Thursday, 3 January 2008

Blokus Trigon, Hare & Tortoise, Carcassonne Hunters & Gatherers, Carcassonne The City

On 30 Dec 2007 I played Blokus Trigon, Hare & Tortoise, Carcassonne Hunters & Gatherers, and Carcassonne The City at Carcasean. All were new to me, except for Carcassonne Hunters & Gatherers which I own. This session was a session with new players - Jannie, Ah Sheng, June.

Simon, Ah Sheng and I arrived earliest, so we played a quick game of Blokus Trigon. I have played Blokus a lot, but not Blokus Trigon. They are similar, but the latter uses shapes made up of triangles instead of squares, and a corner can touch an edge, unlike in Blokus where only corner can touch corner. In this game, all three of us managed to achieve perfect scores of 20, i.e. all pieces placed onto the board, and the last piece placed is the single triangle placed. I guess having only 3 players is too easy (the game comes with 4 colours) because there is more space to play. Only later I realised that when playing a 3 player game the rows next to the edge of the board should not be used, making the playable space smaller. Oops.

Simon and Ah Sheng playing Blokus Trigon.

That's me holding up the (green, of course) fox piece.

We played this very very wrong. With 3 players, you are not supposed to use the outer most row at each edge. No wonder all of us scored perfect scores.

I like Blokus. It is a simple and quick game. It can be played with lots of serious thinking and planning, but it can also be played in a light-hearted way, the way I prefer to play it. Blokus Trigon feels similar, except the shapes are different, and takes a bit of time to get used to. I don't think I need to own it. To me Blokus is sufficient, although I enjoyed Blokus Trigon.

Hare & Tortoise was the winner of the 1979 Spiel des Jahres award (Game of the Year, in Germany), the first time this prestigious award was given. It is a race game, and carrots are your fuel. You start with some carrots, and 3 lettuces. During the race, you try to collect more carrots using the different types of spaces with different types of special powers, and you must eat all 3 of your lettuces. There is some luck element (on the rabbit spaces where you need to throw a die), but it is not big, and you can choose not to stop at any rabbit space anyway. When you are ready to cross the finish line, you need to make sure you don't have too many carrots remaining, which is not allowed. So, collecting and using just the right number of carrots is important and is an interesting balancing act.

This game is interesting because you can never be too sure who is in the lead. The positions for the first three quarters of the game can be quite misleading. The players in front may be short of carrots and may not be able to run fast. The players behind may have accumulated lots of carrots and may be ready to sprint towards the finish line. This was the case in our 6 player game (6 players is supposedly the ideal number of players). I was in the lead for most of the game, and focused on eating my lettuces. Some players hung back to collect lots of carrots. Some had lots of difficulties getting to those lettuce spaces to get their lettuces eaten. In the end, the first and second placed players were the newbies - Jannie and June. I came a disgraceful third, being the most experienced boardgame player. Ah Sheng, also a newbie came fourth. Michelle, also very experienced, came fifth, because she had lots of difficulties with the lettuce spaces, and wasted much time collecting carrots inefficiently. Simon, who has been playing many boardgames with me during my holiday back in KK, came in last. He was very unlucky, because very often when he planned to go to a space, someone else will land there before he could do it, ruining his plans, and other times he ran out of carrots.

June, Simon, Ah Sheng, Jannie, Michelle, playing Hare & Tortoise.

The board of Hare & Tortoise. One funny about teaching this game to new players (to the hobby) is that they naturally assume you need to roll the dice to move your piece.

Michelle and I.

Ah Sheng and Jannie enjoying their first visit to Carcasean.

Close-up of the board.

Overall I found the game to be so-so. It is probably because we were playing with new players (new to boardgames in general, not just this particular game), so the game progressed quite slowly. And with a 6 player game, down time is of course worse. Also, there is a lot of counting we need to do - referring to the card showing how many carrots are needed to move how many spaces, and then counting whether we have enough carrots. With experience, the counting should reduce greatly, and the game should be much faster. Although my first play was rather so-so, I am still interested to play this again, to try to do better by learning from my mistakes. I definitely have room for improvement.

I taught Ah Sheng and Jannie Carcassonne Hunters & Gatherers, because I think it is simpler for new players than basic Carcassonne, because of the farmer rule. Michelle also played, so we had a four player game. They picked up the game OK, but I'm not sure how much they liked it. I myself prefer the basic plus the Inns & Cathedrals expansion over this version.

After that Michelle and I played a 2 player game of Carcassonne The City. We are both veteran Carcassonne players, and we enjoy 2 player games of it. Carcassonne The City is a more complex variation of Carcassonne. Some of the changes include only roads need to match up and markets and residential areas do not need to (similar to Carcassonne The Castle), and the walls and towers enclosing the city. You can use towers to score a stretch of wall, and you can place guards on the walls, who score at game end depending on how many public or historical buildings are in their row.

Close-up of Carcassonne The City. This is a 2 player game between Michelle (red always) and I (green always).

Michelle contemplating her next move.

The rules are moderately different, although sharing a basic structure. They are also slightly more complex, but, to me, not by too much. Overall, I found the game to be just so-so. I wonder whether it is because I didn't like the graphics, and the fact that the features do not need to match, making the city ugly. Carcassonne The Castle isn't ugly because its tiles have just squares and rectangles. Carcassonne The City has semicircles, curves, sharp edges, triangles, concave lenses (like basic Carcassonne), so when the features do not match up, they look rather unharmonious (to me). Gameplay is moderately different, so the game doesn't feel too similar to the basic Carcassonne, and is worth buying if you like the gameplay. For me it was just OK. So I can save some money. Not that I had intended to buy it. I just wanted to try it. So I'm happy now.

Michelle won the game. I joked that it was because she tricked me. When we were about to end the game (because the walls would be less than 5 spaces apart by the end of that turn), she pointed out to me a tile where I could place a wall and a guard to earn some cheap points. I did that. After that, she realised that she could put her wall right next to the one I had just place, and score big points by placing her own guard. So I joked with her that she had been planning to trick me all along.

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