Monday, December 29, 2008

29th Dec Session Report

Weilong and Mun joined Van and myself for games today which would probably be our last session before the reopening of the school term.

We started off with Stone Age which was relatively a new game for all of us. It was the second play for Weilong, Van and myself, and the first for Mun. I was somewhat lukewarm after my first play and hoped a second play would help me assess if the game was worth keeping.

I managed a respectable 2nd with a score of 140+ by nabbing all 8 green bonus cards despite trailing most of the way. Impressively, Mun took the win despite it being her first play with 157 points through some well-diversified scoring. In particular, she took 4 buildings of flexible scoring which secured the bulk of her points.

We then tried Galaxy Trucker since it was the final game from my recent games order that Weilong and Mun haven't tried. They were keen to try it especially after hearing about its 'jigsaw' mechanism.

I started well and took the lead with well-built ships the first 2 rounds. I also realized that being able to complete the ships first were highly advantageous. I managed to benefit from most of the journey cards and had the first turn of the timer during the next ship building phase.

For the 3rd and final round, I suggested to Van that we use the 3A boards since we were more experienced that Weilong and Mun and had relatively handsome leads over them. Boy, was that a mistake. The odd ship shape of the 3A board proved a real headache when searching for pieces. This struggle was accentuated with 4 players since there was greater competition for ship parts. In addition, I noted the long sides of the ship design and made a mental note to acquire side-pointing guns to reduce the ship's vulnerability.

Unfortunately, the pieces were hard to come by with Van snatching them up quickly and I failed to set up my ship as intended. This would prove to be disastrous as my ship quickly unravelled during the journey. We encountered a card with multiple side large meteoroid hits which smashed through the centre of my ship and ripped it half with the destruction of the pilot pod. I had to abandon the journey too as I unwisely released all but 2 of my crew during a previous abandon ship encounter which reaped my 10 cosmic credits.

Van took the win with 76, with an excellently built 3A ship. Mun again impressed with her score of 51 despite it being her first play while myself and Weilong took up the rear with scores of 48 and 28 respectively. Weilong was unfortunate due to the hefty cannon fire penalties during 2 consecutive cosmic zone encounters which took off the rear of his ship.

Van's 3A ship - note all the cannons pointing sideways

The final game we played before dinner was Glory to Rome. This is fast becoming a personal as well as crowd favourite. The game ended with me, Van, Mun and Weilong scoring 30, 17, 14 and 12 respectively. This was the first time we experienced the game ending through the draw pile being exhausted due to two early temple (+4 hand) builds by Van and I.

I took the win by amassing materials in my stockpile and scoring bonus points with the Wall (1 point for every 2 materials in stockpile at the end of the game) as well as hoarding the most gold in the vault with the help of an early Merchant client.

After dinner we decided to go for a game of Agricola at Van's request. Mun had a fantastic hand of cards and built up her farm easily. My cards had to do with food provision mostly which allowed me to multiply my family members early. I ended with a 5-room stone house, 4 farms, 3 stables, 2 pastures and just 1 unfilled space tying Mun for the win with 42 points.

My farm - scored most my points through family and house expansion

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Musings on Race for the Galaxy

Race for the Galaxy or RftG for short is one of the games I like quite a bit yet have issues with. It is highly rated on the geek (no.8 at present) and dubbed by many as the answer to a game that's quick yet deep. I agree with those views and for someone who has never tried a traditional CCG, really enjoy the pseudo CCG elements of various card combinations. 

However, Van really dislikes the game. We have played almost 20 times and part of me secretly hoped it would grow on her as she got past the steep learning curve but in vain. The space theme unfortunately doesn't appeal to her (no surprise there I suppose) but what really puts her off is the lack of interaction between players. The interaction in RftG has been termed as subtle in the geek forums and from experience, Van has surprisingly enjoyed games with more direct confrontation.

Additionally, it does not help that most of our plays have been 2-player games. I personally still like the game for its depth and length and currently rate it a 8 but some issues nonetheless linger:

1. Feels like multiplayer solitaire - like my wife, I prefer more direct interaction. Little incentive to keep a close eye on opponent's cards. 
2. Game length is a double edged sword - Quick games allow more plays but I can't help feeling at times that it comes across too short for a game of such depth. I recognize it's called RACE for the Galaxy but it doesn't help that I still often feel unsatisfied at the end of games because of it. 
3. Steep learning curve - tough to get casual players into the game and for them to be even somewhat competitive. As such, it's often only a legitimate option for regular game partners. 
4. Card draws can occasionally determine the outcome of games. I like a degree of luck in games but not to the extent when you just watch your opponent run away with the game. 
5. Playing according to cards obtained sometimes lead to mechanical choices. Consume - 2x VP / Produce is the dominant strategy for the 2-player game and once a few production worlds and consume powers are established, the game plays itself.

Admittedly, some of these issues are minimized with 3 or 4 players. But with the steep learning curve and my wife increasingly reluctant to play the game, it has been hard bringing the game to the table, much less with more than 2 players. I contemplated selling the game off at a both but I figured it fills a nice niche in my collection, and at the moment I still enjoy enough to want to own a copy.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Boxing Day Session Report

While the rest of Singapore were thronging Orchard Road for the post-Christmas sales, I opted for the sane choice of staying within the comforts of my own home. 

Ben came over for games and I started the afternoon by teaching him Battle Line, a short and excellent two-player card game by Reiner Knizia that both Van and I enjoy tremendously. For its length, it has a nice degree of tactical depth but what I particularly like about the game is the constant tension present in managing your hand. 

We played the first game without the tactic cards so that Ben could get a hang of the mechanics. He won by taking three adjacent flags with a good draw at the end. After introducing the tactic cards to him, we played two more games which I won, probably due to a better understanding of how to utilize the tactic cards. 

Some on the geek forum have expressed preference for the vanilla version of the game, but having experienced the fine balancing play of the tactic cards, I would have it no other way. I particular appreciate the rule of being able to play at most one more tactic card than your opponent for it forces you to choose carefully both the right card as well as the right timing to employ it. Blatant use of the tactic cards is thus not possible, and overdrawing from the tactic cards pile means a diminished ability to hold number cards which is key to forming strong 3-card 'formations'.

With Van and Siew Min still busy in the kitchen, I suggested playing Agricola after enjoying it as a two-player with Van the day before. While Ben wasn't a fan of worker-placement games, he was open to trying it with the occupation and minor improvement cards since his only prior experience with the game was the family mode. 

I find the game less tedious with fewer players, especially with less resource replenishing to do between rounds. While I don't enjoy it as much as El Grande or Princes of Florence, it does scale incredibly well. At the moment, I probably enjoy it more with two or three than with four or five. 

I won the game with a better diversification of my farm though Ben did put up a good fight. He would probably have scored better if he didn't forget about the 'Wet Nurse' occupation card which he had in hand which allowed him to add a family member for free each time he added a room to his hut. We played with the K deck which I find much better balanced than the E deck though the 'Wet Nurse' occupation does seem somewhat overpowered.

The two girls finally finished up their baking and joined us for a game of Galaxy Trucker. This was only the second play for Van and I and there were some rules that we still needed to iron out. 

Ben and Siew Min seemed to catch the basic premise of the game after the tutorial round which makes me wonder if the game is truly as unaccessible to first-timers as some posts in the geek forum seem to suggest. Van managed to finish building her ship first each time and ran off with the game with a score of 106. I was a distant second with 64.  

The jury is still out on this one. I spent a long time considering whether to splash out on this game and it was eventually a substantially discounted price on that made me take the plunge. After trying it, I think it did concur with my prior research on the game. The ship building aspect is novel but the space flight segment seems largely on auto-pilot. Think I will give it a few more tries before determining if it is a keeper.

Siew Min left around dinner time, and the three of us continued with the final game of the night, Glory to Rome after having our fill. 

Glory to Rome has really become a crowd favourite since we started playing it which makes me wonder about its mediocre ranking on the geek. I suspect it is due to some feeling that the building powers are overpowered and while I do agree with that, it seems to me that they do balance each other out. There are sufficient powers available to hamper an opponent pursuing the Forum strategy, where you immediately win the game with each of the six roles present in your clientele. 

I made an effort to play my hands more efficiently today and took a close one from Van. I also paid more attention to the vault and stashed valuable gold earned from selling stone and marble materials in there. An early Shrine (+2 hand) and an eventual Circus Maximus (doubles the actions of clients led or followed) helped substantially as well.

A Blog Is Borned!

I've always thought of starting a gaming blog ever since I developed an interest in Eurogames a couple of years ago. It began with the Settlers of Catan in 2005 which was introduced by a friend from NIE and his wife. Coupled with the immense information on boardgamegeek as an aid, I haven't looked back since. My humble collection which started with a travel edition of Settlers (which I eventually sold off) and later Puerto Rico (the then top ranked game on the geek) has grown over the years as I sought to build a diverse selection of games that my wife and I, as well as our friends would enjoy.

My intention for this blog is three-fold: Survey, Strategy and Sessions.
Survey - to take down short musings of games I've played
Strategy - to trace my journey of learning how to play various games better
Sessions - to track times of gaming which I enjoy with my friends and family

Enough background info for one day... let the games begin!