Friday, 26 September 2008

Babel and Goa

On Sun 21 Sep 2008, I was finally able to convince Michelle to try Babel, a nasty little 2-player card game about building temples and destroying your opponent's temples. I have played this before, and have always been keen to introduce it to Michelle, because this type of short games is something we can play often (like Race for the Galaxy, Mystery Rummy series). They are quick and not too taxing for the brain, yet provide enough interesting challenge, and being short means we can bring them out any time without needing to set aside some time beforehand (like Through the Ages).

I reminded myself not to be too nasty to her in her first games, lest it leaves a bitter taste for her. Thankfully I didn't get much chance to play nastily anyway, so I didn't have to play "artificially" for the sake of not being too nasty. In fact, she was the one to pull a nasty move on me. It was my oversight for not seeing it coming. On my turn I reached 15pts, while she was on 12pts. If I had reached 15pts when she had less than 10pts, then it would be an instant win for me. Else, the game would enter the game end phase, i.e. whoever reaches 20pts first wins, or whoever drops below 10pts first loses. On Michelle's turn she made a combination of moves which completely destroyed one of my Level 6 temples, bringing me down to 9pts. Game over.

After the game she told me this game is too nasty - "很毒". Although she won both of the games we played, I wonder whether I will be able to convince her to play again. Maybe, like Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, the tension and nastiness is too much for her. She likes the LOTR movies and you can't blame her for not liking to see the fellowship die out one by one. Only Boromir was supposed to die.

Having played Babel again, I feel impressed by the possible combinations of clever moves with just 5 types of cards in the game. The game seems so minimalistic, and yet there can be so much variation and so many opportunities for clever play.

We also played Goa, which we have not played for a long time. This copy of the game was a gift from Yoyo, the German guy who runs the boardgame cafe Witch House in Taipei. It is a German version, so I had to download and print some English reference sheets. I remember Goa used to be called the new Princes of Florence, because of its structure of auctions then actions every round. But I find them very different. I like Princes of Florence better, but Goa is not bad too.

Goa, Round 6 (of 8). I use the yellow tokens on the left to mark the number of actions that have been taken for a round.

One aspect that I think Michelle and I did badly on is the auctions. Every round you can select what tile you want to auction. If someone else buys a tile that you selected, he/she pays you (and the money "stays in the game"). If you buy the tile that you yourself selected, you pay to the bank (i.e. money "goes out of the game"). Usually it's bad to buy your own thing, because you get much poorer than your opponents. When money becomes scarce, shortage of money is painful. Both Michelle and I tended to select tiles that we want for ourselves, and thus we kept buying our own stuff. Maybe the end effect was not too bad, since we both played like that. I imagine if we had played with stronger players we would have been in deep trouble.

Money in this game is on cards. There are $1, $2, $5 and $10 cards. The value is only on one side of the cards, so you keep your money secret. At one point I discovered that Michelle's hand was full of $1 cards. She had been changing her money into $1 notes so that she appeared rich with more cards in her hand. It did work. I had thought she had a lot of money and bid too high on some of the tiles.

I was quite lucky with the expedition cards (obtained from reaching level 4 and 5 of some of the development tracks first, and from the auctions), and had two which allowed me to upgrade with ships only (i.e. without spices). This allowed me to do two level 4 to level 5 upgrades without spices. Saving 8 spices probably translates to 4 actions. I won the game narrowly at 50 to 47. I had an expedition card that allowed me to sell my spices for $3 a piece, which made me the richest and that gave me 3pts and the win.

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