Thursday 23 October 2008

gaming in photos

A game of Princes of Florence played on 11 Oct 2008, against Michelle, using the 2-player variant. I like how my little city is so neat and compact. Very little unusable space - only that bottom right corner.

Michelle's city is even more compact than mine! No unusable space at all. Of course having the second builder helps a lot. The second builder allows buildings to touch. Michelle decided to buy a lot of builders. There is a builder strategy discussed at Boardgamegeek, which is supposedly not easy to execute. I have not learnt this strategy, but I don't think what Michelle did was it. She just wanted to get buildings for free, because her cards required many different buildings.

My strategy when playing Princes of Florence is rather one-dimensional. I just try to make as many works as possible. Usually I try to complete 6 works. I have done 7 works just once I think. So, this is very much a quantity over quality strategy. So I like the jesters, which improve all my works. I rarely buy bonus cards because I need to save my actions for completing works and buying profession cards. Anyway my focus is on quantity and not on boosting the quality of a single work. I usually don't bid for prestige cards, unless there is nothing else I need.

I think my strategy is pretty narrow because I usually play the 2-player variant. Princes of Florence is a game best played with 5 players. So having only Michelle as my opponent probably distorted my game play. I am quite sure there are other strategies to explore. Also with more players there will be much more competition, and your plans can easily be foiled by others. So with more players the planning will be much more trickier, and you'll have to adjust your plans on the fly if things don't go the way you hope. There may be much more of a survival feel.

A game of Carcassonne on 11 Oct 2008. Now my Carcassonne set contains 3 expansions (Inns & Cathedrals, Abbey & Mayor, and a Knucklebones magazine mini expansion), and I play it this way with Michelle. In this photo Michelle (red) was trying to complete a big, complex castle, and I (green) tried to get inside the castle and win it over from her. She managed to stop me.

Now Michelle had successfully completed the castle. 14 x 3 = 42pts! My green merchant (notice the baggy pants) was starting to feel like a fool.

I forgot some of the barn rules. The correct rules are: (a) If a barn is placed on a farm which has farmers, the farmers score 3pt per castle and are then removed. (b) If a farm with a barn is connected to a farm with farmers, those farmers score 1pt per castle and are then removed. When we were playing this game, I mis-remembered the rule and thought that in case (b) the farmer scores 3pt too. So Michelle and I had a tough fight over farm mergers. Michelle first tried to get a farmer in to the central farm (which already had my barn) from the lower left. I stopped her advance by placing tile A. Since her plan was foiled, she decided to play her abbey (tile B) to pick up some points. She also tried to get a farmer in from the upper right. She almost succeeded too. Thankfully I could put my abbey (tile C) to cut her off. Later we found out that the fight was over much fewer points than we had thought.

Another game. This was early in the game and we already had 5 rugby ball castles. Naturally, we started eyeing this lucrative farm from very early on too.

At the end of the game, the central farm had 13 castles, i.e. 52pts with a barn. Thankfully I managed to get my barn into this farm too, thus neutralising Michelle's barn which was placed there earlier than mine.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

money is but dirt in Tribune

I continue to enjoy playing Tribune, despite most of my games being just 2 player games against Michelle. One tendency that we see in our games is we treat money as dirt. As the Chinese saying goes, 视钱财如粪土, literally translated as "considering money as wealth to be excrement and mud". Among the various victory conditions, we tend to leave money to be the last condition to fulfill. Getting the Tribune tile and getting the Favour of the Gods tile are usually the highest priority, because these are often the most difficult to achieve. Money always ends up to be the means to an end, to be used for acquiring cards to achieve the other victory conditions. However in fact money should be one of the victory conditions to be kept in mind.

Possibly one way to improve our game is to manage money better, to try not to spend too much, and to plan ahead better to fulfill this victory condition. There were a few times when I had fulfilled all other victory conditions, and then in order to amass enough money to fulfill the last victory condition, I had to spend one more round to place almost all my pawns on the coin bowl. That felt rather silly, and seems to me a reflection of poor planning. I wonder whether this is normal.

In this game I managed to get 4 leaders (the cards with value 0) and used them to win over their factions. Needless to say, I won this game comfortably.

Perhaps the money victory condition only becomes more important (or unavoidable) in 2-player games. When playing with more players, the number of victory conditions that you need to fulfill in order to win the game decreases. So you can completely ignore money if you choose to do so. In games with more players, money becomes an option for players who are not successful in competing in other types of victory conditions. An alternate path to victory. And that's a good thing.

But I guess since I tend to play 2-player games, I will need to remind myself: "Show me the money!!"

Monday 13 October 2008

improving in Through the Ages

I have now played 14 games of Through the Ages, and am still loving it. There are many shorter games in my collection that I have not played more than 10 times, or even 5 times. Michelle is a tough opponent to beat. Based on play records, we are quite evenly matched. Recently she had a 304VP game, which was the highest I have ever seen in the games I have played. Although we don't play the No-Aggression variant anymore, we tend to be rather peaceful. We do build up our military, but mainly just for gaining an edge when events are resolved or when colonies are up for grabs, and not for aggressions or wars. We still have not played a single war card, ever. Yay. Peace.

Since I only play games within a small circle of friends, I don't really get a lot of exposure to different tactics and strategies. I tend not to read strategy articles on Boardgamegeek, because I prefer to explore them myself. I sometimes read them, after I have done some exploring myself, when I am interested to see how others play. So my new relevations on Through the Ages are probably just basic strategy for other better players.

(1) I only recently realised that I should make use of my knowledge of the card deck to plan ahead. I actually have been doing this to an extent, but have not thought of applying this to the whole game. James Cook is the first example of how Michelle and I have been planning ahead. Cook, if you have him as a leader, gives 2 culture points per turn per colony. He can be a big culture boost. If we colonise a lot in Age I and Age II, we start to anticipate him appearing, either to claim him to help ourselves, or to deny each other. We even start to hope to draw the Iconoclasm event card (which retires - let's not use the word "kills" - leaders not of the current age, i.e. it can force Cook into early retirement once Age III is here). We have been doing this for quite a few games, and I did not realise that this same principle can be applied to many other situations.

In our latest game, I had 3 Level II labs. When Sid Meier (oops... I mean Game Designer) appeared, I took him as my Age III leader, and he gave me 6 culture points per turn! (at the expense of 3 science points per turn, which I could afford) I didn't plan for this beforehand. I was just trying to be clever (by having a lot of science points) (heh heh... bad joke...). When I realised how great Sid was, the light bulb lit up. I could have planned for this. This applies to all the other leaders too, and wonders, and to some extent special technologies and governments too. All the while I have been playing a rather reactive game, just browsing the card row for what looks nice to have, instead of actively planning ahead for what will come up. So, hopefully learning to do planning will help me to improve my game.

(2) Your game needs to be balanced, but not too diversified. I can only think of calling this "efficient diversity". One of my early impressions of the game is you need to be diversified. You cannot ignore any specific aspect of your civilisation. You can't ignore food production, because otherwise you won't have enough population to do all things you want to do. Ignore stone (resource) production and you can't afford to build anything. Ignore government form and you won't get enough actions. Ignore science and you'll stay a caveman. Ignore culture and you lose (culture = victory points). And so on. Now I find that you not only have to diversify (now I'm not even sure this is the best word), you must do it as efficiently as possible. You need to do less to achieve the same. If you need more science, get some labs, OR get some libraries, but don't try to do both. I wouldn't make this a hard-and-fast rule. I'm just using this as an example to illustrate. Another example is the blue special technologies. These technologies, e.g. the warfare / military strategy ones, have different versions for the different ages. The version for a later age is costs more science but is also more expensive, and if you have an old version when you obtain the new version, you must discard the old one, i.e. the effects are not accumulative, you are just enhancing the effects. As a general rule, I'd say once you have obtained one technology in the family, don't bother to upgrade it. The cost to do so may not be worth the additional gain. You might as well go for another technology from a different family. For cards with an upgrade path, like the urban buildings and special technologies, and to an extent government forms, you should try to do more with less. I think it's better to have fewer types of urban buildings, so that you can focus on upgrading them to be more efficient. I think it's better not to change governments too many times, because these are expensive.

(3) Don't depend on your crutches. This is something I should have learned from the Civilisation PC game. Wonders in the PC game are, well, wonderful. And they are fun to build. When you beat all other civilisations in building a wonder, you feel great. You have a big sense of achievement. The benefits of the wonders are usually significant. However one pitfall of wonders, especially when you are progressing to a harder difficulty level, is that you become dependent on them. At higher difficulty levels when you are unable to build as many wonders and you tend to like to do at easier levels, you may suffer because at the easier levels the wonders have spoilt you. You are not playing efficiently. The same applies to Through the Ages, and I only realise it now.

When I had Moses as my leader at the start of the game, I tend to ignore improving my farms, because with Moses I needed less food to increase my population. The moment that I reached the saturation point (no surplus food), or when Moses "retired", I suddenly found myself struggling with food production. So in my latest game, when I had Moses, I consciously told myself not to ignore my farms, and throughout the game I didn't have any problem with that aspect of my civilisation.

My most recent game played on 5 Oct 2008. I had four colonies. Unfortunately I don't think I had Cook as my leader (who would have given me 8 culture points per turn). But I do remember I made use of Columbus to get a "free" colony. I unconsciously applied the "plan ahead" technique. I got Columbus in my hand, didn't play it until I had a decent colony card in my hand, and soon after making use of his power, I "fired" him and took on a new leader. I'm not a very compassionate boss.

We still play with our own house rule on the Fast Food Chains. Score for military unit OR urban building, and score for farms OR mines. But now I'm starting to see why this card may not be so overpowered afterall. Competent players probably won't have so many workers out because they don't need to. Their buildings / farms / mines would probably be quite efficient, thus needing fewer workers.

Another new thing that I learned recently is that I don't like Hammurabi very much after all. He used to be my favourite Age A leader, giving an extra civil action at the cost of one military action less. In the early game, one civil action is a big deal. Now I think it is better to gain the extra civil actions by other means. The penalty of one military action less is big. Not just because it makes raising troops slower, but also I think more importantly you get to draw only one military card per turn (assuming you didn't use the military action). That limits your choices a lot. You have much less influence on the event deck. You have less chance of drawing suitable tactic cards. Also Age A leaders don't last very long. When you suddenly find yourself back to 4 civil actions at the end of Age I, that's bad. When Age II come around, you need more civil actions. I guess the lesson of not depending on your crutches applies here too.

I wonder what's the next thing I'll learn in Through the Ages. Although this is one of the more expensive games, I am happy to have bought it. I have enjoyed it a lot and continue to do so.