Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tribune On The Way...

Just put in an order for Tribune: Primus Inter Pares. Was gonna wait till the Black Friday sales in hope of a better deal but went ahead anyway as I doubted the game would be available at a better price anyway.

It seems like the sort of game I'll enjoy - relatively deep with good interaction, short gameplay, easy to teach... My only concern was price (which I finally decided wasn't a concern, thus the rash purchase) and that it was yet another worker placement game. But watching Tom Vasel's video review seemed to convince me that there are sufficient elements which makes it unique despite its worker placement mechanic. Hopefully it scales well, at least from 3-5 if not with 2. Don't really want to add another game in the vein of El Grande and Princes of Florence, which are really only worth playing with 5.

20th Nov 2009 Session Report: An Afternoon of Games...

Took half day off in the afternoon to game with Jo, Dave and Seth. Jo has been exposed to euros while Dave and Seth were largely new to this world.

I decided to start off with a euro-ameritrash hybrid: Nexus Ops to ease them into the world of euros. The other reason of course is that I seldom get to bring this game to the table due to its theme. Somehow the female species gets turned off whenever they lay their eyes on the alien figurines. I don't blame them but it's such a pity because I have always rated the game highly. Well, it's rare to get 4 guys at the table and they looked thrilled lining up their various figurines while the rules explanation was going on.

The game did get bog down somewhat with 4 (my previous experiences were all with 3 so far) but not overly. I took the win easy due to their 'Risk' tendencies, opting to take the conservative approach and build up their forces. Nexus Ops however rewards aggressiveness as the game is not about survival but rather picking off the opponent at weak spots, and racing them to 12VPs by accomplishing various mission objectives, the most basic of which is simply succeeding in a battle situation.

The other reason for my easy victory was that they underestimated the importance of dominating the monolith, and allowed me several turns on it, thus racking up my stash of energize cards. These allowed me to unload them on the last few turns, acquiring the final VPs needed before they could halt my march to victory. In retrospect, I should have perhaps emphasized the usefulness of energize cards to a greater extent.

After the warm-up, I brought out the main event - A Game of Thrones LCG. Dave took Stark, Jo Lannister, Seth Baratheon and I Targaryen. The game dragged with 4 players as there was greater downtime. This was accentuated by the fact that we were unfamiliar with the card powers and spent quite some time reading them and figuring out what they meant. The game will clearly be more enjoyable with a regular group familiar with the cards. I should probably take my own advice and stick with one deck from now on, so that I can gain some competency with a deck. Between clarifying the rules, explaining the card powers of others, and grasping my own, the game becomes quite a brain-burning experience.

In terms of how the game progressed, we were generally conservative, opting to allow a challenge to go unopposed rather than face potentially heavier casualties by defending. In a sense, this was positive as it sped up the game by allowing more power tokens into the game. On the other hand, we were struggling to come to terms with the card texts that we failed to actively keep an eye on each others' armies and power tokens. In the end, Dave took the win with an unopposed military challenge, aided by Edward Stark's renown ability. Hoping to get more plays with 2 players to gain familiarity with the cards with less downtime even though the game does shine with 3-4 with the addition of the multiplayer titles.

I introduced them finally to Alhambra but we didn't finish as Dave and Seth had to leave halfway.

Friday, November 20, 2009

17th Nov 2009 Session Report: First Attempt at Vasco da Gama

Marcus' shipment of games from Essen arrived and when he came over, we were able to give Vasco da Gama a go. This was one of the games that intrigued me as I kept up to date with the Essen reports on BGG, and was clearly the game of the show as indicated by the popularity polls.

I however did poorly at the game, unable to grasp the nuances of the mechanics to play efficiently enough. I ended with a miserly 52 points compared to 77 for Van and 83 for Marcus. The game reminded me of Confucius where the board contained different sections for worker placement - one for selecting characters with bonuses, purchasing ships, recruiting crew and finally, one to deploy the manned ships. So while nothing new, the various sections did feel more tightly integrated into the game as a whole.

What has been touted as the refreshing aspect of Vasco however is the way in which selected actions are resolved. Workers are not placed directly on the various sections but rather on a list of numbers determining turn order. Beyond a certain point, actions are free, but above that, ascending payment is required. This point however has a random element as a modifier of +3 to -3 will be applied after numbers have been selected. We played generally conservatively, opting for actions in the free range but once I fell behind, I took greater risks, opting for advance positions despite lacking money for potential payments if the modifier didn't go my way. If payments can't be made, actions are skipped with the consolation of a small income.

The game felt tight throughout as you are constantly jostling for position in the various sections of the board. Going behind means settling for inferior options as the better ones get taken . Another challenge is lining up your positions so that you have the necessary requirements to launch your ship(s) at the right time.

The game didn't overstay its welcome, playing in about 90min excluding rules explanation. While I enjoyed the game and saw the brilliance in its mechanics, it just didn't feel unique enough to warrant a purchase. Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to more plays on Marcus' copy.

Vanessa suggested Tigris and Euphrates next. This was Simon's copy which I borrowed awhile back and hadn't had the opportunity to return. It was Marcus first play and after having not played the game in awhile, I must admit that I appreciate the charm of the game. It is undisputedly one of Knizia's better designs as reflected by its BGG ranking. I enjoy the conflict present and the possibilities available. It is one of those games where you can make a move and your opponents are left both surprised and wowed. I had a couple of bad hands this game, ending up with multiple same coloured tiles which I had strength in. I realized the best thing to do in such situations is to go for a quick external conflict, which enabled a more efficient refreshing of tiles. I also like how there needs to be constant consideration as to how best strengthen your weak colours. I had a few unexpected victories due to my skewed tile hands and ended up with 11 on my weakest colour while Van and Marcus tied on 6.

Next up was Chicago Express which Marcus was keen to have another go at since the last time we played. I won the initial red as usual but made a bad move of auctioning the 2nd red when I didn't need to. I realized that actions are valuable in this game and there is no reason taking an action which would not directly benefit me over my opponents. I could have waited for others to auction the 2nd red as it was advantageous to keep status quo into the first dividend phase. Marcus had a good start and ended up with 114 to Van's 79 and my 73. I was also overly conservative in my shares acquisitions early on, and lost out on overall payouts in the long run.

We ended off with what else but Glory to Rome. I built the Scriptorium proceeded to accumulate influence by mass completion of buildings. I finally ended the game in the nick of time with a Catacomb as Van started stashing extra materials in her vault with her first turn Merchant client. I pipped her by a point, 24 to 23.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

11th Nov 2009 Session Report: The One Where I Cement My Appreciation Of Chicago Express

Had a good gaming turn-out today: Weilong, Mun, Ivan, Van and myself.

Ivan was the earliest so we started out with A Game of Thrones LCG while waiting for the other two to arrive. It was our first go at multiplayer so a little reviewing of the titles mechanic was due. This basically involves a choice of title per round by each player after plot cards are revealed and initiative resolved. Each title accords a benefit for the turn as well as determines potentially another title in which you oppose or support for the entirety of the round. You are restricted from challenging whoever you support and you gain a bonus power if you win a challenge against whoever you oppose. It's a nice added element to the game which helps balance the decks and prevent runaway leaders. Thematically, it fits the politicking of the books. However, it does add considerable time to gameplay since there is a tendency to gang up on the leader to pull him or her back.

As it turned out, we didn't manage to finish the game at the point when Weilong and Mun arrived. Nonetheless, it gave us a feel of the multiplayer mechanic. Van remained unimpressed and it looks like it will be increasingly difficult to get her to play again. Ivan was leading in the power department when we decided to move on to something else.

With 5, we opted for none other than Princes of Florence. Before we started, I also managed to teach Ivan Tichu and while waiting for Mun, the four of us played two hands. It ended 270-20 in Ivan and my advantage. Van and Weilong also had a short game of Battle Line while I was explaining the rules of PoF to Ivan.

Princes of Florence (Me 63, Ivan 51, Van 48, Mun 48, WL 38)

Ivan did surprisingly well considering it was only his first play at the game. I made a big boo-boo with my first prestige card, failing to get the builder I needed to fulfill the requirements. Somehow I assumed that just like Jesters, there would be a builder available for each round and waited till the last round to obtain it, hoping to nab it at a lower price. To my surprise, there were only 7 builders in the game, as opposed to 8 for Jesters. I opted desperately for a second prestige card at that point and managed to get the tied score for most works, but the damage was done. Thankfully, I obtained 2 Jesters in the mid-game at undervalued prices, which enabled me to still nab victory.

Glory to Rome (Van - forum victory, Me, Ivan, Mun)

Weilong had to leave early and Ivan was due to leave in about an hour so we opted for GtR. Ivan picked it up quickly despite the variety of building powers. Clearly, his experience with CCG/LCG typed games helped. I was a turn away from a potential victory but Van pipped me to it with a Forum victory thanks to her Gate which activates the powers of uncompleted Marble buildings.

Chicago Express (Van 83, Me 64, Mun 42)

After Ivan departed, I taught Mun Chicago Express before dinner. She was clearly impressed by the depth of the game despite the simplicity of the mechanics. I again won the first red share at $21. Van wised up to my strategy this time round and promptly auctioned the 2nd red share at a point when my finances paled to hers. She went further to buy up the 3rd share and I was rendered helpless as she clearly had the edge in terms of income and cash early in the game. As a minor shareholder, I diverted red's network away from Chicago and utilized it to block green which Van and Mun owned out of the game. Red was left with insufficient tracks to reach Chicago though it still provided a nice income each dividend phase. But the allowance to pull off such a move just took the game up another notch in my book. Blue managed to reach Chicago and I was the main beneficiary with 2 shares to Van and Mun's one. However, I was unable to claw back on Van's early lead and she promptly ended the game by auctioning off Wabash's 2nd share, leaving shares on red, blue and black all accounted for.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

8th Nov 2009: My First Wins At Chicago Express & Endeavor...

If you had read my last post, you would know that it was mighty fortunate that Van even agreed to game with me again, hah! Anyway, Marcus came over and mentioned he has a shipment from Essen arriving (woohoo!). We initially wanted to give Imperial a go, but Van vetoed the idea in view of its length so Marcus had a chance to try out the new games I acquired.

We started off with Endeavor and while he grasped the rules quickly, he had some difficulty optimizing his choices and ended up with some inefficient scenarios where he was unable to fully utilize his workers. I too had an abundance of workers but used them to good effect by attacking strategically for the connection and added influence. Surprisingly, 3 extra regions opened up, and both Marcus and Van managed a nice collection of cards. I had the most points on the main board which was enough to secure me the victory, despite me not gaining a single Governor card nor acquiring a building beyond an industry level of 3.

Next up was Chicago Express. Marcus had tried it once before so we were equally experienced, or for that matter inexperienced, with 1 game under our belt each. I determined to focus on the red railway company this time round, noting in my last play that it had the fewest shares and thus was least susceptible to dilution. I took its first share for $21 and timed myself subsequently to buy into Marcus' yellow and Van's blue when they were low on cash. I maintained monopoly over the red throughout the game, buying up the 2 remaining shares when auctioned with my early lead in cash. Unsurprisingly, it was the first and only company to reach Chicago, and the special dividend triggered accrued to me alone, thus building me an unassailable lead. The game soon ended with the Wabash being the third company to have its shares fully auctioned. I took the win with $102.

After unsuccessfully trying to persuade Van to give A Game of Thrones LCG a go, we decided go with our trusty Glory to Rome. I was surprised Van even suggested it after what happened the last time round. Marcus and I gained an obscene number of clients. Thanks to my Bar ("in addition: you may add patron from deck), my collection of clients was somewhat more useful. The scores were close, with each of us separated by a point. I took the win with 15, thanks to my solitary marble in the vault while theirs remained empty. Van had a nice stash in her stockpile with nabbed her additional points thanks to her Wall, while Marcus by far had the most influence points. Marcus commented the Bar seemed somewhat overpowered especially at its low cost (1 material). I partially agreed but attributed it to the randomness of the deck draw. But that's the appeal of GtR after all, most cards are overpowered in one way or another and it's all about coming out with your 'broken' combo the fastest. This was also my 30th play of GtR - money well spent indeed!

Finally, Marcus introduced to us a new game - Fzzzt! (how do you even pronounce that??!!). It has a certain deck-building mechanic to it, which Marcus commented reminded him of Dominion. I enjoyed the blind auction mechanic where cards in hand are used to bid for those displayed. Cards won and used remain yours, and 6 are drawn randomly each round to form your new hand. However, you have a larger degree of control as you can use cards to build widgets for more points, and thus leaving yourself with the 6 ideal cards for your next hand. Definitely a nice filler and thanks to the auction mechanic, arguably more interactive than Dominion. Nonetheless, I suppose without special powers and potential combos, the deck-building aspect seems rather thin. Even Dominion falls short for me in that... And now, if only I could get another go at A Game of Thrones LCG ;-)

1st Nov 2009: The One That Got The Wife Upset...

Unbelievably, we were able to game for a second consecutive day - it had been sometime since that happened. Wai Mun and Weilong joined us for games and it had been sometime since the 4 of us gamed together, despite it being a common occurrence late last year and early this year.

I wanted another go at Chicago Express but Van expressed her preference for Endeavor. It was our third go at the game within a week and I failed to emerge victorious yet again. Nonetheless, it was a good learning experience. Firstly, I realized that I had been undervaluing connections. I also assumed from my previous play that shipping wasn't as important as occupation since it didn't nab you a glory point at the end of the game. My undervaluation led to Van opening up a region singlehandedly (she dominated the entire shipping lane), which game her exclusive access to the cities and the region's cards. Not a smart move at all...

Next, I taught them Ages of Empire III. It was clear that they hadn't been over for some time because I had a bunch of games they had never played before. AOEIII has been a revelation, and despite it taking 2 or more hours at times, it was a game that never 'felt' overly long. This was my first go with 4 players, and while it did stretch the game out more, the added tightness of the game was admittedly appealing. I doubt I would want to try with 5 though - think the added game length would likely lead to diminishing utility at that point.

I went for a military strategy this time round since my first capital building gave me an extra soldier every turn. This gave me an edge in terms of area majority points. Van focused on trade goods and Wai Mun, discovery. I ended up with the capital building which awarded 4 points per merchant ships. That probably gave me the victory as all in all, I accumulated 5 in all. With more players, specialization is unavoidable and probably wise too, though it is probably still necessary to focus on at least 2 areas.

For our last game of the night, Van opted for Glory to Rome. I ended up with an absolutely ridiculous combo. Started out with the Temple (+4 hand), followed with the Scriptorium (complete any building with 1 marble) which allowed me Bridge, Colosseum and Palisade in a blaze. None of them managed to build the Wall which meant that with every play of Legionary, assuming the cards were available, I could take a matching card from:
1. The common pool
2. My opponents' hand
3. Their stockpile (in addition effect of the Bridge)
4. Their client, with the card going straight into my vault (thanks to the Colosseum)

It was simply devastating as my Bridge made my Legionary play applicable to all opponents, not just my neighbours, plus it rendered their Palisades useless. Van cried foul at the brokenness of the combo, but I assured her that it was perfectly legitimate. I probably should have avoided playing Legionary a second time with my victory more or less secured as Van was visibly upset when I did so. This was understandable as between the two of us, I have always been the gamer while Van has always gamed for its social aspect. Our game night ended on a somewhat awkward note but it was a good lesson for me - be conscious of who you are gaming with or else you may not have them as gaming partners much longer!

31st Oct 2009: First Go At Chicago Express...

This is gonna be a vague session report simply cause the score sheet got thrown away accidentally.

Weilong came over for games and while he hasn't been gaming with us for some time, he came just in time to try my new shipment of games.

I spared no time in whipping out Chicago Express. I had been eyeing this baby for some time as it had all the characteristics I typically like about games. Short game length (about 1 hour), simple mechanics (3 basic decisions per turn) but yet incredible depth in play with high interaction. And the verdict? It sure didn't disappoint. Van took the win, with Weilong second and I, third. I was at a lost at times as to the auction mechanic - unsure when to initiate them and which company's share to put up for bidding. My downfall came with my failure to acquire sufficient share holdings compared to Van and Weilong, and that led to my downfall as dividend after dividend phases were triggered. Nonetheless, I concluded that it was a keeper for sure. I hesitated for sometime regarding the purchase due to the hefty cost and while the over-the-top production wasn't necessary, I'm sure glad I added this game to my collection. Can see many more plays in the future.

Next up was Endeavor. The first play was positive but I was keen to give it another go. I opted to focus on building up my industry this time round and by the end of the game, I was able to attain the best buildings in the game. Unfortunately, the apparent imbalance in my progress tracks meant that I lagged behind. Van took the win again.

We had to make a move by then, and while I was washing up, Van taught Weilong Battle Line without the tactic cards.