Tuesday, March 31, 2009

31st March 2009 Session Report: The One Where We Tried The Barbarians & Traders Expansion

Took awhile but finally managed to get the Catan Card Game to the table again. Had to review the rules briefly but it all came back to me fairly quickly enough. Having tried the standard game with Van the last time, I felt we ought to move it up a notch and attempt it with one of the expansion theme decks. Picked the Barbarians & Traders deck and off we went. There were a few minor rule changes, the most significant being we now play to 13. Apparently, the cards in the theme deck are powerful enough to warrant the raise in the victory condition.

Van won the game 13-8. Once again, she won the race to build the 5th settlement, leaving me with 4. There have been comments on the forum that building the 5th settlement is key to winning and so far in our 2 games, the trend hasn't been bucked. The notion of having 2 extra resource fields does seem a huge advantage as Van out-built me for most of the game. I didn't even have a lick at the knight and commerce tokens, which she didn't relinquish once she took them into her hand. She built a couple of buildings which provided additional VP and with her city upgrades, easily took her to 13 before I could do anything significant to claw back the advantage. I don't think the game is broken by any means and at the moment, will reserve judgement whether the odd settlement card ought to be removed so the max for each player remains at 4. I think the race element of getting to the 5th settlement does dominate the early game which is fine, but the real question lies in whether the opponent has a fair chance of winning despite losing the race. So far, it has been a struggle clawing back the advantage - perhaps that is due to me still coming to grasp with the cards and coming up with an actual strategy of sorts.

We hardly got through the cards of the Barbarians & Traders deck and I still do not have a good sense of the flavour of its theme. In fact, while having gone through more of the standard cards, I'm not sure I know them well enough to formulate a coherent strategy. At present, it's about building the best card in hand, then building with the intention of achieving good combos. Unlike Glory to Rome, there is limited cycling through cards due to the smaller hand size and the rules governing exchange of cards in hand. The multiple use of cards in GtR enables a player to familiarize oneself with the various cards much more after 1-2 plays. 

My initial plan was to run through a new theme deck with each play so that Van and I will be able to get to the tournament variant asap. However, that is dependent on us being familiar with the cards, particular those in the various expansion theme decks and so far, that doesn't seem feasible with just a game per deck. The expanded game adds substantial amount of cards to the game and therefore unlike the standard game, it makes it tougher to get an opportunity to run through the various cards in game. Furthermore, the early game utilizes more cards from the standard deck as there are limited green cards in the theme deck. Red cards can only be built with cities while yellow action cards can only be used when the combined score reaches 7 VPs. 

Perhaps some of the standard cards can be removed to allow greater use of the theme deck cards. Will look through the BGG forums to see if such variants exist.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

27th March 2009 Session Report: The One Where I Broke 200 In 3-Player Le Harve

Marcus came over for games tonight and I requested he bring his copy of Le Harve. Having played the game twice, I really enjoy it for its open play and it appeals to me somewhat more than Agricola. It also helps that with each game, I gain a slighter better idea of what I can do better in my next game.

I felt good about tonight's game despite accumulating up to 8 loans. I acquired a load of goods which enabled me to ship a total of 3 times for about 30 francs each. Acquired a couple of frequented buildings such as the Wharf, Shipping line, Colliery and Abattoir which allowed me to minimize my visits to my opponents' buildings. Purchased a 36 VP luxury liner in the final round. Scored 216 which my best effort to date though still falling short of Marcus's 227. Reflecting on my play, there were 3 areas which I possibly could do better in:

1. Used francs to pay off indivisible food requirements in the last few rounds of the game. While that seemed a good move at that time, the surplus of a few meats at the end suggested I could have saved a few francs.

2. One of the wharves came out prematurely and after building a wooden ship, I continued to leave it blocked to prevent Van and Marcus from acquiring a source of early food production. This seemed like a good move at that point but it did mean I relinquish the opportunity to use buildings for quite a few turns, opting for sub-optimal plays till the next wharf was built.

3. Had to sell a few building in the game. Some were intentional to garner cash mid-way in the game, but one or two were forced due to having to evacuate opponents in my buildings. Selling the Shipping Line in the last round cost me 5 francs but my hand was forced in order to make my 3rd shipment.

The game ended in 2 hours which was a huge improvement over our last two games which took over 3 hours. I was really surprised at how quickly we played but I concurred with Marcus that it helped that we had an idea what we wanted to do and thus suffered from less AP (analysis paralysis). If all games were this short, just a tad longer than Agricola for a 3-player game, it is truly a contender for one of my preferred games. My only concern going forward is whether the greater usage of certain buildings as compared to others game after game will reduce replayability after some time.

We still had some time for another game and Van opted for Galaxy Trucker which was supposed less of a brain-burner. Marcus played the game once last year but still needed a refresher. He did admirably in his 2nd try though making a few connection errors. I struggled too after a long hiatus and found myself exceedingly rusty. Van built 3 excellent ships and took the win deservedly with 100+ points. Marcus and I scored 70 and 75 respectively.

Friday, March 27, 2009

26th March 2009 Session Report: The One Where We Played My Top 3 Games

Well that's the good news... The bad news? My losing streak extended - can't remember the last time I failed to win so many consecutive games. Oh well, not winning doesn't detract from any of the fun of gaming...ok, maybe just a tinny bit ;)

Ben and Mun joined us in the afternoon for games. While waiting for Mun (late as usual, hah), we started with a game of Ra as requested by Ben. I didn't mind since I find Ra best with 3 since it accords players with more control. 5 player games can be somewhat more random. I failed to obtain much value with the auctions I won, and sorely trailed in terms of monument collection. I think I ended up with something like 3 and was deservingly trounced by Van and Ben who had 57 and 49 respectively. I ended up with a score of 38 thanks to me winning the Pharaoh bonus all 3 epochs.

Since Mun was likely to arrive at any point, we decided to opt for a quick game of High Society. It was Ben's first go at the game (he emphasized that I should note this in the session report *cough*) and struggled in finding the balance between acquiring points while conserving his cash. He racked up a impressive point total but wasn't a threat as he was down to his last cash card 2/3 way into the game. Van spent more of her cash than me by avoiding the 'bad' cards and ended up with a score of 20, thanks to two 2x multipliers and a 5 point luxury card. I was too conservative with my cash and ended up with both the 1/2 and -5 cards, resulting in a final score of 8.5.

When Mun arrived, we started on Glory to Rome, my current no.1. Mun and Ben did exceedingly well in the game, scoring 33 and 32 respectively. Mun racked up points by stuffing her stockpile early and building the Wall which rewards VPs for material in the stockpile. She also played a few timely Merchant roles when our stockpiles were empty. Ben loaded up on his clientele and used his Basilica to shore up his vault midway through the game. I built the same building but took more time getting it up, resulting in my failure to make up the deficit. I ended with 28 while Van had 19.

I then suggested Princes of Florence, which has quickly risen up my favourite list, just short of overtaking Glory to Rome. I felt I played exceedingly efficient on most counts, producing a total of 5 works throughout the game and winning 3 best works bonuses. My only mistake was my failure to acquire a Prestige card. Instead I took 2 recruitment cards which I could have substituted with purchasing Profession cards. I used 3 Bonus cards on my last turn which was an overkill. The WV points obtained then pale in comparison to the potential Prestige points available from a single Prestige card. I ended with 47 to Van's 51 while Mun and Ben had 45 and 36 respectively.

We ended the day with my former no.1, El Grande. I wonder if it is even no.3 now that Le Harve has entered the fray. I built a sizable lead after the 1st scoring which was a mistake because the rest started ganging up on me by banishing my cabelleros to Portugal (Mental note to self: Avoid taking too many scoring cards early in game). Van overtook me by the 2nd scoring and with my weakened state, I struggled clawing back the deficit and ended up with 108 to her 120. Ben and Mun scored 90 and 83 respectively. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

24th March 2009 Session Report: The One Where We Played Nice

Siew Min and her bf De Cruz came over for dinner tonight. I started them off on High Society after dinner, as a warm-up of sorts. We played 2 games and interestingly the random nature of the end game condition led to 2 extremes. The first game ended within the first few auctions with the 4 red bordered cards literally coming up consecutively. Siew Min ended up with the only luxury card but was eliminated due to having the least cash left. De Cruz and I however each had a x2 multiplier yet without any luxury cards. I figure cash left would serve as the tie-breaker but it slipped my mind during the game. The 2nd game went to the final card. I took the -5 card and had to discard one luxury card but still ended up with 40+ points without being left with the least cash. The other 2 used up their small denominations early on which proved highly detrimental as I managed to obtain a couple of luxury cards with minimum bids uncontested.

We continued with Settlers of Catan which was probably the only game Siew Min was open to play since she emerged victorious on her first go. I guess Catan is a good gateway game because the experienced players can always adjust the competitiveness. In this case, Van and I went easy on the 2 of them, trading with them frequently and while we did 'rob' them occasionally, it was only done when they were in the lead. It helped that they traded generously with each other which smoothen the learning curve somewhat. De Cruz ended up the victor (somehow the first timer always gets the win!) with the longest road, and a VP card. Siew Min and I were tied on 9 - she had 2 VP cards while I had control of the largest army. Van wasn't far behind with 8. It seemed the both of them enjoyed the game and De Cruz found it interesting, this being his first go at a eurogame. Hopefully, I'll have an opportunity to introduce them to something like Stone Age in future.

21st March 2009 Session Report: The One Where We Tried Reef Encounter For The First Time

Marcus came over for games in the morning, bringing along with him Le Harve and Reef Encounter. I had favourable impressions of Le Harve after my first play and was eager to give it another go. Learning from my first play, I intentionally:

1. Tried to acquire buildings which were more significantly used. It helped that I was more familiar with the buildings this time round but nonetheless competition was stiff for them. Delayed acquiring the Shipping Line and Van stole it from under my nose due to my carelessness. 

2. Avoided indivisibilities for most part, but towards the end of the game, had to use coke for energy requirements despite it being lower than the 10 units which coke provided.

3. Acquired ships early to aid in feeding. Ended up with a wooden, iron and steel ship each though I anticipated the end of the game poorly and should probably aimed for a luxury liner rather than merely sub-optimally utilizing my resources on a steel ship in the last round.

4. Processed goods in bulk. Did so for grain and cattle though I realized the longer you can hold it off, the better. Would have liked to delay for a couple more rounds if possible. Managed to covert 8 coal into coke at one go too. Somewhat overpowered - no energy cost coupled with 1 franc earned for each unit of conversion.

For some reason, all 3 of us failed to realize it was the last round till it was too late. I failed to visit the local court adequately and had to repay my remaining 4 loans with francs. Also, I didn't manage to accumulate sufficient goods to maximize my shipping. Ended up with 173 which was a marked improvement from my first game but still insufficient to top Marcus at 198. The game is really growing on me and on the current debate comparing it to Agricola, Le Harve might actually be my preferred option as play seems much more open-ended, with greater strategic options. Agricola seems constrained by the elements introduced in more or less a fixed manner as you move through the rounds. Nonetheless, one of the biggest issues I have with Le Harve is its length. Would be a 10 in my book if its game length was around that of Agricola's. A more minor issue is that casual players would probably take to Agricola more easily due to its theme.

Marcus next introduced to us Reef Encounter. Always heard it was a brain-burner and was keen to experience it for myself. Had a cute theme but unfortunately the mechanics came across too abstract and felt disjointed from the deep sea theme. The game reminded me of Tigris and Euphrates which I have to acknowledge is the far deeper game. Nonetheless, similarities abounded with the tile laying, cube collections and "conflicts" (in this case, coral consumption). The shrimps reminded me of the leaders in Tigris though with a much diminished role.

I struggled in making sense of the strategy during the game. While cognitively explained by Marcus that locking down the multipliers and collecting the relevant corals were key, I had little clue how to implement it. Marcus rushed the game by removing his shrimps quickly and I just tried to keep up. Ended up 35 points to his 44, while Van managed 26. Wouldn't mind trying it again but doubt it would really grow on me. Somewhat abstract and if I was indeed in the mood for something along these lines, I would reach for Tigris and Euphrates which seems to trump it on most counts. The conflict aspect is far more interesting with the differing natures of internal and external conflicts while here, it is merely 'eating' another's coral tile.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

17 March 2009 Session Report: The One Where We Tried High Society

Misplaced the record sheet so this will be a recap based on what I can remember.

Ben and Mun came over for games today. Mun arrived earlier so while waiting for Ben, I whipped out High Society which I obtained recently for a first attempt. It was typical Knizia - interesting mechanics especially with the twist of having the player with the least money being eliminated but came across slightly dry due to its abstract nature. Nonetheless, it seems like a keeper for my purpose of serving as entertainment for guests when I'm not able to join them. The short play-time and simple rules fit the bill nicely. Only question in my mind is whether For Sale would be a better option but that's a moot point till I'm able to get my hands on a copy at a reasonable price (which rules out the reprint :P)

Van took the first game and Mun the second. I couldn't make up for the negative cards I took in the first game while I overspent in the second. The feel of the game reminded me of a simpler form of Modern Art. For some reason while I usually do reasonably well in Ra, I don't seem to have a good sense of how to do well in this alternate form of auction games.

Seeing that it had been awhile since we had four seasoned players, I took the opportunity to bring our my newly acquired copy of Princes of Florence. Still prefer to play with the maximum of 5 but seeing that it was a rare opportunity, I decided 4 wouldn't be too bad either. First play for Ben. I made a couple of bad mistakes and so did Van but we still emerged on top, with me losing to Van by a single point. Could have taken it if I didn't miscalculate my finances, failing to outbid Mun for the last Forest. The extra 3PP from what would have been my fourth forest would have won me the game. After the play, I made a mental note to upgrade my rating of the game from a 9 to a 10. The fact that such varied strategies (banking on multiple prestige cards instead of producing works) were viable added a notch for me. Looking forward to my next play.

There were some calls for Glory to Rome but figured we should instead have a go at another old favourite, El Grande. It was previously my no.1 game but in recent months, it has fallen behind Glory to Rome and Princes of Florence in my book. Still rate it a solid 9 nonetheless. Van took the win by virtue of a strong early move where we allowed her to score close to 20 points by scoring the six and seven regions. I learnt today that defense was just as important as offense in El Grande and sometimes cards need to be taken not for personal benefit but rather to block an opponent from gaining an extreme advantage. The three of us failed to do that today and Van took the win easily. The issue however is that there is general reluctance to sacrifice as the blocker for it often means forsaking a card providing personal benefit to do so.

Mun had to make a move and with the time remaining, I decided to show Ben the mechanics of Red November since he queried about it. I decided to play a 2 player game with each controlling a single gnome. As expected, we both survived in view of the limited event cards we were exposed to. The game is clearly easier with fewer players even with the attempted scalability of starting further down the track with more players.

16 March 2009 Session Report: The One Where We Tried The Catan Card Game

Tried the Catan Card Game for the first time tonight. Verdict? I like it! A tinge too long but that can be easily tweaked just like its boardgame sibling, perhaps similarly by starting with a settlement, city and extra road?

And from the looks of it, Van enjoyed herself too despite being reluctant initially to game tonight. If her gripe with Race for the Galaxy was the lack of interaction, the Catan Card Game must be its anti-type. Practically every turn resulted in interactive plays, be it through the dice rolls, event or action cards. We were squealing in delight each time we got to rob the other of his or her resources or cards.

In view of the fact we haven't got to the expansion set and the tournament rules, the longevity of this game is very, very promising. Oh and by the way, Van kicked my butt 12-9 in our virgin game. I got behind on settlement expansion and city upgrading early on and found it hard to regain ground.

We seemed to have gained a relatively good grasp of the cards in the base set so perhaps we will go ahead and throw in one of the five expansion themes into the mix the next round. Looking forward to the day when we have familiarized ourselves adequately with all the cards to be able to form our own tournament decks for play.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

10 March 2009 Session Report: The One Where I Tried To Convert 2 Non-Gamers

2 game sessions in consecutive days...I must be dreaming. Anyway, Sarah came over for a visit today while Van had Siew Min over to bake with her. After letting Sarah have a go at Wii Sports, we proceeded to try our first 'real' game. Considering that she hadn't been exposed to the world of Eurogames, I figured the first experience was key - it could either make it or break it. The other factor was that there were only 2 of us as the other 2 gals were busy in the kitchen. My initial plan was to go with Stone Age but fearing that it might be overly heavy as a first game, I decided to ease the process by opting for a shorter, simpler game. I went with Battleline which was one of my favourite 2-player games, hoping that the short yet surprisingly tactical game would make a good first impression. I would typically be concerned about starting someone on a Knizia due to its abstract nature but since Sarah was a chess player, I figured I might just be able to pull it off.

I naturally opted to play without the Tactic cards to avoid overwhelming her, which turned out to be a good decision. She got the hang of the game relatively quickly, the only blimp being she took awhile to familiarize herself with the various card combinations as she had never been exposed to Poker hands. I took the first game 5-1 but she came back with a vengeance in the second, and pipped me to the victory with a score of 5-3 - an impressive game played on her part indeed.

She seemed to enjoy herself so I took the risk of pulling out Stone Age next. I would have gone with Settlers but unfortunately it was not an option with 2. I was looking for a game of similar weight which scaled well with 2 and the choice was obvious. She was slightly overwhelmed during the explanation of the rules but quickly got into her stride after playing a couple of rounds. I made it a point to highlight to her some of the more important spots and she acquitted herself well. The game ended 249-212 in my favour but only because I was more intentional in collecting advantageous civilization cards.

Van and Siew Min finally finished baking and I was able to persuade them to join us in a game of Settlers. Siew Min was a hard sell but we finally managed to get her to give it a go. Apparently, her last attempt at Galaxy Trucker still left her somewhat scarred, hah. Van and I went easy on the 2 newbies, trading generously with them, and tried to steal from each other whenever possible. Settlers can be a somewhat confrontational game and mean play can really spoil the experience for those new to such games. We were all neck-to-neck for most of the game but the breakthrough came when Siew Min connected her longest road. Coupled with her sheep port, she took the win while I was stuck on 7 VPs with the other 2 at 6 VPs. 

Well done Siew Min! This seemed a much more palatable experience for her and hopefully this would encourage her to give other games a try. Sarah on the other hand did find playing 3 games in a row somewhat brain taxing but commented she especially enjoyed Stone Age and Battleline. Looking forward to introducing other games in my collection.

9 March 2009 Session Report: The One Where We Revisited Ra

We had a new friend, Shouqin at our gaming session tonight whom we met on the Singapore Boardgames Meetup forum. Marcus was also able to join us but before he arrived I took the opportunity to teach Shouqin the rules for Glory to Rome.

We started the game once Marcus arrived and it wasn't clear in the early going who was going to emerge with an advantage. My early buildings were unimpressive and I basically started building with whatever cards I had in hand to gain some influence points. Marcus on the other hand was quietly completing his Scriptorium which he learnt from his last game with me that it allowed the completion of multiple buildings with a marble material each. 

The breakthrough came when he used that ability to complete his Colosseum. I was more prepared for it this time round and started building my Palisade (Immune to Legionary) though it was only completed after Marcus had a turn at my clientele. He managed an early lead over the rest of us by stashing a couple of cards in his vault that very turn.

However, the killer blow came when he used his Scriptorium to complete a Prision which he in turn used to steal my Bridge. While I gained 3 additional influence points, it didn't make the loss any less painful. I built it in hope of breaching Van's Palisade but my failure to keep an eye on Marcus's buildings allowed it to be stolen and used again me.

The consequences were devastating. He now not only could overcome my Palisade but also steal from every players' clientele, including Van's who was sitting opposite him. The vault points he racked up easily steered him to victory while the rest of us were left in the dust. My decision not to build the Wall early in the game but instead use it as concrete came back to haunt me.

The final scores were 45 (Marcus), 31 (me), 20+ (Shouqin) and 14 (Van) respectively.

I was keen to get Princes of Florence out as the next game since it was rare that we had 4 at a session. However Shouqin needed to leave within an hour so we opted for Ra instead. Marcus and Shouqin were new to the game but picked it up quickly. Ra has simple mechanics but the tricky bit is to valuate the tiles appropriately in light of not just their scoring but also the proximity to the end of the epoch (round).

I had a small lead after the first epoch but the other players exited early in the 2nd epoch and left me to draw freely with 4 Ra spaces yet unfilled. I had good draws and managed to take 2 full displays with only one disaster tile with my remaining 2 number chips. This built me a comfortable lead and I took the game with 51 points. Marcus, Shouqin and Van had 42, 25 and 23 points respectively.

Shouqin had to leave after the game, and Marcus stayed back for a round of Red November. I was keen to give the game another shot after our last attempt at the 2-player variant. Playing with 3 was definitely easier than our last attempt with 4 gnomes. Marcus drank 2 grogs early and rode his luck for half the game. He eventually failed a faint check and got trapped in a room which caught fire. That spelled his doom. Van and I on the hand managed to experience our first rescue as we worked together to deal with the remaining problems. We almost succumbed to the expiry of the heat track on the last turn but survived. 

While we ended on a good note, Van was clearly not impressed by the game. Guess it's headed for the trade pile...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Goodbye Race For The Galaxy... Hello Settlers Of Catan Card Game & Expansion!

The inevitable happened... I traded away Race for the Galaxy. In all honesty, the game grew on me more than I anticipated after my first couple of plays but ultimately its lack of success with the wife did it in. Van is my most frequent gaming partner so if she hates the game so much that she more or less refuses to play it, there isn't much use keeping it around even if it is an 8 in my book.

While I could always play it with others, the problem about RftG is it is terribly unfriendly to newbies. It takes at least 3-4 games for someone to get familiar with the symbols and even that's not a guarantee. It's basically a turn-off for casual and non-gamers due to not just the complexity of the symbols but also the various card powers. The learning curve is simply to steep for one to adequately familiarize himself or herself with the cards to be able to execute combos meaningfully.

Furthermore, while I like the game with 3 and especially 4, I find the 2 player game somewhat flawed due to a overly dominant Produce - Consume 2xVP strategy as highlighted in my previous post.

The fact that I had a better alternative drove the final nail into the coffin. Why play RftG when Glory to Rome trumps it on almost all accounts, at least in my opinion. While the quick play time is often viewed as a boon by others, I find that it leaves me somewhat unsatisfied. Glory to Rome plays in a comfortable time with far more interesting mechanics and combos, plus I prefer playing it regardless of the number of players. While the games don't play all that similarly, they are sufficiently in the same vein for me to pick one over the other for my collection.

The game I got in return was the Catan Card Game with expansions. While admittedly less flexible due to it being a mere 2 player game, it was one I had in view for some time. 2 player games are always a risk because if Van fails to give her seal her approval, the game is clearly headed for the cold storage. However, I am hopeful because the boardgame variant is one of Van's favourite games and I'm sure she'll take to the theme unlike that of RftG.

The game also seems sufficiently deep for me to enjoy and the CCG elements are an added appeal. I have heard the much touted tournament variant requires two sets of the card game plus expansion which I'm unfortunately to fork the dough for. Hopefully, the standard game will not disappoint but if all things fail, the small deck tournament rules may be the saving grace. Aka Datang!

3 March 2009 Session Report: The One Where We Took Red November For A Dive

Despite trading for Red November awhile back, I haven't been able to get it to the table. Finally I managed to persuade Van to give it a go with me. While the game indicates the game 'only' scales from 3-8 players, we decided to adopt the variant of each controlling 2 gnomes.

Having read the rules some time ago, I needed to revise the rules again. The rule book unfortunately was rather unconducive to quick reviews and this led to substantial downtime during turns as I flipped the rule book frantically in search of answers. This happened more than a few times and Van was clearly getting bored by the excessive downtime. I tried to qualify that this was typical of first plays in hope that she wouldn't be turned off by a negative first experience.

Personally, it was helpful for me to get a first play under my belt as it gave me a better idea of the game flow and some referencing to Red November's rules forum after the game enabled me to pin down the game more or less.

Hopefully, the next game will go down better, especially with Van. While I wasn't wowed by the game and somewhat frustrated by the downtime, I do see some potential in the game. I can see how Pandemic is a better game in some ways which perhaps explains its considerably higher ranking but I suspect I will probably enjoying playing this more. Will do a comparison of the two when I get the chance.

I will probably try it again with at least 3 since the variant of taking 2 gnomes didn't seem to fly with us - you are less attached to your gnomes since you can afford to lose one and it was distracting having to constantly switch between considering each gnome's items and circumstances.

Oh and by the way, our sub got destroyed around the 10min mark. We probably would have blew up earlier if we played all the rules accurately from the start...