Monday 28 July 2008

Euro / new boardgame burnout

Once in a while I feel like I am having a burnout. There are different kinds of burnouts. Sometimes I feel like not playing any games for a while, but this "burnout" that I'm having now is not of this type. The one that I'm having now is Euro-specific and new game-specific.

I always keep up-to-date on boardgame news on the internet. Reading about boardgames on the internet is a daily routine. I often download rules of new games that are made available on the net. Lately I am finding that many new games, especially Eurogames, don't excite me anymore. Sometimes I can't even get myself to finish reading the rules, e.g. in the case of The Golden Age. Confucius took much effort to go through too. Other recent game rules that I have read and found that they don't interest me much are Nefertiti and Tinner's Trail. I can't say these are poor games, since I have not even played them. But I get the "yet another Euro" feeling when I read the rules. Not that these games do not have new innovations, or are not thematic, but I just couldn't find anything really exciting about them. In contrast, I look at my collection of games, and wish that I can play more of some of these games. Maybe that's a good thing. I have far too many games that I don't play enough of. There are many games that I know I will enjoy more after I play more and explore and learn the strategies. There are some that I just want to play to have a good time. Lord of the Rings: Sauron, Lord of the Rings: Battlefields, Caylus, Age of Empires III. In this "burnout" mode, it is easy (well, maybe I should say easier) to convince myself to not buy new games and instead spend more time on games that I already own. But then, I still religiously maintain my game wishlist. Well, actually more a watchlist of games that I may buy. Only a few of them are marked as must-buy.

Lord of the Rings: Sauron

The must-buys now (which can sometimes change) are Race for the Galaxy: Gathering Storm, Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition, 10 Days in Asia and Agricola (pre-ordered). The may-buys are a very very long list. 32 games currently. Most of them will eventually drop off to the won't-buy list. Here are some that I am interested in.

Metropolys sounds like an interesting game with a spatial element. Seems to be quick too. I am interested to try this. Scott Nicholson's video review gives a good overview of the game. Dominion seems to be a complex card game, and being a big fan of Race for the Galaxy, I may like this too. Roll Through the Ages is a dice game by Matt Leacock, designer of Pandemic. This combined with the theme of Through the Ages, another favourite game, makes me very interested. Ticket to Ride: Nordics is a likely purchase, since this is also a 2-3 player only game like Ticket to Ride: Switzerland, which Michelle and I like a lot, and have played a lot. This should be worth the money because we will likely play a lot of it.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Photos of games played

11 Jul 2008. Han and Michelle and Race for the Galaxy, in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. I've played so many 2-player games of Race for the Galaxy, using the advanced variant (2 Develop cards and 2 Settle cards), that it feels strange to play a 3-player game, when you can only choose one role per round. It does make the role-choosing more important, and guessing and piggy-backing on your opponents' roles important.

12 Jul 2008. This bowl is very convinient for the Through the Ages tokens.

12 Jul 2008. This was a game of Through the Ages that I won (against Michelle) but only barely, 235pts vs 226pts. I had 5 colonies. (1 of 3)

I had some more advanced technologies but never quite made use of them. I think I used them only for the Age III event scoring. (2 of 3)

My special technologies and wonders. The pyramids and Universitas Carolina are two of my favourite wonders. (3 of 3) Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of Michelle's civilisation.

12 Jul 2008. A second game of Through the Ages played on the same day! To me, that exclamation mark is very much justified. I lost this game to Michelle by a wide margin, 262 vs 228. One of the main reasons for the loss is I was badly limited by having only 3 Level 0 farms. I had Moses at the start of the game, which made me complacent and I didn't develop my farming technology. I play white now, since there is no green. (1 of 3)

This was my first time using Elvis Presley as a leader. And I think it was the first time I had tanks too. Michelle and I are now exploring different leaders, units, tactics and wonders in the game, which is fun and interesting. In our earlier games we tend to only pick the obvious good ones only, and also we weren't that aggressive in pursuing military power. Now, despite still only playing the non-aggressive variant, we spend more effort on military. (2 of 3)

My first time building the Transcontinental Railroad wonder, and I kept forgetting to have one of my mines produce double. Doh! Nowadays I tend to like technologies that give bonuses for colonisation. Somehow I like colonising new territories, even though they are not always very critical. (3 of 3)

Michelle's civilisation. Very strong set of culture generating wonders. (1 of 3)

And a very strong army too. Nowadays we usually make use of tactics cards, unlike our earlier games when we usually ignored them. (2 of 3)

We both stayed despots to game end in this game. (3 of 3)

13 Jul 2008. Another game which I lost to Michelle by a wide margin, 268 vs 236. This was in the middle of the game when I had an overflowing mine, due to an event on Michelle's turn that caused mines to produce for free. (1 of 4)

My special technologies and wonders, and by Age III completely obsolete and pitiful army. (2 of 4) This was the first time I built the Kremlin. The unhappy faces were a big concern and I had to plan such that I developed some happy face generating buildings before I completed this wonder.

There is one heartbreaking/hilarious story in this particular game. Heartbreaking for me, hilarious for Michelle. Because of having decided to build the Kremlin, happy faces was very important to me. In this game, I was the early leader in culture, and since Michelle was having a better infrastructure than me, I needed to make sure I stay ahead and not let her catch up. So, one very important play that I made was to plant a territory with 11 culture points and 2 happy faces into the event deck. I needed the culture points to make my lead bigger, and I needed the happy faces so that I could complete the Kremlin earlier. In preparation for colonising this territory when it came up as an event, I had accumulated 3 colonisation cards, and had also developed a special technology to give myself a colonisation bonus. And then when the territory came up, Michelle won it! She actually didn't need it as desperately as I did, and she didn't even realise (at that time) that I needed it so badly. It just so happened that she had just drawn two powerful colonisation cards on her previous turn, i.e. she hadn't needed to discard her military cards yet due to hand size limit. So she just decided on a whim that she wanted that territory. 百年大计,毁于一旦。

It was a major blow to me. I not only didn't widen the score gap, I had let Michelle catch up a lot. In the end the 11 culture points wouldn't have won me the game, but the 2 happy faces probably would have helped me a lot.

Another thing which I miscalculated, and Michelle foiled my plans, was Michaelangelo. I had counted the position of that card on the card row (a.k.a. sushi belt), and knew it would still be available on my next turn. I built the appropriate technologies so that I could make use of Michaelangelo's abilities. I didn't expect Michelle to be interested in him, but she did, and she took him, and made very good use of him. We have never had Michaelangelo taken in any of our past games, so it was a surprise to me that she took him. Her many wonders in this game is partly due to him (discount of 1 civil action when taking a wonder).

This was a game that Michelle played very well. She made use of her leaders well. Her civilisation was well developed. She also had Einstein as an Age III leader, who got her some culture points too by playing technology cards. So, on losing this game to her I can only say 心服口服, she won it fair and square and she played a very competent game.

My mines, farms and two old urban buildings. (3 of 4)

I had 3 movie theatres, giving me 12 culture points per turn. Unfortunate I only built them on my last turn and 2nd last turn. I had 3 colonies, which was nice, but unfortunately I didn't get the colony which I was most keen to get. (4 of 4)

Michelle's civilisation. She had 6 wonders! Usually we have 4 per player in our past games. (1 of 2)

The rest of Michelle's civilisation. She had 10 civil actions and 4 military actions! (2 of 2)

We continue to enjoy Through the Ages. I have played 10 games, and Michelle 7. Michelle is probably enjoying it much more now, since she has just won 2 games in a row. The last time she won was her very first game. We are now exploring different leaders and wonders and strategies, and are having fun experimenting. I look forward to play more.

Saturday 26 July 2008


Brass is a game I have thought long and hard about buying. This is a Martin Wallace design. I have slightly mixed feelings about his designs. His games are definitely in the Euro camp, and many are complex Euros. Yet most of them have very unique stories to tell. My guess is all his games start with the story or background in mind, and then he developed the mechanics around this base idea. I liked Age of Steam, Railroad Tycoon. I didn't like La Strada, Mordred. I liked Byzantium at first, but later found that I didn't like the Bulgar aspect of the game. But generally I like his designs. They are unique, and they are mostly at the more complex end of Eurogames, which is what I like. Brass is definitely this type of game.

The other reason I hesitated is Brass is quite expensive at USA online retailers, where I usually shop. Then I found out that an old friend is returning to Malaysia from the UK, so I bought the game at a UK online retailer, and asked him to bring it back for me.

Brass is about the start of the industrial revolution in Lancanshire in western England. This is a game about building industries, building transportation networks (first canals then later railroads), and of course, making money. Well, there's victory points too, like most Euros, and thus also the balancing act of building up your money-making capacity and ramping up your victory point-generating ability.

The first thing I can say about Brass is this is a tough game to learn from the rules. This is a widely heard complaint of Martin Wallace's game rules, despite his games being so highly regarded. The rules are not incomplete, nor ambiguous, nor unclear, but somehow it's a pain to try to understand what's going on. And I can't even really pinpoint what's wrong with the structure. So I did a rule summary (like I often do), and that helped a lot in learning to play. Normally I can do a rule summary for any game using just half a Powerpoint slide, which can be printed onto a quarter of an A4 paper. Past exceptions are Wilderness War, Rommel in the Desert, Die Macher, Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, Pacific Victory (mostly wargames), which needed one slide. I've even managed to fit these games into half a slide: Britannia (with faction details omitted), Crusader Rex, Axis & Allies: Battle of the Bulge, Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal (maybe this shouldn't count, since this was mainly a reference for important and easy-to-forget rules, and I didn't repeat information in the quick reference chart that comes with the game). Brass needed a full slide. It has quite a few special rules, and quite a few things that you can easily forget. I guess it's a balance between being thematic and having elegant rules, and also sometimes some quirky rules are needed to make the game work. Power Grid is a favourite which has some quirky rules. Despite the rules seeming rather daunting, and the game components too, Han, Michelle and I found the game to be not as complex as we feared. It only took a few rounds to get the hang of it.

The game board, soon after the game started.

Close-up of the game. This was still the canal period, so we weren't supposed to have more than one industry per player at the same city. Oops.

There are 5 types of industries you can build. The front and back of the tiles are different, the front showing the cost to build, whether it can only be built in the canal or the railroad age, any resources required (coal or iron), any resource to place on it when built, and also the technology level.

I like the artwork of the cards. Showcasing all 5 industries here.

This is the railroad age.

One of the unique aspects of this game is the tile flipping. When you build an industry, it (usually) doesn't make money for you or give you victory points immediately. It needs to be used (by yourself or by others) sufficiently before it can be flipped, and only then it increases your earning power, and it can give you victory points. E.g. when you build a coal mine, some coal is put onto it, and only when these coal cubes get exhausted, you can flip your coal mine tile. This is interesting. You need to anticipate, and also plan to use your industries. You can use others' industries for free, which is tempting, but you have to remember by doing that you are helping them towards tile flipping (i.e. profitability).

Another unique aspect is the cards. You must play a card for every action you do, but out of the 5 actions that you can do, only one has any dependency on the cards. When you build an industry, you must play a card showing the location where you want to build, or a card showing that industry. For other actions, like selling cotton, building canals or railroads, or developing your technology, it doesn't matter what card you play, and the card becomes merely a tool for tracking your actions remaining. However for the industry building action you cards are still important. It determines where you can expand your business (another important restriction being your transportation network), so when you do the other actions, you basically try to discard cards which you are sure you won't need.

We made 2 big rule mistakes in our game. In the canal age, i.e. first half of the game, no player should have more than one industry in a city. Maybe that explains why we didn't find the game too tough. I also made a big mistake in teaching the scoring rule for canals and railroads. I forgot that you should count the number of coin icons of the flipped-over tiles at the cities at both ends of the canal/railroad. We didn't realise the importance of canals and railroads in scoring and had thought they were only important for expansion.

The game played well otherwise. Not as difficult as we had expected. I like the game a lot and really want to play this again. Unfortunately this needs at least 3 players, and now that Han has moved to another city, it is not likely I'll get to play this again any time soon.

Friday 25 July 2008


Mwahahaha! is one of Han's latest purchases. He is mostly an Ameritrash-fan, and me mostly a Euro-fan, so our game collections complement each other very well. Mwahahaha is obviously on the Ameritrash side. However there is a bit of Euro feel to it too, to my surprise. The conciseness of it gave me that Euro feeling.

In this game, you play the bad guy. You build an evil weapon in order to use it to threaten the world. If the world succumbs to your threat, you win the game. To build your evil weapon, you gather raw materials, turn them into useable resources, employ minions to rob your enemies, set up innocent-looking companies as a front for your illegal activities, and play nasty tricks on your opponents or on the innocent public. And you do a lot of this by rolling dice. The combat system is quite simple, and there is a fair bit of luck in the dice rolling, the way that this combat system is designed. Hmmm... I'm not sure I'm making sense. There are games with dice where you feel the results tend to be not too far from what you expect, and there are games which you feel the results can swing wildly. I'd put games like Axis & Allies, To Court the King, Hammer of the Scots in the former, and Risk, Mwahahaha! in the latter.

That's my character (10 of them in the game to choose from), my evil weapon the Interstellar Portal, my minions (top left), my legal-front company (top right) and the resources that I have accumulated.

One thing I really dislike about the components is the Nasty Trick cards. Too much text. The effects could have been summarised succinctly, and the flavour text added below it, or in a different font.

There is a kind of story arc to the game. As you build your evil weapon, you can start extorting a city, a state or a country for resources, before you go for the kill and start blackmailing the world. If they give in to you, you gain resources. If they call your bluff, you can either unleash hell, which uses up one type of your precious hard-earned resources and gains you a notoriety point (which is good), or you can swallow your pride, save your resources and gain a humiliation point (bad). Notoriety and humiliation points increase / decrease the number of dice you can roll. You can also gain notoriety by killing your own minions, or by robbing an opponent's resources and instead of using them yourself, pour them down the drain like they are trash (going "Mwahahaha!" recommended but not mandatory).

Mwahahaha! is a pretty thematic game. The mechanics actually feel a little Euro to me (e.g. resource collecting). There are opportunities aplenty for funny voices and hysterical laughs.

Thursday 24 July 2008

To Court The King

I love Race for the Galaxy, so I decided to give To Court The King (by the same designer, Tom Lehmann) a try. I have read about it, and it seems to be well-liked generally.

In this game, you roll dice to win cards, and by game end whoever holds the King card wins. The cards won give you special abilities, like allowing you to have more dice (in the beginning you only have 3) or allowing you to change the results of your die roll in different ways. So basically you are improving your die rolling and die manipulation powers, until you are ready to go for the King (and Queen). Similar to Pickomino, you need to set aside a die, and if you decide to reroll, the die or dice already set aside cannot be rerolled or changed. However I find that I rarely need to reroll (maybe I never did). I just used the card powers to fiddle around with whatever results I rolled, and usually that's sufficient for me to win something.

Many people describe To Court the King as Yahtzee on steroids. I have never played Yahtzee nor read about it, so I don't know how they compare.

Michelle didn't like the game (despite being a big fan of Race for the Galaxy too). It didn't excite me either. I think we just played twice, and I don't need to play this anymore. Not sure why some like this. I find it a little puzzle-like, and it doesn't really have the excitement and gambling feel that dice games often give. I find Pickomino more exciting.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Trendy, Circus Flohcati

I have never heard of Trendy before. We had just played Shadows Over Camelot and still had some time, so we asked Chong Sean to recommend some quick and simple games. So Trendy it was. It was so short and simple that we played another quick card game before leaving.


In Trendy, all you do on turn is simple - play a card in front of you, and draw a card. Most cards just have a number. Colour is not important. Whenever there are the same number of cards as the number on those cards on the table, all players with those cards score them, by turning them face down. Then all other cards are discarded. E.g. if there are five "5" cards on the table, then all players with "5"s save them, and all other cards are discarded. This is interesting and tricky, and there is some cooperative element. Smaller cards are easier to score, but give fewer points. Bigger cards give high scores, but are risky because you may not get that number of cards before they are all thrown away. There are some special cards, like those that immediately discard all cards of a certain number, and those that count as 2 cards.

This is a very quick and simple card game, and very "Knizia" too. A filler.

I have heard of Circus Flohcati, which is another Reiner Knizia game. This one has a bit of a push-your-luck element. Players collect cards, and once someone has cards of all 10 colours, the game ends, and you count your scores. There are 3 ways of scoring. You score for cards in your hand, but can only score 1 card per colour. You score for triplets that you play onto the table. And you also score a bonus for being the one to end the game by collecting all 10 colours.

The gambling element comes from the mechanism for taking cards. There is a common pool of cards at the centre of the table. When it is your turn you can pick a card from it, or draw a card from the draw deck to add to it. If you are still not happy with the new card added, you can continue to draw. But don't go bust, or you won't get any card. You go bust when the new card drawn is of the same colour of another card already in the pool. The newly drawn card is discarded from the game.

There are also some action cards which allow you to take cards from other players, to spice up the game a bit. Sometimes you just grab a random card. Sometimes you can demand a colour.

Circus Flohcati

Simon and Stephen

I played these 2 triplets. It is more worthwhile to play smaller numbers as triplets. Triplets only score 10pts, so there is usually not much point to play 4's and above as triplets.

Circus Flohcati is slightly more complex than Trendy. There is a memory element, since you can see what cards the other players have been collecting. I like Circus Flohcati more. I don't need to own a copy, since I already have this type of card games, but I enjoy playing this.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Shadows Over Camelot

Shadows Over Camelot is a cooperative game with a twist. There may be a traitor among the players. Camelot is threatened, and the knights of the round table need to go around fulfilling various quests to protect Camelot from downfall. The traitor (if one exists) needs to pretend to be a good guy, and to secretly thwart the good knights. At the start of the game, the role cards are shuffled and distributed. There is a same number of loyal cards as the number of player, and one traitor card. That means usually there is a traitor among the knights, but the players can never be sure. It is possible no one got the traitor card.

The round table has space for 12 swords. To win the game the good knights need to complete quests to earn white swords to put on the table. The good knights need 7 white swords to win when the table is filled. Failed quests give black swords. If the traitor exists and is never discovered until game end, 2 white swords became black. If a wrong accusation is made, that's another black sword. Other than having black swords on the table, the traitor can also win by having all knights killed, or putting 12 siege engines on the board.

The quests are all handled by card play. Bad things also happen via cards. Normally, you draw a bad card at the start of your turn, and bad things happen, usually at one of the many quests, e.g. Viking forces build up and threaten to attack. If you are at Camelot, you can draw good cards, which you need for fulfilling quests. Often it is beneficial for the knights to work together on quests, in order to complete it quickly, making use of one another's strengths. Also knights who are present when a quest is completed get one life point.

Chong Sean, Simon and Han, and a very full-house Carcasean.

That's me, and the knight I was playing in front of me.

The good looking board and components of the game.

Three of the knights in our game. I was black, and I keep getting confused with the green piece. Too used to being green.

The good cards in my hand. Numbered card are fight cards, used for most types of quests. The holy grail cards can only be used for the holy grail quest. There are some special action cards too.

All four knights, hand in hand, looking for the holy grail.

I think the most interesting aspect of the game is the possible traitor aspect - how the good knights have to try to catch the traitor (which might not exist), and how the traitor needs to avoid detection and at the same time try to spoil the plans of the good knights. The rest of the game mechanics are nothing very interesting to me (just some problem solving), and their role is to support this interesting game of psychology. Maybe Saboteur has done this better, with quicker gameplay and simpler rules. But then of course in Saboteur there is always at least one saboteur.

In our game, in which two have played before (Han and Chong Sean) and two have not (Simon and I), everyone appeared to be a loyal knight. We could not detect any wrongdoing or treachery. It felt like playing Lord of the Rings, when everyone was focused on how to solve the problem together. We gave up on some quests, getting some black swords, and focused on others, completing them successfully. Towards game end, it became obvious there wasn't any traitor. The knights were on track to win the game, and even if the traitor had intentionally made a wrong accusation, or had stayed undetected, there would not have been enough black swords on the table for the knights to lose the game. So we won the game. It was a little anticlimatic, since there was no traitor.

Monday 21 July 2008

Royal Turf

Royal Turf is a horse racing and gambling game. It consists of 3 races, and you try to win the most money by betting on horses. There are 7 horses in the game. You win money by betting on the first three that pass the finishing line, and you lose money if you have bet on the last horse. On your turn, you roll a die, and then move a horse. When you move a horse, you shift it's tile to indicate that it has moved. This horse cannot be moved again by anyone else until all other horses have also moved. Once all horses have moved, you reset the tiles, and all horses can move a second time.

Each horse has a movement tile with 4 icons and corresponding numbers. These 4 icons appear on the die. The horse head appears 3 times. The saddle, cap and horse shoe appear once each. After you roll the die, the icon on the die tells you which icon you must use for moving a horse. So the movement tile basically defines the characteristic of the horse. Some horses will likely move at a medium pace most of the time, e.g. head=4, saddle=5, cap=8, shoe=6. Some horses mostly moves slowly, but can have some unexpected and huge bursts, e.g. head=1, saddle=20, cap=3, shoe=1.

The game board. In this race the horses are quite spread apart. The tiles at the top define the characteristics of each horse. Horses which have moved have their tiles shifted slightly upwards. The table at the centre of the board is the payout table. Payout depends on the position of the horse (1st to 3rd only) and how many people have bet on it.

Close-up of race. These first 4 horses are very close to one another.

I played this with Han, Chong Sean and Simon at Carcasean. I don't remember which ruleset I used. There are 2 versions of this game, the other being called Winner's Circle, and the rules vary slightly, but the components are the same. I started very very badly, and never recovered from it. I actually managed to get in debt after the first race. In this game you get 4 betting tokens of values 0, 1, 1, 2 which you must place on different horses. In the first race, my 1 tokens were placed on horses that weren't in the top 3, and my 2 token was placed on the last horse. This is the worst possible outcome of a race. So I was $200 in the red. The biggest lesson I learned from that is try to avoid betting on a horse all by yourself. It will become the target of everyone else. There is some group psychology in this game, because of the hidden bets. Actually hidden bets is a variant, but Chong Sean told us it's much better to play this way.

Royal Turf is just an okay game for me (maybe because I lost very badly). There is definitely some group psychology in this. One interesting thing is the payout is less if there are many people betting on the same horse. Yet if you are the only person betting on a horse, it will be difficult for it to win in the first place. This is a light game suitable for new players, and I think it is good with larger groups.

Sunday 20 July 2008

Sole Mio

I first played Mamma Mia at Carcasean, and thought it was a unique, fun and simple card game. Uwe Rosenberg, designer of Bohnanza is good at coming up with these kind of interesting card games. Later when I ordered Mamma Mia, I also ordered Sole Mio, a more advanced version of Mamma Mia, which can also be played together with Mamma Mia.

The basic gameplay is the same, which I have described in my previous post on Mamma Mia. However the there are many more pizza recipes now, and many of them have special and quirky rules. There are also some ingredient cards which have two ingredients instead of one, kind of like the double cards in R-Eco. There is a rule where you can ask for another player's help to complete a pizza. I don't this there is much point in this in 2-player games, since both the players will get to complete a pizza, but this will be interesting with 3 or more players.

I quite enjoy Sole Mio. It has some more variety than Mamma Mia. There is still a fair bit of luck in terms of what recipes you draw. But the game is quick and fun, so I don't mind that. The dilemma in deciding when to play your recipe card is sweet. I should try to play Mamma Mia Grande one day, which is a game mixing the cards from both Mamma Mia and Sole Mio.

Saturday 19 July 2008


Zooloretto, winner of the Spiel des Jahres in 2007, boardgame version of Coloretto. I never was interested in buying this, after reading the rules, but I was interested in trying it out.

The game is quite similar to Coloretto. On your turn, you draw an animal tile to add to a truck (which has 3 spaces), or you take a truck with animal(s). Your zoo only has limited space for animals. You don't want to have too many types of animals, and you want to fill up your enclosures as much as possible. Other than animals, there is also money, and hawker stalls. You can spend money to rearrange your zoo, buy animals from others, send away animals, or expand your zoo. Hawker stalls give 2VP and also VP for enclosures with too few animals. There are some other rules, like fertile animals (male + female) giving birth to baby animals.

My zoo in a 2-player game. See how my cheetahs and my pandas have produced offspring (the round animal tokens).

My zoo in a 3-player game. I used elephants to fill my zoo expansion on the right. I have too many zebras for my own good.

I played a two player game and a three player game, and I find that it is much much better with three. Maybe it will be better with even more players. I find the 2 player game to be rather lame. Too easy to avoid unwanted animals. Having played this game twice, I feel that I prefer Coloretto. The additional elements in the boardgame version doesn't really add that much fun. I prefer the simplicity of the card game and the tough decisions that it delivers so succinctly. Such a naughty game at times. If I ever play Zooloretto again I hope to try it with 4 or 5 players.

Friday 18 July 2008


Yet another game played at Carcasean. Mordred is another Martin Wallace game which has some twists in the game end conditions. Like Byzantium, Liberte. The setting is Wales. Mordred is a bad guy spreading bad influence in Wales. The players are King Arthur's knights coming to spread good influence (by building villages, towns and fortresses). Every turn you choose 1 out of 3 risk/reward rows and roll 2 dice. You earn money based on what you roll, and then you use the money to build. Depending on what you roll and the row you have chosen, you may accidentally (or sometimes not so accidentally) help Mordred. The risk of helping Mordred is proportional to the potential reward. If you have helped Mordred, you must place his men first. You can conveniently use these to attack the other players. Then you spend your money to place your pieces and/or to attack Mordred's men. All battles are resolved by die rolls, and are quick to resolve.

Everything sounds straight-forward so far. What's interesting is the game end conditions. Before getting there, it is important to talk about the Mordred track. This is a track (similar to that in Lord of the Rings) used to track how much you have helped Mordred. Each time you accidentally help Mordred, you move forward on this track. Each time you defeat one of Mordred's minions, you move backward on this track. So you can say this track is used for tracking how corrupt you are. It is tempting to "accidentally" help Mordred destroy your opponents' pieces, but it also means you are getting corrupted on the Mordred track.

The game can end in a few ways. It ends when one of the players fall off the end of the Mordred track, i.e. corrupted beyond rescue. It ends when a player has used up all of one type of buildings and this lasts until his/her next turn (i.e. the other players fail to destroy it and return it to his/her stock). It ends when all the Mordred minions are placed. It ends when Mordred himself is killed. When the game ends, you check whether Mordred or King Arthur has won, by counting who has more pieces on the board. If King Arthur has won, the player with the most victory points wins. Different buildings constructed give different VPs. If Mordred has won, the player who helped him least wins, i.e. least corrupted on the Mordred track. If Mordred himself is killed, then the Mordred killer is the winner.

These various possible ending conditions create quite a bit of dilemma for the players. It is very tricky to nudge the game towards the ending that you want. Our game really really dragged. Chong Sean had told us this was going to be a quick game, but it surprised even him by taking so long. All his previous games were quite fast. I guess we were all very competitive, and whenever the game was about to end, giving the win to one of the players, the other 3 players quickly "remedied" the situation. It was a painful stalemate. Eventually Han killed off Mordred to win the game, and we were all relieved.

Early in the game and Mordred is already spreading his bad influence around a lot. Chong Sean (blue) chose to build furthest to the south and thus safest from the black horde. He was the first to threaten to win by building all his villages, and we quickly ahem did-not-discourage Mordred from mercilessly destroying quite a number of his villages.

Close-up of the game board.

Michelle was the first to build a big fortress. Ooh... looks so dominating...

Later everyone had many big fortresses.

Boom! Han's big fortress punched Mordred in the face, and we all cheered for the end of the game.

Mordred is interesting, but I think it is not so good with four players, because it is probably too easy for the other 3 players to bring the winning player back in line. The game becomes a long and painful stalemate. The other thing I don't quite like is having to count how many Mordred pieces there are and how many player pieces there are on the board all the time. Maybe some kind of track along the side of the board would have helped. The actions that you can do in the game are simple enough. So you can focus on the big picture and the strategy and the tricky end game conditions. Unfortunately the game for us seemed to not want to end. Maybe this will be better with three players.

But one fun thing is I get to say "我是好人" (I am a righteous man) every time I choose Row A before rolling the dice.

Thursday 17 July 2008

Quo Vadis

Quo Vadis is yet another game played at Carcasean. This is a negotiation game by Reiner Knizia, where players control politicians in Rome and try to promote one of their own members to the senate. This is a very clean design, and really is all about negotiations and politics, and you can lie and cheat too, to a certain degree. Nothing is not negotiable.

On the game board there are many big and small committees, and promotion paths from one committee to the next, eventually reaching the senate (not sure whether that's the name, but that's what I call the highest committee). Players place pawns on the bottom level committees for free, but from that point onwards, every promotion to the next committee needs to be voted by the members of the committee where the pawn currently sits. Unless you control a majority in that committee, you will need to get support from other players through clever negotiations. Every time a pawn gets promoted, it collects a victory point chip on the path to the next committee, and the other players who have supported this promotion collect 1VP each. The victory point chips are hidden from other players after you collect them. It won't be easy to remember how many victory points your opponents have collected, but you will have some rough idea. At game end, the player with the most victory points wins. The twist is, he or she must have a pawn in the senate. In the case of ties, whoever reached the senate first (not the one with most pawn in there) wins. So players will be maneuvering to shut others out of the senate, especially the ones who seem to have collected many victory point chips.

This was still early in the game. See the victory point chips on the promotion paths. Whenever one is taken, it is immediately replace with another random chip.

In our game (Michelle, Han, Chong Sean and I), I was the preferred target, because Michelle, Han and Chong Sean all know me better than each other, and thus feel more comfortable bullying me than others. So I was blocked a lot in the early game. We were mostly quite quick in negotiations, and struck deals easily. We never really bothered to track whether promises were made last round or earlier. There is a rule stating that promises made must be fulfilled if possible before the end of the next round. Our game progressed at a good pace.

Chong Sean was the first to secure a place in the senate. I was the last, and only through a deal made with Han. He was basically gambling on whether he would get more victory points than me through that deal. When the VP chips were revealed, I won at 23pts. Michelle had 19pts, and both Chong Sean and Han had 17pts, but Chong Sean beat Han to 3rd place because he reached the senate earlier. In the second half of the game I have been acting like the downtrodden victim, which probably let their guard down.

This is a cunning game. The mechanics are very simple, so it really comes down to the negotiations and the psychology. You can cheat and lie and break promises. It may not be good for you, but a timely betrayal may just win you the game, e.g. shutting a "friend" off from the senate because he or she looks to be having too many VP chips. I think this is a game that needs to be handled with some care. There can be hurt feelings and anger and enemies made. Just remember it's only a game.

I'm not planning to buy this myself. I think this needs 4 or 5 players to be good, and I don't have that often. It is quite a different type of game, where you are manipulating people. I wouldn't mind playing this now and then, but not too much. And with people who can take it only, of course. Thankfully the game we played turned out OK. We played very briskly and I guess we also took it quite lightly. I think that's the right attitude to play this.

Wednesday 16 July 2008


Barbarossa is something different from what I usually play. It's a game with clay. And I guess you can call this a party game. It is definitely a family game too.

In this game, every player makes some sculptures using clay, and then tries to guess what the sculptures of the other players are. The most interesting part is you need to make your sculptures not too hard to guess, and at the same time also not too easy to guess. If your sculptures are guessed correctly too early, you get penalised. If they are guessed too late, or never guessed correctly, you are penalised too. If they are guessed just at the right time, then you actually earn points. Also, you earn points from guessing others' sculptures correctly.

This is one game played that made all of us laugh. There is some strategy involved, and of course strong general knowledge and good vocabulary helps. But this is pretty much simple fun. We laughed at the too easy ones (especially Chong Sean's) and also at the too difficult ones (especially Michelle's). At game end, there were still sculptures that no one had guessed, and it was funny to finally learn what they were, and to laugh again at how poorly made they were.

I think Barbarossa is a nice game that can be brought out now and then for a change from the regular strategy games. I think this is a good game to play with children too. It encourages creativity and imagination.

The game board. Your pawn moves in a circle at the center of the board, each space telling you to do something, like asking questions, asking for a letter, earning crystals (which can be used to move your pawn in lieu of throwing the die). On the right is the track for tracking how many crystals you have, and around the board is the score track. The game ends when someone reaches the last space. However that player may not be the winner, because there is one big scoring round (actually, more of a penalty round) at the end.

The sculptures that we made. Would you have been able to guess these? Green (mine): salmon, crayon, biscuit. Red (Michelle): I actually forgot what that cube was, the other two are cheese and DVONN. None of us would have guessed DVONN, although we being gamers all know what DVONN is. Blue (Chong Sean): watch, television, bread. Yellow (Han): Submarine, morningstar (I was the only one able to guess this, after having tried "mace" and "machette", because neither Michelle nor Chong Sean are familiar with medieval weapon names), spaceshuttle.

The sculptures guessed correctly get an arrow. Chong Sean's were the first to be guessed.

Han's spaceshuttle and submarine. Now I have never seen a submarine with such big propellers and such a small bridge. I even thought it was a carrot, the propeller being the leaves and... I couldn't explain what that tiny bulge was.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Loopin' Louie

I wouldn't have bought Loopin' Louie if not because of the praises it gets on Boardgamegeek. This is a children's game and a dexterity game, but many fellow geeks find this a fun game, pretty brainless but not entirely. I asked a childhood friend who is living in the UK to help me bring this back to KK when he was going back for holidays. It is easily available at UK online retailers but not US ones. So I took the opportunity of Elliott returning from the UK to buy this, and Brass too, which is much cheaper at UK online retailers than US ones.

When Michelle saw the game (well, to her it's a toy), she thought it was some cheap toy from KFC. When my mum saw it, she too thought it was a toy for my children (3 years old and 1.5 years old respectively). They did not expect that this was an expensive toy imported from UK for a 34 year old boy.

In this game, you have 3 chickens, and this Louie guy is flying a plane going in circles trying to knock your chicken off your barns. You have a lever and need to use it to stop Louie. In fact, you want to use it to redirect Louie to hit your opponents' chicken. The last player with any chicken left wins.

This is really a 5 minute or less game. If it lasts any longer than that it'll start to be boring. I've played this a few times and it's fun indeed. Real-time dexterity games have this effect of absorbing you into the game, because you cannot afford to be not focused. Having played this a few times, I think this is not something I will play very often. It is indeed a children's game. It's good as a diversion and a refreshing change if you have been playing heavy, "thinky" games.

Chen Rui (1.5 years old) is definitely too young for this game. Her house rule for this game is she should dismantle it as quickly as possible. Shee Yun (3 years old) is not quite ready for it yet. Her house rule is to either collect everyone's chicken, or to use her hand to knock all the chicken off the barns. Maybe she will like playing Sauron in Lord of the Rings, now that she is already taking on Louie's role.