Saturday, 12 May 2018

boardgaming in photos: Unlock - Squeak & Sausage, Settlers of Catan

8 Apr 2018. I played Unlock! Squeak & Sausage with the children. This was the second Unlock! series game for us. However we did not play together for our first times. I had previously played Unlock! The Formula with Allen. Shee Yun and Chen Rui played it in a separate session. They struggled with it, Chen Rui giving up halfway, and Shee Yun managing to solve the game well after the one hour mark. With Squeak & Sausage, we were much more successful. In fact it felt a little easy, more so than The Formula. The publisher rates these two games at the same difficulty level - Level 2 (of 3).

Chen Rui (11) is the youngest, but contributed much in this game. She suggested a number of wild ideas for solving certain puzzles which Shee Yun and I were doubtful about. However when we eventually agreed to try her way, it turned out to be the right way. Lesson learnt - in a cooperative endeavor, never belittle the young ones, and always respect and listen to teammates who want to speak up.

There was one particular puzzle which was the same as another we had seen in one of the Exit games. We immediately figured out how to solve it. That was a little anticlimactic.

Having played quite a few of these escape room games now, I conclude that they are just okay for me. I'm happy to play but I don't actively seek them out. They are more puzzles to solve than boardgames.

This is how we fared - 5 stars! We escaped within 45 minutes, well below the one hour mark. We didn't need to use a single hint (first row, light bulb icon on the right). We were penalised twice for flipping over the wrong cards, losing 6 minutes because of that (2nd row). We made one mistake when entering codes and lost 2 minutes because of that (3rd row, right side). So in actual fact we only spent 37 minutes to solve this game.

On Labour Day (1 May 2018) I organised a boardgame gathering, inviting colleagues to play. I hadn't organised sessions like these for a long time. I usually join sessions organised by others, especially at We had 7 players in total, so it was a good opportunity to play 7 Wonders with the full complement. For this gathering I had intended to play some medium weight games. Some of these friends had come to play before, and previously I tended to pick light games, since many were new to boardgames. I thought I should increase the complexity level a little now. However we still had some new players this time. Not every new player has the same tolerance level towards game complexity. So we split into two tables after the first few 7-player games, so that we could cater to different complexity preferences.

This was my nation in 7 Wonders. I'm normally not keen on military, but this time seeing my neighbours CK and Wei Keat completely ignoring military, I decided to invest a little in building an army. One thing lead to another, and eventually I scored 18pts in total for being militarily stronger than both of them throughout the three ages. CK did later try to catch up in military strength, but he never actually managed to. Zee Zun sitting on his other side also spent on military, and there was some competition between the two of them. CK still net lost 1pt, so his effort spent on military might have been better spent on something else.

Many of us were keen on resource buildings. It seems everyone had ample production. That's not necessarily good, because it is wasteful if you don't really need that kind of capacity. Not many people invested in science. There were few green cards on the table. I did later divert some effort into science, and managed to collect a complete set of three science icons. Not much, but it's something. CK's wonder gave a science icon, and had he gone for a science strategy that could have helped tremendously. However he didn't go into science from the start, and by the time he considered it, it was a little too late. The Return On Investment was not quite there.

In this photo above, completing the second stage of my wonder allowed me to construct a building for free once per age. The card tucked under the stage 2 position was taken out to cover the stage 2 icon so that I could remind myself that I had used this power for the current age.

I played Through the Desert with Kah Wooi and CK. We had an awkward situation in our game. On the right side of this photo, you can see that all three of our yellow caravans were near one another. Caravans of the same colour may not touch one another, so our caravan placement created dead space in between these caravans. That value 3 water hole right between my caravan (green rider, yellow camel) and Kah Wooi's (blue rider, yellow camel) couldn't be claimed by either of our caravans. We couldn't play a yellow camel there. That water hole could only be claimed using a camel of a different colour.

The gist of Through the Desert is the angst in choosing where to score and where to concede. You only have two actions per turn, but there are many ways to score points. When you decide to grow in one area, you are letting others get ahead of you in other areas. You need to be prepared to lose out in other areas. In addition to choosing among multiple areas you can score points, often you need to choose between scoring points for yourself and denying an opponent. When an opponent has a lucrative opportunity, you are often forced to spend actions to deny him, or at least reduce his gains. If you don't, he may become a runaway leader. In our game, this happened a few times. When one player had the opportunity to enclose an area, and others must work towards stopping him, or at least minimizing the size of the area he could capture. Our final scores were only 5pts apart. I won only because I managed to enclose one decent area. Had CK not tried to stop me, I would have scored many more points.

The hit of the day was The Settlers of Catan. Zee Zun, Kah Wooi, Chui and CK played this. Wei Keat had played it before many times, and wanted to play something else, but he did help with explaining the game to the others who were playing for the first time. When we were in between games and deciding what to play next, I asked whether they wanted to play something of the same complexity or something more challenging. At the time the group just finished China. They felt China was light, and wanted something heavier. So I picked The Settlers of Catan, which I considered a medium weight strategy game. It was a good pick. Right after they finished it, they immediately wanted to go again. This reminds of me how amazing The Settlers of Catan can be.

Fun and laughter.

I had hoped to play The Princes of Florence (bottom left). This was a game I bought and played in my early days in the boardgaming hobby, so there is some nostalgia here. Too bad we didn't get to play this. Maybe next time.

My version of The Settlers of Catan is a very old one. It's a Chinese version published by a Japanese company - Capcom. Unlike the normal English version where the board is made up of individual hex tiles, this version uses four large board pieces. The island is in two pieces, one for the inland part consisting of 7 hexes, the other is a circular piece for the shoreline. The sea is in two pieces, both C-shaped. All pieces are double sided so there are many ways you can fit them together to create different boards, but there certainly are not as many combinations as using individual hex tiles. One drawback of this version is it has no expansions. If I want to play with expansions, I'll need to get the English version.

These are all the games played at our Labour Day meetup. Among the games I played was FITS. The experience this time was rather unexpected. We were rather unlucky. The order the shapes came up made it very difficult for us to fill rows. The game was very challenging and we often got negative points. We were only playing with the basic four player boards, and none of the expansions. This was a pleasant surprise for me.

When I taught the group Sticheln, I found that the tactics in this game can be quite difficult for new players to grasp. Despite being a card game with just numbers and colours, picking a card to play can be very tricky. There are many tactical considerations. The thought process can be complex. Many times during our game we had to remind and explain to a player that the move he just made could be disastrous, and we offered to let him take back his card play. Sticheln is great fun, especially when a careless player gets screwed over by the whole table. It is a game in which you gain points conservatively and you need to be on constant alert for major screwages which can immediately put you out of contention.

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