Saturday, 31 August 2013

Meeples Cafe Merdeka Sales

Meeples Cafe is having a Merdeka Clearance Sales from today till 16 Sep 2013. If you live around Kuala Lumpur, check it out.

When I first went through the sales items list, I thought there were quite a few good titles, but didn't plan to buy anything. The only game that tempted me a little was Conflict of Heroes. It was 60% off! Then Allen sent me a message, asking whether I was going. I said no. He said if I were he'd probably ask me to help buy some for him. He didn't have transportation. Then I thought, what the heck, I'd drive him there myself. He was originally thinking of getting Reef Encounter. He ended up getting 5 or 6 other games as well. Oops. It was probably at least partly my fault. I kept picking up boxes and saying to him: hey this one is not bad, or, hey this is a reputable title (e.g. La Citta). Surprisingly the Martin Wallace name didn't work its magic this time. He didn't buy Steel Driver, Aeroplanes or Toledo.

I shouldn't be poking fun at him. I ended up buying Conflict of Heroes afterall. At RM115.60 (~USD35), it was quite hard to resist. And I bought two Android: Netrunner expansions too (which were not on sale) - What Lies Ahead and Future Proof. I'm planning to get Humanity's Shadow when it is restocked. These three are the expansions that many people recommend.

Part of the loot today, three mine and three Allen's (they came straight to my place for storage and rules reading).

My number of games acquired has been kept very low so far this year. I've only added Qwirkle and Android: Netrunner to my collection up till yesterday. But this month and next there will be many new games arriving - 2nd edition of Sekigahara, which I pre-ordered under GMT's P500 program, Axis and Allies 1914, Robinson Crusoe, and of course since I've broken down and bought the two Netrunner expansions, I might as well buy Humanity's Shadow too. There are a few wait-and-see games that I am thinking of buying if I'm well under my annual game acquisition quota - Cavum and Clash of Cultures. I wonder whether there will be any new and shiny games that will distract me from them. Afterall Essen is not far away.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Panic on Wall Street

Plays: 7Px1.

The Game

Panic on Wall Street is themed around stock market trading, in the non-computerised age, when buyers and sellers shout and haggle and behave no differently from a fishmonger at a wet market. Despite the theme, some of the mechanisms actually do not work the same way as their real-life equivalents. So you need to make sure you explain the concepts carefully so that players don't get confused by their own preconceptions.

Players are split into two groups - fund managers and investors. They compete separately within these two groups, and at the end of the game there are two winners, one richest player from each group. The most prominent part of the game is the trading. This is a real-time phase, timed by a 2-minute hourglass, where all managers and investors try to sell / buy shares. It is an open-for-all format. Strictly speaking, the managers are not selling the shares to the investors. They are merely selling the rights to earn dividends from those shares for one round. When an investor buys a share, he needs to consider how much dividend it might bring and how much he is willing to pay. A share can actually "pay" negative dividend, i.e. the poor guy who bought it will lose more money! When a manager sells a share under his control, he will of course try to sell it for as high a price as possible. There is a $10 per share commission that he must pay to the bank every round. That is his operating cost. For every share that he can't sell, it's a $10 loss. There is time pressure for both investors and managers. Investors want to grab every opportunity to make money, and managers want to make sure they don't end up with unsold shares.

The large cards are the shares. You can write prices on them with a dry-erase marker that comes with the game. The round markers are investor markers, indicating that the shares have been sold. Each investor has his own colour. All three shares here have been bought by the same investor player.

Once the trading phase ends, it is time to determine the dividend amounts. This is determined by die rolls. The die faces don't specify the exact dividend amounts, they just indicate how many notches the values go up or down on the game board. There are four types of shares, ranging from low to high risk and volatility. The higher the volatility, the more extreme the possible values for dividends. The more volatile share types (red and yellow) can "pay" negative dividends, but when the dividend amounts go up, you can really make a killing. Once the new dividend amounts are determined, investors collect dividends, then pay the managers, and then the managers pay the $10 share commissions to the bank.

Movement of dividend payout level is determined by these colourful dice. Red is the most volatile. It can go up 7 levels! That means it can go from one end of the scale to the other.

Before the next round starts, some new shares will be introduced, and the managers will buy them via an auction. As new shares are injected into the game, there will be more opportunities for both managers and investors to make money. They will also be able to diversify more if they choose to do so. The game ends after a fixed number of rounds, and the richest players (among managers and among investors) win.

The Play

I did a 7-player game, 3 managers and 4 investors, and I was one of the managers. The trading was quite a riot. It was a messy, noisy and chaotic free-for-all. As a manager, I always felt the pressure of time running out and not being able to sell all my shares. Every unsold share is a $10 loss. That said, I tended to set prices higher, trying not to cut my own margins too slim. There was a lot of haggling. At one point I even offered packaged deals - three shares for $50!

I sold those three shares on the right as a packaged deal to Allen, three for $50.

The trading phase may be the most prominent, but the game is certainly not only about that. It is an exciting and engaging execution phase, but outside of that phase you do need to plan your strategy beforehand, e.g. what shares to buy as an investor, and how to price your shares as a manager. Things may not always work out when the clock starts ticking, so you have to be flexible and be able to think fast. Sometimes you need to be adamant, but sometimes you have to react to how others are playing. I find that managers bidding for the new shares is quite an important aspect of the game. This is a long-term, strategic aspect of the game, allowing managers fine-tune their portfolios.

Red shares have hit rock bottom, while green shares are doing well.

All these standing up are the investors. Look at them all so absorbed. But in the end it was the cool cat sitting down (Ivan in black) who beat all of them to win. He observed that the green shares kept going up so he invested heavily in them.

The buying of shares, to me, is more or less just gambling. The investors can decide how much risk to take, whether to diversify. They know the current dividend level, and how volatile each share type is, i.e. how much the dividend level may go up or drop down to, but whether it will go up or down or not move at all is purely determined by a die and not by player actions.

The Thoughts

Panic on Wall Street will be remembered for its noisy and chaotic trading phase. I feel this is the central idea and the rest of the game is built to support it and to give it context. It certainly is exciting, and it works. Two things make me a little uncomfortable about the game, although I would hesitate to call them problems. Firstly, the fact that players need to compete in separate manager and investor groups. It would be nice to have them all compete together, as opposed to having this disjointed economic system. As a manager, I don't really care how well or how badly the investors do. It would be nice to have an integrated economic system, which would create more conflict between investor and managers. Separated competition means a 6-player game feels like two 3-player games.

The second thing that makes me uncomfortable is the lack of control over dividend levels. They are not driven by market forces or supply and demand. This is more a problem with my expectations than a problem with the game. The game tells the players probabilities and risks and rewards, and lets them make decisions based on these alone. The eventual dividend levels are modeled as something beyond the players' control.

All that said, I think this game is best played as a light party game with a big group, and the two concerns that I have will become non-issues when you are playing with a rowdy bunch of friends. The game becomes one of brinkmanship and of striking deals under time pressure. How much are you willing to pay for an opportunity? How much risk are you willing to take? In the end it is not about how much you transact. It is about how much you earn from the transactions. That's something to keep in mind throughout the game.

Saturday, 24 August 2013


Plays: 7Px1.

The Game

Nanuk is a party game, a card game, a bluffing game, a gambling game, and a group psychology game. That's quite a mouthful, but it is actually a simple game. Players are Eskimo hunters planning hunting excursions to the Arctic tundra. They bluff about how many days they can last on the punishing tundra and how many animals (of a specific type) they can bring back. They outdo one another, until eventually someone will say that's impossible. Then this naysayer and the "highest bidder" split the group into two. Other hunters must decide to join one of these groups - whether to join the hunting trip or to stay home. The participants contribute food to prepare for the excursion. If it is successful, all participants gain food (and glory). If it fails, then the doubters gain food instead. OK, that last bit of the story doesn't quite make sense, but it is necessary for the game to work. Here's how the story translates to game mechanisms:

At the start of a round, every player holds 3 cards. Cards come in four suits - fish, bird, seal and deer, and each such animal card has one or two animals of the same type. The start player initiates the bluffing by indicating on the game board how many days he thinks the hunting party can last on the tundra, and how many animals of a specific type can be bagged. The next player must then decide whether to doubt him or to further raise the stakes. If this next player thinks he can do better, he updates the board by increasing the number of days he thinks he can last. The animal type and count can be changed, but it is not mandatory. Increasing the days in itself already increases risk, because every additional day spent hunting increases the chances of drawing a card with a polar bear icon. Polar bears cause hunts to fail, unless there is a lucky charm card to distract them.

When a player eventually decides to be the naysayer, the rest of the group must decide which side to take. The hunt leader and the naysayer both may try to convince others to take their sides. The decision to go or to stay put is made secretly and simultaneously. Once decisions are revealed, the participants may contribute cards for the hunt. These cards may not necessarily be of the specific animal type being hunted. Contributors can give whatever they like. These cards are shuffled and then revealed, and the hunted animal type is counted. After that, the hunt leader draws cards from the draw deck one by one, until the hunt fails because of a polar bear encounter, or until he reaches the number of days he said he was going to last. If the hunt is not failed by a polar bear, the leader checks whether he has reached the target number of animals. If the target is reached, the hunt is successful, and all participants split the loot, which is cards contributed by participants plus cards drawn from the deck. If the hunt fails, the loot goes to those who stayed home instead.

In the background, the markers on the game board indicate that the active player thinks he can do a one-day hunt and catch six (5+1) fish. In my hand are a fish card, a bird card and a seal card.

I'm not exactly sure of the loot splitting process, because in our game we decided to randomly distributed the cards as equally as possible, so that we could play more quickly. In the official rules the players get to see the cards and pick what they want.

The game ends when the draw deck runs out. Players then score points using all the accumulated loot cards (not hand cards). Every complete set of four animals is worth 3VP, and every pair of similar animals is worth 1VP. Highest scorer wins.

The Play

We did a 7-player game, and in the case of Nanuk, I think it is definitely the more the merrier. More players means it is possible to have high ambitions. There is more uncertainty, and thus more excitement. Sometimes you feel positive that many will join the hunt, and you go for a high target because you have that together-we-can-do-this feeling. Sometimes your gut feeling betrays you and you find that even your loudest supporter was just kidding. We certainly had a lot of table talk - claiming we had so many animals of a certain type, urging others on to make ever bolder claims. Most of us were new to the game and we were mostly optimistic, especially early in the game. That lead to very ambitious targets. Ian, who had played before, said we were crazy bold. And then our early excursions were mostly successful too, which fueled the optimism even further. Whenever we had a decent number of participants, the hunt was usually successful. Only towards mid-game people started to consider staying home more often. That was when decisions became trickier. You don't want to end up on the wrong side of the divide. It is usually better to end up in the bigger group. Hunting party or opposition party, there is a higher likelihood that the bigger group will end up being right. However if you happen to be in a minority group that is right, it can be very profitable. Imagine a big group of losers going hunting and putting together a huge pile of cards, and then you being the only guy staying home, but being right. That would be a major windfall. And you get to put on a smug I-told-you-so look too.

We were quite a rowdy bunch. At one point someone started asking do you have birds, and another guy (was it me?) started saying you should have at least one. Sorry to Wai Yan, the only lady at the table. We were a bunch of 30+ year old adolescent boys. Eventually it was Wai Yan who won, because she made the correct judgments frequently, and thus collected many cards.

In the last round of the game, we realised how unbelievably lucky we had been throughout the game, and why. Most expeditions, as long as they were being supported by enough hunters, were successful. It probably made us more optimistic and careless than we should have been. In that final round when we flipped over the cards for the final hunt, we found that many of the polar bear cards were at the bottom of the deck. No wonder we didn't see that many polar bears earlier. Needless to say, that final hunt failed miserably.

My accumulated loot at game end. Two complete sets of animals = 3VP x 2 = 6VP. Two birds make 1VP. That's a total of 7VP. I have one extra bird. Wait, that doesn't sound right.

The Thoughts

Nanuk feels like Liar's Dice. It's a simple party game suitable for big groups. There's group psychology, push-your-luck, and bluffing. There's an exciting gambling feeling too. It is best played as a light game, and I think the variant of randomly distributing the loot is a good one. If you want more control, you can use the official rules which allow participants to pick cards.

Monday, 12 August 2013

boardgaming in photos

28 Jul 2013. I have been playing a lot of Ascension (on the iPhone) lately. Mostly with Han - we have two concurrent games running at any one time. Also due to either pressing some wrong buttons or some auto matchmaking when a game invitation timed out, I hooked up to play against some strangers. Once I was beaten 117:58. Gosh there are sharks out there!

This screen capture is a game I played against Han, where he made very good use of Lifebound heroes. Some Lifebound heroes have a Unite power, which gives you additional benefits if you play (or have played) another Lifebound hero on the same turn. He had five Lifebound heroes, three of them had such Unite powers, and their Unite powers include drawing a card. That's how he managed to draw and play so many cards. All five of his Lifebound heroes came into play this turn.

Sabre the Moonlit is one of the more powerful Lifebound heroes. He's expensive (cost 6), but if you can make use of his Unite ability often, he's very much worth it.

I should be thankful I didn't lose by more than 20pts.

This is another game. On his turn, Han managed to completely exhaust his deck. 18 cards, all drawn and all played. On the top right corner you can see that the hand cards icon, the green draw deck icon and the red discard pile icon all show zero. The current Event allowed drawing a card when discarding a defeated Fanatic, which helped.

16 Jun 2013. Shee Yun, Chen Rui and I played some games. Chen Rui requested to play Kakerlaken-Poker. Except for two-player games, all cards must be dealt out to every player, which makes holding cards quite a challenge, even for adults, when there are only three players. So I use this method which I learned from Chong Sean - make use of the tile holders from 10 Days in Asia.

I like the artwork and style.

Notice that cards of the same insect have different drawings, e.g. the two spider cards.

28 Jun 2013. Zaiham is my colleague. He used to play a lot of Magic: The Gathering during secondary school days. I thought he might be interested in boardgames, and invited him to play. It has been a long time since I did any boardgame evangalising. I picked Blue Moon, because it's a card game and many cards have unique special abilities, so it has some similarities to MTG. It worked really well! We played four or five games back-to-back, and that's just with the basic races Hoax and Vulca. We haven't even started exploring other races.

The other game I introduced to Zaiham was Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation. This time a boardgame, but there is card play, and the characters have unique special abilities too.

Now Zaiham has started playing MTG again. He got together with a bunch of old schoolmates and they all jumped in together. Now he plays regularly at a shop near his home. I guess it was a fruitful session - I encouraged him to start gaming again. Now that he's deep into MTG, I probably won't be able to get him to join many of the boardgame sessions. But it's good to have helped rekindle an old passion.

30 Jun 2013. Playing Ubongo with the children.

What coloured gem to pick?

The cooking game - A la Carte.

27 Jul 2013. I asked Shee Yun whether she wanted to play a game. She said yes. I suggested Tales of the Arabian Nights. It had been a while since I last played. I thought it would be good for learning English and for practising drama and storytelling skills. For her, not for me. The English in the game is still a little challenging for her, and she often had to ask me how to read a certain word and what it meant. But I think it's a good opportunity for learning. She even won!

Chen Rui was supposed to be drinking her milk, but she wanted to watch us play.

I certainly had a love story full of twists in this game. I fell in love with a dentist's daughter, only to find that she was already married, and had a daughter old enough to marry. She asked me to marry her daughter instead. I said no. She got upset with me and sent thugs to beat me up. I ran away, but they eventually caught up with me and beat me silly - they crippled me! Eventually I found my true love in Russia and got married. Married life was more restrictive than I expected. The wife would only allow me to visit one city per trip, so I must go home immediately after visiting a city (and bring souvenirs I presume). Since I was a cripple and thus could not travel quickly, my movement on the map was greatly hindered. If I needed to visit a particular city, I needed to adjust my itinerary to avoid all other cities en route and on the way back.

Being married was not all bad though. Every time that I successfully made a healthy baby, I gained 1 Destiny point. Being a cripple was not all bad either. Whenever I scored Story points, I would score double. The adventures of a cripple are always more impressive.

Shee Yun's character had reached Baghdad and won the game.

My character was still toiling far from home. Just when I was about to achieve the required Destiny and Story points, I had an encounter which allowed Shee Yun to send me to a far corner of the board. Since I was crippled, and married, and not rich (these add up to a huge restriction on movement) I could not make it back to Baghdad in time.

My skills and statuses at game end. When I gained the Respected status, it caused me to lose the Crippled status. I guess when you are respected, people pretend not to notice your disability.

Shee Yun's skills and a treasure at game end. During this game she encountered a passage that needed precisely this set of keys, but unfortunately it happened before she obtained them. It would have been interesting to see what would happen if she had the keys at the time. I'm sure it would be quite an adventure.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Road to Canterbury

Plays: 3Px2.

The Game

I'm quite sure this is the first time I've seen any setting remotely similar to that of The Road to Canterbury being turned into a boardgame. You are greedy priests accompanying three groups of pilgrims on a pilgrimage to Canterbury. You tempt them to commit sins, so that you can sell them pardons. You make them sin so much that they die from their sins. After the fifth pilgrim dies, you reach the end of your journey. You tally scores to determine who the most profitable priest is. There is a special place in hell reserved for priests like this.

When distilled down to basics, what you do on a turn is just this: play a card, and draw a card. There are three types of cards - sin cards, pardon cards, and relic cards. Sin cards and pardon cards have 7 possible values - greed, gluttony, pride, wrath, luxury, envy and idleness. A sin can only be pardoned by a pardon card of the exact same kind. Relic cards are single-use special power cards. When you play a sin card, you play it on one of the three leaders of the pilgrim groups. You keep track of what kind of sins you have tempted pilgrims into committing. The first priest to have "mastered" all seven sins gains a big bonus. Others who achieve this feat will gain bonuses too. When you play a pardon card, you must play it on a matching sin card or cards. You earn money depending on how many sin cards you are pardoning at the same time. You place a cube of your colour on the pilgrim whom you are pardoning. The pardoned sin cards are turned face-down, but are not removed. They still count towards the total number of sins the pilgrim has committed. When the count reaches seven, the pilgrim dies from his sins.

Sin cards.

One of the pilgrims, a knight.

The gameboard is a fat cross. The big central section is only for tracking which sins each player has tempted the pilgrims into committing. The yellow, blue and green scrolls represent the three groups of pilgrims. A pilgrim tile is drawn and placed on each scroll. This is the leader of group. Sin cards are played offboard next to the leaders. The map on the right represents the road to Canterbury. It is basically a countdown track.

Dying is a complex process. It is basically a mini scoring round. Whoever has the most cubes on the dead guy must move one of his cubes to the Road to Canterbury and score points accordingly. This is actually a countdown mechanism - the game ends after the fifth pilgrim dies. Others' cubes are not discarded, but are kept aside near the pilgrim group this dead guy is in. They will be needed for end-game scoring. Whoever played the seventh sin card that killed the poor guy gets something too - a Last Rites token. You can use it to take an extra turn. If unused it is worth $3, i.e. 3VP. After the leader of a pilgrim group dies, another pilgrim is randomly drawn to take his place. The priests continue to tempt him to sin and then pardon him. Business as usual resumes.

The Last Rites token.

The game consists of quick turns of playing and drawing cards, as the tension builds up until eventually someone will die for sinning too much, and then there is a pause to settle funeral matters. The actions you do are not complex. It is the various ways of scoring that you need to digest and understand how to be competitive at. There are four hree long-term goals to keep in mind - you want to make pilgrims commit all seven types of sins, you want to have pardoned a pilgrim the most times before he croaks, at game end you want to be top personal pardoner for the most number of pilgrims, and finally at game end you want to have done pardoning as much as possible in the three pilgrim groups. All these can give big chunks of points, but you may not be able to do all. The pardoning action itself and killing pilgrims give points too, but these are usually smaller and more tactical gains.

The Play

Allen bought this game and put it at my home for quite some time. I never got around to reading the rules, and eventually he read them himself and taught Han and I to play. Since a turn is just playing a card and then drawing a card, he underestimated the rules, and we fumbled through half a game before knowing what we were doing. At that point I had become a runaway leader and neither of them could catch me. I won the game with more points that both of their scores added. We decided to play another game immediately. This time we had a much better idea what we were doing and the scores were much closer.

One word describes the feeling of playing this game very well - brinkmanship. To pardon, you need to get people to sin first, but when you do so will you be setting up for your opponents? Pardoning a pilgrim who has committed the same sin multiple times is lucrative, but when you tempt him into indulging over and over, will another priest suddenly come up with the same pardon card that you are just about to play? Can you make sure you squeeze every last coin from the pilgrim before he dies on you? Playing a card is a simple action, but which card to use, and who to play it on, are things you need to consider. As the pilgrims sin more and more, you become more and more anxious about who's next to die.

Two factors add some excitement to the game - the relic cards and the death cards. Relic cards have powerful but single-use abilities, and can create some twists. Death cards are a special type of sin card. When drawn, they are immediately played onto a specific pilgrim. They count as sin cards. That means a pilgrim can unexpectedly die earlier.

Once we got into the rhythm, the game moved very briskly. It felt like a medium weight game that played like a light weight game.

The black player has succeeded in tempting pilgrims to commit every type of sin. The purple player is only one sin short. The pawn marks the sin that the church is denouncing, and pardoning this sin warrants a higher fee.

The Thoughts

The Road to Canterbury is essentially a card game. All you are doing is playing a card, and then drawing or selecting another to refill your hand. Hand management, and remembering cards your opponents have taken (when they take the face-up cards) are both important. It's hard to argue that this isn't a eurogame, but there's something about it that makes it feel unlike any typical eurogame. The mechanisms are quite abstracted and streamlined, but they still jive with the theme. And I definitely have not seen any other eurogame about sinning and death and unscrupulous priests.

I like the brinkmanship in this game. You constantly worry about setting your opponents up for scoring. You try to make use of every sinning pilgrim before he dies. Sometimes you need to prioritise which areas to fight for. The game is very interactive because you are fighting over the same groups of pilgrims. I think this is quite a clever design. A little thinky, and yet can be played at a brisk pace.

Friday, 9 August 2013


Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Edo is the old name of Tokyo. Edo is a eurogame game with a medieval Japanese theme. It has simultaneous action selection, worker placement, and it is about collecting resources to construct buildings, which score points. Sounds like a very typical and boring eurogame so far? Yeah... I can't think of any exciting way to summarise it. But then trying to summarise it may not be a good idea. Some things get lost in translation. Let's take a look at some details.

A unique aspect of this game is the square action tiles. Everyone starts with three. In a round you can pick three actions. Each action tile has four quadrants, each quadrant representing one action type. That means you can only pick one out of the four actions from each tile. This creates some tricky planning and decision-making. Another memorable aspect of the game is how you need to send your workers onto the board. They need to be there to collect resources and to construction buildings. Sending them forth is not cheap. Travelling costs money, and every round every worker consumes rice. So you better do proper planning and make sure every trip is worthwhile.

These action tiles are the most outstanding aspect of the game. Each tile has four quadrants, but you can only use one of them in a round. Here the three actions I have picked are the ones pointing downwards. The first action is collecting wood. I have assigned two workers to this. They will need to work together with the two other workers I have sent to the board. When I execute this action I will move those two workers on the board to a forest location to chop wood. I have no worker assigned to the middle tile, so there will be no action. The third action allows me to buy a new worker using a sack of rice.

The resource collection and construction on the board are area majority contests. Once you have buildings in the cities, you start making money from them every round. How much you earn is dependent on how many buildings you have there compared to others. The number of castles that can be built in a city is dependent on the number of houses already built there. Players will compete over these limited slots too. There is often a race to reach resource locations. The output of a resource collection action depends on how many workers are at the location. The more workers, the fewer resources per action. So players will want to race to get to vacant locations. If you want to be mean you can send your workers to crowd a location, and cause everyone there to be unable to gather any resource. But then you would be wasting your workers and rice too, and other players not involved will point and laugh.

Ultimately it's a race to score points. Buildings are worth points. Some in-game actions are worth points. There are a few ways to score endgame points. The game ends after a player reaches 12pts.

The brown location is a forest. According to that table, if there is one worker present, a collect wood action will give 3 wood. If two workers are present, the action is worth 2 wood. If four or more workers are present, the action is worth nothing.

City locations are red or pink. The tiles in the cities indicate how much money you earn when you have houses in the cities.

The Play

As is typical for Han, Allen and I, we executed many of our actions simultaneously and often did not follow turn order. We only paused and waited when some actions could impact other players. The game flowed quite smoothly for us. There were quite a few times that I found I was unable to do what I had in mind, because two of the actions I wanted to execute were on the same action tile. This aspect of the game turned out to be trickier than I expected.

Sending workers out to the board was challenging. It was like making a deep treasure-hunting dive. You only have this much oxygen and you want to make sure you accomplish as much as possible before you have to resurface.

My houses and market (the rightmost one which has a different shape). In the background are sacks of rice.

The Thoughts

Overall Edo is still a rather typical eurogame about collecting cubes and converting them to points. The macro level is not very interesting. The execution layer is more interesting. There are tricky tactical decisions to make. You need to think about how to compete with your opponents, and how to make use of your actions and workers as efficiently as possible.

Star Wars: X-Wing

Plays: 3Px2.

Star Wars: X-Wing is one game I have been interested to try for quite some time. It is unabashedly an expansion-eyeing game. The base game comes with an X-Wing fighter and two TIE fighters. Given how rich the Star Wars universe is and how many types of spaceships, characters and weapons it has, these three basic fighters will not be satisfying to anyone who likes the game. Plus the nice spaceships will surely drive the collector's urge.

The Game

Star Wars: X-Wing is a dogfighting game set in the Star Wars universe. The basic scenario (which is the only type that I have played so far) is just shoot-down-all-enemies. The playing area is your table. You fly around the battle space and try to kill off every enemy fighter. There are some more sophisticated scenarios like escorting and protecting a particular spaceship.

A TIE fighter. Each fighter in the game comes with a few pilot cards. You pick one pilot to fly the fighter.

A pilot card. The orange 5 is the skill level. 5 is quite mediocre. The red, green, yellow and blue numbers are attack value, defense (evade) value, damage value, shield value. A TIE fighter has no shield, and is destroyed upon taking the third point of damage. The text at the centre is the special ability of the pilot, the icons below it are the actions the pilot can take after completing movement. The number in the lower right is the point value of this card. Better pilot + fighter combinations have higher values.

Before the start of a game you need to agree the point values to be used by both sides. Every pilot and equipment has a point value, the better ones having higher values. Both sides of the battle need to mix and match and come up with their own line-up. Once the battle starts, the procedure is very straightforward - plan, move and shoot. The first thing you do in a round is secretly plan movement for each of your fighters using round disks. Different fighter / spaceship types have different discs, and thus different types of movement. E.g. TIE fighters are better at turning tight corners than X-Wings. Also some movements are more strenuous to some fighters than others, causing a penalty when such movements are made. Once every fighter has a movement assigned, the players take turns moving the fighters. This is done in order of pilot skill level, with lower skilled pilots moving first. You take the movement strip matching the movement type you have chosen earlier, place it in front of your fighter, and then you pick up your fighter and place it at the other end of the movement strip. You've completed movement. There's a type of movement which allows you to flip your fighter. When you do this, you turn your fighter 180 degrees after moving it to the other end of the movement strip. After movement, the pilot can usually take an action. Options vary from pilot to pilot. E.g. if a pilot chooses to do Focus, later on whenever die rolls show the Focus icon, it can be converted to hits or misses.

Once every fighter has moved, you start shooting. This is also done in the order of pilot skill level, but this time the higher skilled pilots shoot first. This means the lower skilled ones may get killed before they can retaliate. The first thing you do is check whether you have a shooting angle on any enemy fighter. If you do, you then check whether it (or they) is in range. If it is, then you shoot by rolling dice. Every fighter has an attack strength and a defense strength. The attacker rolls a number of dice according to his attack strength, and the defender rolls a number of dice according to his defense strength. If the attacker rolls more hits than the defender rolls misses, the defender takes hits. If the defender has shield, the shield is damaged first. If no shield is left, the defending fighter is damaged. Once a fighter reaches the max damage point, it is shot down.

That is basically it. There are other things like pilots' special abilities, characteristics of different types of fighters, and weapons and special equipment that fighters can be armed with, but in a nutshell you are doing: plan, move and shoot.

The Play

Han, Allen and I played a very basic scenario, with Han playing Luke Skywalker flying the X-Wing, and Allen and I playing some unknown pilots flying TIE fighters. It was 2 vs 1, so naturally Han could pick a star pilot while Allen and I only had enough points for two mediocre ones. We intended to attack from two different sides, forcing him to be exposed at least on one side. At one point we managed to chase him to the edge of the table. He must make a flip, because otherwise he would fly off the battle space and lose (escaping means conceding). He was cornered, and both Allen and I were bearing down on him. Allen and I decided to each turn a different direction, so that no matter how Han turned, one of us would catch him. However Han made the bold move of charging straight at where we were. Both of us had swerved aside, and completely lost our firing angle. What a waste! Eventually Han was able to take us down one by one, and won the match.

Han played Luke Skywalker and piloted the X-Wing on the left. Allen and I piloted the two TIE fighters on the right. We were planning to surround him and attack him from both sides.

Han was chased to the edge of the table and had just made a flip, which left him vulnerable. A flip is usually a strenuous move which causes the pilot to be unable to take a pilot action in the next round. See that triangular token with a red exclamation mark. That's a reminder. Allen and my TIE fighters were approaching.

Guessing your opponent's intention is a big part of the game, so the planning stage of every round is the most important stage. The movement and shooting stages can usually be played on autopilot. There isn't that much to mull over, and the decisions that need to be made tend to be straightforward.

In my second game I played the good guys. I played the rebels and Han the empire. We had more fighters and used a higher point value. In addition to the X-Wing, I had a Y-Wing too. Not as nimble, but it can take more damage. In addition to two TIE fighters, Han had a TIE fighter advanced. It was piloted by Darth Vader too! My X-Wing was piloted by Luke Skywalker, so it was father vs son (sorry to those who have not seen the movies). Darth Vader was one very tough nut - his special ability was he had two pilot actions instead of one. Halfway through the game, Allen arrived and took over from Han. We had some amazing attack rolls, but in those rounds the defender rolled wonderfully too, which meant no damage. Eventually Luke was shot down, so it was a tragic ending. Killed by his own father. The empire won.

That in the background is the TIE fighter advanced, piloted by Darth Vader himself.

The Y-Wing.

Darth Vader in the TIE fighter advanced leading his remaining henchman to finish off the Y-Wing.

Shooting in this game is very exciting. It doesn't take many hits to destroy a fighter. It's not easy to score a hit, because not only the attacker needs to make good rolls, the defender also needs to make poor ones. However there is always a possibility of a hit whenever someone shoots, so that keeps you on your toes. Both sides constantly try to manoeuvre their fighters into favourable positions, to get within firing range, to avoid being shot at, and also to maximise their odds when shooting.

When shooting, the attacker rolls red dice, while the defender rolls green dice. This large star icon means a critical hit. In addition to causing one point of damage, a critical hit also causes same malfunction reducing the abilities of the fighter being shot at.

The Thoughts

Star Wars: X-Wing is brisk and exciting. It is smooth and simple, and also very flavourful. I like how the characteristics of the different spaceships really bring out the Star Wars setting. The game is mostly tactical, but I imagine when playing larger scenarios with more ships, there will be a bigger strategic element. The game is exciting because a fighter only takes a few shots to kill, and if you are very unlucky, it is possible to lose a fighter in one round of shooting. You get that sense of urgency that every round may be your last round.

If you are in the mood for a dogfighting game, I highly recommend Star Wars: X-Wing. It's not a heavy eurogame or a detailed wargame, but it does what it has set out to do very well. It's a game that lets you become a child again, going pew pew pew and playing with toys again.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

boardgaming in photos

5 May 2013. Playing The Settlers of Catan with the children.

11 May 2013. Playing Villa Paletti with Shee Yun (8). I never quite remember the rules properly. We just play with the general idea of whoever causes the tower to topple loses.

19 May 2013. Chen Rui (6) likes Dixit and almost always requests for it when we visit Meeples Cafe. To her it's basically a guessing game. When Michelle and I play with the children we keep the clues simple - usually single words - and don't use any deep strategies or complex logic.

This was the first time I tried Tobago with Michelle and the children. It was too difficult for Chen Rui - the the elimination process to determine the possible locations of treasures was overwhelming. She gave up and Michelle took over playing for her.

26 May 2013. Shee Yun watched me play San Juan and Puerto Rico on the iPad, and wanted to learn too. After she had played them a few times, she wanted to play the physical copies. So we played. I'm glad she is interested in strategy games. I have hopes that when she grows up she will continue to play these with me. I guess this is true for every boardgamer parent.

Puerto Rico.

I guided her and gave her tips when we played, explaining to her the strategies.

My player board. This time I diversified my production. With the help of the Factory I earned $5 (which is a lot) every time there was goods production.

Shee Yun's island. She knew it was a good idea to get the markets. I reminded her too. She bought both big and small markets. She even managed to earn enough money to buy two large buildings, which I thought was praise-worthy.

2 Jun 2013. Playing Allen's copy of Battle Line. I have self-made a copy using normal playing cards before, and I have played Ben's copy before, but this was the first time I played using the tactics cards variant. Those two cards on the right are tactics cards. Previously I had thought tactics cards would be gimmicky and would not be necessary, but it turned out they are quite interesting and they are a worthwhile variant. Not absolutely necessary, but they are nice. Tactics cards are usually powerful, although some are more situational than others. When you use this variant, you can play or draw a tactics card instead of a regular card any time. The only restriction is if you have played more tactics cards than your opponent, you are temporarily forbidden to play another. You need to wait till your opponent plays at least one more tactics card. This means if you are first to play a tactics card in a game, you will be anxiously waiting for how your opponent will play one on you (or even one after another in two consecutive turns) before you can respond in kind. This variant is an interesting twist and the tactics cards' abilities feel just right - strong, but not overpowered.

15 Jun 2013. Taluva by Marcel-André Casasola Merkle has always been one of my favourite games. It's open-information (although there is a little luck). It's abstract, despite the wonderful artwork and components. I rarely dig abstract games, but somehow Taluva just clicks.

Your basic objective is to use up two of your three types of buildings. Building houses are easy, but you need to meet specific requirements to build temples and towers. On your turn you must draw a tile, add it to the play area, and then build something. Sometimes you can stack tiles, or even destroy others' houses. You need to visualise how the board situation can change, and how you can make use of the possibilities. Managing your houses is an intricate balance. You can't just rush to build all quickly, because if you run out, and then you get a turn where you are unable to build a temple or a tower, you lose immediately. Taluva is a clever and very spatial game (and special too).