Sunday 27 February 2011

boardgames being mirrors

Han is my boardgame kaki (fellow fan) whom I've known the longest. I realize that there are a lot of things that I don't know about him, even though I see him more than any other friend. When we meet, we play. E.g. I don't know his favourite movie (but I wouldn't be surprised if it has zombies, or elves, or space marines). We do talk about non-gaming stuff, but not much. We don't sit and chat. We always play.

However I do know one aspect of him very well, the part that comes through when we game. I think when you are very immersed in a game, your true character really comes out. You find yourself being honest, being unafraid to be yourself, and being unafraid to become someone else, when you are playing. It's OK to be impolite, brutal, sneaky, treacherous, vengeful, or any sort of character inside the scope of the game. You can allow your alternative personality to surface. You role-play. At another layer, how you conduct yourself as a player (as opposed to the character you play inside the game) also shows what kind of a person you are. Win gracefully? Lose graciously? Flexible about taking back moves? How are rule disputes resolved?

Recently at a (non-gaming) gathering with Chee Seng, he brought along a Japanese friend Hajime who spoke limited English. Chee Seng himself spoke limited Japanese. So conversation was challenging and involved much usage of a translation program and a dictionary program (both on iPhone). When Chee Seng mentioned to Hajime that I was a big boardgame fan, I suddenly thought of getting everyone to sit down to play a game. It didn't happen eventually, because it was late, and the next day was a working day, and I didn't bring any game with me. But I thought the idea was interesting. Chee Seng wondered whether it would be difficult to teach the game, because even basic conversation was tough. I think we would have been able to manage it. I'd just pick a game with simpler rules. With the game components on the table to be used for examples, I think teaching a game would be fine. What I think would have been interesting is how we would get to know Hajime through the game-playing. I think we would have engaged him on an intellectual level (albeit limited by the scope and nature of the game) that we would not have been able to do with our halting conversation in a mix of English and Japanese.

Other than getting to know someone else through boardgames, you can also get to know yourself better. You may discover some aspect of yourself that you never knew existed, or never realised is as strong as it is. I was once surprised by myself when I got rather angry in one game. It was a game with a fair bit of conflict, and I was already doing rather poorly, and yet I was (or at least I felt I was) targeted by another fellow player. I should not have allowed myself to get that upset over a game.

When you get to know someone well through boardgames, or in fact through anything, sometimes you can't articulate what you know about that person. You don't know how to describe it. But given a certain situation, you know how your friend will react. And that's worth more than words.

Thursday 24 February 2011

boardgaming in photos

5 Feb 2011. It was good to bring out Puerto Rico again after a long time. Michelle and I played the 2-player variant game, which is still pretty decent. I decided early to go for the quarries (discounts when constructing buildings).

Galaxy Trucker with expansion. My front was all guns, so I had no fear of any big meteors coming from the front.

We played with the Rough Roads expansion (special rules that apply to everyone). There was this particular card which allowed us to build engines facing the front as well. Normally your engines must point to the rear. During the voyage, certain events will cause your ships to flip front-to-back (and that's why you need those front-facing engines). We also played with the Evil Machinations expansion (special event cards than are seeded by the players and are only known to the players who seed them). I had seeded a card which forced you to pay tax for batteries, so I didn't build any component that required batteries. That didn't turn out to be such a good idea. I didn't have any shields...

I had three rich men's cabins on this spaceship - the orange coloured cabins with lone astronauts. These were rich men who would pay to join your dangerous voyage just for kicks.

Two Rough Roads cards. Infected Goods kills your human crew if you need to use them to load the goods. Cosmic Psychosis can make human crew go crazy and bomb their own cabins.

That hole on the left between the rich man's cabin and the left-pointing cannon was caused by an event card. Luckily all the components around it were connected to other parts of the ship, so I didn't lose too many components.

Damage taken to my left rear.

6 Feb 2011. At the Gates of Loyang. Would this make a nice mobile phone wallpaper? That little green glass bead doesn't come with the game. I added some of these to be used as score markers.

I planted a lot of red turnips, because many of my regular customers wanted them.

I had many helpers! I did not need to worry about this causing my two-packs to be too expensive though (normally they would cost $6 because I had 6 helpers), because I had the Official, who made two-packs free. Also I had the Foreman, who could bring the Official back to me after I used him.

6 Feb 2011. Sid Meier's Civilization. This was my 3rd game, also a 3-player game versus Han and Allen. I was the Egyptians and got myself the wonder which gave extra Trade every round. That meant I did very well with my science. I aimed for a science victory, and later also tried to get coins so that the economic victory could be my backup plan. I realised that if you can only rely on techs to reach 15 coins, you must pick all the techs that allow you to collect coins, not a single one less. 3 tech cards let you collect up to 4 coins each by fulfilling specific criteria (that makes 12), and another 3 tech cards give you a coin when you research them (adding 3 to 12 makes 15). This means you have fewer choices in selecting other techs. There are other ways of gaining coins, e.g. via others' event cards, or great people, or on the map, but these are harder to come by. In this photo you can see I have 10 coins.

Han and Allen. They are smiling and they look friendly, but they are actually engaged in a bitter war. See those unit cards on the table.

Allen (blue) had sent two armies to threaten Han's frontier town. Han (yellow) quickly assembled a big army group and attacked Allen's armies. This was when things started to go downhill for Allen. Han was the Germans, i.e. militarily very strong. He had sent some armies to blockade resources at one of my cities, and send some others to prevent Allen from building his 3rd city. Allen had tried to go for a cultural victory, since it was something none of us have tried before. Unfortunately for him, once war broke out and distracted him from writing poetry, his studies in fine arts slowed down greatly and the momentum was lost. I think culture victory is rather risky.

And then Han nuked my (green) super-production city, completely wiping it out and destroying two armies that were there.

After nuking my city, Han attacked and destroyed Allen's second city. He was unstoppable. I was going for science victory (researching the Level 5 tech - space flight), but I couldn't make it in time. In the same round that I would reach the Level 5 tech, Han would be able to conquer Allen's capital and thus claim military victory. In the sequence of phases, army movements (and battles) are done before research. In that final round, both Allen and I desperately gathered culture and progressed on the culture track to draw culture cards, hoping that we'd draw something that could be used to stop or delay Han.

Unfortunately none of the culture cards could stop Han. As part of progressing on the culture track, I gained one great person. I drew a great person tile. It was an ugly fat man. But at that moment in history, he was the handsomest sight. He gave me my 15th coin to win an economic victory!

I had 13 coins on my tech cards and 1 from an event. It was quite impossible to gain more using my Code of Laws tech card because it required winning battles. I wasn't exactly a formidable military power, and there weren't anymore barbarians around to kill.

So from the three games that we've played, we've had a military victory, a science victory, and now an economic victory.

This was my tech tree in the last round. I had 13 coins on my tech cards, and 2 on my civ card (Egypt). My tech pyramid was built with no waste at all and if we had reached the last phase of the round I would have been able to research the Level 5 tech to win a science victory.

15 Feb 2011. Playing Category 5 / Take 6 at a Chinese New Year gathering with friends. Christy, Keith, Sai Keun, Simon, Futt Chin. They were all new to the game.

20 Feb 2011. Finally, I got to play my own copy of Struggle of Empires for the first time. I've played Chong Sean's copy once. This was the setup for a 7-player game, but later one player couldn't make it so we did a 6-player game, taking out Prussia (grey).

Front: Allen (yellow - Spain), Soraya (blue - France), Azrul (white - Austria). Back: Han (orange - United Provinces / Holland), Afif (red - Britain), me (green - Russia). This was one rare occasion that we had six players.

At the start of the game, my (green) presence was very scattered, having single control tokens in 5 different regions. I didn't get any tile that gave extra income, because my presence was so dispersed, none of the tiles would really give me much. In hindsight, I should not have let my economy go to tatters. I had to take a lot of unrest to raise money. From the early game I worked on establishing control in the German States and Central Europe, because those areas were high-scoring and didn't have much other presence. It worked well enough for me for the first two wars (of three). I was in 1st place after the first war, and 2nd place after the second. It was because I had not completely lost my control in the colonial areas, and I had some control in Europe. However, my empire was not in good shape. I didn' t have many troops to defend my foreign holdings and I steadily lost them to others. Due to my poor economy I took a lot of unrest. At game end, 20 unrest or more meant instant loss. I had 18! That was very dangerous. I fought rather aggressively in the 3rd war, and gained much unrest due to losing armies. I ended the game in 5th place.

This photo was taken during the middle of the second war, i.e. about mid game. Russia (green), France (blue) and Austria (white) were in the same alliance and had strong control over the German States. The United Provinces (orange) had just landed two armies to try to establish control.

Whenever someone's army or navy was killed, he (or she) must take 1 unrest, and the others would cheer "Yay!".

This was after the second war. Austria (white) was leading.

Game end. Winner was Azrul (Austria/white). Soraya (France/blue) was next. She had been trailing and had been keeping a low profile, but by the 3rd war she had established strong control in many areas. She actually scored more than Azrul for the 3rd war itself, just that it wasn't enough to overtake him. Allen (Spain/yellow) and Han (United Provinces/orange) were next, and me (Russia/green) and Afif (Britain/red) were last. I thought I would be the one with the worst unrest (18), but it turned out that Afif was worse. He had 19. Just one more unrest and he'd score 0. At game end he lost 7pts for having the most unrest, and I lost 4pts for having the second most unrest. Even without these penalties we would have been 5th and 6th place anyway.

The game took about 4 hours, which surprised me a little. I had thought we'd take maybe 2.5 to 3 hours. I guess it's partly because most of us were new to the game, and Han and I had only played once before. The game was quite tense throughout. I still don't have a very good grasp of the game (as is evident from my 5th placing, heh heh...). One thing I remembered from my first game was that the game was very much about area majority and how to do that efficiently. I had the same impression from my second game. With 6 players, alliances became more complex compared to my first game with 4 players. One aspect that came out in our 6-player game was the negotiation and persuasion aspect. We spent much effort trying to influence what others did, trying to convince others to attack someone else, trying to persuade others to support us in battles. The alliances in the game was much more than just the formal alliances determined at the start of each war. The formal alliances were more a mechanism to stop players from the same alliance from attacking one another, than a mechanism to allow players to attack the other alliance. We were all at one another's throats, and quite often we lamented that we couldn't attack so-and-so because we were in the same alliances. Gosh... boardgames bring out the worst in us.

Saturday 19 February 2011

concise reference sheets updated

I've released a new version of my concise ref sheets (follow this link to download page). New games / updates are:

  1. 1960: The Making of the President (new in v12)
  2. 7 Wonders (typo corrected in v12)
  3. Axis & Allies Europe 1940 (new in v12)
  4. Axis & Allies Global 1940 (new in v12)
  5. Axis & Allies Pacific 1940 (enhanced in v12)
  6. Carson City (new in v12)
  7. Giants (new in v12)
  8. Railways of the World (new in v12)
  9. Shipyard (new in v12)
  10. Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games) (new in v12)
  11. Struggle of Empires (corrected in v12)
  12. Tikal II (new in v12)

Wednesday 16 February 2011


I recently added a blogroll to the side bar of this blog. I follow many blogs using Google Reader. I only recently found a way to easily export my subscription list into a widget, which I could then add to my side bar. If you are interested to look for some more boardgame blogs to follow, check out the blogroll.

16 Feb 2011 9:26pm. Oops... in case you are reading this on Facebook, the main location of my boardgame blog is at

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Resident Evil

The Game

Dominion started the deck-building game genre, where you build and customise your personal deck of cards as part the the game. There has been many other games using this deck-building mechanism after Dominion was published. Unfortunately for them I think they are often called Dominion clones, even though they add their own twists. I guess it's because Dominion is still a relatively new game. Resident Evil is the first other deck-building game that I've played.

I have written about Dominion before (and I think most people who read this blog have played it or at least know about it), so I'll just describe the differences. In Resident Evil you are humans exploring a zombie-infested house, and you kill zombies for points, the tougher ones being worth more points. The game ends once the big boss is killed.

In addition to the basic 1 Action and 1 Buy like in Dominion, you also have 1 (optional) Explore, where you may choose to flip over one location card. Often it's a zombie, and hopefully you have enough firepower in play this turn to defeat it. Else you get injured, or you may even get killed. Sometimes you get good stuff from exploring, like special weapons and event cards.

You start the game with these cards in your deck - 2 knives, 1 handgun, and some cheap ammo.

Treasures in Dominion are Ammunition in Resident Evil. Ammunition are dual-use. You can use the same card to both fire weapons and buy stuff on the same turn.

Weapons are a new thing. Most are some form of firearm and need sufficient Ammunition to operate, and deals a certain amount of damage. When you have Weapons in hand, you can just play them together with the required Ammunition when you need to fight a zombie. Naturally more powerful and more efficient weapons cost more to buy.

The cards that you can choose from for the particular scenario that we played. 7 weapon cards (grey edge), 1 item card (green edge) (and it's for healing), 3 ammo cards (red edge), 7 action cards (blue edge).

One big difference with Dominion is defeated zombies, i.e. victory points, aren't added to your deck and thus won't dilute it.

In summary, you try to build your deck to have good firepower, so that you can defeat as many and as valuable as possible zombies that you encounter. While doing this you need to stay alive. There is a race element in grabbing zombies.

The games comes with different scenarios and different ways to play, e.g. a player vs player mode. I've only played the basic mode.

The Play

Han, Allen and I did a 3-player game. We were all new to the game so at first we weren't sure what to buy or how to gauge whether it's risky to do an Explore. I applied the Dominion mantra of "when in doubt, buy silver". I kept buying the Silver-equivalent Ammunition. That worked out quite well. I didn't do much Exploration in the early game but after building up a strong arsenal, I killed many zombies. Almost every hand allowed me to Explore and kill zombies. The special ability of my character certainly helped too. Every turn I could remove a card from my deck and give it to someone else. So as I trimmed my deck to be more efficient, I also clogged up Han and Allen's decks with weak cards. I also used one of the Action cards to trim my deck (and dilute the others' decks).

This was my character. Top right corner is your starting health level. Text below are unique abilities, which are only effective after you have killed zombies worth a certain number of points.

I used a lot of one card which allowed me to chain actions and sometimes draw a lot of cards. The card was something like Village in Dominion. However we later realized we had played that card wrong. We neglected the special text, which asks you to return a card to your deck. So I had enjoyed an unfair advantage up to the point that we realized the error.

Both Han and Allen picked up some special weapons during Exploration. Han had a Gatling gun which dealt the same amount of damage as the Ammunition fed into it, unlike normal weapons which take a specific amount of Ammunition and deals a specific amount of damage.

Allen's deck somehow grew to be rather large and also ineffective. Despite some early kills, he later struggled.

When the big boss first appeared, it could not be defeated and went back to the bottom of the location deck. It even killed me. Thankfully with beginners' rules you come back to life (as a human, not zombie), just that you start with fewer life points and you lose one turn. Undefeated zombies go back to the location deck so as the deck runs out you know the remaining zombies are the tough ones.

We used glass beads to track damage. They don't come with the game. Defeated zombies were tucked under my character card. Top left - yellow herb which can be used for healing. Bottom left - special event card gained from exploring. It boosts my points if I kill more than one zombie in a turn. Right - card back.

Towards the end, it was a race to draw a powerful enough hand to be able to Explore and then kill the big boss. We knew we needed firepower of 90. If I could draw two Magnums and the required Ammunition that would give me firepower of 100. Eventually it was Han who managed to kill the boss using his Gatling gun. Although I had been leading most of the game, the big boss was worth a lot of points. We totaled our scores and I beat him by just one point. We did play some rules wrong, so the result might have been different if we had played right.

The Thoughts

Comparing base game to base game, and taking the different game modes of Resident Evil aside, I think Dominion has more variety and strategy. Resident Evil takes away the challenging aspect of managing gaining VP cards and the dilution it causes to your deck. It adds the tension of to-Explore-or-not, from turn to turn, and also from the overall story arc perspective, how early do you want to do it? How well prepared do you want to be before you start romping through the house? Will you miss all the good stuff if you go too late? Will you get yourself killed if you are not well prepared enough?

Resident Evil has a little role-playing. Your character affects how you play.

The game is more thematic than Dominion. I'm not sure how the other game modes play, or whether the game has expansions. At the moment it won't replace Dominion if I want to play a deck-building game, but that's mostly because I'm not a big fan of deck-building games in the first place. So I'm pretty content with Dominion. If you love deck-building games, then you may be interested in Resident Evil.

Monday 14 February 2011

multiple paths to victory

"Multiple paths to victory". This phrase feels very cliche to me. Very often when people praise a game, this phrase is thrown in. It is used so often that I start to feel numb about it and lose grasp of what it means. So I decide to think about it a little and write down my thoughts.

So, what does "multiple paths to victory" actually mean?

That players can pursue very different strategies and every strategy is viable to go for the win? In most Eurogames, to win a game you need to gain the most victory points. So should we consider the different ways of earning victory points different strategies, or are they just variations of the same thing? We are in a race to earn victory points after all. So are the different ways of earning points superficial? To answer my own question, I do consider the different ways of earning victory points different paths to victory. But sometimes I do wonder whether in some games the different paths are meaningful or not. Should a game have very different game end conditions to justify being called a game with multiple paths to victory? E.g. in Liberte, there are two special game-end conditions which ignore victory points earned during the game.

I once created a geeklist at to explore games with alternative victory conditions. However I guess the discussion in that list illustrates more "multiple possible game-end conditions that you need to watch out for" rather than "multiple strategies that can be used during the game".

Is "multiple paths to victory" always a good thing?

I guess generally yes, because usually that means you have meaningful choices to make. However in some cases the multiple paths may be an illusion, e.g. when there really is only one best strategy to go for. And sometimes some games with "multiple paths to victory" (let's start abbreviating this to MPTV) just don't click with me. So having MPTV doesn't guarantee a good game, or a game you'll like. Diamonds Club does have MPTV, but somehow it just rubs me the wrong way. To a lesser extent, Macao too. There are meaningful decisions to be made, and there are different strategies to pursue. I think it's the disjoint between game mechanism and theme that turns me off. Somehow the MPTV feels like it's there for the sake of being there, and for making the game technically sound. It didn't translate to "fun" for me. Well, "fun" is very subjective I guess.


Let's take Hansa Teutonica as another example. Somehow it clicks with me. It definitely has MPTV. Tons of it. But it is pretty much an abstract game, and theme-to-game-mechanism link is worse than Macao and Diamonds Club. I think what works for me is the intense player interaction, the importance of watching and hindering your opponents, and the wide possibilities. So much so that I didn't mind the theme at all.

Hansa Teutonica

So I'd say although MPTV is generally good, it is far from being the deciding factor for whether you'll like a game.

So how important is MPTV compared to other aspects of a game?

As I tried to make a list, I realised it is quite hard to list down the measures for determining a good game. Many aspects and features of games can be good or bad for different people. Very much up to personal preference, e.g.:

  • Tight choices or lots of freedom
  • Unforgiving or otherwise
  • Confrontational or otherwise
  • Has negotiation / manipulating other players or otherwise
  • Amount of luck / randomness

Here are some that I can think of, which I think most people can agree are indicators for a good game. I leave out "fun", because it's too subjective a word.

  • Meaningful decisions / good play shows results
  • High player interaction
  • Minimal downtime / constant involvement
  • Game length appropriate for depth / fun gained
  • Narrative / game arc / the game feels different at different stages
  • Interesting and well represented theme
  • Strong theme-mechanism link
  • Good components / artwork

How would you rank MPTV compared to these qualities?

I thought about this, and find that I rank it in the lower half. Not that it's unimportant (or that any of the qualities above are unimportant), just that there are many other qualities which are of higher priority to me. The list above roughly indicates my priorities, and MPTV sits below "Narrative".

My conclusion

A good game (maybe except for short / simple games) should have some form of MPTV as a minimal requirement. I feel MPTV shouldn't be used as a praise. It should be expected, like expecting a boardgame to come with a box. You should only use MPTV to praise a game when it has an unusually wide and interesting strategy space for the players to explore.

Friday 4 February 2011

Sid Meier's Civilization

The Game

Sid Meier's Civilization, released by Fantasy Flight Games in 2010, was one of the recent hot games. It is licensed from the award-winning PC game, and has many elements of the electronic version.

Each player starts the game with a small village, a tiny band of warriors and one primitive technology. From these humble beginnings you develop and grow your civilization into a huge empire. You learn new technologies, explore new territories, build new cities, raise armies, construct buildings, gather wealth, subjugate barbarians, build impressive wonders, wage war, change governments, develop culture, have great people grace your cities. And you do all these in four hours or less.

There are many aspects of the game, and I won't try to describe all. Instead I'll talk about the game from the perspective of the 4 main "currencies" in the game, and how they relate to the victory conditions. The "currencies" are Hammers (production), Trade, Coins, and Culture. Your cities collect Hammers, Trade and Culture from the 8 tiles surrounding them, which are called the city outskirts. Your scouts can collect some on behalf of them too. You use Hammers to build things - armies, scouts, units, buildings, wonders. You use Trade to develop technologies, and you can convert Trade to Hammers too at a 3:1 ratio. You use Culture to advance on the Culture Track. Each advancement gives an event card or a great person. Event cards have many different effects, and so far from what I've seen, many are defensive or can be used defensively, e.g. allowing you to kill or disrupt enemy armies. Coins are difficult to gain. Most require specific technologies, and require certain actions to be performed, or resources to be traded in. Coins are very useful. Normally whenever you spend Trade on research, you exhaust all of it. With each Coin owned, you keep one Trade.

Most of your Hammers, Trade and Culture are collected from your cities. You can construct buildings and wonders in your cities to boost these. If you gain great people, they boost these too. So Civilization is very much about building up your nation - to be bigger, stronger, richer, smarter than the others.

Top row: markers to indicate which tech level your units (infantry, archers and cavalry) are at, and also whether you already have airplanes. Second row: Scout figure and army figures. Board: The Roman civilization board. Top left is the Romans' special ability. Bottom left is the current form of government. Bottom right is the starting technology. The two dials are for Trade (outer) and Coins (inner). This board is thin card and not a hard cardboard. It's functional no I have no problem with it. Just don't be disappointed if you buy the game.

My starting city, i.e. my capital. You start with one army figure and one scout figure just outside your city. The icons on the squares indicate what can be harvested from them.

Setup for a 3-player game. 7 map tiles to be discovered. The main board on the right shows: (a) available wonders of the world that can be built, in that small section at the top, (b) buildings that can be constructed at your cities, if you have the prerequisite tech and the right terrain, in the middle, (c) unit cards that can be drawn, with each player's unit level marker, at the bottom, (d) the long culture track on the left.

Now let's look at how the currencies relate to the four victory conditions:

  1. Military - conquer an opponent's capital. You'll need Hammers to build your armies and units. You'll need Trade to research military techs to make your soldiers stronger, move faster, move across water, etc. Coins would help with your research. So you see, it's all inter-related. You need to be an all-rounder.
  2. Science - research space flight. You need Trade and Coins. Trade for the research. Coins to help you reach the expensive techs. You probably want some buildings that give extra Trade too.
  3. Economy - 15 Coins. Some specific techs allow you to gain Coins. Sometimes you can gain coins from the map too, or events or other unusual means. Mostly it's from techs. You will need to plan ahead to go for these techs. This restricts your tech choices a bit.
  4. Culture - reach the end of the Culture track. Wonders help with gaining Culture. Some map locations give Culture. Buildings too. Some techs let you trade incense for Culture. There are quite many ways. Using your cities to gain Culture means you forgo using them to raise armies, construct buildings, collect resources though, so you will probably fall behind in some areas. The event cards and great people that you gain from Culture advances may compensate for that, depending on whether you draw useful cards.

My tech pyramid. Level 2 techs must be built at the 2nd level, and must be placed above two level 1 techs. Pottery and Code of Laws are techs that allow me to collect Coins.

The guy living south of my city is a Great Person. He gives 1 Trade and 2 Culture.

One thing that differs from the PC game is a city can build more than one of the same building type. However there are terrain restrictions for buildings. So you need to pay attention to your terrain. They will influence which strategy you want to pursue.

The Play

I have played two games, all being 3-player games against Han and Allen.

Game 1 - Han Americans, Allen Chinese, me Romans (~3h)

I started off very well, and was quick to get my 2nd and 3rd cities established. I did will in research, and had a decent number of Coins, helped by two Level 1 techs that I had, one of which was my free starting tech. Militarily I had decent strength too, much helped by having the techs to upgrade my units. Since I was the obvious leader, Allen started to move against me. I had the Oracle wonder which helped me during battle (opponent reveals hand before battle starts), but unfortunately it was made obsolete by Allen via a tech + resource ability. Han also started to move against me. I had to go on the defense. Han's Americans could swap Trade for Hammers at a much better rate, and had been catching up in his overall infrastructure quite well. He researched Flight, which allowed his armies to move 6 spaces, and also they could ignore enemy cities and troops. He was about to attack one of my non-capital cities near his border. Then we realised that with Flight, he could bypass it and go straight for my capital. I hadn't realise that earlier and hadn't walled my capital. There was some risk for Han too though. He hadn't upgrade his infantry so they were still quite weak. After that climatic battle, my capital fell, and Han won a military victory. Allen grumbled that I shouldn't have encouraged Han to go straight for the capital. He was planning to do that on his turn.

The map is very quickly uncovered. The red circles are hostile villages which need to be conquered before you can gain their benefits. At this point I (green) had built my second city, in the map tile just above my capital.

My capital (lower) has one trading post, which gives 1 Culture and 2 Trade. My second city (upper) has two buildings.

The board is getting busy.

It was right for Allen and Han to gang up on me. If they hadn't, I would have cruised to a science victory. I was ahead of them in technology and I had the Trade output to get me the Level 5 tech. Although I had pretty decent infrastructure all-around, my military wasn't strong enough to go 1-on-2. The defensive battle slowed me down, early skirmishes further weakened my military, and since both Allen and Han were more or less on par with me in military techs, I couldn't hold them back long enough for a science victory. Not by a long stretch.

A battle between Allen and I. Having more army figures stacked together means drawing more cards during battle, which is very important.

Allen's group of 3 armies (blue) were right next to one of my cities. Han's group of 4 armies (yellow) were also approaching mine. Since Han had just discovered Flight, he could fly that army group straight into my capital, ignoring my armies and cities.

My capital fell to Han's army.

Game 2 - Han Egyptians, Allen Germans, me Russians (~2h15m)

Han had very good Trade from early on because of his starting wonder (special ability of the Egyptians), and his tech advanced very smoothly. The Egyptians ability to construct 1 building without paying Hammers was also very helpful in developing his cities. The Germans' (Allen) special abilities were all military related, and in the early game he launched an attack on me. I didn't expect it to come that early, and lost miserably. That more-or-less eliminated me from the game. From that point onwards I had no more options except go on defense. It was survival mode for me. The question was whether Allen could swiftly take my capital and win the game, or I could last long enough for Han to win a science victory.

Unfortunately for Allen, Operation Barbarossa which started 5000 years too early probably slowed both of us down too much. We were engaged in a slow, inefficient war while Han happily grew and advanced. Both Allen and I built our 3rd cities rather late, Allen partly because Han had been using armies to block map locations. The two of them did end up fighting some battles.

I was rather lost. None of the four victory conditions seemed viable to me. I was too far behind, having spent many turns committing my resources to a defensive war. I later went with a Culture focus to help with my defense. It did help, because when Han's huge armies marched towards my capital, hoping for an earlier military victory (compared to a science victory), it was the Culture event cards that helped me fight him back, eliminating quite a number of his armies.

However, that only delayed the inevitable. Han soon went on to win a science victory. Neither Allen nor I could stop him. In hindsight, Allen and I probably should have ganged up on Han, because he had the best start in the game.

In our second game, Allen played the Germans, and he had a military Great Person who gave him +4 strength. Bad bad bad news for me (his target).

I had built a lot of harbours. That white army piece on the right is a unique piece used only by the Russians. They can have 7 instead of 6 armies on the board.

The Thoughts

I like a format that Wan often uses - a list of key thoughts about a game, as opposed to trying to describe the whole game, or even some of the mechanisms. I'll try to use that here.


  • The tech pyramid is the core of the game. It actually defines your civilisation and your strategy more so (I think) than your civilisation's unique traits. No matter which victory you go for, you have to try to keep up in tech, and you have to customise your tech pyramid to help your cause. Science victory is often a good back-up plan if your original objective becomes hard to achieve.
  • Terrain is an important consideration, and is also a limitation, to what you can do with your cities.
  • Battles mostly favour the attacker. This encourages attacks and reduces turtling.

The Good

  • I'm impressed with how so many aspects of a civilisation game, and of the PC game, is compressed into such a relatively short playing time. Yet there is still a lot of flavour.
  • It's fun because there are so many things to do. Usually there's more that you want to do than you are allowed to.
  • Lots of freedom to customise your civilisation, via the techs that you choose to research.
  • The battle system is a little abstract, but I think it's good and appropriate. Many people complain about it.
  • I like how warfare does not bog down the game. Number of armies is limited. Towards late game army movement is high, making it easy to quickly cross the map. Military remains relevant throughout, and yet is kept clean, and not tedious. You can't ignore military. There may not be many battles, but the preparation and anticipation leading up to each of them can be very exciting. Sometimes there may not even be a battle. Armies can be just deterrents. Military is always relevant.

Unit cards. Colour-coded for different troops types. You maintain one deck of unit cards. Whenever a battle starts, you draw some cards from the deck, and use them to fight. After the battle, survivors return to the deck.

The Bad

  • The Culture aspect is a bit isolated. If you go for a Culture victory, you will need to focus on that early and start work on that early. It would likely be too slow if you decide to switch to it halfway through the game. The Culture aspect of the game is not very integrated to other parts of the game. Having some Culture just gives some event cards and great people, which seem to be nice-to-haves rather than essential things. In our games, we didn't spend much effort on Culture, and soon it became no longer a feasible option for victory.
  • To a certain extent, the economic (Coin) victory is also like this. You probably need to start working on it early. However, at least having Coins contribute greatly to a science victory, and indirectly to a military victory too. So you'd feel the effort spent on Coins is worthwhile. With Culture, if you have spent a lot of effort on it, and halfway through you are forced to stop pursuing it, you will likely feel your effort has been wasted and find that you are behind in other aspects of the game.

Overall, I enjoy the game a lot.

Han suggested that when I blog about this I compare it with other civ games. Compared to Francis Tresham's Civilization (1980) (FTC), Sid Meier's Civilization (SMC) has more things to do and more different aspects. Both games have the tech tree as the core of the game though, and in FTC probably more so. One thing that SMC doesn't have is the dramatic rise and fall of civilisations, which in FTC is brought about by the disasters. FTC has more trading / negotiations too.

Unlike Through the Ages (TTA), I probably wouldn't play SMC with my wife. My wife doesn't like war. In TTA, military is still important even if we normally avoid aggressions and wars, because there are still event cards and colonies that require you to have good military. In SMC, you really do need to use your military to at least threaten, and more likely to attack. If you are not prepared to do these, then a big chunk of the game is neutered. Military discussion and my-wife-suitability aside, I think I still like TTA more. I feel there is slightly more rise-and-fall in TTA, whereas SMC is a quick sprint. SMC builds towards a climax. TTA tells a story.

There is also Eagle Games' SMC (EGSMC), published in 2002, with the exact same name. I have not played EGSMC for a very long time and I don't remember much about it. I can only surely say it's longer and less fun.