Sunday 28 February 2010

Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation

I'm always easily attracted to more complex card games that are good for 2 players, because of how Michelle and I enjoyed and played very many games of Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper and Race for the Galaxy. We also enjoy Through the Ages, a civilisation themed game. So when I had the opportunity to buy Uruk, a civ themed card game which is only available in German, I went for it.

The Game

Uruk's cards are various types of inventions that your civilisation can develop. You have 5 slots in front of you to play invention cards. If you use up all slots, you can replace an old invention with a new one. Above each invention card, you can also build settlements, a small one being a village, and a big one being a city. By game end, scoring is primarily based on a combination of the value of your invention cards and the type of settlements you have above them.

There are two types of resources you can collect in the game - cards and cubes. I guess this game is quite frank in calling cubes cubes. You use cards to make inventions (e.g. discarding 3 pink cards to make a Level 3 pink invention). You use cubes to build settlements. The inventions are what create variability in the game and differences between players. They give various benefits, mostly related to making inventions or building settlements, e.g. some allow you to collect more cubes, some make inventions cheaper. Some also give bonus points.

Then there are gods and disasters. Some penalise the players, some help the players, and most require some form of bidding among the players to determine who benefits / suffers more. The game uses an omen system. When a god/disaster card is drawn, it is put face up on the table and does not immediately take effect. The card only takes effect when the next god/disaster card is drawn. So the players may have some time to prepare for it.

The timer of the game is the settlement stones placed on the four epoch cards. In each epoch of the game there are different increasing costs for building (or expanding) a settlement. Different numbers of settlement stones on the epoch cards mark the progress of the game. The game enters the end phase when the Epoch IV card runs out of settlement stones.

The Play

In the first game that Michelle and I played, I focused a lot on inventions that allowed me to collect cubes, and I won that game with a landslide victory. In the few subsequent games that I played, the emphasis had been on collecting cubes. You almost have to always use one of your three actions on your turn to collect cubes, so that you don't fall behind in building settlements. If you are slow, the settlement stones get more and more expensive. I'm not sure yet whether the emphasis on cubes is a necessity. I have not played many games yet afterall. But even if it is, I'm not entirely sure it'd be a problem. Maybe I need to try an invention (i.e. card) centred strategy to find out.

The game comes only in German, so I had to download translations from The cards use icons only - no text. So learning the special abilities of the cards take a little some. Some of the special abilities are not straight-forward. Some effort also needed to look up the effects of the god and disaster cards.

I made one big mistake when teaching this game. At game end, every four cubes are worth 1pt, not one cube one point. This severely distorted our games. Collecting cubes was overpowered. Chong Sean, if you are reading this, you actually came last in the game we played, not second. :-)

Game setup. Four epoch cards in the centre, with settlement stones (white discs) stacked on them. Then there are three face-up cards from which the active player can choose. There is already a discard deck at game start, because you have to remove a number of cards depending on the number of players.

Some of my cards at an early stage of the game. They are all focused on collecting cubes. The text is in German. It has no impact to gameplay.

My civilisation at mid game - two villages (single disc stacks) and two cities. And all inventions are cube-collecting inventions. I like the card back. There are arrows in 3 of the corners to tell you which side is up. Being obsessive compulsive about cards being the right side up, this is very soothing for me.

Game end. I still have not replaced my start invention (leftmost pink one, which already has all 3 pink cubes exhausted and is basically of no use now). I have 6 inventions before the second rightmost pink invention allows me to have an extra invention. Then the rightmost red invention also gives me bonus points depending on how many different colours of cards I have in my hand, if I have inventions in all 4 colours.

21 Feb 2010. A three player game with Michelle and Chong Sean. At least in the first three games you'll need to have the rules and the reference sheets (explaining what the cards do) handy.

The Thoughts

Uruk is a medium complexity card game. It is a development and building game. It feels less like a card game to me compared to other card games, because it feels like you are less at the mercy of luck of the draw. There definitely is luck, but you can always plan around the cards you draw. I think I feel this way because there are a few steps you need to take from the time you draw a card until the time you make the invention or build the settlement. You don't get a powerful card and then simply play the card to reap the benefits immediately. Also there are 3 face-up cards to choose from, Ticket to Ride / China-style, which reduces dependency on luck of the draw.

Uruk won't replace Race for the Galaxy as our default card game, but it's a relatively quick and interesting alternative.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Keltis: Neue Wege, Neue Ziele

Keltis (German version of Lost Cities: the boardgame) was a game that surprised me. I didn't have much expectations, and wanted to play it only because it finally won Reiner Knizia the Spiel des Jahres award. I was surprised that I quite enjoyed it, despite the simplicity and the abstractness. So when I found out about the expansion, I decided to get it.

The Game

The expansion is basically a new board and some tokens. Instead of five straight paths, the board now has crisscrossing paths, and the 5 colours are mixed up among the various paths. Like in the base game, to move a pawn one step, you still need to play a card of the same colour as the next space that the pawn will move to. But now the paths are interconnected and are made up of sections of different colours, so things are not so straight-forward anymore. Also now there is no one-path-one-pawn restriction. You can get all 5 five pawns to follow the exact some path if you want to, and if you are able to.

The tokens in the game are replaced with smaller, round ones. There is a new type, showing a card. It allows you to discard one card from your hand or from among your topmost played cards. This can be very useful under the right situations. The lucky stones now come in five colours instead of just green. They score in two different ways - how many colours you collect, and whether you collect three of the same colour (a little like the monuments in Ra).

The new board. This is a starting setup. Notice that for the coloured stones there is always one stack plus one single stone for each colour.

The Play

Michelle and I have played a few games of Keltis: Neue Wege, Neue Ziele. I was quite surprised how the game changed. It suddenly became much more complex, more so than I expected. The decisions became much tougher. Some are downright painful - what to gamble on and what to give up, what goals to target and what opportunities to sacrifice.

The set up of the game board can change even more dramatically from game to game, more so than in the base game. At the start of the game you already need to analyse the board, together with your starting hand. Sometimes there are very attractive paths with many one-free-step tokens. Sometimes there are paths allowing you to collect many stones, sometimes of the same colour, sometimes of different colours. Some spaces are "joker" spaces, which means you can play a card of any colour to move a pawn onto them. They can be very tempting to use at times. They can also give you some flexibility, but of course at the cost of committing a pawn.

At five fixed spaces, stacks of stones are set up. Each stack has 5 stones of the same colour. There are 5 other stones (each in a different colour) which are randomly distributed for each game. The distribution of these stones can affect your strategy on how you want to collect stones.

In the games that Michelle and I had played, we tried various different approaches - emphasising on collecting stones, making use of the one-free-step tokens to advance our pawns quickly, emphasising on the bonus points tokens, etc. I was surprised that the decisions in the game were much tougher that I had expected. The possibilities had increased a lot, and quite often I felt very very stuck - not in the way that I was completely stuck and had no choice, which would mean I didn't need much time to make my next move, but in the way that I had many unpleasant choices to make, and I was forced to choose one. Should I sacrifice the cards of one colour? Should I give up collecting some specific coloured stones?

The race element is very much still in. The single stone spaces drive this. Also towards game end, it can be a race to get your pawns to cross the safety line (i.e. game end triggering condition). However I do find that in this expansion (at least with 2P games) it is harder to get 5 pawns in total to cross the safety line. We often run low on useable cards, or pawns in useful positions, and we more often end the game by exhausting the draw deck compared to the base game.

Two of my white pawns, one tall and one short, have reached the same 10pt spot. In this expansion you are not restricted to one pawn per path, because the concept of 5 independent paths does not exist anymore.

I played a 3-player game with Chong Sean and Michelle, and it's very different from the 2-player game. It is much tougher to move many pawns to the end of the paths. You simply don't have much time to do this, because the game end is still triggered by 5 pawns in total crossing the safety line. In our game, I moved 4 (out of 5) pawns, while Chong Sean and Michelle only focused on 2 each. They quickly moved all their pawns to the end area, while I struggled with my 4 pawns all far behind still on negative point spaces or on low points spaces. Eventually Michelle moved one more pawn. At game end none of my pawns crossed the safety line. I kept them on the line exactly (8pt spaces). I realised it wasn't such a bad idea, because even if I moved those extra spaces to the end, I'd get only 10pts. This is one interesting aspect of the game, the points along the paths go up and down, so it is desirable to stop your pawns at the peaks. You'd only want to move it further if you are confident that you can reach the next peak, or if there are some nice tokens along the way.

To my surprise, I actually won this game narrowly, because I had been collecting many stones.

The Thoughts

Keltis: Neue Wege, Neue Ziele is definitely not just another simple variation of Keltis. It adds many excruciating decisions to the game, and feels very different from the base game. I would even say this is not a game for casual players, unlike the base game, which is quite non-gamer friendly. I highly recommend the game, even if you have tried and did not like Keltis.

Saturday 20 February 2010

airships and prototypes

I played Airships again, at Carcasean, and still quite enjoy it. It's a dice game that doesn't drag and doesn't feel repetitive. The game progresses quickly - your capability keeps improving and you keep having new targets to shoot for. In fact it feels like a race game. You always need to balance between improving your dice-rolling capability and earning victory points. There are quite many small but interesting decisions throughout the game.

Airships feels more like an engine-building game than a dice game. I think that's why it doesn't feel repetitive. Your engine is always improving. You always have a sense of progress. The pace is fast so if you don't grab the victory point cards quickly they'd be gone in no time.

I also played a prototype designed by Wan. When I read blogs and boardgame news, one of the things that I most dislike is people writing about prototypes, because these articles can only tell you very little. I'd rather the writers do not write anything at all about these prototypes which they aren't allowed to talk much about in the first place. So I won't write much about Wan's prototype. Instead I'll just mention it was interesting to put on the playtester's hat.

When I learned and played the game, I automatically tried to analyse it for problems and possible improvements. It was interesting to see a game from this perspective, and fun to imagine that your feedback could bring about some design changes in a game. I quite enjoyed the game, just like when playing any published game, even though I knew it wasn't final. The game was thematic and fun, and Wan had put in quite a lot of effort. He definitely knew the subject material.

I probably won't be able to play with Wan again until my next trip back to Kota Kinabalu, which is half a year away. I look forward to trying the game again.

Friday 19 February 2010

Ice Flow

Ice Flow won some British game awards. Although I am generally not interested in race games, I decided to give it a go since it's available at Carcasean. I played a 2-player game against Chong Sean.

The Game

In this game the players each manage a team of 3 explorers, and race to get all their explorers to cross the Bering Strait. Each player's explorers start at different research stations in Alaska, and need to reach different stations in Siberia to win the game. There are ice floes floating around the strait. The explorers can step on these to cross the strait. This reminds me of the old arcade game Frogger. The explorers can also swim in the sea, but only for a short while.

There are two types of "tools" available to the explorers - fishes and ropes. A fish gives enough energy to an explorer to swim one hex of water. It can also be used to distract attacking polar bears, even to lure them to attack an opponent's explorer. Rope are needed for climbing ridges - some ice floes have steep ridges which are impassable unless you use a rope. You can also use a rope to catch 2 fish (don't ask me how). The polar bears are generally harmless, unless your explorer steps onto the ice floe with one on it (they are pretty territorial I guess), or some other nasty explorer throws a fish in your direction luring a polar bear to charge at you.

Every turn, a player does two things - move an explorer, and move/rotate/add an ice floe - in any order. Moving ice floes in important for setting up a path for yourself. Rotating ice floes may help you save some rope. Adding new ice floes onto the board can bring new rope or fish, and may also be helpful in creating a path for your explorers. On the other hand, manipulating ice floes can also be very effective in hindering your opponents.

When moving an explorer, he can move as far as he wants, as long as all the movement rules are followed - spending fish when he swims, spending rope when he climbs a ridge. He can also collect an item when he stops.

At the start of the game there will be 12 ice floes seeded on the game board. In our game one of the ice floe cards drawn was the Diomede (island) card, thus only 11 ice floes at game start.

Player backpack on the left - each player can have 3 items at any time. Reference card on the right - on your turn you can do one of three types of ice floe actions, and one of two types of explorer actions.

The Play

In the game that Chong Sean and I played, most of our explorers stopped at Diomede, a small island between Alaska and Siberia, at some point. We were quite aggressive in collecting tools, and they became scarce quickly. I imagine with 3 or 4 players the resources will be very tight. Admittedly we rarely did the add ice floe action, which may be why we have a shortage of resources. With more players probably the add ice floe action will need to be taken more frequently.

One tricky part of the game was balancing setting up the board for yourself and for your opponent. If you set up a nice path for your explorer, your opponent may use the exact same path for one of his explorer on the next turn. Each ice floe can hold two explorers.

Our competition was quite tight, until I did something nasty to Chong Sean's last explorer who was trailing quite far behind. I used an ice floe action to move him to a far corner of the board. Since we hadn't introduced many new ice floes, is was tough for this isolated explorer to catch up to the rest. Eventually I won the game 3 vs 1. In hindsight, Chong Sean probably shouldn't have allowed that explorer to get into such a vulnerable position.

Near game end - Two of my (black) explorers have already reached Siberia.

The Thoughts

The game is an interesting and always-changing puzzle of how to get your explorers to the other side efficiently. You need to identify the opportunities for helping yourself as well as for hindering your opponents. Sometimes it's a tough choice choosing between these. Ice Flow actually doesn't feel like a race game. It is quite spatial. It also allows some really nasty plays. By pointing a polar bear at an opponent's explorer, you can possibly force him to go back to a start station.

Thursday 18 February 2010


Klunker is an older (1999) card game by Uwe Rosenberg, who used to be famous for Bohnanza, but is of course now very well known for Agricola and Le Havre. I read that it is a purer form of the gameplay of Bohnanza, and decided to try it since Carcasean has it.

The Game

The objective of the game is to earn the most money by collecting sets of jewelery. At the start of every round, everyone draws cards to a hand size of 6. Each player can then place some jewelery in his or her shop window, to try to attract others to buy it. They also then place jewelery into their own safes (visible to others). Placing jewelery into safes is done one card at a time. When a player passes, he gets the lowest numbered buying card. These buying cards determine the turn order for buying cards from the shop windows, and is often an important consideration. Cards purchased from a shop window also go to your safe.

The most important mechanic of the game is how to convert collected jewelery into money. Whenever you have 4 cards of the same type in your safe, you must sell that set for money. In the best case scenario, you earn $4, by turning over those 4 cards and putting them into your bank (the card backs show a money side). In the worst case scenario, you may only earn $1 for one set. The amount you earn depends on how "messy" your safe is. For each additional type of jewelery you have in your safe, you earn $1 less. E.g. if you have 4 nose rings and 2 earrings, you sell your nose rings for $3. If you have 4 nose rings and 4 earrings, you first sell your nose rings for $3, then you sell your earrings for $4 (because after selling the nose rings, the earrings are the only remaining type). However, no matter how "messy" your safe is, you earn at least $1 for a set. There is a special case of necklaces - these always sell for $4, but these cards are rarer.

At the end of every round, everyone draws enough cards to reach a hand size of 6. So there is incentive to use your cards as quickly as possible, because the more you use, the more you'll draw to use next round. However the tricky part is it's not always desirable to use your cards. The game ends when the deck runs out.

A player's play area consists of 3 sections. On the left is the shop window (which has four cards in this photo). In the centre is the bank, i.e. where you put your money, which is basically cards turned over to the money side. On the right is your safe. Here I am collecting two types of jewelery. There's also a start player card shown in this photo.

You need as many buy order cards as there are players. They are normally put in the centre of the table. They are collected during the "put cards into safe" phase, and then used in the "buy from shop window" phase.

The Play

Klunker is not a game you'll understand from reading or listening to the rules. You really need to play to get a feel for how it works. In our game, we tried different strategies. I mostly tried to put "good" displays at my shop window, to entice others to buy from me (I'd earn $1), i.e. putting out cards of a single type (or very few types). Chong Sean mostly tried to put out "painful decision" displays at his shop window, to mess up the buyer's safe, i.e. he has the card type that the buyers need to complete sets, but also other "rubbish" card types that the buyers don't want. Shan's cards were too good. She completed set after set without needing to buy from the rest of us much. Wan and I got a bit stuck. We used up our starting cash ($1 only), and couldn't complete any set quickly to earn some money. So for many rounds we couldn't buy from any one else's shop window. This is a brutal poor-gets-poorer game! Well, I guess the two of us didn't realise we had stepped into a downward spiral until it was too late. Lesson learnt. Needless to say, we came last and second last. Shan, with her amazing set completion, won the game by a huge lead.

The Thoughts

Klunker is a light and quick game, but is also quirky so it takes a little while to grasp. Kind of like Bohnanza I guess. However it is quicker than Bohnanza. Some games of Bohnanza can drag quite a bit. I guess it depends on the players. Negotiations in Bohnanza can sometimes drag. Negotiations are key in Bohnanza while in Klunker the trick is how to put cards in your shop window, and how to buy from others' shop windows. Most of the time you can't complete sets by yourself and need to buy cards from others. You also want to get rid of cards you don't want by selling them to other players. In Klunker this is done in a subtle way, definitely less straight-forward than Bohnanza. There is some luck in the game, and if you get really lucky (like Shan did in our game), you can run away with the game and noone can stop you. It's the same in Bohnanza.

Klunker is a clever little card game which I think will be best played with 4 or more. It requires analysis of your opponents' needs and intents, and creative crafting of offers at your shop window. Do you go with a carrot-plus-stick approach? Or a small-carrot approach? Is any willing to pay you $1 for the small carrot? Do you buy back from your own shop window? Quite a number of tricky decisions in such a small package.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Die Dolmengotter

The Game

Die Dolmengotter is an abstract game and an area majority game. The board is made up of squares, hexagons and octagons. There are spaces surrounding these shapes, and during the game the players move their pawns (each player has three) from one space to the next. When a pawn leaves a space, the player can leave a stone on that space. This stone is used to compete for majority in the shapes touched by the space it is on. It also blocks movement from then on.

When there are enough stones surrounding a shape, the player who has majority can place a scoring block (called dolmens) on the shape. As more stones are added to spaces around the shape, other players may match or even exceed the leading player. These players will get to place dolmens on top of or under the existing dolmens on the shape, depending on whether they are achieving sole majority or just matching the leader. If all spaces surrounding a shape are filled up with stones, the shape is scored and the dolmens are permanently removed.

The game ends when either one player uses all dolmens or all players exhaust their stones.

The octagonal pillars are the stones. The big square blocks are the dolmens. They have numbers written underneath (hidden from other players). The Carcassonne-style people (i.e. meeple) are the player pawns, or druids.

Stones block movement of the druids, but other druids don't. A druid can skip over any number of other druids to the next empty spot. Sometimes a druid can be stuck when surrounded by stones. There is one special movement that can help the druid get out of this. He can spend one turn lying down (see the natural coloured and the green coloured druids), and then on the next turn he can fly to any empty space on the board.

The board looks rather boring, but the game is more interesting than it looks. Those symbols around the edges mean that the board is wraparound. Spaces with the same symbol are connected.

The Play

When Chong Sean, Wan, Shan and I started playing, we were quite clueless. The only advice I could give was to try to stick to more central locations and to be where most people are. In this game you need to rely on others, similar to China.

As we played we started to learn what good and bad moves were. We found that we spent most of the time avoiding bad moves, i.e. those that would set up opportunities for others. I was first to score big at an octagon and had a huge lead. However once the game clicked for everyone, I was unable to make many more big scorings and actually ended up being last.

The Thoughts

My impression of the game may be quite wrong, because I later realised I made two very severe mistakes when I taught the game to Chong Sean, Wan and Shan. (Sorry folks!) First, when matching the leader, you don't need a third party present. Because of this misunderstanding we were discouraged to make many moves which should have been worthwhile. The second mistake was when a dolmen was scored, it should have been removed permanently from the game, not returned to the player. No wonder we always had so many x1 dolmens available.

Die Dolmengotter is an interesting abstract game which has a nice tension between cooperation and competition. There are many opportunities for clever plays. You can play both offensively and defensively. It feels like a more complex China. I prefer China myself because of the simplicity and speed, and the density of decisions within such a quick game. Die Dolmengotter is a perfect information game where you need to think a few steps ahead and think of the implications of each possible move. It's a bit dry, but it is quite clever too. It's probably best played with three or more. There is some bluffing in the game, because dolmens (which have values x1 to x4) are placed face-down, and other players do not know what you have played or have remaining. It is a very interactive multiplayer (i.e. >2P) abstract game.

Monday 15 February 2010


Tongiaki is another game played at Carcasean with Wan, Shan and Chong Sean. It's a slightly older game (2004).

The Game

Players are indigenous people trying to explore new islands and establish settlements on these islands. They grow their population and try to have presence on as many islands as possible by game end. At the start of the game, all players have some boats (which represent their people) on Tonga, the starting island. There are 16 island tiles and 16 water tiles in the game. During the game tiles are drawn, and when the last island or water tile is drawn and placed, the game ends.

Each island has a number of beaches, and each beach has a number of slots for boats. On most turns, the active player "has babies" - doubling the number of boats on one island. New boats are placed on empty beach slots, and whenever a beach is filled up, the boats depart to try to discover a new island to settle. Here comes the dangerous part - if a water tile is drawn, and if the number of boat colours in the fleet is less than the number on the ocean path, the whole fleet is lost. This means there is incentive for the players to work together, to improve the chances of successful sea travel.

Whenever you are the only tribe on an island, you can lock it, by declaring it your royal island. Noone else will be allowed to enter this island anymore, and only you score the points for this island. Sometimes this is also useful to block off a section of the board from other players.

The Play

Chong Sean has played this game before, and had a better idea what to do than the rest of us. From quite early on, our natives roughly broke up into two groups, one going east, and the other going northeast. The western group is mostly Shan and Chong Sean's people. The north eastern group has Wan, Chong Sean and my people. The western group found a small island group. The north eastern group eventually found that the start island of Tonga was actually part of a very big island group. Shan was a bit stuck in the west. She had many people, but since there were only hers and Chong Sean's tribes in that area, it was hard to explore further. Wan also had a dilemma. He lost many people to "sailing mishaps", and it was difficult to spread his presence. I was the first to lock an island. I thought I did alright, but not as well as Chong Sean, who had the most presence overall. It is actually quite hard to kick someone off an island. Not impossible, but it is a little tricky.

Still quite early in the game, when we roughly split into two groups heading towards two different directions.

Tonga, on the right, is the start island, and doesn't give scores. The scores of the islands range from 2 to 5. They are written in the centre of the islands.

By mid game, it was very obvious that Chong Sean was leading by a big margin. It seemed impossible to catch up. Then the bash-the-leader / bash-the-game-owner instincts kicked in, and Chong Sean started losing people left, right and centre. Somehow, by a perfect storm of nasty moves, we pushed him down to last position by game end. I, being in second position at mid game, benefited most and I won the game. Wan, whose chances for expansion seemed the most bleak earlier, actually came back to reach 2nd position.

The boats lying down in the centre of islands mean those islands have been locked. They are inaccessible to everyone now. Boats that land here must turn back immediately.

Towards end game.

Notice how Chong Sean (yellow) had been kicked out of the western area by Shan (red). He used to have more presence in the east too, but had lost much of it by now.

The Thoughts

Tongiaki may give an impression of having a lot of luck, because of the tile drawing. I find that many aspects of the game is actually very deterministic, and you can plan and strategise with quite a fair bit of control. Indeed the tile drawing introduces some luck, but the game was more strategic than I had expected. It is quite tactical too. Sometimes the board situation can change dramatically between your turns, and you have to reconsider your plans, who to ally with and who to hurt.

And yes, there can be a lot of hurt in this colourful, palms-swaying-in-the-sea-breeze and innocent-looking game. Whenever you guide a fleet to discover a new island or to land at an already discovered island, you have the power to distribute the arriving boats (with some restrictions), and you can use this power to put your opponents in poor positions, even forcing their boats to set sail and sink. That's one way to force your opponents from an island - forced sailing. Or you can also strand some of your opponents' boats on long beaches, which take a long time to fill up. These boats will likely be stuck for a long time and will waste your opponents' turns.

I enjoyed the game very much, but I think it needs at least four players to be good. I doubt the game will be fun with 2 or 3, especially not 2. The game takes a little getting used to at first, but soon becomes quite quick. There is quite a bit of planning and strategising that can be done, despite the simple rules and gameplay. It gives me a similar feeling as when I play Carcassonne - quite fast-paced, and has some interesting decisions throughout most of the game. It's a bit deeper than Carcassonne, and is about the same weight. There is more player interaction than Carcassonne because you are forced to work together on the sailing trips.

I probably would have bought the game if it works better with 2 players. I did a quick search at and was surprised to find that it is still available at some online retailers.

Sunday 14 February 2010

The BoardGameGeek Game

Wan and Shan are two new friends whom I got to know via the internet. Well, strictly speaking I got to know them through Chong Sean and Han, because the four of them gamed at Carcasean Cafe together. I'm back in Kota Kinabalu now and finally had the chance to meet Wan and Shan in person at Carcasean Cafe. We met up on Sat 6 Feb 2010, and played The BoardGameGeek Game.

The BGG Game is designed by Richard Breese, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of When producing the game, Richard invited BGG members to submit their avatars for him to put on the box of the game. I submitted mine too, and was in time to get it included. Chong Sean submitted his but was declined due to copyright concerns. His avatar is a passenger from Ticket to Ride: Marklin.

The Game

The game itself is about selling and buying (or rather, collecting) games. Every player takes two roles - game publisher and game collector. Throughout 6 rounds, you supply games to some shops, and you also buy games using three buyers, who are dice. You can't buy your own games. You need to try to collect sets of other players' (i.e. publishers') games. Each time another player buys your game, you earn money, and money = score. At game end, you also earn money based on how impressive of a game collection you have. Each game in a completed set (i.e. of the same number) is worth $6, else it is worth the number on it (which ranges from 1 to 6). So there is less incentive to make sets of games with higher numbers. Duplicate games are worth $0.

The numbers on the games determine which shops you can sell them to, kind of like different types of games with different target audience being sold at different types of shops. Different shops have different price ranges, so this is one consideration when you decide how much you want to sell your game at. When placing your game at a shop, you can decide how to price it (within that shop's price range) and how long it will be available. You can price it high (i.e. you'd earn more if another player buys it), and it will be available for longer at the shop. You can price it low and it will be available for a shorter time. Sometimes you may want to do this to prevent your opponents from collecting complete sets.

Throughout the game all your games (both the ones published by your company that you are going to supply to the shops, and the ones that you as a collector have bought) are hidden behind a screen. So it will be difficult to keep track of what everyone has sold and bought. You can try to keep track of some of this information, but it is quite impossible to remember everything.

One nasty thing that you can do to your opponents is false advertising. Two of your 20 published games are blanks. Games are supplied to shops face-down, and buyers are sent to the shops before they are turned face-up. So you can place a blank tile at a shop to lure others there, only to later find that there is no game for them to buy.

Behind my screen. The top row are games from my publishing company (Treefrog line of Warfrog) which I have not yet supplied to the shops. The bottom row are games that I have bought. All happened to be from Ystari.

The game board is basically 6 game shops. The dice are people visiting the shops to buy games.

Close-up of the #4 shop. From the stand-up sign board before the door, you can see that this shop only sells games numbered 3 to 5. The numbers in the red arrows are the prices for the games in those rows. There are 9 spots where publishers can place games. Currently 3 games are sold here. There is only one buyer here, my green die showing 1. Although the positions of your dice are determined by what numbers you roll, you can pay money to reroll or to move your dice.

The Play

We played a 4-player game, Wan, Shan, Chong Sean and I. It was the first time for all of us, so we didn't have much idea what to do. We just tried to make sure we bought games with every buyer (die) every round. Turn order is the game is very important, because it is important to be able to choose which game to buy, and sometimes being late in turn order means you can't even buy at all. To be first in turn order, you need to have your buyers at the lower range shops, which sometimes may conflict with your buying (collecting) plans. It can be a tough decision.

From the start of the game, Chong Sean was trailing the rest of us in points. His publisher wasn't selling many games. I wonder whether it was because he had been intentionally placing his games in such a way that they went out of circulation quickly. Or were his games priced too high and the rest of us were cheapskates? However he was quite successful in buying games. I think he was the least burnt in terms of wasting a buyer because of being unable to buy a game.

I went with an undercutting strategy. I tried to price my games cheaper than others to attract buyers. I'm not sure how successful I was. Wan, Shan and my scores were not far from each other throughout most of the game. In fact towards game end my score fell behind more and more and I wasn't far ahead of Chong Sean.

When the game ended, Chong Sean had collected 5 complete sets (the max possible being 6 sets). That 90pts! Wan had 4 completed sets, and Shan and I only had 3. Wan won the game with 134pts, only 2pts ahead of Chong Sean. Wan's lead during the game was too big for Chong Sean to overcome.

The Thoughts

The BGG Game feels rather like an abstract game to me. However when I reflected on the mechanics I was surprised to find quite a number of thematic elements. Duplicate games in your collection are worth nothing. Games which are not bought at shop will be discounted in the next round. Even the whole set-collecting aspect reminds me of the Alea published games, which are numbered and tempt gamers to collect them all. I guess the only glaring unthematic part is how buying a game costs nothing. When Chong Sean explained this rule, I quickly tried to apply it to real life, pointing at a game in his shop and saying, "I want that one." Unfortunately some things stay in the game...

The game is of medium complexity. On the whole there is nothing that really draws me in, despite there being interesting decisions and strategies. But this game is a much more than just a game. It is a snapshot of the BGG community and the boardgame industry (albeit mostly focusing on Eurogames). I recognise all the games inside, and have played many of them. The game contains tons and images from many many other games, many of which I recognise. If I were less unsentimental, I would buy a copy. But since I try to be very strict about game buying, I won't be getting this game, because I don't think I will be playing it a lot.

One thing that I didn't like is the use of the screens. Not that the screens themselves is an issue. It is the memory part of the game that I didn't like. If you can remember what games have been sold and bought, you will do well. The screens are there to prevent you from having perfect information. I can understand they are important to prevent analysis paralysis, but I can't help having the unpleasant feeling that if I were less lazy in remembering I would have done better at the game.

Somehow I don't have as big a problem with the use of screens in Arkadia. In Arkadia you just need a general feel of what seal colours your opponents have been collecting. That's sufficient for you to make meaningful decisions. In The BGG Game if you want to be 100% sure of your moves, you'd need to remember the exact numbers and colours of the games that your opponents have bought. That's too painful so I don't bother. And having a rough feel doesn't quite cut it, e.g. remembering that Wan has collected many #1 games isn't really helpful if I don't remember whether he has collected the full set, and which colours he has collected.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Race for the Galaxy storage

17 Jan 2010. (This joke will be lost in translation unless you are a Malaysian or Singaporean Chinese) When these two first-to-3-Uplift-cards and first-to-3-Alien-cards goals come up in the same game (the bottom centre two), Michelle and I would say, "Oh it's Ah Beng and Ah Lian again". Ah Beng and Ah Lian are common Chinese names in the Hokkien dialect, often used to refer to men and women respectively who are uncultured, unfashionable, and generally uncool and embarrassing to hang around with. "Ah Lian" because, of course, it sounds a little like "Alien"; and "Ah Beng" because Ah Beng always goes together with Ah Lian.

In this particular game I had moderate military strength (5), but was able to use my temporary military strength to settle the 9-defense Rebel Stronghold (highest valued military world). I had to discard the New Military Tactics card for the 3-strength boost, and also had to discard a card from my hand to gain the 1-strength boost from Rebel Convict Mines. I had drawn the 7-defense Rebel Homeworld card too, but I wasn't able to settle it, since I had to use my New Military Tactics for the Rebel Stronghold. Not enough military strength left.

Michelle had this very powerful card combination of Contact Specialist (top right) and Rebel Pact (top centre). Military worlds could be treated as non-military worlds and could be settled at a -3 discount. This meant she could settle 3-defense military worlds for free. To both our surprise, she didn't win this game, because, unfortunately, she didn't draw many military worlds.

This is a step-by-step guide on how I store my Race for the Galaxy:

I own both the expansions Gathering Storm and Rebel vs Imperium, so here are all the components. I use the box of Gathering Storm, because it's small, and because the Rebel vs Imperium box (which I like a lot more) was badly damaged when I received it.

From top to bottom, left to right. (1) Box bottom, with rules to the expansions only. I left the base game rules and ref sheets in the base game box. (2) Box cover. (3) Start worlds cards. (4) The main deck of cards. (5) Military strength track. (6) Orange objective tiles. (7) Red and green player action cards, for Michelle and I respectively. Almost all my games are 2-player games. (8) One bag for all the compenents for solo play, which I don't do nowadays. (9) One bag for spare cards and victory point chips not needed for a 2P game, and other extra cards. (10) One bag for all cubes, markers, victory point chips etc needed for a 2P game. I later realised that I didn't really need the Takeover On/Off marker (because we always play with On anyway), and some of the cubes too, so I moved them to the (9) bag.

First I put the box cover under the box bottom, creating a small tray. I put in the unused-for-2P bag first, and the military strength tracks.

Next the solo components bag go in. I arrange the cards in this order - start worlds, player action cards, the rest of the cards.

Cards on the right, objective tiles in the middle, and the required-for-2P bag on the left, on top of the solo components bag.

A view from an angle. I could have covered this with the box cover, but I didn't even want to bother with opening and closing the box.

Normally I stick in my score recording notepad too. This is a souvenir that a friend brought back from Beijing.

Occasionally I put my camera here too. My camera is an old Canon IXUS 4.0 which I absolutely love, even though it is very very outdated by now. It has broken down once, after about four years of use. I bought another camera then, but I found that I liked my IXUS more than the new one (Panasonic Lumix), so I had it repaired, and continued to use it. Now the Lumix is just lying around waiting for the IXUS to break down beyond repair. The Lumix will itself be very outdated by then, I think.

Tuesday 2 February 2010

shopping binge

I ended 2009 meeting my goal of buying less than 20 games in year. I acquired 19 games in 2009 - 17 bought, 1 was a gift, 1 was bought using vouchers. I didn't count 2 self-made games, and if I did I wouldn't have met my goal. Then in Jan 2010, I went on a shopping binge and bought 10 games. Oops, half my quota gone.

It all started innocently enough. After tracking a dozen or so games released at Essen 2009 (Oct), I have finally narrowed down to just a few I want to buy. When I heard that a friend is coming back to Malaysia from the UK for Chinese New Year, I decided to pull the trigger and asked him to bring them back for me. Buying games from UK online stores is actually not cheap, but at least I will get them soon, and I won't need to worry about taxes. I ordered:

  • Agricola: Farmers of the Moor - I've enjoyed Agricola a lot and the expansion sounds quite interesting, with new challenges to manage.
  • Factory Manager - I like Power Grid a lot and generally like this type of efficiency games. Somehow the theme appeals to me. Also I hear this is good with 2 players.
  • At the Gates of Loyang - Good with 2 players.

Last year I helped a friend in Taiwan with some translation work. My "payment" is in the form of games. I asked for:

  • Tales of the Arabian Nights - Simply because this is something very different. I eventually may not like the game as much as I hope, but I want to have it in my collection anyway.
  • Planet Steam - The "Power Grid-like resource market" piqued my interest. "Complex economic game" made me decide to get it.
  • Funny Friends - This needs more players, and has an adult / mature theme. I hope I will eventually be able to have a large enough regular gaming group for this. I find the theme quite amusing.

Chong Sean (of Carcasean boardgame cafe) was buying some games from, and asked whether there was anything I wanted to get. Shipping was a flat EUR14 (for the whole order). I ordered:

  • Keltis expansion (new board) - I quite enjoy Keltis and have always been interested in getting this expansion. It will make the game more complex, and hopefully more interesting and more fun too.
  • Uruk: Wiege der Zivilisation (Uruk: Cradle of Civilisation) - Card game with a civilisation theme. Since my wife Michelle likes Through the Ages (civ theme) and Race for the Galaxy (card game), maybe this can become one of our regular go-to games.

Then I received an email update from, an online retailer in Singapore, that they were having a sale. Han, Chong Sean and I pooled together to buy some games, and I asked my friend in Singapore Chee Seng to pick up the games and bring them back to Kuala Lumpur. Free shipping! I bought:

  • Dominion: Seaside - This was actually not on sale, but Dominion: Intrigue was. This interested me more than Intrigue, so I decided to get it. I never really played Dominion much. I hope this expansion will make the game more interesting and will make me play it more.
  • In the Shadow of the Emperor - An older game about policital maneuvering in medieval Germany. It's probably best with four. I'm interested in how the many aspects of the game work together. It all seems quite thematic. It may be a bit complex compared to regular Eurogames though. There are quite a lot of details, but they all tie to the theme.

When I think about controlling my game buying, I ask myself why I'm doing it. I realise it's not really because of saving money. I am generally thrifty, but I can afford some more games, since I'm such a big fan and I don't spend much on other things. It is also not really about space. I still have space at home to grow my collection further. I find that the main reason I should control my game buying is so that I can spend enough time on each game to appreciate them better. Less is more. Quality over quantity. I will continue to as much as possible follow my self-imposed rule of 5 plays in first year of purchase.

One thing I should probably do is sell some games, or even give some away. I won't be selling because I want the money, but because I want to make sure the games will be treasured by the persons who buy them. I've always been too lazy to do this though - the hassle of packing games and going to the post office to send them off. Maybe I'll try to peddle some of my games to the Old Town Kopitiam gamers. At least they are near and it's convenient to meet up with them. Any of you want an old and slightly damaged but unplayed Advanced Third Reich?


I am now telling myself "No new games until the second half of 2010!". Let's come back in half a year to see whether I manage to stick to this.