Sunday, 30 December 2007

O Zoo le Mio, Medina

I have been visiting Carcasean, the new boardgame cafe in KK (Kota Kinabalu), quite often, each time playing some new games (new to me, not new as in recently released). It has been very enjoyable. KK, although officially a city, is quite small, and the drive to Carcasean is only about 10 minutes. It's good to be back in KK. In contrast, when I am in Kuala Lumpur, I have no urge to visit the boardgame cafe there (I think it's called Mage Cafe), because of the distance, the traffic, and without my parents and in-laws to help take care of the children, Michelle and I do not have any chance to go for outings with just the two of us.

Visiting Carcasean reminds me a lot of the days in Taiwan when I visited Witch House boardgame cafe. Michelle and I visited Witch House almost every weekend to try new games. Similar to Witch House, at Carcasean, we only need to order a drink, and we can play as long as we like. We usually spend 2.5 - 3 hours there, playing 2 to 3 games. If you don't plan to buy a drink, the entrance fee is MYR5. This is a very low price, considering the number of games I get to try and can conclude that I don't need to buy. But even as a form of entertainment, MYR8 (for a drink) for 3 hours of fun is good value for money.

Sometimes I wonder whether I'm enjoying the process of learning a game more than I'm enjoying playing the game itself. When learning a game you work out its quirks and strategies, you explore what works and what doesn't. This is what I have been doing a lot lately since I have been playing so many new games at Carcasean.

On Wed 26 Dec 2007, I played O Zoo le Mio and Medina. Both are not complex rules-wise, but both require quite a bit of thinking, especially when new to the games.

O Zoo le Mio is a game about building a zoo. You compete to build the most attractive zoo. Over five rounds, all 25 tiles in the game are auctioned one-by-one, via blind bidding. The five tiles up for auction are revealed at the start of each round, so you can do some planning at the start of the round. There is a little Carcassonne feeling, in that paths much match when you add tiles to your zoo. Other features do not need to match, however you will want to put animals of the same type (e.g. sea animals, primates, etc) together, a bit like Dominoes.

Michelle, Simon and Chong Sean playing O Zoo le Mio

By developing your zoo, you compete with your opponents to attract visitors, trees and benches. There are five types of animal enclosures, and the best and second best zoos in each type of enclosure attract two and one visitor respectively. You only count the largest enclosure of each type in your zoo, so if you have two small enclosures, they count as separate enclosures, they do not add up. The zoo with the most and second most number of bushes attract two and one tree respectively (it's funny to think of it this way, but I guess the trees just symbolise the reward for having the most greenery in your zoo). And whenever your create a loop using the paths, you gain a bench. There is always competition for visitors and trees, and these pieces frequently change hands during the game as players outdo one another. However, you do not lose your benches.

I usually do not like blind bidding in games. However in this game I find it OK. You don't have much money, so the range in amount bid is usually not big. In the game we played, the bids mostly ranged from $0 to $3. There were a few $4 or $5 bids, but they were very rare. Also, you don't lose your money bid (like in Dshunke, or Beowulf), so it is less painful.

One interesting aspect is how you score. You score at the end of each of the five rounds, and your score is the number of wooden pieces (visitors, trees and benches) x the round number. So, each piece is 1pt in Round 1, but 5pt in Round 5. At first I thought this would mean that an early lead is not very useful, since the early score is so little. However, after the game I realised that it is still important not to fall behind early, because you need a strong foundation to set yourself up for scoring big in the later rounds. E.g. Michelle had an early and strong lead in bushes. For the rest of the game, noone dared to challenge her in that, because it would be too costly. So she kept the two trees confidently throughout the rest of the game. Benches are a safe bet, because they could not be taken away from you. If you get a bench in Round 1, it would score you a total of 15pts.

I like the game, in particular the puzzle aspect of how to develop your zoo, and the planning aspect in how you evaluate the available tiles in each round, and plan which ones to compete for, and how vigorously to fight for them.

In our game, Michelle grabbed many tiles with bushes, and she secured the two trees from very early in the game. Noone even got near her number of bushes. So I said she was building FRIM (Foresty Research Institute of Malaysia) and not a zoo.

My nice little zoo.

Michelle's FRIM.

Medina is an out-of-print game, and a beautiful game. Lots and lots of nice, big, colourful wooden blocks, representing palaces, stables, walls, and a bazaar. Players build the city of Medina two pieces at a time, and there are rules for each type of pieces that you place. One special type of piece that you play is the dome. It is in your colour, and is used to claim a palace. All other pieces are generic pieces.

The interesting thing about this game is when you start building a palace, it isn't owned by anyone. You have to use one of your two actions per turn to place a dome on it to claim it. This becomes a game of chicken. If you expand an unclaimed palace too much, the next player may claim it before you do. If you claim it now, you cannot expand it any further. The other dilemma is whether to claim a palace early or late in the game. If you claim one early, it may be overtaken in size by later palaces of the same colour (there is a competition for largest palace of each colour). You may hope to hold back a little, and hope that other players will be forced to help you build your palace. This is because everyone must play two pieces every turn, unless the placement is illegal. So when people start running out of pieces to play, they will be forced to expand a palace, which only you are able to claim (assuming all other players have claimed palaces of that colour). However, if you hold back until too late, there may not be enough space for that last palace ("your" palace) to expand, and your opponents will happily taunt you while they throw their remaining palace pieces of that colour into the game box.

This can be considered a full information game. The only hidden information is how many pieces and of what types that you have remaining. So, at times it can drag if a player spends too much time planning and thinking of all the possibilities. In our game, a 4 player game, we were all new to the game, and didn't know what was a good move and what wasn't, so we started off rather blindly. Soon we started to see some strategy and started to make moves that hinder others.

One thing that we were reluctant to expand is the bazaar. I called it the "pasar malam", which is the Malaysian night market. For each inhabitant in the bazaar line that is next to one of your palaces, you score one point. So, naturally you try to expand the bazaar to go around and go past your palaces. However, in our game, we got into a situation where noone was willing to expand it any further, because if someone adds one more inhabitant to the bazaar, the next player will have control of the direction he/she wants the bazaar to go. So, everyone held back unwilling to make the next move. The later I realised that Michelle, who was the next player after me, would want the bazaar to go into the same direction as I did. Previously she seemed uninterested in the bazaar, as her palaces were not nearby. However, if the bazaar had gone in the direction I wanted it to go, it would go towards her palaces too. So, I played the next two inhabitants to the bazaar, and on her turn she expanded it further the the direction beneficial to both of us, thus foiling Simon and Chong Sean's plans. So, taking into account turn order is important too.

Halfway through a game of Medina.

Those little white figures are the bazaar, a.k.a. "pasar malam".

Bird's eye view of the city of Medina.

After the game, all of us found Medina to be taxing to some extent. I think this is probably because we are all new to it, and this is mostly an open information game. Chong Sean said it feels a bit like Through the Desert, which I realise is true. You also place two things on your turn. Through the Desert is more streamlined. I like it, but not enough to want to buy it, especially not paying the high price due to it being out-of-print.

No comments: