cards that start below it will then be shuffled in to the deck for step 3 and this could of course mean that very low plants could then turn up in this step as they will not all be those high plants that have been placed underneath the deck in phase 5. Combined with this and the potentially longer step 3, there is the fact that 3 of the 4 resources suffer a reduction in supply in step 3 (the exception being trash, which remains the same).

The played game
Some brief notes from memory. We played a 4 player game with 2 regions on either side being Northern and Southern Ireland for 12 cities and Northern and Southern England for 15 cities, a total of 27.
Mike & I started in Northern Ireland with him essentially staying there while I expanded into the South, my single Northern city (Newry) ensuring my ability to participate in nuclear auctions, although I never actually did throughout the game. Dave F & Donald started in England, Donald taking the double city London and expanding in the south, while Dave F went with the Northern region. Just prior to step 2 we were each just about confined to single regions, although I had grabbed Liverpool on the other side of the sea.

It turned out that the plant deck seemed to have got into an order more appropriate to the Chinese board and the low value plants all came up early leading to an early stall, plant 25 did make it, briefly, into the current market at the end of an auction round, but by the next turn it had been pushed back and did not reappear for a couple of rounds. When it did I think this may have been where I lost the game by not bidding it up further, letting it go at 70. I was left with a market where the highest capacity was 2 cities.

Toward the end of the game, Coal, Oil and Trash were all in danger of running out, in fact coal did on a couple of rounds and I was never able to catch up in the capacity stakes having fallen behind, the high plants in the market both being coal burners which I couldn’t buy (along with others) due to the guarantee that I’d never get the fuel for them, the best that could be done was to build up to 16 capacity as the game ended with Mike and Donald on 16 (Mike winning by a couple of electros) and Dave F with me on 16, he beat me by 79 to 78.

Looking at the removed plants afterwards, revealed the 2 high nuclear plants were out together with a couple of oil plants.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Curiusly Dry! - 31/10/12


Five of us tonight, we decided to try a new game Mercurius, from a newish Polish designer.  Dave D was a little reluctant to play, as he had found previous games which solely relied on a stock market mechanism to be rather dry or just plain bad, but we gave it a go as it wasn't supposed to take more than an hour or so.  Basically on your turn you (a) buy and sell shares and commodities (b) play a card which affects the price of one type of share and one type of commodity (c) draw another card.  Sounds a bit like the old game Speculate I seem to recall, but the new twist here is that you play the card onto the left of your personal playboard, which has space for three cards, all other cards move one space to the right and if there isn't room for all of them  then the card on the right drops out, and all the cards on your board have an effect each turn, so price movements can be quite significant (or ups and downs can cancel each other out).  There are some one-off cards too which you can play once per game, of which the most useful is probably the Dividend card, which pays out cash per share for the company/city of your choice.

Well we had some fun from the game, mostly from misnaming some of the shares and commodities to something more akin to the graphics on their ownership tokens, so we had 'Newcastle United' as one share, there was a 'Twix Bar' commodity, etc., but I'm not convinced the fun is long-lived.  As Dave D suspected, the game at heart is very dry, very much an exercise in analysis of a single mechanic, and fortunately we didn't AP it like we can do with some games otherwise the downtime particularly with five could be bad.  After I'd won comfortably Steve H said it was my type of game, and certainly as I analysis mechanisms and processes for a living perhaps he's right, but it's not one I'd want to play often.  For dryness it's up there with Executive Decision, an old 3M (precursors to Avalon Hill) commodities bidding game I've had since the 70's, but at least with that it's simultaneous actions with no downtime, and it does make a damn fine postal game which I ran a few times in my zine publishing days.

After that, Andy had remembered to bring Bohnanza (see last blog) and we all are happy to play that, it was an excellent game and ended up a pretty close contest, Steve H beat me on the tie-break, then finishing off with a quick filler 6 Nimmt!, I've had some pretty horrible pasting at this in the past but somehow this time always felt reasonably in control, beating Dave F by a single point and gaining a bit of revenge on Steve H for Bohnanza because he got really hosed and came in last.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Dice & cards - 17/10/2012

Five of us on Wednesday, which proved an awkward number as we’d largely filled our games bags with 4 player games.

We started off with Vegas, a new game from Ravensburger. This is a fairly simple dice game. Roll a bunch of dice, choose one of the numbers rolled, and move all dice with that number onto a corresponding tile, then if you’ve got the most dice on it you’ll win the highest value money card, 2nd most, 2nd highest and so on. However draw with a player and you both win nothing. This isn’t a game in which you’d derive enjoyment from depth of play; however the draw and you win nothing mechanic provides the game with a fair amount of tension and drama, which proved very enjoyable given the play time. Dave D managed to win in the end after everyone had convinced themselves Dave F was going to win. Given the price point, and size of the box, this is definitely going on my maybe list.

Then as I’d forgotten to bring Dirge, Trite and Ball-ache (all from Thankless Task games), we played Klunker, which in breach of advertising standards was actually fairly decent. This is an old Uwe Rosenberg card game, and not too dissimilar mechanically to his many bean games. Dave F got a great first hand, and managed to keep the momentum going and win the game.

Then onto more Uwe Rosenberg with Space Beans. A card drafting variant of the bean series - place a card or cards in one of the two sets you’re building and pass all your cards to the right. One of the sets you’re collecting is open, the other secret – can’t add to either set, and you’ll have to ditch your open collection, which can be quite painful. Also quite painful is passing a load of cards to your right that you know they need. It therefore becomes a balancing act of trying to take the cards you need but not pass too many good cards to your right. Dave F won quite convincingly in the end.

Next was a Coloretto – and more set collection. However only 3 sets scores you positive points, the remainder score negative. Another quite simple game, either add a card to a row, or a take a row of cards. Do you push your luck and take another card or take some safe cards? Do you try and a set up a safe row of cards for yourself, or spoil them for other people. The rules to this game a super simple, yet the gameplay is relatively deep and offers some difficult choices, so I’m a big fan. Dave D and Donald had a bit of a shocker, collecting a bit of everything, and in the end I managed to pip Mike and Dave F for the win with a helpful joker card.

We finished with Pickomino / Heck Meck – a push your luck dice game I recently bought cheap on a trip to Berlin. This has a similar mechanic to Vegas above; you roll a bunch of dice and use all of one number. Then re-roll again, and pick a different number – if you can’t you’re bust. Again not a deep game, but the dice rolling and the ability to steal tiles from other players add a fair bit of tension, which is good fun. Another win for me – but with the amount of luck involved, I’m not exactly adding this achievement to my CV!

Overall some fun fillers, but I felt the evening sorely missed Bohnanza, so it’s going in my game bag for next time.

Friday, 5 October 2012

03/10/12: Super-fillers

7 of us tonight, so we split into two groups. Dave D, Donald, Mike and Claire went off to play Power Grid (the Baden-Wurtemburg board I believe), followed by San Juan.

Dave F, Steve H and I setup Kingdom Builder, a game that seems to split the gaming community down the middle. But then again almost every game seems to split our game group down the middle, I say toh-may-toe, you say toh-mart-oh, but fortunately we don’t call the whole thing off, as club attendance is usually sufficient to allow for multiple groups to accommodate different tastes.

Steve H and had not played Kingdom Builder before, in contrast to me and Dave F who are fans of the game. However Steve destroyed us. The best thing about Kingdom Builder is the variety from game to game. The board changes, the special powers change and the victory point conditions change. With many Euro games that you become familiar with you can end up playing to a script, especially at the beginning. This is not possible with Kingdom Builder, where a new strategy is required each time you play, and this time I was way off. I had an idea, but I soon realised this wouldn’t pan out and ended up trapped in no-mans land, as Steve’s pieces spread like wildfire across the board.

We followed this with Rattus, another game that packs a lot of fun into a short space of time. This is a game you win by inflicting a painful death on the other players’ population whilst shepherding yours to safety. Steve’s population seemed to live a charmed existence, with the conditions causing deaths rarely being met in the areas Steve was heavily populating.

After this, more Rattus – this time with some of the role types from the Pied Piper expansion. The most interesting of which was the Pied Piper himself. This role allows you to move a population cube to an adjacent area, taking all the rats with you. This led to some hilarious kamikaze missions by Steve, as he spent a fair few turns leading loads of rats in heavily populated areas. This was quite effective, although it never occurred to Steve that the Pied Piper role could also be used for non-destructive purposes until Dave used it to take rats away from his population and win the game by 1 population cube.

Why this is only rated 6.93 on BGG is a shame, it’s a lot of fun in a short space of time, with enough depth to keep it interesting. My guess is the game can be really subject to group think, and if people keep moving the black plague pawn into areas where there is very little population - not much will happen.

We finished off with Ra: the Dice game. I like dice games, I like Ra, I like Ra the dice game. If I’m honest this isn’t a game I’d objectively classify as great game and it was initially a bit of a come down following the more raucous Rattus. However it is consistently enjoyable way of spending 30 minutes, with enough decision making to keep it interesting. I had a lot of luck building civilisations, but in the end Dave pipped me by 1 point - with the double disasters and 1 less turn taking their toll.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Infiltration for Two

Due to motorway problems, there were just two of us this week - Dave D and me. After a bit of a wait to see if anyone else turned up, Dave and I played a couple of games of Infiltration which, I must say, is a much more satisfying game as a two-player. This stems from the fact that each player controls two characters rather than one, meaning it's easier to co-ordinate actions so that you can actually benefit as a team. One issue when you've a single character is, for me at least, that often you can't think of any action to take which doesn't benefit someone else more than it does you - you smash a lock, someone else grabs all the loot; you discover a room, someone else interfaces and takes advantage. With the 2-player game, your two agents act almost like a tag team - they can pull for each other if you can co-ordinate them correctly, and this allows for an amount of strategy, albeit small, and increases interest in decision-making as you try to figure out how to do things optimally and to your best advantage. Now, it's not just about: "which card do I play?", but also: in what order do I play these cards to benefit myself whilst limiting my opponent?". Much more interesting. A game that I was cold on has turned itself around for me... but, for me, it shall always remain 2-player only. It's just no fun, otherwise. Oh yeah, and the characters should have variable powers. The flavour is pointless without something to differentiate them.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Rush hour in City Tycoon - a bit too busy?

Just to show we haven't all collectively fallen under the Number 9 bus that trundles past our club venue regularly, just a quick post on a new game (to us) City Tycoon.  So new that we had to punch it as Steve Perkins was kindly explaining it to us.

The ideas are pretty simple, some card selection like 7 Wonders, a bit of square tile laying as per Carcassonne, a bit of resource movement like 20th Century, but put together quite nicely into something which doesn't overall feel too derivative.  Place tiles, which you then own, to generate resources, then ship the resources around to generate resources, cash and VP's.  First playing was quite long (nearly 150 minutes) as it's very difficult to judge the true value of tiles and how they interact as the game (and the city) develop, particularly as we all share the same city and there is some interaction in the usage of resources.  Second playing would speed up a bit, but I see two main problems with the game.  Firstly, the very busy graphics on the tiles, particularly when the city is really big in turn 4, make it difficult to see what's going on, plus there are resource cubes on top of some, which can mean the tile has been exhausted or that it hasn't been exhausted (!), it really burns the brain.  Secondly, I guess we're supposed to be building a city grid, but as some of the interactions with other players can be extremely disruptive to your plans, it's very tempting to stay in your own corner, or indeed to spread out as quickly from the centre as possible away from everyone else.  Perhaps we misunderstood something, but this isn't going to look much like a city at the end if so.

I'd play it again if only to make the learning curve we faced worthwhile, but it will need to be a more inspiring experience next time to make me persevere (which can happen - as with Lords of Waterdeep earlier in the year)

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Oh, Lord!

This week at the club, I played Lords of Vegas, which was new to me, Mike and Anna, though I think Andy had played before.

Lords of Vegas is, at its thematic heart, a betting game. The players take on the roles of casino moguls on the Strip, building, remodelling and taking over casinos in an attempt to make the most money and score the most prestige, which is basically a VP system and will win or lose you the game. As VP systems go, this one has a neat twist, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Firstly, let’s look at how the game works.

The board is divided into six areas representing city blocks. These are further divided into a varying number of ‘lots’ and each has an assigned value represented by the printed face of a 6-sided die.

There is a deck of cards with one card for each lot on the board, and each card also has the name of a casino chain on it. It should be stated that the casino and the lot bear no actual relation, and the lot is not tied to a particular chain. The lot is a space allocated to the player who turns the card, whilst the casino simply denotes the chain which will pay out on the current player’s turn. There is one card for each lot on the board, and each has one of the six casino chains marked on its front. There are eight cards per chain (I believe), therefore as cards come out and are placed on their chains, the likelihood that the chain will pay out again decreases. However, the odds are further randomised by the fact that not all cards will come out. The deck is shuffled and then split 75%-25%. An End Game card is placed on top of the 25% deck (can’t remember if this is then shuffled to give a further randomisation of the end point, or if it’s a guaranteed end after 75% of the deck has been played out), and the 75% deck is then placed on top. The cards below the End Game card will not appear, so the number of cards per casino which turn up will vary with each game.

To start, two cards are turned over for each player and the lot on the face is allocated to that player. The card is then placed on the chain row for its casino so that everyone can assess the odds of future payouts.

After this first round, each player will have two lots on which to build if they so choose. Unbuilt lots pay the owner $1m on each player’s turn.

At the start of a player’s turn, they first turn over a card from the deck. They then put a marker on the lot they’ve acquired and everyone collects cash for their lots. The casino chain represented on the card face then pays out. We’ll come back to how this works, but first, let’s assume the player wants to build.

Each lot is marked with a purchase price which the owner can pay. They then build a new casino, or extend one which they control (they can build more if they have the cash). A casino is represented by all linked tiles of the same colour, regardless of the die colour occupying that space. A chain is all tiles of one colour, which may be separated by block or may simply not yet connect by lot. Control is a simple mechanism in that, as stated previously, each lot has a die number on it. When someone builds a new casino, they place a casino tile matching their chosen chain, and place a die of their colour at its centre with the uppermost face showing the value shown on the lot (and repeated on the lot card). The highest die value controls the casino. Other players may place connecting tiles of the same colour and, if their highest die is greater in value than that of the current owner, then they take control.

All players with dice in a casino will get money when the casino pays out, but only the controlling player will be given points. The amount of money you receive is equal, in millions, to the total number of pips on your dice in that chain.

Players who have a stake in a particular casino can choose to wrestle for control by paying millions equal to the total number of die pips for all players in the contested casino (not the chain, just that particular casino). They then re-roll all dice for the casino with the highest number gaining control. It’s easy to see how having fewer dice than other players in a casino is a disadvantage as the odds are always with the percentage.

There is also the opportunity to remodel, which is a strong tactical action which can see casinos rapidly expand, or be aggressively taken over. And if you’re ever short of money to achieve what you want, you can always lay bets off against your opponents. All bets must be accepted, although players can choose to have the bank take half the risk, which means the bank also shares any gains.

I mentioned earlier that the VP system is innovative, though the innovation is simple: there is a ‘brake’ (or ‘break’, I’m not sure if it’s a gambling term, but the idea of a braking system suits) which kicks in when players achieve a certain number of points. As stated, points are scored by the controller of a casino, but this might suggest a strategy of building small, single lot casinos in order to maintain control. The game prevents this by requiring a minimum of two points to be scored once a certain level is reached, or the player scores none - and hence the brake. Later, a casino must score three points minimum in order to score at all; then four and five, and so on up to nine ( though anyone achieving this automatically wins the game).

The problem for me with Lords of Vegas is that it pretty much perfectly fits its theme. I am not a gambler and I have never understood the pleasure it gives people. Like anyone, I understand that, even for someone skilled, the odds are always with the house. I have therefore never been able to comprehend why people put their money at such risk. Yes, there is the opportunity, on occasion, to “win big”, but the plain fact is that, for anyone disposed to this kind of pursuit, the house is going to get you. At some point, you’re going to lose big, too. And therein lies the rub: my grandfather was a horse-racing fanatic, and a great studier of form. When the Grand National rolled around, he would lay bets for the whole family and we’d all sit around to watch and see who won. He would get the return of his stake and whomever backed the winning horse got to keep the rest. I tell you this because the chance to win never seemed likely to me, and I did not find it exciting. If you lay a bet for me and the horse loses, my response is: “Well, of course. What did you expect?” Professional pundits can’t predict with any measure of reliability, so how is some kid supposed to name a horse from a list?

So, as a thematic game, Lords of Vegas is certainly one of the most successful I’ve ever come across. Everything, from the die placement and rolling to the lot acquisition and payout, is a gamble. It works. It’s about assessing odds, taking risks and going all out for a big win…

… But if that’s not your bag, then it also works against it. It is a clever mix of mechanisms, yes, but exploiting those mechanisms, in the end, had nothing to do with my winning. I had some good and bad rolls, as did everyone else, but the spread of good rolls favoured me on this occasion. Yes, I mitigated that with some shrewd building which meant the odds were with me for control for most of my builds, but Andy’s choices were a lot better than mine, and Mike was very aggressive, but unlucky, whilst Anna had the other two seeming to gang up against her.

And so I feel I won the game on Wednesday because I understood that the odds were irrelevant; that the only way to win was to take big risks, so I routinely spent as much as I could afford and would have done so more often if I’d had the cash available. And because I was so reckless, I really felt I had nothing invested in the game at all because I am not a gambler. And if you don’t feel invested, then the risk isn’t really a risk, it’s just randomness. Perhaps, for someone who feels the thrill of putting bets on, this may evoke something of that essence. For me, we might as well have each rolled a die and decided the winner on that.

Lords of Vegas: so very good, yet so very dull.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

My Thoughts on Eclipse

I've played Eclipse three times now and I think all Dave's points are valid; though I don't quite agree with all of them.

The things I really like about the game are as follows:

1) clarity - the rulebook is excellent, and the mechanisms are all designed to show the information you need in the situations where they are relevant. The system of wealth versus earnings is very simple, but brilliantly executed. More games could learn from this;
2) for a 4X game, it's really quick;
3) there are tough decisions every turn;
4) the traitor mechanism: the last player to break a treaty loses 2VPs;
5) modifying your ships is cool. I can have tachyon drives on my cruisers;
6) the flow of play during the action rounds is quick.

The things I don't like are:

1) what the hell are you doing for the first five turns? All that happens is you explore and try to build your tech to a level where you can compete with the Ancients or with other players when you meet them. It's fine, but it drags a bit;
2) because of this for a 4X game, combat doesn't tend to happen until later. If you fight early, you've used actions you could have used to research, so you'll be sorry later;
3) the traitor mechanism - the last player to break a treaty can't form another until an opponent breaks a treaty and takes the card. Whilst I can kind of understand the reasoning, this is pure artifice;
4) hey, wait a minute - I've discovered Tachyon Drives. I've can put them in my fighters and my cruisers, but I have to WAIT to take another action before I put them in my big ships...? Unless I have nanotech, of course;
5) the system of discounts for tech has no relevance to the type of tech being researched - for example, computer types do not all fall within the same tech-type, therefore there is no benefit to researching a Positron Computer (+2 attack) then a Gluon Computer (+3 attack). This is counter-thematic, if not plain idiotic;
6) combat is slooooooooowwww;
7) the turn order mechanism is rubbish.

My thoughts on Dave's issues (you did ask, didn't you? No. Oh well - sit back anyway) are as follows:

Exploration: it could be argued that real-world empires don't all start on an even footing; nevertheless, games are a construct. A little imbalance is fine with me, but I can see how one player's situation might be greatly disadvantageous. This is slightly mitigated by the fact that you have a some choice where you place - or whether you place your tile at all. It's an OK solution, but I think I'd prefer an open galaxy with a Settlers-type mechanism of placement to mitigate advantage. I'm not saying specifically a Settlers mechanism - just something that allows a bit more starting balance.

Technology: I agree that, given that actions are limited by cost, there is no reason to artificially limit the tech types by chit draw as no race will ever be able to research them all. This is another artifice because it feels like, rather than a directed research spend, these future 'advanced' civilisations are basically discovering new technologies by lottery. One solution, given that there is already a discount system in place, might be asymmetric technology costs for the different races to encourage diversification. In fact, this is a good idea. I claim this idea for a future 4X game that I'm now going to design (and Dave and others at the club can tell me what I'm doing well and what I"m doing badly).

Combat: I don't so much mind the initiative idea, but the combat just takes so long - and I think that the system of I-fight-you-first-then-you-then-you-then-the-ancients means that someone who has a huge fleet can be beaten by someone relatively weak because they've had their fleet mashed by all the previous combat. It should be simultaneous. As far as the mandatory combat for entering someone else's territory, even that of an ally - this has been a known mechanism since the first Sid Meier Civ. I didn't like it then and I don't like it now, but I think it's perfectly reasonable given it's now a convention, otherwise there might be very little combat in the game.

Reputation: this is a bit artificial too, but it's better than the chit-draw system that scores at the end of Louis XIV. At least you get to draw a number of tiles and keep one. This mitigates the randomness a little, and I quite like the fact that some of the scoring is hidden just to add that little frisson of tension. Of course, it could be argued that this is a way of ramping up tension which should be inherent in the playing of the game.

Games Played - January 2012

I thought I’d try doing monthly reports, rather than the weekly ones I’ve done (or more recently not done) in the past so here goes. This is actually a few days later than I expected due to time spent on Eclipse and messing about with websites (see other post) in the last day or two.

13 games were played this month of 9 different titles, the average attendance was 7.25

Web Sites

The week before last, I noticed that our domain was no longer working and a quick check showed that it was available. Gordon confirmed that he let the registration lapse about a month back in the knowledge that nobody else would want it, so we could re-register if we wanted it.

I discussed it with Mike, who agreed that we ought to have the domain back due to a number of links that pointed to the address and coincidentally he had a mail last week from Jeremy Tullet regarding someone who'd tried to use the link from QLA. I was also aware that we'd just had some more T-shirts produced with the address on them.

Anyway as of Friday, the address is active again, although there is only a single page with links elsewhere at the moment, until I get my head round some web page design software. Also note that this blog is now (the blogspot address redirects), also the stats are on, although they are also still in my Virgin web space as I don't know how to set a redirect from there.