Saturday, 30 May 2009

Through the Ages again and again

My blog is starting to look like a photo gallery for games of Through the Ages. I can't help taking photos every time I play Through the Ages. Every game tells a story, a history of civilisations. So, here are some more histories...

A game played on 23 May 2009. My civilisation at the end of the game. It doesn't seem particularly intesting here, until you see the next picture...

... and realise that I have SIX colonies. I have so many extra yellow tokens in this game. The stars simply aligned perfectly in this game for me, in terms of colonisation. I drew many colonisation bonus cards. Almost every time that a colony came up, I had just enough military units and bonus cards to beat Michelle in winning the colony. I did lose one colony due to an event, but it was a minor loss. The colonies gave me a lot of population, so I didn't need many farms to produce food for population growth. James Cook gave to 2pts per colony per turn. He was the game winner for me. Notice that incomplete wonder. I miscalculated, and suffered corruption on my 2nd last turn, thus I failed to complete the Internet.

Michelle's civilisation. She actually did quite well, and caught up a lot towards the end game. She changed government 3 times! She did have a lot of science and could afford it.

Michelle's wonders, colonies, special technologies and leaders.

The gameboard at game end.

A game played on 24 May 2009. My civilisation at game end. This was probably the first time I built an airforce. In this game we were both nervous about each other's military. We were both reluctant to play event cards, fearing events that punish the militarily weak. We still had Age I events unresolved by Age III. Actually there weren't many events punishing the weak. It was just groupthink causing the arms race.

My wonders, special technologies and leaders. Michaelangelo contributed much culture. Game Designer not much, since he came quite late. I took him in only because I had lots of civil actions to spare.

This was the game end, before the last four events were resolved. Michelle was only 2pts ahead of me! What a close game!

The first game end event card was one that I had planted, and was prepared for. Not that Michelle didn't guess that this was coming. She decided she needed to pay attention to other aspects of her civilisation instead of spending so many resources on building up military. So, I was awarded 10pts for being militarily stronger.

Out of four game end event cards, three were planted by me, and they all benefited me more. So I overtook Michelle and won the game.

Michelle's civilisation. I think one reason I had more good events at game end was that I had many more military actions than her. Military actions allowed you to draw more military cards at thus give you a higher chance of drawing event cards good for you. Also having more military actions means you can spend some on building military units, and still have some left over to allow you to draw cards. Michelle never increased her military actions throughout this game. Usually she likes to gain military strength and military actions through special techs and arenas (as opposed to just military units). Michelle had quite a strong tactics card in this game. We both spent more effort than usual on military. She even played an aggression against me once, successfully, and took 7 culture points from me.

Michelle had Cook, but not many colonies to make use of Cook's power of generating 2 culture points per colony per turn. Well, that's better than me. I didn't have any colony.

Our science and culture rates at game end.

Friday, 29 May 2009

what do jaded gamers look forward to?

I became a hobby gamer in around 2003-2004. My addiction to started at that time too. Having been buying games, reading about games and playing games so much for the past 5 years, I sometimes find myself a little jaded, a little tired of recurring themes in games, recurring game mechanics, recurring arguments and complaints at BGG, recurring inside jokes. Quite often when I read game reviews, I just skip to the conclusion paragraph. If it sounds interesting, I go back to start at the beginning. Maybe it's information overload.

Many games get published every year, and there is a lot of information on the internet about them. However I find that it is becoming rarer and rarer that a new game would interest me. Sometimes just looking at a few pictures of a game and reading a few comments of it are enough to turn me off the game. I can't even muster the will to read a review. Don't even talk about going through the rules (which many game publishers now post onto the internet - a good thing). I'm probably being completely unfair to these games, not giving them a chance at all. Games like Royal Palace, Stone Age, Diamonds Club, A Castle for all Seasons, Finca. These are all mostly getting positive reviews, but I simply can't muster much interest. I probably sound like a Euro-bashing Ameritrasher. Even with new Ameritrash games, there aren't many that interest me either, and I don't name them here because I don't even remember their names.

Being picky about games is good for my wallet. However, despite this so-called jadedness, I still have a lot of games on my watchlist, and I don't think I will be able to meet my (probably too unrealistic) target of buying only 12 games in 2009. I'm already at 10 games bought. Maybe 20 is a more realistic target. Games that interest me usually satisfy one of these conditions:

  1. ... has something unique - a mechanic, a theme, etc. Space Alert is a real-time and cooperative game. Tales of the Arabian Nights, a game where you build a story. Somehow, I don't really have a Friedemann Friese game hot on my watchlist at the moment, although he's famous for quirky themes. I do have Fauna in the lukewarm section of my watchlist, and, pardon my snobbishness, it was there before it got the Spiel des Jahres nomination.
  2. ... is an expansion of a game I like. Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs Imperium, 2nd expansion to my most played game. Keltis expansion - the one with the alternate board. There are many spin-offs of the Keltis brand, Reiner Knizia's first SdJ-winning game. Galaxy Trucker expansion. Tribune expansion. Pandemic: On the Brink.
  3. ... is by a designer I like, and is of a type of game that I like. Automobile by Martin Wallace, which the designer himself likes a lot. However somehow his After the Flood and Waterloo do not interest me much. Le Havre by Uwe Rosenberg of Agricola fame, which I have already bought. I'm also watching his upcoming Gates of Loyang.
  4. ... is something new to me. I'm thinking of getting into some simpler wargames, thus Conflict of Heroes. I have played two block wargames (admittedly probably at the easier end of the spectrum), Hammer of the Scots and Crusader Rex. Should I try Rommel in the Desert?

Chicago Express is a game that I'm interested in but can't quite categorise. It's sounds interesting to me, in that the rules are simple but their interaction is complex. This is a game that's quick but the decisions are tough.

I wonder how long these games will last until they gradually drop to the lukewarm or cold sections of my watchlist. My watchlist has more than 130 games, because I rarely delete games from it. They just gradually get downgraded. It's good to hold off buying games, because sometimes after waiting half a year or more, some games will become less interesting compared to when I first heard of them, and they will be downgraded. Less games to buy. Money saved. Newer games also tend to push older games down the list. So it's good to procrastinate.

Umm... I hope I'm not making anyone's wallet bleed more than it should by naming so many games here...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Agricola solo

Agricola has solo rules, and I decided to give it a try. You can play a solo campaign, consisting of 8 games. In each game there is a target score and you must meet this target. For every 2 points by which you exceed the target, you get 1 free food for the next game. Also for each game you can "freeze" one of your Occupations played in that game, to become a free and permanent Occupation from the next game onwards. One big difference is adults eat 3 food instead of 2 when harvests come. Also the 3 wood space only gets 2 wood every round. Other than that the rules are mostly the same as the 2-player game.

I completed one campaign. I didn't quite like it. I don't think I'll play another solo game again. Without competition, it becomes a game of micro-planning - you plan a few turns ahead when to take what goods, or when to take which actions. The 3-food requirement is tough at the earlier stages of the game, but once you build up your food engine, the game becomes too easy (or someone please point out if I played wrong). You can max out almost everything - 5 family members, stone house with 5 rooms, 5 fields, 4 vegetables, 8 grain, 8 sheep, etc etc. It becomes an exercise in squeezing out every single point you can from the game system. Reviewers of Agricola say that it is good because you can't have everything, that the game ends before you can do all that you want to do. Having played a solo campaign, I feel this deeply. When you can do almost everything, and have to do bean-counting to squeeze out that one more Minor Improvement worth 1 point, it isn't very fun or tense anymore.

The variety in the Minor Improvements and Occupations helps to make it tolerable. Having some free Occupations at the start of the game is fun and helps a lot. I had Wet Nurse from Game 2 onwards, which helped tremendously in this campaign.

I find that solo versions of games tend to be a poorer substitute for the real thing. Call me dirty-minded, but I can't help thinking about the analogy of another fun exercise that's better with a partner than by yourself (and let's not start talking about 3-player games...). Race for the Galaxy has a quite different solo game. I do play it now and then, but I definitely prefer playing against real opponents to playing against the robot. I find the Agricola solo game much less interesting than the multiplayer game. Pandemic is a pretty good solo game, maybe because it's cooperative. There is much tension in where diseases will pop up and what cards you'll draw. In Agricola's solo game, the only unknown is the order in which the round cards turn up. I rarely bother to analyse or plan around that.

I took a lot of photos of my Agricola solo campaign. I had thought it would be interesting to analyse, but after finishing the games I just couldn't be bothered. Since I have spent so much effort taking the photos, I don't want it to go to waste. Maybe someone else will find this interesting. So here they are. The photos of my 8 games will generally be in this order:

  1. Occupation and Minor Improvement cards that I was dealt, and starting Occupations from previous games.
  2. Cards that I have played by game end.
  3. My farm.
  4. The order in which the round cards appeared.

Game 1

62pts vs target of 50pts. Occupation kept: Hedge Keeper, because wood is scarce in the solo game. With Hedge Keeper, when you build at least one fence, you get to build 3 more for free. I find it hard to build all four stables in the solo game.

Game 2

61pts vs target of 55pts. Occupation kept: Wet Nurse - when you have spare rooms in your home, you can have kids by paying 1 food, without needing to take the family growth action. I find this a very strong card. I also notice that building the Well Major Improvement is important to maximise your score. It's 4pts.

Game 3

66pts vs target of 59pts. The Sack Cart and Plowman combination was interesting. They allowed me to get one grain and plow one field in rounds 5, 8 and 11 very cheaply. One big difference in the solo campaign is Minor Improvements listing the number of Occupations you have as a requirement. Since you already start with free Occupations, these requirements become easier and easier to fulfill. Occupation kept: Plowman.

Game 4

67pts vs target of 62pts. Occpation kept: Lord of the Manor - 1pt per category where you score the full 4pts. Pretty powerful card, because in solo games you tend to score the full 4pts for most categories. My farm layout is becoming quite stardardised - 5 spaces for a 5-room stone house, 5 fields, and 5 spaces for pastures. One problem with this layout is I can't easily max out on all 3 types of animals (8 sheep, 7 wild boars, 6 cattle).

Game 5

78pts vs target of 64pts. Big jump in scoring because I had the Mansion Minor Improvement. This is a tough one to build, but I guess not so tough in a solo game. The Animal Pen was a no-brainer. It was a windfall. You also see the Well appearing again. Occupation kept: Fieldsman - if you sow 1 field you get 2 extra grain/vege, if you sow 2 fields you get 1 extra grain/vege in each field.

Game 6

76pts vs target of 65pts. The Planter Box and Fieldsman combination allowed me to have two stacks of 6 grain each sowed. I sowed them in Stage I, and they were fully harvested only at game end (Stage VI). Occupation kept: Chief's Daughter - 1pt if you have a clay hut, 3pt if you have a stone house.

Game 7

80pts vs target of 66pts. Occupation kept: Carpenter - when you build a new room, you only need 2 reed + 3 (instead of 5) of the appropriate material. This is very very handy, and I was very lucky to draw this one, considering that in this game I only got to draw one new Occupation card at the start of the game (because I already had 6 free Occupations). I had the Ranch Minor Improvement - you can play it after you have filled up all your farmyard spaces, and you receive 1pt and 2 food per round not yet started. I filled up the spaces in round 8, and played Ranch in round 9.

Game 8

81pts vs target of 67pts. 6 Major Improvements built. In the last few games I didn't even fully utilise the Plowman's ability to plow 1 field for 1 food in rounds 5, 8 and 11. Before Round 11 I had already plowed all 5 fields that I had planned to plow.