Wednesday, April 19, 2006

South Tuesday Session, 4/18/06

Seven of us showed up at Chris' house, a rarity these days, for our Alternate South Tuesday (or something) session. Present were Ken, George, Mike Carey, myself, special guest Wes, and Chris (of course). On the table was Caylus with Wes, Ken, and Chris, while the rest of us played TtR: Maerklin and Acquire.

First off, a note about pronunciation of the TtR title. The umlaut over the 'a' character (often written as "ae" when the actual umlaut character, two dots over the letter, is unavailable - and I have a Mac, which uses different codes than PCs) is pronounced using the shape of the short vowel sound (as in "father"), but saying a long 'e' sound. The result is placement of the vowel closer to the hard palette right behind the teeth, and with an 'a' it sounds like a long 'a' (as in "tape"). Maerklin is thus pronounced "Mare-k-linn," or at least close to that.

This is the price you pay for reading a blog written by someone with classical vocal training.

TtR:M is pretty close to the original, with a couple of changes. First, you have two decks of tickets, some ranging up to 11 points, some ranging over 12 points. You can draw from either deck, although you have to declare which decks before any draws are made ("I'll take one from column A, and three from column B"). There are also "+4" locos that are treated exactly like other cards in terms of draws (and like locos for the purposes of sweeping the drafting pile), but can only be used as locos on routes of 4 or more. Passengers, which are too complicated for me to describe here, but that change the game significantly, can add lots of points during a game, giving players more options. Gone are the stations from TtR:E, which I think is actually a good thing.

TtR:E has seen play twice for me, and both times I felt a distinct lack of tension that I usually feel in the original. Perhaps the stations should be worth more at game end so that it feels like you should only play them if it's critical, I don't know. All I know is that I rarely felt like my routes were in danger, unlike the original when I almost always feel like I could be in deep doodoo at any moment.

TtR:M restores that feeling, and in spades. I was constantly worried about getting the right routes and deciding when to make a run with my passengers and use the few passenger cards I'd collected early. As it was, I missed the really lucrative points along most of my route, and I think I may have scored 25 points tops for my two passengers. Thats' not trivial, but it didn't feel as important as I thought it would be. Perhaps that's because I got a really nice line of two long and two short tickets running from Switzerland to Berlin to the Netherlands. Carey stole one line out from under me in the late game, easily made up with one card longer in the same color to preserve my route, but I was concerned that I was going to lose several critical links throughout the game.

And that's the genius of the new version, the passengers mitigate the problems involved with random ticket draws. If you get a variety of crazy draws all over the board at the game's start, you keep two and focus on running passengers instead. In other words, you have some choices. To me, this turns TtR from a light but tense game into a gamer's game, much as Carc: The City and The Discovery did for that franchise. Too bad the games take up so much room!

In our game, the lead changed several times, although Mike had a very handy lead by midgame because of his lucrative passenger runs. I was keeping up, but I knew that with mostly 4 routes and 45 points in tickets, I'd be in good shape. Helping me along was completing the long Berlin to Hannover route (the black one) early in the game, those 18 points really helped out later on. As it was, having the four tickets turned out to be a great deal, as everyone else was trying to snag the passenger points in the SW corner of the board in the late game and focusing on those instead of risking drawing tickets they couldn't use. Like I say, this game got it right for those of us who love something with a little meat to it. In the end, the extra 10 points didn't matter as I'd sneaked by Mike by a couple of points for the win at game end, even though he did have two long central spine tickets that he completed. Perhaps the most exciting game I've played all year.

After a quick break to see where things were with Caylus, we went up to the Aerie to choose another game, and out popped Acquire. Neither Carey nor George had played, and I went to great lengths to coach them on how not to get into serious trouble in the midgame with money, which Carey learned the hard way anyhow. This was the first game that I felt I had a handle on what I was doing, although my tiles certainly weren't cooperating early on. I was patient, though, holding onto tiles that could force mergers at the right times, and buying up shares pretty cheap. I think I bought four shares total over $400 per.

In the end, it came down to two large companies that I was heavily invested in, and I was pretty sure I'd get at least the minority position in both. Mike killed me in Fusion (I'd given him and George a leg up when they traded in a lot of shares late in the game), but I still got the $5k. Hydra was a lot closer, and George had me beat by a single share in the end. That single share cost me the game, as I ended up about $5k behind both Mike and George, who ended up within a couple hundred bucks of each other, about a 1% difference in score. The $5k difference, which went to George, plus the extra share at $1k, would have put me over the top. Mike did discover a couple of Quantum shares that he wasn't sure he'd cashed in when he had the chance, but since that was his responsibility I didn't count the game a bogey. Closest game of Acquire I've ever played, and I'm starting to get hooked. Of course, drawing useful tiles helped a bit. Particularly amazing was Carey's building three companies in the first three turns, with George and Mike building two more. I don't think I ever built a company the entire game, although I had the chance to at one point but chose not to as it would have given Mike and George the chance to get more Fusion stock than I had.

Excellent fun. Thanks to Chris for hosting, and to my tablemates for a very pleasant evening.

Next up is the Central Session at my place next week, and the next week after sees four days of gaming goodness at the Sunriver retreat, which I will attempt to enter over the course of the weekend. Promises, promises...


George said...

Yep, buying that last Hydra share was the best $900 I spent in the game.


Mike said...

We also played Foppen at the start, while waiting for Wes. I came second. Then I came second in TtR:M. Then I came second in Acquire. Close but no coconut.

jtakagi said...

Just in case, if you need to type an ä using a Mac, you can press option-u, then let go, then hit a.


Dug said...

The umlaut thing, as you well know, works great as long as you are on a Mac. I know this in particular, as I had to use umlauts extensively in my master's documentation, and they always came out with some wacky character on my advisor's PC. So, I don't use them online. Not sure if they work correctly in HTML, but I'm guessing not.

And yes, there was a smiley, but us Mac people are titchy.

George said...

On a PC, if you choose the International-English keyboard setting you can create umlauts and the like by preceding the letter with an quotation mark. So, typing "a would get you ä. If you wanted just the quotation mark you would type ">space<. I used this setting on my PC in The Netherlands since they use their fair share of special characters (no, I'm not talking about the people that live there) but Staci hated it. So once we moved here and the need for them was no longer present I switched the settings to US-English keyboard and am now forced to use the Windows Character Map utility or memorize the higher ASCII code for them and type those while pressing the >Alt< key.


Wes M said...

Chris won the game of Caylus. The approximate score would have been Chris 118, Wes 116, Ken 102. Chris concentrated on the VP favor track, Ken on the Building track, and I split between the VP's and the Goods. While I picked up needed resources, including a couple of gold by games end, I would have been better served tagging along w/ Chris on the VP line. A very close game, in which a mis-chosen carpenter may have decided the outcome.