Saturday, June 27, 2009

26th June 2009 Session Report: My First Go At Indonesia!

Marcus introduced us to Indonesia tonight. We were having some trouble with the rules initially and halfway through the explanation I wondered if we would have been better off opting for a game of Le Havre considering the limited time available. But I'm glad we persevered because after a few rounds, we got the hang of it and it was a highly enjoyable affair. I don't think I'll feel a need to own it because of its fiddly nature, lengthy playtime and somewhat cumbersome phases but the open nature of the game intrigued me. As the game progress, I began to catch a glimpse of the possibilities available and the brilliance of the design. The game ended 1200, 1187, 1030 to Van, myself and Marcus respectively. Here are some of my preliminary thoughts regarding the game:

1. The turn order auction is a unique affair. I bidded aggressively for turn order during the mid-game when I was flushed with cash as I realized that the penalty of the bid isn't as severe as in other games. Firstly, your opponents are forced to pay their last bid which meant that it would hurt them almost as much as it would hurt you. In fact, there was a crazy moment where Marcus and I bidded over 200+ or 300+ just to go first (which allowed Van to catch up and eventually take the game). I did realize that unless everyone was equally aggressive in the bidding, the one who bailed early would reap the benefits, which Van did in this case. She forced merged our companies and took them easily with our lack of cash on hand to compete. Secondly, the cash used for bidding while out of play do count at the end to determine victory. We neglected the R&D for the turn order multiplier for most of the game till we realized that that was the way to go if we valued going first rather than bidding ludicrous amounts.

P.S.: Marcus just emailed to say that we were playing the turn order auction wrong - it should have only been once round. LOL, guess that was a major boo-boo!

P.P.S.: A one-round auction for turn order seems to provide a clear advantage to the last player. It seems that turn orders are likely to be reversed from turn to turn. But that's where the R&D turn order track comes in, which rewards those who invest in it - a rather clever design I think.

2. The ability to merge companies is an interesting mechanic of the game. It occurred to me towards the end that apart from gaining income from production and shipping, another viable means of acquiring wealth was through building up the companies and "selling" them off when the merged companies are auctioned off. I intentionally merged two of my companies at the end and gleefully took the first or second bid that Van made in order to end the game by acquiring the remaining companies with my newly available slots.It seemed a wise move at that point as my highly prized shipping company had just been bought over but little did I realize that earnings from the final operations phase would be doubled. Hah, none the less, that would probably still have been my optimal move except perhaps to push up the price slightly more.

3. The rule we missed was the expansions rule and despite advancing on that track a little, Van and Marcus missed doubling their free expansions when available. I could see the importance of expansions in the game, not so much to increase goods for shipping since goods then to quickly outnumber hull slots in this game but rather to enhance the value of your company so as to make it less susceptible to takeovers.

4. The options on the R&D track all seem useful in their own ways which allows the pursuit of various strategies. This was nice to see compared to games such as Kingsburg where certain tracks are outrightly stronger alternatives than others. In this game, I maxed out my hull track as I acquired a shipping monopoly amidst a cluster of cities and companies. Nonetheless, I saw how the tracks I failed to invest in tied my hands in parts of the game.

All in all, I had excellent first impressions of the game and would be happy to have another go at it. I consider it head and shoulders above the highest ranked economic game - Power Grid. Nonetheless, it is incredibly fiddly and cumbersome, especially in tracking the remaining hull space of ships and the bidding for merged companies in awkward multiples. I enjoy the openness of the game where players have diverse options to pursue victory. In fact, it is probably even more open that Le Havre but however it lacks the latter's elegance. The games I generally feel the need to own are those which provide the open feel yet are elegant enough so that the mechanics can be easily picked up by casual gamers.

16th June 2009 Session Report: The One With 7 Craftsmen...

A bit late on this session report having lost the record sheet but here's roughly what I recall. Mun joined us for games and we played both Glory to Rome and Tigris and Euphrates.

I sort of ran away with Glory to Rome. At one point, my clientele was stashed with up to 7 Craftsmen. The buildings that won the game for me this time round were the Scriptorium which allowed me to complete several buildings with a marble material each, the Garden which allowed me to take a client each for the immense influence I amassed from building and lastly, the Coliseum (plus Wall) which allowed me to fill up my Vault with a couple of Legionary plays while Van and Mun weren't having much success getting materials into theirs. I ended up with 40+ points, practically doubling the the next highest score.

Tigris and Euphrates was a much closer affair. Haven't played it in awhile and while I do recognize the brilliance of its design, somehow I don't seem to have the inclination to play it over and over again. From the get go, Van and I went at each other's starting 'kingdoms', resulting in our leaders moving all around the board. I guess that's the way the game was meant to be played anywhere, contrasting greatly with our earlier plays at the game where we stayed out of trouble, building up our own "kingdoms" till much later in the game. As such the first monument only turned up in mid-game which was probably the latest I had ever seen built. In the end, the score was something like 15, 14, 12 to myself, Van and Mun respectively.

Friday, June 19, 2009

9th June 2009 Session Report: The One Where I Finally Got To Play A Full Game of TTA

Ever since I acquired Through the Ages, I have been struggling to find someone who would play through the Full Game with me. My first few attempts at getting Van and Mun to attempt it fell flat, partially due to the nature of the game but also that I was still familiarizing myself with the rules. In fact, the furthest I got so far was merely halfway through the Advanced Game. However, Ben was open to trying the new game and we plunged right into the Full Game when he came over.

Ben surprisingly grasped most of the rules after my explanation. I suppose the good that came out of my failed attempts at playing the game was that I myself have come to understand the game mechanics better and that showed in the flow of the rules explanation this time round. However, due to the both of us being largely unfamiliar with the cards, the game took us approximately 5 whole hours inclusive of going through the rules. That's the longest game I've played by a mile, with my first game of Le Harve coming in second at the 3 1/2 hour mark. I applaud Ben for getting through the whole game though he too commented that he would be reluctant to give it another go given its length. My suspicion was that in time, 2 experienced players would be able to par the game time down to about 2 hours but the trouble would be getting someone who would be willing to actually acquire the experience together.

While long, I personally did enjoy the game somewhat due to multiple paths to victory opened up by the diverse range of cards. Nonetheless, I could identify with some of the negative reviews on the Geek (the most notable one being Chris Farrell's) that the game came across somewhat mechanical and souless. Despite some hailing its thematic appeal as a civilization game, I surprisingly found it rather abstract, with most of the cards providing a once-off benefit and/or 'income' of one of the in-game variables (e.g. happiness, science points, resources, population, etc.) despite them being labelled as wonders, leaders or action cards. This is in contrast to other card-driven game like the Catan Card Game and Glory to Rome where the cards allow more 'rule-bending' and interaction between players. I suppose I feel this way because I have always preferred greater player interaction in my games though I laud the elegance of the game mechanics.

I won the game by over 50 points, thanks mainly to my combo of Michelangelo and St. Peter's Basilica early on. Both Ben and I struggled for science research points in the game with both of us devoting a substantial proportion of our resources to building up our military might. Ben played a couple of successful aggression cards against me before I caught up later in the game, with one taking out all my temples. It showed me that TTA wasn't as devoid of interaction as many presumed but such direct interaction is also highly dependant on how players choose to play the game rather than inherent in its core gameplay. I pulled ahead in Culture income during the midgame and further pulled away with a string of scoring cards in Age III and IV.

If I ever had the opportunity to play again, I would pay greater attention to building my income stream of science points as its lack hampered my pace of adopting newer technology later in the game. Nonetheless, my wealth of resources and ease of increasing population allowed me to accumulate multiple farms, mines and wonders.

Final analysis: While an intriguing game in parts, its somewhat abstract and mechanical nature, lack of direct player interaction and lengthy gameplay suggest that it's not a keeper. At the point of posting, I have arranged to trade TTA for Twilight Struggle. Nonetheless, I would be happy to have another go at it if the opportunity arises.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


'Nuff said!

French Open Final Preview

A historical moment nears as Roger Federer takes on the 23 year old Swede, Robin Soderling in the French Open final in less than 24 hours.

If Soderling would somehow manage to pull off just one more upset, this will be the first Grand Slam title for a man who till this competition, had never made it past the 3rd round of a Grand Slam. If the victory over Nadal was shocking, this one would be unprecedented, with him taking down the world no. 1 and 2 enroute to the title.

But this match is really about Federer, isn't it? If he pulls it off, winning in the French final, he would not only be in the handful of esteemed players who have completed a career Grand Slam (the last being Andre Agassi) but also have equalled the 14 Grand Slam titles of the great Pete Sampras. With all the precision and power of Pete's game, he never made the final of the French, much less win it. Roger on the other hand had been bridesmaid thrice, losing to who else but his biggest nemesis, Rafael Nadal who was looking almost certain to break Borg's record with 5 straight French titles till he was shell-shocked by one Robin Soderling.

So the stage is set - Federer is one victory away from putting all GOAT arguments to rest. While Rod Laver may still be deemed the greatest of all time by some, winning all 4 Slams in a year twice (1962 & 1969), this victory will be sufficient for Roger at least in my book. I count it a privilege to watch a complete player of such grace ply his trade on court in my lifetime, one who might in a few hours become the greatest champion of all. So with the rest of the tennis world, we wait with bated breath for the moment of history. As Del Porto so aptly put after his bitterly disappointing 5 set loss to Federer, "Everyone wants you to lift the trophy." So come on Roger, just do it!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

4th June 2009 Session Report: A Short One In More Ways Than One

Wanted to have a go at the Catan Card game but Van preferred something snappy and picked Battle Line. I was hoping for something heavier but nonetheless this is an excellent 2 player game, always tense and intriguing. I promptly lost the best of 3 match 0-2, the first going 5-2 in Van's favour and in the second, I was helpless to stop Van gaining 3 adjacent flags.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

29th May 2009 Session Report: The One Where We Battled For Influence In Ancient China

Marcus came over in the evening and brought a new game to introduce to us. I hadn't heard of Confucius before but in view of my increasingly streamlined collection, I was keen to try something new.

This worker placement game (yup, one more on the bandwagon) involved acquiring VPs from 3 main arenas based on diverse yet familiar mechanics. There was an option for exploration which offered early adopters more VPs than others in addition to a Emperor card which allows special concessions. There was a land occupation option which works somewhat like Blue Moon City where players cooperate to conquer foreign lands and share the points derived. This hardly came into play for our 3 player game as there were other opportunities for scoring and none of us really saw the benefit of helping each other. Lastly, there was an area majority option where we battled for influence in 3 different government ministries. 

There was a host of other minor mechanics which made the game somewhat fiddly. Another mechanic borrowed from Blue Moon City was that commodity cards denoted both a monetary value as well as licenses required for acquiring ships for exploration or soldiers for land occupation. And as you might guess, these 2 values are inversely proportionate (ie. 1 gold-3 licenses, 3 gold - 1 licenses). The most interesting mechanic involved gift-giving to your opponents which made them indebted to you in a variety of ways, particular in the competition for influence in the ministries. 

While an eye-opener, I found the connection between the various aspects and mechanics of the game somewhat forced and it felt almost as if the designer simply borrowed a couple of existing mechanics and bundled them together. To be fair, we played with 3 in a game which doesn't scale well and I can see how the neglected VP options would be more relevant in a game with 4 or 5.
Or maybe it could just be sour grapes, I ended up dead last with 13 VPs which Marcus and Van had 23 and 19 respectively.

We ended the night with a go at Glory to Rome. As it was getting late, Marcus declared he was going for a fast game taking a Craftsman client on his first turn, leaving behind a Merchant client for me. He promptly took a second and went on a building spree. Van while somewhat slower in acquiring building VPs, managed to stash a marble in her vault in addition to a couple of stockpile points from her Wall. I on the other had good buildings which I couldn't get in play in time as Marcus ended the game with a Catacomb. Marcus and Van were tied with 13 VPs and 3 cards in hand, while I took up the rear with a mere 8 VPs.