Thursday, 19 June 2014

in photos: Age of Steam, 6 Nimmt / Category 5, Through the Ages

4 Jun 2014. I bought four 2-player maps for Age of Steam quite some time ago, but had only played one of them. I took some days off work recently, and took the opportunity to play these 2P maps with my wife Michelle. This is the Antebellum Louisiana map. Only three types of goods are used - red, blue, black. The map starts with only two cities and no towns. One special rule for this map is you can spend money to build towns, which can then be urbanised to become cities. The two starting cities are so far apart that it's not feasible to build one long track to link them up. Intermediate stops are needed.

I issued shares aggressively to gain cash, and I spent them on bidding for turn order, grabbing the urbanisation action, building towns, urbanising them to become cities, and picking goods to deliver. I did this in the first two rounds, and then realised I had made a grave mistake. I had issued too many shares and spent too much money, and I was not making enough profit. I ended up in the embarrassing situation of borrowing money to pay interests. That of course led me into a downward spiral, and eventually I went bankrupt! Disgraceful! In the mean time, Michelle simply piggy-backed on the new cities I built, building tracks cheaply, and still being able to deliver some goods. She reached the breakeven point, so she could do nothing and still win, because I was already digging my own grave. She only had to wave and smile while I crashed and burned.

My (green) income level dropped back to zero because I did not have enough cash on hand to pay dividends, and when I went negative, I was out of the game for being bankrupt.

I asked for a rematch, this time on the 1867 Georgia Reconstruction map. This map uses 3 goods types too, and also starts with two cities. What is unique here is there are some unfinished tracks which players can claim by finishing them. In this game I focused on developing the area between the two starting cities. At this point two towns have been urbanised to become cities A and C.

Most of the competition was in the corridor where the two starting cities were located, on the right side. Later when we expanded to the left side, it was not for making money. It was only for scoring points. There were no cities on the left where we could deliver goods. Michelle and I were on par in delivering goods and making money. However she (red) did much better in building more tracks and longer tracks. Eventually she won the game with a comfortable margin.

The red goods on the red cities were mostly untouched. The two red cities were right next to each other, so there was not much incentive to deliver the red goods. Such a one-route delivery would only increase profitability by $1. Now I had just built a new track from the red 123 city to the town on its lower left. This new track opened up new opportunities. I could deliver a red good in a roundabout way, all the way to the blue 456 city and then back to the other red city just next door. This was good for me, but unfortunately it was equally good for Michelle. She could do similar deliveries. So this move didn't help me gain on her at all.

8 Jun 2014. I taught my children and my niece to play Category 5 (6 Nimmt / Take 6). This is an old classic from Wolfgang Kramer, probably 20 years old.

12 Jun 2014. I think Chen Rui (7) doesn't quite get the longer term strategies in Category yet, e.g. it is not just about playing a card that won't get you into trouble now, it is also about making sure the other cards left in your hand which you will eventually have to play won't get you into trouble (or at least not too much trouble). She took many cards from the table (which is a bad thing).

On the other hand, Shee Yun (9) when playing this game kept saying she needed to think carefully. I'm glad that games are triggering her to strategise and to plan.

Chen Rui asked her elder sister for help, but when Shee Yun picked a card for her, she picked a wrong one by mistake, causing Chen Rui to take more cards. Oops!

Feeling defeated.

13 Jun 2014. There was a period when Michelle and I played Through the Ages intensively. During the recent holiday I brought it out again, and it was still as great as ever. Michelle and I play a peculiar peaceful variant. In the official peaceful variant, aggression and war cards are removed from the game. In our version we don't attack each other, but these (now useless) cards stay in the game. I suppose we keep them just in case. If at some point one of us decides to break the truce and attack, then the option is available. It is a little absurd - we are setting a rule which we may break. In practise, I think Michelle only broke the peace once, in one particular game where she was trailing by a wide margin. I don't remember whether that attack won her the game. Probably not. But at least she felt better. I think we should just use the official variant.

In this particular game, we did a lot of colonising. Michelle founded four colonies (dark green cards, upper left). I had three (lower right). I had a good start, while Michelle struggled in the early game, because she was a little rusty, not only in Through the Ages but in boardgaming in general. However she did better and better by mid game, and soon commanded a strong lead. Her empire generated more science and more culture. We competed in military strength and neither of us managed to stay on top for long. Near the end of the game, I built the First Space Flight wonder (purple card, lower left), which gave me 33VP's. It catapulted me to the front, and won me the game. I was surprised how many points it gave me. By mid game I had been expecting to lose because overall Michelle was doing better than me.

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