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!

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