Monday, 31 May 2010

Die Handler

I have heard of Die Handler (The Trader?) before, known to be a good Eurogame that was never published in English and never republished after going out of print, but never tried to find out what it was about. At the Wesak Day game session at Old Town Kopitiam Cheras on Fri 28 May 2010, Jeff brought it, and taught Afif, Han and I to play.

Note: Some photos are courtesy

The Game

In this game the players are traders trying to make money by delivering goods from one city to another. The money earned is then used to increase your social standing. The catch is once you've achieved a certain status, you will need to pay an upkeep cost every round, depending on how high you are on the chart. We joked that it's not cheap being a Datuk. You need to maintain a good income. At the end of the game the highest ranked player wins, tie breaker being cash on hand.

Some background: Tun, Tan Sri and Datuk are Malaysian honourary titles awarded to people who have made significant contributions to the country. Tun is the highest title and is very rarely awarded, followed by Tan Sri and Datuk. In some states there are lesser titles in addition to these.

There are six cities on the board, linked by roads. Every city produces 3 types of goods. There are 3 wagons which start in different cities, and these are shared by all players. At the start of every round each player produces up to 3 goods. This can be all done in one city or split up. If there are wagons in cities waiting for cargo loading, the players do a blind bid to become wagon master. The wagon master can load up to 3 of one type of goods. The others can only load up to 2 of other types of goods, but this is subject to negotiation with the wagon master. They have to agree on a price. The wagon master may choose not to load your goods. Due to the rules for loading goods, sometimes you can guess your opponents' intentions by looking at the number and types of goods they have in the city. Two players each with two red goods may actually hope that a 3rd player with only white goods will become wagon master, so that they won't have to spend on the bidding, and they will still be able to load their goods. But then, the 3rd player may decide to be nasty and not load any of their goods.

The whole game board.

Once loading is done, players start moving wagons. Each player has 4 movement cards numbered 1 to 4, and every round you can only use one of them. Once used they are turned face down, and will only become available after all 4 are used. The wagon master has no control over wagon movement. Anyone can move any wagon. Wagons can only move in one direction, so if you drive a wagon into a road leading to one city, it cannot turn back. This is important because goods can be sold at a higher price in a city not producing the same goods type. Also you may have goods waiting to be picked up at that city.

When a wagon reaches a city, all goods are sold. There is a market mechanism in the game. All goods start cheap, but the prices can increase up to 4 times. However, once the price hits the peak, if someone tries to increase it again, it will crash back to the bottom rung. Before any goods are sold, every player secretly assigns 0, 1 or 2 goods to boost the prices of.

The stock market chart for the 6 goods types. The number on the left is the buying price, and on the right the selling price.

On the left, a wagon, for illustration purposes only. In the real game no one can load 3 types of goods. The shields on the sides of the wagon tell which goods belong to who. On the right, the courier. At the bottom, the disk which you use for secretly assigning two goods types to increase the prices of. You can decide not to push any by pointing both hands at your shield (like in this photo). You can move the game goods type twice, or you can move two different goods types once each.

After you make money, you first pay for upkeep of your title, before spending money to increase up to two steps on the social standing chart. The cost to move up increases as the game proceeds. If you can't pay upkeep, your social standing crashes down to the level which you can pay upkeep for. This can be very painful.

The social standing chart. The number on the left is the upkeep cost to maintain your status.

There are some special powers auctioned off at the start of the game, allowing players to do various fancy stuff, e.g. extra moves for the wagon, adjusting market price, buying goods cheaply. There is a courier piece (a horse rider) in the game. If on your turn you can move a wagon to meet the courier (or vice versa), you get to choose a one-time-use bonus card. These cards have various cool abilities and there are only 3 copies each. They are discarded from the game once used.

The game ends at the end of a round after a certain number of deliveries have been made. For 4 players, it's 8 deliveries.

The Play

Our game started peacefully enough. All goods get loaded, sometimes after some haggling. There were some "misdirecting" of wagons to deny one another the bonus selling price of goods, or to secure it for one's own goods. I was the ambitious one, taking two steps on the social standing chart, when the rest were more conservative and only took one step. Jeff and I monopolised the courier the whole game. We both had special abilities to move the courier and to make the wagon move extra steps. We were the only ones getting bonus cards.

Early in the game, at the city of Genoa. The track above the city indicates the bonus price margin if you deliver goods that are not produced here. This bonus increases every round that no delivery is made, and resets when a delivery is made.

As the game proceeded, I continued to stay in the lead, with everyone else one step behind. This was probably a bad thing, since I was directing all the negative Qi at myself. Advancing early had its benefits, because the cost to advance was cheaper, but then I also had to manage the upkeep cost. Things started going bad when the Broken Axle card struck, played by Jeff. It, of course, hit the wagon which I needed most urgently. The wagon could not move that turn, and my unhappy customers wouldn't pay me because of the delay, despite my pleading and my perfect past record. Ungrateful peasants! Thankfully that round I was still able to pay the upkeep cost. I retained my Datukship, but had no money to progress any further. Everyone else was catching up or overtaking me. Without the Broken Axle, I think the game would have ended that round, and I probably would have won. So the Broken Axle was a very well-timed move by Jeff, who was in last position at that time.

Broken Axle was played on this wagon. I (orange shield) had two black goods, Jeff (blue) had 1 red good, and Afif (pink) 1 red and 1 purple. The track on the left tracks the number of deliveries made and also the cost for promotion. It is also the countdown timer for game end.

Things became quite interesting in the last round. I had the bonus card that allowed me to "naik pangkat" (get promoted) for $1200 per level. In the final round it would cost $3000 per level. However, I was quite low on cash. I had enough cash to pay the $1000 upkeep for the Datukship, and should be able to earn some money that round. Han was a Tan Sri (2nd highest title), and the rest of us were Datuks (3rd highest title). If I could earn some money, I would be able get promoted, possibly even by two levels to Tun. $2400 was not a lot of money. I had been keeping that bonus card precisely for this purpose.

Han (yellow) was the only Tan Sri at the start of the final round. The rest of us were Datuks.

The wagon that had the Broken Axle repaired would hopefully reach its destination (unless Jeff had yet another Broken Axle card). There was another wagon at another city which could load goods and had a chance of making the delivery within this last round. Jeff, Han and Afif all had goods in that city. I had none. When it was time to bid, I thought: although I had no interest in loading goods, from the experience in previous rounds, it was not unusual to spend money to win the wagon master privilege, and then earn back most of it by collecting (cough*bribes*cough) loading fees; then why not try to win the privilege, and charge all of them an arm and a leg? I might make a profit. Afterall it was the last opportunity they had to deliver goods. The other Broken-Axle-fixed wagon had 1 of Jeff's goods and 2 of Afif's. If they decided my price was too high, I could just deny them the loading rights and this last chance of making a delivery. I think I surprised all three of them when I won the wagon master privilege.

This was the wagon that I won wagon master privilege for. I (orange shield) had no goods in this city. From left to right, Afif (pink) had 3 browns and 1 purple, Jeff (blue) had 2 purples and 2 blacks, and Han (yellow) had 3 blacks.

I asked for $900 from each of them to load their goods. Han didn't have enough money and declined. Afif and Jeff discussed for quite some time. The wagon would need at least two players moving it to be able to reach another city, so it was either they both loaded goods (so that they both had an interest in it), or the wagon wouldn't complete a delivery. I think Jeff wanted to load, but Afif decided no. So there was no loading afterall. I was actually secretly hoping to receive this $1800 bribe, although I put on a "take it or leave it" air, lest they try to haggle. When Afif said no, my heart sank. I think I spent $1100 on that privilege which did me no good at all, even though I ruined everyone else's plans.

After the final delivery, Afif could afford to move up one more step to Tan Sri (2nd highest rank). The rest of us only managed to retain our statuses. Afif was winner by tiebreaker, $700 to Han's $500. Jeff at 3rd position beat me by tiebreaker too. He had $1200 and I had $600. If Afif and Jeff had paid me that $1800, I would have had exactly $2400 to upgrade myself two levels to Tun! Too bad they didn't take the bait. Of course they would have made money, but I suspect neither of them would have been able to reach Tun.

What a tense last two rounds it was! My head was actually throbbing a bit from all that scheming and strategising and double guessing.

One hilarious moment in that last round was the market manipulation. I had two black goods delivered, and I knew everyone would be trying to crash the price, to minimise my profit. The black goods price was around the middle of the market chart, i.e. it could easily be pushed over the top and crash. I made a gamble, pushing its price up twice myself. When all the market manipulation disks were flipped over, so many people pushed black that it not only went over the top and crashed, it climbed the whole chart again all the way to the highest price! I raised my arms in exultation, and probably would have howled in delight if we were not at a public place. Then Jeff reminded me - Afif had the Large Office, which could push the price of one good after all the price movements done by the players. Needless to say, black crashed all the way to the bottom. Aarrgghh! Who said Eurogames are all nice and tame? Why am I getting saboteurs wrecking my wagon and unscrupulous market analysts crashing my stock prices?

The Thoughts

Die Handler is a game with quite a number of moving parts - the goods production and delivery, the wagon master bidding and negotiations, the goods prices manipulation, the social status chart, the courier and bonus cards, and the unique abilities auctioned off at game start which impact all of these areas. Thankfully none of these are complex, and amazingly everything ties together quite well.

There is blind bidding / simultaneous secret selection in the game, for the wagon master privilege and for the market price manipulation. So you need to read your opponents. You can try to psycho them to do what you want them to do, via table talk. There is no randomness, since the choices are all made (albeit secretly) by the players. Sometimes your guess will be lucky, sometimes not. This aspect reminds me of Alladin's Dragon, Dungeon Lords and the selling phase of For Sale.

Negotiations is also an important aspect of the game. How much do you charge to let others load their goods? Quite often players need to cooperate due to vested interests in the same things. E.g. they want to move the wagon on which they have goods, or they want to push the price up for a goods type that they are selling this round. There is a tension between cooperating and competing, and also in the negotiations. Negotiation in games can sometimes cause hard feelings (e.g. in Quo Vadis, Greed Incorporated, Chinatown) due to unfairness (perceived or otherwise), so not everyone likes it. It isn't the central mechanism in Die Handler, but it is an important part.

I was surprised to later find out that this game was designed by the team of Wolfgang Kramer and Richard Ulrich, who also designed the highly regarded Princes of Florence and El Grande. Die Handler is a pretty decent medium complexity game. There is zero randomness in the game. It is a very high player interaction game, and cooperation and competition among players are very fluid. We played with four players, and I suspect this is the ideal count. I can't imagine playing this with 2 players. I think it would be rather boring.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Mare Nostrum

On Sat 22 May 2010, Chee Seng, Sui Jye, Jing Yi and Han came for a rare 5-player game session. We took the opportunity to play Mare Nostrum, a civilisation-building / conflict game set in the ancient Mediterranean world. This game is best with 5 players.

The Game

In this game where the players play the Romans, the Greek, the Babylonians, the Egyptians and the Carthaginians, they expand and develop their nations, they raise armies and navies to do battle, and they win the game by building wonders of the world and producing great heroes.

The game structure is very simple - (1) collect & trade resources, (2) build, (3) move. Every round each nation collects resources, in the form of taxes or various types of goods. There is a trading round where the players secretly select resources to trade and then reveal them simultaneously. The Director of Commerce starts the trading by taking one resource from one other player. Then that player does the same, and this repeats until everyone has the same number of resources. After that the players go shopping - establish control of provinces, build military units, construct buildings (to increase tax income or goods production), recruit heroes, and construct wonders of the world. The tricky part about trading and building is that you cannot carry over your goods, and you can only carry over two tax cards. Anything else remaining after the building phase is wasted. So trading is an important aspect.

I absolutely love the artwork of the goods cards.

Finally, you move. That includes moving troops into enemy provinces to start fights. Ships allow armies to move very far. Armies treat ships like bridges - as long as you have a chain of ships between two provinces, you armies can move between them. That means it's quite hard to guard all your borders. Navies can coexist, so if an opponent wants to launch an amphibious attack, he only needs to move one ship to your coast. That ship does not need to defeat your armada guarding the coast.

To win the game, you need 4 heroes and/or wonders, or you need to build the Pyramids, which is harder to build than other wonders. You need 9 tax cards or 9 different goods cards to get a hero or wonder (12 for Pyramids), so it's actually not easy, because you cannot carry over goods cards, and you can carry over at most 2 tax cards.

The Play

Heeding online advice by experienced players, Han and I played Carthage and Greece respectively, because we are the more experienced gamers. Carthage controls trading at the start of the game, and you need a good player to keep the trading interesting. Greece is in a tough position next to military superpower Rome, so an experienced player will probably survive better. We randomly assigned the other nations, Sui Jye played Rome, Chee Seng Egypt, Jing Yi Babylon.

From very early in the game, Sui Jye amassed his troops to attack me. He could build armies cheaply, and I knew I would never be able to match him in raising armies, so I didn't bother. I tried to build more ships (which I could do cheaply) to allow me to expand overseas and threaten his coasts. It didn't quite work out. His armies occupied my provinces, denying me income, and eventually he annexed my provinces. He only pulled back when Han built a navy and sent troops to attack his home provinces on the Italian peninsula. Han had to do so to keep him in check. I couldn't fight back, and Chee Seng and Jing Yi were too far away, and were engaged in their own arms race.

Sui Jye (Rome, yellow) invading my nation (Greece, green) early in the game.

His army occupied my market, which meant he would gain the good produced there. I still controlled the province, because I still had my influence marker there (green disc).

By now Sui Jye had occupied 2 of my markets and 1 of my cities. He had established control in a province bordering mine, which is akin to having a troops factory right outside my border. I have dominance at sea, but it didn't help much.

Out popped 4 more legions... am I doomed or what?

Sui Jye had occupied or controlled all of Greece, except for my capital influence marker, which can never be removed. Han (Carthage, red) came to my rescue, invading the home province of Rome.

From the early game Han concentrated on developing his caravans and markets to increase goods production. He held on to the Director of Commerce title throughout the game. Jing Yi (Babylon) and Chee Seng (Egypt) had a military face-off at the Sinai Peninsula. They were both doing well, Jing Yi's free influence marker every round let her expand all the way to little Greece's eastern borders, Chee Seng was getting a lot of cards every round. We realised that Chee Seng might be able to build the pyramids very soon and win the game, so we goaded Jing Yi into attacking Chee Seng. Jing Yi had invested more in military, and broke through Chee Seng's defenses. Chee Seng was the 2nd player, after me, to be in dire straits. Jing Yi later pulled back, but after a while, raised her troops again and made another huge invasion. The attacking army was the biggest possible - 8 legions, because in this game your number of legions is limited to 8. When the dust settled, Jing Yi lost all 8 legions! This was partly due to Chee Seng having the wonder (Statue of Zeus) which allowed him to build 2 fortresses per province. I think after this loss Jing Yi must be wondering "why the hell did I spend so much on military and why the hell did I listen to those guys?!".

The start of the arms race between Jing Yi (Babylon, purple) and Chee Seng (Egypt, blue).

The first Babylonian-Egyptian war.

It ended in victory for the Babylonians.

The second Babylonian-Egyptian war, which ended in total annihilation of the invading army.

Han (Carthage) had a decent economy, and started to buy heroes and wonders. These need 9 cards as opposed to the Pyramids which needs 12. Sui Jye (Rome) was more wary and more defensive now. Not having navies (because I monopolised most of the sea zones around Italy) meant he couldn't threaten Han's coasts. Han concentrated on getting heroes/wonders, and eventually reached the victory condition of having 4 of them. Chee Seng was the only other player having built a wonder. The rest of us only had our starting hero.

The Thoughts

I, of course, had a very tough game. With Rome having decided to go after me, there was not much I could do to save myself. It did seem that the game was unbalanced, a Rome too strong and a Greece too vulnerable. The expansion tweaked this balance a little. However Han later found an article on BGG explaining why it is actually not in Rome's interest to go after Greece. The goods produced by Greece overlap a lot with Rome, and Rome wants Greece to be harassing the expansion-crazy Babylon. Too bad we didn't read this article before we play. Of course I could also have played the diplomacy game and tried to persuade Sui Jye not to attack me, but without this solid reasoning I don't think I could have convinced him. I was so obviously the most easily accessible target. Despite the tough time I had, I don't think the game is as unbalanced as many people make it sound.

The game seems simple, but there is actually quite a fair bit to think about if you really sit down to analyse the resource distribution, the city site distribution, the unique abilities of each civilisation, and what all these mean to the balance of power in the Mediterranean. Due to how unused goods are discarded every round, and only two tax cards can be kept, it is not easy to build up an economy strong enough to give you cards for wonders/heroes. With the full complement of 5 players, the diplomacy and competition can be quite tricky. There is more strategy than meets the eye.

Yet the rules really are quite simple.

I would still say this is more a conflict game than a development game. You simply cannot run away from military conflict in this game, even if you do not plan to attack others. They will attack you if you get close enough to victory. The game feels similar to Cyclades which I also played recently - a mix of conflict and development. In Cyclades battles are more restricted because only one player (who wins the appropriate god's favour) will be able to attack in each round. Also of course Mare Nostrum feels more real because it is played on a real map and you have real historical figures, as opposed to the Cyclades map which does not correspond to any real geography.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

we are not Game Players

I often write about controlling game buying. I impose a quota on myself every year. The main reason being that owning too many games means you'll get to play each game less. When you do that, you appreciate each individual game less, because you don't play it enough to be good at it, to understand all the nuances and explore all the strategies.

My copy of Through the Ages has seen many plays. 50 games doesn't sound like much, but this is a 2 - 2.5 hour game. This game is in my Top 10. I'm quite happy to have played it so much, because the game gets better and better as I get more and more familiar with the cards. I also explored various strategies, trying out various leaders and wonders.

Then one day I thought about viewing the boardgame hobbyist from a different perspective. In the boardgame hobby the comparison between Game Collector and Game Player occasionally comes up. I think most people tend to think of themselves as game players, or want to be categorised as game players. They want to be buying games to be played, and not to be collected. There seems to be something negative about collecting games - if you buy a game and don't play it, you defeat the purpose of the game existing in the first place. So people want to be game players.

But when you have a collection of a few hundred, or a few thousand games, do you really play every game even once in a year? If you don't play a game even once in a year, then aren't you really just collecting it? If I apply some minimal requirement for a person to qualify as a Player of a game, what should it be?

  • Play at least once in a year? At least once every 3 months?
  • Play at least 10 times in the lifetime of the game?
  • Or maybe some combination of the two? E.g. play 10 times in first half year, and then at least twice a year thereafter.
  • Know the game well enough to be able to teach it without referring to the rules? Or with minimal reference to rules / reference sheets?
  • Being good at the game, and being able to fully appreciate the strategic wealth?

As you buy and own more and more games, it becomes harder and harder to meet such requirements. When you find that for more than half the games that you own you don't meet the Players requirements (whatever you think they should be), then maybe you're a Collecter afterall, not a Player. I did a quick check and found that out of my ~170 games owned (not counting expansions), there are 91 that I have not played for more than a year. Some of these I actually quite like. Some of these I don't really like and probably should sell or trade away, just that I'm a lazy bum when it comes to such things.

I too want to be more a Player than a Collector. I want to buy less and play more. However there are always interesting new games coming out all the time, and I can't help being tempted to buy or try them. If the idea is to play fewer games in total and to play each game many times, then the question is not really whether you buy a new game or not. If you have the opportunity to try a new game, you should decline, because that would "dilute" your gameplay "concentration". Well, of course, I won't ever be that hard on myself. But theoretically that's how a hardcore Player should behave. Imagine a Go or Chess or Bridge player enjoying his game so much that he has no need for and has no interest in other types of games.

What about some middle ground between Player and Collector? I thought of a term Game Taster. The analogy is wine enthusiasts who go for wine tasting sessions. They go for variety and not quantity. They don't get drunk. They try different things and appreciate the different types of wine. I don't drink wine, so maybe I'm totally off, but this is how I came up with this term. The Taster likes to try different things, new things. He likes variety. He gets a taste of many different games, but does not dwell too much on any one game. Maybe he will spend slightly more time on some good games, savouring them and enjoying them. But he will always seek out new games. He will look out for new ideas.

Notre Dame is a pretty good game. I'm happy to have played it at Carcasean Cafe twice. I don't feel a strong urge to buy it or play it repeatedly, but I've happy to have tried it.

So what if I buy a game and only play it 3 or 4 times if I feel I have gained from it what I expected? For the cost of a game, I gain X number of hours of entertainment, and this is an activity I do together with friends, which means they gain too. Perhaps we shouldn't think of the cost of a game as being for the physical game, and instead think of it as being for the fun time that is gained. Another analogy is books. I rarely reread novels that I buy. I feel I've gained what I expected after reading them once. Of course I can reread them if I want to, but in most cases I probably won't. Games are made to be played more than once. But after you've played it enough times to fully appreciate its qualities, perhaps you don't need to play it anymore. You probably should sell / trade / donate / give away such games though. Pass the fun on. Save space at home. Make space for new games. It's okay to keep buying games if you think of yourself as a Game Taster.

One aspect of the Game Taster is the Game Learner. It is fun to learn a new game, to see how it works, to figure out the possible strategies. It's like puzzle solving. Once you've mastered a game though, you're done. You know the system in and out. You don't need to play more. You have overcome the intellectual challenge. Of course a game is just a setting or framework in which you compete with other players, so ultimately the challenge is in defeating your opponents. But then you can always pick another new game to play - fresh setting, fresh mechanisms, equally challenging opponents.

Barbarossa, a clay game, a party game, a guessing game, a trivia game. Not something I can play again and again, but it was good that I had a chance to try it. I liked it enough to later buy a copy. Probably something good to play with my children when they are older.

Quo Vadis, a negotiation / political game. Good to have tried it once. Not something I can play too much. This is a game that can cause hard feelings if people get too serious about it.

With this additional category of Game Taster defined (in addition to Game Player and Game Collector), I think I'm pretty much in the Game Taster category. I play many new games every year, and many games are played only a few times. I would like to move slightly towards the Game Player end of the spectrum. By defining the term Game Taster, I guess I'm saying that it's okay to be one. It's okay to treat games like Bata* - Buy-And-Throw-Away. It's okay to join the Cult of the New. Just proudly declare yourself a Game Taster.

I'm not making this all up just so that I can relax my self imposed game buying quota. I still think I need to spend more time on many of the games that I already own and like. I'm still interested in new games which are innovative and/or good, but I don't need to try everything. I would rather try fewer games so that I can spend more time getting more enjoyment out of games I already own. So I will still try to adhere to my quota. (keyword is "try", heh heh... )

Now who wants to play Die Macher with me?

Die Macher, a long and complex game that I own, have only played half a game of, like a lot, and still have not managed to get it back to the table.

* Bata is a well known shoe brand in Malaysia and their shoes are generally considered low-end and not very durable. I think most Malaysians think Bata is a Malaysian company. It is actually a company established in Czechoslovakia, in 1894. Most Malaysians don't realise it is actually a big international company.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

boardgaming in photos, Horus Heresy, Jambo, Medici

Now I'm calling these blog posts "boardgaming in photos" instead, because the word without the "board" bit sometimes attract spam from gam_bling sites.

21 May 2010. This is a worker's working hours record card. Nothing to do with boardgames at all. A part-time worker can use such a generic form (MYR2.90 for a stack of them at a supermarket near my home) to record hours worked, and to calculate wages earned. And I bought these to be used as...

... Dominion dividers. I have Dominion and its Seaside expansion. I wanted to be able to put all cards of both expansions into the same box. So the box insert had to go. I did some quick-and-dirty handiwork, and this was the result.

This was probably the first time a cardboard sprue that I kept after punching out a game became useful. Or at least I can't think of any other time I actually used them, although I often keep them. Guess what these dividers are from. Answer at bottom.

Action cards on the left compartment, and all the generic cards in the middle compartment. My convention for labelling - colour coding for Victory cards (green), Duration cards (orange) or Reaction cards (blue); card name; card cost; "c" means you gain card(s); "a" means you gain action(s); "$" means you gain buying power (buying value); "b" means you gain more buy(s); capital "A" on the right means an attack card.

21 May 2010. Han was keen to play Horus Heresy again, so he came over and we did our second game, this time playing Scenario 4, and swapping roles - he played the rebel Horus and I played the Emperor. Scenario 4 gave much more freedom to both players in setting up their starting forces. This particular spaceport started off heavily guarded by my tank and infantry units. However, I forgot about the treachery rolls. When Han did those, 4 out of 6 of my units in this area betrayed me. Needless to say, I quickly lost control of this spaceport, and never regained control of it throughout the game.

This was one spaceport that Han started with, and I was poised to attack it with units from two different areas. During the game he tried to ship units here from orbit, but since I had two cannons next to this spaceport, many of these units were shot down.

This was the other spaceport that Han started with. I also had units preparing to fight for it.

One of my palace locations was vacant at the start of the game, and Han dropped two space marine units and a thunderhawk troop carrier here, led by one of his Heroes. Thankfully I was able to defeat the soldiers, leaving his hero wandering around my palace pestering my concubines.

One of the event cards forced my Emperor to get beamed up to the Vengeful Spirit battleship, where Horus the rebel leader was. I could bring 4 units, so I brought two elite bodyguards and two Blood Angels space marines (and their leader). This was quite an unexpected development, since I didn't know the backstory.

At this point in the game, I was at risk of losing the game, because the timer track was near the point when spaceport victory was enabled, and Han had a good chance of controlling all 4 spaceports. So having my Emperor try to kill Horus himself may be a worthwhile gamble. I would win instantly. However Horus was quite well protected, and I decided to go for a different approach. I attacked and captured a spaceport, which Han could not quickly recapture, and instead of sending my Emperor to fight Horus (which would be risky for the Emperor too), I tried to get him off the spaceship and back to the palace.

I couldn't just get him out. I still had to fight a coexistance battle with the soldiers at the Catacombs (i.e. not at the bridge with Horus) of the Vengeful Spirit. Han's first card play had his Titan kill both my marines, which was baaaad.

I did manage to win that fight, but was left with just one unit of elite bodyguard. I had to get the Emperor out before Horus came to beat him up. Thankfully I had just enough action points to do so. The second character from the left is the Emperor. Horus is on the right.

I was ready to make a big attack on this spaceport controlled by Han. I later recaptured this spaceport, after an intense battle.

This is one high bodycount game. These are all the units killed in action.

"I see dead people. They are everywhere. They walk and talk like normal people. They don't even know they're dead." And this was not even the final body count. Many more casualties came over to join this support group afterwards.

Later, another event forced Horus to come down to earth - his battleship blew up. Oops. That was unexpected too, because I didn't know the backstory. It turned out to be a good thing far Han, because it meant Horus and the three units with him could come to reinforce some troops next to this spaceport, and they could try to recapture it. Hmm... maybe he blew up his own battleship on purpose. Sneaky fella...

I was very determined to take back this spaceport. Two groups of attackers were not enough. I mobilised the Emperor himself and some troops from the palace and prepared for a combined assault made up of three separate forces. Han seized the initiave, and used his surrounded army (and two thunderhawk planes rushing in from other areas) to attack my Emperor. If he could kill my Emporer, he would win immediately.

The Emperor put up a good fight, and not only did not need to retreat with injury (which I had thought he would), he even beat back the attackers. There was only one unit left defending the spaceport, and one (purple) thunderhawk survived. I would surely capture the spaceport when I next made a move. I just needed to hold it, and keep my Emperor safe, until game end, and I would win.

However there was another unexpected twist of fate. The next event allowed Han to conduct a battle! The event had to be resolved before it would be my turn. So Horus grabbed the opportunity to attack this 4th spaceport that he needed to control to win the game.

And win the game he did! It took the rebel leader himself to get the job done. It was a close fight. It came down to just one last life point that I needed. If Han had caused just one damage less, or I had just one more life point (of units, not heroes) remaining, I would have held this spaceport long enough to be able to give time to my other army to capture the other spaceport.

The funniest thing about this particular game was how lousy Han's cannon operators were. He conducted a lot of bombardments, and almost all of them missed. The only instance when they hit something was actually at this final spaceport that he needed to win the game. Well, I guess the cannon operators still performed when it really mattered. Else Han would have fired them all and fed them to the dogs.

The MVPs of the game were probably the Adeptus Mechanicus (Emperor side) - the half human half machine soldiers. There were quite a few battles involving them where I played a special card (requiring their presence) which made Han unable to defend against my attack. I think at least twice I inflicted 7 points of damage because of this.

Our game lasted about 3 hours. Whoever said Horus Heresy is a quick game must be crazy, or must have played it too many times. There were quite many twists in our game, making an interesting story. It was a close game. Were it not that specific event that gave Han an extra attack, my Emperor probably could have held out until time ran out for the rebels. However I still feel the game rather restricting - the order cards you get, the number of actions each army can take. Now I also feel the game is a bit scripted. The events can have a big impact on the game (obviously!). Events are randomised somewhat, but there is a general storyline that events will follow.

You should manipulate your marker movement on the timer track to make use of the events, which I think Han did quite well and I didn't do, ahem, so well (i.e. at all). Some events benefit one side, some the other, but some are neutral and benefit whoever triggers it. So manipulating the timer track is important.

22 May 2010. Jambo wares.

Michelle and I played Jambo again after a long time. I had good ware cards. This was my hand before I won - two pairs of identical ware cards, which meant I could do buy-sell-buy-sell to earn $7 and $6 to end (and win) the game.

Jambo cover. Having played Jambo again, I find that I don't really like it very much afterall. Based on the cards that you draw, you try to figure out how to make money. The ware cards let you buy and sell wares, and you will need tools and characters to help you. The animal cards let you mess with your opponent. The interesting part of the game is figuring out how to make the best out of the cards you draw. However I find that the game is quite tactical. You can't really plan much or have much of a specific strategy. Generally you should always get some tools in play as early as you can, and make use of them as much as you can. If you don't get many tools early, you are quite doomed.

22 May 2010. Medici, which I had not played for a very long time. I brought it out again when I had Han, Sui Jye, Jing Yi and Chee Seng come over for a 5P session. Medici is an old Reiner Knizia auction game. It is quite a pure auction game, more abstract than Ra and Modern Art. This game is best with more players. Now that I have revisited this old classic, I found it a little dry and wished it had a bit more theme.

The scores in our game were bizarre - Sui Jye won at $102, and Chee Seng was last at $31. We even joked that Chee Seng actually won at $131, having gone one round of the scoring track. I don't remember what Chee Seng did wrong. Sui Jye had one very lucky card draw at the end of the last round of the game, without which he wouldn't have won by so much, and might even have come in 2nd place. He was the last player to have available cargo space. He had two more spots. So he had to draw two cards from the deck, and must load those two goods regardless of how good or bad they were. He drew the Gold card (value 10, which is a lot) and another goods card of value 5 (highest possible value). Because of this, his ship became the most valuable ship in round 3, and he won the $30 reward for this.

Answer for Dominion divider: Tales of the Arabian Nights.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

gaming in photos

29 Apr 2010. Race for the Galaxy (with first two expansions). Michelle's tableau. She won all 6 objectives! When we were counting scores, I muttered that she'd beat me by 30 points. I did quite badly in this game. After we were done counting scores, she said no. She beat me by 40 points, 60 vs 20. This was the largest score difference in the 400+ games of Race for the Galaxy that I have played.

My tableau of the same game. The two horizontal cards at the bottom (Galactic Exchange and Diversified Economy) were not played. They were still in my hand at game end. I wanted to show them because these two cards would have worked very well with my tableau. I had all 4 types of worlds. I had enough cards to build at least one of them on the last turn, but I had not expected the game to end so quickly. Michelle developed Improved Logistics (which allowed Settling an extra world) that round, and ended the game.

2 May 2010. Race for the Galaxy again. My tableau which focused on Development. I had wonderful card draws. If I Developed, I would draw two cards, get a -4 discount, and then draw another card. I ended the game very quickly. Michelle would have started massive Consumption activities starting the next round.

We played Factory Manager a second time. This time our earning power was much less. I wonder why. Maybe it was because we removed the beginners' optional rule of no power cost increase in the first round. I think Factory Manager will be more interesting with more than 2 players.

16 May 2010. Michelle and I played Jambo, a 2-player-only game which we have not played for quite some time. I did quite poorly because I didn't have any useful tools in the early game. Michelle put down 3 tools since quite early in the game. By the time she reached $60 to win the game, I still had less than $30. And you start the game with $20. That means Michelle earned $40 during the time it took me to earn less than $10.