Saturday, December 19, 2009

14th Dec 2009 Session Report: Fans of AGoT LCG

One of my favourite new games has to be A Game of Thrones LCG. However, it has been a challenge finding gaming partners for it since its theme and mechanics mean that it has a niche appeal of sorts. So far, Ivan and Jerry seems most keen on it. Today, Jo and Ben were over and it seems I've found 2 new converts.

It was Jo's second go at the game while it was Ben's first. The first game took some time with us recycling our plot cards. I was behind most of the game but managed to catch up towards the end. Jo was leading with over 10 power tokens, held in check only by my Melisandre, who negates power tokens on opponents' character cards. Jo took the win by playing the 'Tourney of the Hand' plot card which renders his knight characters immune to character abilities. As it turned out, power tokens earned via renown were concentrated on his knight characters giving him the win since Melisandre had no hold on them that round.

In our second game, Ben played my haphazardly put together Baratheon deck to good effect. He took the win with a 5 power token round, leveraging on a double claim round coupled with Robert Baratheon's fearsome renown ability which earns him not 1 but 2 power tokens.

Other games played that day included 2 rounds of Glory to Rome. In the first game between, Jo, Ben and myself, I took the win with a Forum victory with the help of a Garden, Aqueduct and Bar combo. Coincidentally, in a later game where Van joined in, she also won through the Forum, aided by the Aqueduct and Gate.

The 4 of us also played China. While abstract, I enjoy its depth for its short playtime. The others seemed more lukewarm towards it. Being their first plays, Jo and Ben took awhile to wrap their heads around the scoring. I experimented and placed emissaries far earlier than I usually do in the game. While I lost ground in terms of house placements, I ended up scoring majority of the emissary points which pushed me over the top for the win.

Friday, December 11, 2009

8th Dec 2009 Session Report: Hansa Teutonica

Battle Line

The day of gaming began innocuously enough with Van suggesting a rematch at Battle Line despite her winning the last game couple days back. As usual, it was a tight affair with Van emerging victorious 2 games to 1. While abstract (typical Knizia), the tension the game creates is splendid. Some view the tactic cards as overly random but I see it as an opportunity cost mechanic which I enjoy.

Opting to hold tactic cards in hand means the trade-off of greater flexibility by holding more numerical cards. I usually avoid taking tactic cards till my opponent takes his/her first one so as to reserve an option of responding if he/she does play one against me.

Besides the decisions of how early to take a tactic card and how many to take is the decision of when to play a tactic card. My experience is that I will usually initiate the play of tactic cards when I'm falling behind and do so in the hope that my opponent holds inferior tactic card(s) which prevents a timely response. When ahead, there is absolutely no reason to open the can of worms that tactic cards bring and often I'll 'take a blow' without responding so that no further tactic cards can be played against me.

All in all, my opinion is that meaningful decisions are introduced with tactic cards and I always opt to play with them except when teaching new players the game.

Hansa Teutonica

Marcus contacted me last minute that he was available to game. He brought along Hansa Teutonica which I had read so much about from the Essen reports on BGG. It has been touted as comparable to Endeavor but perhaps more gamey. I had my reservations about Endeavor despite owning it and wondered if Hansa Teutonica would be a worthy substitute as a game with somewhat similar mechanics.

We grappled a bit with the rules at the start as it was the first time Marcus was explaining the rules. In retrospect, there is probably a little more to explain for HT since its mechanics are less streamlined than Endeavor and it possesses more numerous ways of scoring points. However, I do appreciate that points scored for your development tracks are less fiddly than those scored in Endeavor. In HT, you simply score 4 points for each track you maximize. With a few plays in the bag, I suspect HT shouldn't be much tougher explaining than Endeavor.

It was a close game with the three of us groping in the dark trying to formulate some kind of strategy. Marcus and I realized early that developing our actions track would be key to our competitiveness and thus there was fierce competition for the relevant route. Van caught on a bit later and was unable to maximize her actions track by the end of the game. My points grew as I controlled a city on that route and I ended the game when I crossed the 20 point threshold by scoring the 7 points given to the first player to connect the 2 red labelled cities from east to west. Marcus almost caught up as we tabulated the scores as he was the only one to advance his network multiplier to 2, which doubled the points he scored for each office he possessed in his longest network of connected cities. The scores ended 42-40-18.

The game played quick - one hour excluding rules and set-up for a first game! It pleased me to see that HT plays likely in the same time as Endeavor despite posts on BGG that suggest that it plays longer. I was a bit perturbed that most parts of the board were left untouched as we focused our actions on the south-east portion where the city to upgrade the actions track laid. I also questioned the game was too predictable as it was apparent that the action track seemed overpowered as suggested by some on BGG. But upon some reflection, I realized the various options to score points in the game was oddly balanced and it was possible to do well even without upgrading to the 5th action. The ability to take an action and move multiple cubes while less apparent can be just as powerful and potentially negate the disadvantage of having less actions. In fact, it's probably wise to opt for another path to victory if other players compete too fiercely to upgrade their actions.

Herein lies the factor in which I rate HS over Endeavor. Endeavor is a great gateway game and probably easier for casual gamers to pick up compared to HT. However, my grouse with Endeavor is that every game doesn't seem to develop differently enough. Diversification is the key to victory and one is unlikely to do well if he or she overly neglects any of the developmental tracks. The charm about HT is that there are viable options where players can specialize, whether in their choice of developmental tracks to upgrade or their means of scoring points. This trait of having multiple paths to victory is one possessed by most of my highly rated games including the Princes of Florence.

One play seemed sufficient for me to make up my mind and at the point of typing this entry, I have already sold away Endeavor and made an order for Hansa Teutonica as its replacement.

Le Havre

We ended the night with Le Havre. Marcus and Van seemed to get their hands on all the key buildings before I could and I struggled to keep up. Van sold off her Sawmill which reaped her enough francs to purchase a wooden ship before the Wharf was available. Coupled with my mistakes in the end game, the final scores were 223-196-167 in the favour of Marcus and Van. I realized that the end game is highly critical and there is a need to plan your final actions taken. The tricky bit is that most players will be aiming for the same buildings in the end game (shipping, clearing loans, building the luxury liner, etc.) and you may very well be shut out of those buildings. This happened to me and I wasn't able to finish shipping the goods I stocked up for most of the game. This is especially so since one cannot repeat his last action as his final, unblockable action at the end of the game. A splendid game no doubt and one I'm looking forward to honing my play in.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

3rd Dec 2009 Session Report: Greed, Incorporated

One of the blessings of having Marcus as a gaming buddy is that I get to try many of the new releases. First was Vasco da Gama and then it was Factory Manager, all recent releases at Essen. Today, he introduced us to Greed, Incorporated which was my second attempt at a Splotter game after Indonesia.

Greed, Incorporated (Me 43, Marcus 40, Van 19)

I've mixed feelings after playing the game despite eking out a surprising victory. On the positive side, it was surprisingly approachable for a Splotter game and the phases were clear and easy to follow. I had little trouble understanding the game and the mechanics did seem a lot more elegant compared to Indonesia. An added plus was that we finished the game in 150min excluding rules explanation. Apparently, it was noted on BGG that the 3 player game takes longer than with 4-5 players due to the increased number of rounds. While Indonesia seemed the deeper game but its also definitely the longer and less accessible game.

However, the way the game panned out seemed to leave me somewhat dissatisfied. While the game seemed to be built for business negotiations and trading, we only traded once in the game where Van bought a raw material she lacked from Marcus so as to produce her secondary good early in the game. As the game progressed and most of the initial blame games had taken place, we opted to fill the CFO and COO positions with our own markers, ensuring that we would maximize the payout from our companies. I had a good hand of asset cards and managed to accomplished that while attaining the assets required to up the value of my goods. With the limit of 4 assets per company, opting to grab an opponent's asset card as a means to block them doesn't seem viable. As such, I spent my final few rounds engineering opportunities to fire myself from 1-2 positions in my companies to increase my personal wealth while restocking the personnel the following round by selecting my own asset cards. While effective, it didn't seem like the game was meant to be played that way. But with each of us pursuing our production trees, there weren't opportunities for us to trade anyway. Marcus remarked that this would probably be different with more players as it would be tougher to be self-independent. Perhaps, but once I got a hold of 2 companies, I could very much have my way manipulating the 'books' to ensure I surpassed the previous year's income when I needed to.

The other part of the game that left me cold was the auction mechanic to convert personal cash to VPs. Victory is determined by VPs with personal cash serving as only the tie-breaker. Each round, there's an opportunity to purchase a gold or silver status symbol which accords VPs to the player. However, each player can only make one purchase per round and the starting bid of each symbol follows the clinched price of the previous symbol. The VPs also differ by 0-1 VPs from its preceding good. It appears to me that it always makes sense to go all out in the auction as there is little chance of getting a better deal in subsequent rounds with the inflation of prices for limited VP gain. While I can see the timing of when to initiate a blame game becomes more significant in view of this in hope of clinching an auction unopposed, I wonder if the auction mechanic is the best option for this cash to VP conversion process. The final round was somewhat anti-climatic as the gold and silver symbols simply went to the richest and second richest players.

Citadels (Marcus 34, Me 22(3), Van(0))

Marcus needed to leave in 30min so we opted for a quick game of Citadels. 3-player plays quickly and best because each player gets to take 2 characters per round. We also opted to play to 7 buildings instead of the usual 8 to shorten the game. I started strongly, getting to 4 buildings first despite Van building the impressive 8-point University early. However, a series of assassinations by Van crippled my progress, leaving the path to victory clear to Marcus. He was not only first to 7, but also managed a 5 point 8th building, nabbing the colour bonus as well. While I managed to get to 7 that final round, my buildings were nothing to shout about. Van built high value buildings but was unable to build quick enough to pose a significant threat to Marcus.

2nd Dec 2009 Session Report: A Close One...

Van suggested that we play Battle Line out of the blue and it turned out to be a really close affair. I started well, taking the first couple of flags and threatening a breakthrough on the right flank, needing only 1 more flag to win the game. However, Van held out and with the help of her superior Tactic cards, she fended off everything I could throw at her, including the Fog and Mud cards, to take the win 5-4.

27th Nov 2009 Session Report: Public Holiday Gaming Redux

Had a good turnout this time round, with almost 10 different ones playing over the course of the day. Lost the scores yet again so will just jot down what comes to mind.

Ivan came over with Jerry who is a CCG/LCG enthusiast. Despite never having played A Game of Thrones LCG before, he picked it up fast. The game was played over 2 halves as Marcus came halfway and we decided to opt for a game all 5 of us could play. We also played till only 10 points in order to avoid dragging out the game overly. Ivan played his slightly modified Targaryen deck while Jerry used his Stark deck. I fiddled with my Stark deck somewhat the day before, adding in a couple of Intrigue characters and swapping some of the plot cards so decided to go with that too. As a result, the game was dominated by military and power challenges. The lead switched hands a couple of times but I ultimately took the game with a 5 power gain round. I won an unopposed military challenge against Jerry, before initiating a power challenge against Ivan which he decided not to defend against. My claim that round was 2 which allowed me to rob him of 2 power tokens. I gained an extra power token for the unopposed challenge plus a final power token due to Eddard Stark's Renown ability for the win.

While this was going on, Van introduced Battle Line to Marcus before we took a break from AGoT LCG to table El Grande. I hadn't had a chance to play El Grande for some time with the infrequency of gaming with 5, coupled with the fact that I tended to opt for Princes of Florence even with 5 around. It definitely did not disappoint and I made a mental note to table it more often. Ivan, Jerry and Marcus picked up the game quickly and scores ended up really close at the end with Van edging me and Ivan out by a point. There were a couple of 'wow' moments in the game, especially when the Caballeros (men) were released from the Castillo, which changed the board situation significantly. A worthy 9 in my book.

While Ivan, Jerry and I completed AGoT LCG, Van, FT and Marcus opted to play Glory to Rome. I didn't have much info about the game but apparently Marcus grabbed a speedy win with the help of a Craftsman strategy.

Ivan and Jerry had to make a move and Marcus introduced the rest of us including Lijie to Factory Manager. I had heard good things about the game but figured just like its predecessor Power Grid, it was unlikely to be my cup of tea. My gut feel was proven right as it was rather mathy, with the need to calculate your cost and income constantly to ensure you were eking out maximum profit each round. Power Grid while longer is definitely the superior game. Marcus won with me taking second place.

Marcus and Lijie had to make a move, but with Mun and Weilong joining the fray, I had an opportunity to try a 5-player game of Endeavor. Surprisingly, not all the regions opened up either as we opted to attack rather than merely sticking to peaceful options. Having a couple of 3-player games in the pocket, the game appears to scale rather well. However, while I can see why the game is rated highly, I'm still on the edge regarding it. I like its short play time and accessibility to non-gamers. However, the premise of the game doesn't encourage specialization as you really have to build up all tracks reasonably to do well. The paths to victory do not seem diverse enough for me and I'm waiting to see if Hansa Teutonica would be a better alternative. From what I heard, Marcus should be receiving his copy soon.

After dinner, FT, Joseph, Weilong and I played a game of China. Once again, house placements dominated the first half of the game and only when the majority of spots were filled that we started playing our emissaries. That seems to be the typical pattern of play and I wonder whether there is a place to focus on emissaries earlier in the game. I still enjoy the depth of the game for the time it takes, but offering alternative strategies would definitely take the game up a notch in my book. FT took the win over me by a point.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tribune On The Way...

Just put in an order for Tribune: Primus Inter Pares. Was gonna wait till the Black Friday sales in hope of a better deal but went ahead anyway as I doubted the game would be available at a better price anyway.

It seems like the sort of game I'll enjoy - relatively deep with good interaction, short gameplay, easy to teach... My only concern was price (which I finally decided wasn't a concern, thus the rash purchase) and that it was yet another worker placement game. But watching Tom Vasel's video review seemed to convince me that there are sufficient elements which makes it unique despite its worker placement mechanic. Hopefully it scales well, at least from 3-5 if not with 2. Don't really want to add another game in the vein of El Grande and Princes of Florence, which are really only worth playing with 5.

20th Nov 2009 Session Report: An Afternoon of Games...

Took half day off in the afternoon to game with Jo, Dave and Seth. Jo has been exposed to euros while Dave and Seth were largely new to this world.

I decided to start off with a euro-ameritrash hybrid: Nexus Ops to ease them into the world of euros. The other reason of course is that I seldom get to bring this game to the table due to its theme. Somehow the female species gets turned off whenever they lay their eyes on the alien figurines. I don't blame them but it's such a pity because I have always rated the game highly. Well, it's rare to get 4 guys at the table and they looked thrilled lining up their various figurines while the rules explanation was going on.

The game did get bog down somewhat with 4 (my previous experiences were all with 3 so far) but not overly. I took the win easy due to their 'Risk' tendencies, opting to take the conservative approach and build up their forces. Nexus Ops however rewards aggressiveness as the game is not about survival but rather picking off the opponent at weak spots, and racing them to 12VPs by accomplishing various mission objectives, the most basic of which is simply succeeding in a battle situation.

The other reason for my easy victory was that they underestimated the importance of dominating the monolith, and allowed me several turns on it, thus racking up my stash of energize cards. These allowed me to unload them on the last few turns, acquiring the final VPs needed before they could halt my march to victory. In retrospect, I should have perhaps emphasized the usefulness of energize cards to a greater extent.

After the warm-up, I brought out the main event - A Game of Thrones LCG. Dave took Stark, Jo Lannister, Seth Baratheon and I Targaryen. The game dragged with 4 players as there was greater downtime. This was accentuated by the fact that we were unfamiliar with the card powers and spent quite some time reading them and figuring out what they meant. The game will clearly be more enjoyable with a regular group familiar with the cards. I should probably take my own advice and stick with one deck from now on, so that I can gain some competency with a deck. Between clarifying the rules, explaining the card powers of others, and grasping my own, the game becomes quite a brain-burning experience.

In terms of how the game progressed, we were generally conservative, opting to allow a challenge to go unopposed rather than face potentially heavier casualties by defending. In a sense, this was positive as it sped up the game by allowing more power tokens into the game. On the other hand, we were struggling to come to terms with the card texts that we failed to actively keep an eye on each others' armies and power tokens. In the end, Dave took the win with an unopposed military challenge, aided by Edward Stark's renown ability. Hoping to get more plays with 2 players to gain familiarity with the cards with less downtime even though the game does shine with 3-4 with the addition of the multiplayer titles.

I introduced them finally to Alhambra but we didn't finish as Dave and Seth had to leave halfway.

Friday, November 20, 2009

17th Nov 2009 Session Report: First Attempt at Vasco da Gama

Marcus' shipment of games from Essen arrived and when he came over, we were able to give Vasco da Gama a go. This was one of the games that intrigued me as I kept up to date with the Essen reports on BGG, and was clearly the game of the show as indicated by the popularity polls.

I however did poorly at the game, unable to grasp the nuances of the mechanics to play efficiently enough. I ended with a miserly 52 points compared to 77 for Van and 83 for Marcus. The game reminded me of Confucius where the board contained different sections for worker placement - one for selecting characters with bonuses, purchasing ships, recruiting crew and finally, one to deploy the manned ships. So while nothing new, the various sections did feel more tightly integrated into the game as a whole.

What has been touted as the refreshing aspect of Vasco however is the way in which selected actions are resolved. Workers are not placed directly on the various sections but rather on a list of numbers determining turn order. Beyond a certain point, actions are free, but above that, ascending payment is required. This point however has a random element as a modifier of +3 to -3 will be applied after numbers have been selected. We played generally conservatively, opting for actions in the free range but once I fell behind, I took greater risks, opting for advance positions despite lacking money for potential payments if the modifier didn't go my way. If payments can't be made, actions are skipped with the consolation of a small income.

The game felt tight throughout as you are constantly jostling for position in the various sections of the board. Going behind means settling for inferior options as the better ones get taken . Another challenge is lining up your positions so that you have the necessary requirements to launch your ship(s) at the right time.

The game didn't overstay its welcome, playing in about 90min excluding rules explanation. While I enjoyed the game and saw the brilliance in its mechanics, it just didn't feel unique enough to warrant a purchase. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to more plays on Marcus' copy.

Vanessa suggested Tigris and Euphrates next. This was Simon's copy which I borrowed awhile back and hadn't had the opportunity to return. It was Marcus first play and after having not played the game in awhile, I must admit that I appreciate the charm of the game. It is undisputedly one of Knizia's better designs as reflected by its BGG ranking. I enjoy the conflict present and the possibilities available. It is one of those games where you can make a move and your opponents are left both surprised and wowed. I had a couple of bad hands this game, ending up with multiple same coloured tiles which I had strength in. I realized the best thing to do in such situations is to go for a quick external conflict, which enabled a more efficient refreshing of tiles. I also like how there needs to be constant consideration as to how best strengthen your weak colours. I had a few unexpected victories due to my skewed tile hands and ended up with 11 on my weakest colour while Van and Marcus tied on 6.

Next up was Chicago Express which Marcus was keen to have another go at since the last time we played. I won the initial red as usual but made a bad move of auctioning the 2nd red when I didn't need to. I realized that actions are valuable in this game and there is no reason taking an action which would not directly benefit me over my opponents. I could have waited for others to auction the 2nd red as it was advantageous to keep status quo into the first dividend phase. Marcus had a good start and ended up with 114 to Van's 79 and my 73. I was also overly conservative in my shares acquisitions early on, and lost out on overall payouts in the long run.

We ended off with what else but Glory to Rome. I built the Scriptorium proceeded to accumulate influence by mass completion of buildings. I finally ended the game in the nick of time with a Catacomb as Van started stashing extra materials in her vault with her first turn Merchant client. I pipped her by a point, 24 to 23.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

11th Nov 2009 Session Report: The One Where I Cement My Appreciation Of Chicago Express

Had a good gaming turn-out today: Weilong, Mun, Ivan, Van and myself.

Ivan was the earliest so we started out with A Game of Thrones LCG while waiting for the other two to arrive. It was our first go at multiplayer so a little reviewing of the titles mechanic was due. This basically involves a choice of title per round by each player after plot cards are revealed and initiative resolved. Each title accords a benefit for the turn as well as determines potentially another title in which you oppose or support for the entirety of the round. You are restricted from challenging whoever you support and you gain a bonus power if you win a challenge against whoever you oppose. It's a nice added element to the game which helps balance the decks and prevent runaway leaders. Thematically, it fits the politicking of the books. However, it does add considerable time to gameplay since there is a tendency to gang up on the leader to pull him or her back.

As it turned out, we didn't manage to finish the game at the point when Weilong and Mun arrived. Nonetheless, it gave us a feel of the multiplayer mechanic. Van remained unimpressed and it looks like it will be increasingly difficult to get her to play again. Ivan was leading in the power department when we decided to move on to something else.

With 5, we opted for none other than Princes of Florence. Before we started, I also managed to teach Ivan Tichu and while waiting for Mun, the four of us played two hands. It ended 270-20 in Ivan and my advantage. Van and Weilong also had a short game of Battle Line while I was explaining the rules of PoF to Ivan.

Princes of Florence (Me 63, Ivan 51, Van 48, Mun 48, WL 38)

Ivan did surprisingly well considering it was only his first play at the game. I made a big boo-boo with my first prestige card, failing to get the builder I needed to fulfill the requirements. Somehow I assumed that just like Jesters, there would be a builder available for each round and waited till the last round to obtain it, hoping to nab it at a lower price. To my surprise, there were only 7 builders in the game, as opposed to 8 for Jesters. I opted desperately for a second prestige card at that point and managed to get the tied score for most works, but the damage was done. Thankfully, I obtained 2 Jesters in the mid-game at undervalued prices, which enabled me to still nab victory.

Glory to Rome (Van - forum victory, Me, Ivan, Mun)

Weilong had to leave early and Ivan was due to leave in about an hour so we opted for GtR. Ivan picked it up quickly despite the variety of building powers. Clearly, his experience with CCG/LCG typed games helped. I was a turn away from a potential victory but Van pipped me to it with a Forum victory thanks to her Gate which activates the powers of uncompleted Marble buildings.

Chicago Express (Van 83, Me 64, Mun 42)

After Ivan departed, I taught Mun Chicago Express before dinner. She was clearly impressed by the depth of the game despite the simplicity of the mechanics. I again won the first red share at $21. Van wised up to my strategy this time round and promptly auctioned the 2nd red share at a point when my finances paled to hers. She went further to buy up the 3rd share and I was rendered helpless as she clearly had the edge in terms of income and cash early in the game. As a minor shareholder, I diverted red's network away from Chicago and utilized it to block green which Van and Mun owned out of the game. Red was left with insufficient tracks to reach Chicago though it still provided a nice income each dividend phase. But the allowance to pull off such a move just took the game up another notch in my book. Blue managed to reach Chicago and I was the main beneficiary with 2 shares to Van and Mun's one. However, I was unable to claw back on Van's early lead and she promptly ended the game by auctioning off Wabash's 2nd share, leaving shares on red, blue and black all accounted for.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

8th Nov 2009: My First Wins At Chicago Express & Endeavor...

If you had read my last post, you would know that it was mighty fortunate that Van even agreed to game with me again, hah! Anyway, Marcus came over and mentioned he has a shipment from Essen arriving (woohoo!). We initially wanted to give Imperial a go, but Van vetoed the idea in view of its length so Marcus had a chance to try out the new games I acquired.

We started off with Endeavor and while he grasped the rules quickly, he had some difficulty optimizing his choices and ended up with some inefficient scenarios where he was unable to fully utilize his workers. I too had an abundance of workers but used them to good effect by attacking strategically for the connection and added influence. Surprisingly, 3 extra regions opened up, and both Marcus and Van managed a nice collection of cards. I had the most points on the main board which was enough to secure me the victory, despite me not gaining a single Governor card nor acquiring a building beyond an industry level of 3.

Next up was Chicago Express. Marcus had tried it once before so we were equally experienced, or for that matter inexperienced, with 1 game under our belt each. I determined to focus on the red railway company this time round, noting in my last play that it had the fewest shares and thus was least susceptible to dilution. I took its first share for $21 and timed myself subsequently to buy into Marcus' yellow and Van's blue when they were low on cash. I maintained monopoly over the red throughout the game, buying up the 2 remaining shares when auctioned with my early lead in cash. Unsurprisingly, it was the first and only company to reach Chicago, and the special dividend triggered accrued to me alone, thus building me an unassailable lead. The game soon ended with the Wabash being the third company to have its shares fully auctioned. I took the win with $102.

After unsuccessfully trying to persuade Van to give A Game of Thrones LCG a go, we decided go with our trusty Glory to Rome. I was surprised Van even suggested it after what happened the last time round. Marcus and I gained an obscene number of clients. Thanks to my Bar ("in addition: you may add patron from deck), my collection of clients was somewhat more useful. The scores were close, with each of us separated by a point. I took the win with 15, thanks to my solitary marble in the vault while theirs remained empty. Van had a nice stash in her stockpile with nabbed her additional points thanks to her Wall, while Marcus by far had the most influence points. Marcus commented the Bar seemed somewhat overpowered especially at its low cost (1 material). I partially agreed but attributed it to the randomness of the deck draw. But that's the appeal of GtR after all, most cards are overpowered in one way or another and it's all about coming out with your 'broken' combo the fastest. This was also my 30th play of GtR - money well spent indeed!

Finally, Marcus introduced to us a new game - Fzzzt! (how do you even pronounce that??!!). It has a certain deck-building mechanic to it, which Marcus commented reminded him of Dominion. I enjoyed the blind auction mechanic where cards in hand are used to bid for those displayed. Cards won and used remain yours, and 6 are drawn randomly each round to form your new hand. However, you have a larger degree of control as you can use cards to build widgets for more points, and thus leaving yourself with the 6 ideal cards for your next hand. Definitely a nice filler and thanks to the auction mechanic, arguably more interactive than Dominion. Nonetheless, I suppose without special powers and potential combos, the deck-building aspect seems rather thin. Even Dominion falls short for me in that... And now, if only I could get another go at A Game of Thrones LCG ;-)

1st Nov 2009: The One That Got The Wife Upset...

Unbelievably, we were able to game for a second consecutive day - it had been sometime since that happened. Wai Mun and Weilong joined us for games and it had been sometime since the 4 of us gamed together, despite it being a common occurrence late last year and early this year.

I wanted another go at Chicago Express but Van expressed her preference for Endeavor. It was our third go at the game within a week and I failed to emerge victorious yet again. Nonetheless, it was a good learning experience. Firstly, I realized that I had been undervaluing connections. I also assumed from my previous play that shipping wasn't as important as occupation since it didn't nab you a glory point at the end of the game. My undervaluation led to Van opening up a region singlehandedly (she dominated the entire shipping lane), which game her exclusive access to the cities and the region's cards. Not a smart move at all...

Next, I taught them Ages of Empire III. It was clear that they hadn't been over for some time because I had a bunch of games they had never played before. AOEIII has been a revelation, and despite it taking 2 or more hours at times, it was a game that never 'felt' overly long. This was my first go with 4 players, and while it did stretch the game out more, the added tightness of the game was admittedly appealing. I doubt I would want to try with 5 though - think the added game length would likely lead to diminishing utility at that point.

I went for a military strategy this time round since my first capital building gave me an extra soldier every turn. This gave me an edge in terms of area majority points. Van focused on trade goods and Wai Mun, discovery. I ended up with the capital building which awarded 4 points per merchant ships. That probably gave me the victory as all in all, I accumulated 5 in all. With more players, specialization is unavoidable and probably wise too, though it is probably still necessary to focus on at least 2 areas.

For our last game of the night, Van opted for Glory to Rome. I ended up with an absolutely ridiculous combo. Started out with the Temple (+4 hand), followed with the Scriptorium (complete any building with 1 marble) which allowed me Bridge, Colosseum and Palisade in a blaze. None of them managed to build the Wall which meant that with every play of Legionary, assuming the cards were available, I could take a matching card from:
1. The common pool
2. My opponents' hand
3. Their stockpile (in addition effect of the Bridge)
4. Their client, with the card going straight into my vault (thanks to the Colosseum)

It was simply devastating as my Bridge made my Legionary play applicable to all opponents, not just my neighbours, plus it rendered their Palisades useless. Van cried foul at the brokenness of the combo, but I assured her that it was perfectly legitimate. I probably should have avoided playing Legionary a second time with my victory more or less secured as Van was visibly upset when I did so. This was understandable as between the two of us, I have always been the gamer while Van has always gamed for its social aspect. Our game night ended on a somewhat awkward note but it was a good lesson for me - be conscious of who you are gaming with or else you may not have them as gaming partners much longer!

31st Oct 2009: First Go At Chicago Express...

This is gonna be a vague session report simply cause the score sheet got thrown away accidentally.

Weilong came over for games and while he hasn't been gaming with us for some time, he came just in time to try my new shipment of games.

I spared no time in whipping out Chicago Express. I had been eyeing this baby for some time as it had all the characteristics I typically like about games. Short game length (about 1 hour), simple mechanics (3 basic decisions per turn) but yet incredible depth in play with high interaction. And the verdict? It sure didn't disappoint. Van took the win, with Weilong second and I, third. I was at a lost at times as to the auction mechanic - unsure when to initiate them and which company's share to put up for bidding. My downfall came with my failure to acquire sufficient share holdings compared to Van and Weilong, and that led to my downfall as dividend after dividend phases were triggered. Nonetheless, I concluded that it was a keeper for sure. I hesitated for sometime regarding the purchase due to the hefty cost and while the over-the-top production wasn't necessary, I'm sure glad I added this game to my collection. Can see many more plays in the future.

Next up was Endeavor. The first play was positive but I was keen to give it another go. I opted to focus on building up my industry this time round and by the end of the game, I was able to attain the best buildings in the game. Unfortunately, the apparent imbalance in my progress tracks meant that I lagged behind. Van took the win again.

We had to make a move by then, and while I was washing up, Van taught Weilong Battle Line without the tactic cards.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

29th Oct 2009 Session Report: A New Friend...

I got to know Ivan over the Singapore Boardgame Meetup forums when he posted a thread looking for A Game of Throne LCG players. I too had ordered the game and was eagerly looking for other "kakis" (gaming pals), recognizing that such games had a niche appeal. We arranged a time and he dropped by this evening for a game.

Van was busy so we started with a game of joust. He took Baratheon while I, Lannister, figuring some familiarity from my last play couldn't do any harm. I found out later that he had started reading the books so looks like he is even more into the Game of Thrones universe than I am. The game was a close affair, ending 15-13 in his favour. I was plotting my victory in the next round when he played an event card to stand Robert Baratheon for a military challenge, nabbing 3 power tokens at a go. 1 for the unopposed challenge and 2 for his Renown key word and special ability.

Despite being his first play, Ivan had familiarized himself well with the rules, and we played more carefully, ensuring we took note of the special text on the various cards. Play flowed relatively smoothly and none of the potential timing difficulties of different effects came up.

Though keen at another go, I requested for a change so that Van would join in. I went with Endeavor after spending time last night to run through the rules. They were relatively easy to explain and we began the game without a hitch. It took a few turns to grasp the nuances of the game but it would definitely qualify as a gateway of sorts in my book. It ended 62 (Van) - 55 (Ivan) - 48 (Me).

I like the simplicity of the rules and relatively short playtime. We probably took about 90 min inclusive of setup and rules. The setup and final scoring were a bit of a hassle but still bearable I suppose. It was clear that the game was one of efficiency and potential poster child of eurogames. It was important to manage your status tracks so as to maximize your glory points and occupy strategic cities in a bid to nab connections, both of which award glory points at the end of the game. I remember 2 point cities in the rules but we seemed to have missed them during the game. Will look out for them next time round. Van commented the game felt rather similar to other games, particularly Age of Empires III which she preferred. I am still on the fence, it seems like it might possibly fill a niche in my collection but I will probably need a few more plays before I'm ready to make a decision.

Ivan had some time left so I looked for a short game to intro him to. I wanted to go for China but Van preferred Ra. Van continuing her dominance took the game with 33 points to my 27 and Ivan's 20. It was a particular quick game with the Ra tiles appearing in a flurry in 2 of the 3 rounds. In fact, in those rounds, none of us managed to utilize our numbered tiles fully. Oh well, at least it kept the game short!

27th Oct 2009 Session Report: First Go At A Game Of Thrones LCG

Just received my package of games - Endeavor, Chicago Express, A Game of Thrones LCG and Catan Card Game Expansions Set (Thanks FT!). I've been looking towards this order, particularly A Game of Thrones LCG. I have always been intrigued by CCG gameplay but never got into Magic the Gathering due to its theme and cost. When I found out about the Core Set of A Game of Thrones LCG, it seemed exactly what I was looking for - ready to play decks with an appealing theme, plus a fair dose of complexity to keep things interesting.

I wasn't sure whether it would be Van's cup of tea but she obliged me with a game or two. I started with the Lannister deck and Van with Stark. She whitewashed me 15-0 the first game - ouch! Stark is strong military and once Van got a couple of her characters out, she ended up slaughtering whichever characters I succeeded in marshalling each turn. This led to a couple of unopposed challenges per turn and it wasn't long before she started racking up power tokens.

In the second game, I was wary about lagging in terms of military strength. I leveraged on the wealth of the Lannisters to marshall multiple characters each turn. This gave me a significant advantage and despite Van utilizing a particular vicious plot card which wiped out all characters in play, my victory wouldn't be denied. I took the game 15-4.

The joust format (1 vs. 1) didn't seem as interesting as the melee format (multiplayer) as described in the rules. Van seemed bored by it so my hopes of attracting her with the game appeared to be dashed. I personally liked the variety of card effects though we missed quite a few due to our unfamiliarity with them. The timing of card actions, passive effects and responses also seemed a tat complicated despite having gone through the FAQ. Hopefully it will be clearer with further plays. I usually get rid of games that don't even marginally appeal to Van but this might be the exception - for some reason, such gameplay does appeal to me. Perhaps just perhaps, trying the melee format might improve her perception of it somewhat - enough for her to play it once awhile. Oh well, one can always hope (:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

20 Oct 2009 Session Report: A New Kind Of Monopoly...

Mel and Liz came over for dinner tonight. Mel being early took the opportunity to teach us a game he had been gushing about for some time - Monopoly Deal Card Game. Mel has never been much of a gamer outside of sports and computer games so it was a surprise to me that he had taken so much to a card game.

We played 4 games over the course of the night with me taking 2 games, while Van and Mel took the other 2 respectively. I must say I was somewhat impressed by the fun generated. The game is heavily luck-dependent and the winner usually boils down to the one who draws the right (best) cards. But I love the "take-that" feature of the game. We initially played with our individual banked money hidden but subsequently we played with it revealed and my my, what a brutal game (in a good way at least for me!) it evolved into. It allowed us to specifically target opponents low in cash so as to takeover their properties. There were also some of those moments which got the whole table in an uproar. The one which remained in my mind was the one when Van used her 1st action to rob me of my yellow set + house (which I stole from her earlier) with the Deal Breaker and followed it up by calling for rent combined with the Double Rent card. Ouch!

Some cards like the Deal Breaker are very powerful and may boil down to the luck of the draw. Nonetheless with its short game length and rather addictive nature, it appears to be an excellent filler. In fact, I probably enjoy it more than No Thanks! at the moment...

Other games played were China (Me 61, Van 50, Mel 39) and Liar's Dice (both games won by me).

12th Oct 2009 Session Report: 2-player Le Havre

Van surprised me by offering to game tonight so I took advantage of her enthusiasm to have a go at the full game of Le Havre. Our only previous attempt at 2-player was the shortened game which felt somewhat abrupt so I was reluctant at attempting it again despite the attractive playtime.

Van took the win 260+ to 230+ and I noted that we took as long (about 2 hours) to finish our 2-player game as our 3-player game with Marcus. My AP (analysis paralysis) contributed somewhat to the time taken as I guess I wasn't used to the short intervals between decisions. With 2 players, you have not just more actions to take over the course of the full game but they also come fast and furious at times since you take every alternate action.

I realized that there's a nice strategic and tactical tension in the game. I aimed for a coke shipping strategy but I discovered that I could blindly pursue that strategy without first evaluating the most profitable action each turn. Le Havre after all is still an efficiency game and a player taking the most tactically superior action each turn will probably do well. This evaluation however isn't easy with the number of buildings which increases over the course of the game. Comparing the piles of resources available may be more straightforward but definitely not when compared to possible returns when taking building actions. One may opt for a coke shipping strategy but the timing as to when to take the necessary steps towards the strategy is highly significant.

I clearly made some sub-optimal moves in the game, pursuing the strategy on turns when superior tactical moves were available. This lead me to be shut out of the solitary Wharf for a significant period which led to my downfall as I accumulated 8 loans and struggled to feed myself subsequently as the requirements rose. I waited for Van to build the Wharf but made a mental mistake when I realized I lacked the necessary resources to build a wooden ship. The rest was history...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

8th Oct 2009 Session Report: 2-Player Fairy Tale

Fairy Tale has been on the trading block for awhile but seeing the lack of interest, I decided to have another go at it with Van. One of the common complains of the 2-player game is that it only cycles through 40% of the cards. As such I opted to play 10 rounds of the draft so that every card would pass through our hands.

First, the good points. The game definitely felt much less random than before when I played with 3. Choices were more tactical in deciding which cards to pick for personal use and which to pick so as to deprive your opponent. There is also a need to prioritize when you obtain a hand with a few attractive cards. You basically aim to leave the card you want which is most unattractive to your opponent, in hope that it will be returned to you. The fact that all cards came into play also meant that combos were more meaningful and we were actively looking out for cards that would complement the cards in our tableau.

On the other hand, the fact that we cycled through all the cards meant those with * and *3 dominated. I took the win with 161 points mainly due to the reason that I paid more attention to those cards than Van. I checked out some other 2-player variants at BGG and suspect I will adopt one which allows about 60-80% of the cards to be cycled through instead. This will hopefully balance out the strength of the * and *3 cards versus the 1 and 6/7/8 pointers.

And while we paid more attention to each other's cards this time round, the natural instinct is still to give more attention to the cards you are pursuing. Perhaps this was down to inexperience because as the cards in our tableau grew, we paid decreased attention to what each other was acquiring.

The level of interaction is still dissatisfactory but the 2-player game is far more interesting than with 3. Not gonna take it off the trading block just yet but I'm definitely keen to try the game with 4 where partnerships can be formed, and is widely regarded as THE way to play the game.

6th Oct 2009 Session Report: Catan Card Game Revisited...

Van offered to game with me on my off day. I suggested either Catan Card Game or Le Havre since I was in the mood for something heavier. Expectedly, Van picked Catan Card Game which was a game we both enjoyed but haven't played in awhile after our spurt of 10+ tournament styled games. On a side note, I traded for an extra set of the game recently and made an order for the expansions set. Looking forward to deck build with the full array of cards.

Instead of using our previous decks, Van suggested just picking randomly. Not fully understanding what she meant, I proceeded to divide the cards into 2 and getting us to pick 33 from the pile we ended up with. My deck was built around trade ships and resource doublers. It paid off quickly with me successfully rushing to my 5th settlement before Van. I was doing well and had a commerce advantage, which allowed me to rob Van a couple of times.

However, the turning point came when Van built a Marketplace which allowed her to take hold of the Windmill token which was in my control for most of the game. This was coupled with an early Pirate ship attack of one of my trade ships. I was slow to regain the advantage, perhaps somewhat complacent that I was inching towards victory. Alas, I was at 12 VPs ready to claim victory the next round when Van snatched it before my very eyes with another VP build. Despite generating resources at a slower pace, she was successful in running out a couple of red buildings. This together with control of both the Knight and Windmill tokens was sufficient for the win.

I realized while I probably built a stronger deck than her, I was reluctant to spent resources searching out the right cards often enough. As such, most of my action cards failed to see the light, and I ended up building for VPs with the cards in hand rather than sourcing for those with appropriate abilities.

Even with deck building, the game didn't take overtly long which was a plus. Looking forward to the full tournament game where we would no longer need to share cards. A hefty investment purchasing 2 sets of the original and expansions set but I guess it's worth it considering Van likes the game and it scratches the CCG deck-building itch. I also recently ordered A Game of Thrones LCG Core Set which I'm looking forward to, but I suspect that will be more for the CCG play as I'm unlikely to be willing to fork out the extra dough for deck building, which would easily trump that of the Catan Card Game with expansion packs being released monthly.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

What Do I Think Of My Games?

Added comments to all my current and former games at BGG. Got a bit lazy so kept most short and sweet. I'm one who typically view the glass half empty so even for games I rate highly, I seem to have more criticism than praise. I guess I have almost always found criticisms more helpful to me in evaluating potential purchases, so I'm just returning the favour.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Joy of Discovery...

This experience sounds oddly familiar to my own...except for me, that watershed moment took place in my mid-twenties with the Settlers of Catan.

Much Ado About Le Havre...

"I can't believe a game can reach the Top 10 on the Geek (right behind Dominion, and with a higher average rating) if there's only one path to victory."

Interesting discussion going on at Tao's about Le Havre after its IGA win. Does the game have a single path to victory?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

22nd Sept 2009 Session Report: Catan Card Game & Le Havre

Been some time since I got to game on two consecutive days but as fortune would have it, Marcus managed to get half day off to game. Van unfortunately was still stuck in school so I decided to teach him the Settlers of Catan card game which I rate highly.

Catan Card Game

Since it was his first play, I refrained from loading him with the host of expansions and stuck to the original. He caught on quickly despite the number of wordy cards. While it took only about 75 min, it did feel somewhat longer due to the 'struggle' aspect of the game. He upgraded a couple of settlements and despite only managing one myself, I pipped him 12-10, thanks to my 5th settlement, and maintaining control of the Knight and Windmill symbols for most of the game. In particular, Marcus found himself at the shorter end of the Windmill event all game, which allowed me to rob him of multiple resources. It was nice for once to be on the other side as Van typically trumps me on this aspect in most of our games. Nonetheless, Marcus had a positive view of the game. Perhaps we can get some deck-building in once I get my second copy of the expansions set.

Le Havre

Marcus tried to teach us Imperial when Van got back but her mind was clearly not geared towards learning a new game, especially one as complex as Imperial. We aborted halfway through the rules explanation and opted for Le Havre instead. Amazingly, we bettered our last run of about 135 min and finished the game in about 110 min. Marcus ended with 220+ points yet again, while I only managed 190+. I realized I am still not fully familiar with the building powers, especially those in the special buildings deck and ended up taking some suboptimal actions by nabbing resources when a stronger move was available via a building action. Marcus did highlight me towards the end of the game that with the Bank in my tow, I should buy up the neutral buildings available with the relevant symbols. Guess I'm still rather inexperienced in the game despite playing it about 5 times. Nonetheless, with our speedy play, I can see it much more palatable bringing it to the table in future.

21st Sept 2009 Session Report: Public Holiday Gaming

While Hari Raya was the day before, it being a Sunday meant that Monday was a holiday as well. I invited whoever was available and was glad that there was a nice turnout in the end.

Age of Empires III

I stole victory by a hair's breath from Vanessa. It was the first game for Lijie and he seemed to enjoy himself, despite expressing initial reservations regarding the rules. I was surprised to win with Vanessa gaining the upper hand in colonization. Lijie had a nice collection of trade goods and far surpassed us in terms of merchant ships obtained. It forced me to take the Age III capital building with the Merchant Ship bonus despite only having 2, but a failure to do so would have simply handed him the game. However, his late foray into colonization meant that he failed to score adequate VPs to challenge Van and I. I figured my success boiled down to a well diversified strategy. I wasn't exceptional in any aspect but did well enough not to fall behind. Once again, I enjoyed the game and while it took about 2 hours, none of us felt it took as long - clearly a mark of a good game. While I have only played with 3, it makes me wonder whether I would favour the game with more players since it would surely add to the game length with more workers to place.


The next game I brought to the table was China. On this 2nd play, we actually managed to place a lot more emissaries, even maxing out the capacity in some provinces. I put it down to us playing more 2 cards turn rather than using our full hand of 3. As such, the deck was drawn down more slowly, and allowed us to focus on placing emissaries after most of the house vacancies have been filled. The emissary aspect of the game was also rather interesting as the capacity is limited by the majority in each province. This meant that large provinces and those dominated by a single colour became potential for high scoring. I realized this late and Lijie took Van and I to the cleaners, trumping us by 10+ points, despite it being his first play. Nonetheless, my impression of the game has further improved after this play and with its quick play time, I can see myself bringing it to the table on a regular basis. Buying it 2nd hand for S$25 was an absolute steal, thanks Sng!

Liar's Dice

Fang Ting and her friend, Ju Lee joined us at this point and not certain of Ju Li's appetite for heavier games, I decided to start us off with Liar's Dice. It was good fun and I see its potential as a casual game for large groups, in addition to Puno.
We went out in the order: FT, JL, LJ and finally myself. The final match-up was I with a single die against Van with her original 5 - it was clear that I didn't stand a chance.

Princes of Florence

With 5, I turned to my trusty PoF to further cement its status as a gateway gamer's game. While initially perturbed during the rules explanation, it appeared that the 3 guests enjoyed themselves. It was nice to get another go at PoF which is only 1 of 2 games that I rate a 10, yet seldom appears at the table as I'm often unwilling to play it with any less than the optimal 5 players. I beat Van by 2 points, thanks to a base price Jester that I obtained towards the end game, and producing a total of 6 works. I also managed to fulfill my 7 point Prestige card for most forests with only 2.

Fairy Tale

After Fang Ting and Ju Lee left, the 3 of us managed to squeeze in a game of Fairy Tale before leaving for dinner. Despite putting it up for trade, I was keen to give it another go with the correct rules. I had misinterpreted the rules previously that "You Flip One" meant that you got to flip an opponent's card. I then realized after reading up the BGG forum that you had to flip one of your own. While it made sense that high point cards required you to pay the penalty of flipping one of your other cards, it also meant that there was even less interaction in the game than I previously assumed. While the game flowed more smoothly this time round, I still failed to see its appeal on BGG. But Van was showing her talent at the game, winning again - this time with the correct rules.

Monday, September 14, 2009

10th Sept 2009 Session Report: New Games Galore!

Marcus came over for games and I had an opportunity to get couple of my new games to the table.

First up was Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery. I was initially concerned that this would be another redundant 'worker-placement' game especially with my acquisition of Le Havre which I rate highly. Verdict? I was pleasantly surprised. While the mechanics aren't exactly elegant, the game isn't like anything I've played. Sure the mechanics are tried and tested such as worker placement, area majority, buildings with special powers, etc. but as a package, it is unique as compared to other worker placement games I've tried such as Agricola, Stone Age and even Le Havre. I especially like its confrontational nature in the jostling for position on the various tracks and how the different specialist roles adds a twist into the various spots on the board where you need to gain majority control. The tension was there even with 3 players, although admittedly more so with the first few placements rather than the final few. I agree with the criticisms that the bonuses of the capital buildings do add a dose of luck and have the potential of swinging the game but I don't think it overly detracts from the enjoyment of the game. I like that its easy to pick up and while the game runs slightly longer than I would prefer, it does sustain interest throughout. Marcus came in first in our inaugural game, benefitting from the massive wealth accumulated with the help of his capital buildings and suitably purchased Age III buildings to score the relevant bonuses. Van took 2nd while I 3rd, as I failed to line up enough of my missionaries on the colonist dock due to fierce competition for spots. While somewhat preliminary, it's definitely a keeper in my book. The big plus is that Van actually had a favourable opinion of the game when asked after our first play. That basically seals the deal...

Van suggested a go at Glory to Rome after dinner. It occurred to me that I hadn't played it for some time when it used to hit the table previously every gaming session. Still a fav in our books nonetheless! Unfortunately, the game didn't allow us to savour it for long as Marcus rushed the end of the game by clearing the remaining sites and pipped us to the win by being the only one who managed a single stash in the vault, which was enough to give him a 6 VP advantage.

Next, I brought out China which I was eager to try after acquiring it recently. Marcus played it sometime ago and promptly sold his set, clearly indicating that he wasn't adequately impressed. The rules were exceptionally easy to pick up (I can see it as a successful gateway game) and the card mechanics were reminiscent of Ticket to Ride. However, the game blew past quickly without allowing me to grasp the full nuances of the scoring. We focused on the placement of houses with the only 4 emissary points scored by me at the end. Marcus took the victory with a 2 point edge over me, having scored nice points for his road, while successfully blocking my attempts at extending mine. While clearly abstract, I thought the game possessed potential especially with its short playtime. Van probably found it too short so much so that there didn't seem much game at all. I learnt that the house scoring meant that all one needed was half of the houses in each district and if you are aiming for 2nd, minimal houses were required as your points increase with a greater majority. Still probably need another game or two to figure out how to best leverage the emissary scoring...

We then tried Fairy Tale. We didn't fully understand the rules and ended up getting a few of them wrong. Nonetheless, Van got the win but my first impression is that there isn't as much interaction in the game as I first assumed.

To end the night we had a quick go at Sorry! Sliders which went to the wire - Marcus clinched it at the death...

All in all, a good day of gaming - been awhile since I got 5 games to the table in one session.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

8th Sept 2009 Session Report: Docking At Le Havre

Planned a game session for 3 but Shiqing couldn't make it last minute so Van and I decided to have a go at our new copy of Le Havre. This game has been on my radar ever since I tried it a couple of times on Marcus' copy. I have only tried it with 3 previously which is supposedly what it plays best. Nonetheless I've heard that it plays well with fewer players so I figured it should offer a decent game with 2 too.

We took quite some time punching out the bits and sleeving the cards so decided to give the shortened version a try. It took us only about an hour to get through the game. But as I suspected, the shortened game doesn't give the full flavour of the game. There were only 8 rounds and despite starting with a load of resources, I felt somewhat lost as to what to do with the actions remaining. I lost the game 107 to Van's 127 after making a couple of mistakes:

1. I spent too much time accumulating resources and was left with inadequate actions to convert them to cash via shipping.
2. I assumed taking loans was similarly advantageous in the shortened game as the standard game but realized that the limited actions coupled with the lack of the Court for free repayment made it more 'costly' to acquire loans. However by the time I realized, I was already saddled with 4 loans.
3. I planned to use my final action to purchase the Bank which would have won me the game. Unfortunately I mistakenly assumed that the building cost was 4 bricks and 1 iron which I prepared but it turned out to be 4 bricks and 1 steel. The resources I had remaining didn't allow me to take an alternative action which proved to be my downfall.

In Puerto Rico, timing is key in determining when to switch from acquiring money to VPs. Likewise, I'm starting to see that timing is similarly key in Le Havre where one has to decide when to start converting the resources acquired to cash and VPs. If one is left with a significant stash of resources at the end of the game (which count for nothing), clearly he or she has failed to time that well. I'm glad there's an option of the shortened game for days when the full game would be an overkill but my preference is to get the full game in cause it's clearly the superior option.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

5th Sept 2009 Session Report: Piracy on the High Seas!

Introduced Loot to a couple of youths during the Creative Service. Played with 4/5 so didn't have an opportunity to try the game with teams. First impressions were a tinge disappointing. I suppose I expected more after reading a couple of reviews on BGG. Found it somewhat tedious and repetitive after awhile. Perhaps a score track tracking the score during the game would add some excitement and allow players to identify and gang up on the leader. Also, the limited number of Pirate Captain (1 for each colour) and Admiral (1 only) cards meant that these 'trumps' had minimal impact on the game - they aid you at best in gaining 1 high valued merchant ship. I suppose it is still a good filler game for non-gaming guests especially since it takes up to 8, but I do hope the team variant spices things up a lot more.

1st Sept 2009 Session Report: First 2-player Alhambra with Van

It was Teachers' Day and I took the opportunity to game with Van. It had been some time since the 2 of us gamed on our own. I suggested Alhambra since Van hadn't had an opportunity to try the 2-player version of Alhambra. My previous experience was positive so I had high hopes for it.

In the end, Van schooled me in the game though the scores looked closer than it actually was. I lost the record sheet but it was in the region of: Van 126, Me 114, Dirk 93. I struggled to pay exact to reap the extra actions while Van seemed to make those buys effortlessly. On hindsight, I was perhaps a little too eager on a couple of buys and should have bid my time and accumulated currency. But the key to Van's success was her external wall. At the very first scoring round, she already managed a 14 for her external wall. I managed a miserly 4. While she wasn't able to further expand her wall, 3 rounds of 14 was sufficient to give her an unassailable lead which I never got close to. In fact, I was almost on the verge of an embarrassing loss to Dirk but my wall scoring on the last turn prevailed in giving me a clear advantage.

The 2-player rules allow players to purchase tiles on behalf of Dirk. In my 2 games so far, no one has ever utilized this rule since on the surface it makes no sense to do so when the tiles could be added to your own hand. However, I do see opportunities where you are so out of the running of a certain building that you can add to Dirk's hand so as to reduce your opponent's score. Furthermore, it may allow you to clear a tile which doesn't fit nicely into your estate. Will look out for opportunities next time round.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

25th Aug 2009 Session Report: 1st Automobile Ride!

Had an opportunity to game with Valerie and Marcus today. Valerie had some gaming experience back in the UK and we went through some of my shorter games while waiting for Marcus to arrive.

Alhambra (Me 141, Val 100, Dirk the Dummy 92)

First go at the official 2-player variant for Alhambra. Verdict? It plays quite well. There isn't much setting up for the dummy player except to add tiles to his hand at 3 points in the game but serves its purpose to provide some competition for the scoring phase. It is however unlikely for 'Dirk' to pose any threat since he doesn't score points for an external wall. He will tend to lag behind both players unless the players opt to purchase buildings on his behalf (which is an option in the 2-player variant) although I didn't see many opportunities which would make that worthwhile. Val ran into some trouble after acquiring some difficult to place tiles early on, which slowed her progress in expanding her estate. I on the other hand leant from the experience of my first play to acquire more money cards and only purchasing tiles at the exact price as far as possible. I could also concentrate on building an extended external wall this time round which accounted for a significant proportion of my score.

Battle Line (Val 3 Me 0)

Taught Valerie Battle Line figuring its short playtime was especially appropriate in light of Marcus's impending arrival. We started with 2 games without the tactic cards and Val despite it being her first play went on to trounce me soundly. She won one game by making a breakthrough (3 consecutive flags) and the other by nabbing 5 flags to my 2. I then introduced the Tactic cards which she grasped the nuances immediately and promptly won the 3rd game as well.

Automobile (Me $4790, Marcus $4050, Val $3980)

Marcus brought Automobile over, which was a game I was eager to try after all the hype on BGG. Thanks to Marcus, we got to try the game on one of the few sets of the first print run. Apparently, the game will only be widely available early next year. This was also my first Martin Wallace game and while I can see the genius of it, I figured it was a game I didn't feel much compulsion to own. The feel was very much of a business game. Of the games I have played, Indonesia comes the closest although Automobile is far shorter (which is a big plus in my book) and does not involve mergers.

We took awhile to plough through the rules together, but the game mechanics became much clearer after the first round. The challenge of the game lies in estimating the demand each round, and matching your production and sales so as to achieve the largest profit possible. Val and Marcus underproduced for a couple of rounds while I leveraged on my low-cost car factories to make a killing to gain a significant lead.

There are 3 ways to sell cars: 1. 2 cars via Howard (special ability of 1 of the characters), 2. Through distributors (up to a max of 8 which you have to build up over the rounds provided you were successful in supplying them with cars each round), and 3. based on the combined demand tiles drawn (number sold depends on factory placement and modifiers based on executive decisions chosen).

You are trying your best to match demand and supply each round for each unsupplied distributor and unsold car will reap you a loss cube. You also gain loss cubes for factories that lag behind more advanced factories opened. However, our observation from our first play is that the penalty of taking loss cubes isn't too severe and various characters plus closing down your factories allow you to reduce your loss cube count. Loans while available also seem unnecessary as each player starts with $2000. We attributed the lack of tightness to the fewer players in the game - it would be interesting to try the game again with 5, which according to Wallace would be far more cut-throat.

Tulipmania 1637 (Marcus $20825, Me $14775, Val $12875)

Marcus introduced us to another game about the sale of tulips. The mechanics resemble a stock market of sorts where the price of different coloured tulips fluctuate depending on demand and supply, as well as speculation. You earn money via the tulip you put up for sale on your turn and try to accumulate tulips of higher prices so that once the 'bursting' point is attained, all tulips of that colour in hand can be sold at various prices depending on whether one owns matching buyer cards. It is one of those games where you struggle to capture its nuances the first time round, and which is highly dependent on the actions of others. It possesses some similar elements to a potential acquisition, Chicago Express, but somehow failed to capture my interest.

Sorry! Sliders (Marcus - Winner, Me, Val)

We had a little time left so I figured it was a good opportunity to give my new set of Sorry! Sliders a go. Acquired it to add a dexterity game to my collection. Was initially somewhat disappointed by the quality of the components but all in all, it was good fun for the short while we had a go at it. I guess deeper games still interest me more but I believe it will be a hit with the casual or non-gamers I game with.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

10th Aug 2009 Session Report: 1st Ever Mass Gaming Session, Well Sort Of...

I have always desired to organize a boardgaming gathering at my place where multiple games run simultaneously. However, it has been difficult to find a regular time slot which is convenient for my friends and thus most of my gaming sessions have been restricted to a series of single games. I figured that this public holiday, I would attempt to get more over for games and in the end, there were 8 of us in total. However, different ones came later in the day so it took awhile before we got the second 'table' going.

Alhambra (Van-132, Ben-125, Me-115)

We started with Alhambra which was part of the trade of Twilight Struggle. I have heard good things about it as a gateway game. It didn't disappoint...I think. I realized that quite a number of turns were just spent taking currency and the game didn't get interesting for me till I started having difficultly piecing my estate together with the various buildings purchase. As the game progresses, the choice of buildings to buy takes on a different dimension as one needs to not only consider the building type relative to the number owned by your opponents but also whether its walls can fit nicely into your estate. All in all, a fine addition to my collection despite me getting routed in the game. Van won the inaugural game with 132 points while Ben and I had 125 and 115 points respectively.

Railroad Tycoon (Me-64, Van-59, Weilong-43, Xiumei-42, Ben-28)

With 5, I brought Railroad Tycoon to the table, desiring to see if there would be more conflict with an additional player compared to my first play. It wasn't much better and I suppose the sheer size of the map does allow you to largely build up your own network of tracks without much disturbance. I managed to dominate much of the north-east despite Weilong's presence, which gave me a lead I didn't relinquish. I rushed for the starting goals and managed to complete the major line from Boston to Washington.

I opted to keep the Major Lines in the deck this time round to avoid overwhelming the new players. The only rules I changed were for the auction and railroad cards. We played the auction so that the first player to pass would start last and so on. Only the first player had to pay his/her bid but the last player from the previous round would have to start the bidding. As for the railroad cards, I only revealed cards equalling the number of players together with the 3 starting cards, and introduced 2 new cards per turn. I didn't want the new players to be discouraged by all the information they had to read right from the start so as to allow them to familiarize themselves with the mechanics of the game. The game took about 2 1/2 hours which wasn't too long for 5 players but I would have appreciated something heavier for the time invested.

Meuterer x2 (Xiumei - 34/33, Me - 33/32, Lijie - 30/23, Ben-15/27)

We proceeded to split into 2 groups after RRT. I introduced Meuterer to my group while Van played Glory to Rome with Mun, Fang Ting and Weilong. Xiumei complained during the rules explanation that they were hard to follow and promptly went on to win both games, pipping me by a point in both. Playing this time with the correct rules, I noticed how the psychological aspect came into play. Choosing whether to reveal your conflict cards during the play of ware cards can be an important decision in garnering support or serving as a bluff. The order in which one plays his/her ware cards can also be important in ensuring the Merchant is left for you. While my issues with the game expressed in the earlier thread remains, the game has moved up a notch in my book regardless.

Glory to Rome (Van - W, Weilong, Fang Ting, Wai Mun)

Didn't hear much of the game except that Weilong and Van were both vying for a victory by Forum, which Van succeeded in finally.