Monday, September 19, 2011

Sunriver Euro Retreat 2011, Day 4

So we came to the final morning on Sunday. This was a strange day in many respects - the first "real" day of the NFL season (and with me participating in a pick'em pool with family and friends, so perhaps more involved in the overall results than normal), as well as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I managed to avoid most mention of 9/11 through the day, and was happy for it - I feel that a day like this needs to be commemorated with reflection and thought rather than with flags everywhere. This is not a day we should be proud of, in no small part because of our overreactions and missteps in the name of security over liberty that my country took in the aftermath and are still to this day taking, the very thing we were purporting to be protecting. It's not the 4th of July, yet there were enough flags around that you might get confused about what month it was. In any event, there was gaming and good company, and that seemed like a good way to mark the day - that life goes on regardless of what some will do to make a point in the name of an invisible being.

I woke up a little late, took a shower, came out to the main room, and found that everyone was waiting for me to play Power Grid on the Korea map. So away we went...

Power Grid: Korea - 

The big thing with the Korean map is that there are two markets, and you can only buy from one. They have different schedules of resources over the course of the game, and different schedules (so that there are two oil for 5 Electro in the south, but only one oil for 5 Electro in the north, for example).

The last time I played this map was at Salishan with Rita, Lorna, and some other people who now escape me. The hallmark of that game was having the big plants come out early and the little plants sitting around for the second half of the game bringing the pace to a near halt and taking forever to get to Step 3. You'll never guess how this game went?

I started out strong, placing my initial plants late (which I'm coming to realize is usually a better move than grabbing the early cheaply connected plants), especially if you can carve out your very own corner of the map. Chuck and I were the only people really competing for territory south of Seoul, and there's lots of room to work with, but I made an initial foray north that put me in really good position. I then got a 4 production plant that gave me an income advantage early as well. While I was in first place in terms of cities (and therefore last in terms of buying resources or placing new cities), I was feeling very good in terms of being able to get to 14 cities and powering the most plants.

And then I made my mistake. I didn't realize what a mistake it was at the time, but it was big.

There was one 6 output plant (3 coal) in the current markets group, and a 6 output (3 oil) plant in the futures market waiting to take it's place. I put the coal plant up, and Greg took it for 40. He later told me he'd have let me have it for 41. My thinking at the time was that the next plant into the current market would be the oil plant, as it was only one bigger.

It didn't come out for something like six turns. Instead, we got a parade of 2 and 3 output plants, which would have, at best, given me a tiny nudge up. The bummer was that at this point, even me going to 14 cities would have let Greg power more cities than I could, so I held off. If I was playing for position, it would have been much better for me to have settled for second. Instead, I kept hoping a decent plant would show up, as I could outbid nearly everyone (I ended with over 250 Electro in hand).

Of course, no decent plant showed up. We got to Step 3 after a long and painful endgame, and Greg got to 14 cities and won handily. Exactly what happened in that long ago game at Salishan, although that was BGE (Before Greg Era).

And, of course, since I was drawing for plants in the third position, I was unable to improve my position better than to 9 powered cities, which was enough for me to take, wait for it, last place.

I have never seen such a turn of fortune in a game of Power Grid as that. To have played what was, for most people, an almost perfect game (at one point I got four Step 2 cities for 77 Electro, a bargain by any stretch) and then have it all crumble away over a six turn stretch with almost no way to prevent it was very painful. There is a lesson here - pay attention to what plants are available. Since we got to Step 3 before any plants with an output greater than 3 showed up, that meant they were all either on the table, blown up, or had been passed over.

To have this happen on the exact same map was just freaky.

Thank goodness the company was good. ;-)

At this point, everyone but myself and Alex headed for home. Which left the two of us to play...

Warhammer: Invasion -

I am not a big fan of CCGs - as someone on the 'Geek put it, the novelty of new cards makes up for shallow play depth, and I think that's correct. I've never really gotten the hang of how to construct a deck that will be competitive, or really even how I'm supposed to play it. It seems like most of the time you are waiting for a good card combo, and whoever gets it first will win.

Well, I suck at LCGs as well. Even when you aren't deckbuilding.

That said, I've invested in W:I to a fair degree. Yeah, it's GW, a company I don't have much love for, at least in terms of the IP owner. I much prefer the LCG model, although FFG's initial release of their expansion decks was done to encourage serious players to purchase three copies, something I did not do. As such, I have gotten through the first three expansion cycles and the first three boxed expansions, and I think I will be stopping there. There's plenty to keep me entertained with that many cards, to be honest.

The game is a bit different from most CCGs, where you are trying to kill a specific card that represents your character (in the WoW CCG) or other critical item (like your ship in 7th Sea CCG). Amazingly, I can't speak for Magic, which I have never played. Really. Instead, you are trying to inflict damage on three different districts in the opposing player's capital. If you inflict 8 hits (plus any extras you need to cover developments in that district) the district is considered to be burning, and once two districts are burning you win. Of course, you have to fight your way through various enemy units to get there, plus the usual action cards.

There are a couple of things that make this game interesting for me. First is that you have six factions available to play, three of them (Orcs, Chaos, and Dark Elves) on the "Destruction" side and three (Dwarves, High Elves, and Humans) on the "Order" side. You can't fight against someone on your side, of course. I think this is a little like the LCG based on A Game Of Thrones, as there are multiple factions as well. The other differentiator for me is the inclusion of neutral cards that anyone can use, although some are limited to one side or the other. For example, the first expansion cycle includes a lot of Skaven cards that can only be used by the Destruction player, with a handful of Witch Hunter cards that can be used by the Order player. This idea has been expanded so that the Destruction "neutral" cards include Undead, while the Order side can draw from Lizardmen as well as most recently Wood Elves.

While you are encouraged to play a single faction (because playing cards gets cheaper as you have more cards from that faction on your play area), it's definitely possible to build multi-faction decks that have both "formal" factions as well as the "neutral" factions. I don't really feel comfortable enough with the decks to do that just yet, and in fact I believe I have yet to win a game no matter which faction I'm playing (so far Dwarves, High Elves, and Chaos). Apparently I suck at these games too.

In the games Alex and I played, we tried something a little different. I am interested in the idea of a game where you play once, then add in the first set of expansion cards from a given cycle, build your deck to 40, add in random neutral cards (you can choose faction-specific neutrals with your normal build), and then play again. Repeat using the next expansion deck. We were sticking with single factions for our purposes, and I think that was smart as I've barely played and Alex had not played at all. Since the Assault on Uluthan box set expands the two Elven factions to a point where they are playable on their own (they are not a full faction in the core set), we used all of those cards as well, so our first game was with the core decks, the faction cards from Assault, plus enough of the Core/Assault neutrals to get us to 60 cards as by then we were at about 45-47 cards in our faction decks. Neutral cards were dealt randomly. Alex took the Dwarves, and I took Chaos, which I was excited about seeing as I hadn't played them and had wanted to.

In the first game, I started strong, setting fire to one of Alex's districts (the Battlefield) quickly. My strategy was to 1) get cheap cards out to make the better cards even cheaper, and 2) corrupt Alex's units as much as possible. Corruption prevents units from attacking or defending, as well as providing some other benefits based on card text, but the owner can "uncorrupt" them one at a time, one per turn so it's better if you can get multiple units corrupted at once. Sadly, Alex went mostly for buildings (Support cards) to increase his card draws and resources early, and that seemed to be a good strategy. By halfway into the game, the point where I became completely ineffective, he was drawing close to 10 resources a turn and drawing six cards. While it's true that you lose if your deck runs out (and I've lost that way), at the same time it's hard to stop an enemy who can deploy six cards a turn and then attack you with them when you are drawing three and getting five resources, about the price of a very good unit.

And so, Alex won the first game.

We pulled out the first expansion pack from the Skaven cycle (I forget the formal name), and it was clear to me that the Skaven were going to be of no help early, having few cards and most of them required other Skaven cards. I did go for the new Chaos cards, and trimmed my faction deck to 40 so that we could play with 50 cards decks instead of 60.

It didn't help.

In fact, the arc of the game was nearly identical, although I felt I did much worse in some regards. I was able to build up some good card draws early, but not so much resources. I did take out Alex's Quest district (which does not affect cards in the area or his draws) but once again stalled out and was unable to get cards that were going to help me and he beat me even more quickly, if that was possible.

There is a draft variant that uses all the factions on your side that I may try in the future, plus some variant cards that you can add in to make the draft even more of a metagame, but that doesn't seem like it would work so well with the expansions and making it feel like a campaign game, which was what I was looking for. I guess you'd get to know the decks pretty well that way, though.

Don't get me wrong, I like this game. I like having a large number of cards to work with but still finite, and I also like the variety in ways to play the game. It's relatively quick, the component values are high, and at this point I have a ton of replayability in the box.

I'm just really terrible at this game. And, of course, it's two-player, so harder for me to get up games when most of my two-player gaming involves wargames rather than LCGs or Euros. Perhaps I need to focus on building up my production elements before going after my opponent's districts, although I did not feel like I had much in the way of choice if I wanted to take advantage of the card text, which often requires you to place cards in certain areas to get the effect, or sometimes you have no choice in the matter at all. And that is why I usually don't like CCGs, because you need to play repeatedly to get a normal statistical curve in terms of results with evenly matched players. It wasn't a faction mismatch - Chaos and the Dwarves are natural enemies, as are Orcs and Humans, and Dark and High Elves.

The biggest problem with this game is that so many cards have had their text altered, and I don't want to have to put stickers on the cards so that I don't need to constantly address the FAQ to make sure there isn't errata present. I would also like to get an updated version of the Corruption cycle (the first expansion cycle) that has three of each card, like the later cycles, but I don't know that will ever happen (Corruption had 40 cards per pack at $10, new ones are 60 cards for $15). I guess that really it's no more than a $5 difference per expansion, so $30 total. Of course, I don't need to even play with that pack, and the core sets have the same issue. Since I'm not planning to play seriously, I guess it's not an issue, although apparently there are a lot of Skaven cards that require multiple copies to be effective.

And, of course, I'm out of room for cards in the box as I premium sleeve all of them. Yeah, I've got more money than sense, something some members of Rip City Gamers have known for years.

At that point, I was getting ready to go out and have yummy Thai food with Ken and Alex was getting ready to go home. Most of the house had been closed up - beds made, towels washed, etc, and all I needed to do was to put the dishes away and do one last load of towels the next morning before I headed home as well.

My wrap-up is coming in the next post.

1 comment:

Greg W said...

Weird how the plant market went sideways again. After acquiring that plant I had capacity for 16 cities for the rest of the game. So it was a matter of waiting for step three. Though I think I could have lagged a turn building and possibly triggered in step 2.

I'd love to say I noticed that we'd mostly had plants in the high twenties and thirties entering the market and that we were due for a run of teens and low twenties plants but I didn't really notice until after I purchased it. Given that I was sitting on four coal on a 1 city plant it seemed like a reasonable value bid and put me in position to ignore the plant market for the rest of the game.

With as much cash as you had on hand I think you're better off making some marginal plant upgrades just to keep the market moving, whereas the way things worked out it was a game of chicken to see who would take the marginal upgrade while I waited to trigger the end game. If you'd flushed the market faster I think you'd have caught me before I could expand my network to fill my capacity.

That Mike and Chuck had two single digit plants each meant that there were fewer plants in the market that would pop from expansion thereby further stalling the market. Once you hit eight cities, capping your capacity, and the market went wonky I would have been tempted to lag on expanding so that you'd get a chance to hit the market last and better position to win the game of chicken. :) Really interesting how the group-think relative to the market affected the outcome.