Saturday, August 05, 2006

CenTu Session, 8/1/06

Back from WBC West less than 48 hours, and already I'm hosting a weeknight session. I am officially insane.

Ben H, Ian (friend of Ben's), Tim, Mike, Carey, Ken, and myself sat around doing nothing but having fun for three hours. Here's how it went:

Ben, Carey, and myself spent the evening in the Temple of Conspicuous Consumerism playing some classics. I'd pulled largely classic games from the library for the evening, especially some of the first euros I ever bought, and some even got played. In our three-player session we tried out Schaeppen Jagd, Mamma Mia!, and Durch die Wueste, while the four player table in the dining room played Fifth Avenue and Euphrate & Tigris. You'll have to check out Mike's blog for a full report, all I know is that the E&T game ended up with a very close score, the spread being between 7 and 5 points IIRC.

Schnaeppen Jagd, or Bargain Hunter, is one of those classic titles that never got published in the US despite being perhaps one of the best games Uwe Rosenburg ever put out. The game is at it's heart a simple trick taking game, although trump is decided as players lay cards out for each trick. If you can't follow the led suit, you have to declare if the suit of the card you play is trump or not, and since there are two cards of each rank, you also have to decide if the card you play is higher or lower than the winning card, assuming they are a match. As such, there's a surprising amount of decision making going on.

The first hand starts out with each player choosing a rank they want to collect - each rank is a particular type of "junk" that you are trying to collect. For example, all of the 1 cards are teakettles, the 2's are electric shavers, etc. You want to collect that one type of junk as you win tricks, the rest of the cards go into your face-down "odds and ends" pile. After each round, you can go through your odds and ends, choose one rank that you've got a lot of in that pile, discard three of that rank from your odds and ends, and the rest of those cards go into your collecting pile, meaning that you'll be collecting a new type of junk for the next round.

For example, I've been collecting 5's this round. Any 5's in tricks I take go into the collecting pile, which is face up and will score positive points at the end of the game. Everything else goes in my face-down odds and ends pile, which will score negative points. At the end of the round, I look through my odds and ends, and discover I have four 1's, more than any other rank. I discard three of the four 1's, which go on the bottom of the draw pile, and the rest (one 1 card) goes on my collecting pile face up, and in the next round any 1's in tricks I take will go there. All other cards, including 5's (which I'm no longer collecting, but stay in that pile from previous rounds) go into odds and ends. If I had had only three 1 cards in this example, I could have discarded all three, but kept collecting fives as there was on extra 1 to go on the collecting pile. You can only do this with one rank in all rounds but the last one, where you can get rid of two ranks.

Like most Rosenburg games, it's a bit of a trick to explain, but a lot of fun. I thought I was doing quite well, to be honest, changing over every turn or two. My biggest problem was in one round I took no tricks at all, when you are better off getting a couple of cards that will allow you to make a discard of one rank. Since collected cards sit around, you are much better off changing to un-collected ranks or relatively uncollected ranks if possible, and it's always good to get cards out of the odds and ends pile. As it was, I came in last with a 2 point final total, while Ben got beat out by Carey for the win (I think he had 8 points, not bad).

SJ is a great game with three players, as you have six rounds to go through and the luck tends to even out a bit, although I'd say that it has more to do with what cards others have than what you have. With six suits and only eight cards per round, it's easy to get a void and call trump (or not), but not always. With four players, you only play four rounds and it feels more like a ride than a game. Like Ra and Big City, this is a game best suited for three.

Next up was Mamma Mia!, another Rosenburg classic. This is a game that is very tough to explain, although I felt like I did about as good a job as is humanly possible to do. I usually do quite well in this game, I think it's one of my best win/play ratio titles along with Ra and Hannibal, and this game was no exception. In fact, I did so well that I had collected a full seven of eight order cards going into the final round, and took that last order easily by just keeping the right ingredients in hand for the Making of the Pizza phase. One of my faves that's been sitting on the shelf for too long.

Last up for our table was Durch die Wueste, republished by FFG as Through the Desert. I've rarely played with three, as I think that four is about the perfect number for this game, but it was still good fun. Since the initial placement of your caravans is so critical to this game, we played twice, the first ended by Carey very early when he put down the last of the coconut-flavored camels on the board. In the second game, Ben had a great 16 point section on one side of the board, and I'm pretty sure he won, although I can't say for sure as I've completely forgotton what the final score was! That's a good sign, at least I hope it was.

Thanks to everyone for coming. I'll have a lot of gaming going on next week with Mel out of town, including SouTu, an 18xx session on Thursday, and a Saturday session where hopefully I'll pull out Warrior Knights and we'll see how good that title is.

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