Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Game of the Month

Nowadays I often play at Allen's place, and usually we have 3-player sessions, Allen, Han and I. Han suggested we do Game of the Month (GOTM), which Chris has been very successful with, and I have also been talking about but not acting on. I first read about the GOTM concept a long time ago in an article by Mark Johnson at the now-inactive The Games Journal website. Han and I have tried this before. We picked Hammer of the Scots, which we played quite a number of times over a few months. We enjoyed the games a lot. Somehow we didn't continue the GOTM, probably due to being distracted by too many new interesting games to play. Let's see how our new attempt goes.

We agreed that we will take turns naming the GOTM and deciding how many times it needs to be played. We probably won't stick to the period of one month, and will just play that game until we feel satisfied. It won't be exclusive either. We will play other games too.

Allen was first to name the GOTM, and he picked Le Havre. Although I have played this more than 10 times, I'm happy to play it because it's a game I like a lot, and I still feel there is more to explore. Also Allen has the Grand Hameau expansion, so I'll have the chance to try it.

Le Havre is a very open game that gives you many choices. It has a worker placement element, but there are many buildings available, and each player only has one worker, so even if a building you want to use is blocked, you can often find something else useful to do. Having played two games with Allen and Han recently, I find that I am still not watching my opponents enough. I still mostly try to build my own little business empire, as opposed to trying to work out what the others are doing and trying to hinder them at the same time as trying to achieve my own goals.

Le Havre being played at Allen's place. To help speed the game up, we prepare the resources as specific on the round tiles beforehand.

Other insights:

  • Building a luxury liner (needs 3 steel, which is difficult to obtain) is a very powerful move. Luxury liners are worth $30 - $38, which can often decide win or lose.
  • Plan to get ships early to help with the feeding. In one game I had both the fish related buildings which gave me lots of fish and smoked fish. They helped me avoid loans for maybe two thirds of the game, because I always had enough food for the end-of-round feeding. However in hindsight I realise they made me delay building ships, which I probably should have done earlier. When I was eventually unable to catch up with the food requirement, I suddenly went deep into debt. Building a ship earlier probably would have allowed me to spend less effort on getting food, and thus allowed me to spend more effort on making money.
  • Needing to take loans is sometimes good. When the interest payment is due and you don't have cash, you are forced to take another $4 loan to pay the $1 interest. That means you suddenly have some spare change, which can be used to pay entry fees for buildings belonging to the city or to other players. This flexibility can be very handy sometimes. I always joke that the loan sharks in Le Havre are nice people. They don't loan you money unless you are desperate (you can't borrow money, e.g. to buy a fancy building, unless you can't pay for food or pay interest), and they only charge you a $1 interest every round no matter how many loans you have.
  • I discovered that I have been playing the Marketplace wrong for many many games. When you use the Marketplace, you can look at the top two Special Building cards, and then return them to any position in the deck. Previously I thought I had to return them to the top of the deck, just that I could swap the order. Dumbest rule interpretation of the year...
  • 6 Nov 2010: Correction - Frank pointed out that I have actually been playing Marketplace right afterall. See links in comments.

We haven't quite decided (or Allen hasn't quite decided) how many games of Le Havre we will play, but Han being next to pick has decided to play 3 games of War of the Ring, i.e. each of us will play the 3 different sides once each. I still have not decided what game to pick. Maybe I will pick Factory Manager, because it's one of my 2010 purchases that has not been played much. The game can be slow at first because some of the concepts are tricky to grasp. However once the initial hurdle is over the game should be quite quick.

The central game board of Factory Manager.


Paul D. Owen said...

"Game of the Month" - what an interesting concept. My friends and I do almost exactly the opposite. We are governed by the principle, "So many games, so little time." So we seldom play the same game twice in a row.

I see that you rotate among yourselves who gets to pick the game to be played, which is a neat solution to another problem we've had: "What do you want to play?" We always used to go around and around with lists of games, trying to narrow down the field while keeping everybody happy.

We had to settle on the "King for the Day" concept, in which one person declares himself to be KftD and nominate the game to be played on a given date. It's not a strict rotation; some people just say, "I'll play whatever everybody else wants to play," and never declare themselves KftD. Others only declare KftD if there's a particular game they've been itching to play and we haven't done it in a long time.

I don't think we've ever had a conflict with two people declaring KftD on the same date; usually everybody is glad that somebody else made a decision. We always seem to have fun, and that, of course, is the bottom line.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Most of the games that I play only ever get played once, which is a shame because there are many good games that are worth playing more than once. That's why we do this GOTM thing. We want to be able to pick some games to play more of, to allow us to appreciate them more and enjoy them more.

I try to tell myself that there are so many good games out there it's quite impossible to play all of them. I prefer to sacrifice some (but not all) opportunities to play new good games, in exchange for more time to appreciate existing good games. Many good games with depth only shine after you get to know them better.

Whether to spend more time on new games or old ones, in the end, as you said, what's most important is you're having fun. :-)

Mark Johnson said...

It always warms my heart when someone mentions Game of the Month. Bonus points for mentioning The Games Journal, too. :-)

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Hi Mark,
I only got into the boardgame hobby in 2003, and The Games Journal was one of my favourite websites then. Many of the articles there are still very relevant today. Your article is probably even more relevant today, when we have so many new games coming out every year and gamers just get swamped by new releases and forget to slow down to spend more quality time.

Mr_Nuts said...

I interpreted Le Havre's Marketplace action the same way.


Hiew Chok Sien said...

:-D Thank you. That makes me feel a little better.

Cecrow said...

I thought War of the Ring only has two sides (Free Peoples, Shadow)? Guess you'll find out. ;)

Hiew Chok Sien said...

In War of the Ring indeed there's only the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other. But I think when playing with three, two players will control two different good guy factions.

Frank Conradie said...

Regarding the Marketplace in Le Havre - you actually used to play it correctly!

Frank Conradie said...

Yet another confirmation that you can only return the 2 special buildings to the top of the deck comes from how it is implemented in the PC game:

The Marketplace: In the long game, if you enter the Marketplace you get to see the two topmost special buildings lying on the special buildings stack. These will be displayed only if the game still is to build any special buildings. In this case a special dialog window pops up that shows you the two buildings and lets you choose which one to place on top. It also informs you which players will be the first to use these buildings once they are built. Double-click on the building you want to be on top or hit the button if you're content with their order. The left one will be on top, the right one underneath.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Thanks for digging up these two discussion threads. I have not been playing Marketplace wrong afterall. However in a way I was a little disappointed. I thought it was pretty cool if you could return the two cards anywhere in the deck. I guess that would make the Marketplace a bit too powerful.