Wednesday, April 23, 2008

World Travels

Tuesday was Mike's night to host, and Jim, Jeff, Patrick, and myself managed to brave the rain for an evening of fun gaming.

This was Mike's night to get games off of his burn-down list (a concept that I can't even consider living on the outskirts), so the games to make it to the table were Phoenicia and Von Kap bis Kairo (From Cape to Cairo). 

Phoenicia is one of those civ-building games where you need to do one thing to keep progressing, but the other thing in order to win. In this case, you need the production to generate income to allow you to buy the advances and place your meeples to get the victory points to win. In the first game I played of this title at Lorna's birthday party in Eugene earlier in the year, Chris beat me out by having fantastic production that allowed him to come from behind to win at the end of the game. In this pass, I tried the same tactic, but two things got in my way - first was my housing shortage in the mid-game that required me to go after storage instead of VP, and the second was a rousing auction battle for Public Works that would allow me an easier time of getting City Walls, the big point getter at endgame. Mike had one more point in his production queue, and from there on I was struggling to catch up. 

Not that it mattered. Jim, who had a ton of laborers but only three storage in the midgame, grabbed a couple of houses when I mentioned to him that he was doing well in VP but was on the verge of a major stall because he wouldn't be able to amass the production needed to push in for the win. In the end, he had the necessary income to do just that, edging Mike by 2 points for the win. I was in third, having started to push for VP but too far behind to do it effectively. I did have a sustainable income of seven production cards on the last turn though, and felt I was just one turn away from catching up as I could outbid almost everyone.

My first outing with this title was fun, but a little frustrating because of the sometimes confusing iconography and learning how to balance the various elements. It is this core philosophy of the game, however - that you must have storage, population, production, *and* victory points - that makes the game compelling. It's clear that there are many paths to victory, making it a game that I will add to my collection.

Jim took his victory and left (ah, if only W had done that in 2000), so the rest of us muddled through the rules for vKbK, even though I'd played it before. Each player is trying to build a railroad from, well, the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa up to Cairo, in the northeast corner. On the way, you have to content with various geographical features including deserts that look more like desserts but with nary a half-naked pygmy in sight (for those of you who grew up learning female anatomy through National Geographic magazine). Strangely, you bid money to make money and choose the terrain you will move through all at the same time, then you flip over cards to see if you can build over said terrain. 

If you thought that there is a strong luck element in this game, you would be right. The only real decision points are how much to bid to get first pick of the terrain cards and then whether or not to spend extra money to help advance your train. Jeff clearly made these choices better than others, as he beat me out by one track to take the win. This is not to say that the choices are trivial - far from it. Part of why Jeff won was through better money management, having the necessary funds to drive the last spike whereas I came up short. 

It's a passable little game, made more appealing by it's tiny deck footprint in my game cabinet and it's comparative quality to other Ablung Spiel games. On the other hand, it's unlikely to see more play time, especially seeing as the rules translation supplied with the game is nearly unreadable. I think it took nearly as long for us to parse the rules as it did to play the game, and two of us had played before. Patrick remembered it being a pretty good game initially, then remembered that beer had been involved and it lost quite a bit of it's allure last night. 

Thanks to Mike for hosting. Next session is at Chris's as we return to our regular rotation after last month's switcheroo.

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