Sunday, December 07, 2008

Salishan 2008 Gaming Retreat, Part 2

Friday dawned bright and early. Particularly early for me, as I didn't manage to get to sleep until after 4am and I was awakened by a gorgeous vista from the loft around 7:30am. Not that I was about to let only three or so hours of sleep deter me from a great gaming day!

After Mike prepared us breakfast (a treat as I usually have cereal and OJ and not much else), the three of us sat down to play the latest Ticket to Ride game, Nordic Countries. Or, as I have put it on various occasions, TtR: Elf Edition, TtR: Santa Klaus is Komming To Town, and TtR: That Reindeer Has A Really Cold Nose Edition. The game is intended for two or three, and has it's own twists: Locos are only for the ferries and tunnels and can be picked up just like any other card (but there are tons of ferry and tunnel routes), and the bonus is for the most tickets rather than longest route. 

I was surprised to see myself all alone in the southern climes near Oslo at first, building up along the coast of Norway and over to the northern end of the Gulf of Bothia (if that's what it's called - the northern arm of the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden). I struggled to complete the northernmost route, which required either red cards and locos or the long green tunnel. Finally completed, I started grabbing tickets, which required me to do a little building but not much. I finally ran into trouble when Chris finished off his train supply (you only get forty instead of forty five train markers) and I was one card away from having what I needed to finish a shorty route I'd picked up at the end of the game. Mike had run away with the game by finishing his routes early, then drawing tickets that matched up with existing routes. I think he ended with more than 100 points in tickets, not counting the bonus. 

I really like the TtR series, but have a nagging suspicion that the game requires a larger map and more players to work effectively. The problem is that the luck of the draw in tickets can make an enormous difference in how people score as you are more likely to cover significant ground on a smaller map and thus can grab those routes easily. I did pretty well with routes, but had chosen long high-paying routes from my initial selection and that one long red route took me several cycles to collect as we sat on the draft pile for several turns. That's not to say the game isn't good (it's certainly less of a problem than it was with Switzerland), but I prefer the larger maps and especially the US and Maerklin over the others. 

At this point, Mike decided to shower, so Chris taught me Hill 218, a very simple militarily themed card game that plays in about 10 minutes or less, making it excellent filler. Each side has a deck of cards that have three attributes: where you can place it in relation to the cards you already have, what enemy cards around it you can remove based on that card play, and what pre-existing cards you must have played to support that removal. A few cards allow removal without support, the artillery card at range. The point of the game is to place a card in your opponent's home base area, which are found on either side of the central "Hill 218" card. It's a very easy game to play, and you'll need to learn the basic tactics needed to remove the opponent's cards and what positions are most critical for your own protection. Good play will defeat poor play every time if you are occasionally stymied by luck of the draw, and it's just right for the size and length it is. Highly recommended as a travel game, as it can be played in an airport if perhaps not on your tray table. Chris, of course, beat me handily in our first game after I made a rookie mistake, and while he had a tougher time in the second game he won that as well. 

Around this time, the waves of new faces started arriving: first Lorna, then KC and Rita, Ben and Pahduma, Matt R, and JD. Time to start playing the more involved games, and since Lorna was going to have to leave later that afternoon she got to select her first game, which was Age of Scheme, a Winsome Games train/stock game placed in about the same region as After the Flood, although clearly with rails or camels or something and "marriages" instead of stock. Like the well-received Wabash Cannonball game, you place wooden cubes as track, stock is relatively rare, and you want to be the one connecting two lines with the one you have all the stock in. 

In our game, we had six players and that may have been too many. With only four shares of stock per line, there was a huge advantage if you went right after people who made the connections, so it was nearly impossible to set up people taking their turn with four other players between you. Rita and I found ourselves with relatively little stock (four shares each) compared to five or six for the others, and by about halfway in it was clear that with everyone diversified there was no way I could move without helping the leaders, so I just started taking the "Business" option and giving myself $5 per turn. I came in dead last. Given the somewhat snarky nature of the game's name (related to the rift between Martin Wallace and the owner of Winsome Games over the Age of Steam copyright), and the deterministic end, I can't recommend this, at least with six. Sadly, this game was the most disappointing of anything I played over the weekend.

The other group had finished their game, so we jumped right into a great game of Power Grid: Korea with Rita, Pahduma, JD, and myself. I consider Power Grid to be one of the few games I'm particularly competitive at, which is a little strange because I'm generally poor at bidding games because I can't quickly and accurately estimate how much a given item is worth. Korea is a relatively new map, and I picked it over the China map because both JD and Pahduma had never played before and it only had one special rule: there are two resource markets, one for the North and one for the South, and you can only purchase resources from one or the other in a given turn. We chose not to use the two northernmost areas, as they typically had very expensive connections compared to the rest of the board, and so fit into the very dense South areas. JD started near Seoul, with me just to the south, Rita even further south, and Pahduma on the eastern coast. 

Our game was very unusual in that the larger plants came out early, and we got to the midgame pretty quickly, perhaps five or six turns. Once we had the good plants, however, things slowed down a lot. We had perhaps seven or eight turns where no one wanted the current plants as they would have been a drain on us, and we had more or less filled up the map at that point (preventing a win by, I think, Pahduma that JD and I had to fill in the remaining cities). After what seemed an incredibly long time where very little happened other than Rita, JD, and myself competing for either garbage or nukes, I found myself fortuitously buying first right after we hit step 3. I had amassed over 300 Elektros, burned down a little because of the city-expansion frenzy to prevent Pahduma's hitting 17 cities and taking the win with the most powered cities, and after having enough to power 13 cities, I then expanded in five or six cities, enough to hit 17 and clench the win. This was a good map for 4, and not a bad choice for a teaching map in some respects. It would have been interesting to see how the game would have come up with a more balanced plant sequence, but that's what makes the game great.

There were four more games to be played on Friday, which I will leave to the next post. JD, Chris, and myself did take a little break at this point to go see a rather spectacular sunset on the beach, with the sun merging into the haze on the horizon. Many pictures were taken, but I was glad I had both my hat and my heavy coat on. So far, I hadn't done terribly well in play other than the Power Grid game, but that was such a sweet win that I had enjoyed the weekend tremendously by this time.

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