Game Night Recap (May 26, 2015)

Another smallish gathering. Jim, Jesse, JR, Jason, and me. Four J’s and a D, which sounds like a bad 90’s sitcom.

Game the First

We started with a 5P game of Colonia, which we played two weeks ago. We had thought it was a good game, and it plays up to six people, so we decided to give it another go.

A quite port town, unaware of the chaos that is about to descend on it.
Sorry, we’re fresh out of pieces of the One True Cross. Can I interest you in a saint’s skull instead?

It turns out – funny story – that if you actually read the setup instructions in the rules, the game is very different from the way we played it last time. And a lot better. Here are the things we didn’t do the first time around:

  • Each player should start with 5 [units] of each of the game’s four currencies.
  • Each player should start with four randomly chosen resources.
  • Each player should start with one randomly determined finished good token.
  • The players have a number of family members (cubes) based on the number of players. With five players, we each got only 25 cubes instead of the full complement of 38.

Oops. When we first played, we had none of the starting money or materials, and we had all 38 cubes to use – which makes a difference, as we found. You may recall that you send cubes to take actions at the various stations during the week, and those cubes are unavailable until after that same action is resolved (with new cubes) the next round. When we played with all the cubes last time, there wasn’t really any cube pressure; nobody ever felt they didn’t have enough cubes to do everything they wanted, nobody ever had to leave resources unbought in the market, and nobody ever had to forgo their voting privileges in order to have enough cubes to send to the town hall in the first stage of the week.

The house of
The house of Hurffendurff (whatever) surveys its holdings.

Playing correctly, there’s a lot of tension about cube counts. Since you play a number card (from 3 to 8) at the beginning of the week to determine how any cubes you send to the town hall, leaving all your high numbered cards for the end can put you in a bind. As it happened, during three (or maybe four) of the six rounds, we had one player or another not voting because they had miscalculated how many cubes they would need to have left over at the end of the previous round.

Also, with starting resources and goods, it is possible to make some strategic decisions from the beginning – the resources you have may steer you toward some goods, the goods token you have may steer you toward a particular ship, and you may have a play on a relic in the first week (whereas last time we played, very little got accomplished in week one.

So in our first play we handicapped ourselves considerably on the materials side, while simultaneously giving ourselves a much easier time of it on the cube side. (Sorry, Joe, this means your previous victory will have to have an asterisk in Ye Offisial Recorde Boke.) Removing the “starting from nothing” aspect and putting meaningful limits on the number of cubes made for a much more interesting game. It was close until the last week when a combination of the available relics and fortunate speculation gave Jim the advantage. Final scores:

  • Jim: 18
  • Dan: 15
  • JR: 14
  • Jason: 13
  • Jesse: 12

Game the Second

Jim and Jason both decided to call it quits after all that marketing, loading, and shipping activity. Plumb tuckered out, they was. Because we are idiots, JR, Jesse and I decided to learn a new game, a Polish economic game from 2012 called Mercurius. This is a straight-up economics/math game in which the players buy and sell shares of six different branches of the East India Company and six different commodities that the East India Company trades in. The meat of the game is in timing your purchases and sales, because the prices are always changing in semi-predictable ways.

JR demonstrating how to manipulate the markets. He's just like Warren Buffett.
J.R. Morgan Chase manipulating the markets.

Game play is simplicity itself. The share prices of the six company branches begin at a price of 10 [moneys]; the commodities begin at a price of 15 [moneys]. Each turn a player makes up to three “financial transactions” – each a purchase or sale of a share or a commodity token – and then plays a price change card to their personal board.

Ready for the next price change, which will undoubtedly catapult me into the 1%.
Ready for the next price change, which will undoubtedly catapult me into the 1%.

Each price change card affects one branch of the company and one commodity. For shares, the effect is either +1 or -1 on the main board; for commodities, it’s either +2 or -2, in the opposite direction from the share. Price change cards stay in play for three turns, which a player must take into account in making all decisions. Sell now, even though the price will go up again? Or wait and risk an opponent lowering the price? Purchasing and selling of shares or commodities is pretty basic, but if a player buys more than one of the same item (share or commodity) the price of each one purchased increases (+1 apiece to buy two; +2 apiece to buy three); and if a player sells multiples of the same item, the price decreases (-1 apiece if selling two; -2 apiece if selling three).

Each player also has three special cards that may be played once per game. Two of them substitute for all three of the player’s financial transactions that turn, and the third substitutes for a price change card. The Dividend card can provide an infusion of a small amount of cash; the Black Market card can avoid the multiple-sales penalty; and the News card can let a player clear undesirable price change cards from their hand.

Each player starts with 70 [moneys]. The game continues until the main deck of price change cards has been exhausted, after which the game goes two more rounds (with no card draws at the end of the players’ turns). At the end, all shares and commodities are sold for their full price on the board, and players total up their cash. Most cash wins.

I was fortunate, in that I got a handful of cards affecting one particular branch and was able to carry that branch long enough to declare a hefty dividend and then drive up the value to sell for a very sizable profit. That plus a reasonable diversity of other investments put me in the driver’s seat. Final scores:

  • Dan: 181 [moneys]
  • Jesse: 138 [moneys]
  • JR: 124 [moneys]

The game is a very mathy game, obviously, but we were all a bit surprised at how not-dry and not-dull the game was. There can be a lot of “take that,” as one price change card undoes the effect of another. The only strategy is “buy low, sell high,” but having to plan for three turns, and decide whether to wait to try to maximize value, or sell now to have cash, can be a complex decision. I think if it were a significantly longer game, it might have become a drag, but there was a point when we all realized, “Hey, the deck is getting quite low. This game is almost over. Uh-oh.” It moves pretty quickly, and I think it would probably be just as fast – barring analysis paralysis – with twice as many players (it can take up to six), because the deck size is fixed.

And so we bid adieu to another game night. More to come next week.

Bonus!

On Monday, I finally got a chance to play Viticulture with the Tuscany expansion(s). This one has hit the table at Game Night two weeks in a row – an unusual occurrence for any game – and I can see why. No in-depth report here (I’ve made you suffer enough for one post), but I enjoyed the game enough to want to play it again soon.

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Game Night Recap (May 19, 2015)

A small group. Apparently, people have Other Things to do sometimes. Slackers. Anyway, we started with Julie, Jesse, JR, Ocean, and your humble narrator, so we needed something that would work with five people. We settled on an old favorite, Keythedral from Richard Breese. The “Key” series includes some absolutely fantastic games, and this is one of the best.

In Keythedral, the residents of a medieval town want to build a cathedral, and naturally, contributing to the construction is a way for wealthy families to gain prestige and lord it over their rivals. So they send out workers to gather resources from the fields use those resources to buy pews in the cathedral. Early on, pews are cheap, but as the building progresses, they become fancier and more prestigious. At the end, whoever has built the pews with the highest total value will win the game and the right to sentence the other players to death. What? Don’t you play that way?

Never mind. The game begins with the players, in turn order, choosing a terrain tile at random, placing it on the board, and then placing one of five numbered cottages in the spaces between terrain tiles. Each player will wind up placing five terrain tiles and five cottages, and the resulting map will define the rest of the game.

This town ain't big enough for the 25 of us....
This town ain’t big enough for the 25 of us….

Once the tiles are played, the game really begins. Each round, each player in turn will choose a number  fro 1 to 5 (as available) and send a worker from their cottage of the corresponding number out into one of the fields adjacent to that cottage. So if the starting player chooses cottage #3, then each player will put a worker on an empty terrain tile next to their #3 cottage. When everyone has sent the appropriate worker, the next player chooses one of the remaining numbers and the process repeats, and so on through the fifth cottage number. Depending on the setup and the order of play, it is entirely possible – and all too easy – to be unable to send out a worker because all of the terrain tiles adjacent to the called number were filled with workers from prior players’ choices. This would be “F You Play #1.”

When everybody has placed all the workers they can place, everybody collects resources from the terrain tiles their workers occupy. There are five different terrain types, corresponding to five different basic resources (black, brown, green, red, blue – this is not a colorblind-friendly game). Hopefully, the players have planned well to get the resources they will need in the next phase.

Once all resources have been collected, the players, in turn order, take actions one at a time. Actions generally mean buying something in exchange for appropriate resources. The lowest rank of pews, worth four points each, will require a combination of two resource cubes. The higher up the cathedral the game progresses, the more the pews cost. Each pew takes a different combination of resources, and it is possible to plan to buy one only to see someone ahead of you in turn order snap it up. Aka “F You Play #2.” Since everybody’s resources are hidden, you may not be able to keep track of who is in a position to beat you to a prize.

Other actions allow the players to build a house – flipping over a cottage so that in the future, that number will send two workers to different terrain tiles. (Not guaranteed, of course; it is entirely possible for that number to be called after all the potential target tiles have been occupied. Or players can build fences between an opponent’s cottage or house and a terrain tile, preventing that opponent from sending a worker to that tile (“F You Play #3”); or they can remove a previously placed fence by spending two red cubes (wine – get the neighbor drunk enough and he’ll tear down his own fence); purchase a luxury resource cube – iron, cloth, and gold are all generally needed to build the upper pews; or they can buy one of two law cards available each round to get one of several one-time bonuses to use at some point in the game.

As soon as the last pew is taken, the game ends. Pew values are added up, along with some points for leftover resources, and the highest number wins the game. In our case, Ocean ran away with it with 55 points; JR had 45; and the rest of us tied at 44.

Ocean and Julie left, leaving JR, Jesse and myself. We had been eyeing a new game JR brought, so out it came: The Mystery of the Templars. It’s a very pretty game with lots of quality fiddly bits, and a beautiful board.

Welcome to Medieval Europe. Please keep hands and feet inside the 12th-14th centuries at all times.
Welcome to Medieval Europe. Please keep hands and feet inside the 12th-14th centuries at all times.

Did I mention lots of fiddly bits? Yeah.

The game is about Knights Templar trying to rescue (aka steal) relics from the Holy Land, transport them to Europe, and then, once the anti-Templar heat is turned up, move them to one of four havens in the distant corners of Europe. Starting from small holdings in Jerusalem and Acre, the players are meant to purchase buildings in cities around Europe where they can store goods, display relics, and recruit more knights.

The flow of the game is a little tricky to grasp. The game runs fifteen-plus rounds in three periods. Each period is five rounds (the plus is for endgame stuff that we didn’t get to… more on that in a moment), and during each round, the players will: assign knights to escort missions and excavation missions; optionally buy goods; deal with two events; load, move, and unload transports; and do a bunch of things in preparation for the next round.

We didn’t finish the game. We got just over 1/3 of the way through it before giving up. It was getting late, the rules are not terribly clear in many places and – as it turns out – the order in which events come up can make for a very slow developing game. Here’s why.

Each player starts with small holdings in Jerusalem and Acre.

Come onna my domus.
Come onna my domus.

Focus on the stuff in the middle of that picture. The “1” in a gold circle is my chapel, which can hold, at most, one relic. The middle building, with a stack of hidden tokens on it, is my Domus, which can hold up to six tokens (which may be coins in any of several denominations or goods). Finally, on the right is my castle, which can hold two knights. This is very limited space, but there is nothing I can do about that until I can buy a building in one of the European cities elsewhere on the board. Each city has two buildings, which can be of any of those three types. You want to buy buildings that match your needs – e.g., if you have several relics and want to display them, you will need more chapels.

Unfortunately, you can’t buy buildings in any of the provinces except when an appropriate event comes up during the events portion of the round. In the first period (five rounds), there are two event cards that permit purchase of buildings. The cards come out two at a time, so you don’t know when the card will come that activates a couple of provinces, at which time you can buy buildings for 3 coins apiece – if you have the coins sitting in your home Domus; or the other card that lets you buy buildings in active or inactive provinces.  Worse, you can’t sell goods that you have transported from the Holy Land until you have a Domus in Europe. In our game, the cards came up late in the first period, so we were stuck with goods sitting on the board (having transported them somewhat speculatively). JR was the only one who spotted the one place in Europe you can sell goods without a Domus: Marseille. As a result, when the province activation card finally came up, he was the only one who could afford to take advantage of it and establish buildings in European cities. For Jesse and me, who had gone a completely different – and futile – direction, the game was frustrating and pointless.

Had we fully understood how buildings become available, and that Marseille is the only way to make money while waiting for that to happen, it might have been less frustrating (although again, since the events come out randomly, it is possible to get a situation where nobody can buy a building until 1/3 of the game has gone by; I’m not sure that’s a great feature). Also, since the event cards that make buildings available are keyed to specific provinces, it would have been nice to know which provinces were going to be affected during the first period. Speculation is not a path to success in this game.

I think there’s a good game in here somewhere. Its theme is very well-integrated, and the mission and transport mechanisms are (while fiddly and complex) interesting. Overall, while not impressed by the one play, I think it has potential, and would give it another shot.

Game Night Recap (May 12, 2015)

Once again, boys and girls, it’s time to recap what games got played last night. And by whom.

Ken showed up first, then Jim. The three of us began with Lost Legacy: The Starship, a card game from the designer of, and along the same lines as, Love Letter. Players are dealt a single card, and one additional card is placed face down beside the deck as the “Ruins”. On a player’s turn, they draw a card from the deck and then play one of the two cards they are holding. Each card has an effect – some of them may eliminate an opponent, or allow the player to look at opponent’s hand, the deck, or the Ruins, and so forth. If all of a player’s opponents are eliminated, they win. Unlike Love Letter, though, Lost Legacy has an endgame phase that comes up if more than one player is still in the game by the time the deck runs out: Investigation, in which players try to find the Lost Legacy. If a player finds it, they win; if not, everybody loses. There’s some deductive reasoning and cardplay strategy, and a lot of “Oh, shit” when you get caught with the wrong card in your hand. We played once with the base game, then broke out the Second Chronicle: Vorpal Sword & Whitegold Spire expansion, which adds two completely different decks (cards with different effects). Whitegold Spire also has a different victory condition, with a point scoring system. The decks can be mixed and matched to customize the game. It’s a fast game, suitable for multiple repeat plays in a single sitting. We played three or four times in about 30 minutes.

Next we set up Orcs Orcs Orcs, from Queen Games (and whatever you do, don’t ask Jim the story of his ordeal in finally getting it, unless you like twitching eyes and head explosions). The game is primarily a tower defense game: players are wizards standing atop a hexagonal tower, trying to take out goblins, orcs, and other nasty critters before they can get into the tower. It’s also a deck-builder: each player starts with a deck of eight cards, drawing a hand of four at a time, and can add more powerful cards – heftier attack spells or useful support spells – over the course of play. Each turn, new monsters enter the field, and the wizards move around the tower trying to do enough damage to defeat them. Players collect defeated monsters, which will be worth points at the end of the game. If a monster gets into the tower, the point value of that type of monster decreases; and if it gets into the tower on a side occupied by a player’s wizard, that player loses one of his previously captured monsters of the same type.

Oops. Forgot the camera until we had packed it up.
Oops. Forgot the camera until we had packed it up.

It’s a pretty fast-paced game, very simple to learn. There’s not necessarily a lot of “take that” interaction, but players can snap up spells their opponents want, or block their opponents from getting to a particular side of the tower. There are also randomized events that affect which monsters advance on the tower and may also screw up your plans for the round (e.g., by prohibiting wizards from relocating on the tower).

We played with an optional expansion that gives each player a secret goal to earn bonus points at the end of the game. Mine was that I would get three points for every four monsters I captured – which gave me incentive to go after a lot of the low-level/easy-to-beat monsters (goblins and orcs), which of course are worth fewer points.

In the end, Ken wound up being able to capture way more of the highest-value monsters and won going away. Overall impression: I want to play this again, now that I have seen how the cards work together. I think it’s a great game for younger players too. Jim has played it with his kids, and reports that they have had a blast with it.

While we were playing, JR, Jesse, and Julie arrived and played Valley of the Kings, a set collection card game. I watched the end, in which Julie apparently ran away with the victory.

Now we had seven, so we had to split up. Instead of a 4-3 split, though, Ken and Jim decided to play Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage, a two-player strategic area control/war game that Jim and I have set up twice but never actually played.

The rest of us played one of JR’s recent purchases, Dirk Henn’s 2009 game Colonia. This one is fiddly, but quite good. Each player – it can play up to six – represents a family trying to acquire valuable religious relics. The game is played over six rounds, each round representing one week. Each week, each day from Monday around to Sunday is associated with a different action. Monday is the turn setup. On Tuesday, players play one of six cards numbered 3 through 8 to decide turn order for the week. On Wednesday, they collect resources, which get exchanged for goods on Thursday. The goods are loaded onto ships on Friday, which sail on Saturday, providing players with money. The money is used on Sunday to purchase relics – which are virtually the sole source of points in the game.

The really fiddly bits are: the number of goods that will be produced by craftsmen on any given Thursday is limited; only one to three of the four available ships will sail on Saturday; the money comes in four different currencies – each ship will pay in one of them; and each relic can be purchased with only one of the currencies.

What a week!
What a week!

At the end of the sixth week, everybody adds up the point values of the relics they managed to purchase. (It may also be possible to purchase a shrine along the way, which will double the value of one relic.) The player with the most remaining money in each currency will get a corresponding stained glass window worth two points.

This is not a high scoring game. Joe won with 11 points; JR had 10, and the rest of us had 8. There’s a high degree of randomness in the game – random resources in the market; random number of goods requests that will be filled; random available ships; and random available relics. It makes the game very unpredictable and hence more tactical than long-range strategic. There’s no engine to build; you try to match what you can get to what is available on the board for the week. Some thought has to go into deciding when to make a play for top of the turn order. Because of the way ties are handled in that phase of the game, it is possible to wind up going very late in the turn order despite using a high-value card; and conversely, it is possible to end up going relatively early with a low-value card. There’s enough mental juggling the players have to do – figuring out the resources -> goods -> ships -> relics cascade – that there is some risk of analysis paralysis. It works well with five players, albeit a bit long; as many as six can play, but that might be a tad too many. Overall, despite a certain level of fist-shaking frustration, I had a good experience with it and would definitely play again.

Game Night Recap – May 5, 2015

It being Cinco de Mayo, last night’s games had no Mexican theme whatsoever. The closest we got was the Boy sitting at one end of the table practicing Spanish with Duolingo on his phone.

We had five people, and everyone’s first name except for mine began with J: Jim, J.R., Jessie, Julie. It’s bizarre. I may have to start going by my middle name just to blend in. (Go ahead, feel free to guess.)

Game #1

We were fortunate enough to have some good options for five players. We ended up with Dogs of War, from designer Paolo Mori, manufactured/published/distributed by Cool Mini or Not, Edge Entertainment, and Spaghetti Western Games. Deceptively simple and very well put-together, the game places 3-5 players into a struggle to influence six warring families, using their captains – really wonderful plastic figurines, most with ridiculous hats – and soldiers of different values/strengths to dictate the tide of battle. There are slight game play differences between a 3P game and a 4- or 5P game; the following description is for the 5P.

In each of four “years,” the six families pair off randomly to engage in one of three battles. Each side of each battle gets a randomly-selected “order of battle” card, which provide several places to place a captain, most of which entail a reward for the player. In addition, each battle gets a randomly-selected bonus tile, which will give a (wait for it) bonus to whoever has the most captains on the winning side of the battle.

I really meant "ridiculous hats"
I really meant “ridiculous hats”

Each year begins with players collecting income – money is very tight – and spending some or all of it on soldiers. There is an increasing strength-to-cost ratio (from footsoldiers at the bottom, costing 1 coin for a strength of 1; to war machines, costing 4 coins but providing 7 strength).

Damn right I'm the most powerful!
Damn right I’m the most powerful!

Once all players have mustered their armies, the players take it in turn to place one captain and one soldier on one side of any of the three battles. The captain goes to a spot on the order of battle card, the soldier goes on a designated pile, and the battle tracker is adjusted toward the appropriate family’s side by the strength of the soldier. The player receives the reward for whichever spot their captain occupies, and the next player goes. At any time, a player may pass, but that means they are out for the rest of the year. When a player runs out of captains, they must pass. (In year 1, each player starts with three captains; in years 2 and 3, they start with four; and in year 4, they start with five; there are ways to get additional captains for use in a given year.)

Each battle is thus a tug-of-war, with the soldiers on each side tilting the balance of victory to one family or the other. When all players have passed, the year ends. The family that won each battle moves up in value on a track (and in a decisive enough victory, that family will move up two spaces on the track while the losing family moves down one). The players whose captains were on the wining side get points equal to the number of captains on the losing side. Then, whoever had the most captains on the winning side gets whatever bonus is provided by the bonus tile for that battle. Lather, rinse, repeat for three battles per year times four years. So that’s … carry the one … twelve battles total. And each year, the family pairings, order of battle cards, and bonus tiles are randomized, so you can never be sure what you’re going to have the opportunity to get.

And it’s important what you get when you send your captains out, because among the rewards, you may (and will want to) collect shields representing the family for whom you are fighting. At the end of the game, each player gets victory points equal to the number of shields for each family multiplied by the value of the position that family has reached on the that power track. The track runs from a value of -1 (where all families start) up to 7. Part of the strategy lies in figuring out which families are winning battles (and which ones you can help win battles) and increasing in value and getting those families’ shields.

That last point was brought home sharply last night, when Jessie managed to get 10 of the 12 shields for one family, which also happened to be the one that reached the highest value on the power track. His shields were worth 3 points apiece, and those 30 points – not even considering the other points he had accumulated over the course of the game – exceeded one player’s total score, and nearly matched two other players’ total scores. Despite the trouncing, we all agreed that it was an excellent game, with one caveat: among the tactics cards, there are some that are just more valuable than others. A card that allows a player to add +3 to their soldier’s strength at any time is strictly better than a card that allows a player to add +2 to their soldier’s strength when playing on the losing side of a battle. Other cards are useful only in specific circumstances, which makes them less valuable than other cards that are always useful.

That aside, though, the game is really a blast. It has a lot of “take-that” kind of interaction, a lot of planning and trying to predict what your opponents will do, and a lot of frustration as you realize that in order to get an order of battle reward you really need, you have to support the “wrong” side of a battle (i.e., where you want the other family to win). And aside from a few instances of analysis paralysis, it is a very quick game. Easy to learn – there are only six pages of rules, with the rest of the 25-30 page rule book being taken up by backstory for the families and the captains – quick to play. This one will definitely hit the table again.

 

Game #2

Jim left after we finished Dogs of War, leaving us with four players. We didn’t want a long game, so we settled on Artipia Games’ Shadows Over the Empire, which has a fair amount of depth despite taking as little as fifteen minutes to play. This is another influence struggle, with each player taking the role of a leader in the city of Cardis (linking the game thematically to Aritipia’s worker-placement/deck-building game Archon: Glory and Machinations). In this case, the city is represented by a five-by-five card layout, with the cards representing leaders at the corners, card representing a Distinct Personality (e.g., a prince) in the center, and cards representing other people filling out the array.

Cardis, city of... cards. What a coincidence!
Cardis, city of… cards. What a coincidence!

Players take turns trying to spread their network of influence from their leader across the city, placing tokens on cards to control those people, and using the special abilities of the people they then control. Each round, each player in turn may either influence a person, use a controlled person’s special ability, or pass. When a person has either influenced or been influenced in a given round, that person may not be used to influence any other person, but a player who controls that person may use the special ability. (Special abilities can generally be used only once per round; a card gets rotated to show its ability has been used.) When all players have passed, the round ends. Conflicts – cards on which more than one player has tokens – are resolved at the end of each round by removing tokens, one-for-one from all players with tokens on the card, until only one player’s (or no players’) tokens remain. The players check to see if anybody has won, and if not, all rotated cards are reset and every person becomes eligible to try to influence another person in the next round. A new first player is determined (whoever has the fewest tokens on the board), and the next round begins.

This is a race game: if, at the end of a round, a player has deployed all of their influence tokens on the people of the city, and either (a) is not in conflict anywhere or (b) they control the Distinct Personality (i.e., they are the only player with tokens on the card), they win. Players have to keep their eyes on how many tokens their opponents have left to put on the board, and try to remove their opponents’ tokens (using a special ability of a person they control) and/or put their own tokens on their opponents’ controlled people, creating a conflict. There is thus a tension between trying to get one’s own tokens onto the board and trying to get rid of your opponents’ tokens. Special abilities may allow a player to move cards or tokens, add or subtract tokens, or a number of other functions.

Because each player starts with 18 tokens, and most actions result in placing 2-4 tokens on a card, the game very quickly moves toward the vicinity of the endgame. In last night’s struggle, J.R. and I focused attention on Julie, who was poised to win, but unfortunately, left Jessie in control of the Distinct Personality for one round too many, allowing him to sneak his way to a second victory for the night.

For some reason, I always feel kind of blah about this game when J.R. suggests playing it, but once we get into it, I remember how interesting it is and how much fun it is to play. And it’s very fast. I think our game last night took 45 minutes, including teaching Julie how to play. This is another one that should get played more, especially since there are multiple decks of cards to choose from that can make it a very different game. The A deck that we played with last night is the simplest. I’ve played the B deck in the past – there are three different Distinct Personalities to choose from, and the cards’ special abilities become more complex. We have yet to play the C deck, which – according to J.R. – contains cards with some really mind-bending special abilities. Next time.

NEXT TIME!
NEXT TIME!

By he way, Jessie has now won two games on two consecutive game nights. If you don’t hear from hi for a while, don’t worry. I’m sure he’s off doing good works somewhere with no wi-fi or cell reception, and he’ll turn up eventually. Now excuse me, I have to go wash this shovel.

Game Night Recap – April 28, 2015

Hey! This will be a week since I rebooted this thing. Go me! Anyway, last night was, as most Tuesdays are, game night. Herewith, a brief after-action report.



Dramatis Personae

Your humble narrator
Jim, An Instructor of Impressionable Youth
JR, A Seminarian
Jessie, Another Seminarian
Julie, A Former Seminarian
Jason, A Terminally Cheerful Person
Ocean, A Late Arrival

(Astute observers will note a preponderance of people whose names begin with J. We are still working on finding a cause for this clustering effect.) Initially having six people, we split into two groups of three. Ocean’s arrival filled one group to four just as the first game began. Excelsior!



The Games I Didn’t Play

We didn’t name the two groups, so I will make up names for them. Team Not-Me consisted of Jim, Jason, and Julie. Their first game was Harbour, a short, relatively light game of resource collection, building, and market manipulation.

Harbour. You can tell it's a sophisticated game by the "u" in the name.
Harbour. You can tell it’s a sophisticated game by the “u” in the name.

Once that was done (I don’t know who won, but I am fairly certain the winner’s name begins with J), the group moved on to Viticulture with the Tuscany expansion. The expansion provides a legacy structure that allows the winner to “uncork” a new feature, making the next game very different. This is the second time it’s been played in my group, so it has been enhanced by the previous winner and last night’s winner (Jason).

Wine wine wine spodie-odie
Viticulture. Wine wine wine spodie-odie.


 The Games I DID Play

Meanwhile, back at stately Wayne Manor… you know what I mean. Team The Other Team consisted of me, JR, and Jessie, with Ocean joining us shortly after we had set up the first game. Which was Lords of Xidit, brought to you by the people who make Seasons, and set loosely in the same world.

Lords of Xidit. No, I don't know how to pronounce "Xidit" either.
Lords of Xidit. No, I don’t know how to pronounce “Xidit” either.

In this game, the players travel around the map from city to city, recruiting units from five different classes (Farmer, Bowman, Infantry, Cleric, Mage) and using those units in various combinations to defeat threats. A game turn consists of six actions, performed one at a time clockwise from the current starting player. In a single action, a player can move along a road to a new city, recruit units or defeat a threat in a city (depending on which is available), or just wait and twiddle their thumbs. The tricky part is that all six of a player’s actions must be planned in advance, which means the players have to consider the timing of their actions – someone might get to their destination first, leaving them twisting in the wind and unable to do what they had planned.

In addition to the advance planning mechanism, the game has a couple of other interesting features. Empty recruitment markers cycle to become future threats, and defeated threats cycle to become future recruitment markers, and the players can see what is coming down the pike. This also feeds into the planning.

The endgame scoring process is interesting as well. Defeating a threat entitles the player to take two of three possible rewards: Reputation, Gold, or Sorcerer Towers. After 12 turns, the game ends and each player is ranked according to their accumulation of each of these three rewards, in an order determined at the beginning of the game. (In our game, the order was, in fact, Reputation, Gold, Towers.) The last player in rank in each reward is eliminated and cannot win, but their score in the other rewards counts toward determining everybody’s rank in the other rewards. In our game, Ocean was last in Reputation, so he was out of contention; but his rank in Gold was higher than everybody else’s pushing the rest of us down in rank. I got eliminated in the Gold ranking, and then Jessie defeated JR on Towers to win the game.

The game is designed for four, but also plays with three players (using a dummy player to work out the rankings at the end) and with five (in which case the lowest two players are eliminated in the first ranking). It took us about two hours, including learning the rules.


Since Team Edward was ensconced in Viticulture when we finished, we opened up Stefan Feld’s Bruges (with the City on the Zwin expansion). We are a Feld-friendly crew, but I had forgotten how enjoyable this game is.

Bruges. Not even close to color-blind friendly.
Bruges. Not even close to color-blind friendly.

As with most Feld games, there are multiple paths to victory and a half dozen fiddly ways to score points, and players must make hard choices. Each turn, players draw up to a hand of five cards, from two decks containing cards of five different colors (red, yellow, blue, purple, brown). For each draw, a player has two choices – usually two different colors, but sometimes both the same). Then the current starting player rolls five dice – one in each color; the pips on each die establish certain costs and values and may result in the players’ receiving threat tokens.

The players then take turns playing a card from their hand, one at a time clockwise from the starting player. Each card may be played in one of six ways: to gain workers of the corresponding color (for future use); to gain money equal to the number of pips on the corresponding die; to eliminate a threat of the corresponding color; to build a section of canal by paying money; to build a house by expending a worker of the appropriate color; or, once a house is available, to put a person into a house by paying money. A person in a house in a player’s display will have a special ability that may happen just once when played, or may be activated by spending a worker of a particular color, or if a certain condition is met. The expansion adds (optionally) more cards; boats each turn that allow a player who builds a canal to get an extra benefit; and a market that grants a player a bonus of some sort when they take a particular action during that turn.

Each player plays (usually) four cards per round, then the starting player rotates clockwise, and the cycle begins again. The game’s final round is triggered when the last card in either of the two decks is taken. (There is a deck of additional cards that can be used to fill out the rest of the round as needed.) When the player’s have taken their last actions, the scores are totaled up and – mirabile dictu! – the player with the most points wins. As noted, there are multiple ways points are scored, and since most of the scoring is left to the end of the game, it can be difficult to gauge how well one is doing. Last night, I thought I was doing miserably, but I wound up in second place, two or three points behind Jessie and ahead of JR by about the same margin.



Epilogue

A good time was had by all. Having won two games in a row, and every game he played last night, Jessie was placed on probationary status, and swore never to do it again. Also, I need to take better pictures.

Game Night Recap (Tuesday, April 21, 2015)

We had a small group last night. Jim begged off, citing some nonsense about “my wife’s birthday.” (Whatevs.) Dave is on Impending Baby Watch, so he decided to stick close to home. Ken arrived first, and for a time, it looked like it might just be the two of us – and then, just as he was breaking out Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage for the two of us to play, JR and Jesse arrived. None of the other seminarians (whose names also begin with J, strangely) showed up, so it was just the four of us.

As is customary whenever Ken comes to Game Night, we did not play Titan. (This is also customary when Ken does not come to Game Night.)

Game 1: Rise to Power

JR brought a new game, Rise to Power, a card game of city building and expansion from an Australian two-man game company called Rule & Make. The game mechanics are simple: Everyone starts with a Power Plant and a couple of cards representing different values and colors of PRISM (energy), and builds a grid of city districts around it. At the end of he game, districts are worth a specified number of points, to which players add any “agenda” goals they managed to obtain during the course of play. Most points (shocking, I know) wins.

We played with the expansions that JR got with the game, including CEOs. Each player was given a CEO with two powers: a one-use power and a passive power that came into effect after the one-use power was triggered and stayed in effect for the remainder of the game. Ken’s CEO’s passive power gave him a lot of extra Action Points to work with, and as a result, for most of the game, he was running away with it. I managed a highly lucrative final turn, though, and managed to pull out a victory. [Victory Lap!] We all agreed that the CEOs are not properly balanced, and the game would play better without them.

All told, including rules reading, the game took us less than 90 minutes. The game can hold up to six people, but the consensus was there would be too much downtime with more than four. Nonetheless, we all enjoyed it and would play it again.

Game 2: Il Vecchio

Il Vecchio is an old favorite from Rudiger Dorn, published by Tasty Minstrel Games. (Their website is under construction, so the link goes to their BoardGameGeek page.)

In Il Vecchio, players send family members to towns around the Tuscan countryside to gather followers (Assassin, Monk, or Soldier tokens), favors (carriage and bishop tokens), money, and scroll tokens. With the proper combinations of followers and money, a player can place a family member in a position of influence in one of three provinces – but as the provinces fill up, the value of the next position declines while the cost to place there rises. The provinces also provide special single-use powers. Using scrolls (and possibly money), a player can place a family member on one of two tracks in Florence – the city track, which grants a favor the player can use for the rest of the game, or the nobility track, which grants end-game bonus points.

The game mechanics are interesting. The type of token obtained in a given town is determined by a “Middleman” marker; when used, the marker then moves clockwise to the next appropriate town on the board, meaning planning ahead is crucial. As each family member performs an action, it is laid on its side and cannot be used again until the player uses an action to “recover” – that is, to stand up all their family members. A bishop token allows the player to prevent the Middleman from moving and let the family member remain active.

At certain points along the province and Florence tracks, placing a family member results in the player taking a Medici token. Each Medici token has an immediate effect that usually screws up everybody’s planning, and counts as a victory point for the player who took it. The Medici tokens also act as the game clock – when the last one is taken, the players have final turns, and then count their scores.

The mechanics work in such a way that everybody feels frustrated at some point, usually because you have just missed an opportunity by one turn and someone has moved something out from under you. Money is hard to come by; it takes multiple turns to gather the tokens you need, and in the meantime, other players are likely to disrupt your careful planning. There are limited opportunities (using starting bonus powers and Florence city powers) to create an engine of sorts, but this is not really an engine-building game.

Once again, Ken appeared to be running away with the game, due to a starting bonus that kept him in carriage and bishop tokens and provided a stream of money. JR, Jesse, and I all felt stymied at multiple points. In the end, Ken did win, but by a margin of only four points. The rest of us were one point apart. I took third place, which frankly surprised me, because I had thought I was much farther behind.

All in all, a low-key game night, with one good and one great game.