21 Sep 2013. Um Reifenbreite, a game about cycling that won the 1992 Spiel des Jahres. I had not played this for quite a while. It was Shee Yun who suggested it when browsing my game shelves. I had forgotten many of the rules. Thankfully I have done a concise reference sheet before, which proved very handy.
You can say it's a roll-and-move game, but there are numbered cards which can replace bad rolls, and there are rules which mitigate luck and add strategy to the game. One of the key rules is drifting - when a cyclist immediately in front of you moves, you can drift, i.e. follow him and forgo your opportunity to roll the dice. This is useful when he rolls well. The game is played with teams of cyclists, so you want to use drifting to have your team members help one another, and you also want to use it to take advantage of other teams. There are ways of denying drifting, e.g. by playing cards (a limited resource) and by making use of features on the racetrack and positions of other cyclists.
Red sections are uphill sections. After rolling the dice, you must subtract the numbers on the red spaces. Orange sections are downhill sections. You add the numbers instead.
The game comes with many optional rules, e.g. tournament rules, even cheating rules. Too bad I don't play this often enough, so every time I play, I need to refresh myself on the basic rules, and then I don't play it for a long while, and then I forget the rules, and by the time I play again, I need another refresher yet again. Such is the life of a gamer with more games than he is able to play regularly. But then maybe it's not that bad that we regularly "visit old friends" in how we cycle back to old games we like now and then.
22 Sep 2013. Playing The Settlers of Catan with the children again.
I have played this game a few times recently, and I'm rediscovering how great it is. Not very complex, enough interesting decisions, some diversity in strategy, short play time. All the good properties of German games from the 1990's. I really should bring out The Settlers of Catan Card Game to play with Michelle again. It's a 2P only game, and it is more complex than the boardgame version.
Ticket to Ride. My copy is the first edition, with smaller cards, and the cards have black edges. This was before the game won the Spiel des Jahres.
29 Sep 2013. I indirectly bought this copy of Barbarossa from boardgame celebrity Tom Vasel some years ago. He visited Malaysia and left behind some games with a friend, who helped him sell them.
This is a riddle game. Everyone makes two or three objects out of play dough, and the others try to guess what they are. The key idea is your sculptures must be neither too hard nor too easy. You are penalised if others guess correctly early, and you are also penalised if others can't guess correctly at all. But you earn points if your opponents guess correctly at the right time. Naturally, making correct guesses yourself is another way to score points.
There are two ways to get clues during the game. Firstly, asking specific letters at specific positions of the word. Secondly, using a questioning mechanism - the active player can ask a sculptor any question as long as the answer will be one of "Yes", "No", "Maybe" and "Don't know". The questioning session continues as long as the answer is "Yes". Example of questions: Is it a living thing? Is it something you wear? Is it edible? Is it bigger than a house?
Can you guess what we made? I made those three on the left. Shee Yun (8) made those three in the background. Chen Rui (6) made the three on the right. What I made were: can, stocking, seat. Noone got any of them right! Shee Yun made: phone (mobile phone), pencil, magnet. Hers were all easily guessed. Chen Rui made: flower, carrot, potato. She meant it to be a potato, but she confused potato and turnip. Both Shee Yun and I kept guessing "P" and "potato" but she said we were wrong. Only after the game we realised she had made a mistake. Her other two sculptures were guessed correctly during the game.
During the game I thought I was going to lose, because of the penalty from noone being able to guess my sculptures. Then after I reached the game-ending score, I reread the rules and realised that if anyone reaches the game-ending score, he wins immediately. There is no need to calculate penalties. Penalties only apply in the other game end condition - when arrows are used up.
Every time a sculpture is guessed correctly, an arrow is stuck into it. Guesses are made individually and discreetly. When a player makes a guess, he writes it down on a piece of paper and shows it to the sculptor only. So even after a correct guess has been made, other players can still try to guess it and score points.
4 Oct 2013. The first play of my copy of Sekigahara 2nd edition. This was my third game, and the second game was quite some time ago. This time I played Ishida (gold) and Allen played Tokugawa (black). In the second edition, the starting setup has been changed, and Ishida is stronger in the east. He has two more Uesugi blocks. Unfortunately for me, this didn't help in this particular game, because I was very short on Uesugi cards in the early game. My armies in the east were gradually wiped out and there was little I could do.
In the west, I had an early victory, but also a bad loss due to poor cards (this photo). I lost much ground in the early game, and never quite recovered. That meant Allen drew one more card than I did, and also drew one more replacement block than I did, for most rounds.
Things got a little better for me by mid game. I was getting the right cards at the right time and I started to consolidate my forces in the west (right side of the photo). I managed to gradually push forward. I was short on troops, and had to spend cards bringing the Mori forces in Osaka onto the board. However it was still an uphill battle for me to try to capture enough castles and resource locations to be able to overtake Allen in victory points. At one time, he had his Tokugawa Ieyasu block near the middle of the board, i.e. near the front line. He had forgotten that if Tokugawa was killed in battle, I would win immediately. I was puzzled why he hadn't sent Tokugawa back to safety in Edo. He was far ahead in points and only needed to play safe and play defensively. I went offensive and caught Tokugawa with his pants down. Luckily for him he managed to escape, though just barely. Allen quickly assembled an army using the scattered blocks around the area, to protect the humiliated and running Tokugawa. I could not turn that golden opportunity into a victory, and I knew it would be hard now. What I didn't know though, was that Allen's hurriedly lumped together army was just a facade. It looked like a formidable force, but Allen only had one card he could play onto this army. If I had attacked with my slightly inferior force, I might have won, and it might have been possible for me to continue to pursue Tokugawa. In hindsight, I probably should have gambled, since the other option of trying to capture enough castles and resource locations was even less unlikely to succeed. Aaah... Sekigahara is such a delicious game of deception and bluffing.
Now that I have played Sekigahara again, I feel that it is really a simple and clean game. There is minimal clutter. The battle mechanism is very straightforward, and card play during battles is almost an autopilot thing, except for the Loyalty card element. The game is much more about the manoeuvring that leads up to the battles. It is about accumulating the right cards, getting the right blocks in place, and triggering battles in the right order hoping the new cards drawn after every battle will be useful for the next battle. You need to have some idea of what cards remain in your deck, even your opponent's. You need to remember the macro view and not get too absorbed by any single battle. Sekigahara is quite an exciting package.