Monday, 27 June 2011

boardgaming in photos

9 Jun 2011. Kingsburg is a game I have played once before a long time ago. I played the computer version, and I didn't like it at the time. The unique aspect of Kingsburg is how you roll dice and then allocate them to specific spots on the board to gain resources / benefits. You have 3 dice, and can use them individually or in any combination. Allocating them is tricky because once a spot is claimed others may not use the same spot (i.e. worker placement mechanism). So sometimes you decide to allocate them all at one go for fear that if you don't, you won't have a chance to place any dice left for your next turn.

Resources are used to construct buildings, which have various abilities, including defending the kingdom from invaders. At the end of each of the 5 years in the game, the kingdom is invaded, and the invaders gradually grow in strength. There are rewards for defending successfully, and penalties otherwise.

The player board, on which you mark the buildings that have been constructed. There are 5 types of buildings (in rows) and you must build from left to right.

Chong Sean kept telling me the game is good, that I should have played the boardgame version and not the computer version. Now that I have done so, I still find the game to be so-so. I may be biased by the initial poor experience. I don't find the dice mechanism particularly interesting, despite its uniqueness. The game feels like repeating cycles of collect-stuff-build-stuff. The building types are different and you can go for different approaches for gaining victory points. You do feel like you are building up your domain to protect the kingdom.

16 Jun 2011. I recently found a free fan-made computer version of 7 Wonders, and have played many games. I've played more than 100 games within the first few days of downloading the game. This screenshot shows the game-end scoring calculation. Having the computer take care of this saves a lot of time. Games can be very very fast. It depends on how much thinking and opponent-observing you want to do. If you play by gut feel, you can finish a game in 2 minutes. I had fun with this free version. I just hope I don't get sick of the game because of it. I've ordered the (physical) game and don't want to burn out before I receive my physical copy.

The computer implementation is overall quite good. Minor complaints: a little troublesome to see your opponents' wonders and to examine the tableau of non-neighbour opponents.

I have also learnt a few more things about the game. (1) Coins can often be a big part of your score. That situation in my first game where the winner Henry had a huge stack of coins is not really rare. (2) Specialisation is not necessary to win. Quite often a well balanced civilisation can win. Specialisation can be more effective for some strategies, e.g. the science strategy.

The result of this particular game surprised me. I managed to beat AI3 (sitting on my left) which had 50pts from science cards. Thankfully I had built that Scientist Guild purple building myself to deny it from the AI.

17 Jun 2011. 2-player game of Le Havre with my wife Michelle. In this game both of us were heavily in debt, but I've always thought of the banks or loan sharks in Le Havre as very kind people. Your regular interest payment is always $1 no matter how much you've borrowed. Here you can see I have organised my steel in neat stacks in preparation for building steel ships and luxury liners. Luxury liners give a lot of points and I find that they can often be a game winner. Or maybe it's just that Michelle rarely spends effort to stop me or to compete with me.

19 Jun 2011. 2-player (variant) Endeavor against Michelle. Michelle was red, I was green, white was the neutral colour. In this particular game we were short on shipping ability, and were often stuck with no more available cities to colonise. We should have either constructed more buildings with shipping ability, or constructed more buildings with attack ability (so that we could attack already-colonised cities). Or perhaps we were too careful in shipping and always tried to avoid helping each other open up new regions.

24 Jun 2011. Wan and Shan visited my home for the first time. Previously we've always played at Carcasean in KK (Kota Kinabalu) with Chong Sean. We did a 5-player game of Cyclades with Han and Allen. This was my second game. My first game was a 3-player game with Han and Allen. 5 players is more interesting.

The board for auctions and creatures.

I still enjoy Cyclades. It is more about the preparation and manoeuvring for war, rather than war itself. During the game you spend most of your time in the auctions. There can be at most one island invasion in a round. You not only need to position your navy to support the invasion, you also need to make sure that you win the auction for the army movement, and that your plans are not interrupted by some creature. But then of course when an invasion does occur, it can have a big impact to the game. One player's chances may be significantly boosted, another player's shattered. Money is tight and discounts (for gods' favours and for creatures) are very helpful.

This island with 3 buildings was initially Shan's (red), but Allen (blue) had used the Pegasus creature to invade and conquer it from a distant island. Shan was determined to take back what was hers. Look at that chain of ships preparing for the attack. Later Allen used a creature which allowed him to sell anything for $2 each. He almost wanted to sell all three of these buildings. We all laughed that he was too nasty! He took over Shan's island just to burn it to the ground! This was scorched earth tactics! Of course he considered doing this only after realising the difficulty of holding on to the island. Eventually he decided to only burn one of the buildings, because the other two could potentially help him assemble a set of four to build a metropolis. However Shan reclaimed the island before he could do that. The events on this island was the funniest story of our game.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Magic Labyrinth

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

The Magic Labyrinth is a children's game with a memory element. It is played on an open grid with invisible walls. At any one time, one specific space on the grid, marked by a specific icon, is the goal that everyone tries to race to. Movement is determined by a die roll. The tricky part is the invisible walls. If you bump into one, you must go back to your starting corner. Whenever a player reaches a goal space, he collects a token, and after that a new goal space is determined. First to collect 5 tokens wins.

The way the invisible wall mechanism is implemented is quite clever. There are real walls set up under the game board. The player pawns have magnets beneath them, and a metal balls under the game board are attached to these pawns. When you move your pawn, you slide it along the floor. If you cross an "invisible wall", the real wall underneath the game board will block your metal ball, and it will fall off. Then you'll know you've hit a wall and need to go back to your starting corner.

The Play

Chong Sean, Chee Wee, Aaron and I played a four-player game. The early game was mostly trial-and-error trying to figure out and also remember where the walls were. The luck element is present, but good memory does help. I think we were either not very patient in trying to remember where the walls were, or we were simply bad at remembering. We still bumped into walls late in the game.

Chong Sean took an early lead, but others were able to catch up. In the end it was still him to first collect 5 tokens to win the game.

The Thoughts

It's a simple and well-produced children's game. Memory helps, but there is some luck in the die rolls which determine how fast you can move, and in the randomly determined goal which determines how far you are from it. I'm not a fan of memory games, so this is not really my thing, but I think this is a decent children's memory game. At least there is some skill involved.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Leaping Lemmings

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Each player controls a team of lemmings, and tries to get their lemmings to throw themselves off a cliff spectacularly in order to score the most points. How's that for an unusual theme? Players also control two eagles, which will try to catch and eat one another's lemmings before they can kill themselves for glory.

On a player's turn, he rolls dice to move the two eagles, so he only has partial control over how they move. After that a movement card is turned over, and every player moves one of his lemmings. It is possible to stack your lemming on top of another, pinning it down, but if that stack of lemmings is caught by an eagle, the eagle eats the topmost lemming.

There are bushes which protect lemmings from eagles, so lemmings are often scurrying from one bush to another. There are pellets on the board the lemmings can collect. They either give points or can be used to trigger special abilities. Each player also starts a game with some randomly distributed special power cards. These are one-time use cards.

The gameboard. Lemmings can only move forwards towards the cliff at the far end. No moving backwards. Only one sideway step is allowed per turn.

When a lemming jumps off the cliff, its score is how many surplus movement points it has. So it is tempting to move a lemming right to the edge, and hope that the next movement card is a high valued one. The cliff edge is open ground though, so there is risk of getting caught by an eagle.

The game ends when a game-end card is drawn. This card is pre-shuffled into the last few cards of the deck.

A table for recording the cliff-jump scores.

The Play

My clan marker card on the left, and my team of 10 lemmings. Each of them is named, and is either male or female. These are just flavour and do not impact gameplay. The player marker card is special ability card too. Once per game you can treat a movement card as a 5 (the maximum possible value).

Allen, Han and I played a 3-player game. I had lots of my lemming eaten up by the eagles. Allen too, but not as badly as me. I did better than Allen in lemming suicide scores, but he collected more points from pellets, and that pushed him ahead of me and he came in second. Han won by a comfortable margin, since his "divers" did best, and he had the least lemmings becoming eagle snack.

Eaten lemmings go here.

Two of the special ability cards. That one on the right is naughty.

The Thoughts

This is a game with a light-hearted theme, but gameplay actually didn't feel as light-hearted. You do need to plan carefully how to position the eagles and how to move your lemmings, taking into account turn order.

The special ability cards make the game more interesting and allows some longer term planning. There is some manipulating of opponents. You want to appear weak so that others are less likely to use the eagle to catch your lemmings.

Overall the game was so-so to me. The theme is novel, but the novelty didn't do much to me.

Thursday, 23 June 2011


Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Most people would probably react to hearing about Navegador thinking "not another Mac Gerdts rondel game?". Since I played Shipyard (by Vladimir Suchy, but it also uses rondels), I have learnt to see past the rondel, and think of the rondel as merely a tool, as opposed to the central mechanism of a game. What's more important is what the actions are on the rondel, and what they mean to the game.

In Navegador players are Portugese explorers during the age of exploration and colonisation. They explore new seas, establish colonies, manufacture goods, and generally develop their own business / exploration empire. While doing all these things, they need to maintain cash flow because most actions need money. You want to earn money as efficiently as possible, i.e. using as few actions as possible.

The market. The numbers in the sugar, gold and spices columns are the prices when selling these goods. After selling, the prices drop. The numbers in the rightmost factory column are the prices when manufacturing goods (any type). After manufacturing, prices increase. You earn money both when selling and when manufacturing.

While developing your business empire, you also need to take Privilege actions, which help you score more points at game end. The main scoring in the game is done for 5 aspects of your business empire - your colonies, your factories, regions you have explored, your shipyards and your churches. Each of these are worth a basic number of points per unit, and taking the Privilege action increases the points per unit. So if you are strong in a certain aspect, you want to boost the value per unit for this aspect.

My personal board. Above the board are my colonies, 4 gold colonies, 4 sugar colonies, 2 spice colonies. On the right of the board is the Navegador card, which is a special ability card that rotates anti-clockwise around the table and allows an extra sailing action. On the board itself, the leftmost section is for factories, white = sugar, brown = spice, orange = joker. The next sections are for exploration tokens, shipyards and churches respectively. The right half are the five scoring categories, showing the base scores per unit, and allowing up to 3 value increases.

Many of the aspects in the game are inter-related. If you want to do more explorations, building more shipyards will be helpful. If you want to take more Privileges, building more churches will help, because churches allow you to gain more workers cheaply, and you will need to spend workers when taking Privileges. Having many factories and many colonies work well together, allowing you to have good control of goods prices and to be able to earn money efficiently.

The game accelerates towards game end. Ships travel further and thus allow explorations to happen at a reasonable pace even though the new regions are now further away. Players would have built up bigger business empires, and building prices become higher. The game ends either when all buildings are bought, or when the last region is explored.

The Play

Han, Allen and I did a 3-player game. All were new to the game. I had read before that specialisation was the key to winning, so I decided to pick shipyards as my specialisation. In hindsight I played the game rather awkwardly. I spent much on shipyards, but did very little of building ships or exploring. I was buildings shipyards for the sake of scoring. The other area that I focused on was making money, i.e. investing in factories and colonies. I think I did quite well in making money. I eventually decided to pick colonies as my second specialisation.

Unexplored regions in the background still have the blue round token. When a region is explored, the square colony tiles are turned face-up, showing the cost to establish a colony. The colony types are predetermined. The ones in the foreground (South America) are sugar colonies. In Africa, in the background, most colonies are gold colonies.

Han and Allen did much more exploring than I, especially Allen. He specialised in exploring and in churches. Han only had one strong specialisation - factories. In other areas he generally spent more or less equal and moderate effort, unlike Allen and I who were actually weak in some areas.

The game flowed very smoothly. We did what we often do - we executed turns simultaneously where possible. Individual actions were usually very simple, and when an action taken didn't impact the next player, the next player proceeded to execute his turn without waiting for the current player to finish. The simplicity of invidual actions allowed us to do this. Sometimes by the time one player had completed his turn, it was his turn again because the others had completed their turns too. This is one aspect of gaming with Han and Allen that I enjoy - we play efficient and intense games. Usually only the market action (i.e. earning money and modifying the prices of goods) caused us to pause a little, because how the prices change could impact the next player's decision.

Timing was important. We had to watch what others could do and sometimes we had to race to do an action before it became less useful or even not useful due to the actions of other players. E.g. timing to manufacture or sell goods when prices were good, buying a building before it became too expensive.

At game end, Allen won, I was second, and Han was last. Allen and I specialised heavily in two aspects, and Han only specialised in one, so it seems that specialisation was key. Or possibly preventing others' monopolies was the key. In this first game I don't think we very actively tried to break others' monopolies. There is still more to explore in this game. I suspect it will be better with more players, because it will be harder to monopolise any specific aspect.

Near game end.

The Thoughts

I like how the game remains challenging throughout. You have limited resources in the early game so you can't do much. As your business empire grows bigger towards game end, things also get more expensive and harder. So there is a feeling of constantly trying to not get left behind. There is a fine balance between three goals - (1) continuing to make money to fund your growth, (2) growing your business empire to be even bigger, even stronger, and (3) claiming Privileges to increase your game end scores. The third is your ultimate goal, but you need to be careful not to fall behind in the previous two.

I'm not sure yet whether specialisation is the key to winning, or it is more important to prevent others from specialising. Possibly players will need to keep trying to do both. This needs to be explored further.

The game design is very clean and the game flows very smoothly. I quite enjoyed the game.

Remember this: This is a rondel game, but it is not a game about the rondel!

Sunday, 19 June 2011


Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

Vikings is a game about discovering new islands and populating them with your people. No looting or burning. In fact you may be the victim of such nasty deeds by other less peaceful Viking tribes, if you don't have enough warriors to protect your people. There are many ways of scoring points, some done every two rounds (the game has 6 in total) and some done at game end.

At the start of every round, 12 tile-and-Viking pairs are made available. They are randomly drawn, but are arranged around a rotating price wheel following specific rules. During the round players take turns buying these tile-and-Viking pairs and adding them to their personal play areas. As tiles are bought, prices may drop, and sometimes tiles can even be free. Here players try to manipulate prices and also often need to evaluate whether it's worthwhile to spend a lot of money on tile-Viking pairs that they really want.

The price wheel on the central game board. The $0 cost spot always moves to point to the first available set, but you can't buy this set unless there is only one Viking of that colour remaining (i.e. yellow here). So at least the $1, $2 and $3 sets with yellow Vikings will need to be bought before the $0 set can be bought. Once this $0 set is bought, the wheel needs to be turned so that the $0 spot points to the green Viking.

That little diagram on the right indicates that Vikings are to be placed according to the colours blue, yellow, green, red, black and grey from cheapest to most expensive spots, while island tiles are placed in the cheapest available spot and pirate tiles are placed in the most expensive available spot.

Tiles can be the start of an island, the mid part of an island, the end of an island, or a pirate. When gaining an island tile, you must place it. This is discovery of new lands. The new tile must be placed next to an existing tile or next to your homeland coast. You can immediately place the Viking on the tile if the tile is in the appropriate row for the Viking type (black is warriors, red is nobles etc).

If you buy a pirate tile, it is placed in the top row of your play area, and depending on its colour it will attack and neutralise certain tiles in that column, unless you have a warrior protecting that column.

There are 6 types of Vikings. Warriors protect specific columns in your play area, and in fact counter attack those pirates and give you money or victory points. Nobles and scouts give points. Goldsmiths give money. Fishermen give food at game end, and you gain or lose points depending on whether you have surplus or are short. Boatsmen are important. It is not easy to always place your new Viking together with your new tile, so often you have to temporarily set aside your new Viking. You use boatsmen to ship these set-aside Vikings to vacant tiles, making them useful.

In summary, players compete to buy tiles and Vikings from a central board, and then place them as optimally as possible in their respective play areas, building up a grid made up of islands which will hopefully score lots of points.

The top row in the player area is for pirate ships (I don't have any yet). The other five rows are for islands, and each row allows Vikings of a specific colour to be placed. That scoring reference card on the left is very useful.

The Play

I played a 2-player game against Chong Sean, who taught me the game. In our game we were never short of money. I wonder whether that's normal or we have been unusually thrifty. Every $5 is 1VP at game end, so you shouldn't waste money anyway.

I collected many warriors to protect my settlements. I also built my islands to be quite compact, leaving few blanks. Chong Sean's islands were more dispersed. He had fewer warriors than pirates, so his approach was to leave vacant tiles that he could not protect.

My pirate ships are very colourful. The rightmost green pirate ship only threatens the first three spots in the row, i.e. down to the green row. So the yellow goldsmith I have in that colomn is under no threat.

Player interaction was mostly limited to the tile-Viking pair buying. We did watch each other's islands, to decide which end-game scoring criteria to compete in, and to gauge which tiles or Vikings each other needed more desperately.

Chong Sean collected and preserved his boatsmen from quite early, aiming for the game-end bonus for most leftover boatsmen. I used mine freely during the game to get my Vikings onto the islands to earn points and money during the intermediate scorings. There is a game-end bonus for longest island. I had one long island from early on. Since Chong Sean didn't have any that were even close to mine in length, I was complacent and completed that island. That decision came back to bite me because later on he made one even longer island.

At game end, when the dust settled, we tied! I won by tiebreaker - money left. Well, he said if he had just placed one Viking differently at game end he would win by one point. But of course that doesn't count. Nyah nyah.

Game end. I have 6 (black) warriors protecting my realm from all pirates.

The Thoughts

Vikings turned out to be better than I expected. It's a little solitairish, in how you are mostly planning and building your own play area, and direct interaction being only in buying Viking-tile pairs. However you do have to pay attention to how your opponents are building up their areas, so that you can decide which game-end scoring categories to compete in. I enjoyed the puzzle-like aspect of how to fit everything together, fully utilising your tiles and Vikings, and always keeping an eye on the game end scoring criteria. Who would have thought Vikings can be so industrious. Just be prepared that the theme is a little thin.

Saturday, 18 June 2011


Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Giants is a game about erecting Moai statues on Easter Island. Players are tribes who carve statues and hats, move them to sites along the beach, and raise them, gaining victory points.

Each player's tribe starts with a chieftain, a shaman (or what Malaysians call a bomoh) and a villager. In addition to these workers, players also manage 3 other currencies. Markers are used for bidding for available statues at the start of each round, and for marking ownership of statues or hats which are not yet erected. Rongo half-tablets are used for tie-breaking as well as for giving the chieftain bomoh powers. Logs can be chopped from the tiny forest on Easter Island, and used for transporting statues.

At the start of each round, a random number of statues of different sizes are made available to be fought over via blind bidding, committing tribesmen and markers. Size is important because it is a multiplier for the value of the statue. Naturally a bigger statue is also harder to transport.

The main part of the game is placing your tribesmen and logs onto the board. You place them so that they can transport statues and hats. Bigger statues need more tribesmen or logs to move. Other players can use your tribesmen, and you can't refuse, but you gain 1 victory point per tribesman used. Sometimes you want to place your men at strategic locations to entice others to use them.

Bomohs can be placed at some special locations to get you special items, e.g. additional villagers, additional markers, logs and hats.

Once the worker placement is done, it's time to move stuff. When a statue reaches a site, you place an ownership tile there face down. That means you need to remember which one is yours. Each site has a different value for statue and hat. The value is higher at sites that are further away from the statue or hat quarries. The two quarries are on opposite sides of the island, so a site with a high statue value has a low hat value, and vice versa.

The game ends once a player builds a certain number of statues.

Chieftains have square bases, shamans / bomohs have 8-pointed star bases, villagers have round bases. The statue on the left is wearing the blue tribe's marker. If you can't transport a statue or hat all the way to a site to be erected, you better mark it with your marker, or it may get stolen from you next round. In the lower right is the only small forest on the island, and half of it has been chopped up.

These dice in the centre are used to determine how many statues are available each round, and how big they are.

The Play

I played a 4-player game with Allen, Peter and Heng. I found the resources in the game to be very tight. We played with the shorter variant where you start with an extra villager, but even with this I felt the things that could be done in the early were very limited. Much effort needed to go into building up our tribes.

The blind bidding at the start of every round was very critical. It is important to get high valued statues. A size 3 statue transported to a distant site can be worth many points. It can be very painful to commit a lot in the bidding and still lose out, because it means a lot of wasted resources.

We also needed to work on building up our tribes. We needed more men, more markers.

In the foreground: logs. Along the coastline you can see some sites for erecting statues. One statue has already been erected.

This chain of tribesmen reminds me of a queue of men passing water buckets to save a fire. The concept of transporting statues in this game is not far off.

What I found most interesting was the tension between competition and cooperation. Sometimes you want others to help you, yet you will also often hesitate whether to use their help or to just use your own tribesmen so that they don't gain points from helping you. Every round the placement of tribesmen creates a transportation network. You want to influence this to help you and to hinder your opponents, which is tricky, and sometimes impossible. There is diplomacy and "manipulating" your opponents. Players may try to work together to not help the leader. You want to appear weak to encourage others to use your tribesmen, so that you'll earn points.

Multiple players can place tribesmen on the same space, so there is no blocking like in most worker placement games. You hinder your opponents mostly by not placing your tribesmen where your opponents can use them, and by claiming statue sites before they do.

Allen went for speed, erecting statues at nearby and low valued sites. Hats that he put on his statues were high valued, since they were far from the hat quarry.

I think Peter had the most of the size-3 statues. He also did his tribesmen placement very well, gaining many points from helping others. He won the game by a big margin.

Near game end I got myself a size-3 statue, but didn't manage to get it erected in time. It was a bit of a gamble when I fought for that statue in the auction. I knew Allen was going to erect his last statue soon which would trigger the game end, but I wasn't exactly sure how soon.

completed statue with hat.

Near game end. Many statues have been erected. The artwork and components of this game is excellent.

The Thoughts

Giants is one very good-looking game. It is a game of collaborative network building, in which the network is refreshed every round. There is a tricky balance between wanting and not wanting to help others, as well as wanting and declining help from others. These are all driven by how the network is built, i.e. how tribesmen are placed.

The growth of your tribe (gaining villagers, markers, logs and half-tablets) is important, to allow you to be competitive and efficient. The question is not whether to improve your tribe. It is which aspect to improve first and how far you want to improve it.

The blind bidding for statues is very important. How many statues are available each round and how many get claimed by players drive the tempo of the game. There is some memory element, but it's not a big part.

Timing is important. There is a race to claim sites. Game length is variable and sometimes players want to manipulate it in different ways.

Monday, 13 June 2011


Plays: 3Px2.

The Game

Irondale is a card game from a small publisher. Han bought a complete package which includes the base game and a few expansions, and we played mostly the base game with I think only one small expansion - the starting city centre. In this game, cards are buildings, and players play cards onto the table to build up the city of Irondale. New buildings are played next to existing buildings. The game ends at the end of a complete round after the city reaches a certain size, and whoever has the most points wins.

Points are gained when constructing a building, depending on the building itself and also what building it is constructed next to. Every building has some special rules. Some introduce restrictions, some give bonus points, some even let you rob cards from other players. Normally you are allowed to construct two buildings on your turn. If they are of different types, you may be able to discard a third card to earn bonus points, if this third card has matching master plan icons matching the building types you have just built. So every turn you look at your hand of cards and determine the best way of maximising your turn.

Gaining cards is a painful matter, because at the start of your turn, if you want to draw cards, you need to spend your victory points. When playing cards, there is no cost, but depending on the building size, you need to have a certain number of cards left in your hand. E.g. to play a size 3 building, when you play it, you need to have 3 other cards in hand. So large (and usually more powerful) buildings are harder to play, since your hand size limit is 5.

The starting cards, which are the city centre. According to Han this setup is actually an expansion. I wonder what the original game is like.

Upper right corner is the building type and the building size, i.e. how many other cards you need to have in your hand when you construct this building. The four boxes at the bottom are the points you earn when constructing this building next to each of the four possible building types. You can only score one of these four boxes. Upper left corner is the master plan icons. If you have just built two buildings of these types, you can play this card as a master plan and earn 2pts. The building's special ability is in text.

There are 3 stacks of cards in the game, with different backs, but the cards are the same. That means for each type of building there are 3 copies. This is important to know, because some cards allow you to search a deck for a card you want. Card backs are used to track your score. Depending on your score, you would just take a card from one of the 3 stacks (without looking at the card face) and put it in front of you, rotated to the right position to indicate your score. This means some cards are randomly taken out of the game, thus creating some variability.

In the foreground you can see the card back of one of the cards being used for score keeping. I have 6pts now.

The Play

Han, Allen and I have played 2 games so far. There aren't that many game turns in a game, because if everyone constructs 2 buildings every turn, that's 6 new buildings every round, so the game end would be triggered around Round 3 or Round 4. Being new to the game, we spent much time reading the card text and also planning how make the best out of our cards. Normally buildings already on the table do not matter much except for their type, but some buildings have ongoing effects, so we try to make use of these, e.g. some buildings give extra points to new buildings constructed next to them, some buildings allow you to draw cards when constructing a new buildings next to them.

We called the Sanatorium the dunny instead. The special rule is no other buildings may be constructed next to it. This makes sense for a dunny too, coz it's so stinky...

The game felt quite tactical. On your turn you try to make the most of what's on the table and what's in your hand, and you try not to create opportunities for the next player. Not really a lot of long term planning you can do. Familiarity with the buildings helps. E.g. in the second game that we played, I drew the Gate House. The Gate House scores points depending on how many Gate Houses have already been constructed. I decided to try to collect and build all three of the Gate Houses. I used the ability of another building to search a deck and pick a card, and managed to get myself all 3 Gate Houses. Unfortunately my nice collection was broken up when the others played the Thieves' Den. One of my Gate Houses was robbed from me. So this is one form of a longer-term plan in the game. However mostly the game is quite tactical, in that you try to make the most out of the current situation. I guess familiarity with the cards will help you avoid dangers and anticipate what may be coming.

I used the special ability of one of the buildings on the table to collect three Gate Houses. The first Gate House is worth 2pts, the second 4pts, the third 6pts, so it is lucrative to build the 2nd one and onwards. Unfortunately I fell victim to this card below...

... the Thieves' Den. I was attacked by this card twice! Amazingly in the first attack, when I had 3 Gate Houses and 1 Estate, it was the Estate that was stolen. Unfortunately when the thieves struck again, I had no other cards but Gate Houses.

Game end.

The Thoughts

Irondale is mostly tactical. It is puzzle-like in how on your turn you need to analyse the board and your hand and try to work out the best you can squeeze out of your hand. There are multiple factors to consider - the building size requirement, the building type, and the building powers. The first game will be a little slow. You need familiarity with the cards to enjoy the game better. I think familiarity with the card deck will improve the long-term strategy aspect of the game, because you can anticipate what may be coming and take that into consideration what deciding how to play your current hand.

For me Irondale is just so-so, because it feels too tactical for me. I am mostly just trying to optimise what I can do on my turn. There is not a lot of long-term aspect to the game. Some already-built buildings still impact future buildings next to them, but overall there's little strategic direction in the city building. I have not tried the expansions yet though (which come in the package) so perhaps we should explore those next.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

boardgaming in photos

17 May 2011. Endeavor is a game I procrastinated on for quite a long time before deciding to buy it. I only recently discovered that there are 2-player variants, and I was quite excited to try it as a 2-player game against my wife Michelle. I chose to try the less confrontational and simpler variant by Peter Scarborough, which is an unofficial variant. Some neutral pieces were required (we used white), but most of the rules were the same.

The 2-player variant was quite good. Michelle (red) dominated Europe and was the one who waged war. I kept drawing cards. In fact I shouldn't have spent so much effort on that, because much effort was wasted because there was a limit to the number of cards that could be kept. I should have diversified a little. We played twice. I lost the first game and we tied in the second.

22 May 2011. My 3rd game of Dominant Species against Han and Allen. We used a random setup.

I did very badly in this game, I think mostly because I had not been preserving my limited supply of species (cubes), bringing them freely onto the board even when there were events that would kill off many of them. In this photo, Han (yellow) did well on the left half and Allen (blue) did well on the right half. I... didn't do so well.

After this 3rd game Allen discovered that I had taught one rule wrong. I had completely misunderstood the Depletion action. The correct rule is that all elements on tundras matching the elements in the Depletion box are removed from the board; if a player has placed an action pawn next to the Depletion box, he can remove one element, which would usually be a defensive move to protect his species on or next to tundras. The way we played was Depletion was only done when a player placed an action pawn there, and it was done for the specific element chosen by that player. I had it the other way round, making this an offensive move. Playing with the correct rule would mean that tundras are much harder to survive on, and it would be harder to gain many points from the Survival card.

Han did so well that he ran out of Dominance markers again (cones) and we had to use this tube of Haw Flakes.

This game was a little different from previous games. We were more specialised and were not able to have our presence spread so widely. So not as many tiles had presence of all three of us as before. Also the tundra spread was elongated.

Han was the spiders and specialised heavily in eating grub (pink element).

22 May 2011. Tigris and Euphrates, a Reiner Knizia classic that I have not played for a very very long time. I have always wanted to learn to play this well, but have never managed to do so. There is some depth to this game that needs to be explored. This was the early game, and all three of Han (Vase), Allen (Lion) and I (Bow) had leaders in the small civilisation in the north.

Red tiles (temples) spent on internal conflicts.

I was Bow, Allen was Lion and Han was Vase. There was now much tension between the civilisation in the north and the one in the south west - only one tile away from an external conflict. We used an incorrect tile in the north. There were two civilisations, the bigger one in the north west and a much smaller one in the north east, split by a disaster tile. We had used a handshake (external conflict) tile instead of a disaster tile.

The two civilisations of the south west and north west had merged, and I (Bow) had 3 leaders in it - black, blue and red. I was hoping to attack the medium sized civilisation in the south, which would give me many points. Unfortunately Han ended the game before I could do so, by claiming the 3rd last treasure (natural coloured cube).

I think there is a lot to explore in this game. It's quite confrontational for a Reiner Knizia game.

27 May 2011. Mexica, a game I have not played for a very long time. I needed to give myself a rules refresher before I could teach the others. Mexica is the 3rd game in the mask trilogy, following Tikal and Java. This was the early game. Mexica is a game about dividing the island into neighbourhoods using canals, and then building your temples in these neighbourhoods to compete for majority.

The octagonal tokens are called Calpulli tokens. The numbers on them indicate the neighbourhood size and also scores to be gained. Bridges are the most important mode of transportation. Your pawn normally moves one step at a time, but when on a bridge, it can take a boat directly to the next bridge.

Second half of the game. At the centre, Ainul (yellow) had created a neighbourhood and flooded it with cheap temples, using up all spaces and thus preventing others from competing with him.

Heng (orange) was very very determined to dominate this large 13-spaces neighbourhood. Look at all those orange temples! Ainul (yellow) had been competing with him, initiating an arms race, but by now had decided to just be content with 2nd place.

Near game end. I didn't do so well, despite being the only one who had played this before, but I think I did manage to teach the others some dirty tricks (like pulling away bridges that others need) and I hope they enjoyed the game. I think the game is best with four, because that means in each neighbourhood at most 3 players can score. 3 players is probably OK too. At least it doesn't become a zero-sum 2-player game.

28 May 2011 (1:18am). Roll Through the Ages is very nicely produced. Heng, Peter, Allen and I played two quick games. Tempo is very important. You always need to watch out for others ending the game quickly before you can pull off your grand plan. Or you may want to do this to your opponents. Peter was a victim of this, scoring negative points in our first game.