Wednesday, August 26, 2009

25th Aug 2009 Session Report: 1st Automobile Ride!

Had an opportunity to game with Valerie and Marcus today. Valerie had some gaming experience back in the UK and we went through some of my shorter games while waiting for Marcus to arrive.

Alhambra (Me 141, Val 100, Dirk the Dummy 92)

First go at the official 2-player variant for Alhambra. Verdict? It plays quite well. There isn't much setting up for the dummy player except to add tiles to his hand at 3 points in the game but serves its purpose to provide some competition for the scoring phase. It is however unlikely for 'Dirk' to pose any threat since he doesn't score points for an external wall. He will tend to lag behind both players unless the players opt to purchase buildings on his behalf (which is an option in the 2-player variant) although I didn't see many opportunities which would make that worthwhile. Val ran into some trouble after acquiring some difficult to place tiles early on, which slowed her progress in expanding her estate. I on the other hand leant from the experience of my first play to acquire more money cards and only purchasing tiles at the exact price as far as possible. I could also concentrate on building an extended external wall this time round which accounted for a significant proportion of my score.

Battle Line (Val 3 Me 0)

Taught Valerie Battle Line figuring its short playtime was especially appropriate in light of Marcus's impending arrival. We started with 2 games without the tactic cards and Val despite it being her first play went on to trounce me soundly. She won one game by making a breakthrough (3 consecutive flags) and the other by nabbing 5 flags to my 2. I then introduced the Tactic cards which she grasped the nuances immediately and promptly won the 3rd game as well.

Automobile (Me $4790, Marcus $4050, Val $3980)

Marcus brought Automobile over, which was a game I was eager to try after all the hype on BGG. Thanks to Marcus, we got to try the game on one of the few sets of the first print run. Apparently, the game will only be widely available early next year. This was also my first Martin Wallace game and while I can see the genius of it, I figured it was a game I didn't feel much compulsion to own. The feel was very much of a business game. Of the games I have played, Indonesia comes the closest although Automobile is far shorter (which is a big plus in my book) and does not involve mergers.

We took awhile to plough through the rules together, but the game mechanics became much clearer after the first round. The challenge of the game lies in estimating the demand each round, and matching your production and sales so as to achieve the largest profit possible. Val and Marcus underproduced for a couple of rounds while I leveraged on my low-cost car factories to make a killing to gain a significant lead.

There are 3 ways to sell cars: 1. 2 cars via Howard (special ability of 1 of the characters), 2. Through distributors (up to a max of 8 which you have to build up over the rounds provided you were successful in supplying them with cars each round), and 3. based on the combined demand tiles drawn (number sold depends on factory placement and modifiers based on executive decisions chosen).

You are trying your best to match demand and supply each round for each unsupplied distributor and unsold car will reap you a loss cube. You also gain loss cubes for factories that lag behind more advanced factories opened. However, our observation from our first play is that the penalty of taking loss cubes isn't too severe and various characters plus closing down your factories allow you to reduce your loss cube count. Loans while available also seem unnecessary as each player starts with $2000. We attributed the lack of tightness to the fewer players in the game - it would be interesting to try the game again with 5, which according to Wallace would be far more cut-throat.

Tulipmania 1637 (Marcus $20825, Me $14775, Val $12875)

Marcus introduced us to another game about the sale of tulips. The mechanics resemble a stock market of sorts where the price of different coloured tulips fluctuate depending on demand and supply, as well as speculation. You earn money via the tulip you put up for sale on your turn and try to accumulate tulips of higher prices so that once the 'bursting' point is attained, all tulips of that colour in hand can be sold at various prices depending on whether one owns matching buyer cards. It is one of those games where you struggle to capture its nuances the first time round, and which is highly dependent on the actions of others. It possesses some similar elements to a potential acquisition, Chicago Express, but somehow failed to capture my interest.

Sorry! Sliders (Marcus - Winner, Me, Val)

We had a little time left so I figured it was a good opportunity to give my new set of Sorry! Sliders a go. Acquired it to add a dexterity game to my collection. Was initially somewhat disappointed by the quality of the components but all in all, it was good fun for the short while we had a go at it. I guess deeper games still interest me more but I believe it will be a hit with the casual or non-gamers I game with.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

10th Aug 2009 Session Report: 1st Ever Mass Gaming Session, Well Sort Of...

I have always desired to organize a boardgaming gathering at my place where multiple games run simultaneously. However, it has been difficult to find a regular time slot which is convenient for my friends and thus most of my gaming sessions have been restricted to a series of single games. I figured that this public holiday, I would attempt to get more over for games and in the end, there were 8 of us in total. However, different ones came later in the day so it took awhile before we got the second 'table' going.

Alhambra (Van-132, Ben-125, Me-115)

We started with Alhambra which was part of the trade of Twilight Struggle. I have heard good things about it as a gateway game. It didn't disappoint...I think. I realized that quite a number of turns were just spent taking currency and the game didn't get interesting for me till I started having difficultly piecing my estate together with the various buildings purchase. As the game progresses, the choice of buildings to buy takes on a different dimension as one needs to not only consider the building type relative to the number owned by your opponents but also whether its walls can fit nicely into your estate. All in all, a fine addition to my collection despite me getting routed in the game. Van won the inaugural game with 132 points while Ben and I had 125 and 115 points respectively.

Railroad Tycoon (Me-64, Van-59, Weilong-43, Xiumei-42, Ben-28)

With 5, I brought Railroad Tycoon to the table, desiring to see if there would be more conflict with an additional player compared to my first play. It wasn't much better and I suppose the sheer size of the map does allow you to largely build up your own network of tracks without much disturbance. I managed to dominate much of the north-east despite Weilong's presence, which gave me a lead I didn't relinquish. I rushed for the starting goals and managed to complete the major line from Boston to Washington.

I opted to keep the Major Lines in the deck this time round to avoid overwhelming the new players. The only rules I changed were for the auction and railroad cards. We played the auction so that the first player to pass would start last and so on. Only the first player had to pay his/her bid but the last player from the previous round would have to start the bidding. As for the railroad cards, I only revealed cards equalling the number of players together with the 3 starting cards, and introduced 2 new cards per turn. I didn't want the new players to be discouraged by all the information they had to read right from the start so as to allow them to familiarize themselves with the mechanics of the game. The game took about 2 1/2 hours which wasn't too long for 5 players but I would have appreciated something heavier for the time invested.

Meuterer x2 (Xiumei - 34/33, Me - 33/32, Lijie - 30/23, Ben-15/27)

We proceeded to split into 2 groups after RRT. I introduced Meuterer to my group while Van played Glory to Rome with Mun, Fang Ting and Weilong. Xiumei complained during the rules explanation that they were hard to follow and promptly went on to win both games, pipping me by a point in both. Playing this time with the correct rules, I noticed how the psychological aspect came into play. Choosing whether to reveal your conflict cards during the play of ware cards can be an important decision in garnering support or serving as a bluff. The order in which one plays his/her ware cards can also be important in ensuring the Merchant is left for you. While my issues with the game expressed in the earlier thread remains, the game has moved up a notch in my book regardless.

Glory to Rome (Van - W, Weilong, Fang Ting, Wai Mun)

Didn't hear much of the game except that Weilong and Van were both vying for a victory by Forum, which Van succeeded in finally.

9th Aug 2009 Session Report: Aye Aye Captain!

Traded Twilight Struggle recently for Alhambra and Meuterer. Had to make a small cash top-up, prob not the best deal in terms of finances I made but considering how TS wasn't gonna be easy to bring to the table, perhaps this will turn out to be a wise decision in the long-run.

Got an opportunity to pull out Meuterer for a play at a friend's BBQ. I had read the rules the night before but forgot to bring them along, which led to us playing a couple of rules wrongly. Firstly, I mistakenly thought the Mutineer moves the ship anti-clockwise if the mutiny succeeds. Apparently, I got it mixed up with the Pirate ship, but like the Captain, the Mutineer moves the ship clockwise so it's possible for the Captain and the Mutineer to pick the same destination for the ship to dock. Secondly, I assumed that once the mutiny is activated, each player starting from the Captain can play a maximum of one conflict card. A closer reading of the rules when I got back indicated that while each player had only one opportunity to add cards, they could add any number of conflict cards still in their hands. I was glad that I got the rule wrong because the actual rule made the game far more tense and interesting. While the mistakes were nothing game breaking, it would have been nice to get them right the first time round. Van ended with the win with 30 followed by Simon with 28, while I and Sylvia took up the rear with 26 and 15 respectively.

I thought that the game was good value, and packed some tactical depth for its supposed price and playtime. However, I did wish the wares deck came with more cards so that the deck needn't be reshuffled every round. It also gives the sense that one can sort of predict the kind of cards being dealt each round based on what was played two rounds ago. Nonetheless, I don't think anyone approached the game that intensely. The game also did seem somewhat random at times although I guess that's fine for a game of such short playtime. I realize that your ability to score points each round is heavily tied to the cards you receive. If you receive several conflict cards, then go for the Mutineer or defend your captaincy, choosing the island with the most points to dock. If you get a long suit of a particular good or goods, then grab points from selling them, taking the Merchant to break the tie if necessary. I know I'm approaching tactics somewhat shallowly, and timing plays an important part in getting the character desired but there were occasions I obtained 5 cards of different goods, and I resigned myself to scoring minimal points that round by taking the First Mate or Cabin Boy. This is probably the most unsatisfactory part of the game where there are times the card draw leaves you practically helpless. It would be nice if there was an opportunity to score more points regardless of card draw even if probability was low.

Lastly, the game supposedly plays well with 4, and only 4. While versatility is appreciated, I usually try to play games with the numbers they play at so this wasn't a deal breaker in any sense. Still, a game this portable with a short play-time and some depth seems a keeper. While the rules aren't easy to explain, most people do get them after a trial round or so.

Friday, August 7, 2009

5th Aug 2009 Session Report: Twilight Struggle Under 2 1/2 Hours

I persuaded Ben to come over again today to give Twilight Struggle a go before I traded it off. My rules explanation the day before intrigued him adequately for him to take up the offer but he was clearly concerned about the possible length of the game. We proceeded with him taking USSR and I, the US. I chose not to play US with the recommended added influence as I thought that the added advantage would come in helpful since it was his first go.

Ben concentrated largely on Europe and Asia while I took a foothold in the Middle East and Africa, while combating him on the European and Asian front. He had a number of difficult turns, drawing a flurry of US cards, while I got rid of the USSR cards in my hand thanks to my success in the space race, enabling me to toss 2 of such cards per turn.

While Ben took control of multiple countries, I paid closer attention to the battlegrounds and successfully took control of a number via well-timed coups. I took some cheap points by playing scoring cards during the headline phase. I scored heavily on an American scoring card with only control of Panama, with the continent devoid of any other influence. Eventually, my VPs neared the brink and a couple of fortunate VP cards put me over the top at the end of the 6th turn. In particular, Salt Negotiations allowed me to resurrect a non-scoring card from the discard pile which put the deterministic VP related card in play.

Surprisingly, the game just took under 2 1/2 hours. Even Van was impressed but I could foresee how the game would easily break the 4 hour mark if it went the distance. I also realized that the right distribution of cards at the right time could significantly impact the result of the game. Perhaps, the luck of the draw is somewhat too much for me for a game of such (potential) length. Well it was nice to have another go at TS just before I trade it.

We moved on to another go at Nexus Ops with Van joining us. This time round the game was far more competitive as Van and Ben clearly caught on with regards to being aggressive. In fact, Van put the most Secret Mission cards in play while Ben and I accumulated points from mostly Battle cards. Ben neared victory on the last turn, only needing a successful dice roll to play a Secret Mission card for the win. Unfortunately, he failed and going next, I grabbed the 5 points needed for the win, with the play of Death from Above and another Secret Mission card which required a Fungoid kill which Ben sat pretty on his 3 mine space. I was confident of the win as I took a number of turns to prepare for the Death from Above play. As it turned out, Ben almost beat me to it. Nonetheless, Ben and Van were a whisker away with 10 and 9 points respectively.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

4th Aug 2009 Session Report: Battling For Supremacy On A Foreign Moon

Nexus Ops (Me-13, Van-6, Ben-5)

It has been awhile since the last gaming session and I was raring to have a go at the newly acquired Nexus Ops. Verdict? I liked it - short playtime, good fun, beautiful pieces to boot. There is a degree of luck with the exploration tiles, the card draws and of course, the battles that are seemingly dice fests BUT I exceptionally enjoyed the fact is determined by the player who pursues his/her mission objectives more relentlessly and that the energizer cards offer an added element when conserved for crucial battles. I took the win convincingly as it took Van and Ben awhile to realize that the game rewarded aggressiveness and while they were taking a conservative Risk-like approach, I was picking my battles in accordance to the Secret Mission cards drawn.

Glory to Rome (Me-35, Van-27, Ben-23)

Van picked GtR which was no surprise considering how it has become a favourite at our sessions. An early Gate set me on track early as I proceeded build a series of incomplete Marble buildings to tap on their powers. I gained multiple actions easily per turn with my combination of the Palace and Circus Maximus. Coupled with my Basilica, I loaded my vault early and proceeded to end the game quickly as I saw Van catching up with an impressive haul of influence points from her completed buildings.

Citadels (Ben-40, Me-36, Van-26)

Ben had the last pick of the day and I suggested Citadels considering the time remaining and that I have always liked it with 3. In fact, I think these days, I would only play it with 3 which is clearly the best number with each player taking 2 roles per round. I got killed multiple times by Van and despite my lost turns, I still racked up an impressive score, reaching 8 buildings first and obtaining the colour bonus. However, Ben wasn't far behind and had a much more impressive series of buildings including School of Magic and Dragon Gate. He too reached 8 buildings on the last round and got the 3 bonus points for having a building of each colour. Van's progress was slowed due to getting 3 buildings destroyed by the Warlord. As usual, single gold buildings proved to be unwise options as they got picked off one by one by the player with the Warlord.