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 – 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.