Monday, July 20, 2009

14th July Session Report: First Attempt At Being A Railroad Tycoon!

It was quite a wait but finally, the first of my new games have arrived - Railroad Tycoon and Nexus Ops. My original order included only Nexus Ops cause its price was an absolute steal at A$20 but I couldn't resist adding Railroad Tycoon since it was also on sale at A$60.

Ben joined Van and I for games and I spared no time taking out Railroad Tycoon for its test-run. I have heard the board is big but didn't expect it to come in 3 separate pieces (this is one time I shouldn't have been lazy to use the camera, bah). I had some doubts about acquiring this game initially when I found out Steam was slated for release. After playing RRT though and reading about how Steam differs, I suspect I would stick with RRT as to fill the railway niche in my collection rather than opt for Steam.

The game ended 49, 35 (Van) and 22 (Ben) in my favour. I suppose being more familiar with the rules, I paid greater attention to the new card introduced each turn, and promptly won the auctions when valuable cards were available. Van and Ben probably took awhile to fully grasp the implications of the cards so struggled to value them aright. We played with some recommended tweaks such as laying out the major lines from the start as well as dealing each player 2 Tycoon cards at the start for them to pick one. In addition, I opted to play that cubes added to cities could be drawn before deciding the city to add them to. These served to reduce the luck in the game though I question if the last tweak gave too strong an advantage which the game wasn't designed for. I enjoyed the game except for the fact that there was minimal conflict with only 3 players building tracks on such an enormous map. Perhaps the expansion Railways of England and Wales will prove a better option for 3-4 players.

As mentioned earlier, I decided that I would probably keep RRT despite Steam is being at a preferred weight for me. While not Age of Steam, I figured that Steam remains sufficiently "mathy" to put me off. After my experience with Power Grid, I realized that while I will play them, such games aren't much of an attraction for me. Furthermore, the more casual nature of RRT's gameplay coupled with its attractive components make it a boon when introducing the game to new players. Steam's rules which by no means complicated are somewhat more fiddly IMO. My collection has skewed towards weightier games in recent times, and is in need of some "gateway" sort games. Plus, good eurogames that play up to 6 are a rarity although I realize that I frequently game with 3 (I try to convince myself it's better to be prepared). So apart from a slightly longer gameplay for what it is and the lack of conflict with 3-4, RRT seems a potential keeper. But what sealed the deal was the advanced rules I read for Railways of England and Wales which will offer a weightier alternative to the original ruleset - it has been described as 18xx lite.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

5 Random Thoughts About The Wimbledon Final...

1. What can you say about Roger Federer. After starting the season without a single tournament win except for Madrid, the man proceeds to win the French and Wimbledon. He cements his claims for GOAT by surpassing Sampras's haul of 14 Grand Slam titles.

2. Federer was somewhat fortunate to win on the day, where he clearly didn't have his forehand. Thankfully, his trusty serve didn't desert him and that kept him in the game. One wonders whether that would have been enough against a fit Nadal in the final.

3. Federer was nervous for much of the game, and couldn't get loose with his strokes. I initially thought the lack of power was due to his desire to be conservative and draw Roddick into long rallies rather than going for riskier outright winners. But as the game progressed, it was clearly nerves. What ever happened to the comment after the French win: "I will never feel pressure again."

4. People rave about Roddick's serve and while it is clearly faster, the precision that Federer obtains with his is remarkable. He served almost double the aces that Roddick did although that was also partly attributed to Roddick using the body serve to great effect throughout the match.

5. Roddick has improved his game immensely over the past year. He definitely didn't come across as someone with a 2-18 record against Federer. He had Roger on the ropes in the 2nd set tie-breaker but the Swiss somehow wiggled himself out of that predicament. I wouldn't bet against him coming back from two sets down but with the way Roddick was serving that day (almost 80% 1st serves for most of the game??!!), I'm sure he wouldn't want to attempt fending off Roddick for the next 3 sets.

1st July 2009 Session Report: My First & Perhaps Last Attempt At Twilight Struggle

The title makes it sound as if I disliked the game. On the contrary, I did like the game but perhaps not as much as the love shown for it on BGG as reflected by its no. 4 ranking. However, Van didn't. She was still somewhat neutral towards it during the first half of the game, but as the game crept into its third and fourth hour, her disdain grew. I had high hopes of getting into heavier games such as Through The Ages and Twilight Struggle. TTA was a flop but I put it down to the lack of interaction due to its multi-player solitaire quality, but after this attempt with the highly confrontational Twilight Struggle, I am no longer under the illusion for it was apparent to me that there are limits to game lengths that she would tolerate. Her limit at the moment seems to be 3 plus hours with games such as Le Havre and Indonesia. But any longer and the experience takes a nose-dive, becoming incredibly tedious to her. Mental note to factor game length in future purchases. Oh well, at least, I achieved my subconscious aim of wanting to play each of the top 10 BGG games at least once.

Twilight Struggle appealed to me because of the variation of the cards. TTA while also card-driven was less interesting for the cards came across rather abstract, providing different combination of boosts to the different variables. One can argue that TS is no different with many cards merely allowing the addition of subtraction of influence, the geographical distribution of that influence seems to add a whole extra layer to the game. I like the various routes to victory, whether is it through VPs or through obtaining control of Europe.

Case in point, midway through the game, I began to concentrate all my attention on acquiring all the battleground nations in Europe. I was close to taking the win in round seven or eight when I had the Europe scoring card in hand but was forced to play it with Poland still under USSR's control. The next few rounds saw me attempting to consolidate my control of Europe till the final scoring while Van surged forward on the VP track. The closest she got was 19 VP and if not for a few timely VP and scoring cards, I surely would have lost the game. But as it turn out, I did manage to ride out the tsunami and took the win with Europe control at the final scoring.

The game isn't difficult to learn but can be a brain-burner especially when one isn't familiar with the cards. I like games with diverse card abilities (e.g. Glory to Rome!) but such games tend to have a steeper learning curve due to the large variety of cards. I like how the game captures both tactical and strategic elements. Tactics come in play for each hand of cards, determining the best order in which to play them so as to maximize your advantage while minimizing the advantage to your opponent when you have to play cards with their events. On the other hand, the game is also strategic because you have to decide your plan towards victory whether through capturing Europe or focusing your resources in other continents to gain the upper hand in VPs.

There is probably more luck in this game as compared to Eurogames of similar game length. Luck not only comes in the distribution of cards each round but also the concepts of coups and re-alignment rolls which depend heavily on dice rolls. But it never seems like a game-breaker to me because success is also largely dependent on the targets chosen as well as the operation value of cards played. Therefore, the crux in my opinion is choosing the appropriate target rather than simply going for gold by wishing a 6 each time you roll the die.

I would probably love the game if its game length was at least a half or a third shorter. While a win in the earlier rounds is attainable, it is probably the exception rather than the norm between experienced players. Either that or things must be really going one player's way via the card draws and dice rolls. As it is, the extent of the 'struggle' seems to result in diminishing utility as the game veers into its latter hours. Nonetheless, it is still very satisfying at the end to see that you have ultimately triumphed in the epic struggle.

I have put it up for trade for the moment because keeping a 2 player game that my wife won't play in the collection is clearly unwise. But unlike TTA, I'm happy to keep it in my collection till the right trade or price comes along.