Saturday, December 19, 2009

14th Dec 2009 Session Report: Fans of AGoT LCG

One of my favourite new games has to be A Game of Thrones LCG. However, it has been a challenge finding gaming partners for it since its theme and mechanics mean that it has a niche appeal of sorts. So far, Ivan and Jerry seems most keen on it. Today, Jo and Ben were over and it seems I've found 2 new converts.

It was Jo's second go at the game while it was Ben's first. The first game took some time with us recycling our plot cards. I was behind most of the game but managed to catch up towards the end. Jo was leading with over 10 power tokens, held in check only by my Melisandre, who negates power tokens on opponents' character cards. Jo took the win by playing the 'Tourney of the Hand' plot card which renders his knight characters immune to character abilities. As it turned out, power tokens earned via renown were concentrated on his knight characters giving him the win since Melisandre had no hold on them that round.

In our second game, Ben played my haphazardly put together Baratheon deck to good effect. He took the win with a 5 power token round, leveraging on a double claim round coupled with Robert Baratheon's fearsome renown ability which earns him not 1 but 2 power tokens.

Other games played that day included 2 rounds of Glory to Rome. In the first game between, Jo, Ben and myself, I took the win with a Forum victory with the help of a Garden, Aqueduct and Bar combo. Coincidentally, in a later game where Van joined in, she also won through the Forum, aided by the Aqueduct and Gate.

The 4 of us also played China. While abstract, I enjoy its depth for its short playtime. The others seemed more lukewarm towards it. Being their first plays, Jo and Ben took awhile to wrap their heads around the scoring. I experimented and placed emissaries far earlier than I usually do in the game. While I lost ground in terms of house placements, I ended up scoring majority of the emissary points which pushed me over the top for the win.

Friday, December 11, 2009

8th Dec 2009 Session Report: Hansa Teutonica

Battle Line

The day of gaming began innocuously enough with Van suggesting a rematch at Battle Line despite her winning the last game couple days back. As usual, it was a tight affair with Van emerging victorious 2 games to 1. While abstract (typical Knizia), the tension the game creates is splendid. Some view the tactic cards as overly random but I see it as an opportunity cost mechanic which I enjoy.

Opting to hold tactic cards in hand means the trade-off of greater flexibility by holding more numerical cards. I usually avoid taking tactic cards till my opponent takes his/her first one so as to reserve an option of responding if he/she does play one against me.

Besides the decisions of how early to take a tactic card and how many to take is the decision of when to play a tactic card. My experience is that I will usually initiate the play of tactic cards when I'm falling behind and do so in the hope that my opponent holds inferior tactic card(s) which prevents a timely response. When ahead, there is absolutely no reason to open the can of worms that tactic cards bring and often I'll 'take a blow' without responding so that no further tactic cards can be played against me.

All in all, my opinion is that meaningful decisions are introduced with tactic cards and I always opt to play with them except when teaching new players the game.

Hansa Teutonica

Marcus contacted me last minute that he was available to game. He brought along Hansa Teutonica which I had read so much about from the Essen reports on BGG. It has been touted as comparable to Endeavor but perhaps more gamey. I had my reservations about Endeavor despite owning it and wondered if Hansa Teutonica would be a worthy substitute as a game with somewhat similar mechanics.

We grappled a bit with the rules at the start as it was the first time Marcus was explaining the rules. In retrospect, there is probably a little more to explain for HT since its mechanics are less streamlined than Endeavor and it possesses more numerous ways of scoring points. However, I do appreciate that points scored for your development tracks are less fiddly than those scored in Endeavor. In HT, you simply score 4 points for each track you maximize. With a few plays in the bag, I suspect HT shouldn't be much tougher explaining than Endeavor.

It was a close game with the three of us groping in the dark trying to formulate some kind of strategy. Marcus and I realized early that developing our actions track would be key to our competitiveness and thus there was fierce competition for the relevant route. Van caught on a bit later and was unable to maximize her actions track by the end of the game. My points grew as I controlled a city on that route and I ended the game when I crossed the 20 point threshold by scoring the 7 points given to the first player to connect the 2 red labelled cities from east to west. Marcus almost caught up as we tabulated the scores as he was the only one to advance his network multiplier to 2, which doubled the points he scored for each office he possessed in his longest network of connected cities. The scores ended 42-40-18.

The game played quick - one hour excluding rules and set-up for a first game! It pleased me to see that HT plays likely in the same time as Endeavor despite posts on BGG that suggest that it plays longer. I was a bit perturbed that most parts of the board were left untouched as we focused our actions on the south-east portion where the city to upgrade the actions track laid. I also questioned the game was too predictable as it was apparent that the action track seemed overpowered as suggested by some on BGG. But upon some reflection, I realized the various options to score points in the game was oddly balanced and it was possible to do well even without upgrading to the 5th action. The ability to take an action and move multiple cubes while less apparent can be just as powerful and potentially negate the disadvantage of having less actions. In fact, it's probably wise to opt for another path to victory if other players compete too fiercely to upgrade their actions.

Herein lies the factor in which I rate HS over Endeavor. Endeavor is a great gateway game and probably easier for casual gamers to pick up compared to HT. However, my grouse with Endeavor is that every game doesn't seem to develop differently enough. Diversification is the key to victory and one is unlikely to do well if he or she overly neglects any of the developmental tracks. The charm about HT is that there are viable options where players can specialize, whether in their choice of developmental tracks to upgrade or their means of scoring points. This trait of having multiple paths to victory is one possessed by most of my highly rated games including the Princes of Florence.

One play seemed sufficient for me to make up my mind and at the point of typing this entry, I have already sold away Endeavor and made an order for Hansa Teutonica as its replacement.

Le Havre

We ended the night with Le Havre. Marcus and Van seemed to get their hands on all the key buildings before I could and I struggled to keep up. Van sold off her Sawmill which reaped her enough francs to purchase a wooden ship before the Wharf was available. Coupled with my mistakes in the end game, the final scores were 223-196-167 in the favour of Marcus and Van. I realized that the end game is highly critical and there is a need to plan your final actions taken. The tricky bit is that most players will be aiming for the same buildings in the end game (shipping, clearing loans, building the luxury liner, etc.) and you may very well be shut out of those buildings. This happened to me and I wasn't able to finish shipping the goods I stocked up for most of the game. This is especially so since one cannot repeat his last action as his final, unblockable action at the end of the game. A splendid game no doubt and one I'm looking forward to honing my play in.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

3rd Dec 2009 Session Report: Greed, Incorporated

One of the blessings of having Marcus as a gaming buddy is that I get to try many of the new releases. First was Vasco da Gama and then it was Factory Manager, all recent releases at Essen. Today, he introduced us to Greed, Incorporated which was my second attempt at a Splotter game after Indonesia.

Greed, Incorporated (Me 43, Marcus 40, Van 19)

I've mixed feelings after playing the game despite eking out a surprising victory. On the positive side, it was surprisingly approachable for a Splotter game and the phases were clear and easy to follow. I had little trouble understanding the game and the mechanics did seem a lot more elegant compared to Indonesia. An added plus was that we finished the game in 150min excluding rules explanation. Apparently, it was noted on BGG that the 3 player game takes longer than with 4-5 players due to the increased number of rounds. While Indonesia seemed the deeper game but its also definitely the longer and less accessible game.

However, the way the game panned out seemed to leave me somewhat dissatisfied. While the game seemed to be built for business negotiations and trading, we only traded once in the game where Van bought a raw material she lacked from Marcus so as to produce her secondary good early in the game. As the game progressed and most of the initial blame games had taken place, we opted to fill the CFO and COO positions with our own markers, ensuring that we would maximize the payout from our companies. I had a good hand of asset cards and managed to accomplished that while attaining the assets required to up the value of my goods. With the limit of 4 assets per company, opting to grab an opponent's asset card as a means to block them doesn't seem viable. As such, I spent my final few rounds engineering opportunities to fire myself from 1-2 positions in my companies to increase my personal wealth while restocking the personnel the following round by selecting my own asset cards. While effective, it didn't seem like the game was meant to be played that way. But with each of us pursuing our production trees, there weren't opportunities for us to trade anyway. Marcus remarked that this would probably be different with more players as it would be tougher to be self-independent. Perhaps, but once I got a hold of 2 companies, I could very much have my way manipulating the 'books' to ensure I surpassed the previous year's income when I needed to.

The other part of the game that left me cold was the auction mechanic to convert personal cash to VPs. Victory is determined by VPs with personal cash serving as only the tie-breaker. Each round, there's an opportunity to purchase a gold or silver status symbol which accords VPs to the player. However, each player can only make one purchase per round and the starting bid of each symbol follows the clinched price of the previous symbol. The VPs also differ by 0-1 VPs from its preceding good. It appears to me that it always makes sense to go all out in the auction as there is little chance of getting a better deal in subsequent rounds with the inflation of prices for limited VP gain. While I can see the timing of when to initiate a blame game becomes more significant in view of this in hope of clinching an auction unopposed, I wonder if the auction mechanic is the best option for this cash to VP conversion process. The final round was somewhat anti-climatic as the gold and silver symbols simply went to the richest and second richest players.

Citadels (Marcus 34, Me 22(3), Van(0))

Marcus needed to leave in 30min so we opted for a quick game of Citadels. 3-player plays quickly and best because each player gets to take 2 characters per round. We also opted to play to 7 buildings instead of the usual 8 to shorten the game. I started strongly, getting to 4 buildings first despite Van building the impressive 8-point University early. However, a series of assassinations by Van crippled my progress, leaving the path to victory clear to Marcus. He was not only first to 7, but also managed a 5 point 8th building, nabbing the colour bonus as well. While I managed to get to 7 that final round, my buildings were nothing to shout about. Van built high value buildings but was unable to build quick enough to pose a significant threat to Marcus.

2nd Dec 2009 Session Report: A Close One...

Van suggested that we play Battle Line out of the blue and it turned out to be a really close affair. I started well, taking the first couple of flags and threatening a breakthrough on the right flank, needing only 1 more flag to win the game. However, Van held out and with the help of her superior Tactic cards, she fended off everything I could throw at her, including the Fog and Mud cards, to take the win 5-4.

27th Nov 2009 Session Report: Public Holiday Gaming Redux

Had a good turnout this time round, with almost 10 different ones playing over the course of the day. Lost the scores yet again so will just jot down what comes to mind.

Ivan came over with Jerry who is a CCG/LCG enthusiast. Despite never having played A Game of Thrones LCG before, he picked it up fast. The game was played over 2 halves as Marcus came halfway and we decided to opt for a game all 5 of us could play. We also played till only 10 points in order to avoid dragging out the game overly. Ivan played his slightly modified Targaryen deck while Jerry used his Stark deck. I fiddled with my Stark deck somewhat the day before, adding in a couple of Intrigue characters and swapping some of the plot cards so decided to go with that too. As a result, the game was dominated by military and power challenges. The lead switched hands a couple of times but I ultimately took the game with a 5 power gain round. I won an unopposed military challenge against Jerry, before initiating a power challenge against Ivan which he decided not to defend against. My claim that round was 2 which allowed me to rob him of 2 power tokens. I gained an extra power token for the unopposed challenge plus a final power token due to Eddard Stark's Renown ability for the win.

While this was going on, Van introduced Battle Line to Marcus before we took a break from AGoT LCG to table El Grande. I hadn't had a chance to play El Grande for some time with the infrequency of gaming with 5, coupled with the fact that I tended to opt for Princes of Florence even with 5 around. It definitely did not disappoint and I made a mental note to table it more often. Ivan, Jerry and Marcus picked up the game quickly and scores ended up really close at the end with Van edging me and Ivan out by a point. There were a couple of 'wow' moments in the game, especially when the Caballeros (men) were released from the Castillo, which changed the board situation significantly. A worthy 9 in my book.

While Ivan, Jerry and I completed AGoT LCG, Van, FT and Marcus opted to play Glory to Rome. I didn't have much info about the game but apparently Marcus grabbed a speedy win with the help of a Craftsman strategy.

Ivan and Jerry had to make a move and Marcus introduced the rest of us including Lijie to Factory Manager. I had heard good things about the game but figured just like its predecessor Power Grid, it was unlikely to be my cup of tea. My gut feel was proven right as it was rather mathy, with the need to calculate your cost and income constantly to ensure you were eking out maximum profit each round. Power Grid while longer is definitely the superior game. Marcus won with me taking second place.

Marcus and Lijie had to make a move, but with Mun and Weilong joining the fray, I had an opportunity to try a 5-player game of Endeavor. Surprisingly, not all the regions opened up either as we opted to attack rather than merely sticking to peaceful options. Having a couple of 3-player games in the pocket, the game appears to scale rather well. However, while I can see why the game is rated highly, I'm still on the edge regarding it. I like its short play time and accessibility to non-gamers. However, the premise of the game doesn't encourage specialization as you really have to build up all tracks reasonably to do well. The paths to victory do not seem diverse enough for me and I'm waiting to see if Hansa Teutonica would be a better alternative. From what I heard, Marcus should be receiving his copy soon.

After dinner, FT, Joseph, Weilong and I played a game of China. Once again, house placements dominated the first half of the game and only when the majority of spots were filled that we started playing our emissaries. That seems to be the typical pattern of play and I wonder whether there is a place to focus on emissaries earlier in the game. I still enjoy the depth of the game for the time it takes, but offering alternative strategies would definitely take the game up a notch in my book. FT took the win over me by a point.