On the table were Race to the Galaxy and Colosseum, both titles that someone somewhere has wanted to play and hasn't had opportunity as of yet. Race was Ben's request, and his experience - summarized best by the word "huh?" - was typical, even of people who had played San Juan, a spiritual cousin if not a direct descendent. I agree with Chris' assessment that the iconography and human factors are very well done in this game, but it does require assimilation (especially if you play the Borg - oops, wrong game). Also, I think that the extra requirement for consuming your cards (that they must have a place to consume them) is especially tricky, and like San Juan it helps a lot to have some idea of what's in the deck.
In the end, Dave beat me by 4 points (41-37) with Matt and Ben somewhere behind that. I made a foolish error late in the game by playing the Trade/Consume card instead of the 2xVP/Consume card, thinking that because I had an extra card to consume it would be better to get the extra cards, but I was already pulling in five cards whenever someone played Produce so it wasn't really necessary. Had I done that the last two times I Consumed, it would have been enough to win the game!
Still, this is such a fun little game and when played briskly (we've finished four player games within 20 minutes) it's a hoot. Especially considering that it's really four-player solitaire in some respects.
I had brought Colosseum, mostly to practice the spelling, and after a quickish teaching session (I had read the rules the night before) with some help from Dave and Ben who had played, we got underway. I started out poorly, having lots of manly men and horsey horses but no tickets that were going to help me much. As such, I put on two anemic performances in the first two turns, along with a section of season ticket holders and an expansion to my arena. As such, I sat around the 15 point mark for the first two turns, although that was enough to give me one of Matt's horses in the second round, enough to give me the Star Performer.
At that point I realized that I needed to keep my eye on the Big Show, which I decided early was going to be the most expensive tile in the game. As such, I went for a smallish midsized show (#13, Skeletor vs He-Man or something similar) for the third and fourth rounds, which put me up in the 37 point bracket, while I expanded a second time on the fourth round. The show gave me enough points to buy the 50-pointer for the end, with enough left over to get one of the three tiles I was short, plus a special tile that I traded to Dave to put me within one performer of a full show. As it was, I scored 88 points at the end to beat Matt by five for the win.
A couple of notes - we weren't sure if using your Emperor's Medals to move one of the VIPs on the track to a resting spot was legitimate, and it was not (at least in terms of you getting a medal). I did this on my very last move to get the Emperor into my arena and simultaneously onto a resting spot, costing 3vp to move him there for 7vp, but gaining back the 3vp as we were playing incorrectly. I have no recollection whether or not Dave took advantage of this, but I doubt it as he tended to save up his medals as I did. Either way, the difference was enough that it didn't matter in the end. Even the seemingly generous trade he made at game end where he got a special tile and I got one more performer was a 2 point swing for me and a 3 point swing for him, so I was actually hurting myself in that case by giving him the extra point. No matter, it was only a slightly dodgy win for me the first time out. Matt nearly won with his three bonus balconies and three season ticket sections, something like 24 points before he even put on a show at the end. That was one nice balcony, Matt. Dave's Loge strategy (which allowed him two dice to move the VIPs) worked to a point, although he still used one of his Medals to scoot the Emperor into his arena on the last turn (note to self - you can move them *back* that way).
Colosseum hasn't gotten a lot of press, partly because it's one of those games that on the surface appears to value bits over gameplay. Cleopatra has the same problem - the game is a bit obscured by all of the components for what is at it's essence a pretty elegant design. After all, there's not that much going on - you build a thing, then you bid on assets/performers, then you trade, then you put on a show. In our game, there wasn't that much trading, and the bidding rarely went above 10 (I bid 13 at one point as it gave me two more performers toward my final show, and there may have been one or two bids at 11, but that was it - most were eight or nine).
The trick to this game is keeping your eye on the prize, but it's a balancing act that I really enjoy. You need to put on crap shows early in order to get the 5 point bonuses and generate income (a good thing, as neither of my initial shows had a full slate of assets). You need to put on multiple shows to get the word-of-mouth bonuses (+5) that each completed show gives you. I was fortunate that my mid-game show looked quite a bit like my end game show, although I needed six different assets to get to the end. Having that income of 37 with little need to modify it in the mid-game allowed me to concentrate on expansion and saving for the last one with money left over to hopefully nab the assets I needed. In the end, I was mostly trading to get what I needed as it wasn't showing up on the board so much, but I got close enough for government work.
While there is a lot of chrome in the game, at it's core it's a very good game that requires long term planning combined with keeping your head above water enough to finance your shows. While the sequence of play is pretty simple, it's clearly a gamer's game with choices to be made and multiple paths to victory. I'm glad I bought it, and I'm looking forward to playing it in the future with this group. If you like auctions and negotiation games, this covers both those bases just enough to scratch the itch, and if you don't like them so much, neither really lasts long enough to be annoying.
Special Kudos to Ben, who tolerated our calling the Decorations "the Bush" despite my early attempts to christen them "Shrubbery". Many heartfelt but crass jokes were made, and he was an excellent sport. Ben, you now know how Jimmy Carter felt when he was on The Daily Show recently where the lead story was about penis stealing/withering sorcerers in Bhutan. Especially when Carter came out promoting a book about his mother! Clearly we have our work cut out for us in the future to beat that.
A fun night of gaming, and nice to see Ben and Dave again.