Monday, April 27, 2009

27th April 2009 Session Report: The One Where We Tied For PR

Shouqin came over for games tonight. Introduced him to 2 giants of Eurogaming - Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico.

Settlers of Catan (Me 10, Van 8, Shouqin 6)

We played the tournament version as usual and despite going first, managed to nab all 5 resources with my 2 placements with decent numbers. Van was riding on her coal port for most of the game but I managed to partially block her coal supply for large portions of the game. She had the slight edge with the resource production but I took the victory thanks to the Longest Road and 2 VP development cards, despite failing to upgrade even once.

Puerto Rico (Me 43(1), Van 43(1), Shouqin 30)

Shouqin mentioned that he preferred games with minimal luck so I decided to reach for PR after the dice-fest of Catan. Shouqin picked up the rules easily and while he understandably couldn't fully grasp the strategic and tactical implications in his first play, he commented that he enjoyed the experience. Shouqin, I and Van started with Indigo, Sugar and Corn respectively. I was torn between a building strategy (by purchasing the Guild House early) and a shipping one (purchased a harbour as my next buy), which almost spelt my doom. Van obtained 3 large violet buildings to my 1, but somehow my advantage in shipping earned me a tie, with both of us being equal on VPs and cash.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

23rd April 2009 Session Report: The One With Another Loss

Another day, another loss at the hands of Van in the Catan cardgame. This time despite me rushing to 5 settlements first and nabbing all the coal with Scout cards. Van took the game 13-8. 

Despite me trying to block her out of the coal resource patches by taking 2 with my 1st Scout card, Van happened to draw both wheat resource patches on her next settlement build, effectively shutting me out of wheat as well. 

Over the course of the game, Van also gained an obscene amount of free resources from holding the windmill and knight tokens for large parts of the game. She also had a Pirate fleet which gave her a free gold each time Year of Plenty was rolled and 2 Land Reform cards which was worth 6 additional resources. With the abundance of resources, she upgraded 3 of her settlements to cities and built a number of VP buildings to put her over the edge. This was despite me managing to wrestle over the windmill token towards the end of the game.

Another reason why I fell behind was that the Science & Progress expansion deck which we played required a Abbey/Library and a University to benefit from most of the expansion cards. Van built an Abbey early and subsequently the University which also gave her nice gains from Progress Event cards, which rewarded the player with those buildings with additional resources. I on the other hand in my bid to be first to 5 settlements, put off searching for a Abbey which left me unable to take advantage of many of the expansion cards. In particular, Van built a Cannon which cost only 2 resources but supplying 6 strength points, effectively giving her the knight token for good. While I also obtained the same Cannon card, my lack of an Abbey/Library and an University left me incapable of building the Cannon to attempt regaining the knight token.

Looks like the Expanded game has been generally brutal with me, with me taking only a single win in our 6 games so far. Hopefully, the tables will be turned when we move into the Tournament game. Only one more expansion deck to go: next up, Wizards & Dragons!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

21 April Session Report: The One Where Border Disputes Spelled My Downfall

Van and I had another go at Settlers of Catan cardgame. We were halfway through the expansions, and halfway towards the goal of playing the game tournament style. I opted for the Knights and Merchants expansion this time round and the expansion cards played a huge role as the decider.

One of the keys in this game is being the first player to rush to 5 settlements. There is a odd number of settlements in the game and therefore the slower player has to make do with 4 settlements, but more significantly, 2 resource patches less. This is critical since the game revolves around the use of resources. There had been only one game when I won the race to 5, and this was no different. I struggled obtaining the right resources to expand quickly enough but what went my way was the brutal draw Van had in acquiring her new resources patches. We were both without the Scout cards which allowed a selection of resource patches and I ended with 3 coal mines to her 1. This was BIG as coal is typically of growing importance as the game progresses. 

Unknown to me though was this game had a Border Dispute card which allowed the player with the knight token to exchange any duplicate resource patch for one of his opponent's, together with the resources on it. Van got an early lead in terms of knight strength points and played not one, but TWO Border Dispute cards to rob me of 2 of my coal mines. That spelled the beginning of the end as I battled in vain to claw back the disadvantage. She took the game relatively easy, 13-8.

The other card of interest which I failed to built but would definitely be a contender in my tournament deck is the Palace. It allows for a card from the discard pile to be retrieved during every Year of Plenty roll in exchange for one free resource.

4 expansion decks down, 2 to go...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Goodbye Power Grid & Red November...

Recently in an effort to trim down my collection in anticipation of the new games arriving, I sold off my copies of Power Grid and Red November.

Power Grid

It came as a surprise to me that I would be willing to let go of my copy of Power Grid. After all, it is the no. 3 game on BGG and before the phenom that is Agricola, Power Grid was firmly etched in its no. 2 behind Puerto Rico. Power Grid was also part of my first bulk boardgame purchase which represented my commitment to seriously get into the copy. Lastly, this is one of the heavier games that Van actually enjoys and she is some Power Grid player if I may add. 

I was tempted to keep it but the diminished plays it saw amidst the new kids on the block led me to finally pull the trigger. As awesome a game Power Grid is, it does come across somewhat fiddly. Some find the mechanics elegant but I'm part of the opposition who find that the game tries too hard to avoid player elimination. The mechanics are geared towards giving the trailing players an edge to enable catch-up. The effects are pronounced in multiple phases, providing an advantage in plant auctions, resource purchase and city connections, such that it pays to lag behind. This unintuitive approach coupled with the mathematically laden endgame meant that I would rather play Princes of Florence or El Grande with 4 or 5. While one of Power Grid's advantages is that it plays 2-6 and scales decently, it takes too long with 6 and loses some of its luster in the auction phase with 2 or 3.

Red November

Red November confirmed for me that cooperative games without a traitor element are simply not my cup of tea. While it had less of a puzzle-like element than Pandemic, it felt terribly repetitive and uninteresting with the lack of differentiation amongst players. Pandemic tackles this well with the different roles with special abilities. The use of the dice to determine if repair efforts are successful diminishes potential strategic/tactical play. While I can imagine some enjoying it as it is, it is clearly not for me. And when Van declared that she would rather play Race to the Galaxy than Red November, her dislike was similarly apparent.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

10th April 2009 Session Report: Good Friday Gaming

Van and I invited our ex-students over to our place on Good Friday. Amidst the food and programmes, we managed to teach them High Society and Tichu. I managed to join in for a game of both.

High Society

They caught the rules relatively quickly and while I initially doubted this purchase, I'm starting to see it's a good option to introduce to new games - it has simple rules yet plays with some depth. Furthermore, it plays quick for non-gamers. In the game I played, I took the win as I managed to grab a few luxury cards on the cheap towards the endgame. While I reminded the other players on the importance of keeping the smaller denominations for flexibility, many of them were down to their last few cash cards towards the end. I guess it's tough for them to value the cards aright on initial plays which is to be expected with auction games. Nonetheless, they seemed to have good fun with most of them equally clueless as to how much to bid.


Van and I each taught group of ex-students Tichu. It helped that they are familiar with Big Two which is quite similar in terms of play mechanics. Tichu seems a myriad of Big Two, Bridge and Hearts. Big Two for the gameplay, Bridge for the partnership play and Hearts for the initial exchange of cards. I won the game which I took over the Van and got soundly whipped in the other after allowing them to make Tichu twice.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bah...Missed Another Stone Age Rule

Was reading through a Stone Age review on BGG and came across another rule that I've overlooked. Resources at the end of the game (not including food) are worth a point each regardless of type. While not significant except in close games, it's nonetheless an important rule. It somewhat diminishes the penalty for unspent resources at the end of the game, and makes it friendlier for new players since they usually fail to time the end game as well as more experienced players.

Hopefully that's the last Stone Age rule I've overlooked...

9th April 2009: The One With The Breakthrough!

Duelled Van in the Settlers of Catan cardgame again. Get the idea that it's becoming one of our preferred games. I still think Glory to Rome is the better game but with 2 players, Catan cardgame comes across more interesting though a whole lot longer. 

After 3 consecutive losses to Van in the game, I finally managed my first victory. Though Van was getting really sleepy as the game dragged into its 2nd hour, so maybe that had something to do with it. We played with the Trade & Change expansion theme. The final score was 13 to 10.

I once again focused my early game in rushing for the 5th settlement which I succeeded in. I also searched out a Scout card which helped me line up my foundry between 2 coal regions. The knight and commerce tokens were fiercely competed for throughout the game with each of us nabbing one at the end of the game. I was able to upgrade 4 of my settlements to cities due to riches in coal and obtained the remaining VPs from a Church, Town Hall and Library.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

7th April 2009: The One Where I Tried Harry Wu's New Game

Trying a new format for session reports. Played a couple of games with various ones today:

The Settlers of Catan Card Game (Van 13, Me 8)

Played with the Politics and Intrigue expansion theme. I started well and for once, managed to rush to 5 settlements before Van. What cost me were the 2 Arsonist cards that Van played against me, uprooting 2 valuable red buildings and giving her the commerce advantage. Also had a few untimely hits by the brigades which Van escaped thanks to her Garrison. Van also played 2 Excommunication action cards, preventing me from assessing the 2 expansion decks available. This game can seriously be rather cut-throat but that appeals to me. Still waiting for my 1st win against Van, will be sure to pay more attention to the attack action cards the next time round.

Glory to Rome x 2 (1st game: Me 47, Van 22, Mun 13; 2nd game: Me 25(4), Van 25(3), Mun 17)

In the first game, I ran away with the game thanks to a Aqueduct (allows you to additionally add a client from hand when Patron is played) and a Basilica (In addition when playing Merchant, player may add card to vault from hand). My vault was stocked while the other 2 struggled to keep up. Ended the game by taking the last in-town site.

In the second, I managed to get up to 3 craftsman clients. Coupled with my Circus Maximus (Doubles your client actions), I had a slew of building actions. Was going to end the game by taking the last 2 in-town sites with my 6 craftsman action but drew a Catacombs thanks to my Temple (+4 max hand size) and ended the game by completing it with the special ability of my Road (use any material for stone buildings). The 3 influence points proved critical as I was unaware Van had completed her Wall (1VP for every 2 material in stockpile) and scored heavily for the bunch of materials in her stockpile. Checked the rules for the tiebreaker and apparently it boiled down to remaining cards in hand which I pipped her by 1.

Citadels (Me 26, Van 16, Mun 9)

Hadn't pulled this out for awhile which was nice since this was one of the first games I bought when I got into the hobby, plus the oldest player gets to start first! I find Citadels best with 3 as each player gets 2 roles per turn and the game doesn't drag out like it does with 5-7. We played the shorter game to 7 buildings as Mun needed to leave. I took the Assassin for the first 2 turns and avoided missing a turn throughout the game, which allowed me to rush to 7 to end the game.

Prussian Eastern Railroad (Van 734, Me 618, Marcus 574)

Marcus brought over a new Harry Wu game for us to try. I have been hearing good things about his other game, Chicago Express and thus was intrigued to have a first go at one of his games. The rules were sufficiently easy to grasp but it yet it was hard to figure out how to play it well. The difficulty playing new games with an auction element is not knowing how much to bid. In retrospect, we underbid for the railway shares, and Van who obtained the bulk of them acquired the upper hand. In addition, we allowed her to purchase shares in 7 out of the 8 railway companies which made it difficult to claw back the advantage. For whatever we tried to do in increasing railway income or triggering double dividends for certain companies, she would benefit too. 

With a fixed number of shares per company, I realized it made little sense to split up the shares 1:1:1 between us which was what we largely did. It seems like it makes more sense to buy additional shares in the company you already have a stake in unless you can force your opponent to overpay. There is some luck with the turn order mechanism but not enough that it makes the game flaky. Keen to try it again but doubt it will be something I'll be looking to own. The metagame element seems rather significant and there is some kingmaking element. Reminds me somewhat of El Grande where there can be a runaway leader issue unless everyone else works together to thwart the leader.

Monday, April 6, 2009

5th April Session Report: The One With A New Friend

A new friend, Gengyang, came over our place to hang out. I asked whether he was keen to try some Euro boardgames and he obliged though I don't know whether he was fully sure what he was getting himself into it. I figured I would kick it off with Stone Age as a representative game, hoping to catch lightning in the bottle. After I got through the rules, I somewhat regretted my decision as I could tell he was a little caught by surprise at how involved the game was. Nonetheless, he somewhat got the hang of the game after a couple of rounds. The game ended with me taking the win with 150 points over the other 2. Next time I have a non-gamer around, I will be reaching for my copy of High Society perhaps...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Glory To Rome: MIT Secret House Rule

Apparently the designers of the game endorsed a secret house variant which supposedly makes the game less cut-throat for beginners as well as attempts to balance out the craftsman and architect powers.

The changes are as follow:

1) PETITION becomes “Play two cards of same role as JACK” (i.e., the same as the current Circus function)
2) CIRCUS Function becomes “May play card of any role as JACK when leading or following ARCHITECT”

3) FORUM victory requires not just one of each client in clientele but also one of each material in stockpile

The change in the Forum victory condition is due to the ease of recruiting clients given that you now only need 2 rather than 3 of a kind to petition. While I don't see this as an issue for experienced players since they are particularly careful of leading/following Merchant or Patron roles without a Jack or through a petition, I do see the rationale behind it. 

The game plays just fine for me and I suspect the change in the petition rule may reduce the skill necessary to manage one's hand well. I do however like the change in the Circus function as the Craftsman is overpowered compared to the Architect for most of the game unless you build the right buildings.

I may try the variant once or twice with new players to see how it plays out but I suspect I'll probably stick to the standard rules for most games.