Sunday, 25 June 2017

little stories: Escape, Machi Koro

Recently Benz, Ruby, Edwin, Xiaozhu and I resumed our Escape quest - we wanted to try out all the expansions that I own. We got stuck with one particular mission - the one which required sacrificing two dice. It sounded simple enough, but again and again we failed. We had managed to complete all other missions, but the victory over this one proved elusive. It was as if we were cursed. The bright side of it was we certainly had many entertaining failures.

In one particularly game, Benz and I were separated from the other three. We had expected that the two of us would cover each other if we needed help. That was what partnership was about. However it turned out that both of us got all our dice locked! We were quite far from the rest. They were forced to launch a rescue mission to get us. It took much time and effort, and needless to say, we were nowhere near escaping the temple when time ran out.

In another game, I was down to four dice when I got completely paralysed. All dice were locked. I couldn't do anything except wait for rescue. We were quite conservative about adding the extra gem to unlock all dice. Then one of my teammates managed to reach me and unlocked all four of my dice at one go. I picked them up excitedly and rolled, only to get four black masks and immediately locked them all again. What were the chances? 1 in 1296. Whoever saved me must be thinking what a waste of oxygen I was.

We played with the curses expansion. One curse which I found particularly nasty was the one which weakened the yellow masks. Normally a yellow mask unlocks two locked dice. If the curse is in effect, your yellow masks only unlock one locked die each. This doesn't sound like much, but from experience, it easily leads to too many dice locked and it heavily hinders progress. It is definitely one of the curses you want to break sooner rather than later, if at all possible.

When we finally managed to beat the two-dice-sacrifice mission, it happened within the last 10 seconds of the countdown. All five of us managed to assemble in the same room - the one next to the exit room - with 20 seconds or so remaining. All of us had lost dice, we each had 2 or 3 left, which was a precarious situation. We needed to move one step to the exit room, and then move again to exit the temple. With few dice left, we were nervous about dice getting locked. We stayed close together, so that in case anyone's die was locked, someone else could try to help him unlock. We all frantically tried to roll the icons we needed to move. Those who did not have the right icons to move tried to get the right icons. Those who had the right icons and had a surplus die tried to roll the golden mask, so that they could immediately help anyone who had dice locked. Those who had no dice to roll watched nervously, waiting for when everyone had the right icons to move. Once everyone could move, we must move immediately. Time was running out. When we got to the temple exit, I was the first to see that everyone had enough icons to exit. I was under the silent curse so I couldn't speak. I waved my hands desperately in a shoo-shoo manner to tell everyone to run. The soundtrack was playing the last stretch of crescendo when we stepped outside into glorious sunlight. It was such a tense moment I almost screamed.

We all felt drained after this session. We had made four attempts and only succeeded upon the last. We had tried this two-dice-sacrifice mission before quite a few times in previous game sessions. I have lost count of how many times we failed.

The missions expansion of Escape comes with three difficulty levels. You play with one, two or three missions. So far with Benz's group we've only played with one mission. Given how challenging it can be with even one mission, it is unimaginable how we can survive three missions. I don't remember whether I have done two or three missions when I played 2-player games of Escape with Shee Yun, or whether I used the curses and treasures expansions. It may be more manageable without curses.

I played Machi Koro with the children again, this time swapping out the Harbour expansion and swapping in the Millionaire's Row expansion. I now firmly believe it is better to play with one or the other, not both, because the card pool becomes too diluted when both are added.

Millionaire's Row has more destructive elements. You can force your opponents' buildings to go into renovation. You can force the dreaded loan office onto your opponents. Games can drag a little longer. In our game I managed to get a good furniture factory combo going. If I rolled an 8, I would earn a huge sum which would allow me to build a landmark. Unfortunately for me, Chen Rui made use of her renovation company to force my furniture factories into renovation precisely the turn before I rolled an 8. So my 8 merely helped me cancel the renovation status. I had to wait for my next 8 to earn my windfall. This sounds a little frustrating, but if you enjoy Machi Koro and play it often, an occasional change in scenery is refreshing. This expansion is not bad, just a little different.

The star in our recent game was the Tech Startup built by Chen Rui (10), i.e. the photo above. At the end of each of your turns, you may put $1 from your own pocket onto the Tech Startup. If you manage to activate it, you collect an amount from every opponent equal to what you have amassed on it. You need to roll a 10 to activate it. When Chen Rui declared she wanted to build it, I told her it was a bad idea. At the time she only had a handful of buildings in her town. She didn't even have the train station yet so she could not roll two dice, which meant she wouldn't be able to activate the Tech Startup yet. I advised her that she should work on some smaller buildings which could be activated with a single die, and not rush into the more advanced buildings. This was what Shee Yun (12) and I were doing. Chen Rui insisted on building the startup, saying she was planning for the future. I shrugged and let her decide for herself. I suspect she decided to do it because it was cheap anyway. To my surprise, she soon built her train station, and after that she kept rolling 10's, robbing Shee Yun and I each time. Tech Startup was super effective! I joked that she had built Google. In the photo above she had invested a total of $11. Eventually she increased that to $13. Every time her turn came, Shee Yun and I winced and prayed she would not roll a 10.

I made a rather clumsy blunder. Towards late game, I commanded a strong lead. I had built the airport, so every turn that I didn't construct a building, I would earn $10. This let me steadily amass money for my next landmark. Eventually it was down to one last landmark. When my turn came again, I happily declared that I would not build anything. I greedily clawed $10 more from the bank to add to my stash. The girls burst into laughter. I didn't understand why. I was going to win and they laughed? They debated whether to tell me. I had no clue. Eventually they explained to me that I already had enough money to build my last landmark. I had $24. My last landmark costed $22. Somehow I kept thinking I needed $30 for that last landmark. I had been focusing too much on the airport, which costed $30. I had already built it and I had been using its power. Thankfully I managed to last one full round without my money being robbed by either of them, so I still managed to win, albeit one round later than I should have. The children would have had an even bigger laugh had I lost because of this silly mistake.

The children and I have many fond memories of Machi Koro. This is one game they will surely remember when they grow up.

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