Thursday 30 April 2009

Bonnie and Clyde

I bought Bonnie and Clyde on a recent business trip to Singapore, at Paradigm Infinitium, Midpoint Plaza, Orchard Road. Chee Seng was the one who recommended this shop. I remember I have been to Paradigm Infinitium before, but the surroundings did not seem familiar. Maybe they used to be at another location, or this is a different branch. They have a very good selection, but prices are a bit steep. Well, I guess if you are Singaporean or earning Singapore Dollars they are OK, but for a Malaysian the prices are steep. Yet, I couldn't resist buying this, because I am a fan of the mystery rummy games designed by Mike Fitzgerald.

Bonnie and Clyde, like the other mystery rummy games, and like gin rummy, have you making melds (playing 3 of a kind), making layoffs (playing cards after existing melds), and try to "go out" by playing all the cards in your hand. Like all other mystery rummy games, it has the concept of gavel cards - cards with special powers but you can only play one during a turn, which means that they are handy, but they also make it hard for you to go out quickly. This time there is only type of gavel card - Ted Hinton, the sheriff, but you can use it in 3 different ways - draw two cards from the draw deck, pick any one card from the discard deck, or peep at one of the 10 location cards.

Location cards are the unique element in Bonnie and Clyde compared to other mystery rummy games. This game has a board, depicting 10 locations where events in the criminal life of Bonnie and Clyde took place. At the start of the game, the Bonnie card, the Clyde card, and 8 other regular cards are shuffled and placed face-down at these 10 locations. During the game, the players try to peek and pick up cards from these locations, in particular they will try to catch Bonnie and Clyde, the capture of each awarding you 10pts. There is a car marker which starts at location 1. When melds are played, it advances. When layoffs are played, you can choose to move it forward or backward. The location of the car and when you play melds or layoffs is very important, because you can only capture Bonnie or Clyde when you play a meld or layoff for the location where the car is located. I guess that translates to you, being a police officer, being at the right place at the right time. Also if the cards you play match the car position, you score double (4pts per card, as opposed to 2pts). The car position is also important because the player who goes out also scores a bonus based on it.

Like all other mystery rummy games, there is a shut out condition. If you capture both Bonnie and Clyde, and you are the one to go out, then you shut out all your opponents. They don't score.

Game components.

The car, the Ted Hinton (sheriff) card, the Clyde card and the Bonnie card.

Game set up and ready to go.

Game in progress.

So far I have only played 2-player games (the game supports 2-4). I quite like the game. It is quite simple. I'd say roughly the complexity of Mystery Rummy: Jekyll and Hyde. There is a tendency to hold back your cards and wait for the right moment to play them to score big, but that can be a risky thing to do, because your opponent may be doing the same, and may suddenly go out before you can play any of your cards. I find the manipulation of the car position interesting, also the bluffing of where Bonnie and Clyde are. I find that I rarely use Ted Hinton cards to peek at cards. I often use it to draw more cards, and occasionally to pick discarded cards, but almost never for peeking. Maybe there are some tactics that I have not yet explored.

Among the mystery rummy games that I have played, I'd rank them in this order: Jack the Ripper, then Jekyll and Hyde and Bonnie and Clyde, then Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld, and finally Wyatt Earp (not officially part of the series, but is similar). Al Capone is just OK for me. Maybe I was traumatised and thus biased by that 11-1 losing streak that I once had when playing with Michelle. I only played Wyatt Earp once, a long time ago, and don't remember much about it, other than that I didn't really enjoy it. In complexity, I'd rank them Jack the Ripper, then Wyatt Earp, then Al Capone, then Jekyll and Hyde and Bonnie and Clyde.

Saturday 25 April 2009

Fortress America

Fortress America is another old game that Han found on eBay. This is one of the games from the Milton Bradley GameMaster series, which included Axis & Allies (1984 version) and Samurai Swords. Quite a good find - the game is complete and in good condition.

The backstory is a fictitious future-age scenario, where USA is being invaded by 3 armies, an Asian bloc, a South American bloc, and a European bloc. Well, the game was published in the 1980's, so "future" may actually mean now, or a not-as-distant-as-before future. The invaders have a limited number of units, and whenever they lose a unit, it is gone forever. They do not receive reinforcements. At the start of the game each invader gets to deploy a number of units, and after that for each turn they get to deploy an additional fixed number of units. The Americans only has as many units as one invading army, but they are all deployed at the start of the game. Every round the Americans draw two cards, which usually give some reinforcements. The Americans also get to build a laser weapon every round, and each laser weapon has the chance to shoot down one unit that the Americans choose (usually they'll try to shoot down the best units - bombers).

The invaders win if they capture 18 cities (out of 30), and the Americans win if they can prevent that. If the invaders successfully conquer America, they compare the number of cities they control, and the invading army that controls the most number of cities wins.

Combat is done by dice rolling. There are movement rules and combat sequences and retreat rules, similar to many games in the GameMaster series. But there is one unique rule that I don't remember seeing in other games - the restriction in targeting enemy unit types. If an infantry unit makes a hit, it must choose to hit the enemy's infantry type unit first if possible. If there are no more such units, then it must choose to hit the enemy's mechanised type unit (hover tanks or mechanised infantry) if possible. If there are no such units left, then it can choose to hit an air unit (bomber or helicopter). This makes it important to have some infantry units to try to take hits for the more valuable units. The better units, like bombers, have no restrictions when choosing which enemy unit to destroy. However, it is not always best to choose the "most valuable" unit. Combined arms is another consideration. When attacking cities or mountainous areas, you need to roll a 6 to hit, but with combined arms (having all 3 types of units), you hit on a 5 or 6. So sometimes as a defender it is better to pick units to kill so as to make your opponent lose the combined arms advantage.

Look at all the cool units.

Han setting up his American forces at the start of the game.

The round city markers are collected by the invaders when they successfully capture a city.

The laser weapon at Milwaukee.

The eastern front. The light green units are American partisans. They fight better when they are alone.

The western front. San Francisco still holding out, but not for long.

The southern front. Some partisans popped up here.

Very very red. These are European communists.

In our game I played the three invaders, and Han played America. The invaders attacked from west, south then east (I guess Canada is friendly to USA). Han rushed his inland units to the frontlines as quickly as he could, but not before I was able to capture quite many border cities. Cities in the west and south were more sparse, which meant they were easier to capture because of the smaller American forces. But it also meant the invaders would soon run out of targets, especially for the western invaders, who would need to cross much vacant land to reach more cities. There were more cities in the east, which meant a tougher time for the eastern invader, but also more opportunities for them. The American cities fell one after another. There were some pockets of resistance here and there, but the American soldiers and partisans were simply overwhelmed by the invaders. Around New York the Americans managed to put up a good fight, but eventually the eastern invaders wore them down, and they did not get enough reinforcements to be able to match up with the subsequent waves of attackers landing at the American shores. By the end of the 4th round, Han conceded defeat. I would surely be able to capture 18 cities by the next round.

~ Round 1

~ Round 2

~ Round 3

~ Round 4

I find the game to be simply too tough for the Americans, especially when played as a 2-player game, where one player plays all 3 invading armies. If the invading armies were played by different players, then there would be some competition and fighting among them. If one invader is about to make the game end while leading in number of cities controlled, the other two invaders will try to delay the game end or even attack that leading invader. The Americans can then use this to their advantage, because this buys them more time, and time is on their side. Every round they build more laser weapons. Every round they get new inforcements, while the invaders only draw units from their respective fixed pools. I have a feeling that this game needs to be played with 4 players in order to be balanced.

That said, I definitely had a lot of fun playing the aggressor. Lots of dice rolling. The combat resolution is a bit more complex than Axis & Allies or Samurai Swords, but once you get the hang of it it's quick. This is a fun game to play when you're in the mood for something Ameritrashy. I'm sure Han will have fun with his two boys when they grow older.

Han later read the rules again, and found that we had played some rules wrong. (1) During combat, the more power units shoot first, i.e. bomber - helicopter - hover tank - mechanised infantry - partisan - infantry, not the other way round. This may not make a very big difference. (2) Game end condition is checked at the end of USA's turn, i.e. even if the invaders manage to take 18 cities, the Americans still has the chance to capture some cities back. This probably would not have made much difference in our particular game. (3) Partisans can appear behind enemy lines, which means the invaders will need to garrison conquered cities. This would make a difference. The invaders would not have been able to push so many units to the front line.

collection snapshot 20090420

Every once in a while I take a series of photos of my collection of boardgames. I find it fun to compare these snapshots with earlier ones. The last time I did a snapshot was Jan 2008.

Apr 2009

The complete view. When I first bought these shelves, I thought they would last me a long time before I need more space. But now I already feel the shelves are getting full. Not just because of boardgames. There are also other things that my wife and I conveniently put onto the shelves. The shelves are now also storage space for our children's diapers, milk powder, shampoo, photo albums, etc.

One funny thing that I noticed when comparing this against the photo taken in Jan 2008 is that the broken DVD player is still where it was. I don't know why I still haven't thrown it away.

Additions since the previous snapshot include Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition, Galaxy Trucker, Wasabi, Agricola, Through the Ages. Nordic Countries now added to the Ticket to Ride family. That section with Tribune, Keltis etc is my "hot" section where I place most of my newer purchases and favourites, i.e. games I tend to play often. I find that convenient.

I have moved the Alea collection to a top shelf. They must be together, because they look nice together.

Thursday 23 April 2009

Space Hulk

On 18 Apr 2009 Han and I played Space Hulk, a copy he bought from eBay I think. This is a classic (old and well-liked) game, and I was surprised to find that it is still in the top 100 at BoardGameGeek.

The background story is that humankind (which has settled many planets and star systems) is being invaded by an alien race called the genestealers. These aliens send their invasion force in large spaceships called space hulks to human-inhabited planets. One of these space hulks has been intercepted, and the space marines (humans) are now boarding it to try to wipe out the genestealers. The genestealers and strong and fast (just like the aliens in the Alien movie series). The space marines are armoured and armed and can shoot from a distance, but are not as fast or nimble. There are very many aliens on board the space hulk, and they attack the space marines wave after wave. The space marines need to survive the onslaught and complete their mission before they are overwhelmed. 6 scenarios come with the game. The human player wins if the space marines succeed their mission, the genestealer player wins otherwise.

This is the setup of the first mission - small rooms, narrow corridors and doors (the green stand-up cards). There is a team of 5 marines at the top right. They need to make their way to the room in the lower right and blast it with a flamethrower in order to complete their mission. In this scenario there are 6 points where genestealers can appear - the open-ended corridors on the left half of the board.

Genestealers first appear as blips, i.e. moving and blinking spots on the marines' radars. Each blip token has either 1, 2 or 3 on its hidden side, which only the genestealer player knows. The blips get "converted" into real life aliens when they move into a location where they can be seen by the marines.

Each space marine team has 5 members. 3 regular guys who can shoot regular guns, 1 captain who can shoot regular guns and is slightly stronger (but still not as strong as the genestealers) in hand-to-hand combat, and 1 flamethrower guy who cannot shoot regular guns but has a flamethrower with 6 shots. The flamethrower is a very powerful weapon. It often kills everything in its path, and the flames block entry to a whole room or a whole corridor until the next round.

I played the space marines and Han controlled the aliens. Normally the human player has a limited time in taking his turn, but since this was my first game, we played without this rule. This rule is to simulate the chaos and to create the tension of a mission, when the humans really do not have much time to think.

The markers that come with the game:

  • Top left: blips, which show 1, 2, or 3 aliens on their hidden side.
  • Top centre: command points chips. There are 6 such chips numbered 1 to 6. In each round, the human player randomly draws one and looks at it, but hides it from the genestealer player. For that round, the human player gets that many extra action points which can be used on any marine, and can also be used during the genestealer player's turn. This is an action point game, where you need to use action points to move, turn, shoot, fight, unjam your gun, open a door etc. Marines get 4 APs, genestealers get 6AP. This means the aliens are faster and nimbler.
  • Top right: Overwatch marker, showing the jam icon on the other side. When you order a marine to set up an overwatch, he takes a defensive position and points his gun in a direction. On the genestealer player's turn, this marine on overwatch gets to shoot every single time a genestealer moves. Obviously this is important for the marine player considering how few APs he gets. However during an overwatch the gun may jam, and the marine won't have any more free shots, and will need to unjam his gun next round before it can be used again.
  • Bottom: Flamethrower markers. There are 6 each for marine teams A and B. Some scenarios have the marine player controlling 2 teams.

My team of marines. I think they come unpainted, and you need to paint them in order to tell them apart. Han bought this second-hand, partly painted. He only painted the grey ones, just to set them apart as the regular marines. The unpainted marine will be the captain, and the already-painted-in-red one will be the flamethrower marine.

Genestealer and marine on two sides of the door.

Now, onto the mission itself.

My team of marines quickly moved through the first room. One marine opened the side door and set up overwatch for any genestealers, while the rest continued to file out of the room. Indeed the genestealers came. Thankfully the marine on overwatch managed to shoot them down before they reached him.

As the marines proceeded to the branch in the corridor, I realised how restricted movement and line of sight are. In the narrow corridors, only the marine in front can see and shoot at genestealers. The other marines behind him can't help much at all. If a genestealer reaches and kills that first marine in melee combat, the second marine will have little time to aim and shoot at the genestealer, before he himself is engaged in melee combat too, a very dangerous thing.

I had my captain lead the way down the branch, the flamethrower marine right behind him. One regular marine set up overwatch guarding the main corridor.

Han's genestealers started to grow in numbers, and they hid behind the corners, just out of sight so that I could not shoot and could not tell their numbers. In the photo above, one blip (i.e. unknown number of genestealers) and one genestealer are hiding just out of sight of the marine captain. The humans are always the ones under time pressure. They do not get reinforcements. One new genestealer blip appears every round, so if the marines do not act quickly to complete their mission, they will eventually be overwhelmed by the genestealers.

Knowing the time pressure on my marines, I forged ahead. I, being the cold-blooded commander, decided that someone has to "take one for the team", i.e. die, in order to complete the mission. My captain, who had been quite a good shot, and who had even defeated a genestealer in hand-to-hand combat, was the brave one to push ahead to allow the flamethrower marine to come up. He got himself killed. The flamethrower marine used quite a number of blasts to kill genestealers and also to set the corridor on fire to prevent them from approaching closer. However, ammo was running out, and he must keep one last shot for completing the mission - destroying the control room.

The flamethrower marine made took two shots to kill the two genestealers right in front of him, then quickly moved into that final short corridor leading to the control room. Another brave, ready-to-die marine moved up to the corridor junction to hold that position, and to block the advance of the other approaching genestealers. But we all knew he would probably only be able to slow down the genestealers for a few seconds, using his own body as an obstacle. And a few seconds was what I needed for the flamethrower marine to open the door to the control room, and to blast it with his last shot. Thankfully flamethrowers do not jam in this game.

The remaining marines probably wouldn't make it back out alive, although they have completed their mission (and won me the game). Now I have to think of how to explain to their families how I had sent them to die.

I liked the game more than I expected. I have played Descent: Journeys in the Dark once before, also Han's game. We didn't complete the game due to time constraint, but from that half-game I thought it was just so-so. I liked Space Hulk. Maybe because of the simplicity. The game felt fast and furious. It may be because of its simplicity, which allowed the turns to be played quickly. I imagine if I play with the full rules which sets a time restriction for the marine player, it will be even more fast and furious. No wonder it's still a BGG Top 100 game.

There were some rules that we weren't very sure about. The rules were not clear enough. So we had to play with what we agreed was logical. If the flamethrower marine stands at the mouth of one corridor at a crossroads junction (let's say the 1st space of the southern corridor), and shoots at the mouth of the next corridor (let's say 1st space of the eastern corridor), how does the fire spread? Does it spread only down the eastern corridor? Does it spread down both eastern and western corridors, including the single space at the junction itself? We agreed on the former. We had already agreed that the flamethrower can shoot at 45 degrees in the first place, making this scenario possible. Can anyone confirm?

Monday 20 April 2009

A Game of Thrones LCG

I can probably count A Game of Thrones LCG as the 3rd time that I am trying a CCG (collectible card game) or CCG-like game, the previous two being Blue Moon (not really a CCG but an "expandable card game") and Magic: the Gathering (free copy of a Romance of the Three Kingdoms-themed starter set). I have played 30+ games of Blue Moon, and own all 11 decks (8 main races and 3 special expansions). I quite like it, and am starting to grasp some of the strategies, but I don't really play it often enough to be able to fully enjoy it. I have only tried Magic once, and can see how its simple system can expand to be very rich and interesting, but am far from appreciating the strategies involved. And of course, I have not tried deck-building at all (unless playing Dominion counts as a simple form of deck-building).

I was interested to try AGOT LCG mainly because of the novels, and also because of its new LCG format, that publisher Fantasy Flight came up with. I wouldn't say it's a completely new idea. This idea may have come from the Blue Moon model (also published by them). Han also likes the novels. Both of us bought AGOT LCG. When Han was in town on 17 Apr 2009, we gave it a go.

In AGOT LCG, you need to gain 15 power to win. The game starts with no power. Power comes into the game in different ways. You can earn them. You can grab some from your opponents. Sometimes power also exits the game, e.g. a character which has power tokens on him/her gets killed.

At the start of a round, all players select 1 plot card (out of 7) to play. Plot cards determine how much money you get for this round, initiative / turn order and how big the effect is when you win challenges (e.g. how many opponent characters you get to kill). All plot cards also have special rules which often affect all players for that round. Knowing your plot cards and your opponents' plot cards is an important aspect of the game, and you should plan the usage of your plot cards well.

You then put new cards into play by paying their costs. There are four types of cards. Character cards are the main type. They participate in challenges against your opponents. Attachment cards are things like weapons, pets, titles etc that can be attached to characters. Location cards usually give you extra money, or influence, and sometimes also some other benefit. Event cards do not have costs. They are usually powerful one-time-use cards. After everyone has put characters in play, each player take a turn to initiate up to three challenges. If you win a military challenge (as attacker), one (or more) of your opponent's characters get killed. If you win an intrigue challenge, you randomly discard a card from your opponent's hand. If you win a power challenge, you take one power from your opponent. Characters that have been involved in a challenge are "knelt", which means "used up for the round" (equivalent to "tapped" in Magic). After every player has had the chance to issue challenges, there is a dominance round where the player with the highest remaining strength among standing (i.e. not knelt) characters gain one power. That's basically how the game works.

However, almost every card in the game has some special text, describing some special power. Many cards also have one or more keywords like Renown, Deadly, Lord, Night Watch, Creature, Stalwart, describing some special ability or trait. Some cards also have an icon, e.g. a ring meaning noble-birth, crossed swords meaning an army. There is a lot going on, a lot to read, a lot to learn, a lot to remember.

Han and I played two games, in the first one he played House Stark and I played House Lannister. I was lucky with my early draws, getting Tywin Lannister (head of the house, and very powerful) and being able to play him. I was quite rich (Lannisters are rich). However, Han played the Valar Morgulis plot card, and killed off all characters, mine and his. That was painful. In hindsight I should have thought of that, since I had read all the cards beforehand. I should not have played so many good characters so early, or I should have tried to protect them from getting killed. After this "reset", House Stark's strength started showing. They are militarily strong, and tend to win military challenges. So they kept killing off my characters, and I could not slow their momentum. Han won decisively with about 16 power. At the time I only had 2 I think.

In our second game Han played House Targaryen and I played House Baratheon. Again I was quite lucky with my early draws. I had the three Baratheon brothers in play from quite early on - Robert Baratheon (the king), Stannis Baratheon and Renly Baratheon. I also managed to get many location cards early, which helped in providing additional income and influence. Han was not so lucky with his early cards. However we both had many cards in the early game. Han played a plot card that allowed us to draw extra cards.

House Baratheon has many characters with the Renown keyword, which means when they win a challenge, they earn a power in addition to the normal reward, to be placed on the character card (instead of the house card). Robert Baratheon's Renown power is double the normal! So I gained power at a great speed. House Targaryen has some characters which are hard to kill, or can easily come back after getting killed. It also has dragons, which are quite powerful. Gradually, Han started killing off my characters, and I could not keep up in trimming down his characters. One decisive play was him being able to take control of one of my armies of strength 6, which has both military and power challenge abilities. That was painful. Eventually, Robert Baratheon was killed (i.e. I lost all the power that he had accumulated), and then Renly Baratheon (I have been making use of him a lot, because he could stand up and fight again and again by paying influence), and finally Stannis Baratheon as well (also a lot of power on him). At the time Han was leading at about 9:6, but I conceded defeat. He had around 11 - 13 characters in play, and I only had a few left. No way I would be able to catch up. The closest I ever got was 12 power I think. I think House Baratheon's best strategy is probably to gain power quickly and reach the finish line before your opponents could do anything to stop you. Also you need to protect those characters who are accumulating a lot of power. I should have protected them better. Not sure whether I could have, but I think I should have worked harder at it.

I played House Lannister. The top row are the character cards, and the bottom row the location cards. There is one event card attached to Tywin Lannister on the top right. In this instance the event card is also treated as an attachment. Normally event cards are played once and discarded.

Stannis Baratheon. Top left corner is the cost to play this card. The flag icon on the left of the card name mean this is a unique character, and that if he dies, there can be no other Stannis Baratheon. The shield on the right shows the house this card belongs to. The number in the shield on the left is the strength. The red and blue icons below it means Stannis can participate in military and power challenges. The "B 72" on the right is a serial number. The ring icon on the lower right means Stannis is a noble.

Han looking through his cards. This was our second game, where he played House Targaryen and I played House Baratheon.

The three Baratheon brothers. There are two copies of the Robert Baratheon card in play, which means if something is going to kill him, you can discard one card and keep him alive. Stannis currently has one power token on him.

This was probably the peak of the game, when Han had 9 characters in play, and I had 7. I had 6 location cards in play. Soon after this things went downhill for me, and I never recovered.

Having played two games, I don't know yet whether I like the game. I definitely enjoyed seeing the many characters and aspects of the novels come to life in the game. The gameplay is more complex than I expected. Much more complex than Blue Moon or the version of Magic that have I played. This is because almost all cards have special text. This is daunting for first-time players, and I think it will turn off non-gamers. Having played the game now, I can completely give up hope of ever being able to convince my wife to play this. I'm not complaining about the game being complex. Just stating a fact. I wonder whether having special powers for every card is a tendency of CCG's. Afterall, a small pack of CCG is not cheap, so maybe having special powers (and not ones that exist for the sake of existing) helps publishers make customers feel the cards are worth their cost.

One thing I can definitely say about AGOT LCG is it is very rich. Maybe that's a more positive way of saying it is complex. I find that there is a lot to explore, and I am interested to explore it further. I think the game will get better when we get more familiar with the various cards and their powers, very much like Blue Moon. We will be able to anticipate what cards will come. We will learn the strengths and weaknesses of each house. The different houses play differently, and feel quite different. I like that. At the moment the many different powers of the cards are daunting to me. Our 2 games progressed very slowly because we need to read all those text, and also let each other read the text on our cards, or at least explain what the cards do. But my gut feel is each card has its uses, and there won't be many (if any) cards that are completely useless. I have a feeling that there will always be a strategy that you can weave a card in.

Han suggested that we try deck-building. He lent me his Lannister and Targaryen decks, and I lent him my Stark and Baratheon decks. So we focus on learning to play two houses each. We'll only have at most 2 copies of the same card (rules allow up to 3), but I think that should be good enough for our exploration. This will be the first time that I truly dabble in deck-building.

I have some doubts about whether I will be pursuing AGOT LCG further. I found out that their chapter packs cost RM55 (~USD16) each, which is not cheap, and each chapter pack will have 40 cards, 3 copies each of 10 cards, then 1 copy each of 10 other cards. That means you only see 20 new cards in each chapter pack. I think there are already about 8 to 10 chapter packs already released. And I am sure there are many more to come. That looks like a very deep hole to get sucked into, the very reason that I am not keen about CCG's. I will probably just stick to the core game for now, until I have played it many times and get very familiar with it. If I like it well enough, then I probably will buy some chapter packs or other forms of expansions that interest me, e.g. getting cards for House Martell and House Greyjoy.

AGOT LCG may be quite different, and probably better, with more players. With two players, some cards lose some effect. Also the gameboard and the titles are not used. Titles give special bonuses and abilities for the round in which they are chosen. You can use them to prevent an opponent from attacking you. You can use them to gain additional rewards when you attack someone. I think the game will be more interesting with more players, because there will be alliances and betrayals (just like the novels), and it is harder for one single house to dominate the game because the other houses will work together to stop the leader.

So, no verdict yet for AGOT LCG from me. I'll write more thoughts after I play more.

Saturday 18 April 2009

buying games, Wasabi

I bought some new games recently. Could not resist the temptation when I read about the latest shipment at Imagine Games. Actually when I first scanned through the list there were no must-buys, and I had initially told myself that I won't buy any new game, that I should only buy games that feel I cannot not own. I was even thinking of limiting myself to one game per month in 2009, i.e. 12 new games in a year, to force myself to be very selective when buying games. From 2004 to 2008, I bought on average about 24 games a year.

I ended up buying four new games.

The first was A Game of Thrones LCG (Living Card Game). I am a big fan of the novels by George R R Martin, and had previously pre-ordered this together with Han at Amazon. There was some problem with the pre-order at Amazon, so Han cancelled it. I was never into CCG's (Collectible Card Games), and do not want to spend money on a CCG. When I found out that A Game of Thrones CCG was getting converted into the LCG format (when you buy a set of cards you know exactly what cards you are getting, unlike the CCG format where you buy random packs of cards), I was interested. Since I had previously decide on impulse to buy it (cheap shipping), I should follow through on my decision right?

I also bought Wasabi. I was interested in it and wanted to try it. Not sure how much I'd like it, so ideally I can try-before-buy. It's something quite different from the games that I have. And the Japanese food theme definitely is quite unusual, and attractive too. Next, Metropolys, which I have played before in Hong Kong last year, and liked. Its spatial element and bidding system are quite unique. Lastly, Keltis (the German version, and not the English version Lost Cities the boardgame) is also a game I have played before earlier this year. I liked it more than I expected. Some similarities to Lost Cities, but it has some additional elements which I found interesting and liked. I didn't know Imagine Games stocks Keltis, and had thought they only have Lost Cities the boardgame. I prefer the artwork of Keltis, and also I'm interested in the expansions already planned for it, which have not yet been announced for Lost Cities the boardgame yet.

It's rather silly that I have to justify to myself (and even blog about it) why I am buying a game. Well, a few games.

And while I am trying to control my game buying, it doesn't help when my wife encourages me to buy. She says I am often so stressed out at work, I should reward myself. She says I can afford them, and they are something I can keep and play again and again, unlike some other pastimes which are "one-time-use". She says I don't spend much other on other hobbies / interests / addictions / vices anyway, so I should pamper myself occasionally. These all sound like excuses gamers give to their spouses when "seeking approval" to buy games, not the other way round. *grumble grumble* women and shopping... I guess I should be thankful and tell myself that it's a good problem to have.

I wasn't planning to go on and on and on about buying games. Let's move on. To Wasabi.

I think Z-man games, publisher of Wasabi is a good publisher, publishing many interesting games and having much variety. Zev, the man behind the one-man company (I assume), is an adventurer and explorer, trying many different things, publishing many first-time game designers. Very interesting publisher.

Wasabi is a game where players compete in making sushi. You get recipes requiring different numbers and types of ingredients. You pick and play ingredients onto a common board, trying to line them up to match your recipes. You complete a sushi when you get all the required ingredients together in the same row or column in an unbroken line. If the order of the ingredients is exactly like on the recipe, you, my young trainee chef, have got, ssssstyle! You earn extra wasabi cubes (worth 1VP each) for this achievement.

Every time you complete a recipe, you draw a new one. You also get to pick a special power card, which you can use to help complete other recipes. You get to do cool things when you play these cards, e.g. stacking an ingredient on top of another, playing 2 ingredients instead of 1, or even slapping down a nasty patch of wasabi to render 4 spaces (with or without ingredients on them) unuseable, annoying your opponents no end.

The game is very simple to explain, and looks gorgeous.

Gameplay is more thinky than the looks suggest. Sometimes you really need to sit and stare and think about how you can complete you recipe, especially for those tough 5-ingredient ones. I think this is unavoidable for beginners, but one should beware of slowing down the game to a halt because of analysis paralysis. Sometimes you feel like you are trying to solve a complex puzzle.

Michelle was very focused on Wasabi and couldn't even spare the distraction of smiling at the camera.

A menu...

... which is actually just a holder for your recipes. It can be tiring holding this menu. A Scrabble-styled tile holder or a Memoir 44-styled card holder would work better, but of course that wouldn't be as cool as a menu. Aesthetics vs practicality. I'm usually on the practicality side, but in this instance I'm OK with the menus.

Very colourful components.

The wasabi cubes. The saucer (which comes with the game) is a real saucer!

The recipes, and the markers showing the victory points scored for completed recipes.

I think there is a fair bit of luck in the game, in terms of what kind of recipes you draw and at what time, whether the starting 3 ingredients are useful or not, whether your recipes have overlapping ingredients, whether the ingredients played by other players happen to be useful to you, and also whether you are helping them when you play ingredients. Because of this I think the game should be played lightly. Don't take it too seriously.

There can be nasty play. If your opponent is trying to complete his/her 5-ingredient order, it will likely be easy to spot, and you probably can disrupt his/her plans easily, by playing a random ingredient, or switching ingredients etc. Completing the 5-ingredient recipe is not easy.

There are a few different approaches in deciding the order of completing your recipes. Everyone has a total of ten recipes at the start of the game: four 2-ingredient recipes, three 3-ingredient recipes, two 4-ingredient recipes, and one 5-ingredient recipe. Some players may want to do the harder recipes earlier, because there is more empty space on the board. Some players may want to do the easier recipes early and quickly, in order to collect special power cards which can then help to complete the harder recipes. Some players may want to take a middle path of doing the medium difficulty ones first, then doing the easy ones spread out throughout the game for collecting power cards, in order to help complete the hard ones before the game ends.

Having played a few games, I quite enjoy the game. One thing that I realised is the importance of the power cards. You use them quite often, and they are very very handy. When reading the rules I had expected them to be just a little extra spice, but they turned out to be quite central to your strategy. You need to compete with your opponents in grabbing the power cards that you need, sometimes you may even need to grab them simply to deny them from your opponents.

I look forward to playing more of Wasabi. It should easily reach my target of playing all new games bought in 2009 at least 5 times.

Thursday 2 April 2009


I was going to title this blog entry "session 20090328", but then I decided to use something else that I probably would not understand myself a few years from now, which would make me curious enough to check out what this blog entry is about.

On Sat 28 Mar 2009 Chee Seng, Sui Jye and Jing Yi came to play. It has been quite some time since they came to play. Last time was January for Chee Seng, and December for Sui Jye and Jing Yi. We also had a surprise visit from Ricky, who used to play occasionally but is now no longer interested. And we played many games that day. 6 different games, totaling 10 plays. That's rare.

Chee Seng arrived just slightly past 1pm, almost 1 hour early. He had had lunch and had nothing better to do. So we started with Monopoly Express, which he had wanted to try. This is part of a family of dice games including Risk Express (which I also own), Clue Express, and Battleship Express published by Hasbro, which are all quick dice games. I bought Risk Express in Manila, because it was designed by Reiner Knizia, and thought it was an OK game. Not spectacular, but good enough to be played once in a while. I bought Monopoly Express later, but didn't quite like it. Chee Seng was curious to try it, and was considering buying it, so I taught him to play.

He started the game, and did quite well every turn. Earning around $5,000 every turn ($15,000 to win). To catch up, I took some risks, and ended up not earning any money in any turn. The game ended after 3 rounds I think, $16,500 vs $0. Chee Seng told me flatly the game sucks. I'd have to agree. I would have been ready to give him the game if he had wanted it.

One problem I have with Monopoly Express is that it is easy to complete the most expensive set (Park Lane and Boardwalk) by using the chance icon (i.e. a joker). If your opponent gets lucky with that, it's hard to catch up. $3,500 for that set. Also the score keeping is tedious, and is actually more taxing than playing the game itself.

There was still plenty of time before 2pm, so I brought out Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation. I have not played this for a long time. Michelle doesn't like it because she finds it too stressful and too... erm... confrontational. Chee Seng and I have both played this before, but I gave him a quick refresher. He played the bad guys, and me the good guys. Experience put me at a strong advantage. I have played the game very many times, and managed to make good use of many of the common tricks and tactics, e.g. having Legolas pretend to be a lonely Frodo to tempt his Flying Nazgul into attacking (and dying instantly). I also used Merry to instantly defeat the Witch King. Enough of the good guys fought and died and killed the bad guys, to allow Frodo to advance to Mordor without encountering any danger. Not very true to the book or movie, but that's normal.

We had a rematch, this time swapping sides. Again, experience put me at an advantage. Chee Seng's Frodo tried to go through the mines of Moria so that he could bypass the mountains. I had a unit there, and if it were the Balrog, Frodo would die instantly. I warned him, but he decided to take the risk. My unit was the Balrog, and I found out his unit was Frodo. Game over.

I still quite enjoy LOTR The Confrontation. Just somehow I don't like the variant version that comes with the deluxe version (which is not designed by Reiner Knizia). Maybe I am prejudiced. Maybe I have not played enough of the variant game to appreciate it better.

Sui Jye and Jing Yi arrived when Chee Seng and I were playing LOTR The Confrontation. Once we were done, Chee Seng taught us to play Mag Blast, which he brought. I have played this before with Han, but had forgotten the rules. I only remember it is a simple and quick game about spaceships fighting. The game explanation actually took some time, and Jing Yi was intidimated into initially declining to play. I told Chee Seng it was his fault because he insisted that we make stupid sound effects whenever we fired a shot. We managed to persuade Jing Yi to play eventually.

Chee Seng, being the master of intrigue, encouraged everyone to attack everyone else and not himself. That backfired, and he was first to get eliminated. I think him being the game owner (and thus automatically assumed to be the strongest player), and being the common friend (he introduced Sui Jye and Jing Yi to me), spelt his demise. And his obvious sweet-talking definitely contributed too. Sui Jye's mothership was badly damaged very early, but he managed to recruit some ships to take the places of the ships destroyed earlier, and he lasted longer than expected. Jing Yi built up quite a strong fleet, and being the only lady at the table, wasn't attacked too much. Seeing that she had become quite strong, I attacked her, taking out the ship on one side to expose her mothership, and then using a direct hit card to instantly destroy her mothership. My race was the space Amazon-like female race, and my special power was for 3 times during the game I could play a direct hit effect card (usually very devastating) without first playing a direct hit card (normally required). This power sure turned out handy for me.

So it was down to Sui Jye and I. I lost many ships and my front and back were exposed. In a last desperate attempt, I managed to break through his left side, and eventually dealt the last 2 damage to kill his mothership. Victory for me!

The game is a lot of luck. It should be played as a quick silly game. This was the game in which we did a lot of "Jiujiu!" - the laser shooting sound effect. 蕉蕉 in Cantonese. 舅舅 in Mandarin. It actually took us maybe 1.5 hours to play it, including rules explanation. There was text on the cards, which took time to read and understand. I guess once you are familiar with them gameplay will be much quicker. After our game Sui Jye looked at the back of the box, read "game time 10 - 20 minutes" and cursed. How the hell did we manage to spend 1.5 hours on this game?! This should have been a filler game, but turned to be more like a main course.

A photo of Mag Blast which I took the previous time I played, at Han's place.

For the main course, I selected Amun-Re, which I have not played for some time. It was the first time for all of them. Chee Seng was earning good money. I focused on pyramid building. I was lucky to draw many master builder cards, which allowed me to build a pyramid with 2 stones instead of 3. In the Old Kingdom scoring Sui Jye led the pack, but I was close behind because of my many pyramids. My cash flow wasn't very good, but I never stole from the temple during prayer time. The gods always blessed me. I wasn't very lucky with the goal cards, not drawing the ones I needed, and drawing those that I could not fulfill.

At game end, I had the same score as Chee Seng, but he won because he had more pyramids. He was quite cash rich during the New Kingdom period (i.e. 2nd half of the game), and managed to buy good provinces which had pyramids carried over from the Old Kingdom Period.

I messed up some rules. When scoring for most pyramids on east and west of the Nile, it should be looking at a single province with the most pyramids, and not the total pyramids owned by a single player. I taught it wrong at the start of the game, and we only learned our mistake when we reached the first scoring stage at mid game. Also when playing the "earn $1 more per farmer" power card, it should only apply to one province, not all provinces. Chee Seng and I played this wrong, but Sui Jye played it right. He referred to the rules himself during the game. So Chee Seng and I had some unfair advantage. Amun-Re is quite a good game. I really should play this more often. But it is probably best with 5 players. 4 players seem to be quite good too, but I don't think 3 players is as interesting.

Halfway through Amun-Re, Ricky dropped by. What a pleasant surprise. I used to play a lot of Axis & Allies with him, using the Iron Blitz computer game version. But nowadays he doesn't play boardgames anymore. He watched us finish the second half of Amun-Re. By then Sui Jye and Jing Yi had to leave. It was about 5pm. We decided to play some quick games, and I chose Loopin' Louie, which neither Chee Seng nor Ricky had played before.

We played about 4 games of this, and it was quite funny. This is a game which is more fun if you are not good at it yet. You can make all sorts of silly mistakes, like hitting your lever too hard and causing your own chicken to fall off the barn roof. When the players get better, the game actually drags, because everyone is getting better at protecting their chicken. Anyway, we had fun. We started shouting "270!", "180!" (in Cantonese), these being the degrees we wanted Louie to turn in order to hit the chicken of the players to our left or right opposite. It is hard to hit the lever just at the right moment and with the right force so that Louie will take that exact flight path to hit your opponent's chicken at an angle that cannot be defended against. Even my 4-year-old daughter Shee Yun, seeing three 30-something grown-ups so absorbed in this silly game, repeated after us, "270!" (广东话∶二百七十).

Since Loopin' Louie was so quick, I decided to introduce Roll Through the Ages to them too. Michelle joined us. This was my first time playing Roll Through the Ages with more than 2 players, and I found that I like it more. There is some additional downtime, but we try to reduce it by having the next player start his turn when the previous player is still completing his turn, unless, of course, the decisions of the previous player can affect those of the next player. But at least the next player can roll the dice first and start planning what to do. With more players, there is more interaction (but this is still a pretty minimal interaction game), there are more monuments to compete for. There is a higher risk of getting hit by pestilence (if someone rolls 3 skulls, everyone else gets 3 disasters, i.e. -3VP), and in this game I was the one who dealt the 3 disasters to the other players.

I thought I wouldn't play Roll Through the Ages much anymore, but now that I have tasted it with more than 2 players, I will likely bring it out again when I have more players and introduce it to more people.