Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Genji

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

Genji is the great Romeo of classical Japan - a great poet and lover. In the game of Genji, you don't play the great master. Instead you are just wannabes writing poems to chase girls. The play area is a circular path with 12 different princesses. Every poet starts at a different home space, and may decide to move in a clockwise or anticlockwise direction to visit the princesses. On your turn, you must move between 1 to 3 steps, and then you either study (discard and draw cards) or you write poetry for the princess located at the place you stopped. If the princess has never received any poem from anyone before, she will be easily impressed and you'll get to place one of your tokens on her card. If she has seen others' works, you will find her harder to please. You need to first prove to her that the poem given to her by the other poet is inferior. You do so by ever so casually modifying it, and showing her the improved version. When you manage to outdo your competitor, you remove his token from the princess' card. If you are subsequently able to write a decent poem for the princess yourself, you can then place your own token on her card. The game is all about impressing girls with your poetry and occasionally (well, maybe frequently) belittling your opponents' works.

This is the layout of the play area. In the centre are the draw deck, the discard pile, the current fashion in poetry style, and the current season. Moving outwards, the first circle are the twelve princesses you get to charm. The outermost circle are the poems which have been given to the princesses.

What's "good" poetry? It comes down to just three factors. (1) Does it match the season? (2) Is it fashionable? (3) Does it match the preference of the recipient? A complete poem is made of two cards, an intro and a closing. Each card has two or three elements, e.g. one card may have a little winter sonata feel (i.e. the season element), plus a dash of natural beauty (the style element). The more a poem's elements match the current season, the current fashion and the recipient's tastes, the more highly it is regarded. However seasons and fashions change, so one pretty poem may turn stale before the year is out. On the other hand, a simple unpretentious rhyme can really touch the heart when given to the right lady at the right moment.

Most of the cards in the game are half a poem, and each card has two or three icons representing elements of the poem.

The princess on the left likes a melancholy style, and also poems about spring. The princess on the right likes images from mother nature, and she likes poems about summer.

An upper half and a lower half together forms a complete poem. This poem has four different elements (icons, from left to right) - autumn, nature, summer and romance. This particular princess likes nature and summer. I have one of my (green) tokens on her card now because I wrote this poem for her.

Normally you will want to visit as many princesses as possible and impress them with your artistic prowess. At the end of your turn you will always draw back up to 5 cards anyway. However sometimes you simply don't have the right cards to make any decent poem, or sometimes you want to save up some good cards to write that one perfect poem for one specific princess. Also, one important consideration is the pacing. A season (i.e. a round) ends as soon as one poet completes one round and returns to his home space. The others won't have any more opportunity to visit any more princesses. It is important to watch how quickly your opponents are moving around the circuit.

Three main things are checked during the end-of-season scoring. First, we look for the best poem. The poet will gain points, and the poem will be immortalised and removed from play. Then we look for scandals! If you manage to win the heart of a princess who lives at the home space of another poet, that is considered an achievement and you'll gain a point. Any poems which score these cuckold points are then removed from play. Finally, we look for quantity - whoever still has the most tokens on the board is declared the most productive poet, and scores points.

A new season starts. The fashion cards are reshuffled and a new one drawn for the new season (which may be the same one as before). Every poet starts a new circuit from their respective home spaces. The game ends after the fourth season, i.e. winter, or it may also end early if any player is able to place all his tokens onto the board (he wins).

The Play

Allen and I did a 2-player game. The game is playable for 2 to 6, and BGG says it's best with 3 or 4. That sounds about right. In our game things were very lopsided because I kept getting the beautiful calligraphy cards and the signature stamp cards. These are special tiebreaker cards. When I need to outdo an opponent's poem but am only able to match but not surpass his quality, I can play these tiebreaker cards to give me an edge, and then discard his poem from play. I defeated many of Allen's poems using these tiebreaker cards. He, on the other hand, never drew a single tiebreaker card throughout the game. Even I felt sorry for his poor luck. I think with more players there would be less likelihood of a runaway leader.

Gameplay is mostly tactical. You look at what cards you draw, and you try to make the most of it. You can plan ahead a little, since you know the tastes of each princess, and also the upcoming season. You need to decide where to fight and where to concede. And of course you need to pay special attention to the princess living upstairs from your apartment, lest some stray dog of a poet comes along and dazzles her with cheap tricks.

We used dice to help us remember the quality level of the poems. This particular poem has a quality level of 8. It has four romance elements (white character on red background). The princess likes romance, which gives the poem 4 quality points. The current fashion in poetry is romance too, which gives the poem 4 more quality points. Quality 8 is very respectable.

The Thoughts

Before I played Genji I thought it looked rather solemn. Now that I have played it, I found it to be more lively than I expected. There is direct competition. You are fighting over girlfriends afterall. It doesn't get much more personal than that. The strategy is light to medium weight. Decisions are mostly quite tactical in nature (as opposed to being strategic). Measuring the quality of a poem is quite an abstract thing. It's just counting matching icons. However the overall package and graphic design really draw me in and make me feel like a cultured man spouting fanciful poetry. I need to tell Allen to stop bothering my girlfriends with his dirty poems. Shoo!

These are the season cards, starting from the left: spring, summer, autumn.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

boardgaming in photos: Japan night

I visited Japan on a family holiday in November. Since I am a big fan of Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan, I seriously considered visiting the battlefield of Sekigahara. However it was rather out of the way, and there didn't seem to be a lot to see, so I eventually decided against it. When I was in Hakone, I came across clan mon (family crest) T-shirts of both Ishida Mitsunari and Tokugawa Ieyasu at a souvenir shop. They are the protagonists in the game Sekigahara, and the first thing that came to my mind was I must buy these two T-shirts. My regular kaki (opponent) for Sekigahara is Allen, so my plan was to get both of us one T-shirt each, and we were going to play the game wearing these T-shirts. It would be perfect! Until I realised a few days later that it wouldn't be. In my haste, I had bought the wrong T-shirt. The Tokugawa T-shirt which I thought I had bought was actually an Oda T-shirt. There was no Tokugawa T-shirt at the shop, and somehow I mistook the Oda T-shirt as the Tokugawa one. Gosh stupid stupid stupid. Oda Nobunaga was a famous warlord of the same period, and he was an ally of Tokugawa Ieyasu. However he died long before the Battle of Sekigahara. My familiarity with that period of history, in addition to my excitement, made me confuse them.

5 Dec 2014. My Oda T-shirt.

I gave Allen the (correct) Ishida T-shirt, so he must play Ishida.

The Tokugawa player wearing an Oda T-shirt. *facepalm*

I love this game, but never had much luck winning it. This time I finally managed a win. Allen joked that I must have learnt some tricks from my recent trip. Our game was quite a balanced back-and-forth with neither side gaining any clear upper hand. My Tokugawa army in the east marched up the central Nakasendo highway to besiege and eventually capture the Ueda castle. Slowly, but steadily. My army in the west had some initial successes in battle, but the western part of the board was Allen's territory, and I was soon beaten back by Allen's larger forces. He captured more and more castles and resource centres in the west. In the second half of the game, I managed to catch Ishida in a weak position. Allen had sent him to the front line to fight. He did win a few battles. I caught him at a moment when his forces were depleted, and Allen hadn't been able to withdraw him or reinforce him yet. So Ishida fell in battle, and Tokugawa won the day.

This was one particular battle near the eastern edge of the board. The Date clan supported my Tokugawa side (black), while Allen's Ishida side (gold) was supported by the Uesugi clan. Things didn't look good for me. The Date had been losing battles, and didn't look like it could hold back the Uesugi. I would likely need to send in some Tokugawa troops from Edo soon to hold this front. The Uesugi launched an attack on my Date army. It was a 5-block vs 2-block battle. I only had the card to deploy one of my blocks, the 2-strength Date block. Allen deployed his Uesugi daimyo (clan leader) for free, and also played a double-mon (double-crest) card to deploy two 3-strength Uesugi blocks. I could not deploy anymore, but I did have a loyalty challenge card. I thought why not. I had nothing to lose. To my surprise, Allen did not have any more Uesugi card. The loyalty challenge worked, and both his 3-strength Uesugi blocks turned traitor. He wasn't able to deploy any of his two remaining blocks. The tables turned, from a 10-vs-2 loss to a 9-vs-1 victory. Allen lost two blocks, and his Uesugi clan leader barely escaped with his life. Both my blocks lived.

This was just a temporary respite. I still only had two blocks in the area to his three. However eventually it didn't matter, because Ishida Mitsunari himself soon died in battle.

After Sekigahara, we did Samurai, the Reiner Knizia classic, which is also one of Allen's favourite games. Now he's a guru at this, and I was no match at all despite my best efforts.

It was only the two of us, so we only played the island of Honshu. With more players, Kyushu, Shikoku and Hokkaido would come into play, expanding the play area. It's a very clever design.

After that we did Genji. Allen had played before, but had forgotten the rules. We struggled with the rulebook a bit before managing to get the game going. These are two of the princesses in the game.

Genji is about charming princesses with your poetry. A complete poem needs to have an upper half and a lower half, like in this photo.

Game during play.

14 Nov 2014. This is the Kickstarter version of Town Center. When Allen pulled this out, we realised we were both very rusty. The game has some unusual rules, and it took us some time to refresh our memories. I had played quite many solo games before, and I got tired of the solo game because there seemed to be just one general formula to follow. However now this Kickstarter edition comes with different maps and may give some new life to the solo game. The new maps like London, Manhattan and Hong Kong have different shapes and special rules.

13 Dec 2014. Han often visits Kuala Lumpur, but Allen, him and I don't always manage to get together to play. We used to be the Midah Trio when Han lived in KL. On Han's recent trip, we managed to get together, and we planned to play Maria, a 3-player game which Allen was very keen to play again. When we all got to Allen's place, we found that we didn't have a copy of the game. Han had thought Allen had a copy, and Allen had thought Han was bringing his copy. Oops. Next time I guess. We played Historia instead, and also Glass Road (photo above).

Han was new to Glass Road so we played one game using just the basic buildings, and then a second game using only the advanced buildings. I found that when we played the advanced buildings, my game became much more solitairish, because it was a challenge for me to try to figure out how to make use of the buildings. The building powers were complicated. Much effort was required to make them work for me. So I didn't pay a lot of attention to Han or Allen's boards. Surprisingly all three of us scored higher in the second game. I guess good work does get rewarded.

I think in Glass Road it is easy to slip into a multiplayer solitaire mode. You can't directly interfere with your opponent's board. You can't steal your opponent's resources. Sometimes you may be aiming for the same building, but when you are not, you tend not to bother too much with your opponents' strategies. However I find that the card selection is very important. In the best case scenario, you pick three cards which only you have chosen, and two cards which you get to follow others' leads. That's a total of 8 actions, two each for the "you-only" cards, and one each for the "follow others" cards. In the worst case scenario, you pick three cards which others manage to follow, and two others which you are unable to follow others. That's a total of only 3 actions. 8 actions per round and 3 actions per round are a huge difference.

That Mansion near the upper left scores 2VP per orthogonally adjacent grove, so I have been working hard planting trees.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Merry Christmas

... and Happy New Year!

Burgoo revisited

After I wrote about my first plays of Burgoo, a reader (thanks Rob!) pointed out a rule mistake I had made. On your turn, you don't execute all three action types one by one. You are supposed to pick just one action to execute. Now I have played Burgoo twice more, with the correct rules. Both were 2-player games with my daughter. The game works much better with the correct rules (of course!). I actually have a much more meaningful decision every turn. Lesson learnt - don't assume you can't make rule mistakes with microgames.

Overall the game is still very quick, very short. There is not much manoeuvre space. The best strategy for setting up your starting ingredients column seems to be just having an upper half and a lower half which are exactly the same. Once the game starts, split right in the middle so that you'll then have two columns side-by-side which are exactly the same. If you have played the game, are you of this opinion as well?

Burgoo doesn't really excite me. I think it is because it is both a microgame and an open information game. Imagine playing chess with four pawns on a 4x4 board. There isn't all that much variability. The microgames that I like have some randomness or hidden information, e.g. Love Letter, Templar Intrigue, which I think makes them more interesting. Otherwise they become mathematical puzzles.

Update: I just found out I have made yet another rule mistake. During the starting setup, when arranging your column of ingredients, the order should be completely random, and should not be up to you to decide. This would make things very different.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Imperial Settlers

Plays: 2Px2.

The Game

Imperial Settlers is a reimplementation of 51st State. 51st State had an improved version, called The New Era, not long ago. This time round Imperial Settlers is a major revamp giving it a different setting in the process.

Imperial Settlers is a card tableau game, like Race For The Galaxy, San Juan, London and Gosu. Every round you start with a card drafting and card drawing phase, followed by a resource production phase. Then players take turns performing actions. You can spend resources to construct buildings, which is basically playing a card into your tableau. You can establish a business contract, which is turning a card into a contract which produces one resource every round. You can raze an opponent's building, or even one of your own. You will salvage some resources when you do this. You can also pay resources to make use of special actions on some buildings. The game revolves around producing resources, using them to construct buildings which in turn produce more resources or do other fancy things, and ultimately scoring victory points. The buildings themselves will be worth points at game end too. At the end of every round, all resources are discarded unless you have specific warehouses to store them. The game ends after five rounds.

Each player plays different civilisation, and each civilisation has its own deck of faction-specific cards. There is a generic deck which every player can draw from too.

The artwork is beautiful and of the cute type. The top left section of a card shows the building materials required to construct the building. The coloured vertical bar at the lower left indicates the building type. Some buildings give benefits depending on how many other buildings of the same type exist in your tableau. The blue horizontal bar at the bottom means the card can become a contract, and will give you one resource at the start of every round.

This is my tableau. The faction board in the centre shows the basic resources I get to collect at the start of every round, and also what type of resource I can store in my warehouse at the end of the round. The cards tucked at the top are my currently active contracts, which produce resources every round. Cards on the left of the faction board are faction-specific buildings, and cards on the right are generic buildings. Generic buildings can be razed by your opponents, but faction-specific buildings are safe. The recommended way to organise your buildings is to place production buildings in the top row, and action buildings in the bottom row. Action buildings let you spend resources to perform special actions.

These are some of my action buildings. When you make use of them, you place the action cost payments here to remind yourself how many times you have used the building. Usually you can use a building at most twice per round.

This one in the centre is a generic building. The section at the top right indicates that it can be razed, and you will gain one victory point (star icon) and one wood if you do so.

The Play

I played two games with Allen back to back, trying out all four factions in the game. The game plays very smoothly. I have played 51st State before and quite like it, so I can't help comparing Imperial Settlers to it when I played. Imperial Settlers is cleaner and easier to teach. Many aspects are familiar. In the early game you want to improve your production capacity. Every round you start with a bunch of resources, and you need to puzzle out how to make the most of them in the current round. Player interaction is low. You are mostly trying to figure out the synergies among your own cards. You need to plan how to build up your empire. Razing your opponent's buildings is possible, and in fact there is not much he can do to prevent it, but this doesn't happen frequently. Buildings getting razed seems to be just something you have to accept will happen once in a while. You do have a defense token which can make it slightly harder for your opponent to raze one of your buildings, but it is difficult to completely protect every building. Well, it's actually impossible.

In our second game I played the Egyptians. I had a horrible start. I had drawn so many cards but still had not constructed a single building. Needless to say my production capacity was very low. I was quite clueless at playing the Egyptians. Thankfully later on I found that they had some nifty card combos, and I managed to catch up a little. I still lost, but at least not as badly as I had expected.

My humble Egyptian empire.

The Thoughts

I can't help comparing Imperial Settlers to 51st State. Imperial Settlers is more polished and easier to learn. If we put them side by side, I can immediately see the shortcomings of 51st State. However I like the old dog more. 51st State uses many icons, which players will struggle with for some time until they are familiar with the game. The card drafting mechanism is not as straightforward. One thing which Ignacy Trzewiczek set out to do when designing Imperial Settlers was to remove the max-3 restriction in 51st State. In 51st State, a scoring card may score at most three times, after which you will need to convert it to another scoring building if you want to continue to use the same location to score points. You can keep at most three loot items. You can have at most three contracts. In Imperial Settlers these restrictions have been mostly removed. I personally don't have a problem with the max-3 restriction. To me it's a challenge. It forces you to plan ahead for the obsolescence of your cards. I forces you to plan to adapt before you are hampered by the limit. You cannot be complacent with your scoring buildings and you need to stay nimble. Your card tableau needs to be dynamic.

In Imperial Settlers there is dynamism in your card tableau too, but it is implemented in a different way. Sometimes you want to raze your own buildings to gain resources. Sometimes in order to construct a powerful building, you need to sacrifice an existing building. This forces you to plan ahead which weaker building to use as a stepping stone to that stronger building. This razing-your-own-buildings business may take a little getting used to. I think it's a good thing. I like paradigm shifts.

I don't particularly like or dislike the post-apocalyptic setting of 51st State, so I'm not liking it more because of the setting. Imperial Settlers is definitely cuter and prettier.

One thing I don't like about Imperial Settlers is the fixed number of rounds. In 51st State the end game is triggered by one player reaching a target VP number. So things are more dynamic in 51st State. You need to watch where everyone is on the scoring track, and also gauge how quickly everyone is scoring. You need to estimate whether the game will go for one more round or not, and act accordingly. In Imperial Settlers every time you construct a building you already know how many times you will get to use it. This deterministic feeling bugs me a little.

Many aspects of these two games are similar. Imperial Settlers gives more character to each faction. In 51st State only the base production and the starting contact cards differ. In Imperial Settlers you have a whole deck of faction-specific cards. Imperial Settlers is more accessible, and I think more people will like it than 51st State. So I shall just be contented and call myself a hipster, and proclaim that I liked Imperial Settlers before it was Imperial Settlers.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

revisiting 2012 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. And roughly one more year after that I revisit the list to see whether my opinion has changed, and whether there are more games of that year which I have played. This is a revisit of the 2012 list. I keep all my previous comments. Additions are underlined.

    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. This is one situation where I would reply "It's complicated" if someone asks me my relationship with a game. I like Netrunner but I don't play it regularly. I know I like it and yet I don't spend the effort to meet up with other runners. Now I have bought the 3 other expansions from the first cycle, completing this cycle. I have sleeved all my cards. And yet I have not played it for a long time. What am I doing?!
  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.

    Android: Netrunner

    The Great Zimbabwe

    Happy to play

  3. Clash of Cultures - a well-implemented civ game. I still have not played it after buying my own copy. Dropped from Keen-To-Play to 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. 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. Increased in ranking, because I'm always happy to play it on my iPhone.
  7. The Palaces of Carrara - Interested to try this. Previously not played. I've bought a German version now, since the English version is out of print. It's a clever game where gauging pacing is very important.
  8. 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. Promoted from Lukewarm to Happy-To-Play, because I have been having fun playing this with daughter Shee Yun (9).
  9. Love Letter - I wonder how much game there is to it. It's only 16 cards. Previously not played. It's light, relaxing fun. Good with children.
  10. 1989: Dawn of Freedom - Similar to but different enough from Twilight Struggle.
  11. 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.
  12. Las Vegas - Heard good things about this one. Previously not played. A pleasant lightweight game.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Fleet - A pleasant surprise. A quick card game where you need to make the most of special abilities you buy. Dropped a little, but still Happy-To-Play.
  16. Mage Knight Board Game: The Lost Legion (expansion) - More variety for the base game. Dropped a little, but still Happy-To-Play.

    Clash of Cultures

    Dominant Species: The Card Game

    Lukewarm

  17. 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.
  18. 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. Dropped from Happy-To-Play to Lukewarm.
  19. 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.
  20. Tokaido - Very pretty. Previously not played. An OK game. I love the artwork.
  21. Terra Mystica - A hot game with a lot of good buzz, and now an award winner too. Previously not played. I see why this is very popular. It has good strategy, and there is much variability. Every tribe plays differently, and you need different approaches to compete against different tribes.
  22. 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. Dropped from Happy-To-Play to Lukewarm.
  23. 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. Promoted a little because Allen lent me the Kickstarter version which comes with variants like London, Paris, Hong Kong. I still haven't tried them though.
  24. 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.

    VivaJava: The Coffee Game

    Shinobi: War of Clans

    Rather Not Play

  25. 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. Dropped from Lukewarm to Rather-Not-Play.
  26. Seasons - Dice game with card drafting. All about planning for the best use of your cards. Dropped from Lukewarm to Rather-Not-Play.
  27. For The Win - Perfect-information, abstract 2P game, a little like Hive.
  28. 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. Lords of Waterdeep - I have not read much about it. It seems to be just a regular worker placement game with a fantasy setting.
  2. Mage Wars
  3. Star Wars: The Card Game
  4. Mice and Mystics
  5. D-Day Dice - Allen has it.
  6. Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game
  7. Zombicide
  8. Rex: Final Days of the Empire - I have played Dune once. It was good.
  9. Legends of Andor
  10. Virgin Queen - Allen has this.
  11. 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.
  12. Suburbia
  13. 7 Wonders: Cities (expansion)
  14. Wiz-War (8th edition)
  15. Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery
  16. Keyflower
  17. Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small
  18. Dominion: Dark Ages (expansion)
  19. Libertalia
  20. The Manhattan Project
  21. Space Cadets
  22. Andean Abyss - Allen has this too. Seems interesting, but probably needs four players.
  23. Myrmes - Some said it's a little like Antiquity. That got my attention.
  24. Infiltration
  25. Merchant of Venus (second edition)
  26. Samurai Battles
  27. Trains
  28. Yedo
  29. Snowdonia
  30. 1812: The Invasion of Canada - Sounds like an innovative Euro-ish war game in the vein of Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan.
  31. Coup: City State
  32. Star Trek: Catan
  33. Ginkgopolis
  34. Copycat
  35. Goblins Inc
  36. Morels
  37. Galaxy Trucker: Another Big Expansion - I'm no longer buying expansions because I don't play Galaxy Trucker often enough nowadays.
  38. Antike Duellum
  39. Atlantis Rising
  40. Africana
  41. Crown of Roses Allen has this. A multiplayer block wargame.
  42. Targi - Some interest. It can be a spouse game. Allen has this I think.
  43. Pax Porfiriana
  44. Spellbound
  45. Chicken Caesar
  46. Abaddon
  47. Urbanisation
  48. Alien Frontiers: Factions (expansion)
  49. Uchronia
  50. Aeroplanes: Aviation Ascendant - Martin Wallace design. Seems much less well received than Automobile.
  51. Le Havre: The Inland Port - I need to play Le Havre more.
  52. The Ladies of Troyes (expansion)
  53. Doctor Who: The Card Game
  54. Axis & Allies 1941
  55. Guildhall
  56. The Convoy
  57. P.I. - Martin Wallace design. But I prefer his heavier games and not the lighter ones.
  58. Samurai Sword (the Bang-like game, not Samurai Swords / Ikusa / Shogun)
  59. Kingdom of Solomon
  60. Garden Dice
  61. New Amsterdam - Heard good things.
  62. Starship Merchants
  63. Qwixx
  64. Zooloretto: The Dice Game
  65. Qin - Reiner Knizia design. Interested to try.
  66. Ruhrschifffahrt 1769-1890
  67. Legacy: Gears of Time - I followed this for a while some time ago.
  68. Divinare
  69. Oddville
  70. Zong Shi
  71. Tooth & Nail: Factions - Allen has it. Read rules. Still have not played. Forgot rules. Read rules again. Still haven't played. Will probably forget rules again. I sense a pattern.
  72. Indigo
  73. Nightfall: The Coldest War (expansion)
  74. Sheepland
  75. The Doge Ship
  76. Flowerfall - A game about dropping cards onto the table. How's that for unconventional?
  77. 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.
  78. Pala
  79. Keltis: Das Würfelspiel
  80. Rondo - Reiner Knizia abstract game. Interested to try after reading about it in Spielbox magazine.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Panamax

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Players are directors as well as shareholders of their respective shipping companies. During the course of the game, they need to run a profitable business signing contracts with customers from different regions, and shipping goods between the eastern and western ends of the Panama Canal. What determines the final victory is personal wealth though, not company coffers. So while managing your shipping company, you need to constantly remember to grab opportunities to make yourself rich. You get to buy shares, which hopefully will pay dividends and will be worth more at game end. There are a few other actions in the game which contribute to your personal wealth.

Your company's holdings and your personal holdings need to be kept separate. The company's money is kept on the company clipboard. Your personal wealth is off the clipboard.

The game only has three rounds, which seems very few, but I found it to be just right. At the start of a round, a bunch of dice are rolled to determine the actions that will be available in the current round. Every time a player's turn comes, he picks one die and does the corresponding action. The dice will dwindle and once they are all gone, the round ends.

This is the action dice table, which shows how many dice remain for the round, and what actions each die represents. The left half are for ship movement, and right half for signing contracts and loading cargo onto ships (and trains).

Generally there are only two types of action - load cargo and move ships. If you choose to load cargo, you may sign a contract before you load. A contract is an agreement with a customer to deliver a certain number of containers of specific values. A contract comes with dice (representing containers of goods) which you can load onto your own ships or other people's ships. One important restriction is within the same turn you may only load at most one container per ship. What this means is you often need to load containers onto others' ships, and thus use their ships to help you deliver containers. Also ships cannot start moving if not enough goods are on board, so in the case of your own ships, you also often want others to load their goods onto your ships. This is what makes Panamax interesting - you are competing, but you cannot avoid collaborating with your competitors.

The other action is to move ships. For one action die you usually get a number of moves, and you must use them all. Some moves are specific for moving through locks, some are specific for moving through waterways. Sometimes you are forced to help someone else because you are not allowed to forfeit moves. One interesting mechanism here is the push mechanism, which is best illustrated by the photo below:

The easiest way to imagine the push mechanism in Panamax is this: push pencils.

When a chain of adjacent locks are all full of ships, if a ship (or a fleet) enters this chain of locks from one end, it will push all the ships along the chain, effectively giving them all one free move, until they exit the chain into a lake or the open sea. This is a very important mechanism because this saves many actions. You want to use this to deliver your goods efficiently. You also want to use this to force others to help you. If your ship is blocking the start of a chain of locks, others coming after you will be forced to push you ahead. You get a free ride, at least till the next lake.

The Panama Canal has two lakes and three stretches of locks.

The size of each water lock is 4 units. Ship sizes vary from 1 to 4. So two or more small to medium sized ships can form groups and fit into the same lock together.

Your company makes money when goods are delivered, i.e. the containers of your colour reach the other end of the canal. At the end of every round, your company needs to pay dividends to all shareholders. If it is unable to pay dividends, the share value will drop, which is bad news for all shareholders, since share value is one of the measures of personal wealth at game end. The company needs to pay maintenance fees for all containers on the board depending on where they are. Some spaces charge a higher fee than others. If for the round you have not delivered enough containers, and there are some still sitting in the warehouse space, that's a very expensive fee of $5 per container. Every round your company is under pressure to do enough business to avoid such exorbitant fees. Ideally you want to deliver all goods before the end of the round, but that's not easy to do. So the next best you can do is to make sure your containers stop at spots with lower fees. If your company runs out of money, you as director have to pay on behalf of the company. I guess these are not sendirian berhad (private and limited liability) companies. If you run out of money too, then you have to take a loan to finance the company. We didn't get into such a situation during our game. I suspect if it comes to this, you can pretty much forget about winning, unless everyone is doing just as poorly as you are.

Dice in player colours don't need to be rolled. They are only used to represent cargo values.

It may seem that containers are what matter the most, and ships don't matter. That is not true. When your ship completes a trip, you gain a reward, regardless of whose cargo was delivered. This reward can be in the form of personal wealth gained, or a professional card. Some professional cards give you additional ship movements. Some even give bonus points at game end if you meet certain criteria.

The Play

I played with Ivan, Jeff and Damien. Both Ivan and I had read the rules and we taught the game to the others. All four of us were new to the game. Four players is the maximum player number, and I think it is probably the best way to play.

What stood out most to me was how interdependent the players are. You want to work with your competitors. You don't want to be left out. Going alone is disastrous. You want to create incentive for others to help you. You want to create situations where your opponents are forced to help you. You lure your opponents into win-win situations. Yet once the usefulness of your partner in a particular transaction ends, you should not hesitate to dump him and go for your own selfish gains. He would (at least he should) do the same.

My company's clipboard. The moment you load all containers from a contract card onto ships (or trains), you are considered to have fulfilled the contract, even though you have not yet completed the delivery. You won't get paid yet. That's done upon delivery. For fulfilling a contract, you receive a round token (black bordered) representing the nationality of your customer (European Union, Eastern USA, Western USA or China). You place this round token on your company clipboard, and some spaces will grant you benefits, e.g. allowing you to buy one share, or perform extra movements. When you "deliver" a passenger via a cruise ship, you also gain a round token (the red bordered one). This can be placed onto your company clipboard to gain a permanent ability, e.g. more choices when selecting contracts, loading an extra container.

There is some share buying in Panamax, but don't expect anything like to the stock market manipulation in 18XX games. The shares and dividends are just a small part of Panamax. In fact you can't sell shares at all. Every company can issue at most 5 shares. Starting the game with one share of your company means your fate is quite closely tied to your company. Doing well in the game is mainly about running your company competently. You can buy shares of your opponent's companies. It'll increase their share values, and also increase their burdens because they need to pay more dividend. Hopefully you make the right choice and get a good return on investment.

Some of the special ships in the game, not owned by any particular player company. There are special rules around how they work.

The Thoughts

I like Panamax a lot. It is a breath of fresh air. If you ask me what game it is like, I can't say at all; and that's precisely what I like about it. It's an economic game. It is of medium-to-high complexity. There are quite many small rules details, and the rulebook can be confusing, but once I understood the overall structure, I realised that everything I did in the game was just about two things: (1) loading goods, or (2) moving ships. I like that the players are a tight ecosystem, heavily depending on one another and yet still competing to come out on top. There are opportunities to hurt your opponents, but I think it is more worthwhile to spend effort on collaboration with different combinations of partners than to spend effort on damaging a single opponent. Well, unless you play a 2P game, which is a zero-sum game.

Some of the mechanisms are gamey. The push pencil thing is comical, but it works as a game mechanism. There is some luck factor, e.g. in what contracts come up and also what financial advisor card you draw, but there are ways to mitigate luck and to plan ahead. Most information in the game is open, the only exception being the financial advisors (a type of card used for end-game scoring). Sometimes it feels like you have too much to digest and analyse on your turn. However ultimately it is just about loading goods and delivering them. Your basic actions are straight-forward.

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Staufer Dynasty

Plays: 4Px1.

Disclaimer: I didn't read the rules myself, and we learned and played the game speaking Cantonese and Mandarin, so some of the game terms I use here may be completely off.

The Game

The Staufer Dynasty is an area majority game played over five rounds. The board consists of six provinces, and the king visits a different province from round to round. The provinces have various numbers of government positions, and you want to send your officials to take up these positions. At the end of every round, one or two provinces will score, and when they do, you compare officials. Whoever has the most will score the most points and gain some benefits, and others will score fewer. Officials at scored provinces are then all fired, and go back to the general supply.

The game board is made of one turn order board at the centre, and six province boards around it. It takes up quite a lot of space, more than I had expected. That big purple pawn is the king.

Two of my officials. The big one on the left counts as two of the little ones on the right. Some spaces on the board only allow big officials.

On your turn, you have two options - hire or deploy. If you choose to hire, you are basically taking officials from the general supply into your personal supply. Your officials are your main currency in this game. If you choose to deploy, you send one official to claim one government position on the board. If this is at the province where the king is visiting, there is no transportation cost. If it is further away, you need to pay the carriage fare in the form of... your officials. These officials are placed onto the board (not the general supply). They can be claimed back into your hand in later rounds. When your new official takes up his new post, you also need to make a payment depending on the post being taken. This payment is made in the form of... officials again. They are, again, placed on the board, and similarly they will go back to your hand in future rounds. So you see, getting one person one job requires much effort and sacrifice from many people.

This table here is the round events tiles. Every row corresponds to one round in the game. We have completed the first round, so these here are for rounds 2 to 5. The first segment of each row indicates which province will score. The second segment shows the criteria for a possible second province to score, e.g. the province with the fewest remaining treasures or the province with the most number of officials. If the province that meets the criteria happens to be the same province as indicated in the first segment, then only that one province is scored, and it is scored just once. The third segment is mainly a reminder for some upkeep tasks, but one important part is how many steps the king will move, because it determines how many officials the players will claim back from the board, and also the traveling costs for the next round.

This is the Milano province. It has five spaces, and the costs are shown next to each space. The rewards when Milano scores is 10VP for the strongest player, 5VP for second place, and 4VP for everyone else who has presence. Those tiles below are the treasures. Whenever you deploy an official you get to claim the treasure(s) under his seat.

There are many treasure tokens in this game which give various special abilities. Some score points. Some give long-term benefits. Some give a one-time ability like waiving the transportation fee. When you hire officials, you can usually claim a treasure. When you deploy an official, usually you will also claim a treasure. Deciding which treasures to go for adds a layer to the strategy. Most of these treasures are quite useful, and it is fun to coordinate the right moment to make the best use of them.

Scoring is done in quite a few ways. The province scoring is done regularly throughout the game. Some treasures score points. There are also three secret objectives dealt before the game starts. They score at game end depending on how well you fulfill the conditions stated.

At the start of the game you are given three secret objectives, which are scored at game end. The first one here scores points based on the number of officials remaining on the board at game end. The second one scores points if I have majority in Strasbourg. The third one scores points for each set of officials placed to make such a pattern on the board.

The Play

I did a four player game with Ivan, Sinbad and Dith. Ivan taught the game. Playing the game is very much about tactical analysis to determine the most juicy opportunities. You can invest in some long-term abilities to help you for the rest of the game. Like any area majority game, you need to decide where to spend effort to compete, and how to fully utilise your resources - gaining the most points with the least investment. Of course this depends a lot on your opponents' actions and where they are focusing. The treasures are quite fun. They come into play when you decide whether to hire or deploy, and who to hire and where to deploy. Sometimes your decision is based more on the treasure you want more than who you really want to hire or where you really want to deploy. It is exhilarating when you get to use treasures to make big moves.

You oscillate between hiring officials and deploying them. There is a rhythm to it. Naturally you want to be deploying more and hiring less, because deploying is where you will score points (mostly). But you can't deploy when you don't have enough resources. Hiring is gathering resources. It is important to manage your pool of officials. They are your money. You need to time when to hire and when to deploy. The turn order mechanism is another layer to think of when you decide between hiring and deploying. There are many interwoven tactical decisions to make in this game.

The turn order mechanism is interesting. Each player has three secretaries here, and their positions in the queue at the centre determine when the player gets to take an action. There are only two action types - recruiting officials or deploying them. If you recruit, your secretary joins the queue on the right. If you deploy, he joins the queue on the left, and that queue starts from the other end. Once all secretaries have left the central queue, the round ends, and there will be two newly formed queues. These merge to become the new central queue, determining the turn order for the next round.

Ivan and Sinbad. Sinbad looks distressed but he's actually doing very well. He's the only guy collecting the point scoring treasures. None of the others wanted to get tied down competing with him.

The Thoughts

For me personally The Staufer Dynasty doesn't offer any new excitement. The turn order mechanism is clever, but the game overall doesn't leave much of an impression. There are many tactical decisions. There is healthy direct competition. There is no strong theme or story. It is a competently put together and passable game to me. Unfortunately there isn't anything that makes it particularly memorable. The Staufer Dynasty is designed by Andreas Steding, who designed Hansa Teutonica, a game which I admire very much. Hansa Teutonica has a paper-thin setting too, but the mechanisms and competition are much more compelling.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

El Gaucho

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

What brought my attention to El Gaucho was the publisher - Argentum Verlag, which published Hansa Teutonica a few years ago. Different designer though. El Gaucho is a medium-weight Eurogame with set collection as your core activity. You are collecting cows to be sold for money, which is victory points. The larger your batch of cows, the more VP's you'll get. There are five different cow types, and when collecting cows, those of the same type must form a set, and the cow values in the set must be in either ascending or descending order (i.e. a little like Lost Cities or Keltis).

My cowboys and my cattle. You collect cows in sets, and you must go in ascending or descending order. The moment you bring a new cow which breaks the sequence, you must sell the old set to start a new one. The value of a set is the number of cows in the set multiplied by the cost of the most expensive cow. So my brown cow set is $36, and my yellow cow set is $8. For now.

Buying cows is your main activity, and there are a number of mechanisms and special abilities around that. The actions you can take depend on die rolls. Every round a new start player will roll all the action dice for the round, and then everyone will pick two from the pool to execute actions. You use dice to buy or reserve cows, and the die or dice you use must match the value of the cow (whether the full cost or the deposit cost) precisely. No more, no less. Naturally the start player has more options than the last player. One tricky part in buying cows is you can't collect your cow until all cows in the same row have been bought or reserved. So sometimes you need to "take one for the team" and buy that last ugly unwanted cow (no mother-in-law jokes please). Or you can persuade someone else that it is a sound investment.

Other than buying or reserving cows, the other thing you can do with dice is to gain or use special abilities. There are 6 different types, and they do things like allowing you to rob a cow from another player (he will get compensation in the form of victory points though), allowing you to insert a newly bought cow in the middle of a set (thus circumventing the must-be-in-sequence rule) and allowing you to change one die to any value. For each of these special actions, within the same round you can either gain it or use it, and never both. You can't gain one and use it immediately. You can't use one and gain the same ability immediately to be used in the next round. Special abilities are usually a good investment. You can easily find an appropriate opportunity to use them.

The game ends after the stack of cows run out. Everyone sells all remaining cows, and richest (in VP) wins.

The green area of the game board is the pasture, with rows of cows on sale. The yellow area of the game board is the town, with various buildings where you can earn special actions. The fenced area is your dice tray.

The dice tray seems gimmicky at first, but I found it to be very practical. It stops the dice from knocking over other pieces, and having the dice at the centre of the table makes it easy for everyone to see what is available. It's not absolutely necessary, but I appreciate it.

The Play

We did a 4-player game, and I think El Gaucho is better with a higher player count, because there would be more competition among players. There is a cyclic rhythm to collecting cows and scoring (selling) them. There is a build-up to a climax, where you get increasingly nervous whether your competitor collecting the same cow type would steal that juicy $12 cow from your set and immediately sell it together with his set, earning a windfall and also significantly devaluing your set. This happened to me. I should have seen it coming. I was pondering Boon Khim's cows, and thought if I were him I would so steal my cow and then sell the set for a tidy profit. At that moment I realised I had neglected the danger for too long. Boon Khim smile apologetically to me and said sorry, and did exactly what I was thinking about. Great minds think alike.

The game is quite interactive because you need to watch what your opponents are collecting. You need to guess who will (or will not) go for what, because whether and when you get to claim cows from the board depends on whether others have also bought or reserved the other cows in the same row. The special abilities are nifty tools to help you with the set collection.

Cowboys lying down on cows mean you've made a downpayment. You need to pay the balance using another action before the cow is yours. Cowboys standing up on cows mean you've made the full payment. You are just waiting for the whole row to be tagged by cowboys (regardless of full or partial payment) before you can claim your cows.

The Thoughts

I like that in El Gaucho your scoring has a cyclical rhythm to it. There is a build-up and a climax and the accompanying tension. This is unlike many VP-scoring Eurogames where almost everything you do gives you some points. El Gaucho is a medium weight game that plays smoothly. Afterall you are just collecting cows of the same colour. The mechanisms and special abilities around the core set collection activity give you the means to outdo your opponents and to be creative. You don't really go through many cycles of scoring. You only have a few opportunities to maximise the values of your cow sets. The game doesn't outstay its welcome.