Friday, May 29, 2009

28th May 2009 Session Report: The One Where I Broke My Losing Streak

I finally managed to break my duck against Van in the tournament format of the Catan Card Card. To think of it, this is only my 2nd win out of 13 plays, inclusive of basic and expanded games - a clearly dismal record. And while I thought I was doing rather well throughout, the final score was closer than I thought, with me eking out the victory 13-11. My last 2 victory points came from snatching the Knight token from Van by playing Samsor the black dragon with 6 strength points (fortunately for me, Van hadn't managed to get her Cannon into play) and building the Merchant's Guild Hall, having managed to sift out and build the Harbour (pre-requisite) a few rounds earlier.

I revamped my deck for this game but went for a primarily magic strategy with harbour and fleet cards in hope of at least being competitive with regards to the commerce/windmill token. I also reduced the number of buildings in my deck in view of the space constraints I anticipated (Van as usual got to the 5th settlement first). I built 2 citadels this time round instead of 1 and used the Materialization action card twice (regained it from the discard pile after the first use with the help of Knowledge of the Ancients) to upgrade the 2 other settlements to cities at a low cost of 1 magic point each. With 2 citadels and 3 wizards in toll, I managed to built the Stone of Wisdom which reaped me another 2 victory points, leaving only 3 more necessary for the win.

Van had an early advantage and tournament points and benefitted substantially from it. I on the other hand, gained from occassions when the Year of Plenty was rolled on the Event die, with me gained 2 additional gold each time, thanks to my Toll Station. At one point, I got 2 gold and 3 resources from a Year of Plenty roll when I completed my Treasure fleet - that gave me sufficient resources to obtain the remaining VPs required.

We agreed to allow each other access to our drafted cards not used for the next game, which means there will probably one or two tweaks we need to make with my deck before we go at it again. Hopefully, this will be the start of more closely-fought games between the two of us.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

24th-26th May Session Report: 2 & A Half Games Over 3 Days...

Through the Ages

Tried the full game of Through the Ages with Van on Sunday. It was a struggle for me to come to grasp with all the rules and communicate it clearly without overwhelming. On Van's part, it was a struggle bearing with the lack of direct interaction in a game which went on for hours. We finally aborted the game when we were halfway through Age II and it was then when I realize that I'll probably never be able to get Van to give it another go. It is clear to me that interaction in Through the Ages is subtle like most typical Euro-games, in particular Race for the Galaxy. I too prefer somewhat more direct interaction in my games but nonetheless am keen to give Through the Ages another shot, perhaps with someone more diehard. For the record, Van was leading me by almost 20 culture points when we aborted.

The Princes of Florence

Introduced the game to Da-win, Huifen and Mie on Monday. Once again, it reaffirmed my opinion of PoF as an excellent deep game to intro to casual or even non-gamers, which was the case for the 3 of them. While the strategic options are varied, the mechanics are simple to grasp with merely an auction in phase 1 of each round and 2 actions to execute in phase 2. And in essence, the 2 actions boil down either to a purchase or a production of a piece of art. I commented during the game that PoF appeals particularly to gals because at the heart of it, it's a game to do with shopping - you 'buy' stuff for most of the game to enhance the pieces of art you produce. Makes me wonder whether a fashion show theme could be used for it instead to gain even greater appeal with the opposite gender. Anyway, we all ended up somewhat bunched up in terms of prestige points (another reason why it's actually a rather accessible game) with the exception of Van who won with close to 50 points. I made an early and late mistake which cost me the game but was glad the 3 new players enjoyed the experience.

Catan Card Game

Van and I decided to have a go at the game on Tuesday. We re-drafted in view of my dismal record against her. The draft we utilized involved us splitting all duplicate cards initially, and drafting 4 cards at a time of the remainders. We would alternate picks, so I get the first and third choices for the first 4 cards flipped, and the second and fourth choices for the 2nd set, so on and so forth. While I was trying to avoid building a Wizards and Dragons deck, I ended up with the better cards from that expansion deck. Against my better judgement, I went ahead building my deck around those cards and ended up crumbling to Van's superior principality 13-7. In particular, I fell behind her in terms of commerce points, and the event die was brutal in allowing her to steal numerous resources for me. You would think that after so many defeats, I would know better. Guess not.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

19th May 2009 Session Report: The One Where We Had Our First Go at Through The Ages

Despite missing the white counters for Through The Ages, I decided to have a go at it with Van and Mun by substituting the batteries in Galaxy Trucker for them. I initially hoped to try at least the Advanced game but it was clear after 5 minutes of rules explanation that it was not going to work because 1. they looked clearly overwhelmed, and 2. I myself was struggling since it was the first time I was attempting to teach the game (of course worsen by the fact that I've never tried it either). Thus, I decided for us to have a go at the Simple game instead despite forum comments that while useful up for picking up the mechanics, it was a bad reflection of the actual game.

Based on Van and Mun's comments after the game, I could clearly see why. There were so many aspects missing that the game came across a strictly multi-player solitaire experience. We felt like we were choosing cards at random since we weren't familiar with them and had no grasp of any significant strategy. It seemed that I might have trouble getting them to try it in future though I encouraged them that it would be premature to give up on the game without having tried it as it was meant to be played (aka the Full game). I suspect however that we would probably have to use the Advanced game as a stepping board to the Full game since the Simple game has only introduced the basic mechanics. Nonetheless, I wonder at the back of my mind whether the additional mechanics would successfully extinguish the multi-player solitaire feel of the game which even I myself experienced.

We moved on to our old favourite, Glory to Rome in hope of salvaging the night. It didn't disappoint, at least for me, with me taking the solitary game with 37 to Van's 24 and Mun's 12. I acquired excellent cards right from the start, and while it took some time, eventually completed my Temple (+4 hand), Colosseum (in addition when playing legionary, feed opponents' clients to Vault) and Wall (immune to legionary and 1VP for every 2 materials in stockpile at game end). They served as quite a combo and I didn't even need my uncompleted Sewer (add own order cards to stockpile after each turn) which would further enhance my Wall strategy. Van had a chance to win the game before my Colosseum was utilized, but she failed to end the game despite her influence advantage. Once I was able to play a legionary with the Colosseum, I acquired an unassailable advantage with me adding a number of different materials to the Vault from Mun's clientele. While Van managed to immune herself to the Legionary in time, she was unable to catch up with me in terms of Vault accumulation, and I reaped 9 bonus points from having the majority in 3 materials. Coupled with the massive number of points acquired thanks to my stockpiling through playing consecutive legionaries, I never relinquished the lead once I overtook Van.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

12th May 2009 Session Report: The One With A Botched Attempt At Through The Ages

Had Ben and Mun over for games today - it had been awhile since we met up. Ben was early and I was eager to finally unwrap my new copy of Through the Ages and give it a go but shockingly when I was about to start sharing the rules for the game, we discovered that my copy lacked 35 white counters which was stipulated in the rulebook. I called Terence who I bought the game from and he advised me to contact FRED Distribution directly instead. I immediately emailed them and so far the only reply I received was one that indicated my mail would be forwarded to customer service. Hopefully, this matter will be resolved asap since it was terribly disappointing for the most expensive game I bought to date to be missing components!

Anyway, we continued with other games in hope that our inability to try Through the Ages would not spoil our session.

Puerto Rico (Me 49, Van 48, Ben 41)

I had the stronger early game, managing to obtain Coffee and Tobacco monopolies. This reaped me some lucrative early trades and set me off in acquiring the Guild House and the related production buildings. However I made a critical mistake towards the end which almost cost me the game. I could have ended the game by Mayoring but failed to realize it, and ended up Captaining for a small advantage. The game continued an additional round which allowed Van to acquire an additional large building and she closed the gap to a single point.

Glory to Rome (Mun 28, Van 27, Me 20, Ben 16)

I struggled to get any good combinations going all-game long. Used my Prison to capture Van's Wall (Immune to legionary and 1VP for every 2 material in stockpile at end of the game) but in retrospect, it was too late in the game for it to really benefit me. Mun built rapidly and her Circus Maximus (double client actions when player leads or follows) and Basilica (when Merchant is played, player may additionally add card to Vault from hand) sealed her victory. None of us had many resources in the Vault but Mun managed to accumulate 4 marble cards which together with the marble majority bonus, accounted for about half her points.

Princes of Florence (Me 61, Mun 54, Van 51, Ben 38)

I managed to win in a rather unconventional way which for me is part of the charm of the game. I pulled off the victory despite producing the least works (4) amongst all the players, but took home the best work bonus 3 times, scored a hefty bulk of points from my 2nd builder, my 3 buildings 2nd and 3rd Lakes. By avoiding expensive auctions, I had to get creative in racking up the points. I also took a Prestige card early and it was fun making sure I fulfilled the condition of being the player with the least empty spaces (I ended up with 6) which reaped me 8 prestige points to take me over the top.

Tichu (Van/Ben 440, Me/Mun -30)

We played till 300. The game was relatively close till I failed my bid for Tichu on 2 consecutive rounds. On the last round, not only did I fail in my Tichu bid, but Van made hers and both Ben and her cleared their cards before Mun and I. Ouch...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

10th May 2009 Session Report: The One With What Else..Catan Card Game

Catan Card Game - Van and I were at it again. 

I revamped my deck to pursue a University strategy but was short of couple of cards with Van holding them in her current deck. In particular, I wanted the additional University and Abbey cards as this strategy depended on getting those cards out in particular. I unfortunately had only 1 of each and took quite awhile to build them both. 

Danger still persisted with Van holding both Arsonist cards. I thwarted her first attempt with the successful use of a Bishop but her 2nd attempt was successful and that was the beginning of the end, as I struggled for several turns failing to rebuild it. 

This was due to 2 reasons: Firstly, I stalled in terms of settlement expansion in exchange of city upgrading and thus had only 3 settlements to Van's 5. The sheer disparity in resource patches was evident from turn to turn. Secondly, Van had control of the commerce token and the Windmill symbol on the Event Die came up consistently, allowing Van to steal from my pitiful stock of resources. It was practically impossible for me to garner sufficient resources to rebuild my University which was key to my strategy since most of my action and unit cards needed it as a pre-requisite. 

Nonetheless, the game ended much closer than previously ones, with Van taking it 13-10. She and I had control of the commerce and knight tokens respectively. We decided to redraft at the end of the game instead of remaining with our current decks. I was tempted to persist with what I had in hope of tweaking it successfully for a win eventually but figured it would probably be more interesting for us to start on level ground again, with me having around lost couple of choice cards to Van from my previous losses. 

For our next game, we have decided to split all duplicate cards in the game and draft for the remaining ones. Hopefully, I will be able to provide more of a competition the next time round...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Age of Empires III, Le Havre, Fairy Tale & Loot On The Way... Goodbye Stone Age!

Found out that an ex-student of mine was making her way back from the States after completing her degree so I took the opportunity to request a delivery favour which she graciously agreed. Did some research on BGG (where else?) and finally decided on a package of Age of Empires III, Le Havre, Fairy Tale & Loot - the last necessitated by the need to break the free shipping barrier at

Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery

Was contemplating between this and Chicago Express but after getting favourable comments about it at BGG, I figured that this would probably suit me better. It seems relatively deep with a multitude of ways to victory, and most importantly, sufficient conflict between players to keep me interested. I was initially undecided because I was wondering whether I needed another worker placement game since Le Havre was a definite order but it was reassuring to hear that it had a variety of mechanics including some area majority.

Le Havre

This was the game that prompted the order because after 3 tries with Marcus's copy, I realized that this was a game worth owning despite the price point. It was between this and Agricola and despite the latter being a more accessible game and the one Van preferred, I couldn't help but feel that Le Havre was inherently the better game due to its less constrained gameplay. I realized I highly valued multiple paths of victory and my experiences with Le Havre gave me that feel despite some opinions that the coke strategy seemed invincible.

Fairy Tale

This game had been a couple of my previous orders but I took it off every time. I finally took the plunge thinking that my collection lacked a deeper filler ever since I sold Race for the Galaxy. While no way as complex as RftG, I have heard good things about Fairy Tale and its CCG elements were particularly enticing since I realized that while I have never tried a proper CCG, those elements in various eurogames such as Glory to Rome and Catan Card Game appeal to me.

Loot (Reiner Knizia)

As highlighted above, this inclusion was due to a need to breach the US$100 barrier. I was pondering the option of acquiring Archeology: The Card Game instead but decided to opt for the safer choice based on BGG game rankings. Additionally, the ability to play up to 8 was appealing since it would serve as a option to entertain big groups. I gave away the same game at a Christmas gift exchange despite having never tried it and the feedback I got from the non-gamers who ended up with it was promising.

I was hoping Dominion:Intrigue would be released in time for the order but in vain. While I wasn't as impressed by its predecessor but I figured its accessibility coupled with the heightened interaction promised made it an interesting potential acquisition.

With such a load of games on its way together with BSG, Sorry! Sliders, Railroad Tycoon and Nexus Ops, I figured there was a need to trim down my current collection. In the end, I decided on Stone Age and got it sold today. It was a good-to-have game to have in my collection due to its accessibility to casual gamers. I enjoyed the dice which reminded me somewhat of the feel from Settlers but at the end of the day, I deem it too light for a worker placement game of its length. I would rather spend the time and some on a worker placement game such as Agricola or Le Havre. The game also lacks the tension of those games and blocking is rare, reducing the interactivity. At the end of the day, I decided that it was dispensable.

The only other non-filler game that I considered selling was Galaxy Trucker especially in view of its cost but Van likes it considerably. I too enjoy the ship building phase but what comes next is often disappointing. Nonetheless, its one-of-a-kind mechanic makes it worth keeping in the collection, at least for the time being.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

5th May 2009 Session Report: The One Where I Came Excruciatingly Close...

First of all, I must say it's fantastic to have a wife who's willing to game with me on a regular basis. Van and I attended a Marriage retreat with our church last week and during one of the sessions, it was mentioned that one of men's key emotional needs is to have 'recreational companionship'. I can totally identify and I'm thankful my wife makes an effort to express her love for me by obliging my gaming requests. Having said that, gaming with me and going easy on me during the game are completely different matters.

We went head to head in the Catan Card Game with our existing decks with minor modifications. And I came awfully close to winning but still feel short at the end 12-13, with Van having control of both the knight and commerce tokens. Nonetheless, I was encouraged that my efforts to enhance my resource production was somewhat successful as I managed to acquire victory points through buildings much more rapidly than Van. In addition, I managed to pip her to the 5th settlement for only the 2nd or 3rd time in 10 games. Nonetheless, my downfall was in my inability to control either token and left me struggling to hamper her progress towards victory. 

I came agonizing close in the last turn as I was one brick resource short of victory. I realized that my deck not only gave me no opportunity to nab the commerce token but I also had no answer for her Cannon (which gives her 6 strength points and is immune against Lady Imelda). I arsoned her University which was the requirement for her Cannon to function but she managed to rebuild it and gained victory soon after.

I lost my sole Arsonist for my defeat and I find myself at a huge disadvantage for the next game with Van holding both Arsonists, and 2 of the 3 available Spy cards. I'm tempted to request a re-draft especially with our Tournament record at 0-3 but find it challenging to build a winning deck with what's available. The tweaking between games keeps me motivated though Van seems somewhat bored at how I'm failing to offer much of her challenge. She nonetheless noticed that my deck has become much stronger this time round.

The challenge for me lies in enhancing the commerce ability of my deck with minimal additions and a way of tackling Van's Cannon. I also need to defend myself against her barrage of attack action cards and find a way of putting my Mint into play earlier which I failed to this game. Daunting indeed - will I succeed? Stay tuned....

Monday, May 4, 2009

4th May 2009 Session Report: The One Where My Strategy Stalled

Had another go at Catan Card game against Van today and unsurprisingly, I suffered another loss. Suspect if I don't improve my results against Van, she's gonna get bored of the game real soon with the ease at which she is gaining victory. Van ran away with the gam 13-7, taking control of both the knight and commerce tokens.

I was banking on a Mint strategy, trying to enhance my gold production with a production doubler and a colony outpost, which effectively gave me an additional gold resource patch in addition to my doubled two. Unfortunately, I got the doubling production house out late and suffered a successful arsonist attempt by Van on my Mint (allows a 1:1 exchange of all gold). While powerful, the Mint is also extremely expensive (6 resource for no VPs & 1 commerce symbol) and my failure to defend against Van's arsonist meant that it took me quite awhile to get the Mint up and running again. Nonetheless, there seems to be some potential with this strategy and I will look into getting up and running earlier in the game.

Van on the other hand managed to rush to the 5th settlement again with the help a good rolls on the event and production dice. Her brick doubler building further enhanced her ability to build roads and settlements. But her killer card this time round was the Treasure Fleet which gained her 3 additional resources each time the Year of Plenty was rolled instead of the usual 1. Coupled with her Toll Station which gave 2 gold resources during the Year of Plenty, that meant a total of 5 free resources each time. I made a mental note to include a couple of Pirate Fleets in my deck so as to combat that advantage as well as the commerce advantage she derives from her trade fleets.

Being the victor, Van got to choose one card from my deck as her reward. Her choice was Merchant Outpost which allows her to leech off production from 2 adjacent resource patches in my principality. While a powerful card at a low cost when utilized early, at least it doesn't penalize me (except for a lost building spot) and can be removed when 6 commerce points are gained.

For my next deck, I have decided to remove all cards from the Wizards and Dragons expansion deck as it takes far too long to put them in play. Furthermore, I find building space tight especially when I'm restricted to only 4 settlements. Hopefully, I'll be able to improve on my 0-2 record against Van in the tournament format.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

30th April Session Report: The One Where We Tried Our First Tournament Game

After ploughing through the 6 different expansion decks of the Catan card game, Van and I were finally ready to have our first go at the tournament rules. The original tournament game requires two sets of the original game as well as the expansion sets but as we had only a set of either, we had to get creative...

I suggested drafting for cards. It involved a simple draft where I would open 2 cards at a time where each of us would alternately get the first pick of the cards, while the remaining card would go to the other. After all the cards were allocated, we then picked the requisite 33 cards from the pile of cards we acquired. Once chosen, we would exchange our remaining pile of unwanted  cards for the other to switch any cards if so desired.

I built a knights and magic intensive deck with a several low cost knights, several cards from the Wizards and Dragons expansion deck and cards focused on enhancing ore and gold production. On the other hand, Van had a number of nice trade fleets and cards that enhanced her commerce advantage. Expectedly, I took the lost 8-13. 

In retrospect, it was probably unwise for me to bank so much on the magic cards when Van had the better spells and magic action cards. She wisely only used her magic on Materialization (which reaped her a cheap city upgrade) and Magic Kitchen (which allowed her to gamble on easy resource gains). I struggled with resource production, once again losing the race to the fifth settlement. Van held on to the commerce token for practically the whole game and while I did nab a couple of resources from tournament event rolls, she finally snatched the knight token from me in the final round thanks to her Cannon with 6 strength points. It was a strong move in view of her University and allowed her a leap in strength points for only 2 resources. I was complacent with my lead in strength points and failed to put my Dragon in play earlier.

Despite my loss, I enjoyed the Tournament game significantly. It played much faster thanks to the much more useful cards that cycled through our hands. In the Expanded game, there was a tendency to draw cards that you didn't need due to the large number of cards in play. Additionally, it was interesting to build a deck with various combos even though I clearly had much to learn in that aspect. I suggested to Van after the game that in our future games, the winner will be allowed an opportunity to pick any one card from the opponent's deck for his or her own use. Figured that would give us added incentive for the win. I already know the first card I'll pick if I win - Materialization. Although looking at my poor win-lose record against Van (1-7), she shouldn't have problems holding on to that card of hers, or would she?

28th April 2009 Session Report: The One Which We Dueled With Wizards & Dragons

Vanessa and I tried the final expansion from the Settlers of Catan card game. The Wizards and Dragons was unlike the other expansions in that they introduced Citadels which was an alternate upgrade of settlements apart from cities. Citadels do not allow red buildings to be built but allow special Wizard cards to be played. These wizards are placed above matching region cards and allow resources to be transferred as magic points to the wizards. These wizards can then utilize Spell Books which can be placed for free in spaces accorded in each Citadel. 

The spells available range from searching the expansion decks to manipulating the Event die. The one that stood out was the Countermagic card which allowed actions played by the opponent to be denied at the cost of 2 magic points. There are also purple buildings and magic action cards that can be played through the use of these magic points. The card I found extremely useful was Materialization which allowed a free city upgrade with a mere 2 magic points provided the player possesses at least 2 wizards in his or her principality. 

While I lost a close game to Van 12-13, it was an interesting experience playing with this expansion deck and I look forward to incorporating some of these cards into my Tournament deck the next time round.