Saturday was to see me playing three games, two of which were new (or nearly so) to me, the third being a relatively new favorite that I have struggled to some degree to understand how to play well.
First up was the very recently released Urban Sprawl, which I played with Art, Rob, and Les. I felt, as the guy with the most letters in his first name, that I had a lock on winning this one, even with someone else explaining the rules. It's very hard for me not to be "helpful" when others are explaining rules, so I hope that Art didn't feel I was being pushy. He did a great job, and we got into the game.
Since US is a game that I would normally do a little bit of "analysis" on in a full blog post, I will refrain from too much description until a later post. However, I will say that I think that there's been a certain expectation associated with this game given Chad's enormous success and the overall critical acclaim of his last multiplayer design, Dominant Species, and that said expectation was almost certainly never going to be met as US is a much different game. In short, it scratches a different itch, which is a good thing, but many people wanted it to scratch the same itch, only better. In our play, I was better able to see the long game thanks to the ongoing discussions in the forums on the 'Geek and my experience was considerably more satisfying than it has been for many. Again, I'll go into more depth in a later post once I've finished my report on the con.
Art, having played the day before on the trip up from Seattle on the train, understood the value of both vocations and political offices, both of which are a little longer term. I focused on civics and residences, and while that put me solidly in second with Art having about a 40 point margin, it also gave me a lot of downside when it came to some of the events. Rob started the game with us, but eventually had to bow out at noon and we ended up finishing about 1:30pm with Charlie subbing (what a good sport he was...)
Again, I will post my thoughts on the game in a future posting.
Once I had lunch, I was starting to flag but that didn't stop Duncan and I from playing the Fall Blau scenario of No Retreat! We'd considered playing through the Saturn scenario as well, but the late start because of my earlier game running over combined with my fatigue had us wrapping up at the end of the specific scenario. Note that the game itself doesn't allow you to start and stop at different times, as the victory conditions will be a bit spotty given a somewhat different "starting" position for follow-on scenarios, but it seemed doable and it's all in fun anyway.
I played as the Germans, who are poised to make a major breakout in the south, where only five Russian units, including the ones in the Crimea, are placed. The German gets seven cards to start with, and they have a huge advantage should the Russians fall quickly. Which they did not.
I didn't get a single useful card in the entire hand that was playable during my turn, nor did the dice cooperate (apparently the Deansian Statistical Distortion Field is not effected by international borders), with me seeing something like six ones out of my first ten rolls. As such, none of the Russians were eliminated, nor really even budged much. Sevastopol held out until the next turn, and Rostov fell the following turn, but really the Germans need a big breakout to have even a faint chance of winning this one. Add in Mud weather for the last two turns and this one was never going to go my way. That said, Duncan played well (although I felt he was not paying nearly enough attention to keeping his oil fields protected) and this game just keeps growing on me. If it has an Achilles heel, it is that there are relatively few rolls and the cards you draw can have a large effect on your abilities, especially if clear weather is changed to mud.
I may try the solitaire rules again just to see how they work, but really this is a game for two players and one not terribly well suited to pbem (although real time on VASSAL would work very well).
After a fairly good dinner at the hotel's premium restaurant with several of the guys from the con (I had the baby back ribs, which were pretty good), it was time for my game of Dominant Species. Reaction to this game in my group has been decidedly mixed, with several people finding it to be better than Die Macher and the rest thinking it's a luckfest. I'm in the latter category, although I admit to being somewhat concerned that a five-player game was going to be far too chaotic. I don't know that I'd do this game with six, but five was fine.
Playing with me were Dave, Jay, Art, and (IIRC) Gavin. Maybe Devon. Hard to tell, because there was a wedding going on in the adjacent conference room and the music was incredibly loud. If I weren't already sterile I would have been after that evening. It was so loud that people were picking their tables and games up and moving them to the opposite end of the room. Not that this helped, the bass frequencies were so boomy that I actually started to get a little nauseous. Of course, it got worse as the night went on, but we slogged through the game anyway. Dave was the lone noob, but he did very well and was very patient with us as we gave him well-intentioned advice.
I had the Birds, which seems to be the animal I end up with regularly. The birds are very strong as they can get out of tough situations if you use the Migrate action. As usual, I struggled to build up the elements on my player sheet, getting Meat in the second turn, and not getting another element until much later in the game and then losing it almost immediately, and finally losing the Meat elements shortly thereafter. I ended up with three Seeds at the end, which fortunately there were a lot of on the board by game end.
Instead, I focused early on placing Tundra and improving my initiative position, and ended up being first or second right up to the end, especially useful as Seeds were in the Wasteland box on the final turn and I was able to preserve my position by placing my first AP there to negate it. Good thing, as about half of the seeds on the board were adjacent to Tundra tiles and I would have crashed and burned rather badly. Interestingly, I was not nearly as aggressive at taking Domination actions, and I think I ended up with that action about half of the time.
I made a good run on the Insects in the midgame, only to see them jump forward thanks to a couple of good scoring cards, while the Mammals and the Amphibians were making a strong run up to my position. I knew from previous experience, however, that you need to play the long game, and so it was that the focus was on the Insects as the end of the game approached, and it was them who took the most abuse. Meanwhile, the Arachnids had missed the rule that says you can't dominate an area if you can't eat there, and dropped down to four species on the board and completely stalled out. Very unfortunate for Art, but that's evolution for you.
On the final turn, that extra Seed allowed me to dominate in six areas, while the Insects had completely stalled out. I had species all over the map and ended up winning by a fairly good margin. The Insects did well too, but only enough for second, while the Amphibians made an excellent run for the Survival card on the last turn and scooped the Mammals for third.
About halfway into the game, I started feeling really good about both my position as well as my grasp of the game, and It was very satisfying to see that my strategy paid off in the end. While I will say that I liked Urban Sprawl much more than I expected to, I will also say that Dominant Species is, at least for me, a more satisfying game in many ways and deserves it's place in the pantheon of future classics. Thanks to Jay for GMing this one.
And it was evening and morning the second day.