Wednesday evening saw us playing one of my favorite multi-player strategy games, Manifest Destiny. This game is an evolution of Age of Renaissance, in itself a rather radical development of Civilization. Where AoR took Civ to a whole new level of not only complexity but also math (the third epoch requires adding and subtracting up to six or seven two and three digit numbers together to determine the cost of a single advance), MD was intended from the start to streamline the design, and to my mind it is very successful in that effort. The production values are bizarre at best (use of clip art for graphics, line art for the map, and scanned photos and paintings for the cards), but I'd rather have a good game that looks bad rather than a bad game that looks good.
I consider myself to be a decent to good MD player (and in fact was once told by a championship AoR player that I was good at that game as well, although I don't think he had enough of a view of my play to know). I demonstrated this pretty well in our game, managing to pull off not one but two go-last-take-commodity-areas-go-first-collect-big-money plays, one near the end of the game with a $120 payout in oil, resulting in three 3VP advances in one turn. However, Chuck gave me a huge run for my money, coming within one Breakthrough roll (which required one of three numbers on a d6) of beating me. Still, I got the cards when I needed them, and played the way you are supposed to when life hands you lemons. I even started in Pennsylvania, considered one of the tougher starting points in the game.
Thursday was Here I Stand day, while Mike took the morning off until Ken arrived and they played Napoleon's Triumph. I really like HiS - it's like nothing else out there in terms of it's asymmetrical powers, religious/political competition axes, and multiple fronts that you need to keep an eye on regularly, not just when things heat up. Henry VIII's search for a male heir alone makes this unlike anything else out there, not to mention the subject matter of the Reformation.
Chuck took the Protestants/English, I was the Papacy/Hapsburgs, and we gave Dave the Ottomans/French so that he wouldn't have to worry about the religious battle. Chuck did a great job of explaining the rules, but we played very slowly. We also missed a rather critical rule that you couldn't reform/counter-reform the same space more than once in an impulse if you missed the first time. Chuck got off to a good start with the 95 Theses, but after that he was doing multiple rolls on a single space until well into turn 3 or 4. As such, he owned Germany, at least religiously, by the end of turn 2. We gave up after turn 4, nearly six or seven hours after we started. Most games I've played of HiS that start in the first turn go like this, mostly because you can't learn what you're supposed to do by watching other players. Everyone has very different goals and ways to score victory points, so you have to figure it out and ask questions when it's your turn.
The game has so many little subsystems (Ottoman Piracy, debates, reformation attempts, the Six Wives, exploration of the New World, it just goes on and on), that it's nearly impossible to keep all of the rules in hand unless you play regularly. Eric, Chuck, and myself played the tournament scenario a few years ago three player, and it went along pretty briskly, but we'd played recently. I played last January, and I swear it was like I hadn't played in three years.
The other huge issue, at least unless you're playing with three, is downtime. As France or England, who don't have a lot going on on the board, you can wait 15 minutes between turns if things are moving along briskly. It's much better with three, although France/Ottoman still has to wait for quite a while if the Protestant or Papacy decide to do reformation, and forget it if the Protestants have a card that lets them make five or six attempts.
The thing is, I really like the game. I think that Chuck and I may try the religious 2-player variant published in C3i that puts the political/military elements of the game into a card deck that simulates the other events going on around converting the faithful (or keeping them unconverted). I'd love to see how the game progresses for the English once Mary I enters the game and makes their lives hell on earth. I'd like to see more of the Popes show up (we had three Popes in four turns!) Perhaps Eric will be willing to play one turn a week for a few weeks with Chuck and I to get a full game in at some point, now that we have the rules in our heads.
After a very nice dinner at Ken's place (just a couple of miles away), we started out the Manoeuvre tournament. I started out playing Dave, only to find myself with not nearly enough units on his side of the board and him smack dab in the middle of mine. I had an excellent shot at killing his fifth unit on what I knew would be the last turn, and I had not one, not two, but three unit cards, a Committed Attack card, and a leader. The odds of me killing him were excellent, right up to the point where he doubled his defense factor to 10 with a leader of his own, and then used a Guerilla card to remove one d10 from my roll. I could have killed him, but I needed a huge roll and didn't get it. BTW, I was Russia to Dave's Spanish.
My second game was against Mike, using Chris' copy of the game, with me playing the Austrians and Mike taking the Prussians. Unfortunately, Chris hadn't gone through and shuffled his decks well ahead of time, and the tiny decks don't shuffle well or easily. Mike discovered this about three minutes in after drawing cards for the same regiments in a row three different times. Having all of those cards show up in a row was pretty handy for wiping out two of my units, and at that point he said that he thought his deck needed more shuffling, which he did. He wiped out a third unit, and I was pretty sure I was going to lose quickly, but then he stopped drawing useful cards. I managed to first catch up in unit kills, then managed the fifth one about 30 minutes into the game for the win.
The crazy thing is, I considered asking if Mike wanted to start over after he realized what a mess his deck was, but as I was down two armies I figured it would look like I was just whining and hoping to reset the game. Had Mike asked to restart, I would have happily done it just because we hadn't started on an even setting. Now I wish I'd done it, even though we figured that reshuffling his deck would "fix" things, even though it would give me a huge disadvantage because I'd gotten the short end of the stick, basically spotting him two units. I figured that it wasn't a big deal, though, and soldiered through to a win when he kept drawing cards for units that had been destroyed already and I got cards that worked well together.
After the game, I went through and thoroughly shuffled all of the decks in Chris' game so that wouldn't happen again. When I buy a new game, I always shuffle the cards repeatedly and even deal them out repeatedly just to make sure they're nice and randomized for this very reason.
Too bad, because my game with Dave was really fun (except when I'd do something and he'd be surprised that you could do that, to which I started asking Chuck what sort of teaching job he'd done with Dave to have so many rules misunderstandings!) It all worked out, because Dave beat Chuck in his second game, and since he'd already beaten me *and* Chuck, Mike was the last person Dave hadn't beaten. They may or may not play the final at some later date.
Tomorrow, we start with a delicious breakfast out at Sintra, a great restaurant in Sunriver, then Chuck and I play A Victory Lost, Chris and Mike play FAB: Bulge, and Dave and Ken will play a game to be determined. Tomorrow night is Chuck showing us Republic of Rome, an old AH chestnut I've wanted to play for years but was daunted by the overly dense ruleset.