Sunday, 1 June 2014

in photos: Entdecker, Samurai

I take back what I said about the iOS Agricola AI's. The first time I played against them recently, I thought they were pretty decent. The AI's played well and defeated me. I was a little rusty, but I could see what they were doing right and what I was doing wrong. Happily I started a second game against them, human vs two expert level AI's in a 3P game. And this was the result. The blue AI did so badly in managing food that it lost 36pts due to family members going hungry. Ever having to starve is already a big enough sin, because even one begging card (-3pts) is already a significant penalty. 12 begging cards is... unspeakable. That AI ended up with negative points. In this game, I did remember to plan for expanding my home early and increasing the family size early, lessons learnt from that first game. I didn't try to deny the blue AI food. I didn't pay attention to whether it was the other AI screwing it. Now I think the Agricola AI's is more or less like the Le Havre AI's - they are not much of a challenge, but they are available if you want a small diversion.

Spirit of the Ancients is another card from Ascension which I think is overpowered. Every time you play it, you select which Lifebound Hero it will be. The only restriction is you can't pick the same Lifebound Hero again. Every time this card is bought, the owner will pick Cetra, Guide of Ogo, another card which I think is overpowered. And then there are also many other Lifebound Heroes which are very powerful. This card is fun when you have it, but I think it's almost a card which will cost you the game if your opponent manages to buy it before you do.

16 May 2014. Allen came to play, and we revisited Sekigahara. I played Tokugawa this time (black) while he played Ishida (gold). I thought I did quite well throughout the early game. I managed to control more castles as well as more resource locations. My battle losses were a little high, but I didn't feel it was too alarming. Then I sent my leader Tokugawa Ieyasu on an attack, which failed, and on Allen's counterattack, Tokugawa got killed, and I lost the game. I was too impetuous. That attacked which I launched was a 4 blocks vs 3 blocks attack. It wasn't a crucial one I needed to win, and I was only able to deploy 3 of my 4 blocks. Allen was able to deploy all three of his. I should not have put my Tokugawa block in danger like this. What a stupid stupid stupid move that was. Allen was shocked to see Tokugawa come up when I revealed my block. It was Christmas come early for him. Our game lasted less than half an hour, since it ended in Round 3 (of 7).

I have never won any game of Sekigahara, so I think I'm getting a little desperate. I need to rethink carefully to improve my play. This game is teasing me like a seductress!

Innovation was the only game on all three of Han, Allen and my top ten lists when we did such an exercise of making these lists a few years ago. It was good bring it out again, and I still enjoy the game very much. This is a game with much chaos and much randomness. There is also some luck. Don't equate randomness and luck though. Randomness is how the game situation can change quickly, how powerful tools can suddenly become useless, how weak weapons can suddenly become crucial, and how new powers come into play. Luck is gaining an advantage (or even winning a game) due to factors beyond the players' control, i.e. you don't feel like you deserve to win, and it isn't a fruit of your efforts. It's probably impossible to draw a clear line between randomness and luck. They overlap. I'd consider Innovation a chaotic and random game, but not a luck game. You do need to strategise and work hard to make your cards work for you, in order to be competitive and to win.

Hmm... maybe I'm saying this because I won. :-P

23 May 2014. Allen's colleagues Adam and Salah, who are relatively new to the hobby, joined us to play, so we decided to pick something from the classic era, something not too long and not too complex. We decided to give Entdecker a go. This is designed by Klaus Teuber of The Settlers of Catan fame. It is from around the same era. Allen bought a copy last year and deposited it at my place for rules reading, but we never got around to playing it. So it was good to be able to check something off our to-do list.

These cardboard pieces are the native chieftains' homes. Each hut contains a secret good token, the value of which is known only to the first player who has sent an explorer to negotiate a deal with the chieftain. The player who later places an explorer on the space with an eye will get to peek at the hidden good. At the end of the game, only one player with the most explorers next to a hut will claim the good token and score points.

The game starts with an empty board, and throughout the game players draw and place tiles to fill up the map. Whenever you discover a piece of land, you have the option to place one of your game pieces onto that piece of land. When an island is completed, it is scored, and whoever has pieces on it gains points.

The large white house is a settlement. The flat yellow piece is a fortress. The small white cylinders are explorers. Settlements are strongest in competing for island scoring, followed by fortresses and then explorers. If another player needs to sail past your settlement or fortress en route to making a voyage of discovery, he must pay a toll fee. Explorers may be weakest, but after an island they are on is scored, they get to visit the chieftains and try to win influence over their tribes. That is a very important mission because the end-game scoring is a large chunk of the total score.

We are near the end-game now. The map is almost completed. Adam (yellow) and I (white) are engaged in a fierce competition over that huge island at the centre. Two of my explorers are on separate tiny islands which may turn out to be connected to the big island. Tension!

The game feels a little like Carcassonne. However, in Carcassonne you draw a tile and then try to find a place to connect it to the map, while in Entdecker you have to decide up front where you want to sail from and then you draw a tile and hope it fits. In Entdecker, you may select from face-up stacks so that you will know for sure that the tiles will fit, but it is more costly to buy such tiles.

Adam (yellow) had invested four (!) explorers on the first hut, even though Allen (purple) had only put up a weak challenge. Needless to say, it turned out to be the 15VP good - the highest valued good.

We also played Samurai, where we got completely schooled by Allen, who is a big fan of the game. This copy is a second-hand copy, and the previous owner lovingly sealed up every single tile with plastic. Amazing! I'm not a sleeving guy myself, but this kind of effort is impressive.

Pieces on Kyushu and Shikoku (on the right) have all been claimed now. I don't think I'm playing very effectively. I am green (I mean my player colour, not that I'm new to the game). I tend to be opportunistic and whenever I can I snipe away pieces just before others can claim them. I don't really have any overarching plan to try to influence specific areas.

I tried to focus on monks and rice, and seemed to be doing well in the first half of the game. However as the game wore on, my progress seemed to stall. At game end, I didn't have majority in either factions, so I didn't even qualify to compete for shogunate.

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