Saturday, August 28, 2010

Random Musings On My Recent Gaming Session

1. It was nice to get Hansa Teutonica, Glory to Rome, Yspahan and Ra to the table in half an afternoon - been awhile since I last had a solid gaming session.

2. My appreciation of Hansa keeps growing. Been waiting for the point when the other shoe drops.........but till now, I'm still waiting :) In a way, it seems to be a really abstract game and I have heard the term "cube-pusher" used to describe it but it keeps me engaged throughout. I can't help but be intrigued by the variety of ways in which I can score points and how each 'path' to victory seems equally viable.

3. Discovered a new 'broken' combo in Glory to Rome. If you've played the game before, you'll know that almost every decent combo can be a 'broken' one. It really boils down to who can get theirs up and running quickly enough. In my 30+ games of GtR, I've NEVER built the Academy before. After all, its power seems rather 'ordinary' at first glance, especially when considered beside its more awe-inducing counterparts. The Academy allows you one Thinker action after each round in which you performed a Craftsman action.

I guess with my recent dabbling in A Game of Thrones LCG, I've learnt how crucial draw can be in determining a win. In this case, I sort of stumbled upon it having taking a couple of Craftsman clients in a 3 player game. What the Academy allows me to do therefore is to exhaust my hand using multiple Craftsman actions and then replenish it fully to 5. It not only enabled me to build speedily but helped me in my push to victory. It's one of the easier combos to pull off since you do not require other buildings in tandem but rather just a couple of Craftsman clients. Sure, your opponents can slow you down by refusing to craft but in a game with few players, it will not be long before you can select the Craftsman action yourself. In this game, I didn't get to build the Shrine or Temple to increase my hand size but I can imagine how it'll make the combo even more efficient.

4. The caravan strategy in Yspahan has been touted as especially powerful and different ones have even gone to the extent to deem it broken. In my 3-player game, I found it incredibly difficult to pull off successfully if your opponents totally ignore the caravan. It is simply impossible to fill quickly enough and the game ended without me succeeding in scoring the caravan once (it only scores when it fills completely). I however only realized midway through that there is a single spot on the supervisor track which allows 2 cubes to be sent to the caravan simultaneously. Perhaps that will be sufficient to pursue the strategy - I'll have to try it out again. Even if your opponents try to block you, at least you will still be able to fill the caravan more quickly even if it means sending their cubes together with yours.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Macao: First Impressions

Macao was a game that wasn't really on my radar after I read couple of reviews on the Geek. The thing that turned me off was complains regarding the lack of interaction in the game. If you have been reading my blog, you'll know that multiplayer solitaire games generally do not appeal to me. Nonetheless, I acquired it as it was available at a good price, figuring that I could always trade or sell it if it disappointed.

The rules were well-written and rather straight-forward. I had no problems teaching the rules to Van despite being just as green as her to the game. This is in contrast with some fiddly games where it's often hard to pin down all the rules on the first play. Our first play was a 2-player game and it went extremely smoothly - we felt as if we were seasoned players practically. One of my concerns was that Macao wouldn't scale well as a 2-player game since most multiplayer games seem to disappoint when scaled down to 2. However my worries were unfounded as the game played out rather well with 2. Sure, there would likely be more competition for spots in the city quarters and at the ports but the reduced downtime made up for it.

Another reason why Macao didn't immediately grab my attention was that it generally plays between 90-120min. While I'm hardly alien to games that length (a reasonable length I must say), my recent gaming patterns as well as gaming groups have led me to acquire more games of the 60min length. Yet, Van and I managed to complete the game in just over an hour including the rules explanation and that was a pleasant surprise indeed. I suppose the potential for downtime will be magnified with 3 or 4 players but 90min seems a good estimate for the game.

I must say I did enjoy the game and particularly the unique (at least for the moment) wind rose mechanic. It was almost 'fun' loading up a sector with action cubes and figuring how to spend them all when that turn hits. The intellectual stimulation laid in balancing the short term goal of ensuring there were action cubes available each round and the long term goal of activating all the cards on your tableau, failing which will result in penalty points. While challenging, it didn't give me the headache I received the first few times I played Agricola. However, it was one thing to simply avoid penalty points, it was another all together to further balance those goals with scoring points via shipping goods, occupying the city quarters and trading gold for prestige points. Hopefully with a couple of plays in the pocket, I'll progress from avoiding penalties and scoring points incidentally to a more deliberate approach in racking up the prestige points. The game is definitely more tactical in nature as the randomness of the dice and building cards makes it difficult to plan too far ahead.

What about the criticisms of the game? The most common one I read on the net is that it's plays just like another run-of-the-mill eurogame. I'm not sure it's fair to fault a game for that especially when its designer has made an effort to introduce a mechanic that while not earth-shattering is nonetheless rather fresh and interesting. My own personal criticism lies more with Macao's anti-climatic ending. The game ramps you up in terms of action cubes. Early in the game, you start with few cubes and thus turns pass quickly. Midway through the game, assuming you have sufficiently 'invested' in those rounds, you should be flushed with cubes to utilize, especially when coupled with your newly activated building powers. However due to the fixed number of rounds in the game, the latter rounds results in mostly singular cubes to be taken, resulting once again in short, quick and rather uneventful rounds. While this does wonders in reducing the downtime typically painful in quite a number of endgames, it comes across somewhat anti-climatic here as it makes it very difficult for straddlers to catch up due to the limited actions available. I suppose this could be due to my failure to load cubes in those sectors earlier but considering that that is not always the optimum move, I remain unconvinced that my view isn't valid.

Van seemed to enjoy it at least moderately which was a surprise since she usually shuns games with little interaction. This is a valid criticism of the game but it wasn't as bad as expected. It is true that there is little you can interfere with your opponents' acquisition of action cubes since the choice of dice is non-rival in nature. However, interaction comes in competition for spots on the board in terms of scoring prestige points. You compete to trade particular goods first at ports for higher points, as well as compete on the city quarters front for desired goods and to block each others' longest connection. While this seems largely idealistic in that most of your attention seems to be focused on avoiding penalty points, there seems to be sufficient potential for 'competition' in the game mechanics to be realized by experienced players.

All in all, a least for now. I don't see it exactly as a gateway game but neither is it intimidating and I can see myself easily introducing to casuals.