Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sou Tuesday Session, 7/11/06

Since George had come to my place for games the week before, I figured I should make the effort to get to his place in Newberg in return. For those of you familiar with the Portland area, Newberg is (in good traffic, meaning about 3am) a 45 minute drive from the downtown Portland area. At 6pm, it's more like an hour or more. I have this rule, you see, that I would like my gaming experience to be at least twice as long as it takes me to get to said gaming experience.

On this particular night, I violate the rule rather badly when I misread George's directions to take the "scenic route" and took 90 minutes to get there. I wasn't in the best mood when I got there, for which I apologize to George (and Mike and Matt (non-group Matt (ooh, nested parentheses!))). Anyway, I was a good half hour late, and to make things worse everyone thought that I was bringing two more people with me.

Once we were all there, we tried Antike. I played this game at Chris' a few months ago, and felt like I had no idea of what was happening. I got the idea that you have to sequence your moves on the rondele, but actually knowing what they were supposed to be was a bit of a trick. In this game, I started out making at least three or four mistakes, but I kept my focus and ended up winning rather handily.

The way to win Antike is by figuring out how many of each victory point pile everyone will get, then go for the remainder points. For example, there are nine "5 city" cards. With four players, that means two cards each, but with one left over. As such, you want to get to 15 cities before others. The same applies to sea areas controlled. Temples destroyed really only starts to become an issue in the late game, and advances can be spread evenly.

Making things easier was that we were on the Med map, and I was the Phoenicians. You know, the guys with the spear and magic helmet on their picture, and not much else? I started out going for mostly coastal areas to get both the sea areas and the city points, which worked pretty well. I do have to admit that a couple of things helped me out. First, Mike didn't go after me as he probably should have after Matt and George mixed it up a bit. Second, George put a temple in the Athens area of the map, and I had several areas very close to this space. When I took the +2 sea movement improvement, I was well prepared to take this in a single swift move. In fact, I had maybe five or six meeples (as opposed to seaples, the ships) on the board at most.

In the end, and I'd gotten my sixth temple down far behind enemy lines, I had three city VP, two sea areas VP, two temples VP, one advance VP, and then I moved eighty billion ships into George's area with the temple and won. The only way I think anyone could have stopped me was by someone else taking out George's temple, or by a concerted effort against my temples. In an unusual move for me, I didn't let people know that I'd be able to take George's temple out the very next turn (you need extra MP to perform a "conquest move"). As such, the end of the game felt a little stolen for me, and thus not very satisfying (although I'd played very efficiently).

Here's the thing about Antike: everything is part of what in computer lingo is called a pipeline. You have to plan everything out a couple of moves out, because your marker is unlikely to move more than three spaces on the rondele in a given turn. So you need to do a couple of other things in between, so really what you're working with is five pipelines: one for temples, one for advancements, one for building meeples/seaples, one for moving meeples/seaples, and one for building cities (which requires all of the different commodities, and thus feels a bit differently). On the down side, it becomes pretty deterministic in the endgame as you can't *lose* VP.

As such, by getting as many of the static points early, then temples and busting temples late, I avoided allowing other players to get points off of me. While I wasn't winning in the advancement points, I was even or ahead in every other field. I built cities very aggressively, with only one meeple (the rest seaples) on the board, building two or three or four cities every chance I got. Once I was getting 10 of a commodity and couldn't lose any of my existing points, the game was effectively over. There was one key move when I chose to delay a turn and reinforce my front line to protect myself from Mike, the game was over. Had he gone after me a couple of turns earlier, it might have been closer.

I'm not a big fan of games without tension in the endgame, even if it is a result of mistakes by other players (especially George's temple, and especially no one else going after it). I like wargames, but the best ones (like Hannibal) come down to the wire and often hinge on one final battle. These are the games I remember for years and tell others about. So far with Antike, I'm not going to remember much other than I felt like I got away with something.

Mike had to leave at this point, so George pulled out a great little party game from Simply Fun Games called Take Your Pick. One player is the judge, and they deal out three cards to each of the other players. Each card has two complimentary phrases on them, such as "Messy" and "Neat", or "Ginger" and "Mary Ann". One of the two items is circled on the top half of the card, the other circled if you turn the card upside down. You pick the side you think the judge will prefer, and get a point for each correct guess you get. If you get one wrong, you no longer can get points from that judge, so it pays to call out the choices you think are slam dunks (Iraq, anyone?) first. You play an equal number of rounds, and the person with the most points is the winner.

This was an interesting game to play with someone I barely knew, in this case Matt. However, just from a couple of hours of gaming, I was able to guess surprisingly well. What else is interesting is that you have to occasionally think hard about which of the two choices better applies to you, so there's a little navel gazing element as well. This is my favorite party game since Times Up, and I'll definitely need to get a copy to play with my family when a longer game isn't in the cards.

Thanks to George for hosting, despite my crankiness. George has a beautiful home, but it is simply too far out when it takes me 90 minutes to get there and back home for three hours of gaming, so I will only be going every once in a while.

Next session is at Matt's (group Matt) next Tuesday. I, for one, will be there.

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