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 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.