Sunday, 25 March 2018

boardgaming in photos: Cyclades, Blue Moon City

3 Feb 2018. When playing Roll for the Galaxy I arrange my tiles (technologies and planets) in two rows of six, so that I can easily see how many I have. Once the 12th tile is placed, game end is triggered. I do the same thing when playing Race for the Galaxy.

11 Mar 2018. Friday is a solo game. I brought it out for a few quick games, only to find that I was lousy at this. It had been a while, but I was still surprised how poorly I did. I only played at the basic difficulty, and I couldn't even get to the finale to fight the two pirates (top right corner). I didn't even reach the 3rd and last stage of the adventures, the stage before the finale. I think I was too generous with spending my life points to thin my deck (removing poor cards - this is a deck-building game). Also I might have been too ambitious with taking on tough encounters. They did give me more powerful action cards if I beat them, but I probably bit off more than I could chew. Sorry Robinson, you are so dead.

16 Mar 2018. I did a 3-player game of Cyclades with Allen and Daniel. Allen and I had played this before, but it was the first time for Daniel, Allen's colleague who was relatively new to boardgames. It had been a while though, so Allen and I needed a rules refresher. I was green, Allen red and Daniel yellow. In the early game Daniel dumped a large sum to summon the kraken (in the background of this photo). It sank one of Allen's fleets, and temporarily cut off Allen's island at the top right from expansion. Later we realised Daniel had misunderstood the rule and had thought that summoning the kraken meant it would belong to him forever, that he could use it every turn to wreak havoc. Summoning monsters only works for one round.

I played aggressively from the start, raising armies, building fleets and invading islands. I secured money-producing locations and had a strong income, but I also kept spending money on armies and fleets, leaving none for constructing buildings or recruiting philosophers or priests. That meant I was not actually working towards the victory condition of controlling two metropolises. There were two ways to build a metropolis - build (buy) four different buildings then convert them to a metropolis, or recruit (buy) four philosophers then convert them to a metropolis. Well, there is a third way - conquest.

On the left, I (green) had positioned my fleets for an invasion of Allen's (red) island. This island was initially Daniel's (yellow). Allen captured it in the early game. That was why there was an idle yellow fleet next to it. It was Daniel's fleet from the starting setup.

Little did I know that Allen had an epic move up his sleeve. He summoned Polyphemus, who pushed all fleets away from his island and prevented invasions. In an earlier sea battle which he had lost to me, he retreated his battered fleet such that it would block my fleets. When Polyphemus pushed, fleets which could not be pushed away were sunk instead. I lost multiple fleets because of Polyphemus and Allen's strategically placed fleet. That was painful. Polyphemus protected Allen's island, but later on he also created problems for Allen. Now we weren't 100% sure about the Polyphemus rules. The rulebook was brief, we were too lazy to Google, so we just discussed and decided then and there how to play. We did not allow any fleet to be built or to sail past or next to the island with Polyphemus. That created a dead zone surrounding the island, and also prevented fleets from other islands from passing by. That greatly hindered Allen's expansion. In hindsight, we probably played this wrong. I suspect the correct way to play is fleets can still be created and sail about freely, just that they can't transport armies to the island. No invasions, no reinforcements. The way we played was too restrictive.

Our mid game was awkward. I was militarily the strongest, but had made no actual progress towards the victory conditions. Army and fleet pieces were limited, so despite being rich, there was only that many units I could build and they weren't enough to protect every single one of my islands. Allen was positioning for counter attacking and I must be careful. He obtained discount powers early, so despite not having as much cash on hand as I did, he was equally (if not more) competitive when bidding for the gods and buying (summoning) monsters. Daniel fell behind in the early game, but since he only had one island left, we were not allowed to attack him. His income was low, but over multiple rounds he saved up and threatened to build new armies and fleets to reenter the fray. Allen and I had been expending our units fighting while Daniel patiently recovered his strength in a safe corner. We knew he was an upcoming threat, but we could not launch any preemptive strike due to the single island rule. Daniel had four philosophers, so that's one metropolis ready to be built. He had some buildings on his sole island. If he could capture another island with complementing buildings, he would be able to convert the set to another metropolis. With two islands he would have enough spots for two metropolises. His main constraint was land space. I knew I had to hurry while I still had a military advantage. No time to mess around. It was time for some proper civ building.

Allen and Daniel knew they had to work together to stop me. If I channeled all my resources to civ building instead of my military, I should be able to last long enough to get both metropolises up before they eroded my domain significantly enough to stop me. One thing they miscalculated was the number of philosophers I had. They had forgotten that I had bought two earlier on. When I purchased the 3rd and 4th needed for my second metropolis, it was too late for them to stop me.

Cyclades achieves much with few rules, and simple rules. It looks like a war game but it's more than that. Economy is a big part of the game. With a poor economy you will struggle to get things done. Getting two metropolises sounds easy, but in practice it is harder. It feels so near yet so far, and that is tantalising. One thing that surprised me a little was the number of rules ambiguities we encountered with the monsters. Every monster is unique. The rulebook is brief when describing them, and we managed to raise questions that the rulebook did not explicitly address. It was a minor distraction. We managed to discuss and agree quickly how to play, and proceeded. The monsters are great fun, often throwing a curveball at you. There is always something to be exploited, or something you need to preempt.

Blue Moon City amazed me again with its clever balance between competition and cooperation. You want to participate in restoring many buildings, so that you can get many rewards, and that means working together with others because it is very expensive to fully restore a building on your own. Sometimes you do want to monopolise the rewards from a building by restoring it all by yourself, but it will likely be costly. Quite often when playing you try to partially restore a building and then leave an incentive for others to join you to reap the benefits together. Even when collaborating in restoring a building, there is competition for being the biggest contributor, because this gives a bonus.

The eastern half of the city was now fully restored. The tiles were turned to the colourful side.

The card art is taken from the many sets of the Blue Moon card game, so there is plenty of good artwork. There are 8 races in Blue Moon City, and each has different powers. This sounds daunting, but once explained, they are all straight forward and easy to remember. You can easily teach non-gamers to play. This is a light strategy game. A big part of the fun is being able to make big moves combining the card powers and card values.

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