Been some time since I got to game on two consecutive days but as fortune would have it, Marcus managed to get half day off to game. Van unfortunately was still stuck in school so I decided to teach him the Settlers of Catan card game which I rate highly.
Catan Card Game
Since it was his first play, I refrained from loading him with the host of expansions and stuck to the original. He caught on quickly despite the number of wordy cards. While it took only about 75 min, it did feel somewhat longer due to the 'struggle' aspect of the game. He upgraded a couple of settlements and despite only managing one myself, I pipped him 12-10, thanks to my 5th settlement, and maintaining control of the Knight and Windmill symbols for most of the game. In particular, Marcus found himself at the shorter end of the Windmill event all game, which allowed me to rob him of multiple resources. It was nice for once to be on the other side as Van typically trumps me on this aspect in most of our games. Nonetheless, Marcus had a positive view of the game. Perhaps we can get some deck-building in once I get my second copy of the expansions set.
Marcus tried to teach us Imperial when Van got back but her mind was clearly not geared towards learning a new game, especially one as complex as Imperial. We aborted halfway through the rules explanation and opted for Le Havre instead. Amazingly, we bettered our last run of about 135 min and finished the game in about 110 min. Marcus ended with 220+ points yet again, while I only managed 190+. I realized I am still not fully familiar with the building powers, especially those in the special buildings deck and ended up taking some suboptimal actions by nabbing resources when a stronger move was available via a building action. Marcus did highlight me towards the end of the game that with the Bank in my tow, I should buy up the neutral buildings available with the relevant symbols. Guess I'm still rather inexperienced in the game despite playing it about 5 times. Nonetheless, with our speedy play, I can see it much more palatable bringing it to the table in future.
While Hari Raya was the day before, it being a Sunday meant that Monday was a holiday as well. I invited whoever was available and was glad that there was a nice turnout in the end.
Age of Empires III
I stole victory by a hair's breath from Vanessa. It was the first game for Lijie and he seemed to enjoy himself, despite expressing initial reservations regarding the rules. I was surprised to win with Vanessa gaining the upper hand in colonization. Lijie had a nice collection of trade goods and far surpassed us in terms of merchant ships obtained. It forced me to take the Age III capital building with the Merchant Ship bonus despite only having 2, but a failure to do so would have simply handed him the game. However, his late foray into colonization meant that he failed to score adequate VPs to challenge Van and I. I figured my success boiled down to a well diversified strategy. I wasn't exceptional in any aspect but did well enough not to fall behind. Once again, I enjoyed the game and while it took about 2 hours, none of us felt it took as long - clearly a mark of a good game. While I have only played with 3, it makes me wonder whether I would favour the game with more players since it would surely add to the game length with more workers to place.
The next game I brought to the table was China. On this 2nd play, we actually managed to place a lot more emissaries, even maxing out the capacity in some provinces. I put it down to us playing more 2 cards turn rather than using our full hand of 3. As such, the deck was drawn down more slowly, and allowed us to focus on placing emissaries after most of the house vacancies have been filled. The emissary aspect of the game was also rather interesting as the capacity is limited by the majority in each province. This meant that large provinces and those dominated by a single colour became potential for high scoring. I realized this late and Lijie took Van and I to the cleaners, trumping us by 10+ points, despite it being his first play. Nonetheless, my impression of the game has further improved after this play and with its quick play time, I can see myself bringing it to the table on a regular basis. Buying it 2nd hand for S$25 was an absolute steal, thanks Sng!
Fang Ting and her friend, Ju Lee joined us at this point and not certain of Ju Li's appetite for heavier games, I decided to start us off with Liar's Dice. It was good fun and I see its potential as a casual game for large groups, in addition to Puno.
We went out in the order: FT, JL, LJ and finally myself. The final match-up was I with a single die against Van with her original 5 - it was clear that I didn't stand a chance.
Princes of Florence
With 5, I turned to my trusty PoF to further cement its status as a gateway gamer's game. While initially perturbed during the rules explanation, it appeared that the 3 guests enjoyed themselves. It was nice to get another go at PoF which is only 1 of 2 games that I rate a 10, yet seldom appears at the table as I'm often unwilling to play it with any less than the optimal 5 players. I beat Van by 2 points, thanks to a base price Jester that I obtained towards the end game, and producing a total of 6 works. I also managed to fulfill my 7 point Prestige card for most forests with only 2.
After Fang Ting and Ju Lee left, the 3 of us managed to squeeze in a game of Fairy Tale before leaving for dinner. Despite putting it up for trade, I was keen to give it another go with the correct rules. I had misinterpreted the rules previously that "You Flip One" meant that you got to flip an opponent's card. I then realized after reading up the BGG forum that you had to flip one of your own. While it made sense that high point cards required you to pay the penalty of flipping one of your other cards, it also meant that there was even less interaction in the game than I previously assumed. While the game flowed more smoothly this time round, I still failed to see its appeal on BGG. But Van was showing her talent at the game, winning again - this time with the correct rules.
Marcus came over for games and I had an opportunity to get couple of my new games to the table.
First up was Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery. I was initially concerned that this would be another redundant 'worker-placement' game especially with my acquisition of Le Havre which I rate highly. Verdict? I was pleasantly surprised. While the mechanics aren't exactly elegant, the game isn't like anything I've played. Sure the mechanics are tried and tested such as worker placement, area majority, buildings with special powers, etc. but as a package, it is unique as compared to other worker placement games I've tried such as Agricola, Stone Age and even Le Havre. I especially like its confrontational nature in the jostling for position on the various tracks and how the different specialist roles adds a twist into the various spots on the board where you need to gain majority control. The tension was there even with 3 players, although admittedly more so with the first few placements rather than the final few. I agree with the criticisms that the bonuses of the capital buildings do add a dose of luck and have the potential of swinging the game but I don't think it overly detracts from the enjoyment of the game. I like that its easy to pick up and while the game runs slightly longer than I would prefer, it does sustain interest throughout. Marcus came in first in our inaugural game, benefitting from the massive wealth accumulated with the help of his capital buildings and suitably purchased Age III buildings to score the relevant bonuses. Van took 2nd while I 3rd, as I failed to line up enough of my missionaries on the colonist dock due to fierce competition for spots. While somewhat preliminary, it's definitely a keeper in my book. The big plus is that Van actually had a favourable opinion of the game when asked after our first play. That basically seals the deal...
Van suggested a go at Glory to Rome after dinner. It occurred to me that I hadn't played it for some time when it used to hit the table previously every gaming session. Still a fav in our books nonetheless! Unfortunately, the game didn't allow us to savour it for long as Marcus rushed the end of the game by clearing the remaining sites and pipped us to the win by being the only one who managed a single stash in the vault, which was enough to give him a 6 VP advantage.
Next, I brought out China which I was eager to try after acquiring it recently. Marcus played it sometime ago and promptly sold his set, clearly indicating that he wasn't adequately impressed. The rules were exceptionally easy to pick up (I can see it as a successful gateway game) and the card mechanics were reminiscent of Ticket to Ride. However, the game blew past quickly without allowing me to grasp the full nuances of the scoring. We focused on the placement of houses with the only 4 emissary points scored by me at the end. Marcus took the victory with a 2 point edge over me, having scored nice points for his road, while successfully blocking my attempts at extending mine. While clearly abstract, I thought the game possessed potential especially with its short playtime. Van probably found it too short so much so that there didn't seem much game at all. I learnt that the house scoring meant that all one needed was half of the houses in each district and if you are aiming for 2nd, minimal houses were required as your points increase with a greater majority. Still probably need another game or two to figure out how to best leverage the emissary scoring...
We then tried Fairy Tale. We didn't fully understand the rules and ended up getting a few of them wrong. Nonetheless, Van got the win but my first impression is that there isn't as much interaction in the game as I first assumed.
To end the night we had a quick go at Sorry! Sliders which went to the wire - Marcus clinched it at the death...
All in all, a good day of gaming - been awhile since I got 5 games to the table in one session.
Planned a game session for 3 but Shiqing couldn't make it last minute so Van and I decided to have a go at our new copy of Le Havre. This game has been on my radar ever since I tried it a couple of times on Marcus' copy. I have only tried it with 3 previously which is supposedly what it plays best. Nonetheless I've heard that it plays well with fewer players so I figured it should offer a decent game with 2 too.
We took quite some time punching out the bits and sleeving the cards so decided to give the shortened version a try. It took us only about an hour to get through the game. But as I suspected, the shortened game doesn't give the full flavour of the game. There were only 8 rounds and despite starting with a load of resources, I felt somewhat lost as to what to do with the actions remaining. I lost the game 107 to Van's 127 after making a couple of mistakes:
1. I spent too much time accumulating resources and was left with inadequate actions to convert them to cash via shipping.
2. I assumed taking loans was similarly advantageous in the shortened game as the standard game but realized that the limited actions coupled with the lack of the Court for free repayment made it more 'costly' to acquire loans. However by the time I realized, I was already saddled with 4 loans.
3. I planned to use my final action to purchase the Bank which would have won me the game. Unfortunately I mistakenly assumed that the building cost was 4 bricks and 1 iron which I prepared but it turned out to be 4 bricks and 1 steel. The resources I had remaining didn't allow me to take an alternative action which proved to be my downfall.
In Puerto Rico, timing is key in determining when to switch from acquiring money to VPs. Likewise, I'm starting to see that timing is similarly key in Le Havre where one has to decide when to start converting the resources acquired to cash and VPs. If one is left with a significant stash of resources at the end of the game (which count for nothing), clearly he or she has failed to time that well. I'm glad there's an option of the shortened game for days when the full game would be an overkill but my preference is to get the full game in cause it's clearly the superior option.
Introduced Loot to a couple of youths during the Creative Service. Played with 4/5 so didn't have an opportunity to try the game with teams. First impressions were a tinge disappointing. I suppose I expected more after reading a couple of reviews on BGG. Found it somewhat tedious and repetitive after awhile. Perhaps a score track tracking the score during the game would add some excitement and allow players to identify and gang up on the leader. Also, the limited number of Pirate Captain (1 for each colour) and Admiral (1 only) cards meant that these 'trumps' had minimal impact on the game - they aid you at best in gaining 1 high valued merchant ship. I suppose it is still a good filler game for non-gaming guests especially since it takes up to 8, but I do hope the team variant spices things up a lot more.
It was Teachers' Day and I took the opportunity to game with Van. It had been some time since the 2 of us gamed on our own. I suggested Alhambra since Van hadn't had an opportunity to try the 2-player version of Alhambra. My previous experience was positive so I had high hopes for it.
In the end, Van schooled me in the game though the scores looked closer than it actually was. I lost the record sheet but it was in the region of: Van 126, Me 114, Dirk 93. I struggled to pay exact to reap the extra actions while Van seemed to make those buys effortlessly. On hindsight, I was perhaps a little too eager on a couple of buys and should have bid my time and accumulated currency. But the key to Van's success was her external wall. At the very first scoring round, she already managed a 14 for her external wall. I managed a miserly 4. While she wasn't able to further expand her wall, 3 rounds of 14 was sufficient to give her an unassailable lead which I never got close to. In fact, I was almost on the verge of an embarrassing loss to Dirk but my wall scoring on the last turn prevailed in giving me a clear advantage.
The 2-player rules allow players to purchase tiles on behalf of Dirk. In my 2 games so far, no one has ever utilized this rule since on the surface it makes no sense to do so when the tiles could be added to your own hand. However, I do see opportunities where you are so out of the running of a certain building that you can add to Dirk's hand so as to reduce your opponent's score. Furthermore, it may allow you to clear a tile which doesn't fit nicely into your estate. Will look out for opportunities next time round.