Friday, 16 October 2020


The Game

The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest one during the American Civil War. It took place over 3 days - 1 to 3 Jul 1863. The American Civil War was fought for 4 years, 1861 to 1865, so Gettysburg was at the mid point of the war. In the early war, the Confederates (south) won many battles. However the Union (north) had a stronger economy and could last longer if the war dragged on. Also the Union soldiers had been improving and were becoming a better match. The Confederates wanted to score more big victories on the battlefield, in order to put political pressure on the Union to negotiate peace. So the Confederates brought the fight to the Union. Initially there were not many soldiers from either side near the town of Gettysburg. As fighting started, more and more soldiers rushed to the scene, and the battle grew to be one involving more than 150,000 soldiers. The Confederates pushed the Union out of the town of Gettysburg, and forced it into a defensive line shaped like a fish hook. As the fighting dragged on, neither side was able to break through. On the third day, the Confederates launched a massive assault hoping to push through and route the Union. This was the famous Pickett's Charge. Unfortunately for them the charge failed. The Confederates hoped to lure the Union into counter-attacking, but the Union did not take the bait. Eventually the Confederates decided to retreat, and that ended the battle. 

Gettysburg is a Martin Wallace design from 2010. At the time he was still running Treefrog. I recently noticed Allen had this game, and we hadn't played it. I suggested we should. Gettysburg is somewhat similar to Waterloo, also part of the Treefrog line-up. I have played Waterloo and I found the rules rather confusing and unintuitive. When I read the rules for Gettysburg, I struggled too. However, now that I have made a rule summary for it and played one game, I find it easier and more manageable than Waterloo

This was the situation in the early game. There weren't many soldiers on the board yet. The Confederates had a good concentration of units at the top right. The Union had a unit in the town of Gettysburg, and some units scattered at different locations. 

During game setup, most units are placed on this reinforcement chart. This chart specifies when reinforcements arrive, and where they enter the board. The Confederates are grey, and the Union blue. The black soldiers are elite Confederate infantry, while the orange soldiers are inferior Union infantry. The Union has one elite infantry unit, and it is already on the board at the start of the game, guarding Gettysburg. 

Each player has eight command blocks like this, numbered 2 to 5, two blocks in each number. To do anything on the game board, you need to have played a command block. The game is divided into three days, and each day is further divided into four phases - morning, midday, afternoon and night. By the end of the third day, if the Confederates fail to capture two victory points, the Union wins. At any time when the Confederates capture two victory points, they win immediately. 

On your turn, you have three options - play a command block, remove a command block, or play an order disc. A command block being present allows you to play an order disc, and playing an order disc allows you to activate your soldiers in the area or in an adjacent area to perform an action. The number on a command block determines how many order discs can be played, before the command block is exhausted and automatically removed. When a command block is removed, the order discs are released back to your pool. The command block is temporarily set aside. You need to have played all eight of your command blocks before exhausted command blocks are returned to your hand. 

This area has a #3 command block, which means it can allow up to three order discs. By now two order discs have been played. When you play an order disc, you issue an order to your soldiers in the area or in an adjacent area. You may order them to march, assault, fire artillery, entrench themselves, remove disruption, reinforce one another and so on. The order disc mechanism works slightly differently between the Confederates and the Union, simulating the better organisation of the Confederates. The Confederates always have many order discs and will not run out unless you are playing badly. Every phase of a day they usually have at least two opportunities to play two order discs back-to-back. This is equivalent to throwing a double punch, and it is very powerful. The Union has a limited number of order discs and they have to be managed carefully. At the end of a phase, if there are too many of its order discs remaining on the board, and it doesn't have enough free order discs for the next phase, it is forced to use black discs in lieu of order discs. Black discs are forced pass discs, which have to be played but do not activate troops. 

Battle resolution in Gettysburg is more complicated than the average Eurogame, but it is not so by wargame standards. When an assault happens, defending artillery and infantry fire first. If the attackers suffer any injury, they have to do a morale check. This morale check may result in some attackers retreating or even dying. If any attackers remain, they now get to shoot. If the defenders take any damage, they then do a morale check too. Fighting is done for two rounds, after which the attackers must retreat if any defender remains. Shooting and morale checks are resolved by die rolls. You have to look up battle resolution tables. Various factors affect the results, e.g. whether the troops are elite units, whether the troops have taken injury, whether the defenders are entrenched, whether the defenders are on high ground, and whether the defenders are being flanked. You need to take into account all these factors and try to create situations beneficial to your soldiers. 

The Play

This is a 2-player battle game. Both Allen and I were new to it. I played the Union (blue) and Allen the Confederates (grey). The last time we played an American Civil War game we did Lincoln, also a Martin Wallace game. I played the Confederates then, so this time we swapped. 

In the early game, the Confederates had a concentration of troops at the upper right, while Union troops were scattered here and there. I (Union) had two cavalry units (dark blue kneeling soldiers) and one artillery unit near the Confederate troops. There were only two cavalry units in the whole game and both belonged to the Union. Cavalry units have a special ability. When they are to take hits, they can automatically retreat to cancel one hit. Also when they do such retreats, they can bring along artillery units. So my plan was to not spend any action activating them. I would let them get attacked and then retreat automatically. That way I would save actions. I wanted to spend my actions getting other units to assemble near Gettysburg, so that they could make a united stand. Soon I realised I had forgotten an important rule. For cavalry to auto-retreat, they needed a command block nearby. 

I had hurriedly placed a command block to allow my cavalry units to auto-retreat. At this point that cavalry unit on the left had been attacked and had taken hits (blue cubes). 

Eventually I failed to save my units near the Confederate entry point. One cavalry unit and one artillery unit had been destroyed, and the other cavalry unit was now surrounded. My other units rushed to Gettysburg and prepared to make a stand. In this game the stacking limit is four units per area. 

Last photo taken before my cavalry unit was destroyed. 

Allen captured Gettysburg by playing two back-to-back order discs. Units defending in a town is at a big disadvantage. In hindsight I should have vacated the town sooner. At this point, my first batch of reinforcements was rushing towards Gettysburg. 

These were my early game casualties. Losing three artillery units was painful. The red soldier was my only elite infantry unit. 

The stars are the victory points. Triangles are hills, and domes are ridges. Hills and ridges affect the range and line of sight of artillery units. Brown cylinders are disruption markers. When units suffer from disruption, they can't fully vacate the area they are in. At least one unit will be left behind. They are also less effective in battle.  

This was still the afternoon of Day 1. The four white rectangles along the bottom of the board represent the four phases of a day. My (Union) order discs were below the third rectangle, i.e. the afternoon phase. We were re-enacting history. The Confederates had taken the town of Gettysburg, and the Union was making a stand just outside of the town. 

We were in the night phase now. We could not do assaults and we could not fire artillery. Basically no fighting at night. We could only move troops around or do entrenchment. Entrenchment is important for defenders because it makes their positions stronger in defence. In our game I did not do any entrenchment at all, because I was worried about getting flanked. If entrenched units get attacked from a direction other than where they are entrenched against, they suffer a disadvantage in battle. Entrenchment is best when you have a long solid defence line and you can't be easily flanked. 

In the photo above you can see that Allen had captured one victory point. He had many artillery units poised to bombard my units. At this point my plan was to bring my own artillery units to the front to bombard the victory point area he had captured. I wanted to soften his troops up so that I could assault and retake the victory point area. 

This was the morning of Day 2. Allen had six artillery units around the town of Gettysburg. Many of my troops had gathered around the victory point area he held. Since it was a hill, my troops were mostly out of the line of sight of his artillery units. So they were safe from bombardment. However my infantry units on the hill at the lower right were in their line of sight. Four of his artillery units could take aim at them. This was not good. 

I positioned my infantry units near the victory point area, preparing to assault once my artillery did enough damage to Allen's defenders. 

Allen had two artillery units in Gettysburg. 

I had reinforcements along the edge of the board, ready to support. Since there was a stacking limit of four, it wasn't exactly easy to move them to the front and move injured front liners backwards. 

I did not have many artillery units, and despite firing at Cemetery Hill (centre) many times, they did not cause much damage. Allen's artillery units were much more successful when firing at my troops on Culp's Hill (lower right). 

At the lower right, Allen's troops had now captured Culp's Hill. My two infantry units there had taken heavy losses from his artillery bombardment, and I moved them backwards, leaving a vacuum. My plan was to lure him in, then use fresh troops to attack him. What I miscalculated was he could move in four units and not just two, because of his double orders. Attacking four units was much more difficult. 

The white cylinders are artillery smoke. When artillery units fire, they produce smoke, and this smoke makes them targetable by enemy artillery units. Normally artillery units can only fire at infantry and cavalry units. Whenever your artillery units fire, you need to be prepared that they may now be shot at by enemy artillery units.  

Now that Allen had captured two victory points, I had little choice. I must recapture one victory point before the end of the phase. I had to launch assaults. So we didn't have Pickett's Charge in our game. Instead it was the Union which launched an almost suicidal attack. 

Unfortunately I failed in my assaults, and Allen rewrote history. After the game, we both agreed that the Union should not have retreated from Culp's Hill at the bottom right, despite the heavy losses. After all I still had many soldiers rushing to the scene and I could afford the losses. Many of Allen's soldiers were further away and would require more actions to be moved to the frontline. The other problem was I didn't make good use of entrenchment. It would have helped me defend better and reduce losses.

We found out we had made a mistake on assaults. We had made some illegal and overly powerful assaults. Normally only two units can assault, so it is quite an iffy matter. Only the Confederates can use double orders to get four units to assault at the same time. This means entrenchment is quite powerful. 

The Thoughts

Gettysburg operates at two layers - the command blocks and order discs layer, and the actual actions on the map layer. The command system simulates the difference in capabilities between the Confederates and the Union. The Union is somewhat restricted and has to handle this aspect carefully, to avoid wasting actions. It is always under pressure to quickly use up command blocks deployed, so that order discs can be freed up. This results in few Union command blocks being in play at any one time. The Confederates do not suffer from this limitation. 

The command system also creates a timing aspect to the game. To start getting anything done anywhere on the board, it always takes two turns. One turn for placing a command block and another for placing an order disc. Once you have a command block, you can place order discs turn after turn to activate your troops, until the command block is used up. The higher numbered command blocks are more efficient, because after spending one turn placing it, you can spend the next five turns executing orders. 

The second layer of actual actions on the map include marching, fighting, bombarding and getting entrenched. Many factors affect how effectively your units fight, and you are constantly trying to create conditions beneficial to them. There is a fair bit to digest. It took us a few phases to get comfortable with the whole battle resolution procedure. 

The game mechanisms do a good representation of warfare of that age, so you feel engrossed. The setup, terrain and winning condition drive the players to behave like their historical counterparts. That can be good and bad. Good because of historical accuracy and the game feeling right. Bad because sometimes you wonder whether decisions are already made for you and you are just following a script. Are you playing the game or is the game playing you? Is there enough replayability? I think despite a natural tendency for that fishhook defence line to form around the victory point areas, there is still some variability due to how each assault and artillery bombardment can turn out differently. You need to adjust and replan accordingly. There is still variability within the overarching strategic situation. 

The Union will play defensively, making full use of defensive tactics, since it has no time pressure. It also needs to play carefully and manage the disadvantages imposed on it. The Confederates are the fun and aggressive side to play, but the onus is on them to capture two victory points before time runs out. 

This is not a game you want to play many times repeatedly. It is the same battle after all, with a fixed setup. It is good to bring out once in a while, to relive and possibly change this turning point battle in the American Civil War. 

Sunday, 4 October 2020


The Game

Vinhos (which means "wines" in Portugese), is one of Vital Lacerda's earliest designs. He is a popular game designer from Portugal and he specialises in heavy Eurogames. The version of Vinhos I played was the 2010 first edition. In 2016 a deluxe edition was published and it was slightly different from the first edition. 

This is the main game board. You play business owners producing and selling wine. Your actions are all related to making wine, submitting them to fairs, and selling them to earn money and fame. 

Every player has a player board, with enough space for four estates. The three slots in the upper half of an estate are for vineyards and wineries, and the lower half is its storage yard. The storage yard initially only stores up to two years' worth of production. It can be upgraded to a cellar to store up to four years' worth of production. Having a proper cellar improves the wine quality too. 

These nine spaces at the centre of the board indicate the nine types of actions you get to perform. To perform an action, simply move your pawn to the corresponding space. Normally your pawn may only move 1 step (including diagonally). If you move further than that, you pay $1. If you go to space with other pawns, you pay $1 to each owner of these pawns. 

This chart is also a countdown timer. You only play 6 rounds. Notice there are six spaces with circles numbered 1 and 2. These indicate the two actions you get to perform every round. By default you only have 12 actions in the whole game. There is a way to perform additional actions. The wooden pawn is the progress marker. If your pawn lands in the same space as the wooden pawn, you pay $1 to the bank. 

This is a map of Portugal, with 8 regions. With 3 players, one region is out of play. You buy vineyards from the regions. Vineyards produce either red wine or white wine. You may only buy the topmost vineyard of a stack. Vineyards from each region come with a different special power. 

This section of the board is the bank. On the left you have your account balance. On the right is a status indicating whether you are taking a loan and need to pay interest every round, or you have a fixed deposit and will earn interest every round. When you sell wine, you don't receive cash. The money goes to your bank account first. You have to visit the bank to withdraw cash. In the 2016 deluxe version this mechanism is removed. Money is very tight in Vinhos. You must spend carefully. At game end, your account balance may give you victory points. See the numbers on the white shields. 

These three rows represent the three managers of the wine fair. The fair is held three times throughout the game. When you submit a wine for the fair, if it meets the criteria set by the managers, you get to place your barrels in the rows corresponding to the criteria you meet. Barrels here can be used in two ways. Firstly, you may spend wine to perform an extra action. Secondly, you may lock a barrel to score points. White shields mean points scored at game end, while red shields mean points scored immediately. 

The table on the left is for exporting wine. The numbers in the able specify the wine quality required. The numbers on the right are points you score immediately when you export. The numbers at the top are scored at game end, depending on who has the most barrels in the column. 

The four stacks of tiles on the right are the wine experts. They give you various special abilities, e.g. moving your pawn without needing to pay. They can also increase your fame level at fairs. 

My estate at the top left has one vineyard and two wineries, and both wineries are manned. I have also built a cellar, so I can store wine for as long as four rounds. My second estate at the top right is new. I only have one vineyard, and it is from a different region from the first estate. The border colour of the vineyard is different from that in the first estate. 

The Play

I did a 3-player game with Allen and Han. Han had played the deluxe version before, while Allen and I were new. 

One thing we felt throughout the game was the scarcity of actions. There were many things we could do and wanted to do, but we didn't have enough actions, and we didn't have enough money either. So we had to choose. We had to let go of some of our wishes. Every Euro was precious. We were reluctant to give even 1 Euro to another guy for moving our pawn to an occupied action space. We had to do forward planning, thinking a few steps ahead, because it helped control money spent on moving pawns. We tried to anticipate what others would do. We tried to plan the movement of our pawns to minimise skipping and running into other pawns. 

The fairs are designed to encourage competition, and all of us spent effort jostling for fame. The fame level is not reset between fairs, so if you grab an early lead, you may be able to maintain that lead for the rest of the game. Points to be gained at the fairs keep increasing, so the fairs are hard to resist. I didn't do very well at the fairs, and by the third one, I decided to give up. I didn't even submit a wine, because I saved my wines for other scoring opportunities and actions.  At the time I considered the victory point difference between first and last positioned players at the third fair. It was 10VP, not insignificant, but if it was going to take so many actions for me to try to catch up, it might not be worthwhile. 

What I decided to focus on instead was export. I produced high quality wines for export, which was a direct way of scoring points. This turned out to be a more efficient way of gaining points for me. Allen and Han later did come to compete, but they didn't invest as much effort. I was a little surprised at the final scoring to find that I won, because I had been struggling with the fairs throughout the game. I had thought I did poorly overall. The exports helped me tremendously. 

The three fairs in the game are held after Round 3, 5 and 6, which means you have less and less time to prepare for each subsequent fair. Now it was the end of Round 5, i.e. we were preparing for the second fair. The wooden pawn was in the second row, third column. 

This was Han's player board. He owned four estates! He produced a lot of wine. However he said his problem was they were mostly of low quality. 

This was Allen's player board. Both he and I owned fewer estates and didn't produce as much as Han. However we had spent more effort on increasing quality. Allen had cellars at both his estates. He also had two wineries at both. 

The Thoughts

Vinhos is a development game. It is satisfying to gradually build your own wine business. There is a strong feeling of scarcity in this game, in terms of both actions and money. So many things you want to do, but so little time. This is a good sign. There are difficult decisions to make - meaningful decisions. You really have to think carefully about how you spend every action and every cent. This is an open information game, so things can slow down sometimes due to analysis paralysis. Try not to take too long on your turn. Do your planning on other players' turns. Anyhow, you do need to plan a few turns ahead. 

Friday, 25 September 2020

Crystal Palace

The Game

Crystal Palace is a game about the 1851 world fair in London, the Crystal Palace being the main exhibition hall of the event. You play as countries participating in the fair, and you want to put up the most impressive show to win fame. 

Crystal Palace features a dice placement mechanism. Dice are your workers. You place them at various locations to get things done. You get to decide the values of your dice. The higher the value of a die, the more powerful it is, as in it gets to perform an action earlier, perform it in a more profitable way, or it enjoys the privilege of being able to act at all. However, the higher the value of a die, the more expensive it will be for you. You have to pay your dice (workers). 

The game comes with many boards! This looks intimidating, but you can view them as just three types of boards. That largest one on the right is the admin board. It is just three tracks for you to mark your score, your income level, and your buzz level. At the centre you can see one board with a single track. That's the black market. You send assistants here to gain various benefits. All the other boards are just locations where you place your dice (workers) to gain resources / do stuff. The eight locations are separate boards because you need to use a different board or a different side of the board depending on your player count. The game supports 2 to 5 players. I guess it is possible for the publisher to create two large double sided game boards, each side of each game board for a specific player count. Maybe they do it the current way due to cost considerations. 

This is a player board. There are 5 player boards in the game and they are double side, so there are 10 countries you can pick from. The countries are different, specifically in the left column. You have one assistant here which you can advance to score points, if you fulfil a certain criteria. This difference drives players to pursue slightly different goals. 

The ten spaces in the middle can be filled using loan tiles or research tiles. At game end, if there are still empty spaces, you lose 2 victory points (VP) per space. When you take a loan, you lose 8 to 10 VP. Even if you manage to repay the loan, that penalty only reduces to 5 VP. Ideally you want fill the spaces with research tiles. On the right you keep track of your newspapers - one of the resources in the game. Newspapers can be gained in a few ways, and at any time they can be redeemed for other items, e.g. a new die, some cash, a gear. 

Along the bottom you can see the procedures of a game round. You start with everyone secretly setting his dice values. Once you are done, all dice are revealed, and you take turns placing dice - one die per player at a time. After that you resolve each location - players who have dice at a location perform actions. Then the orange, blue and green powers activate. Some of your cards, tiles, assistants give you such powers. 

The game is played over five rounds. You play years 1849, 1850 and 1851, two rounds per year except for 1851, because the fair will be held in the second half of the year. 

Let's look at the dice placement mechanism. At the location board on the left you can see two rows of squares. The first row has five squares and the second row four. Spaces in the first row indicate die values. These are the minimum requirements to place a die. Above the rightmost space there is a £2 icon, which means when you place a die here, you must pay £2. 

When it is time to perform actions, you check who has the highest valued die in the first row. In the case of ties, the leftmost die wins. The player with the highest die moves first. He moves his die to the first space in the second row, and performs the action associated with the location board. In this example here, there are newspaper icons in the first two spaces in the second row. This means players who move their dice here each gain one newspaper. 

If there are five dice placed in the first row, one of them will not be used to perform an action, because there are only four actions available. If you are the poor last guy with no more action space available for you, you get a £1 compensation. You may forfeit your action when it is your turn to move a die to the second row. If you voluntarily forfeit an action, you get no compensation. 

This location board on the left is the patent office. You get patents here. A patent can later be transformed into a prototype. When you do that, you score points, and you also gain some benefit. You need to pay resources to make a prototype. Usually the earlier you build it, the more points it is worth. 

Everyone starts the game with four dice. You leave two dice in your colour at the centre of the table. There are ways to gain more dice during the game. With more dice, potentially you get to do more things, but you will likely be paying more too. 

This location - the Reform Club - is for recruiting characters. The difference between characters and patents is you must immediately pay when you recruit a character. 

On the right you have the income track. It determines how much cash you earn every round. By default, your income level drops by three every round, after you collect income. This is scary, because if you hit rock bottom, you will lose points and you will lose money. It takes conscious effort to keep yourself from hitting bottom. 

On the left you have your buzz track. Buzz is another resource type. When your buzz reaches specific levels, you gain some one-time benefits. At certain milestones, you may claim privileges. Privileges give you something every round. You may claim at most two privileges per game, and you can't change them once you claim them. If you think you will move far on the buzz track, you should wait until you reach a higher milestone to claim the better privilege. If you are not ambitious, just claim the first two you can get your hands on. 

This is the black market. If you have assistants here, during the green phase of a round, you'll gain something. If you voluntarily remove an assistant who is at step 3 or higher, you get one gear (a type of resource). There is a danger here. If at any time the black market is filled up, the cops come and disperses everyone, except for that last assistant who called the cops. 

We did a full 5-player game, and I think that's the most interesting player count. 

The Play

You do lots of stuff in Crystal Palace. They are all centred around the dice placement mechanism. You collect stuff and eventually try to score points. Prototypes and characters are two important sources of points, but there are also many others sources to consider. Generally you try to identify the most lucrative sources of points and you maximise your actions to gain points efficiently. 

Money is tight. We were all wary of taking loans, but eventually no one could avoid loans. It was only a matter of how soon and how much. I was particularly adamant in avoiding loans and I was thrifty. In hindsight, that might not have been such a good idea. It should not be about avoiding loans. It should be about making sure taking the loan is worth the VP penalty, i.e. you will gain enough victory points to justify taking the loan. To save money, I often set my dice to low values. Going into the final round, I had few resources left and felt there wasn't a lot I could do, so I set low dice values to reduce money spent and to avoid loans. In hindsight, I should have been more aggressive and still tried to do something with that final round. 

The dice placement mechanism creates interesting situations. You need to watch what your opponents are trying to do, to help you decide which die you should deploy first, and where to deploy it to. As long as another player still has a die that is higher than your current highest die, there is a risk that you may not get to do what you want. That guy may come from behind to deny you. 

I feel engine-building is slightly lacking. There are ways to gain permanent powers, but there are not many such powers, and you collect them like odd pieces here and there, as opposed to being able to go in with a plan and a clear area of focus. Often competition is tactical in nature. You are analysing the board to find what's most beneficial at that point in time. You are not really building up to something. You are constantly seeking and fighting for short-term wins. 

One action in the game lets you sacrifice a die to gain points. We nicknamed this "selling piglets" (Cantonese: maai zyu zai) - the practice of sending people overseas to work as coolies. In the late 19th century and early 20th century,  many people from southern China went overseas to work as contract labourers. In Crystal Palace, doing this in the early game was lucrative, and one of us did it in the very first round. I wasn't entirely sure it was a good move, since losing 1 out of 4 dice meant losing 25% of your workforce. However, later in the game I was the one who grabbed the remaining coolie actions, because I was cheap and didn't want to feed my people. 

One thing I didn't spend attention on but somehow managed to gain a lot of was the newspapers. At one point I had 6 (max possible was 7). I hadn't been using them for most of the game, and only later on I realised how handy they could be. Sometimes when you desperately need a particular resource, newspapers can come to the rescue. You convert them to the resource you need. At one point the other players started asking me whether I collected old newspapers as a part-time job. In residential areas in Kuala Lumpur, you often hear small lorries driving around with loudspeakers blasting, "Old newspaper, old battery, suratkhabar lama, bateri lama."

The red 2 has just been screwed by the blue 5. The blue 5 was placed last. By placing the 5, the 2 would become the smallest number and would not be able to perform any action. The blue player will be the first to perform an action, followed by the white player (because his die is the leftmost among the 4's), and finally the red player (for the 4). The red player will need to pay £2 when performing the action, because the third action space requires that. 

Location 4 on the right - Westminster - is where you get to increase your influence. You gain some resources whenever you level up. Most importantly your influence affects the salaries of your characters. In most cases they get cheaper when you have more influence. In this photo you can see the white player has maxed out, while the blue player has given up. 

This is where you collect patents. 

This is where you recruit characters. Some characters combo with patents / prototypes. When you have a combo, you score extra points. You do need to turn the patents to the prototype side though. 

The red 3 was placed before the black 3. The red player didn't place it in the leftmost space because he wanted to take the assistant action (white icon). 

When you decide how to set the values of your dice, you can do it behind this little box, and then hide your dice under the box once you are done. 

Tim (yellow) filled the black market, and kicked everyone else out! Party pooper! When the black market was two slots from getting filled up, he took an action which let him place two assistants at once. I didn't see that coming and was caught off guard. 

This was Jeff's player board. He had already filled up the ten spaces at the centre. Some were loans, but he had six research tiles. Not bad! 

This was Tim's player board. His assistant had reached the highest level. He needed to have 5 research tiles to be able to reach the top, and he had that. 

I had the patent for the crystal palace. This was an unusual one. It only scored points if it was converted to the prototype side in the final round, i.e. in 1951. Normally patents score more when they are converted earlier. I set aside 2 energy and 2 gears to build the crystal palace in the final round. 

By late game, our buzz levels had not progressed very far. Most of us had claimed our privileges early (the small round discs), because we didn't except to climb far. 

The Thoughts

Crystal Palace is a heavy Eurogame. The most important element in the game is the dice placement mechanism. It is the core on which the rest of the game was built. The dice placement mechanism introduces interesting tactics and novel player interaction. Money is tight. This is a challenge that I like. Borrowing money is scary. What's important is knowing the worth of loans and making them work for you. 

Overall I feel the game somewhat lacks engine-building. I didn't feel like I was building up my capabilities. There are some permanent abilities you can gain throughout the game. It's just that they feel disjointed and they don't feel impactful. I didn't feel I was deliberately pursuing a particular strategy. I was mostly trying to identify the most lucrative action of the moment, and hoping to beat others to it. So the game felt tactical to me (vs being strategic). The country-specific scoring criteria is there to push players towards slightly different directions, but it felt shallow to me because it's quite easily done as long as you don't forget to do it. There is no struggle or tension. I guess it does achieve its goal, because players do what it wants them to do. I feel like I'm completing homework before the end of the school holidays, as opposed to enthusiastically performing actions which align to my strategic goal.