Thursday 26 February 2009

Roll Through the Ages

Roll Through the Ages is a new game, designed by Matt Leacock, designer of Pandemic. It is published by the same company that published Through the Ages in USA, FRED Distribution. It is a quick dice game, and is nothing like the long and complex Through the Ages. Well, except for the civilisation theme. I quite like Pandemic, so I self-made Roll Through the Ages, to give it a try, using just normal dice.

In Roll Through the Ages, you roll dice to collect various resources, and develop your civilisation. The die-rolling is like Pickomino and Risk Express , i.e. you roll, set some aside (i.e. "freeze" them), and may roll again, until you are happy with the results. Most die results are good, so it is a matter of prioritising what resources you want to collect. You use workers to build more cities (which let you roll more dice, but you'll also need more food to feed your population. You also use workers to build monuments, which give victory points. You also collect goods and money, and use them to develop new technologies, which give victory points and also special powers, e.g. allowing you to collect more food, or protect you from certain disasters. Sometimes disasters happen, if you roll an even number of skulls, or if you roll five or more skulls. The tricky thing is the side of the die with the skull also has 2 goods. So sometimes you want to roll that side. So it's about how much risk you want to take. Having more cities means more dice, but also higher chance of rolling too many skulls, and getting hit by the big disasters. When you roll the skull + 2 goods side, you must freeze that die.

I find the game to be quite thematic. It has many elements of a civilisation building game. You do see your civilisation grow and progress. However I think of it as a filler, and to me a filler is a game that you get out to play when you just want a quick game, when you don't have enough time for a longer "normal" game. So, not really something that I'd plan to play. There are interesting decisions in the game, and so far, having played 3 games, I don't think there is one sure-fire winning strategy. There is quite a variety of technologies in the game, and I think they allow for various strategies. I have not tried them all. The game is quite simple, short, thematic, and has meaningful decisions. However to me it is not very deep and is not interesting enough that I would play often. So, I probably won't be buying a copy, and I'm glad I tried it out beforehand.

Monday 23 February 2009

AA50 session 1

On 13 Feb 2009 Han and I started a PBEM (Play-by-e-mail) game of Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition (AA50). The game lasted one week, and it was one of the most exciting and addictive games that I have ever played. Maybe it is because of the PBEM format. I was very anxious about the next turn, and kept thinking about the game, often lying awake at night for quite a while planning my next move. I used TripleA (version to play. It is mostly good, with only some minor bugs. Hopefully the next version with all the bugs fixed will be released soon.

In our game, we played the 1941 scenario of AA50, where the Axis start with fewer territories but have more troops and are well positioned to make gains, and the Allies are much richer but have fewer troops and need to hurry to contain the Axis. Han played the Axis and I was the Allies. In our recent face-to-face game of Axis & Allies Revised he played the Allies and I played the Axis.

This is how the game went:

From the start, Japan was aggressive in conquering China. China was conquered quickly and had no chance at all.

In the Pacific, Japan did their Pearl Harbour thing, and had two carriers and four fighters remaining off the Hawaiian coast. USA launched a massive counter-attack with everything in range, including both bombers from both east and west coasts of USA. It was a good opportunity to wipe out a large portion of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Japan was not as rich as USA and would not be able to race against USA to rebuild a Pacific fleet. Unfortunately, that counter-attack went awry, and the Americans lost the whole task force and Japan still had a carrier surviving.

After this disastrous battle, USA gave up on the Pacific theatre to focus on the European theatre. It would take too long to rebuild the Pacific fleet. Thus Japan expanded in the Pacific without resistance. The Australian navy was also soon wiped out.

In North Africa, the Allies held on well and the Axis never made much headway. Some UK troops retreated from India to help defend Egypt. The Allies had decided that the Pacific theatre was a lost cause. The Italian fleet was a constant threat to the Allies, but later after USA had heavy bombers they used 2 heavy bombers to kill off the Italian navy. The Mediterranean Sea was cleared.

In the European East Front, there was an anxious build up of forces preparing for the invasion of Moscow. Germany captured Karelia and started producing units there. The Western Allies sent fighters to protect Moscow. Just before the German assault on Moscow, USSR decided to do a hit and run on Germany's 8 tanks and 1 artillery next to Moscow, using all its forces in Moscow. The idea was to kill off a majority of that stack and then retreat back to Moscow. That stack of tanks did not have infantry with them, and was a good opportunity for USSR to swap cheap infantry with expensive German tanks.

However, the Russian task force was too successful and won the battle (killed all German tanks) by the 2nd battle cycle, before being able to retreat back to Moscow. Oops. Sometimes being too successful is bad. This made the Moscow defenses weaker.

Despite having fighters sent from both UK and USA to help defend before Germany's next turn, Moscow eventually fell to the German forces.

Moscow was immediately liberated, but losing all its money, and being unable to bring in new units for two full rounds, was crippling to the Russians. The windfall was also a big boost to Germany, despite having lost most of its front line forces.

On the European Western Front, the Allies were successful at sea. The German U-boats assembled off the eastern coast of UK, and were quickly wiped out by the Royal Navy. The Russian submarine made a gamble and attacked the German cruiser and transport in the Baltic Sea, and won.

D-Day happened early, but things went back and forth a few times. The consolidated British fleet threatened the whole European Atlantic coast, and UK transported in troops to capture lightly defended territories and isolated territories. These were mostly opportunistic attacks, and the territories were usually soon lost. Norway and Finland were later conquered, and kept, since Germany was unable to reinforce them.

USA, having given up on the Pacific theatre, came to help and took some time to set up a shipping line for troops between France and Canada. The plan was to have 3 - 4 transports on both sides of the Atlantic at any one time. Units produced in Eastern USA just walk to Eastern Canada to catch the boat ride. This was to keep a constant pressure on France and North-western Europe.

After the fall of Moscow, UK decided not to try to capture France again, and instead attacked and liberated Karelia. I decided it was more important, to deny the Germans an industrial complex to produce fresh troops. They had a lot of money in the bank after looting Moscow. That attack also killed off four German fighters and two German tanks. German pressure on Moscow was greatly reduced, at least for 2 turns.

Japanese expansion was unchecked. In Asia, only Australia was left alone (probably they couldn't be bothered). India fell and a factory was built, but it was captured by the UK for one turn, slowing down the Japanese advance slightly. Japanese troops marched all the way to surround Moscow, but had not assaulted it yet. Japan captured Alaska and built a factory there. It was at this time that USA made a grave mistake of not realising the Japanese air force's threat to its transports on the Atlantic Ocean. All transports on the Eastern Seaboard were lost because they were unprotected. Japan had a long-range bomber in Alaska and 2 long-range fighters off the coast of Alaska.

After the monetary windfall from conquering Moscow, Germany built up a large airforce of bombers and some fighters, and destroyed the Allied Atlantic fleet. I had purchased fighters and destroyers to help boost the defense, but it was insufficient. I had thought I would have been able to repel the attack. That spelled the doom for the Allies. It would take too much time to rebuild the Atlantic fleet. It may be impossible even, since the Germany still had a strong air force.

On the next turn, the UK made one last desperate attempt to conquer Berlin, using troops that have landed in Europe, 1 bomber and 1 fighter. Well, miracles don't happen so easily afterall. Berlin held, and the Allies conceded defeat.

The decisive battles:

  1. USA loss at Hawaii in the early game made it give up on the Pacific Theatre, and paved the way for unchecked Japanese expansion.
  2. Destruction of German fleet allowed the Allies to set up for D-Day and threaten many coastal territories.
  3. USSR's "successful" counterattack on German troops reduced defenses in Moscow, and Germany captured Moscow on the next turn, earning a big windfall.
  4. Destruction of Italian fleet by 2 America bombers ended the Italian threat to Africa.
  5. Recapture of Karelia was important for limiting German production to continue pressuring Moscow.
  6. Poor USA planning allowed the Japanese air force to destroy all American transports on the USA east coast which were unprotected.
  7. Destruction of the big Allied Atlantic fleet by the German airforce was a game-ending setback for the Allies to conquer Berlin.

The Allies had small victories here and there, but made some big miscalculations for some key battles. I wonder whether I played too conservatively, and thus lost ground gradually, which eventually added up to be quite significant over a number of rounds. And boy it feels tough playing the Allies in the 1941 scenario. Russia doesn't have a single tank at the start of the game.

The same feel of previous Axis & Allies versions is still there. The Axis need to attack swiftly before being worn down by the superior combined Allies' income. The Allies need to contain the Axis' advance and quickly build up their forces. The game can get very interesting if an equilibrium (or stalemate?) is reached, i.e. the Axis grab just enough territory to have about the same income as the Allies, and the Allies build up enough forces to match the Axis. Then the game may hinge on a few critical breakouts and key battles, likely huge showdowns. That's the excitement of Axis & Allies.

Saturday 21 February 2009

Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition

When Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition was announced, there was no doubt I was going to buy it. It was only a matter of when. I have been a fan of the Axis & Allies series, although I don't get to play them very often. Just a few weeks ago, when my sister was preparing to return to Malaysia for Chinese New Year, I asked her to buy the game for me in Melbourne. The retail price was cheaper than in Malaysia, because of the weak Australian dollar. She had a friend coming back to KL, who did not have much luggage, and he was happy to bring the game to me. Huge box, flat but very wide.

I have now played one game of Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition. However, it was not using my newly purchased copy. It was a Play-by-e-mail (PBEM) game with Han, using the free program TripleA (version This was my first time playing a PBEM game. It was a very exciting, addictive and memorable game. I lay awake at night thinking about the game. I kept studying the map and planning my next move, and the move after that, and then the one after that, while waiting for Han's response. I studied his options and possible moves. It was so tense that after finishing the game and Han suggested another go, switching sides and playing the other scenario, I said I needed a break to play some Eurogames on BSW. :-)

I won't write about the game that we played, since that will be a long blog entry. I'd like to write about what I think about the game after having completed the first game.

I had read much about the game before buying or playing it. I thought the game would become much longer than previous versions, but it wasn't the case at all. The game is physically much bigger, but there really aren't that many territories added onto the map compared to the previous 2004 version. The changes in the map are minor tweaks, rather than a major overhaul to add many more territories. So I think the game will only play slightly longer than Axis & Allies Revised (2004).

There are many improvements and changes made to the game, and I think they are all for the better, although to different degrees, in my opinion. I like the national objectives (an optional rule). They give an additional aspect to think about. You need to think of achieving yours as well as denying your opponents theirs. I'm not sure yet whether they unbalance the game, maybe time will tell, but they do add money into the game, allowing players to buy more things. I like that transports are now defenseless and must be protected by other naval units. It does mean you need to buy more naval units to protect them, but naval units are cheaper now too, which helps. I think the new cruiser unit is good. It attacks and defends on 3, and can shore-bombard during amphibious assaults. I never bought one in my first game, because they are $12 compared to $8 for destroyers, but I think they are a valid purchase option and not a meaningless one that some players feel they are, being too expensive for what they can do. I did use my initial cruisers to do a lot of shore-bombardment.

Research is improved, but I still think it is quite luck dependent, in terms of whether you achieve a breakthrough, and which technology you get. But at least now the money spent is not completely wasted, in a way. I don't think it's good to make research too deterministic. So I accept it as-is. I can't think of any better way to implement it, to be not too deterministic and not too luck-dependent. Maybe every country gets a semi-random free tech at the start of the game? Or something like the national advantages in Axis & Allies Revised (which is removed in Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition). I think the national advantages can be applied to Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition as a variant without much issue.

Italy is an interesting addition. I think it adds both strength and weakness to the Axis team. Strength because now between the UK and US turns, Italy can do something (damage control?), unlike in the past when Germany could not do anything and often suffered one-two-punch attacks from these two Allies. However Italy being a separate power also means Italian and German forces cannot do attacks together. In the past Italian forces were treated and represented as German ones. I think this makes things interesting.

In terms of the map graphics, I am in the minority, preferring the Axis & Allies Revised graphics and colour scheme. Most people seem to prefer the latest one or the original one. I think the map in Revised is cleaner and has a serious tone. The older one is a bit too light. The newest one is a bit too busy. Anyway, to me it's a minor thing, as long as the map is functional.

Bombers and naval units are cheaper now, making it more feasible to buy more of them, which I think is good. Strategic bombing runs are slightly different. I think it ends up just costing the victim money like previously, except there can be a delay in paying up, because the victim may decide not to repair his factory immediately. So, some flexibility for the victim.

A summary of my view of the main changes after just one game (+ means I like, = means I'm neutral):

  • National objectives: ++
  • Italy: +
  • Strategic Bombing Runs: =
  • Researth: =
  • Unit costs: ++
  • Map: +
  • Graphics: =

I definitely will not go back to Revised, especially since Anniversary Edition really isn't much longer or more complex than I had initially thought.

The 1942 scenario setup. I have not had the chance to play my copy, but I still wanted to set it up just to gawk.

The Pacific theatre. Japan has already conquered most of the Pacific islands.

The European theatre. German troops are already at the gates of Moscow.

India, China and South East Asia. There are now Chinese troops, and they are controlled by the American player.

North Africa. Italy has a huge Mediterranean fleet. The game board is made up of three separate pieces. Thus the waterfall where the British destroyer is. I set up the game on an unused bed which is not exactly flat.

Playing a PBEM game gave me much time to think about the game and to explore the possibilities of every turn quite exhaustively. I never was an expert Axis & Allies player. Having played this very exciting PBEM game, I am reminded of the many strategy articles that I have read in the past (which were for the 1984 edition), and I am appreciating those strategies better. They are mostly still very applicable to the Anniversary Edition.

Axis & Allies is very much a game about... (some may be surprised...) shopping! You need to plan your unit purchases carefully. You buy units at the start of your turn, before you make combat moves, and you can only use your new units next turn. So you don't know what the battle outcomes will be for your current turn, and you need to already plan what you want to do in your next turn, even your next 2 to 3 turns. This is one area where Axis & Allies is much better than Risk. In Risk, the board is too dynamic. Often you get a whole bunch of units at the start of your turn, dump them into one territory, and use that big stack to wreak havoc, leaving a trail of destruction and eventually-thinned-out forces, until your stack runs out of steam.

However, despite the advance planning and strategic element of the game, Axis & Allies should be taken as a light game. There is quite a fair bit of luck in the game, because of the dice. Good players will be able to maximise chances of success and minimise risk, a better player will still win more often, but sometimes the best laid plans can be completely ruined by unlucky die rolls. So I imagine that when good players play optimally, things will boil down to calculated risks, and some gambles. The game should be enjoyed like you are watching events unfold, watching history play out. The game can be very enjoyable when everyone plays well, even if some players sometimes get royally screwed by bad die rolls. One should just laugh about those, e.g. when my lowly isolated death-wish British destroyer in the Indian Ocean attacked Han's Japanese carrier with 2 fighters, and killed 1 carrier and 1 fighter before being sunk. The captain deserves a medal of honour.

Another reason that I think the game should be played lightly is it doesn't really last that many rounds. Our game lasted 7 rounds. Strictly speaking the game had not ended, as in the required number of victory cities had not been captured yet, but we agreed to end the game as by that time the eventual winner was obvious. So although you can and should plan a few turns ahead, there aren't really that many rounds in the game. Well, I guess that depends on the players. Maybe among the top players the game can become a long stalemate.

When evaluating Eurogames I often think about whether there are many meaningful and tough decisions. When I apply that to Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition, I find that indeed there are many interesting and difficult decisions to be made. The game setup already contains many choices. The players have to decide where to attack, where to reinforce, which area to focus their effort, what general strategy to pursue, offensive or defensive. You need to decide how much risk you want to take. Bigger risks can mean bigger rewards. Or do you want to be conservative, which means fewers gains, and lower income, even though you conserve your forces?

The first one or two rounds may feel a little scripted, as there are only that many different options that you can think of based on the starting setup. However as the story unfolds, you will need to adapt to the new situation. The gameboard will gradually "clean up", as the initial troops at the front lines are worn down, and the troops that you have built during the game take up their positions. You will see more and more the results of your decisions since the start of the game, i.e. you don't have anyone else to blame now. As the board "cleans up", there may be fewer hotspots on the board, because you have consolidated your forces. Despite the fewer hotspots, I think the game gets more and more interesting, because you gradually see the fruits of your strategy. There will be some key fronts being contested. Sometimes troops will build up, and both sides hesitate to make the first major attack. There will be some skirmishes, but both sides try to conserve forces and consolidate forces, in preparation for the climatic battle. It is very exciting and I get very anxious and tense with anticipation. When is the right time to attack? Are my defenses strong enough to withstand the assault? What if I lose the battle, what next? What's my contingency?

The game can be chess-like, as in you will think "if I do this, then he may do this, and I would have to do that". It is very interesting to analyse the board and decide what you want to do next, because of the uncertainty in the battle results. You can calculate the odds, but the results are never guaranteed.

I find that I have a tendency to be bunch up my units, often at the cost of leaving many territories lightly defended. I tend to think of divide-and-conquer, i.e. if I have a few smaller / medium stacks of units, they can get easily destroyed individually. So I tend to group my units into big armies or fleets, with cheap units to take hits during battles, and expensive ones to deal maximum damage. However I'm not 100% sure this is always a good idea, because sometimes I tend to lose territories because of this, and even though the territories may not be high valued, every little bit does add up, and having more territories also means you more space for maneuvering. I need to rethink this in my next game.

I have never rated the previous versions and variations of Axis & Allies a 10. I think I may just do it for this Anniversary Edition.

Update - 12 Mar 2009. I wrote an extension to this review.

Monday 16 February 2009


Fri 6 Feb 2009. Carcasean boardgame cafe. This was the day before I was to return to Kuala Lumpur after the Chinese New Year break. I squeezed in one last visit to Carcasean. This time, Han, Chong Sean and I played Titan, Han's copy. Titan is an old game, recently reprinted by Valley Games. It is a reputable classic that has been out-of-print for a long time. So I was happy to give it a shot.

Each player starts the game with 8 creatures, one of which is your titan. The gameboard consists of many spaces representing different terrain - swamps, deserts, woods, jungles, plains. The spaces are interlinked with different symbols which dictate how you may or must move around the board. Using your initial creatures, you move around the board and recruit more creatures. You can split your creatures into smaller parties, and you can merge smaller parties. You fight other players when your parties meet. If you kill an opponent's titan, he is eliminated from the game. So the game ends when there is one titan left, and the player with the last surviving titan wins the game. It's a pretty straight-forward concept.

What's interesting is in the details. The movement rules around the board is quite unique, and also a little daunting at first. You roll a die to determine how many spaces all your parties on the board can move. You can decide for each party whether to move that many spaces, or not to move at all. You must adhere to the movement icons on the board, some force you to move in a certain direction, some allow you to choose. The terrain that you move to determine whether you can recruit a new creature. There is a "tech tree" in the game. Usually you need at least two creatures of a certain type, and you need to be on a certain terrain type, to recruit a new creature. Usually you want to recruit a more powerful creature. When you get two or more of such a more powerful creature, then you can in turn use them to recruit another even more powerful creature. You work your way up the "tech tree". There are some creatures that you can recruit when you fulfill certain conditions, but those never occurred in our game so I have now forgetton how they work.

So, there's a bit of maneuvering on the gameboard. After understanding patterns in the movement icons, you will see there is an outer rim where parties tend to get stuck in, an intermediate winding path with some towers, and then a central loop. In maneuvering your parties around the board, you need to take into account such patterns, the positions of your opponents' parties, and terrain as well. You want to recruit more creatures. You want to avoid battle where you are weak, and you want to catch and fight when you have an advantage.

The battles are carried out on a separate board, depending on the terrain on the main board where the battle occurs. The attacker and the defender place units on the battle board, and they fight it out. The movement and battle rules are not complex. There are terrain considerations at the battle boards too. Different creatures have different characteristics. Some can fly. Some roll more dice than others. Some take more hits to kill. Some can shoot from a distance.

Other than these, there are some other rules like when you have reached a certain number of points (by killing enemy creatures), your titan becomes stronger, and you can recruit certain special creatures. These are things you can plan for in the longer term strategy. We never quite got there, since we only played a short time-constrained game. We played for about 1.5 hours, and whoever had the highest score at that point won.

The tiles with symbols are used to cover your stack of creatures, i.e. they are a flag for your parties. Your opponents cannot see what you have in your parties, and will have to try to remember them when you reveal them during battles. At the top are my titan and my angel.

The game board. Each triagle (or hexagon?) is a space, and there are 4 types of symbols dictating movement rules between every triangle.

My starting creatures. Everyone starts with the same, and you'll need to split them up into 2 parties because a party can have at most 7 creatures.

Game in progress.

Battle in progress on the battle board. The drop of blood signifies injury. Every creature has 2 numbers. The one on the left represents strength (how many dice it can roll) and health (how much injury before it dies). The one on the right represents skill level (when compared with the skill level of an opponent, determines how easy it is to injure that opponent) and movement distance.

Hey what's that calculator doing in this game?! This is supposed to be an Ameritrash game, not Power Grid or some mathematical Eurogame!! (Han helping me calculate my score after a battle).

Han and Chong Sean at Carcasean, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

All the creatures in the game. This is a limited pool. Whenever a creature is killed it is returned to the box and not to this pool. I can't quite imagine the players using up any creature type. Maybe when there are more players, or more experienced players.

In our game, which was pretty much a learning game, we did not have much strategy or long-term plan. We started off trying to recruit as much as possible, and when a convenient opportunity arose, we fought. I think we only had four battles. In two of them the defender conceded, which meant the defending units were all killed, but the attacker only gained half the victory points. I was involved in the other two, both of which I won. So when time was up, I won the game.

My first impression after playing the game is I don't understand what the big deal is. Not that there is anything wrong, just that it doesn't seem to be very outstanding. Granted I have only tasted a small part of the game, and am not familiar enough with it to have any coherent strategy. I do somewhat like the tactical battles (maybe because I won those). I like the system here more than the one in Memoir '44 because I have more control here. It is simpler than Memoir '44 though, and wouldn't make a very good complete game by itself. On the main board I have mixed feelings. There seems to be little control over your own movement. If you get lousy die rolls, you will have difficulty recruiting. Maybe I just haven't learnt to maneuver my parties well enough. There is some complexity in the game, and I think to appreciate the game you'll need to get familiar with all the rules and nuances. In our first game we were rather slow because we were still learning the game.

Wednesday 11 February 2009

Battlestar Galactica

5 Feb 2009. Carcasean boardgame cafe. Chong Sean, Han and I played Battlestar Galactica, one of the hot new games, and a semi-cooperative game, a game with a traitor element. There were only 3 of us. The game is probably best played with 6. But we were keen to play and went ahead even though we didn't have the ideal number of players. This was the first time for all 3 of us.

In Battlestar Galactica (which is based on a sci-fi TV series), the players are humans trying to escape from Cylon (robots) attackers by finding a way back to Earth. There will be crisis after crisis occurring and the humans need to work together to survive them. Cylon spaceships will catch up with the humans, and will attack the human spaceships. Some Cylons will even board the human spaceships. The humans can perform hyperjumps to shake off the Cylon spaceships, but if Cylon boarding parties have invaded the spaceship, these of course will hyperjump together with the spaceship. They need to be defeated in combat quickly.

Then the twist - the traitor(s). Well, strictly speaking these are not traitors but spies. Among the humans are at least one Cylon pretending to be human, who will need to stop the humans from reaching Earth. He can operate secretly, sowing mistrust and sabotaging human efforts resolve crises. He can reveal himself at the right time, and thereafter work openly for the Cylons to try to harm the humans. Some players will find out (secretly) at the start of the game that they are Cylons. Some may only find out in the middle of the game that they are Cylons. The latter are sleeper agents, i.e. they are Cylons programmed to believe they are humans, until some programming triggers them to realise they are in fact Cylons. Something like that. I have not watched the show.

So the game is very much about a spy (or spies) in the midst, while at the same time trying to solve crisis after crisis and trying to survive the challenges that the game system throws at you.

The 10 possible characters that you can play as in Battlestar Galactica. I learned from Han and Chong Sean that in the TV series many of them turned out to be Cylons.

The very many game components. Quite typical of Fantasy Flight Games. This is probably already less than some other even more complex games from them.

In our game, we struggled through the first half trying to learn the game, having to refer to the rulebook many times. I was human. Han and Chong Sean seemed to be humans too. We were all working hard trying to solve the crises. Some were rather nasty, making many Cylon fighters (I forget the name) and Cylon boarding ships (I also forget) appear. Thankfully we always managed to hyperjump before any Cylon boarding parties come onboard our spaceship.

I was the Admiral, and one of my duties whenever we hyperjumped was to draw two cards showing the distance jumped and the penalties / benefits (usually the former), and then choose one without showing the other to the rest of the players. This mechanic is obviously something designed to sow mistrust. Since the other players don't get to compare the two cards, they can't know for sure whether I have chosen the better one. If I was the Cylon I could have chosen the worse card and lied that the other one was worse. If I was human and really drew two bad cards and had to choose one, then the real Cylon (still unrevealed) could accuse me of being the Cylon. Anyway, I happened to draw reasonably good cards, which allowed us to make medium distance hyperjumps, i.e. good progress towards Earth.

The came the mid-game human/Cylon check (I want to refrain from saying loyalty check). We drew our cards. I wasn't a Cylon. Then Han used the once-per-game special ability of his character to look at Chong Sean's loyalty cards. Immediately Han declared that Chong Sean was the Cylon. I looked at Chong Sean's expression, and decided that he was the Cylon. Of course Han could have been the Cylon trying to make false accusations. I had no hard evidence, and just relied on my gut feel. We threw Chong Sean into the brig, where his actions would be very limited. This would minimise the damage he could do to our crises and also prevent him from revealing himself as a Cylon and gain the Cylon abilities to more directly harm us. Chong Sean pleaded repeatedly that he was actually human, but I wasn't convinced. Han and I continued to resolve crisis after crisis, mostly quite successfully. The humans progressed well towards Earth.

Then came the bomb. When we were one turn away from hyperjumping to victory, Han revealed himself as the Cylon, used his reveal-Cylon-one-time-power to throw me into the brig (ouch), and reset the hyperjump readiness track (OUCH!). I was completedly surprised. Chong Sean was probably screaming inside "I TOLD YOU SO!!!". Now the Cylon was at large, and both the humans were stuck in the brig. It took us quite some effort to get out. We used up many skill cards. Han used a crisis card to bring our morale level down to zero, which means game over. Aaarrgghh... I have failed humanity.

Battlestar Galactica is a little challenging to learn at first. Similar to many thematic Fantasy Flight Games, there is a lot of details, special abilities, text on cards, etc. A little overwhelming at first. But actually once we played a few rounds, it is actually not very complex. The skill cards (which you draw five at the start of your turn) actually do not have that much variety. There are not many types so there is much repeating. Once you are familiar with them you just need to see the card name and you'll remember what it does. I think that's good. You spend less time reading text on cards. One thing about such thematic games is sometimes there are rules / special situations / cards / mechanics included for the sake of invoking the theme, rather than for the sake of good gameplay. Different people will have different views of how much of this is acceptable / tolerable. For Battlestar Galactica I feel there is some of this chrome that probably could have been omitted. Sacrifice some thematic element for faster / simpler gameplay. E.g. other than the main spaceship Galactica, players can move to another smaller spaceship to carry out some special actions. I'm not sure how often that smaller spaceship is used. Maybe that could have been omitted. Or maybe it need not have been treated as a separate spaceship, i.e. players need to pay a skill card to move between the 2 spaceships.

Well, I have only played the game once, and I have never watched the show, so my argument is completely based on gut feel. That said, I do not think Battlestar Galactica has too much chrome. I'd say most of the mechanics are just right.

One thing that annoyed me was the need to keep referring to the rulebook for die roll results. Having that table on the board would make things much easier.

Now I'd like to play Battlestar Galactica with 6 players.

Keltis / Lost Cities boardgame

5 Feb 2009. Carcasean boardgame cafe. While waiting for Han to arrive, Chong Sean and I played Keltis. This is the boardgame version of Reiner Knizia's Lost Cities, but rethemed. Keltis is the version released in Germany. In most other countries the game is released as Lost Cities: the boardgame. Keltis is Reiner Knizia's first game to win the prestigious Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year in Germany) award, after having had so many nominations in the past. I have read the rules to the game, and I did not have much expectations, because it seemed to be quite similar to the card game it is based on. I just wanted to try it.

To my surprise, I quite liked it. There are some additional quirks which make it different from the card game, and these additions make the game interesting for me. It is not a very deep or complex game. It is light, but there are enough interesting decisions. There is a race element to pick up the wishing stones. You also need to watch out for both the game ending conditions and time your game play accordingly. I suspect having the game end when 5 pawns the game-end area is what will usually happen. I find it hard to imagine running out of cards. We tended to not discard many cards. Well, maybe it was because we played one rule wrong. For 2-player games we were supposed to have removed 30 cards randomly before we started.

This is a game that I now have a dilemma of whether to buy or not. It's light and fun and I do enjoy it, but I'm not sure whether I will be playing it a lot. It may be one of those games that I do like playing, but there are other games that I will tend to play more. Thankfully Chong Sean doesn't stock it yet, so I couldn't buy it. That allowed me to put off buying the game, at least for now. I read about the upcoming expansions to the game, and they sound interesting to me.

I prefer the Keltis version of the game and not the Lost Cities the boardgame version. At first when I saw photos of Keltis I thought I'd prefer the Lost Cities themed version, but later when I saw the photos of Lost Cities the boardgame, I didn't like the graphics. I find it rather busy and not as user-friendly.

Tuesday 10 February 2009


Carcasean boardgame cafe. Mon 2 Feb 2009. Han, Chong Sean and I played Colosseum. Chong Sean has played before so he taught us.

Colosseum is a game about putting up a good show. There are five rounds in the game, in which the players acquire various types of assets and put out shows. Each show earns some money, which can then be used to acquire more assets and put on bigger and better shows. The winner is the player who has put on the best single show ever. So although putting on many good shows is good for earning money, it is more important to have that one very very good show. Throughout the game the players need to plan for that masterpiece, which will usually be performed in the last round, but not necessarily. The game has a lot of planning ahead, like Princes of Florence.

Many things and factored in when determining how good a show is. First the scripts, actors and props. The kinds of actors and props you need are determined by the script that you plan to produce. Different scripts give different number of points. If you have all the required actors and props, you gain the full points of the script. If you are short of some, you can still produce the show, but you will gain less than the full points. Other factors include whether you have star performers, whether there are VIPs attending the event, whether you have sold season tickets, whether you have produced other shows in the past, whether you have been the player with the best show in past rounds, etc. So there is a lot to consider and to plan for.

Actors (actually some of which are trained animals) and props are obtained through auctions, and can also through trading with other players. Most other assets are bought, e.g. season tickets and scripts. You also need to expand your stadium if you want to make use of the better scripts to put on bigger shows.

In our game, my initial actors and props matche poorly against my initial scripts. Both Han's and Chong Sean's were better matched, and I think they both scored the full points for their first two productions. Chong Sean started off quite well, expanding his stadium already in Round 2 in anticipation for the medium production in Round 3. He kept producing the best shows round after round, and Han and I were struggling to keep up.

Then in Round 5, Han produced a superb 86-point show. He had been planning carefully for it, and it won him the game. Chong Sean, despite having 4 podiums from having the best show ever for each of the first 4 rounds, i.e. 12 points, could not beat 86 points. His actors and props did not allow him to go for the higher-scoring scripts. He was at second place, at 73 points. I came last, scoring 57 points.

My actors and props. Maybe I should say "performers" instead of "actors", since there are horses and gladiators. I have the star performer tile for the musicians. You get such star performer tiles when you have at least three of the same kind of performer, and you have more such performers than anyone else. These tiles were all larger than I had expected. They were easy to handle. I think they are about an inch wide.

This is how the overall board looks like. I think it is quite good and quite colourful. The inner area is for the auctions. This is surrounded by the "VIP track", on which the nobles move, and this is also where your stadiums are located. You want to get the nobles to step into your stadium when you produce a show. The outermost track is the score track, where you record the highest ever score of each player's shows.

My stadium in the middle of the game. I had one season tickets (upper left) and the emperor's loge (lower centre) which allowed me to move the nobles more. The blue coloured noble was in my stadium. I think he was the Consul. I had expanded my stadium once. The stadium started with only two pieces - the outer two semi-circular pieces.

The scripts that I had. The first two were free scripts you get at the start of the game. On each script, the top left number is the identification number, the top right number on a coin is the cost of the script. The bottom left number is the points you can gain from the script, followed by the reduced points if you are short of some assets. The centre row show the performers and props you need for the show. The lower right hand corner shows the size your stadium needs to be.

Chong Sean's stadium. This was Round 4, and he had won the podiums for all 3 previous rounds. Now he had two yellow noble visiting. Senators I think. I can't remember for sure.

This is how to match performers and props to your script. I had all the required performers and props, and even had one matching star performer.

In hindsight, I should not have lost the fighting spirit so early (which I think I did). I do think I was in the worst position from the start of the game. But I should have tried harder, even though I probably would have still come last anyway. "It is the goal that is important, not the winning", I quote Knizia. Losing heart in the middle of the game is poor sport.

After seeing Han's come-from-behind victory, I realised that the points that the scripts provide is a big factor. If you can gain the full points from one of the higher-end scripts, you will do very well even if you are short on other things like podiums, season tickets and VIPs.

There is a lot of planning ahead in Colosseum. The part on trying to match actors and props to potential scripts is rather time-consuming, at least for me as a first time player. The process is slow and painful. But I guess experience will improve that.

We played with the advanced auction variant, which is meant for gamers. The basic auction rules is meant for more casual players. I think I prefer the advanced version. It is more interesting. I also think the game will be better with more players. I think it needs more players for the trading part to work better. In our game, I was in bad shape because in the early game Han and Chong Sean mostly had what they needed and thus didn't need to trade, and I didn't have what I needed and couldn't trade for them because neither Han nor Chong Sean really needed to trade with me. So I am guessing more players will be better. However it may also mean more downtime and too much time wasted on failed trade proposals.

Chong Sean wasn't too happy with the components. The back of the board had a little mold. He also said that the touch and feel of the components is somehow off. He said this is because the game was made in China. I think the components are fine. The mold is not severe, and although when I look closely I can see the difference between the components of Colosseum and another game made in Germany, when Chong Sean asked me to touch them I sincerely could not tell the difference. What surprised me was when I let Michelle touch them she immediately could tell which one was inferior. I have always considered her more a gamer's wife than a gamer wife, although she plays lots of games, and even hardcore gamer games like Through the Ages, Race or the Galaxy. It seems she has cultivated a better feel for game components than me. 玩了那么多游戏可不是白玩的.

Sunday 8 February 2009

Risk: Star Wars Original Trilogy Edition

Han and I met up at Carcasean boardgame cafe on Mon 2 Feb 2009, and we played Risk: Star Wars Original Trilogy Edition with Chong Sean. This really is a game that should be played with exactly 3 players. There are 3 factions in the game, the Empire, the Rebels and the Hutts. Each has a different winning condition. The Empire needs to completely eliminate the Rebels. The Rebels need to find and kill the evil Emperor. The Hutts need to control 10 resource planets.

The basic structure is very much like standard Risk. You get reinforcements at the start of your turn, then you attack, and after you are done, you can do one strategic redeployment. If you have successfully conquered territories, you gain a card(s). There are a number of tweaks and additions based on the Star Wars universe. The cards have special one-time-use powers, e.g. allowing you to add troops when you are being attacked. Each can also be used to gain a spaceship (there are 3 kinds), which gives some advantage in battles. The cards add a lot of flavour to the game. There are other situations which let the players gain more cards, e.g. when the Force meter tilting is far enough to the Dark or the Light side, and when the Hutts are in control of enough resource planets.

And there's a Death Star.

The Death Star in this game is a super defender for the Empire. When the planet where it is located is attacked, the attacker needs to roll a total of 18 to destroy it first, else all attackers are killed. This means you need to have 3 attackers (3 x 6 = 18). There are ways to improve your chances, e.g. power cards and spaceships. Some spaceships allow you to roll using an 8-sided die instead of the standard 6-sided die. There are some cards that allow the Death Star to destroy a planet and all defenders on it. No kidding.

The green Hutts pieces. The bigger ones represent 3 troops, and the smaller ones 1. There are three types of spaceships, capital ships, bombers and fighter.

Some of the Hutts' cards. I happened to draw one of each type, for capital ship, bomber and fighter. The cards can be used to build a spaceship, or for their one-time-use powers.

Each faction has its own cards. The game comes with both 6-sided and 8-sided dice.

The Death Star, unfortunately out of focus.

The Empire's pieces. Unfortunately, out-of-focus too. I think my digital camera is a Rebel... a relative of R2D2?

In our game, I chose to be the Hutts, simply because they are green, my colour. Han played the Empire, and Chong Sean the Rebels. At the start of the game, we took turn to claim planets, and then reinforce the planets claimed. The Hutts could claim the least planets, the Empire the most. The number of troops is similar. The Rebels move first, followed by the Hutts, and lastly the Empire. The Empire, although in control of the most planets at the start of the game, is usually at the receiving end of aggressions, because it moves last, and it is also spread rather thinly. So I think the starting setup is quite balanced.

I played the game like how I watched the movies. The Empire is supposed to be big and bad, and all good people should attack it. Big mistake. In our game, Chong Sean (Rebels) was more like a big empire than Han (Empire). He expanded quickly, being the first to manage to monopolise a sector (i.e. continent) and Han was soon left with very few planets. What was very funny was Chong Sean drew a card that allowed him to destroy the Death Star on Round 2. Oops. Not a chance for the Empire to strike back.

I should have started attacking Chong Sean earlier. I should have played the balancing factor. In this 3 faction game, whenever one faction starts to do better than the other two, the other two should be cooperating, at least temporarily, to bring the leader back in line. I was enjoying the fall of the Empire too much, and a bit too greedy for my own gains, to do the right thing. So our game finished quite quickly. The Rebels won decisively, completely destroying the Empire. That was supposedly the Empire's victory condition.

Our first game played on 2 Feb 2009. This was the start of the game. Han had placed the Death Star in the orange sector in the upper right, to prevent Chong Sean from monopolising that sector.

By this time Han's Empire (grey pieces) only had 6 planets left.

The game is fast and fun, and quite thematic. Han said this game has fewer troops than regular Risk, which makes it shorter, and I think that's a good thing. It is not much more complex than Risk, and the different victory conditions make it interesting. In some ways it is still very much like Risk. It is hard to keep control of complete sectors (continents). Another player will always try to break through and break your monopoly. You still amass big armies at the start of your turn and try to wreak havoc and capture as many territories as possible during your turn, and that means you are spreading your forces very thin. I think the game should be played in a very light-hearted manner. Decisions can be made quickly, and the game can be played very fast. When we played, the attacker rolled dice for the defender as well, saving some time.

On Thu 5 Feb 2009 we played this again, all controlling the same factions. Han wanted a rematch after the very unfortunate Round 2 destruction of the Death Star. This time, the game was probably even faster. Firstly because we were now familiar with it, and secondly because we had a runaway victory again. Han and Chong Sean were so busy fighting each other, they didn't defend against me enough. I was the first faction to monopolise a sector (albiet the smallest one awarding only 2 troops). I had the opportunity to control a big sector but didn't bother to because I knew the monopoly could easily be broken. I wonder whether that let their guard down a little. I drew quite a number of cards, and using them to gain extra reinforcements, I managed to conquer 10 resoure planets and won the game.

This was our 2nd game played on 5 Feb 2009. This was the start of the game.

The Death Star placed on a resource planet (green outline), to prevent me (green) from conquering it.

Towards the end of the game. My Hutts were doing well, having control of two sectors in the lower right.

Thursday 5 February 2009


Carcasean boardgame cafe. 1 Feb 2009. Tempus was the 4th game that Chong Sean, Michelle and I played that day. We had quite a productive day.

Tempus is a minimalistic civilisation game. It is so simplified that it almost feels like an abstract game. Yet it is quite thematic. All the actions that you can do it the game correlates to something that civilisations do in history.

At the start of the game, the players construct a landmass, which has different terrain, e.g. grassland, mountains, farmland etc. Then they place three tokens onto the board, representing their starting population. Throughout the game, you grow your population, you migrate, you build cities, you attack other civilisations, and you advance your technology. Your technology level impacts all the actions that you can take in the game, e.g. how many token you can move, how far they can move, whether they can travel by sea, how many power cards you can draw, your hand size, etc. Technology progresses every round. Civilisations that are behind previously first catch up, and then all civilisations are compared to see which one (or more) will progress first to the next technology level. As the game progresses, there is more and more that you can do. Your actions become more powerful.

At game end, you score for cities you have build, the spaces occupied by your tokens, and for being the first to invent the aeroplane.

In our game, we created a landmass with lots of lakes. This is interesting because lakes allow you to move quite far. With one move, you can move a token from a space next to a lake to any other space next to the same lake. I was conservative and placed my tokens together. Chong Sean and Michelle split up their tokens. Throughout the game I wasn't very aggressive in pursuing technology, which requires placing tokens on specific terrain types. I think out of the whole game I only had a technological advantage for one era, out of 10 eras (I think). I also soon found myself hemmed in, when Chong Sean and Michelle still had space for expansion. So I schemed to start wars, to destroy their cities to make space for my own cities. Cities cannot be built on mountains or next to one another, so suitable locations are limited. I did manage to win some battles, but it was not enough to catch up. Chong Sean won with 24VP (10VP from cities, 11VP from spaces occupied and 3VP for flight). Michelle had 22VP (13VP from cities, 9VP from spaces occupied), and I had 18VP (16VP from cities, and a pathetic 2VP from spaces occupied).

Early in the game. I was yellow (no green available) and concentrated my people in the south east. Michelle (red) and Chong Sean (blue) were more spread out. I was the first to have built a city.

I had expanded across that long lake and built another city. Chong Sean had 2 cities and Michelle 1 at this point.

By now I had also used lake movement to expand to the central northern land piece.

This was at game end, I think. Chong Sean had quickly spread out his tokens to occupy as much non-mountain hexes as possible. Experience shows. I did manage to raze one or two of his cities, and built my own cities over the ruins. But Michelle had also razed one of mine and built over my ruins.

I find that the game is very spatial. Before the start of the game you need to study the board and strategise. Space is limited, forcing the players to compete, both in the form of a race to claim land and in the form of warfare after space starts to run out. Movement is rather limited, so moving your armies around and maneuvering in preparing to fight a war is very expensive (in terms of actions required, there is no money). There was less fighting than I had expected. Fighting is probably not the most effective way of gaining points, but I think towards the end game a well planned and executed war can mean the difference between winning and losing the game. So one should always be prepared for war, or even plan for it if it looks necessary. This feels right. Your civilisation needs to expand, you need to build cities, you want to improve your technology. But while you are busy with all this, you must not forget about the threat of war. I would say the game is 80% expansion and development, and 20% warfare. War may not be necessary, but the threat is definitely there.

I rarely talk about game components when I write about my gaming experiences. I think Tempus is probably the boardgame with the worst component quality I have ever seen. The publisher is cafe games, and I think this version is made in China. I think there is more than one version. Not that made in China means poor quality. I have no problems with Ticket to Ride Switzerland and other games made in China. For the copy of Tempus that I played, the components were literally falling apart. The printing on the cardboard tiles were coming off like dandruff. Chong Sean asked me to use a pencil to write the city size numbers on the city tiles where the numbers were fading. I did so. Then when I tried to blow away the tiny spots of paper that had broken off, my breath tore away a few big chunks of paper / printing. Oops. I felt like an amateur archaeologist accidentally destroying a precious thousand-year-old document. The tiles in the game were that fragile.

Witch's Brew

Carcasean boardgame cafe, 1 Feb 2009. Witch's Brew is a game with some similarities with Citadels. Players all start with equal resources, and compete to gain the most victory points by brewing magic potions, acquiring bookshelves of (I assume) spellbooks. The theme in this game doesn't really matter. It is just for flavouring. The game is all about double-guessing your opponents.

Every player has 12 cards, which allow you to do different things, like collecting ingredients, earning money, brewing potions and buying bookshelves. However every round you can only choose five cards (or five roles). The start player declares which role he wants to play. The next player, if he has that role card in his hand, can decide to usurp the role to reap the full benefit, or let the previous player keep the role and settle for a lesser benefit. The reason for doing the latter is there may be other players behind you who may also have this role card. If you settle for the lesser benefit, you gain it immediately and do not need to worry about the role that you have just robbed from the player before you being in turn taken away from you by the player after you. Of course if you are the last player and you have the role card being played this round, you would (normally) usurp the role from the previous holder of the role. There is noone else after you to worry about. This is the gist of the game. It is about guessing what roles you opponents would choose, by studying what resources they have, and what potions and bookshelves are available on the table. It is about how to choose the roles yourself. Sometimes you may want to pick the same roles as your opponents (so that you can spoil their plans). Sometimes you may want to pick different roles, so that your own plans will not be interfered with.

As I played the game, I found yet another layer of thinking. When you "win" a role, you become the next start player, which is the most vulnerable position to be in. The role that you play when you are the start player has a high chance of being usurped by another player. So sometimes maybe you don't want to "win" a role, because it would make you the most vulnerable the next round.

There's more. When choosing your five roles, you can think of choosing offensively and defensively. Some roles can be bait. Let someone else win it and put yourself in a better position to usurp another role which you want to win.

Sometimes taking the lesser benefit can be better than taking the main benefit of a role, because the lesser benefit is effective immediately, while the main benefit is only gained after the round completes. Only at the end of the round, after every player has had the chance to show whether he has the role card, the final winner will be known.

The rest of the game is resource gathering and management, and converting them into victory points. Nothing very special about that.

The three types of potions and two types of bookshelves that can be won. The liquid drops and coins on top of each card are the cost, and the numbers in the lower right corner are the victory points.

One of the spellbook cards. With every set in the game (a set is when every player chooses 5 cards and all chosen cards are played), there is a new spellbook card. One of the 12 roles allows you to make use of the power on the spellbook card.

Five cards that I had chosen for one of the sets in the game. I like the artwork. The iconolgy and design are functional. The colour coding also helps. The green ones let you collect ingredients. The yellow ones let you do something related to money, e.g. the one here lets you buy vials (which are 1VP) using money. The blue ones let you brew potions. The red ones let you buy bookshelves.

The game that we played was quite fast. We enjoyed saying "我才是!" ("No, I'm the one!") dramatically every time we usurp a role. There were sometimes very little overlap among the roles we selected. I'm not sure whether it's because we just so happened to have chosen mostly different roles, or three player games tend to be like that. 12 roles sounds like a lot to choose from, but by looking at what resources your opponents have, there are ways of guessing what he will likely do. But then he may guess that you'd think that way, and intentionally choose to do something that is suboptimal or unusual, just to counter your move. There can indeed be a lot of double-guessing. However I think this can and should be played as a light game.