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.

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