Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Kuhhandel Master

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Kuhhandel Master is an enhanced version of an older game, Kuhhandel a.k.a. You're Bluffing, first published in 1985. I had not played the original game before, but it did sound familiar. The new version can be played using the original rules, but since I learned it with the full new rules, I will now only want to play it that way.

Kuhhandel Master is a card game with lots and lots of auctions. You try to collect full sets of animal cards. There are ten types of animals, with four cards each. Let's start with the end game scoring. You score points for the complete sets you have at game end. Each animal type has a VP value. You add them up. Then depending on how many complete sets you have, you multiply the sum with this number. The animal VP values vary greatly, from 10 to 1000, but because of this multiplication that you need to do, you must not underestimate the value of the lowly 10VP animal.

On your turn you have two options. You can either draw a card from the deck to be auctioned off, or you challenge an opponent who has a same animal type as you do. When you auction a card, everyone else bids until only one bidder remains. You then have a choice of selling the card, or keeping it. In the latter case you pay the last bidder the amount that he has bid. When you challenge an opponent, you put one or two of an animal card onto the centre of the table, and he does the same. You then offer a number of money cards face-down. He has the option of taking the money and letting you get all the animal cards, or accepting the challenge. If he wants to fight for the animals, he gives you one or more money cards face-down. You both take each other's money, and secretly look at how much there is. Whoever has paid more gets the animals. It is through these challenges that animal cards will become grouped together, and once all 10 animal types have formed complete sets, the game ends.

The money in this game is one very interesting aspect. Everyone starts with: 2 x $0 / 3 x $10 / 1 x $20 / 1 x $50. Those $0 money cards may seem unusual, but they are an important part of bluffing. When challenging others, you can add those $0 cards face-down to make your opponent think that you've committed a lot of money. The game has a closed economy. There is no bank like Monopoly. You earn money from or lose money to your fellow players. Also there is no giving change. If you win a bid at $40, but are only able to pay using a $50 money card, you won't get the $10 change. Each time a donkey card is drawn, there is new money injected into the game - everyone gets one more money card, starting with $50 for the first donkey, and then $100, $200, $500 for the remaining ones. What this means is the value of money will deteriorate. If you are richer than your opponents, you want to take advantage of that before everyone gets the next windfall.

Two additional elements compared to the original game are rats and pedigree cards. If you have the rat cards set at the end of the game, it cancels one of your animal sets. This can be very painful because the number of animal sets you have is a multiplier for determining your final score. When a rat is drawn from the deck, the active player immediately passes it to the next player. This next player can accept it, or play a money card on it (face-down) to divert it to his next player. This process goes on until a player cannot resist taking the accumulated money cards, or he runs out of cards that he can add to the pile. When a rat owner challenges another rat owner, whoever offers less money takes all the rats at the centre of the table.

Pedigree cards are special animal cards. For each of the ten types of animals, there is one corresponding pedigree card. At game end, if you own a pedigree card and the matching animal set, you add 250VP to your VP sum before applying the multiplier (number of animal sets). If you own a pedigree card but not the matching animal set, you add 250VP after the multiplier is applied. Pedigree cards are auctioned using the Dutch auction. The active player starts a countdown from ten, ten referring to the number of money cards the buyer must pay to claim the pedigree card. As the countdown proceeds, any bidder can stop it, thus offering a specific number of money cards to buy the pedigree card. The active player may decide not to sell it. If so, he pays the highest bidder the number of money cards he offered.

Because of the rats and the pedigree cards, those $0 money cards become quite useful. These animals are won by the quantity of money cards and not by the value of the money cards.

Scoring example: My three animal sets are worth 500+350+160=1010. I have a dog pedigree card to go with my dog set, so 1010+250=1260. I have three complete sets, so 1260 x 3 = 3780. I have two lone pedigree cards, so 3780+250+250=4280.

The Play

I played with Allen, Heng and Jeff. This is a closed economy game, which means whenever someone becomes richer, someone else has become poorer. The wealth levels of players will go up and down, and it is important to gauge how strong or weak your opponents are. You want to challenge them when they are weak. Even when they are strong, sometimes you want to take the opportunity to challenge them too with the intention to lose but to earn a handsome sum from them. When they are rich they will probably be more willing to spend, especially when you challenge them with an animal card they are desperate for.

You need to watch what animals your opponents are collecting. You need to read your opponents during the challenges. Ideally you want to win by spending just a tiny bit more than them, or you'd want to lose but earn a huge sum from them. There is much bluffing involved. During a challenge, only the two players involved will know the amount that exchanges hands. The others won't know. During such moments the two trading players should try to mislead the other players, or at least try not to reveal any clues. Stay cool when you get a lousy deal, or pretend to be upset when you've just made a killing. It is usually in the interest of your trading partner to play along, because he would want to mislead the others too.

In the early game I probably spent too much money on buying animal cards, which left me weak for quite some time later on, and I had difficulty buying cards for some time. When others were later happily spending their money cards buying animals, I had to patiently collect money cards and rebuild my wealth. At one point I had a very full hand of many $0 and $10 cards. All I needed was for rats and pedigree cards to come up. And eventually they did, of course.

It was still early in the game and I was down to just a few cards.

I think in our game the donkeys came out quite early, so the additional money cards entered the game early. The $500 money card was already in the game at this point, because all four donkeys were out.

The tension ramps up as the game nears the end, because by then you get a clearer and clearer idea of who is leading, what animals each player may be targeting, and and what needs to be done to stop your opponents.

Heng won the game. He had the horses, which are worth 1000 base VP. This was not the only reason he won. He also captured other animal sets. The rest of us probably should have worked together harder to stop him. Overall the number of animal sets and pedigree cards won by the players were quite close.

When I had this many cards, and a pedigree card came up, I would pretentiously complain, "Do we have to start at ten? Why can't we start at fifteen?"

The Thoughts

On the surface this is a game about set collection, but the most important thing about the game is actually the auctions, which means you need to know how to evaluate the worth of a card or a set of cards. There is also an important bluffing and mind-reading element when you challenge others. The game is very interactive because you need to pay attention to what others are doing, how money is changing hands, and what cards have yet to turn up. You need to pay attention to the ebb and flow of the wealth level of the players, making use of your opponents' weak moments, and even their strong moments, when they are more likely to overspend.

The basic mechanisms are straight-forward. The evaluation of a card's worth is not always so.

Adding the rats and the pedigree cards doesn't make the game much more complex. Having learned the game this way, I think I will find it bland without these two elements.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

I wish you plenty of quality time spent with friends and family playing boardgames.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

in photos: Tzolk'in Tribes and Prophecies, Monopoly

10 Nov 2013. I played The Settlers of Catan with the children - a game that Chen Rui (left, 6) claims is her favourite now, even though she is quite clueless about strategy.

Barbarossa, a clay-moulding guessing game. I made the three in the foreground. Chen Rui made the three on the left behind mine, and Shee Yun the three on the right. I made a van, a cello and a rope. Chen Rui made a rope (the one at the back, and that bulge is a knot), a carrot, and something else - I forget. Shee Yun made a fridge, a carrot, and an eraser I think.

We didn't use the play dough that came with the game. They look wet and oily. We used the children's play dough.

30 Nov 2013. The children persuaded me to play Monopoly with them. Of all games. We have plenty of decent children games at home, and they have to pick Monopoly. But I guess what's important is spending time together. And I realise I'm probably somewhat prejudiced against this game. The children don't have any preconceived notions. They treat Monopoly as any other game in my collection, and they like it. It is probably partially due to me having it on the iPad (I think I downloaded it when it was free).

We didn't finish the game though. We stopped after playing for about an hour, or slightly more. The kids were bored. See I told you Monopoly sucks.

We didn't use the toy credit cards and toy card reader that come with the game. I find them annoying and cumbersome. We used plastic coins I bought in Taiwan and paper money from Power Grid: Factory Manager.

13 Dec 2013. I played Tzolk'in with the Tribes and Prophecies expansion at Boardgamecafe.net. This photo shows the prophecy board. The first quarter of the game (rightmost spot) does not change, but for each other quarter some special rules will apply and some special scoring will be done too at the end of the quarter. E.g. in Quarter 4 (leftmost tile) whenever a player gains a crystal skull, he must decrease his position at one temple. At the end of the quarter, you lose 5VP if you have no crystal skull. You are not penalised if you have one or two. You gain points if you have three or more. These prophecy tiles are randomly drawn and revealed before the game starts, so you can plan for them up front.

That big tile at the bottom is a tribe tile. You get two at the start of the game and pick one. Your tribe gives you a special ability throughout the game. Mine lets one worker take a stronger action than he is supposed to be able to, if I pay one corn (i.e. $1). I find this quite powerful.

In this particular game there were two monuments that gave points for tech achievements, and also one prophecy related to techs, so I focused a lot on gaining techs. By game end, I was maxed out on three of the four tech tracks. This game has quite many moving parts and players will need at least the first game to get a grasp of what's going on. In this game, two of us have played before and two were new to the game, and there was an obvious gap between our scores at game end. I remember I was quite clueless in my first game too, not knowing how to plan ahead and work towards some of the monuments.

My overall impression of Tzolk'in hasn't changed. The timing aspect of the worker placement is interesting, and once you get into the rhythm, it's a clean and clever concept. However the rest of the game mechanisms are quite typical of VP-scoring Eurogames - multiple ways to earn VP's, collecting resources to convert them into VP's, and some area majority competition. Overall still a decent game. I like the expansion and would prefer to always play with it, but if you're new to the game, start without it. It gives some variety. It doesn't change the game much.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Bremerhaven

Plays: 4Px1.

Bremerhaven and Le Havre are from the same publisher, and the artwork is done by the same artist. Le Havre is the largest port in France, while Bremerhaven is the largest port in Germany. However these two games are by different designers and are very different.

The Game

In Bremerhaven, every player runs his own port, and you try to score the most points at game end by maximising your wealth and your prestige. Victory Points = cash x prestige.

The core mechanism is blind bidding. Every round a number of ships (bringing in various goods), a number of trucks (demanding various goods), and various actions are available for players to bid on. Everyone has five cards of various values, and you take turns playing a card face-down next to the thing you want. Once all cards are played, they are all turned face-up. If more than one player have played cards on one spot, then whoever has the highest card value total wins and gains the benefit, while the others leave with nothing. There are two exceptions - the build action space and the card upgrade action space allow losers to take actions, but they have to pay the difference between their total card value and the winner's total card value. Once all competition at the centre of the table is resolved, players take what they have won and do their own thing at their player boards.

The top row is for the ships which bring various goods. The bottom row is for the trucks which demand various goods. The six action spaces in the centre row are: earn parking fees, gain a building card, perform a build action, upgrade a card, determine market prices, change turn order.

You make money mainly by taking goods from ships (for free) and then delivering them to the trucks (which pay you). You only have three berths for ships and four loading bays for trucks. Two of the loading bays are not even available initially. You need to do build actions to open them up. Every ship and every truck that you win will stay at your port for a certain number of rounds, thus tying up your berths and loading bays. The length of stay of a truck is basically your time limit to fulfill the truck's demand. If it leaves without all the goods it wants, you are penalised.

Money is just one multiplier for your final score. The other one is prestige. Prestige is not accumulated. Instead, it is a measure of the highest total prestige value you have ever achieved throughout the game. Ships and buildings have prestige values. Buildings, once constructed, stay forever, but ships come and go. So your total prestige will fluctuate. What is important is your highest ever achievement, not what you have at game end.

The player board. Berths for ships on the left, and loading bays for trucks at the top. Whenever a ship or truck arrives, you place a number of time tokens on it, and remove one token at the end of every round. Once all tokens are removed, the ship or truck leaves. Initially only the six spaces on the left half are available for temporarily storing goods and constructing buildings. You need to use build actions (and pay money) to remove the construction cards on the right half to make more space available.

Stars mean prestige. Ships and buildings have stars. The track on the right is to mark your highest ever prestige total.

Notice the bollards at the berths. Some ships specify a minimum number of bollards required. If you don't build enough bollards, you won't be able to get some of the larger ships.

Buildings give special abilities. The build action lets you construct buildings that you've won from the building card space, add bollards, and also expand available space at your harbour. The upgrade card action lets you discard the lowest card from your set of five, and replace it with a higher valued card. So you can compete better next round. The set market prices action lets you determine the prices of all four types of goods for that round. Trucks leaving that round pay players according to these prices. Naturally you will want to maximise your earnings and minimise those of your opponents, if they have trucks about to leave. If no one takes this action, prices are determined by a random card. The turn order action not only determines turn order. It also determines the tiebreaker advantage and the salary for the round.

At the end of every round, an event card (which can be good or bad) is drawn for the next round, and the game end countdown (either 1 or 2 steps) is also determined. The number of rounds in a game varies from game to game.

The Play

Ainul, Ken, Heng and I did a 4P game, all being new to the game. It all started peacefully enough, as we tried to figure out the game, but soon those moments of hey-why-did-you-put-your-card-on-the-same-spot-as-mine started coming, and evolved to become downright vicious competition. We had plenty of escalations as sometimes two, and even three, players kept committing more and more cards to the same spot. It was painful for all involved, even the winner, because he had to spend many cards. This destructive bidding that we had was probably partly due to a rule mistake we made. We had thought that the buy building card space allowed more than one player to buy a card. We had some rounds when the second or third player on that space paid to buy the next building card that came up. Since we had more building cards in players' hands than we should have had, the competition for the build action space was very heated.

The bidding can get very brutal. Look at how competitive it is! Green has committed three cards (out of five available), and Red and Blue two each.

That said, I suspect the bidding would still have been quite cutthroat even if we had played correctly.

I did not do much card upgrading, and my cards were the weakest. So I had to settle for going for spots that I didn't think others would want. In a way that helped, because it meant I got into fewer contests. But then sometimes it may be good to compete. If your cards are strong enough and you can read your opponents well, you will be able to kill two birds with one stone - win what you want and deny your opponents.

I had a building which let me adjust the duration the ships and trucks stayed at my port. I almost always made them stay for a shorter period, so that they tied up my space for less time, and I could do more business. It was very helpful. However it was Ken who did the best in making money. By mid game his wealth had shot ahead and he left us in the dust. I was quite sure he was going to win. In the late game he made a call which costed him the game. He wanted to boost his prestige. To do that he had to build bollards so that he could receive large ships with high prestige values. He invested quite a lot to do that. Unfortunately the end result turned out to be not worth the money he sank into this effort. Ouch.

The Thoughts

What I remember most about Bremerhaven is the brutal blind bidding wars. The logistics and coordination part with the ships and trucks are okay - not bad but not particularly exciting either. They mainly provide a context and an ever-changing backdrop for the competition in the bidding rounds. You must watch your opponents' boards to determine what they need and guess what they want. There is not much long term strategy. Player boards don't really develop to become very different from one another, although the buildings do provide some variety and player ability differentiation. The timing aspect is interesting. You need to be careful with your money. In the second half, you need to start scrutinising every dollar spent to make sure it will give you sufficient returns. If not, you are basically throwing away VP's. The prestige element is also about timing. You only need to hit a good peak once during the game. It doesn't have to be exactly at game end. You don't need to maintain a high prestige total throughout the game. You only need to orchestrate that one perfect storm. Planning for and grabbing that right moment is an interesting challenge, especially when you often don't get what you want from the bidding wars. One tough decision that sometimes comes about is after you have hit a decent peak, do you want to spend more effort to go for another even higher peak? Is there enough remaining time to do so?

Some won't like the unforgiving nature of the blind bidding mechanism. I think it is indeed quite harsh, but I find it very funny too. How players crash and burn spectacularly and get one another killed in the bidding rounds can be quite entertaining, even when you are part of that mess. My game being played with a group of crazy fellows certainly helped make it a fun experience. I can imagine if played with serious types the game can be a grim and merciless one. But then maybe some will like it that way too.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

miscellaneous: Robinson Crusoe, buying games, format for gamenight, etc

Robinson Crusoe volcano scenario (#4)

I recently taught Han Robinson Crusoe. We beat the first scenario quite easily, both still in good health and with the bonfire all ready even before Round 10 when the ship sailed by. I have played the second scenario, so we decided to be adventurous and went straight to Scenario 4. This scenario only has 8 rounds, and from the 4th round onwards some spaces will be covered by lava from the erupting volcano, forcing you to keep moving camp (or die). To win, you need to discover a number of temples (represented by the totem poles on some of the terrain tiles) and do Exploration on them, drawing a certain number of Mystery cards (which can be treasures, traps or beasts). The damning thing is in this scenario where you desperately need to Explore (so that you can keep moving camp to avoid the lava as well as to find temples and explore them), the Explore action costs an extra pawn.

Han and I should have died in Round 5. We had forgotten about the lava, and our camp was overrun. We decided to cheat. We undid half a round to the end of Round 4 where we should have remembered to move camp, and continued from there. We eventually won, but it was quite close. We were both sick and badly wounded. We had barely enough actions to complete all the required Exploration. We were lucky with the final temple exploration. We only had one beast card. The other four were all treasures.

I find that for each scenario in Robinson Crusoe you really need to go in with a plan, knowing clearly how you should prioritise your actions. Some characters seem to be better suited for some scenarios. I can't say for sure yet, but it's my gut feel. I still feel the Carpenter is the overall best character, because it is important to build tools and shelter. The Explorer is useful in Scenario 4 because of the amount of exploring you need to do. The characters are important not only for their special abilities, but also for their unique invention. Having certain inventions available in a game can be quite useful.

Milsims in Melbourne

I didn't visit them. I was in Melbourne for a short holiday (all holidays are too short). Han, who had worked in Geelong (near Melbourne) for a year, recommended visiting the local game store Milsims. I visited their website, and found some very good deals in the sales section, e.g. Axis and Allies 1941, the simpler version of global Axis & Allies. If I were a completist, buying this would be a no-brainer. But I don't really need this game. If I feel like playing global Axis & Allies I'd prefer to play the Anniversary edition. So I congratulate myself - I didn't buy just because there was a discount, and I didn't buy just because it was convenient. Well done in controlling the impulse buy.

I'm sure I would have enjoyed visiting the shop. They do seem to have a huge catalogue. Just visiting and browsing and seeing so many games on the shelves would have given me a natural high, even if I don't buy anything. I checked my (quite modest) watchlist against their catalogue, in particular for games that I can't easily find in Malaysia. Their Second World War at Sea: Coral Sea was temporarily out of stock. If it were in stock, my determination would be a little shaky. I tell myself I don't need more games now, because currently there are many games in my collection that I am keen to play but am not playing enough. I shouldn't worsen this situation. This is probably why none of the recent Essen games rang the "must buy" bell for me.

The quota

I'm not going to hit the 18 games quota in 2013. I'm at 14 now (and three of them are Android: Netrunner expansions). Should I reduce this quota to 12 new games, i.e. one per month? I have been thinking about getting Cavum if I have quota left, but now that Allen has bought it, maybe I don't need to. Now I'm eyeing Clash of Cultures, which I have played once and quite like.

Monthly focus

This is one viable way to enjoy the boardgaming hobby:

  • Limit yourself to buying (or opening) one new game per month. Make that your game of the month. Play it more. Explore it in depth. Play other games too, but allocate enough time to fully appreciate that new game.
  • Sell games that you are not keen to revisit or are unlikely to revisit.
  • Keep the collection to a size where you expect to play every game at least once a year.

I know I won't be able to do this, but no harm theorising right? I know I probably won't be able to maintain any rigid discipline about one game per month, but at the moment I do have a handful of games on my hotlist that I hope to play more of and to learn the intricacies of. So it's not something I have to try hard to do, it's just that I won't be precisely keeping count. Selling games will be more challenging. Some games I keep for the nostalgia. Some I keep for "insurance" - maybe I will find time to play it one day, or it will be handy when I have a party at home (and I haven't organised any for at least two years). The hardest bit (close to impossible) is ensuring every game gets played at least once a year. I wrote a simple Excel macro which lists down for me games in my collection rated 8 or above which I have not played for more than a year. I, um... don't use it very often nowadays. It's too embarrassing.

A series of medium-weight games

I find that when I plan for a game session, the default mode is almost always to plan around one heavy main course, and maybe one more optional medium or short game, depending on how much time is left. I wonder whether it is because (a) nowadays many games tend to be more complex? or (b) the games I tend to like now are more complex? Why not plan 3 or 4 medium-weight games, each around 45min to 1hr long? I realise I have developed a blind spot for these medium-weight games, which are mostly Eurogames. They tend to get lumped into the category of "games you don't schedule game night around", a.k.a. "not a main course game". Or "filler". I should plan to play Metropolys again.

2 Nov 2013. Chen Rui wanted to play a game. I think she wanted to play Monopoly, but I wasn't keen on it at all, so I tried to persuade her to play something else. Eventually she picked Keltis, which I had not expected at all. She has never been particularly interested in it. I don't know why she picked it. I'm just glad I don't have to play Monopoly. Her hands are still small so she always struggles when there are many cards to hold.

She actually did quite well in this game! In the end she only lost by four points. Once she saw the final score, she quickly put her score marker (brown) on ahead of mine and declared that she had won.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Rialto

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Rialto is an area majority game. What is special about it is the values of the districts being fought over are gradually determined throughout the course of the game, through players actions. Area majority scoring is done only at game end. There are a few other ways to score points, e.g. from buildings and from actions, but the bulk of the points come from the area majority competition.

The game is driven by a card drafting mechanism. At the start of each of the six rounds, a few sets of cards are dealt face-up for players to pick. These cards are used later that round to execute various actions. Actions are executed in the order of action types. To participate in an action phase, you need to play one or more cards for that particular action. The more cards you play, the stronger your action. The player who has played the most cards gains a special bonus. E.g. for the earn money phase the bonus is you earn and extra $1 (well, it's actually florin I think, since this game is set in Venice). Other actions include competing for turn order, constructing buildings, getting pawns from the general supply, placing pawns into the active district of the current round, and scoring points. Among these are two important bonuses. Firstly, in the score points phase (or bridge phase) if you win the bonus you get to place a good bridge between two districts, usually significantly increasing the value of the districts. Secondly, in the gain pawn phase (or gondola phase) if you win the bonus you get to place a lousy bridge (which is actually a gondola) between two districts, increasing their values by a paltry 1pt. You also get to place one pawn in one of these districts. This may not sound like much, but it can be very powerful because it means you can place a pawn in a non-active district.

With 4 players, we had 5 sets of cards laid out at the start of every round. The last player will still have two sets to pick from.

From left to right: The bridge cards score 1pt per card. The bonus is you get to place a bridge tile onto the board to increase the values of the districts at both ends of the bridge. The gondola cards let you take pawns from the general supply. The bonus is you get to place a gondola (i.e. lousy 1pt bridge) onto the board. The mask cards are jokers, and must be played with another card. The hat cards are for turn order. The coin cards are for money. This was still early in the game. In the background you can see that most spaces for bridges and gondolas are still empty. Also only one district has pawns.

When you select a set of cards, others can see what you have selected. However, you also draw two cards from the draw deck, and then discard two cards, before the action phases start. So your opponents will not be entirely sure what cards you have.

The building powers are mostly straight-forward. Some are related to drawing more cards and having a larger hand size. Some are related to playing one card as a card of another type. Some give points. All building powers need to be activated by paying $1, and they can only be used once per round. Money is only used for triggering building powers.

The player board has 7 spaces for buildings. There are three types of buildings, blue, green and yellow, and four levels in each type. The level (top right corner of the building tile) is also the point value. From left to right: (1) upgrade a building to the next level. (2) Draw one more card from those face-up or three more from the draw deck. Also handsize is increased by two. (3) Gain 3pts. (4) Gain 1pt and one pawn.

The Play

Having played Stefan Feld's In the Year of the Dragon and also other games where player order is something that can be fought over, I decided it must be quite important, and spent much effort keeping myself in first position. Heng and Ivan didn't really bother to compete, but Allen did, which meant I had to maintain my effort. It was an arms race.

There are six action phases in a round. At first I thought it would be a good idea to claim a good variety of cards, so that I could participate in many action phases. However I later found that this meant my actions were rather weak, and I would often miss out on the bonuses. The game forces you to make choices and sacrifices. At the start of every round, you should pay attention to what cards your opponents are taking, so that you have a rough idea of where they intend to compete. I didn't really do that though, since I was still learning the ropes and couldn't spare the extra effort.

In the early game it was difficult to plan which districts to go for, since the district values were not determined yet. So we had to fight first and talk scores later. Once you have majority in a district, you should try to place bridges that increase its value. Naturally others will try to award you stinking gondolas.

The building powers are all quite handy. I think they are very much worth the investment. You need to remember to maintain a stash of cash to trigger their powers though. Some scoring is done during the game, but most is done at game end, so you need to always keep in mind the end goal. The game is a constant manipulation of the end state, while you score some supplementary points along the way.

In the sixth and last round I made a mistake of underestimating Allen's determination to beat me in the turn order track. I was already 5 steps ahead, and I didn't think he would commit so many cards to try to overtake me. Even so, I kept one turn order card just in case. To my surprise, he committed 5 cards. That meant he moved six steps (taking into account the bonus) and I moved one. We landed on the same space, but since I moved first, his disc was atop mine, and he gained the lead. Aaarrgghh! This affected the end-game scoring of two districts, where he claimed first place while I had to settle for second, gaining half the points he scored. That was about a 13pt different - he gained 13pts more and I gained 13pts less. He won the game by a huge margin while I came a distant third. If I had committed more to maintain my turn order lead, I might have won, or at least come second place.

Game end. The doge track with the hat icon is the turn order track. Allen (blue) and I (green) were on the same space, but because his disc was on top, he had the advantage. The outer track is the score track. Allen outscored us by a mile!

The Thoughts

Rialto teases. There are many things you want to do, but you can't do everything. You are forced to choose. Turn order is certainly important. In this game I maintained the lead position most of the time, and didn't have to feel much pain. However I imagine it is painful for Heng and Ivan. They had fewer choices when picking the card sets, and during the card play, they were also disadvantaged when there was a tie for most number of cards played. Even as start player, picking a card set is painful. You not only have to think about what you want to do. You also have to consider that the card sets you leave behind will be used by your opponents to compete with you.

What makes Rialto stand out is how the district values are determined during the course of the game. This presents an interesting challenge to the area majority competition. The game is constant positioning and manoeuvring to set yourself up for the end-game scoring. Other scoring methods are not unimportant, but are supplementary. You need to always keep the end in mind.

My impression of Rialto is: cute. It is quite clean and succinct. It's a medium weight game, with still enough meat to chew on. It doesn't feel overburdened with multiple different mechanisms, like I feel there is in some other Stefan Feld's designs. Rialto is not bad. Crisp.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Concordia

Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

Concordia is one of the hot new games from the recent Essen game fair. It is the latest game by Mac Gerdts, designer of Antike, Imperial and Navegador, and inventor of the rondel mechanism which can be seen in all the games above. This time there is no rondel, but the action card mechanism serves a similar purpose - restricting actions, more-or-less enforcing a cycle, and forcing players to plan around it and to work it to their advantage.

Players are great dynasties of the ancient Roman empire. They send out colonists from Rome to Europe, North Africa and around the Mediterranean basin to establish trading posts and colonies. These colonies produce various goods, which generate income to fuel further expansion. The game ends after a player establishes his 15th colony, or when all action cards have been bought by the players.

The engine that drives the game is the action card mechanism. Everyone starts with the same set of cards. On your turn you play a card from your hand, and do what it says. You can move your colonists and establish new colonies (paying money and resources of course). You can make a province produce goods, and every player with presence in towns there will gain goods. You can buy and sell goods. You can buy action cards from the board. You can reset your hand of cards by taking all cards back. The game is many overlapping cycles of producing goods, making money, and then establishing colonies and buying action cards.

Action cards available on the board are what augments players' abilities. Most action cards are improved versions of your basic action cards, while some grant new abilities. Buying an action card means you'll have more cards to pick from, and you'll be able to do more of that particular action type. It also means you'll have more time before you must spend a turn to reset your cards. More importantly, action cards are also scoring cards. Scoring is done only at game end. Each action card awards points based on a specific criteria. If you are meeting that criteria very well, e.g. you have colonies in many provinces, then it is in your best interest to buy lots of action cards with this scoring criteria.

The action cards. The coloured bar at the bottom of each card indicates the scoring criteria for the card.

The player board is your warehouse. You start with the six goods on the right. The four spaces on the left are initially blocked by four colonist pieces. When you spend resources to create new colonists on the board, you move these colonist pieces off your player board, thus freeing up more space for goods. The prices of goods are fixed and are listed along the top. There is no market mechanism that drives prices up and down.

Competition between players mostly comes in the form of racing to reach towns, and buying action cards. There is no limit to the number of players who can establish a colony in a town, but the later you arrive, the more you have to pay. There can be a bit of cooperation, because of how production works. You may be reluctant to give others a free ride when you produce, but there is an incentive - one free good if you take the produce action.

The tombstone-shaped tiles indicate the goods produced at each town. They are distributed semi-randomly at the start of the game.

The Play

I did a 5-player game, which I suspect is the best way to play. I was the 5th player, which was challenging at the start of the game because everyone else had established colonies near Rome by the time it was my first turn. If I were to go for the same towns, I'd need to pay more. No wonder they give you much more starting money. I decided to try something different. I bought two action cards instead, hoping they would give me an early advantage. I'm not sure whether it was a good idea. No colony meant no production. No production meant no income. After that I quickly colonised and tried to catch up with the production cycles.

This was the early game. Everyone starts in Rome. Colonists (be it the land type or sea type) start in cities but once they start traveling, they go onto land and sea routes. They can establish colonies on either city connected to the route they are on.

Leeching off the effort of others is wonderful. That feeling of getting free stuff when it is not your turn (like in The Settlers of Catan) is great! When picking colony sites it is good to see where others are going, so that mutually beneficial arrangements can be made. The downside of course is if many people are expanding in the same direction, the cost of establishing colonies would become higher due to people needing to share towns. Being the monopoly in a province can be good. When you produce, nobody else benefits. But then if the province is lucrative enough, you can't really stop others from coming if they are willing to pay the extra cost. Also from the scoring criteria perspective, many colonies in the same few provinces may not be a good idea.

Ken and friend (sorry, forgot to ask your name).

My warehouse was full. I had bought one special action card which allowed me to produce grain in all my grain-producing colonies. This is different from the normal production card which produces all goods types but applies to a single province.

The game has a certain rhythm to it. It is an ongoing cyle of production, making money and further expansion using the money and resources gained, plus the procurement of action cards to enhance players' abilities. In our game, the focus was mostly on racing to build colonies. However once we reached about mid game and the action cards started to get attention, the competition became fierce. Every card was points!

Players have some control over the pace and the timing of the game end. If you think you have more or less maximised your scoring potential, but others still have room for growth, then you would want to try to end the game as soon as possible. However, how well everyone is doing can be hard to assess. There is no interim scoring. You can only rely on rough estimation based on the board situation and what action cards your opponents have bought.

Near game end - only four action cards remain in the card row at the top right.

With 5 players, many towns are shared by two or more players.

Our end game scoring took a while. Sorting out the cards, checking the board situation, doing the multiplications and then the additions took some time. As I totaled up my score, I saw that I was doing well, but Ivan was just one point behind. That was too close for comfort, so I recounted. My hunch was right. I had miscounted and I was actually one point behind Ivan instead. Jeff was watching us play and suggested to recount for Ivan too. To our surprise he had miscounted too and his final score was further behind. How can these seasoned gamers be so lousy in maths?! Now that I was confident to have won, Ken finished calculating his score, and he was ahead of both Ivan and I! Aaarrgghh... after all that trouble...

Ivan's scoring was very focused on the type of scoring card which awards point per province with presence. He had been collecting a ton of these cards, and I hadn't realised that and I didn't stop him. He had also been trying to distribute his colonies far and wide, mostly having one colony per province. I had expected this would be the most efficient way of scoring - focusing on one or two criteria - just like in Navegador. To my surprise, Ken and I who scored higher were not really strong in any one criteria. We did do well in quite a few areas, but we were nowhere near Ivan's level of focus. About two thirds of Ivan's score were from one criteria. So maybe I am wrong about Concordia.

Game-end scoring took a while, with much multiplication and addition. I joked with Jeff (who was watching) whether we would suddenly have a black-out, and then when the lights came back on, the results would change dramatically*.

The Thoughts

The rules and gameplay of Concordia are quite different from Navegador, but somehow they feel similar. It is probably the scoring mechanism that makes me feel that way. There are multiple ways to score, and you need to pick some to focus on, because trying to do everything will probably doom you. Concordia is very much a Eurogame. It is a development game. You establish your infrastructure to gain wealth and then use that wealth to further expand your infrastructure. It is non confrontational. You use action cards to specialise and to support your strategy. It has a very "Mac Gerdts" feel, and if you like his designs I think you will like this game too. I like his games well enough but I am not a particularly big fan. Concordia is well-crafted and well-tuned. The random distribution of goods production provides variability. Although I'm willing to play, I don't have a strong urge to revisit and explore. It's probably because it feels too familiar.

* For non-Malaysians, this is a Malaysian political joke in the election year of 2013. And also other years too I guess.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Hanabi

Plays: 5Px1, 3Px2.

Hanabi is Japanese for fireworks. It is the Spiel des Jahres winner of 2013, designed by Antoine Bauza, designer of 7 Wonders, the Kennerspiel des Jahres winner of 2012. Antoine, who also designed Ghost Stories, Takenoko and Tokaido, is certainly a hot designer now. Hmm... there seems to be something about him and Japan / oriental culture.

The Game

Hanabi is a card game and a cooperative game. I must admit this is the first time I hear of this combination. I can't think of any other cooperative card games. What's unusual about this game is you hold your cards the other way round. You don't know what cards you are holding, but you can see what everyone else is holding. The objective of the game is to play cards onto the table in sequential order. There are five suits (colours) with numbers from 1 to 5. The goal is to complete all five columns, one colour per column, with numbers going exactly from 1 to 5.

On your turn you have three options. You can give a clue to a teammate, pointing out which card or cards in his hand are of a specific colour or a specific number. That's all you can tell. Nothing else. When you give a clue, you use one of the eight clue tokens, which has to be flipped over. If at the start of your turn all clue tokens are face-down, you can't give a clue anymore, and must pick one from the other two options. The second option is discarding a card from your hand. This card goes to the discard pile and cannot be used anymore for the rest of the game. When you discard, you reset one clue token, making it available again. You have to be careful with discarding, because if the card you discard is the last card of a specific colour and number that has yet to be played, you will be terminating your progress for that colour. In each colour there are three 1's, two each of 2's, 3's and 4's, and only one 5. The third option is playing a card. Once you play a card, you check whether it can be added to one of the five columns on the table. If it can, congratulations. If it can't, you flip over one of the three bomb tokens. Flip the third bomb token, and the game ends early. The card played is discarded to the discard pile.

The game ends when the last card is drawn from the draw deck, and everyone takes one more turn. Then you score based on the number of cards successfully played, i.e. max being 25pts.

Ivan and Sinbad. I don't know what my own cards are, but I can see what they are holding.

We are currently at 14pts, 4+4+4+1+1. The three blue tokens at the bottom left are the bomb tokens. We have not touched those yet, i.e. no failed card plays yet. The others are the clue tokens. Seven have been flipped to the back side (black), which means we only have one last opportunity to give a clue unless someone discards a card.

The Play

Learning the tactics in Hanabi was refreshing. It certainly is something different. The idea sounds simple, but when I sat down to think about how best to give clues, there was more to consider than I had expected. A simple clue can be interpreted differently by different people. For example, if four 1's have already been played, and someone tells me I have two 1's in my hand. Is he trying to tell me these are the 1's of the fifth colour that I should play, or is he trying to tell me these are 1's of colours that are already out so I can safely discard them? Or perhaps he is only providing partial information and needs another player to tell me the colours of these 1's before I can know what to do exactly.

If you want to think real hard, you can consider the fact that the person giving you the clue cannot see his own cards, so he is giving the clue while having incomplete information. Looking at his cards may tell you a bit more than the clue that he is able to give you. Also you can consider the cards of the other players, which both of you can see. That may give you further hints too.

I imagine that as players play this game together more and more, they will develop some rapport, gradually being able to understand one another's intentions better and better. It may not be wholly a good thing though. Sometimes blunderings and misunderstandings are part of the fun.

There is a constant time pressure. You only have eight clue tokens. When they run out, your team will have less flexibility. So when you are down to the last token, you have to think twice before using it. Even if you have a splendid clue to give, you have to think about the next guy who may be forced to play a card or discard a card because he can't give clues anymore. Sometimes it may be better to do something else, e.g. discarding a card that you know is safe, and leave some unused clue tokens for others.

It's easy to cheat in this game, even if you don't intend to. When you are about to discard a card and you are unsure whether you are doing the right thing, it's hard to resist pausing, and looking at your friends' faces for any sign of alarm as your finger hover over a particular card. Playing this game makes me realise how rich human expressions and body language are. All those meaningful looks, sudden deep breaths, avoiding eye contact, screaming with your eyes, resisting to blurt out any warning, and also silent sighs of relief. Even the casual conversation and the tones used can give away extra information that you are not supposed to give. For example the tone in which you say, "I'm sure he knows what I mean when I give this clue... ". A passing remark of "I can't give her any clues, her cards are bad" in the early game would hint that the player probably has lots of 4's and 5's. You are not supposed to do all these. They are against the spirit of the game. Boardgames usually encourage communication, but Hanabi restricts communication instead. It can be funny to see how your friends try to keep a straight face.

The Thoughts

It's different. It's refreshing. It'll work as a party game, as a filler, and also as a family game. For seasoned gamers this will not be a main course, but it does provide a meaningful challenge. From reading the rules it didn't sound like much, but after I sat down to play it I found the deduction and logical thinking not exactly simplistic. Part of the game involves a lot of working out the logic and determining how to provide information efficiently. That part is quite deterministic and can feel like problem solving. Part of the game is about guessing what your teammates are trying to communicate. There is also a part where you just have to gamble and hope you get it right. Often there is simply not enough turns to provide a lot of information. Playing a card takes up one turn too. So sometimes you are forced to make a wild guess. I quite enjoyed the game and have bought a copy. Let's see if this works with my family.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

It's the people? It's the games?

I have read many "it's the people" opinions from boardgamers, that the best part of the boardgaming hobby is spending time with friends and family. I've always felt a little uneasy about that, because to me, the boardgaming hobby is primarily about the boardgames. Of course you need people to play boardgames with, but the focus is on all those interesting boardgames, their innovative mechanisms, how they bring out player interaction and the battles of wits, and how they create memorable experiences. If it is all about people, sitting around a dinner table chatting would work fine too, or having a few rounds of beer at the bar, etc.

The people...

... or the game?

I am becoming quite the jaded gamer nowadays. That has probably been happening for the past 3 or 4 years. I must admit I have an involuntary disdain (I know I shouldn't, but I think I do) towards the Cult of the New - fellow boardgamers who still keenly chase after the latest games. I certainly used to do that myself, but my enthusiasm has been waning for quite some time. There is not a single game from the recent 2013 Essen game fair that I am particularly interested in, not even the latest Vlaada Chvatil or Martin Wallace designs. The only game I ordered around this period was Roads & Boats, which is a reprint of an old Splotter title. Few new games pique my interest. I'm getting lazy to read up on new games. I often dismiss a game after hearing its name, or seeing its box cover (e.g. Francis Drake), or learning of its designer (sorry Mr Feld; but I do love In the Year of the Dragon, and I like Notre Dame too), or learning it is a Kickstarter game. It is my own jadedness that caused the disdain towards people who still have the enthusiasm and the passion. I know I shouldn't feel that way and I shouldn't judge others who are having fun in a way that I don't anymore.

I do think people should play more of games they already own though, and I do think many good games are not getting the number of plays they deserve, and it is at least partly (or even mostly) due to the number of new games distracting boardgamers.

I had a minor epiphany recently. I realise it is not about the people and maybe it isn't about the games either. It is about the act of playing itself. The people you play with need not be your best friends, or your close family. The games you play need not be your favourite games, or games which are elegant, strategic, rich in theme, have multiple paths to victory, have meaningful decisions, etc etc. They may not even need to be particularly good games. What makes boardgaming special and fun is the participation, the interaction and the sense of discovery when you are engaged in a game. I recently played a number of games that I wasn't particularly keen to try, and I had a lot of fun. The games being decent enough certainly helped. I have not decided to buy any of them, but them having enough depth provided that platform for fun. I didn't mind learning new games, and I didn't mind playing games with many recycled mechanisms. I didn't mind the lack of innovation.

The people you game with being boardgame enthusiasts too is certainly important. They share the same passion and they give you plenty of challenge during the games. They know the in-jokes in the hobby, and they speak the same language as you do. So, it's still about the people afterall? I guess what I'm saying is you don't need to try to convert your best friends or family members into gamers. If they can at most handle (or tolerate) simpler games, there is fun to be had with simpler games. Go out there and meet new friends and fellow enthusiasts.

I suddenly feel at peace. Don't worry too much about who you play with. Don't worry too much about which games you play. Just play.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Kemet

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

Kemet is a multiplayer wargame set in a mythical ancient Egypt. Players are small nations vying for power. They build pyramids and discover new technologies to boost their abilities. They attack each other and capture temples for glory. The first player to reach 10 victory points wins.

VP's are gained by making successful attacks (successful defenses give no VP), by controlling two or more temples at the end of a round, by sacrificing units at the Sanctuary of All Gods, and by buying certain techs. The above are permanent VP's that you can't lose. You also gain temp VP's for each temple or control Level 4 pyramid (the max level) you control, but if you lose control of these, you also lose the corresponding VP. There are a handful of ways to score VP's, but being peaceful is not an option. You need to raise armies and send them out.

You get five actions per round, and your options are listed in three rows on your player board. Players take turns taking one action each, and whenever you take an action, you cover the appropriate icon on your player board with a marker, making it unavailable for the rest of the round. During a round you must use actions from all three rows. This is how the game imposes restrictions on your actions. Actions you can do include raising armies, marching (which will lead to battle if your army meets an enemy army), collecting money (I think the game calls it life points or something, but I just think of it as money), upgrading a pyramid, and very importantly, buying a tech tile. Tech tiles is the most important part of the game. There are 48 of them, 16 in each of the three colours. Red tiles are mostly offensive techs, blue defensive, and white economic. It is these tiles that give character to your nation and give you the needed edge over your opponents. You adjust your strategy through them, and try to make the most of them to help you win. E.g. one of the blue tiles gives you two extra soldiers when you build an army, one of the red tiles increases your army size limit from 5 to 7, one of the white tiles give you extra income at the start of every round.

The most eye-catching aspect of this game is surely the mythical creatures. You get them when you buy certain techs, and they accompany your armies and assist them in battle. Creatures never die. If the attached army is wiped out, the creature just goes home and waits to attach itself to the next new army.

The map, together with the tiles, are probably more important elements that define the game than the creatures. The creatures are afterall just a subset of tiles. The map in Kemet has few spaces. Everything is near everything else. Every space on the board is only a few steps away. This is because of the obelisks. You can teleport an army from a pyramid (your base consists of three spaces which allow building pyramids) to an obelisk by paying $2. This is a game that encourages offense, not just because only successful attacks give 1VP, but also because the map design makes every space easily accessible.

Battles are resolved via a simple card play. Strength is determined by army size, the single battle card played, and other special abilities from tiles and creatures. The loser, if he has any soldiers remaining, may choose to retreat to an adjacent space, or sacrifice all survivors and turn them into money. The latter is not uncommon, because leaving a weakened army on the board only invites further attacks. Successful attack = 1VP!

That fortress with three pyramids is a player's base. Troops are raised there. The pyramid colour and level determine what techs you can buy. The building on the right is one of the temples. This particular temple gives $5 at the end of a round, but you need to sacrifice a soldier to gain this benefit. One interesting thing about this temple is it is at a dead end. It has an obelisk (dark blue pillar with a golden tip), which means you can teleport troops in, but there are no bridges or crossings you can use to get off the delta it is on.

The Play

Han and I had scheduled a game session when he was in town recently. We played Sekigahara. We knew 2P is not an ideal number for Kemet, but we were curious so we went ahead anyway, just to see what it was like. We played the short game (8VP instead of 10VP).

The first thing I found was the techs are cheap. There really is no reason to not take advantage of them. The cheapest ones are only $1. The game is all about offense. Each successful attack is 1VP, which is a lot. Even it the standard game, that's 10% of the VP you need to win. The game is also a race to capture temples. The action selection mechanism restricts you somewhat - you can at most raise armies once and march twice in a round, but generally as long as you prioritise and plan ahead a little, you won't feel restricted much.

Han went the warmonger path, mainly going for the offensive techs, while I leaned towards economy. At one point I made more money than my treasury could hold (there is a limit of $11). What a waste! I should have made sure I did not have too much left over from the previous round. Our game was many cycles of back-and-forth attacks - he attacked me to score 1VP, then I attacked him with a new army to score 1VP, then he attacked me with yet another new army, and so on. I think things are less interesting when there is only one other player to whack. There is no balance of power or ganging up or temporary alliances to think about like in 3P (or more) games. Most of the time when I lose a battle, I let all the survivors die instead of getting them to retreat to an adjacent space. If I kept them around, they would just be low-hanging fruit for Han.

Han had more VP from attacks, and I had more VP's from controlling temples. The game was a race to score points. It might be because we were playing the shorter version, but I suspect even in the standard 10VP game, players would have to always keep in mind the goal. There is no time to waste. You need to keep up the pace and not fall behind. I like this sense of urgency and being on your toes.

In the end I was first to reach 8VP, but Han could almost have done it in the same round. Just before I claimed victory, we backtracked a little, because I thought he could have picked another action and beat me to 8VP. It turned out that he couldn't, because he had already used that particular action (buy a tile of a particular colour) earlier in the round. He actually also had an army in position to attack one of my armies, but he had used up his movement actions that round. I had thought the action mechanism in this game was not very restrictive, but surprisingly it turned out to be crucial in determining victory, at least in this game.

The elephant is one of the mythical creatures. Players only have one type of soldier. However every player has a different sculpture for his soldiers, which is a nice touch.

The Thoughts

One 2P game is not the best way to experience Kemet. I think the game will be much more interesting with more players. This is a Euro-wargame. The core mechanisms, the pace, and the leanness are all Euro, but this game has direct, in-your-face aggression. It's Brazil football (soccer) team - it's all about offense. The game encourages you to attack, and treats your soldiers as nothing but cheap tools for gaining VP's. The tech tiles and the combos they make are the crux of the game. You must make good use of them. In a 2P game there is a lot to choose from, but I imagine in 5P games there will be a rush to buy them, and if you don't get what you want, you will need to adjust your strategy accordingly.

Monday, 4 November 2013

2012 games eagerness ranking

Roughly once a year I force rank the games published in a particular year that I have played, which I find to be an interesting exercise. Here's the list for 2012 games. This time expansions are mixed in. Previously I kept them separate because my eagerness to play an expansion usually corresponds to my eagerness to play the base game itself. So the ranking of an expansion does not really provide additional information. It would be better to compare the base game (usually published in an earlier year) with other games published in the same year. I'm doing it differently this time because sometimes I am more keen, or less keen to play a game's expansion.

    Keen to play

  1. Android: Netrunner - I only have the base game plus 3 expansions from the first expansion cycle, and there is already a lot to explore. I have not played that many games yet. I enjoy the games so far and I feel there is a lot more to learn. I think I will enjoy it even more when I learn to play better. This can be a lifestyle game, i.e. a gamer can play just this one game, like Magic: The Gathering, or competitive Scrabble, or Chess. I can't imagine myself playing just one game, but I'd like to spend more time on this game.
  2. The Great Zimbabwe - Very interactive Splotter game, which is best when all players know what they are doing - how to prevent runaway leaders, how to adjust the pace of the game, how to neutralise opponents' special abilities. Some strong plays need multiple other players to work together to counter, so the game shines when there is a high level of familiarity among the players.
  3. Clash of Cultures - a well-implemented civ game.

    Android: Netrunner

    The Great Zimbabwe

    Clash of Cultures

    Happy to play

  4. Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island - A punishing and rich cooperative game that has a lot of variety.
  5. Star Wars: X-Wing - A fun romp. Clean and quick dogfighting system. Pew pew pew!
  6. Shinobi: War of Clans - A clever card game where you need to hide your identity while secretly trying to help your faction win. Players need to carefully maintain some balance, because if your faction appears too strong, it will soon get cut down. There is also a timing aspect to it. If your faction can get a boost at the right time near the end, it will win even if it becomes obvious who you are working for.
  7. Mage Knight Board Game: The Lost Legion (expansion) - More variety for the base game.
  8. 1989: Dawn of Freedom - Similar to but different enough from Twilight Struggle.
  9. Fleet - A pleasant surprise. A quick card game where you need to make the most of special abilities you buy.
  10. CO2 - A tight game where you need to watch out not to set up good moves for your opponents, and yet sometimes it's hard not to.
  11. Ticket To Ride: The Heart of Africa - A map that is tough because of how the route colours are distributed, or rather, clumped. Variety is always good when you enjoy the Ticket To Ride system.
  12. Dominant Species: The Card Game - Not much like Dominant Species. Cards are precious and you need to pick when to fight and decide how hard to fight. Sometimes you need to know when to concede. It has brinkmanship, and even some player-negotiated cooperation if that's how you choose to play.
  13. Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar - A "plan a few turns ahead" game. I didn't expect to like it because of the "worker placement" label, but it turned out that I enjoyed it more than I expected, even though it is a worker placement game.
  14. Ascension: Immortal Heroes (expansion) - I am playing all the available expansions on the iPhone almost every day. I have 5 ongoing games at all times. Since playing this is so convenient on the iPhone, I have zero urge to play a physical copy.

    Shinobi: War of Clans

    Dominant Species: The Card Game

    Lukewarm

  15. VivaJava: The Coffee Game - A game where you need to compete and cooperate at the same time. Pulling coffee beans out of the bag is exciting and has that gambling feeling. Best with a big group.
  16. Kemet - Part of the new generation of dudes-on-a-map games, like Cyclades. It has a Euro core, like Cyclades. While Cyclades is driven by auctions, which decide what you can do in a round, and thus require that you don't neglect making money, Kemet is driven by special ability tiles, which customise your nation, and also a limited action type mechanism.
  17. Edo - It has an interesting action selection mechanism. There is area majority competition on the board. Most memorable part is the aspect where when you send your samurai onto the board to do your work, you need to have either stockpiled enough rice to pay for their expenses, or you need to keep producing rice to keep them on the board.
  18. Escape: The Curse of the Temple - I have only played this in a family setting, and never with the full rules. We only used a simple timer and not the soundtrack, so we didn't need to return to the starting point at specific times.
  19. Sunrise City - Quite tactical. Most memorable is the scoring system - you are always trying to precisely hit the 10pt mark when you score points, because when you do so, you earn two stars instead of one (stars determine victory at game end, so they are the real victory points). Sometimes you "help" others score points to push them over the 10pt mark.
  20. Seasons - Dice game with card drafting. All about planning for the best use of your cards.
  21. Town Center - Burnt out on the solo game because I feel I have solved the puzzle. I'd be more willing to play non-solo games.

    VivaJava: The Coffee Game

    Rather Not Play

  22. For The Win - Perfect-information, abstract 2P game, a little like Hive.
  23. Zombie! Run for Your Lives! - Light card game with a lot of getting your friends killed by zombies.

    Zombie! Run for Your Lives!

Not Played

Here are some of the games published in 2012 that I know of or have heard of, but have not tried. Looking at this long list, I think I am no longer at the forefront of the gaming hobby. I don't mind though. I'm happy enough to just try a handful of newer games every year, as long as I have enough good games to play.

  1. Terra Mystica - A hot game with a lot of good buzz, and now an award winner too.
  2. Lords of Waterdeep - I have not read much about it. It seems to be just a regular worker placement game with a fantasy setting.
  3. Mage Wars
  4. Star Wars: The Card Game
  5. Mice and Mystics
  6. D-Day Dice - Allen has it.
  7. Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game
  8. Zombicide
  9. Love Letter - I wonder how much game there is to it. It's only 16 cards.
  10. Rex: Final Days of the Empire - I have played Dune once. It was good.
  11. Legends of Andor
  12. Virgin Queen - Allen has this.
  13. Archipelago - I have been following this game a fair bit. A game about exploring and development. One aspect that detractors don't like is how a losing player can force everyone to lose by letting the game devolve into a rebellion. I guess this depends on the group you play with.
  14. Suburbia
  15. 7 Wonders: Cities (expansion)
  16. Wiz-War (8th edition)
  17. Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery
  18. Keyflower
  19. Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
  20. Dominion: Dark Ages (expansion)
  21. Libertalia
  22. The Manhattan Project
  23. Space Cadets
  24. Andean Abyss - Allen has this too. Seems interesting, but probably needs four players.
  25. Myrmes - Some said it's a little like Antiquity. That got my attention.
  26. Infiltration
  27. Merchant of Venus (second edition)
  28. Samurai Battles
  29. Trains
  30. Yedo
  31. Snowdonia
  32. 1812: The Invasion of Canada - Sounds like an innovative Euro-ish war game in the vein of Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan.
  33. Tokaido - Very pretty.
  34. Coup: City State
  35. Star Trek: Catan
  36. Ginkgopolis
  37. Copycat
  38. Goblins Inc
  39. Morels
  40. Galaxy Trucker: Another Big Expansion - I'm no longer buying expansions because I don't play Galaxy Trucker often enough nowadays.
  41. Antike Duellum
  42. Atlantis Rising
  43. Africana
  44. Crown of Roses Allen has this. A multiplayer block wargame.
  45. Targi - Some interest. It can be a spouse game.
  46. Pax Porfiriana
  47. Spellbound
  48. Chicken Caesar
  49. Abaddon
  50. Urbanisation
  51. Alien Frontiers: Factions (expansion)
  52. Uchronia
  53. The Palaces of Carrara - Interested to try this.
  54. Aeroplanes: Aviation Ascendant - Martin Wallace design. Seems much less well received than Automobile.
  55. Las Vegas - Heard good things about this one.
  56. Le Havre: The Inland Port - I need to play Le Havre more.
  57. The Ladies of Troyes (expansion)
  58. Doctor Who: The Card Game
  59. Axis & Allies 1941
  60. Guildhall
  61. The Convoy
  62. P.I. - Martin Wallace design. But I prefer his heavier games and not the lighter ones.
  63. Samurai Sword (the Bang-like game, not Samurai Swords / Ikusa / Shogun)
  64. Kingdom of Solomon
  65. Garden Dice
  66. New Amsterdam - Heard good things.
  67. Starship Merchants
  68. Qwixx
  69. Zooloretto: The Dice Game
  70. Qin - Reiner Knizia design. Interested to try.
  71. Ruhrschifffahrt 1769-1890
  72. Legacy: Gears of Time - I followed this for a while some time ago.
  73. Divinare
  74. Oddville
  75. Zong Shi
  76. Tooth & Nail: Factions - Allen has it. Read rules. Still have not played. Forgot rules.
  77. Indigo
  78. Nightfall: The Coldest War (expansion)
  79. Sheepland
  80. The Doge Ship
  81. Flowerfall - A game about dropping cards onto the table. How's that for unconventional?
  82. Mondo Sapiens - I remember Mondo fondly, a real-time game of constructing your own world from tiles where you want to make sure the tile edges match. Mondo Sapiens is a standalone variant game.
  83. Pala
  84. Keltis: Das Würfelspiel
  85. Rondo - Reiner Knizia abstract game. Interested to try after reading about it in Spielbox magazine.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

in photos: dodgy Chinese guy...

16 Oct 2013. Robinson Crusoe. The Cook (a player character) and Dog (a supporting character). I didn't think much about it when I took this photo. I just wanted to capture the artwork of the game. Some time later when I looked at this photo again, I thought, if this Cook is Chinese (like me) and is stranded on an island, and is starving, and there's a dog nearby...

17 Oct 2013. Another Chinese thing... based on the Chinese Zodiac, I was born in the Year of the Tiger. Chinese readers will probably immediately start calculating how old I am. This is a beast card from Robinson Crusoe.

For the next photo let's go a bit further east, to Japan.

21 Oct 2013. Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan. This was my fourth game, and I think Han's second. I played Tokugawa (black) this time, and Han played Ishida (gold), which he had not tried before. This was one very tense game. I felt my heart pounding, and my hands were almost trembling. In the early game, I had just the right cards so I quickly sent an army to besiege and immediately capture Ueda castle (six black blocks in the background on the right).

We had many battles. Many men died. In the east, Han's Uesugi army suffered an early loss, but new troops mustered there revived his eastern force. He defeated my Date army in the east, and became a threat in the east, which is typically dominated by Tokugawa. I was probably overly keen on battles and on killing Ishida himself. I sent a large Tokugawa army mustered in my capital of Edo (in the east) westwards to fight and to try to corner Ishida. This weakened defenses in Edo, and later Edo fell to Han's Uesugi army. This was bad, because it meant my eastern front had collapsed.

I did have successes in battles in the west, whittling down Han's Ishida armies. However three of Han's mustering locations were in the far west, so he was able to keep bringing in reinforcements. In hindsight, I should have put more focus on capturing and securing resource locations and castles (they are worth VP's, and also provide more cards / troops), as opposed to just focusing on battles and positioning for them. This is a game about economy and influence too, not just about battles. This was a valuable lesson to me.

The board situation near game end. My eastern front had collapsed and the east was dominated by Han's Ishida armies (gold). With so few armies remaining, it was hard to establish fronts and protect resource locations and castles. On Han's last turn (he was second player that round) he didn't even need to initiate battle anymore. He had the cards to recapture Ueda castle, which would secure his win by VP, and even if he hadn't, he could disperse his troops to capture enough undefended resource locations and castles to win.

Of the four games I have played, three were won by VP. Only one was won by one of the protagonists being killed in battle, and that game would have been won by VP too if I had not been careless. So far no game came near to Osaka being besieged, which is the 3rd victory condition. I wonder how often others experience this. It seems to be very difficult to achieve for the Tokugawa player. There seems to be little incentive too. If the Tokugawa players is doing well economically (i.e. in overall board position), there is no need to attack Osaka, especially considering the "free" Mori troops that will muster immediately there. Tokugawa would have to do quite well militarily for it to be feasible to attack Osaka, which is deep inside Ishida territory (three of four Ishida mustering locations nearby). If Tokugawa is doing well militarily, wouldn't he also be doing well in overall board position? In this most recent game, I did consider attacking Osaka, because my eastern front had fallen and it looked like VP victory was slipping beyond my reach. Killing Ishida or capturing Osaka would give me an instant win. But of course that's easier said than done. I wonder whether this fall of Osaka victory condition is just meant to pose a constant threat to the Ishida player. The Ishida player must be wary of it, and the Tokugawa player can always attempt it if the opportunity presents itself.