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.


Matthew Gagan said...

I liked the Amazones game well enough to play it again; it was just a little disheartening to see, after Laura's placement, that I was going to spend the next hour in last place before the game had even started. Not a great feeling. Definitely needs to be played briskly too - may be a little too analysis/paralysisy for such light fare.


Jay said...

I will be buying For Sale soon. It's a nice light game for filler, and a game that I think non-gamers/parlor gamers would enjoy.