Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tuesday Night Gaming, 9/27/05

Since Matt has been snowed under at work, we met at Patrick's home for our regular Central Tuesday session. Present were KC, Rita, KC's "cube-neighbor" Jordan, Mike, Dave, Patrick (of course), and myself.

We rarely meet at Patrick's, although I don't know why not (maybe his weird schedule). Patrick has a large and interesting collection of games, many of which are out of print. This particular evening had me playing several games I've not tried before, all of which were not euros!

While Mike, Rita, and Jordon retired to the other room to play Ingenious and San Juan, the rest of us played Code 7 and Sleuth. Code 7 is a light deduction game similar to Indian Poker. You have a set of three numbered/colored tiles in front of you that you can't see, but everyone else can. Your job is to figure out what those numbers (and colors, if you're playing with the big boys, which we weren't) are. To do this, each player draws a card that asks a question, reads it out loud, then answers it about the tiles they can see. Questions are generally about color (which helps more than you think), sequences of cards, how much cards add up to, or the numbers themselves. For example, "Do you see more green cards or yellow cards?"

Much of the game is having other people ask and answer questions that help you, while you hope to get questions that don't help them so much. Since the game is entirely luck driven (other than the deduction itself), it's more like working a logic problem than playing a game. There is really no penalty for guessing, although only KC made a guess to get rid of his tiles once he figured out that he'd messed up his record. Because I got the right questions at the right time, I ended up winning the game by guessing correctly three times.

Keeping with the deduction theme, we pulled out Sleuth, the old Sackson title that has recently been reprinted. Patrick had the older version, and it seems somehow sacreligious to write on these scoresheets that are 20 years old or more. Sleuth is a bit more involved in that you can only ask questions of specific people, and then you can only ask them about certain types of combinations based on what "sleuth" cards you have. I ended up with two useless cards fairly early (I'd already determined both combinations were not the magic card), and so half of my sleuth hand either sat unused or wasted one of my turns. This crimped my question capability to the point where I couldn't get in a useful question that would help me, and I had to hope that others would get the necessary info to me inadvertently. Didn't work, as Dave figured out the magic card long before I was anywhere close.

The key to the game is asking the right questions near the end to determine that no one has a particular card, not trying to eliminate all other choices, and you can't do that if you can't ask the questions. I was unimpressed with this title as a result, and enjoy the foofiness of Mystery of the Abbey much more. Unusual for me, as I typically prefer elegance and simplicity to a lot of distraction and flash, but there you go.

The final game was "Blood" Boggle with all seven of us. First rule of Boggle: choose your word authority early. We spent the first fifteen minutes arguing whether "dis" was a word. Out came the Scrabble dictionary, and all was well. Except that I generally suck at Boggle. I think the last time I played was when I was a sophmore in high school, and the woman that had just gotten me exceedingly stoned (this was more than seven years ago, statute of limitations applies) got me playing to distract me from the fact that I was fairly sure I no longer had legs. OK, perhaps a few times since then, but I really have trouble seeing the words in this game, especially if the letters bunch up.

Blood Boggle is slightly different than regular Boggle in that once the round is over you go around the table announcing words one at a time. If you announce the word, you get to keep it while everyone else loses it. As such, there is a huge advantage to going early rather than later, as six people have eliminated your longest words by then. We should have played so that everyone got to go first once, but seven rounds of Boggle is, frankly, about six too many for me. As it was, Dave cruised to an early lead, and when he hit fifty points in four or five rounds, with KC and I barely in second place with 28 each, we decided that we were Boggled out.

At that point, enough of us felt like idiots that it was time to go home. At least I won one game, even it was on turn of the cards. Note to self: no more deduction and/or puzzle games with Dave, the man is a machine. And I aced the analytical portion of the GRE!

Had to get that in there at least once for Dave.

Thanks for taking the hosting duties, Patrick!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

South Tuesday Session

It was every other other Tuesday, so time to meet at Mike's for South Side Tuesday. Present were Mike, myself, Laurent (a record-breaking three attendances in a row!) and Tim. On the table: Manila, Caribbean, and Quicksand.

Manila is a resource management game themed on the river trade in the Philippines. As someone who married into a Filipino family 20 years ago, I can tell you that the basic essence of the game (you pay to get "accomplices" into key positions to make money) is surprisingly right on. This is not a criticism, simply an observation. Filipinos like to get good deals, and they are very into rubbing each other's backs. Imagine a country that spent 400 years in a nunnery (under the Spanish), 50 years in Hollywood (under the Americans), and the past 50 years in a banana republic (independence). That's the Philippines. It is like nowhere else on earth.

But I digress. Manila is all about getting the right boat with the right cargo in to the docks safely. Each boat carries a different cargo, each with different payouts depending upon how many accomplices are on each boat. The boats have to traverse 14 spaces to get to the docks, although the harbor master (assigned by high bid at the start of the turn) decides how much of a head start each boat can get. The harbor master also gets to purchase a share of each good (critical to winning) and determine which three of the four possible cargos will be on each ship.

Players then place one of their three accomplices in a variety of places with a variety of costs, from crewing boats, choosing how many ships will make it to port, how many ships won't, acting as insurer for the ships, piloting the ships as they near the docks (helping or hurting by one or two spaces), and my personal favorite, playing Pirate and hoping one or more ships ends on the thirteenth space. After each player places one accomplice and pays for that space, the harbor master rolls one die for each ship and moves it that many spaces. Even the best intentions of the harbor master can result in a favored ship not arriving, while a not-so-favored ship can sail in easily.

This process repeats twice, and then each accomplice pays out (or doesn't) according to the position they chose. Also, each successfully delivered good increases the value of each share. When one good hits 30 (six successful deliveries), the game ends and the person with the most money and shares wins.

It became clear in our game that a) you have to be harbor master to get shares and thus win the game, and b) you can never be sure that your accomplices will pay out. Luck plays a big role in whether or not punts make it in, so I always felt a bit like I was playing Royal Turf. Also, you shuffle all of the shares together at the start of the game and deal two to each player. I got the two shares of ginger and no one else did, so that commodity got left behind all game and had a big effect on me coming in last. I might consider a house rule that players can trade in a share for a different good as long as there are three shares left after the initial deal.

I got shut out of the bidding for harbor master early, and that hurt as well as the valuable blue and green shares went quickly. In addition, Laurent's pirates finally started paying out at the game's end, and he ended up taking the win by a few pesos. Everyone seemed to enjoy the game, although I felt that I was just not quite getting it in much the way that I don't "get" Modern Zeiten. I know what I'm supposed to do, it just never seems to happen is all. I also felt that the initial share draw needs the house rule to avoid the situation I found myself in. That, or I should have bid much more aggressively early, although then I'm being punished for an initial condition.

Four seemed to work pretty well, although we spent about 90 minutes learning and playing the game (the box suggests an hour). Three players add an extra accomplice, but not an additional movement round, so that might be interesting. Five would definitely feel crowded in terms of where to place accomplices, although the pirates might see more use. I'll need to play a few more times to decide if I like the game or not.

After an aborted attempt to play Keythedral (no one was familiar enough with the rules to teach), we pulled out Caribbean. This is a light little psychology game in a reasonably sized box (Manila could have fit in the small box quite easily, but it was in a huge Kosmos-sized box). Six pirate ships are in the Caribbean Sea, and the players bid from a set of identical chits to determine who gets to control each ship. The bigger the winning bid, the farther each ship can go. When a ship gets near a port with a treasure token, they "put it in the trunk" - there is actually a little space on the tail of the ship to do this - and try to get it back to one of their special spaces on the board. Ships can also nab treasures from adjacent pirate ships, and can even offload them to another ship that is adjacent (handy if you've got a ship in your pirate hideaway and are one space short with another ship). You get points for bringing home the booty based on the specific treasure, and 2 points just for snagging it from the original port. The treasures are slowly added to the board randomly, so each game will play a little differently. Get to 31 points, and you win.

Tim took an early lead in our game, as the initial treasures didn't map up well with my pirate ports. In the second turn, everyone bid on the same ship with the same amount, so no one ended up taking it. I was pretty sure that Tim, who was only a few points away from the win, had the game locked up, but I managed to snag two treasures that ended up netting me 18 points on the last turn, and I was the surprise winner.

This is a great little game, very light but fast and fun and with a good amount of screwage. I love blind bidding games, especially where you make several bids at once with limited resources, and this game fits me to a tee. One drawback: the ships are built from three pieces of very heavy card stock that you put together using slots cut in the card. The fit is anything but tight, and the ships tend to start coming apart as soon as you touch them. While a bit of glue would fix this, it's a bit annoying to find a euro with less than well-designed components. By comparison, the ships in Manila are solid wood and quite hefty, and the pesos are nicely textured plastic, almost as good as quality poker chips (which we use for scoring in most games). However, the box is a good size, so there you go.

For our last game, we played a couple of rounds of Quicksand. I screwed up a simple rule when explaining the game in the first round, so we finished and started again with the correct rule (colored spaces allow a discard, not an extra move). I also forgot that you can play multiple quicksand cards at once, but this didn't seem to come up much and definitely hurt me.

Quicksand is good, fast, light fun, especially since you don't know who everyone else is trying to win with. In both games, I managed to hold onto mask cards and my own color to bring in my explorer first. Sure, the game is really about who manages to draw the cards they need in the endgame, and whether someone is forced to help you out of the quicksand in order to draw cards, but it's good fun, and I won, dammit.

With that, we bid adieu (or whatever the Scottish equivalent is) to Mike and headed for home. Thanks, Mike!

Train Games

Went up to the Seahawks game by train with some family members on Sunday, we got in a couple of games going and coming back.

The popular choice on the way up was Katzenjammer Blues. The first time I ever played this game I thought it was a waste of time. Now I think it's one of the best four-player card games out there. I have no idea what I got wrong in that first playing, but I figured it out correctly later. This is a great game even without the third-party partnership rules.

Bill and Scott (my nephews) had already played this game, but it took a few hands for Scott's friend John to get a good grip on how to play, even after a practice hand. Scott got out to a big lead when he did not in fact end up having the most jokers in the first hand, scoring 9 points. Bill and I both made runs as the game went on, but I handed the game to Scott on the last hand when I foolishly decided to use a lot of jokers to score lots of points (9), giving me 29 instead of 30. Scott got a five pointer easily and won with exactly 30.

We were down to three on the way home, having sacrificed Scott to the football gods to allow a Seahawks win (the only way they seem to win these days). No, really he had to catch a plane to Memphis out of Sea-Tac for a business meeting the next day, so John, Bill and I played Where's Bob's Hat and Mamma Mia! This was the first time with both games for John and Bill, and my first time with Bob's Hat.

WBH is your basic trick taking game with three twists. First, you get points for correctly predicting that you will take the most tricks in one of the three suits (or the fewest tricks overall). You could also predict multiple suits, even a suit and fewest overall cards. Second, every hand has more cards dealt, starting with five. With three players, you play 12 hands, so that meant 16 cards in the last hand. This makes prediction tougher as the game goes on, which I liked. Third, the dealer decides if Bob's Hat will be worth -10 or 10 points at the end of the hand. Points are scored for successful predictions and the plus Hat, lost for unsuccessful predictions and the minus hat.

Every 14 and 15 card has an extra picture of Bob's Hat, which is a rainbow-colored baseball cap, in addition to the Inca, Pilgrim, or Amerind hat associated with each suit. When you take a trick that has one or more pictures of Bob's Hat, you get the Bob's Hat card. Whoever has the card at the end gets (or loses) the points. Early on, Bob's Hat went for minus points as the six cards didn't come up that much, but that turned to plus points as the game went on and people felt they could control who got the card at the end.

It became very clear as the game went on that you play to the person on your left, as the person on your right would have the last chance to play a card and thus be most likely to take it. John had a good early run going for the fewest cards, while Bill and I struggled a bit. However, a particularly brutal hand where both Bill and John lost points while I gained almost 20 sealed the deal, and I coasted to a victory with Bill in second. I will note that this was John's first exposure to euros, so he can be forgiven for his poor showings.

There are a lot of trick-taking card games out there, and I'm not sure that WBH is top tier. It certainly is pretty easy to teach, and the hats are cute, but I feel like I'm simply playing another variant of Bridge with a slightly different deck. At least Sieben Siegal feels like a different game with more tension and that silly standup figure that my group calls (for reasons you really don't want to know) Rupert. WBH also comes in the same "flimsy" box stock that Mamma Mia does, so it's not a great choice to throw in your backpack. As such, I'd rate this as a marginal thumb's up with three, perhaps four would be shorter and more interesting (although the box says best with three or four).

Finally, too tired to play but too bored not too, I pulled out Mamma Mia! This may not have been the best choice for a late night game with people who weren't familiar with the mechanics, but it was that or Frank's Zoo with three. It took a couple of hands for John and Bill to get the idea (common among even experienced gamers), and I'm not sure it ever registered that you can play the order cards to your heart's content, it won't hurt your score if you don't fill the order. I play pretty aggressively, laying down at least three or four order cards in a hand, and I win more than my fair share. This session was no exception, and I won handily. Bill had actually done well in the first hand, but couldn't fill more than one more order in the last two hands. Also, because so many cards were left in the ingredient stack at the end of each hand, we ended up with fairly short second and third hands.

So, for the most part, these were learning games for John, although he was doing much better at Katz by the end of the game. Katz is now the official Seahawk train game for my family. Thanks for playing, guys, and we'll do this again next year!

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Tuesday RCG Central Session, 9/13/05

We broke the record for attendance for a regular session with 11 people showing up. Wow.

Dave, KC, Rita, Laurent, Mike, and Ben played a variety of things in the other room, including KC's upcoming release Havoc and Frank's Zoo. Matt, Jim, newbie Laura, and myself went into the Temple of Conspicuous Consumerism (the family room) to play Amazonas and For Sale.

Amazonas is a fairly new release from Stefan Dorra, published in the US by Mayfair. It appears that Mayfair has finally figured out that piggybacking print runs with the Germans works, as the game certainly looks like something from Kosmos rather than Mayfair. That's a Good Thing, I think. Buzz says it's a fairly light game, and that is true to some extent. I could never decide if I was playing the game or it was playing me!

In a nutshell, the game is about set collecting, with some bells and whistles attached. You play one of a set of seven cards that is almost identical for every player to determine your income for the turn, given in silver. You trade the silver in for gold at the rate of 3:1, then purchase new research stations (which look like little tents) to place on the board in an area connected to one of your existing tents through a land or river path. The more huts at a site, the more expensive (or unavailable) placing the next one becomes. Every tent placed gives you a certain type of research token associated with the space, which is the main way you get points and enhance your income throughout the game. Throw in random events and a "dance card" of sites that you really want to get to, and that's pretty much the game.

We started out well enough, although I'd misread the rule that you get your income in silver and buy tents with gold (we thought they were both silver). After a couple of turns, it was obvious that you would run out of your twelve tents in not much time, certainly less than 18 turns. We restarted with the correct rule, although I did misread one more rule about the 0 bidding card - I thought you got points for all research tokens, not just the type you had the most of. This was not such an onerous rule screw up, though. Still, I'm amazed that I'm called on to explain rules most of the time with this group. Maybe it's because I'm willing to read them!

Matt learned in our game that you want to have a little more distance between you and the other players at the game's start, and in fact he got locked out of any decent/cheap way out of his little corner of the board fairly early. Jim and Laura, however, did quite well and by the end of the game they tied with 16 points each, Laura winning the tiebreaker by having gotten one extra Indian token over Jim. I was well behind them at 11, Matt even further back, I don't think this was a winner for him.

At the time, I really liked the game. It felt like more ride than game, and in hindsight I don't think I made too many mistakes. One possible problem is that the person with the highest income for the turn goes first, and I don't think this is a drawback. Most of the time, going first allows you to take the cheaper tent slot at a given site, and there isn't much the other players can do to screw you after the fact. Maybe I got this rule wrong too, but it seems like the rich get richer to me.

What did work is that you have seven income cards, all of which you have to play before you get to pick them all back up. As such, with 18 turns you will play through them twice, and then play four of them once more. As such, you aren't stuck with an anticlimactic ending in terms of having a forced play on the last turn. However, I felt like I was making decent plays throughout the game, no obvious mistakes, but I was still far behind. Perhaps I need to learn the board better, but I think that there just aren't a lot of choices to be made and that the sequencing of the Event Deck holds the key to success. Despite that, it was moderately fun.

Otherwise, I'll have to try this one again before I decide to damn it further with faint praise.

By now, Jay had shown up as well, stopping by to say hi. We roped him into a five player game of For Sale, which turned into two games. This is a great opener/closer/filler game, and I have to say that it may be one of my favorites of 2005.

The game has two segments. In the first, you draw as many property cards as players and display them on the table. These cards are numbered from 1-30, with one of each value. Players bid for the right to take as high a card as they can by bidding money. If you pass, you take the lowest card and get half of your money, rounded down, back. If you are the last player standing for that bid, you lose all of your money and get the best card. Sometimes the 30 and the 1 both show up in the same deal, and sometimes all of the cards are sequential.

The best part of the game, IMHO, is the second part. Once everyone has their property cards (with five players, everyone has six), you deal out check cards in a similar fashion to the first segment (one per player). The checks run from $0 to $15m, with no $1m's and two of everything else (0, 0, 2, 2, 3, 3, ... 14, 14, 15, 15). Instead of bidding money, players choose one of the properties they've acquired in the first segment and bid blindly. Best property gets the best check, worst gets worst. Since you are guessing what your opponents are going to do, you can often get some steals ($13m for a 12 card, for example). When you're done, you add up any remaining money to your checks and the highest total wins. The whole thing takes about 15 minutes.

Of course, this sort of psychological guesswork is one of my favorite mechanisms, so I really like this game. In our two games in this session, I won the first with Jay a point behind, and Jay won the second with me a bit further behind. Laura kept saying that she hated the game, but I think she spoke to her current status rather than the game itself. Everyone seemed to enjoy the game quite a bit, with lots of groaning and cheering from all.

A good evening, and nice to add another friendly face to the crowd. Next time I hope to get in a game of Manila, which looks like players have a little more control over their fates than Amazonas.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


Chuck and I converged on Michael's beautiful North Portland home for a three-player game of Successors. This game has a long and checkered history, but almost always satisfies me in a way that no other games do. In fact, I GM'ed or assisted the Successors tournaments at WBC for three years, and I'm sorry to say that it somehow fell off the list of games at that con last year.

The topic covers the wars of succession of Alexander the Great's generals after his death. Since he hadn't designated a heir, and he had a few progeny that could fit the bill, the generals began plotting how to best use the various members of the royal family and heirs to their advantage. The result was the War of the Diadochi, which ended up breaking up Alexander's empire and setting the stage for another Mediterranean power to fill in the vaccuum. That power, once Carthage had been defeated in two wars, was Rome.

The game started out as a Richard Berg effort, full of his trademark multiplayer mechanics like random events. Avalon Hill, seeing the success of We the People and Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, decided they wanted to (in the words of RHB), "Hannibalize" it. As such, the game was given over to Mark Simonitch to make into a card-driven game. This was the first time that this style of wargame had been done multiplayer, and as such it feels much different than it's predecessors, not to mention the games that came after it. Also, this game marked the last year of AH, along with For the People and Bitter Woods (and, amazingly, Titan: The Arena). In fact, the final issue of the General had the first half of a series replay game, although the game had a major rule played incorrectly!

In 2000, Mark S. and John Firer came up with a set of "second edition" rules that addressed many of the game's shortcoming, primarily that the event cards were useless after the board had been filled up with control markers, "garrisons" in the games lexicon. You had always been able to move generals in a separate phase, now you could move them twice by using the number on the card. You could also use the cards to raise extra units if necessary. The second edition greatly improved the game, even though the rules are a bit difficult to read through, and those were the rules used at WBC in 2001 on.

One of the quirks of this game is that it can end in a variety of ways. First of all, you can win by gaining enough Legitmacy (very rare with good play, as it requires taking the body of Alexander pretty much across the board) or Victory Points from controlling ground and/or fulfilling specific conditions. You can also win at the end simply by having more VP than anyone else. What is really wacky is that if you control a specific heir at the start of a specific turn, and have more combined Legitimacy and VP than anyone else, you can win as well. That makes the game very tense, as you always feel that someone is about to win, and that someone can change from turn to turn.

We only had three players, so each of us drew three generals to start. Chuck started out with Fortress Europe, controlling the three generals in Europe and across the straits in what is now Turkey (the Hellespont, as it was called back then). Michael controlled the most powerful heir, Alex 4, as well as Antigonus in central Turkey (Phrygia) and the extra general Eumenes. I had Egypt, Media (Iran), and Craterus in Cilicea, in the NE corner of the eastern Med. Chuck had the strongest position, as he only really had two fronts for all three generals: Greece and Asia.

Early on, I made a run for most VP, and got up to 22 points in the first turn (it takes 26 to win with three players). However, I became the Usurper at the start of the next turn, which made me a target for other players (you lose Legitimacy if you attack another Champion other than the Usurper). Generally, this is not considered good play, but with three players you have to grab land while you can. Chuck came on strong, and actually got to the required 26 points, but I had misread the victory conditions and forgot that we had one set of player rounds around the table to beat him down, not until the end of the turn. However, I think he was knocked back to 25 on a couple of occasions before Michael came on strong and pushed him back down the track.

By the end of turn 3, things were looking very good for me. I had Heracles, the guy you need to end the game early at the start of turn 4, and while Chuck was knocking on the door of Tyre to take him, he needed three siege points to do it, and only had two rolls from his last card play. That meant he needed a six and a three or better on the two rolls. Which he got. Bastard. Chuck took Harry, killed him off, and we were on to turn 4. I shouldn't bitch about Chuck's die rolling, I rolled boxcars on more than one critical battle, so he was due.

I still felt pretty good about winning, as I had Alex off in Media, and didn't think that Michael's general in Babylon could take him (Eumenes). However, he did have a card that allowed him to steal an heir if he was close enough. I chose not to attack him, as I would have lost my Champion status and 3L, endangering my chance to win. However, Michael stole lil' Alex, ran back to Babylon, and I realized I'd lost the game. However, I did take a shot at getting an auto victory on VP, but couldn't hang on to it even though I took Rhodes and had the largest fleet for a while (worth 4 VP). Michael was looking strong, as his Legitimacy had gone way up when he stole Alex, but we barely managed to kick his VP down to the point where he was forced to kill the little guy rather than crown him. Shame! On to turn 5.

In the final turn, only VP really counted. Chuck took most of Michael's Asia Minor holdings, while I managed to trounce Chuck's navy and had the free run of the Med. I went to Cyprus, managed to take it on the last turn to get 6 VP (including largest fleet), and moved in to protect Phonecia and Coele Syria from Michael, who was way behind. I also had managed to get to 27 VP at this point. However, Michael had kicked me out of Susiana (modern day Basra), and was threatening to take the only major city in Media. If he accomplished this, I would lose all of my control markers on the east end of the board, worth 5 VP to me. Michael did so, and Chuck took the game by a point. Which was fair, as he might have won the game earlier had we been playing correctly.

I'd always thought that Successors really needed four players to work well, and in many cases that is still the case. I ran two three-player games at WBC (beat the GM), and won both with little effort because of good card draws and good initial generals. However, this game proved me wrong, as there was constant tension, every player had a chance to win (and came within a hair of doing so), and lots of upsets kept the game fresh. I will have to pull this out more in the future, as we managed to play in under five hours, not including breaks.

The only problem with the game is that it is very tough to teach, as there is a lot of chrome, as befits an RHB game. My understanding is that Mark S. and John Firer are working on an updated 3rd edition, hopefully to be published soon. While the 2nd ed rules are an improvement, there are several card text changes that can fool players, and several markers that have incorrect information. With more concise rules and fixes to the component text, this should be a real winner and give new life to an underappreciated game.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Gifp for Gapf

My non-gamer friend Greg and I went to the Oregon Coast to go see R.E.O. Speedwagon at a "casino concert" (which means "they play less than 90 minutes"). Since neither of us gambles much (I did about 10 minutes of video poker), I took a couple of the games from the Gipf Project with me, Gipf and Tamsk. While I had run through a couple of Gipf games from their site at, I'd never played ftf before with either game. With Tamsk, all I'd done is one solo match to get a general feel for the games.

Since Greg really isn't a gamer and as such doesn't grasp strategies as fast as someone who does game regularly, these were more learning than competitive games for both of us. We played one game of Gipf with the basic rules (no Gipf pieces, standard starting setup, no potentials), which was pretty even for a while. In the end, I had captured a couple more of Greg's pieces than he had of mine, and then I was able to prevent him from getting four pieces in a row to starve him.

Since Tamsk plays so much quicker, we played both a basic game (with no time elements) and then again with just the board timers (no 15-second timer). What a difference in the feel. Again, I had a better sense of potential movement, and did a slightly better job of interaction with my pieces to win both games. I can only imagine that the 15-second timer adds both extra time pressure as well as acting like the doubling cube in backgammon.

In the past, I've not been a huge fan of abstracts. I'd thought that the theme was necessary to hang the game on for it to be interesting for me. Gipf and its cousins have certainly changed that thinking, even to the point of me considering to ask my most definitely non-gaming wife to give one a shot, probably Tamsk as the time element makes the skill element less critical, at least on the surface.

I have played Dvonn once before, and also Yinsh a couple of times, and both were quite good as well. Zertz seems to have a problem of having been "solved", although using a larger board and more balls is supposed to fix that problem. At any rate, it can also be fixed by giving players a handicap (fewer balls to collect to win) to make a more even game. I suppose that's true of Gipf and Tamsk as well, simply give fewer pieces to the stronger player in the former and more rings in the latter.

I'm considering a Gipf Project tournament for my group next time we're at our semi-annual Sunriver retreat, coming up in a few weeks. If anyone has suggestions for running a casual tournament using these games and smart players with minimal experience at the games, please leave me a comment.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

9/7/05 - South Side Tuesday Session Report

Laurent and I converged on Mike's last night for some fun gaming. On the table were Ingenious, Rumis, and Oltremare.

First up was Ingenious. This was Laurent's first play, my third or fourth. I've been getting more interested in the elegance of abstracts lately, and this game definitely qualifies as a great abstract.

One of the things I learned early is that you are better getting small points rather than set up an opponent for a big play. Even better is finding ways to keep your opponents from exploiting colors you are doing well in but that they are short in points for. Apparently, this strategy works pretty well, as I managed to lock Mike out of a win late in the game, and nudged Laurent as well. By one point (9-10-11 to 9-10-10). Laurent was a quick study, but sitting to his left was a bonus early on when I managed an 8 point score in blue. However, I should also point out that I was the only person *not* to peg a color for the extra move (both Laurent and Mike did this twice).

Next up were a couple of games of Rumis, which has a superficial resemblance to Pueblo. You still want to have the most blocks showing from the top, a la Pueblo, but otherwise the game feels much different. For one thing, all of your blocks are different shapes, and you must connect a new placement to at least one face of your old blocks. You also have four different structures you can build, choosing one before starting play.

We did the stairs first, with Mike and I on both sides, Laurent in the middle. I made a dumb move late that kept me from laying down a block that would have given me four points and the win. In the second game, my first tile play was forced to choose between one side or the other in the Ell, and Laurent's second play gave Mike the win (despite my mentioning this. In fact, my second and third plays locked up my side of the board, giving me 11 points guaranteed. Since the board has 33 spaces, that meant that I would either end up in a three way tie for first or a definite second. As it was, Mike snagged 12 points, and my oracular powers were proved yet again. This is a good game, one I'll need to pick up in the future.

Finally, we tried out Oltremare, a cute little card game with a lot of extra bits. I believe Eric hosted this game, so I'll leave out the description. However, I will mention that the mechanism that means the last card you collect to your cargo stack will determine how your next turn will go. The rules are a little on the thin side (or poorly translated), so we weren't really sure if the harbor markers affected the cards you just played, or the ones you would play next turn (according to someone who appears to know what he's talking about, it's the latter, we picked the former). However, we kind of went back and forth on this, so the game quickly became a learning session.

I have to say that the way the cards work really rewards hand management, although there isn't that much you can do to affect things other than have too many cards at the start of your turn, then buy them back from the pirates. I was mostly concerned with getting sets of the goods rather than choosing cards based on what other qualities they had, and that seemed to work pretty well. We weren't really sure what the score was at the end, but I had done quite well (only a couple of collections for one in a pretty big cargo stack, two cards in the pirates, and 9 points for prestige/harbor markers. This is one I want to try again now that I have the rules right. Mike thought that KC would like this one, and I think he's right.

Thanks for hosting, Mike, and I'll see many of you next Tuesday at my place.