Thursday, 19 November 2015

miscellaneous: Love Letter, Ascension, Essen, New Through the Ages

I started a new job a few months ago, and work has been busy. My blogging has been impacted. My backlog is growing. There are often many photos queuing up to be included in my blog posts. I try to maintain some regularity, but I don't force myself to write. Blogging is something I want to enjoy doing. It should not become a chore. My new work takes much energy. It is engaging and it is satisfying. However I tell myself I mustn't allow myself to put too much time and energy into my work to the detriment of other aspects of my life - my family, my friends, and of course boardgames. Sometimes on weekday nights or on weekends I am tempted to turn on my laptop and continue to work on a piece of work I have been halfway through at the office. I need to remind myself there are other things I should allocate time for.

My new work is related to games, so I have a valid reason (*cough* perfect excuse *cough*) to bring boardgames to the office to play with my colleagues. The biggest hit so far is Love Letter. My homemade copy has an Adventure Time theme. Now my colleagues intend to make one with a Chibi Maruko-chan theme. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

There was one particularly memorable game when Teck Seng played a 3 on Ruby, i.e. they were to compare cards and whoever lost would be out of the round. They both looked quite confident, but the moment they saw each other's cards, they started laughing. The loser had to reveal the losing card. Ruby flipped her card over, and it was a 7! That meant Teck Seng's card was an 8! They probably both thought they would win, because they had high cards. Who would have expected that this fight would end up getting them both eliminated. Since Teck Seng's identity was leaked, he was soon targeted and forced out of the round. Everyone who plays Love Letter falls in love with it!

I have now played more than 1000 games of Ascension, all on iOS. I have never played the physical copy. Ascension was my train game. I could play it very casually, usually when on the train to or from work. Now that I need to drive to work, I still manage to play a few turns everyday when I have short breaks. Despite the many plays, I don't feel like an expert. I have never had any epiphany worth sharing.

Star Realms was my other train game, and is still my current casual phone game. It is designed by Rob Dougherty, one of the designers of Ascension. I've hit 200 plays now, and similar to Ascension, I don't feel I play it well enough to be able to discuss strategy in depth. I supported the Kickstarter campaign of the recent game from Rob Dougherty - Epic. I have now received the game and so far have played it twice. Now it's in my to-blog-list queue.

What are your top to-watch games from the 2015 Essen batch? I have two this year, Food Chain Magnate from Splotter, and Ships by Martin Wallace. I am happy to have played both. I have bought a copy of Ships. I'm still thinking about Food Chain Magnate. I like it. It's a good game. But I worry it may end up being like The Great Zimbabwe - not getting played much. The game is not cheap too, considering the Malaysian currency exchange rate and the shipping cost. Looking back at the 2014 Essen batch, two games that stood out for me were Panamax and Tragedy Looper. I had played the former once, and the latter twice, and before I could play them again, Essen 2015 had come and gone. There are just too many good games!

A new improved version of Through the Ages was release this Essen. I am still thinking whether I should get it. It is 95% the same. There are very few rule changes. Some cards are rebalanced. It's very easy to pick up if you already know the previous version. Physical component design and artwork are improved. The whole thing is prettier. On Deepavali Day, Jeff organised a full-day gaming session at I hadn't done any long gaming session for quite a while, so I grabbed the opportunity. It felt good spending 9 hours boardgaming. We did Through the Ages and then Food Chain Magnate.

Through the Ages. Some cards which did not have drawings in the earlier version now have drawings. They look much better.

Printing the starting cards directly on the player board is an excellent idea. This has been implemented before in previous editions of the game, but my copy is a very old edition and still uses individual cards.

I usually play Through the Ages with my wife, and we play a no-aggression variant. Because of this my game is distorted. This time, playing with Jeff, Ainul and Dith, was very different. The normal game, i.e. needing to worry more about military, was something I needed to adapt to. The higher player count was also new to me. In two ages, we exhausted the military deck and had to reshuffle the discard pile to form a new draw deck. This also meant every event had been drawn by at least one player, just that we didn't know for sure who, and we had to guess whether a particular event card had been seeded into the event deck, or was being held in hand, or had been discarded and might get drawn again. Knowledge of events became even more important.

I played rather poorly. I was a despot until about mid game, so my government was rather inefficient. Dith went culture-heavy right from the start, and had a huge lead over the rest of us. Jeff did better than Ainul and I in catching up, and eventually overtook Dith to win the game. Ainul and I never quite managed to catch up to the two of them.

One of the changes in this edition is the game board being broken up into five smaller boards. You can arrange these boards whichever way suits you best.

There are stickers for the player markers. They look good.

If you look at the yellow culture board (i.e. victory point board) you can see that Dith (red) is far ahead of us. Jeff is blue and is a distant second place. Ainul (yellow) and I (green) are close, and we take up the rear.

In this version I finally see Sid Meier's name and picture. In my version he is just Game Designer and a silhouette. Maybe the publisher explicitly asked for his permission to use his name and face.

This is the military board. One of the rules changes is related to the tactics cards. In previous versions, a tactics card is played in front of you and stays there until you play a new tactics card. Now a tactics cards you play only stays exclusively yours for one round. After that you still enjoy the benefit, but the card is moved to this military board, and other players can spend military actions to adopt the same tactic as you. This is very thematic.

One reason why Through the Ages works well as a spouse game for me is that military is still very relevant even if I don't play aggressions or wars. It is still important because of events and because you need military for colonisation. The game isn't thrown completely off balance when I take out aggressions and wars. In this recent game I played, I had much more pressure to maintain a strong military because otherwise I could be targeted by three other opponents.

The four-player game was slow. Normally before my turn came I had already decided how to spend most of my actions. I arranged my cards and civil action tokens this way to remind myself what I had planned to do. Then I could play quickly when my turn came.

I emphasised science in this game. You can see the leaders Newton and Einstein in this photo. In the ancient age I had Aristotle as my leader.

This was my civilisation at game-end. I only had two wonders of the world (purple cards) - the hanging gardens and the first space flight.

The final scores: Jeff 246, Dith 242, me 222, Ainul 203. Since the scores are in the 200's, this is not really a big gap.


Christopher Yi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Christopher Yi said...

I have not played nearly as many games if Ascension as you, but I feel like it's a decent game, but my least favorite deck builder. I've played primarily the app version, and I feel like one of its weaknesses is I don't have to watch what my opponent does. There is so little interaction, so little way to strategize around opponents, that I also feel like I'm no expert at it either. I usually imagined it as a solo Gaming experience that I once lost.

My wife and I bought the two player Apprentice Edition of Ascension from Amazon for $3.50 add-on to see if it felt any different. Still feels like solitaire in person, but one my wife and I get to talk during and share the experience with. Totally worth $3.50, but not a great game in my opinion. Love Letter on the other hand is great. Some luck of the draw, but the rounds are sort enough for you to get back in the game and be excited about it

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi Christopher. When I play Ascension, I usually watch what my opponents do. Sometimes I need to determine whether a card in the centre row is valuable enough to them that I need to try to buy it to deny them, or I need to use a card power to discard it. Also sometimes I watch what my opponents are doing in order to gauge whether I should speed up the game or drag it out. But indeed there is not a lot of direct player interaction. For me Ascension works perfectly as a fragmented-time game, partly because I don't need to remember the history of play and watch my opponents' moves too closely. Each time I pick up a game from halfway, I can quickly get a grasp of the overall game situation, and I'll be able to make decisions about my next move.

Christopher Yi said...

I definitely see what you mean. It's a subtle type of player interaction, I agree. DC Deck Building Game has the same center route type of idea. But I feel like there it's more important to keep cards from other players in DC.

Your point of fragmented time is true. There not another deck builder where I could come back to the middle of a game hours later and do just fine. Interesting point. Thanks for the reply!