Thursday, March 30, 2006

Central Tuesday Session, 3/28/06

Despite a game-filled convention weekend just behind many of the members of our group (I was in Canada, sadly), we had seven people show to play games at my place this past Tuesday. Present were Eric, Tim, Carrie, Carey (oh, this will get confusing later), Laurent, Mike, and myself. On the table: Ticket to Ride: Europe, Carcassone: The Discovery, San Juan, and Traumfabrik.

While Tim, Carrie, and Eric went into the Temple of Conspicuous Consumerism to play Carc: Discovery Channel Edition, the rest of us pulled out Ticket to Ride: Europe. I'd only gotten in one game of this earlier with three players, and it felt like multiplayer solitaire. We all had separate regions of the board we were claiming, and even with the rules about no double tracks (which are all in the west anyway), there was no real competition.

This game felt quite a bit different, at least for me. Carey and I started building out of Madrid early, but fortunately we were the only ones. Laurent built along the eastern edge of the board, with an early run from Palermo along the 6-space ferry line. He also scored the long 21-point run from Petrograd late in the game after Carey failed to have the necessary cards to finish the tunnel line there. Mike started out a bit west of Laurent, but did an awful lot of blind draws in the early game (and later).

I kept all four of my starting tickets, as they were all in a nice line. My biggie was Lisbon to Berlin, with other stops including Rome, Zurich, Riga, Bucharest, and Budapest. However, I had a horrible time finding green cards, and Mike stole the Budapest/Bucharest run out from under me. Thank goodness for stations. Still, I managed to hook everything up, and thought I had enough time to steal another ticket or two. Since Laurent scored 36 points just off of two long lines, I figured I better do something if I wanted to win. Sadly, not a single one of the three tickets worked well for me, nor were there any lines going to these cities! I finally chose the Brest to Marseilles line, although it would require at least two lines to complete and I didn't have the necessary cards in hand to finish it.

As it was, Laurent won handily. With little competition in his chosen area, two of the three big-point runs, and easily the longest rail line, it wasn't close. Carey and I finished within a handful of points of each other with me getting the edge for second, and Mike brought up the rear, the usual result when you have to resort to blind draws (although he had a *lot* of cards in hand).

I'm still not sure I like this one as much as the original, which I've played several times and always enjoy. It's light, but very satisfying. Europe feels more like everything depends upon whether you are competing with others for your long route, but perhaps I simply haven't played enough to explore other strategies such as just doing lots of shorties.

Carc finished around the same time, so we shuffled personnel a bit. Eric, Tim, and myself tried out Traumfabrik, one of my favorites to play with anyone but Dave - he's a machine at computing the value of tiles - while the others played San Juan. This was the first playing of Traum for Eric, and Tim had only played once before. It had been a while for me, so I did my usual "one rule short" trick and neglected to mention the value of money at game end.

Eric and Tim were very aggressive in finishing movies early, while I wanted to bide my time and go for the endgame points. this strategy actually worked quite well, although I don't know that an 18 point movie would win Best Picture much of the time. Guest Stars were very sparse, I think only three or four came up the entire game (we also missed the rule about Guest Stars having the stars behind their faces, I had thought it was the red borders, but we caught this early in the game and I don't think it had a big effect). I was also aggressive about getting good directors, scoring two of the four big boys.

While Eric ended up with the extra movie in the draw pile, I had the benefit of having two of the three best pictures at game end, one of the best pictures at the end of the quarter, the best director, and the worst movie (at 3 points, tough to do without Reiner). That was 45 points at game end, plus 5 completed movies that were done by the first party in the last round. Biding my time definitely helped, as I managed to get a particularly important set of tiles in the third round when I had collected 27 of the 36 scripts (money). At game end, I had won handily, exceeding more than 100 points compared to Eric's 80-something and Tim's 60-something.

All tainted by my failure to remember the part about scripts being worth points at the end. Still, I felt that waiting for the right tiles worked in my favor.

After a little discussion of Gamestorm, the recent Portland con, we called it a night. I've mentioned before how fortunate I am to be a part of such a great group of people, and this was a very entertaining and enjoyable evening. Thanks to all who attended after what was surely a game-filled weekend just two days before!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

24 Hours

With a trip to Canada to celebrate my 20th anniversary coming up, I knew that gaming opportunities at the end of March would be far and few between, so I took advantage of two sessions within a 24 hour period, separated only by some sleep and a performance by my church choir at the American Choral Director's Association regional conference. I've almost recovered.

Friday night we had a gaming session at a local Starbucks. The idea is mostly to expose others in the public to quality boardgaming (and we did have a couple of people show up), but we also got to "audition" a new gamer who is interested in joining the group. Mike, KC, and Chris joined myself and Ben to play first one of KC's Diamant variants and then Pirate's Cove.

This was my first playing of Diamant, even if it was using homebrew components (to accomodate the variants, KC owns a copy of the game). The game is basically a Chicken variant, where you can stick it out in the mines at the risk of Bad Things happening. I was a big Chicken (although to be honest I didn't know the card distribution) in most of the chambers, and I had a miserable score as a result. The first two or three tunnels never saw anyone getting any points at all, as we tended to turn up two Die, Miner, Die cards of the same suit pretty quickly.

The two variants were a) "artifact" cards that went to the last players in a given tunnel, and b) the Personal Doom variant, where in the final tunnel each player gets one hazard card. If your card comes up, down you go (although the first three cards you are "safe".

This is a cute little game that should fit in a standard card game box and cost $10 retail. The fact that it costs $25 and has a ton of superfluous components makes it a game I'm unlikely to purchase, and there are enough people in the group who own it.

With five players, we took the opportunity to try out Pirate's Cove, DoW's reprint of Amigo's Piratenbucht. I am a huge fan of the original, and I think the few changes made by DoW are good ones. While the Island of the Fabio's (sailor's island) doesn't have the same cachet as in Piratenbucht, the components are great. I particularly like the plastic pirate ship models.

I had a great start in this game, getting the parrot that lets you roll six dice in combat, and I became feared. Then I whiffed badly, lost the parrot, lost two fame (one of the changes), and stalled for pretty much the rest of the game. I had almost 20 fame points within a couple of turns of starting, then I sucked air so bad I managed perhaps another 8 points total. KC was doing quite well, and even Ben's late run wasn't enough to catch him.

I own the original, but am considering buying the DoW edition just because it looks so cool and the changes are well considered.

After my concert on Saturday morning, I made the trek out to Eric's for Third Saturday of the Month. Because of the concert, I didn't get out until around noon, so Chuck, Dave, and Eric played the Italy map of Age of Steam and had good things to say about it.

After lunch, we tried out Reef Encounter, the new Richard Breese title that's gotten a lot of positive buzz. Like most Breese games, the basic focus is on doing a variety of actions that chain together to achieve the game's goals. In this case, the goal is to a) feed your parrotfish with a reef you control, and b) improve the viability of those reefs (that were, uhm, eaten) through algae. Really.

And that's just how you win. In order to get to this point, you have to build reefs with polyp tiles in conjunction with larvae cubes, protect them with your shrimp, eat other reefs (some of which may be yours), and jockey for position over which color reefs eat other reefs through the algae. Put bluntly, this game is a bitch to explain, and after using the words "algae," "larvae," and "polyp" you can see the other gamers' eyes glazing over.

With that much rules explanation, it better be a good game. And, frankly, I think it is, although I think the game would be much better with three players, or even two (although with two I'd expect a little too much reacting over planning). Every turn, you need to examine what tiles and cubes you have, what the board position looks like, what your choices are for tile/cube draws at the end of the turn, and what polyps can eat other polyps. For such an involved system, it really does work pretty well, albeit with a certain amount of downtime.

One of the problems is that of defensive play. You can only "harvest" one reef on your turn, and chances are very good, especially early, that any reefs big enough will be beat down by other players before it comes around to your turn. However, if you can get a reef eaten early, you can "freeze" which reefs eat other reefs, which can have a big tactical advantage. Still, chances are good that whatever specific plan you had during your turn isn't going to work by the time your turn comes around again, so flexibility is also important.

Some tactics quickly showed their value. Building a reef in a corner of one of the playing boards is a good idea, as is leaving single square holes in your reef to limit where players can bring in new threatening reefs. Playing the Algae board that controls which polyps eat which other polyps can be huge, not only for protecting your reefs but also for points at game end and for stopping the game. I found that choosing a set of tiles and a cube at the end of the turn hinged primarily on which cube to get, which was important as you had to have a cube to place the matching tiles unless you had previously consumed a tile of the correct color.

Chuck was clearly unimpressed with the game pretty much from the start, and perhaps he didn't get the necessary shots at tiles and cubes to do what he needed to do. For the rest of us, it wasn't immediately clear at what point you should harvest a reef. I typically bit when the size got to seven, although Dave had two large reefs harvested where he got nine or ten (you lose the first four, so it's an even bigger difference than it seems). If you can manage to get a large enough reef, better yet two, it tends to create an unassailable position, and Dave did just that.

Yet, at the end, Dave lost the tiebreaker (consumed polyps not played) to Eric, both tying at 42 points. I was fairly close behind with 36 points, partly because I had collected four different colors of polyps (you really should be focusing on two if possible). Chuck, who I think was lucky to get three of his reefs collected, had 32 points.

Since defensive play is so critical in this game, I'm a bit concerned that the game will work with three, although the game will go a lot faster. Without defense, I'm worried that the game will move faster and thus be more affected by the tiles/cubes available for draw at the end of the turn.

Still, I think this game has tremendous potential, and I definitely think it will require a few plays to get my head around it. I can definitely see this game playable in 90 minutes with four players, so it could see table time at weeknight sessions, not just on weekends or at our Sunriver retreat.

With that, I turned into a pumpkin and headed home to nap for an hour before heading out for dinner with friends. Perhaps it will be good to have a break from games for several days...


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Central Tuesday Session, 3/14/06

A bit thin this week, with only Matt, Dave, and myself attending. On the table, Candamir (so that Dave can refresh on play for Gamestorm) and Attila.

Candamir got played several months ago by Jake, Mike, Chris, and myself. I had an early copy of the Mayfair edition that had the misprinted tileset, so our initial four-player game took nearly three hours, way too long for what this game is. Dave had the newer tileset, and we were playing with three, so I had high hopes that it would improve the game.

I got out to an early lead, but got Meaded so much that I only had 2 stamina to work with in any given turn. After Dave took the lead in events, he was pretty much unstoppable and the game just ground on. Even with new tiles and three players, two hours is about twice as long as the game should be. It’s really too bad, as the game seems to have the right mix of elements, but in practice they just don’t pan out. I will try the game once more with two players, but to be frank I think it’s simply multi-player solitaire. Only made worse by the fact that we could have been playing Reef Encounter instead...

With less than an hour left, we pulled out Attila, the underrated area/faction control game. This is a gem with three players, and in fact there were several turns of fortune in our game that made it at least 10 times as interesting as the previous two hours. Matt and Dave got off to a small lead after the first scoring round, with four of the six colors in any abundance, and two in particular. By the second scoring, I passed on a clear ending to the round, hoping that Matt would place a yellow meeple and shut Dave out of that particular color, which he did. A good thing, as I ended up moving into second.

The third round saw a four-color race, with a fourth color in play because of the large number of meeples but not so many provinces. This time, I did play the double card chit to enable scoring, and in fact ended up in first place by a few points, with Dave close behind. The game ended with Matt ringing the bell on the Blue meeples, which turned out to not be that great of an idea even though we all had no idea who was going to win going into the final scoring. When the dust cleared, Dave had won over me by two points, with Matt another eight points back. A very close game, and I spent the first half not having the vaguest idea of what I was doing.

The game was unusual in that two colors never really got started - I think there were a total of four green and red meeples on the board at game end. I believe that what happened was yellow and blue had a lot of pieces placed on the board early, then everyone felt they needed to be in the game for those two as we got to the last couple of rounds. Even Matt’s huge round 2 lead in black was eroded quickly when I drew four black cards late in the round, jumping ahead quickly to catch up in that particular color.

Like I say, this is a great three player game that doesn’t work so well with more. A lot like another favorite of mine, Ra.

Thanks to Matt for hosting, and to Dave for coming (although I think I might have requested Descent for two had Dave not shown).

With any luck, I’ll make our Third Saturday Of The Month session and get the chance to pull out Reef Encounter then. With a 7:15am call to sing at a Choral Music conference in the area, though, I don’t know how awake I’ll be...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Here I (Finally) Stand

Several members of our group were anxious to give this game a real ftf playing, so Chuck, Eric, George, Patrick, Michael, and myself sat down to give it a shot. Eric and I had the most experience, me with a couple of solo ventures (where I mangled the naval rules quite badly), and Eric in a pbem game with the designer. Everyone else had given the rules a quick look, so Eric and I went over the very basic ideas of the game. We also took the Papacy and the Protestants to avoid having to explain all of the religious struggle rules, a very good idea as these two powers are harder to play for beginners. After about 45 minutes of explaining, we got started.

Things went fairly predictably in the first turn, with the French prepping to assault Metz for the key and the Ottoman moving quickly up to Buda and triggering war with the Hapsburgs quickly. Eric's Protestants did a miserable job of converting spaces after Luther's Theses, but rocked the Diet of Worms to make up for it. Meanwhile, the exploring powers got going in the New World, with Chuck's Hapsburgs discovering the Pacific Strait (but being captured by the Portuguese after attempting Cirumnavigation), and also conquering the Incas and getting a colony in place. Chuck did extremely well in the New World, we figured he ended up with about 8 cards over turns 2-4, never missing a colony/conquest roll for cards.

In turn 2, I as the Papacy was doing a good job of avoiding allowing play of the Schmalkaldic League, which came up early in turn 3. Sadly, it came up while Chuck still controlled four of the six electorates, so he found himself way out in front. Charles was a madman, first knocking back the Ottomans from the gates of Vienna after losing a battle in Pressburg, then taking Buda and capturing Suleiman. He had so many cards every turn, and all of them seemed to be 5's. In fact, the only really good luck I had against the Hapsburgs (yes, everyone but George "The X Factor" declared war against them in turn 4 to try to avert their victory), was in forcing a card discard that turned out to be Sack Of Rome - Whew! I did manage to take Florence and activate the Venetians, but when the Ottomans took Vienna and Tunis but left Belgrade open, then Chuck managed to conquer the Aztecs, he went well over 25 points and won the game. We had decided to end the game that turn, which may have had something to do with Michael's Ottomans choosing to leave their city open, but in the end it really didn't matter that much.

What was great was that everyone, even George and Patrick who had little to do because of small card hands (I think the English have to go after the New World and the Scots in a big way in turn one). The Protestants were doing quite well until the Hapsburgs took out the two electorates they did have, even though Germany was pretty much all Protestant by then. The French did well enough in the New World to sneak by for second place with around 19 points, with me right behind, followed by the Ottomans and English.

There is a lot of interest in playing this at our Sunriver gathering in early May, and I'm hoping that we can get up at least a tournament scenario game (3 turns). We clocked in at around an hour a turn, although I think that Chuck's enormous hand sizes (he had 12 cards, count 'em, in turn 4) slowed things down just a bit. As it was, I felt the game was great fun, and it showed how strong the Hapsburgs are, although getting eight extra cards in three turns is hard to fight, especially when everyone else plays CP (and my only 4 card of the hand) just for the DoW. It will be interesting to see how the diplomacy phase plays out in the next game, in ours very little happened other than the occasional DoW.

Thanks for coming over, guys. I'm looking forward to the next game!

South Tuesday Session, 2/28/06

Six of us (although George was pretty late and didn't end up gaming) showed up at Mike's for our weekly session. Since we were waiting for George, we played 6 Nimmt, which is a fun little light card game. It hasn't seen much table action at my place since I got Hornochsen, although to be honest that doesn't get out much either. This is a very simply game where everyone plays a card face down, then when they are revealed they go onto one of four piles if they are above the topmost number on that pile but below the next pile's topmost number. Cards are played in numeric order, and once a pile hits six cards, the person who played the card is stuck with all of the points on all of the previous cards. It's wacky fun, and a good "waiting for George" game.

In our game, Mike was doing great, with only six points garnered over several hands. While no one really was trying to screw him (and in this game it's really not something you can actively do), he ended up taking pile after pile in the final hand. I was all set to win the game, but on the very last card I ended up with around 8 points to come in third. Mike tied for the win with Carey even after garnering something like 30 points. A good filler, I'll have to bring Hornochsen so that we can compare the different versions.

George was still not there (he'd left a message with Mike's teenage sons, never a reliable method with almost any family), so the five of us pulled out El Grande. This doesn't see enough table time in our group, but that can be said about so many games. Tim has been playing this game for, I kid you not, 12 years, so he got off to an amazing lead. Partly because no one had tried the old 2-1-13 power card sequence in the first round, so he just played his 13 on turn 3 when his turn came up. When I tried to play my 2-1-13 combo, he screwed me by playing his 1 under my 2, and it went downhill from there. Well, not entirely...

By the last turn, Tim was a good 20 points in the lead, but a fortuitous group of action cards gave me quite a few points for scoring various regions, and I made a good run of it, but in the end Tim still won by 11 points.

Astonishingly, this was the first time Mike's copy had seen play, and this was one of the first Euros he had bought way back when. So old, that the scoring track was one that didn't have any reference numbers on it. Wow.

Thanks for hosting, Mike!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Here I Stand Test Drive

I tried one turn of this new GMT title a few days ago, but wanted to give it one more shot at solo play before we all get together and try it out for real this time next week. I'm quite glad I did.

I mentioned that the negotiations were a bit hard to do, and that's still true. However, what I did was skip most of the fiddly parts of negotiation, and went straight to declarations of war, sueing for peace, and ransoming leaders. Good call. To determine if I thought going to war was a good idea, I simply thought about whether each country, in turn order, would want to do that very thing. It's worked out well, although aside from a little squeeze play on the French by the Brits and the Turks and Hapsburgs duking it out at the gates of Vienna, there hasn't been much going on wrt war.

The good news is that, at the start of turn 8, everyone is in position to win. The English got a lot of unrest tokens late in the turn that they have to get rid of, and the Papacy had a ton of cards thanks to Miss Jane Grey and managed to convert a lot of Germany back to Catholicism, but otherwise most players are at 22 points, very close to a standard victory. If the Turks can take Vienna and perhaps eke out a VP with the pirates, they have the best shot, as the Papacy's score will drop as the Protestants start taking back spaces (although those Jesuits really put a cramp in their style - the whole German language area was Protestant, at least religion-wise, at the beginning of turn 7).

Not sure if I'll finish, it's been a *long* game.

Some things I've screwed up -

o Too many reformation/counter attempts on the same space twice in the same impulse - only one is allowed per burn/treatise attempt.

o Not enough attention paid to the debater's super mutant powers.

o No naval action other than piracy. I kept that to a minimum simply to allow me to better understand the other parts of the game.

o Charles V took troops with him after using the HRE card.

o Mandatory events get two CPs. Doh!

o Didn't realize how useful Unrest could be for the Papacy, and what a pain for the Brits/Protestants.

o It's really hard to keep track of the Religion track when it's just you. I have to double check VP/spaces on a regular basis, like every couple of times around the action track.

Some cool things -

o How close the game is.

o Henry finally getting a healthy Edward with the last of the wives. Whew.

o The French Reformation never really took off because of the Jesuits in Lyon, a choke point for Geneva.

o The Hapburgs getting circumnavigation early, but nothing else until the Incas last turn. Whoops, forgot that I can roll for those as colonies...

o The English exploring all of NA, but the French conquered the Maya and explored the Amazon (plus, the Silver Mines and Galleons). The New World part is very peripheral in a lot of ways, but for the Brits and French, those extra cards can really come in handy if they are lucky with their rolls.

I'm really looking forward to giving this a shot in a few days! There are a lot of little fiddly chrome rules, but in this game they give each power a real sense of individualism, with each having strengths and weaknesses that do a good job of mirroring history. Of all of the powers, I think I'd enjoy the Papacy, the Ottomans, or the British the most.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Rest In Peace

My friend Pat died this morning after suffering a fall. Combined with a bout of pneumonia and the effects of the morphine they put him on while in the hospital, his breathing reflex eventually failed and he passed quietly and at peace.

Thanks to everyone who sent him good thoughts. Now it is his family that will need them.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Test Drives

This was a good week for games, as not only did I get a huge windfall in the RDG auction, but it was also the week for Here I Stand, GMT's CDG on the Reformation, to get sent out to those who had preordered. At least a couple of my group has been anticipating this title for some time, despite it being a derivation of The Napoleonic Wars, which left most of us cold.

Also, one of the titles I picked up with my auction loot was the reprint of Britannia, the old Gibson/AH classic. I have the AH version, marred as so many games of that period by indecipherable and confusing rules, so I was hoping that FFG would cut the clutter and produce a beautiful game with clean rules.

First, HiS. This game is unlike any wargame I've played in that each of the six powers has it's own set of actions that it can take in the course of a turn, not to mention different ways for each power to earn VP. For example, England can explore the New World (though not as effectively as the Hapsburg/Spanish power), but can't really do much to affect the religious standing of even his own spaces. The Protestant player, however, can, and in fact much of his effort will be spent doing just that. The Ottoman player does neither, but (like most players) is interested in gaining VP spaces and committing piracy in the Med.

For solitaire play, this game is a real challenge in many ways. On the one hand, there are relatively few Combat/Response cards, so this mechanism actually works fairly well for a CDG. However, the real problem is the Negotiation phase, where players decide to declare war, sue for peace, get out of being excommunicated, and ally with each other. The rules actually encourage Diplomacy-like secret negotiations, where a player can announce a set of agreements with another power, only to find that when that power announces it's plans that the original player's agreements will not be honored. As you can imagine, this is pretty much impossible to do solitaire, and I'm hoping that some bright bulb out there will come up with a way to at least simulate the effects of negotiation to make this game more accessible for those who want to play solitaire.

That said, I did get through a turn of the 1517 scenario, where Luther kicks things off with a piece of paper, a hammer, and a nail and changes the Christian world. There are no negotiations the first turn, so it was easy to at least get through that much of the game. It is clear that the Protestant is all about converting spaces through card play, debates, and (perhaps most importantly) translating the Bible into the local language. When was the last time you played a game that featured not only those things, but burning failed Protestant debaters at the stake? Meanwhile, France, England, and the Hapsburgs (who are in this game primarily, but not exclusively, the Spanish) are lighting out for the VP to be found in the Western hemisphere. In my game, Magellan not only found the Pacific, he managed to circumnavigate the globe on the first turn for 4VP.

Meanwhile, the Papal player was trying to Counter-Reform Germany, and doing a pretty good job. Luther got excommunicated, a debater did the crispy-critter thing, and by the end of the turn there were only four or so Protestant spaces on the board. Further to the south, the Ottoman was marching on Buda (one half of the current twin cities of Buda-Pest) but getting bogged down in a foreign war in Persia. Those wacky Iranians, always making trouble, although in 1517 they had yet to enrich weapons-grade uranium.

Finally, the only real war going at the time aside from the Ottomans playing Whack-A-Mole with the Hungarians was the Hapsburgs seeing if they couldn't acquire a little beachfront property in Southern France. A clever card play by the French put Charles V's siege of Bordeaux in mortal danger, but an equally clever card play reinforced the army with some mercs and negated the retreat that would have ended up with Charles enjoying the French penitentiary system.

If it sounds like there is a lot going on here, you are correct. There are at least three subsystems at work here, with each one a critical element of a handful of powers. I can hardly wait to play this ftf, which we intend to do 3/12.

One note: the rules are a bit long for a CDG, weighing in at 44 pages. Yikes. However, I will note that the rules are in fairly good sized type, include numerous examples, and feature perhaps the cleanest outline of how to execute a given action that I have ever seen. Rules lawyers will search in vain for more than a few cracks to exploit. The scenario book includes rules for pbem (!), The Game As History, extensive notes on each leader/explorer/conquistador/personality/event in the game, two shortened scenarios, and ways to play the game to a time limit. In short, this is a ruleset written by a gamer, and one who loves background material. All that I see missing is a sheet outlining the sequence of play, which is a bit more involved than I can easily commit to memory - perhaps the only oversight in what looks to be a very tight game.

I had considerably more success soloing Britannia, partly because I had played before, partly because it lends itself quite well to solitaire play. The thing I did miss was all of the chrome surrounding each of the various Nations - It's much more difficult to keep track of whether or not the Danes can invade north of Lothian when you have 10 Nations to keep track of. In fact, if this game has an Achilles' Heel, it is the depth of chrome necessary to accurately reflect history. That, and the fact that most players have one big Nation that is supposed to generate the most points for them. For Yellow, that means the Romans and then not much to do until the last couple of turns. Sitting around for 15 minutes so that you can have that single Scot raider get smacked is not what I think most of us think of as "quality gaming," but then again this game is in it's third edition so there you go.

In my game, the big surprise was that the Saxons were so weak. The initial forays ran up against a brick wall in the form of the nearly-departed Romans, and as a result they were never the power that they typically are. Leader after leader showed up only to discover two units in two spaces, not much to work with. The Angles, however, did quite well, despite being allowed to invade a little further north than was legal (but then, the Romans and Danes had "bonus advantages" as well). The Danes wiped out the Angles pretty quickly as well. Up north, the Caledonians did OK until the Norsemen kicked them out of the islands and their core point base. The Brigantes held onto Strathclyde, the Belgae played punching bag, the Jutes did a great job of holding onto the Kent area, and the big "four kings" ending was a big anticlimax as the Danes (and successful Welsh) had scored so many points near the endgame that no one had much chance of catching Green.

I do have a few quibbles about the game. FFG usually does a great job with components, and this game is definitely an improvement visually over the AH and even Gibson versions. However, there are no ways to mark an area as having been "occupied" (in sole possession of, even briefly, a specific nation), although the rules do address this. There is also a dearth of 25 point VP chits - I could have used half the 5's and twice the 25's. Perhaps worst of all is that in trying to clean up the rules, FFG put a lot of the chrome in sidebars where it can be a bit difficult to locate. Trying to figure out where Arthur can come in with his cavalry took longer than it should have, for instance.

There are still a few rules holes, which is pretty inexcusable at this point. For example, the rules on the Belgae submitting don't say whether or not they have the same set of rules as the Brigantes, Picts, and Welsh, only that they "unsubmit" at the start of turn 2. This could have been much clearer, and I hope it will be addressed online. Also, some of the rules for the Kingship at the end of the game are a bit confusing in places - it took me three tries to figure out that Cnut could be King at the end of the Danes' turn rather than at the end of the game turn.

Aside from what is really an inexcusable (but historically necessary) amount of chrome, and a system that leaves players twiddling their thumbs for a bit too long in various points in the game, I really like the overall system. I know that there were attempts to adapt it for India, Iberia, and (IIRC) Russia at various times, with varying success. If nothing else, the fact that it makes for a pretty great solitaire game (thus countering the thumb-twiddling) makes it a worthwhile addition to my collection, even if I do own the AH version.

Next up, a little Sunday afternoon gaming...

Central Tuesday Session, 2/28/06

It's been a while since I've made a Tuesday session. Valentine's Day and travel play hell with my schedule. And so it was with great anticipation that I welcomed Dave, KC, Tim, and Mike (with special appearance by Peter and his son) to my house for an evening of gaming.

I should mention that I came out of the recent Rainy Day Games auction with quite a bit of capital, of which I promptly spent about 60% on new games. Of course, when one pays retail, one's money tends not to go as far, but seeing as I managed to both clean out the closet and then subsequently put a few things back in, one can't really complain. Of these new games, two were played on Tuesday.

First up was Niagara, a cute little light game where you try to collect jewels from various spots on a river without letting your boat go over the falls. The board is sheer genius, consisting of a long section that sits on the game box lid and bottom, but that features twin falls that hang over one end. The river itself sits between raised cardboard sections, so that you push round clear plastic circles along it's length to simulate the flow of water. The rate of flow will change based on how much movement each player's canoes make every turn, so predicting how many disks will go over the falls is important to strategy. Each player has seven tiles they can play, with movement from 1 to 6 spaces, plus a "weather" tile that allows you to impede or speed up the current. Each tile is played once, then all are recycled, so planning is important.

Also important, and to my mind what makes the game wacky fun, is that canoes moving upriver can steal gems from boats in the space they land on. This is critical to preventing people from getting a win at times, and in fact that happened at least once in our game. Good thing, as everyone was so worried about a couple of other players that I snuck right in for the win with KC coming in right behind to share the victory.

I liked this game a lot, although I know at least two others in the group were not impressed. That's interesting, as there is almost no luck in this game other than which way the river will flow around the little island right before the falls that makes two separate rivers (and thus slows down the current right at the crucial point), and even that can generally be assumed to result in alternating disks going in alternating directions. Mostly, though, I got the game to play with family members, as it is pretty light and a bit much in terms of components for our group. I really can't think of any game that is quite like it.

Next up was Die Sieben Siegal, or Seventh Sign, also sold as Zing! under the Amway, erm, Simply Fun label. Perhaps my favorite trick taking game, the idea is to successfully predict what tricks you will take, with it being better to over predict than under predict. I did quite well up to the third hand, when I waited too long to get my high trump out and ended up collecting three green tricks that I didn't really want, adding 9 points to my score. In the final round, Dave took "Rupert" (hoping to force others into taking tricks they didn't want), but Mike foiled his evil plan and won the game with six points in five hands, a fairly impressive achievement with five players.

Mike had to leave at that point, so we pulled out the card game version of E&T, subtitled "Conquest of Kings". I was surprised at how much of the board game was left in the card version, with the only real changes being boats instead of temples and the use of cards to take points (if you are going to play a blue card to get points in a kingdom, you have to play an additional one from your hand to do so). This results in increased luck of the draw from the card deck, which did not go over well. Me, I didn't hate it as much as others, largely because I always suck at E&T anyway and have never come in any higher than third (and usually dead last). If the game has anything to recommend it, it can be taken on a trip because of the relatively small space requirements (removing the deck and markers from the box means it will take up essentially no space in a suitcase). Otherwise, it didn't really come across as any sort of improvement at all, demonstrating that, like "The Pink Panther," some things really shouldn't be messed with.

Even though it was only 2145, a bit early for our group, that was it for the evening. Thanks to all for coming!