Wednesday 30 November 2011


Plays: more than 50 games vs AI.

Brawl is a game I discovered by accident when browsing An iPhone version was recently released and I downloaded it to give it a try since it is free (it comes with 3 characters, and there are 3 more you can buy). The artwork isn't quite my kind of thing, and I didn't really expect much from it. However it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I later found out that the designer is James Ernest, who also designed Kill Doctor Lucky and Lords of Vegas, and is the guy behind Cheapass Games.

The Game

Brawl is a 2-player real-time card game which can be played in 45 seconds. Really. The setting is one-on-one fights, and the execution is done using one pre-set deck of cards for each player. There are quite many characters in the Brawl game system, and each is represented by a deck of cards. The card mix of a character determines his (or her) strengths and weaknesses, and makes him unique. The objective of the game is to win the bases (there can be up to three of them) at the centre of the playing area. Once all bases are frozen, the game ends, and whoever wins more bases wins the game. The game is tied if both players win one base each.

Two of the characters available for free in the iPhone game.

The game starts with two base cards at the centre, each portraying one of the fighters. The character on the base is a tiebreaker - if both players have the same strength played onto a base, the character on the base wins this base. During the game bases can be added (player's decks contain bases) and cleared (by Clear cards). Each player start with his deck face-down in front of him. There are no turns and everything is done in real-time. You can play as fast or as slow as you want. At any one time you only have two choices - draw the top card from the deck and place it on top of your face-up pile, or play the topmost card of your face-up pile. This means that other cards in the face-up pile are not accessible, until you use the card(s) above them. So it can be tricky to decide whether you want to cover a good card which you can't use yet. Do you wait until the right moment comes, or do you cover it now, hoping that later enough cards will be used so that this good card becomes accessible again? Often there will be cards that you need to give up on.

The most basic card type is Hit cards. They come in three colours. You play them next to your side of a base card to fight for the base card. Once you commit a colour to a base card, you can only add cards of the same colour to that base. Then there are Block cards, which also come in three colours, and they are usually played on your opponent's side of a base card to stop him from playing more Hit cards.

Clear cards let you remove a base and all cards attached to it from the game. Usually you clear bases that you are losing. You can only clear outer bases, so if there happens to be three bases, the centre base cannot be cleared. This is one consideration when you decide to play a base card (when there are fewer than three bases in play). You want to position it such that a base you are winning is protected, or that a base you are losing remains vulnerable. Playing your base card is usually good, because it being your base card (having your character on it) means you win ties. When playing your base card, you also need to consider whether to play it on the left or right.

There can be up to three base cards in play. At this moment, my opponent (Hale) is leading in all three bases. For the two bases at the sides, our strengths are the same, but the base cards themselves are his, so he wins ties.

There are Smash cards which are Hits x 2. There are always three Freeze cards at the bottom of the deck. You play a Freeze card to freeze a base, preferably one you are winning. By the time you reach the Freeze cards, you know you are at the end of your deck, and usually there is not much else you can do if you are already losing. If you are winning, you want to quickly freeze the bases you are winning to secure your overall win.

These are the cards in the three basic character decks. There are more types of cards, some with the three other characters in the iPhone game, and some with other expansion characters in the physical game.

The Play

So far I have played against the Normal AI and the Hard AI. My win rate is quite average with the Normal AI, and is downright pathetic against the Hard AI (which is only the second of three levels). It is very challenging. I'm not sure whether the AI cheats by being luckier with its card draws. So far it does not seem so. The Hard AI appears to play both quicker and smarter. It applies some tricks that I have not seen at Normal level. I am still working hard to become competitive against the Hard AI.

The game is very quick, and being a real-time game, you really need to focus. My games usually take less than the 45 seconds advertised. Sometimes luck is a big factor, but you do often have to make quick decisions and tricky decisions. You need to watch the cards that your opponent is drawing. Sometimes you need to pause to see what he does, e.g. if he has a blue Block and you have a blue Hit, you shouldn't blindly commit that blue Hit because he would happily block the base you commit it to. Do you wait for him to draw another card which would make inaccessible his blue Block? Do you draw another card yourself, potentially wasting your blue Hit? Sometimes you can plan for a big reverse run, e.g. if you know you have a string of Hit cards of the same colour in your face-up pile, you can wait for the right moment to free up the cards above them, to allow you to make a big attack.

One thing that I find is often you are trying to force a tie, when things look bad. Sometimes even being able to achieve a tie is satisfying.

Despite the simple rules, you are constantly pressed to decide whether to draw a new card or not. You do need to get familiar with the decks in order to be able to make good decisions. Card counting certainly helps, but I have not really bothered with it much. This is meant to be a fast and furious game.

The characters are all unique and are suited for different strategies. To play well you need to know thy enemy, know thyself.

End of a game. I win both bases and thus win the game.

The Thoughts

Brawl has simple rules, but has more depth than I expected. There is emergent gameplay that is not apparent at first. You do need to play quite a number of games to pick up the tactics. You should also check out the card distribution of the decks. These aspects remind me of Blue Moon. Brawl takes time to appreciate. The game is condensed. It definitely is a filler, but it is one that you can enjoy for a long time (over many games, not a single 45 second game).

The interface of the iPhone version is well done. The AI's are challenging (or I am a very lousy player). I am still playing with the basic three characters that come with the game, and have not bought any of the other three. I hope in future they will release more characters which have been available in physical form.

Monday 28 November 2011

Dungeon Petz

Plays: 4Px1.

Dungeon Petz is one of the new Essen 2011 game fair releases that I am interested to try, the others being Power Grid: The First Sparks, Power Grid: The Robot (probably a good addition to the 2-player Power Grid games that Michelle and I play), Pret-a-Porter and Eclipse. In my recent visit to Meeples Cafe, in addition to First Sparks, I also played Dungeon Petz.

The Game

Dungeon Petz is a sequel of sorts to Vlaada Chvatil's Dungeon Lords. Now instead of playing a dungeon lord building up his dungeon and protecting it from the intrusion of those self-righteous heroes, you play a family of imps managing a pet shop. The pets are, of course, not your regular type of pets. Some would call them monsters, which is not very nice of them, but you know better. You equip your pet shop, you buy young pets and take care of their daily needs and see them grow up, you show them off at pet shows, and when the price is right, you sell them to dungeon lords who appreciate them. At the end of a fixed number of rounds, whoever's pet shop has the highest reputation wins.

Dungeon Petz is a worker placement game, but the theme is so rich that it doesn't feel like "yet another worker placement game" to me. At the start of every round everyone secretly groups their imps and coins into groups of different sizes. Once these groupings are revealed, players take turns to place their groups onto the game board, priority being given to the bigger groups. This means if you make big groups, you will likely get higher priority, but then you won't be able to make many groups. The spaces on the board do all sorts of things related to running your pet business. You buy baby pets, you buy cages, you buy enhancements to cages, you buy pet food, you visit the immigration office to "import" relatives to help run your business, you bribe pet show judges, and so on. You don't need to assign all your imps to tasks on the board. You can keep some behind for other off-board tasks which are done later, e.g. playing with pets (they can die of boredom) and cleaning poop.

The player board looks like a T-shirt. The top part is the screen which can be used to hide the tunnels section of the board when players are secretly grouping their imps and coins. The screen has a lot of useful reference information, but until you understand the game, they will appear very daunting. The lower left section is for tracking whether food in storage has rot. I'm not sure what the other sections are for. We just used them generic storage.

The main board looks quite busy. It captures much important information and I find it very practical. Three baby monsters are waiting to be purchased (egg shaped pieces).

One key aspect of the game is handling the different needs of your pets. This is implemented using Need cards. Depending on the sizes and characteristics of your pets, you must draw Needs cards and assign them to every pet under your care. The are four Need cards colours - purple cards are usually (half the time) the need to expend magic power, red to vent anger, yellow to play, green to eat. However sometimes a Need card shows a Need icon that is different, e.g. a green Need card (which usually shows an icon for the need to eat) may show an icon for the need to poop instead. Sometimes a usually playful pet gets angry. Sometimes a pet falls sick. So the characteristics of a pet give some idea of how it usually behaves, but sometimes it behaves unexpectedly, so you need to be prepared to handle the various possibilities.

If a pet wants to play but you have no available imp to play with it, it suffers. The same thing happens if you can't feed it when it's hungry, and when it falls very sick because it's cage is too dirty (poop not cleaned away). Suffer too much, and a pet will die, and your reputation will be damaged. If a pet gets angry it will try to escape, and you can only hold it back if the cage is strong enough, or you have available imps to stop it. If a pet's magic powers get out of control, it will mutate. Mutate twice, and it will fall into an alternate dimension, and your reputation will suffer too.

In addition to managing your pets, you also bring them to pet shows and sell them to buyers. Both of these are important for increasing your reputation. Judging criteria for pet shows are announced two rounds beforehand, so that you have time to buy the right pets to prepare for them. Buyers' preferences are made known three rounds beforehand. The judging criteria and customer requirements can vary greatly, so you have to plan ahead which ones to try to compete in or to fulfill. At game end, there are two competitions held to compare how well-run the pet shops are, and some additional reputation is awarded. Whoever has accumulated the most reputation by game end wins.

The Play

I taught this game to Han, Log and Nicky (not exactly sure of name). The explanation took longer than expected. There are quite many details to explain, even though the game board and player boards do a very good job in showing important information. Most rules are logical and intuitive. Despite the many rules details and how long it took to go through them, the game pace was relatively quick. Everyone had some idea what he needed to do every round, and when it was his turn, it was just placing his group of imps and executing the action. Some activities could be done simultaneously, e.g. managing the needs of your own pets. Only occasionally when an action one player needed was taken by another, then the former needed to take a bit of time to work out a Plan B. I think we also played a little by gut feel. When there was a lot of food available, someone was bound to be unable to resist taking it (Agricola syndrome). Artifacts generally seem quite useful, so unless we had specific urgent actions we needed, collecting articfacts seemed a good action.

Being the rules reader, I was more familiar with the game details, and had a good lead up to the second last round. I didn't have many pets, but somehow my pets always did well in the pet shows, partly because I often bribed the judges. Bribery was a very powerful action. However I didn't do so well in buying baby pets. I had more cages and other equipment than I really needed. Overkill. Han had the most pets. He was aggressive in buying baby pets, and this paid off very well in the last round. The judging criteria and buyer preferences in the last round also suited his pets well. He overtook me to win the game. And he did that with only his initial 6 imps. He never managed to visit the immigration office to arrange for his imp relatives to come work for him. By game end he still had four cousins stuck in China complaining about him and causing him to lose reputation points. I was the one who did that to him, because I took the immigration action in the last round to bring in two more of my relatives before he could do the same. It was +4pts for me and -8pts for him, a 12pts difference, but it wasn't enough to keep him from winning.

We didn't have any pet escaping in rage or dying from suffering. I think there was only one case of mutation. So we seemed to be managing our pets well enough. I might have been a little timid in buying baby pets. It seemed we were over-prepared to take care of our pets, which was inefficient.

The Thoughts

I quite enjoyed this first game of Dungeon Petz. I'm not yet sure it is a "To Buy" game yet, but the tilt is yes now. The whole package of running a pet store is very entertaining. I prefer this to Dungeon Lords because the core action selection mechanism in Dungeon Lords sometimes makes me feel I am penalised because of unlucky guesses. In Dungeon Petz I feel I have a bit more control. It is more forgiving too, although being more or less forgiving is not good or bad. It is up to personal taste.

I enjoy how you are juggling many balls when running a pet shop. All actions have their uses. You need to coordinate many aspects to make sure you can take good care of the pets. Running your own pet shop may sound like solitaire, but you are forced to compete with others due to the worker placement mechanism, and also via the pet shows. The pet shows award points based on relative positions of the players and not based on how well each is doing, so it is not important whether your pets are doing well or not, they just need to do better than the other players' pets. Although the buyers buy pets from every player, they too offer competition because players would try to rear pets and manage their behaviour so that they match the buyers' tastes best.

I am guessing that 4 players is the best way to play the game, because there is most competition. I have not tried 2- or 3-player games, so I am just guessing. Like Dungeon Lords, they require some changes in rules, but here I think they are less troublesome and they feel less artificial / forced. So hopefully the 2- or 3-player games are not far off from the full 4-player game.

Friday 25 November 2011

Power Grid: The First Sparks

Plays: 2Px1.

Meeples Cafe in Subang Jaya offered me a free game session to play some of the latest Essen 2010 boardgame releases. They visited Essen and brought back quite many new games, and they offered some free gaming sessions (drinks not included) to their members on specific days in November. I rarely visit boardgame cafes nowadays, because in my regular gaming group there are already more than enough games for us to play. However I couldn't pass up this opportunity to try some of the games that I was interested in, so I booked a Wednesday evening to visit them.

Meeples Cafe reminded me a lot of the Settlers Cafe in Singapore (although the last time I was there was a number of years ago). Many helpful staff. Gaming hours and drinks prices are good. Most importantly, game selection is very good. Log (the boss) told me they are nowadays usually full on Fridays and Saturdays, but when I was there on a Wednesday, it was full too. Good thing I made a reservation.

Just like what I used to do in Taiwan when visiting Witch House boardgame cafe, I read rules beforehand and made rules summaries, so that I could jump straight into the games, the first one being Power Grid: The First Sparks.

The Game

If you have played Power Grid, then I'll describe First Sparks as a streamlined and quicker version, simplifying the calculations required, and yet still preserving all the key elements of Power Grid.

Players are clans of hunters and gatherers in pre-historic times. They hunt for food and learn to farm, and with the food gathered they feed and grow their clan, spreading clan members across the board. Food is the currency in the game, and is also used to "buy" better tools and to gain knowledge, which will in turn help the clans hunt and farm more efficiently. The game ends when one clan reaches the size of 13 clan members, and whoever has the biggest clan wins.

There are four types of food that the players can hunt (or fish, or gather) on the board - mammoths, boars, fish and berries. All of them require the right tools, and are worth different amounts of food units. The abundance of these natural resources fluctuates during the game, depending on how heavily each is being hunted. If everyone hunts boars, then of course the number of boars will drop. So there is some competition for the same types of food sources, and it is usually good to go for food sources that others are ignoring.

The storage board for storing the available natural resources. The cardboard pieces with numbers on them are a handy reminder for how many resource pieces to replenish at the end of a round.

Players can also learn to farm, and this does not depend on positioning on the board or the abundance of wild animals / vegetation. You secure a regular supply of food.

Like Power Grid, turn order plays an important role in the game. The leading player (whoever has the biggest clan) is usually penalised. He is first to pick a tool or knowledge card to buy, and everyone else, starting from the last player, has the right to buy it before he does. He only gets to buy it if noone else wants the card. This is a different form of auction. The first player is also last to harvest food from the common pool, so by the time it is his turn, there is less to harvest from. He is last to expand his clan, so he may find that others have occupied spaces that he had intended to expand to, and thus will need to spend more food to expand.

The cards in the game are either tools (for hunting or farming) or knowledge. You can have at most 3 tools at any one time, but knowledge cards are not limited. Knowledge cards have special abilities, e.g. your food doesn't rot, or you pay less when expanding to spaces already settled by other clans.

The starting cards in the card market for a 2-player game. Tool cards have an icon showing the type of food they can be used to harvest. E.g. the bottom right card is a Spear tool card and it is for hunting mammoths. For this particular tool, if there are between 1 and 7 mammoths in the common resource pool, you can harvest one mammoth. If there are 8 or more, you harvest two. Technology cards have text describing their abilities. The Fire card on the top right is a technology card.

The number on the top left of a card is the "size" of the card, for comparison of which card is "better" and thus their ordering in the card market. The number on the top right is the (fixed) cost in food units.

The Play

I did a 2-player game with Han. The 2-player game requires a dummy third player. The game pace was very brisk. In fact it was so quick that we played more than half a game before realising that we had completely forgotten about playing the dummy third player. So we restarted the game. Food seemed to be sufficient all the time, as long as we were careful not to over-extend ourselves. Maybe we were too conservative in expanding. We didn't really need to compete much in the same types of food. There was only two of us, but four types of hunted (or gathered) food, plus farming was also an option. The game didn't seem very interesting with 2 players.

Our incorrectly played 2-player game. We got this far without realising that we had completely forgotten about the dummy 3rd player.

Game in progress. Each tile is made of two hexes, and each hex has 3 spaces. There is no limit in the number of clan members in a space, as long as they are from different clans. However it is more expensive to settle in a space that already has other players' clan members. Also it is more expensive to expand through mountains (the rocks).

The knowledge of Fire seemed to be a big factor. The player who has Fire doesn't lose one third of his food every round. In a two player game, there is only one Fire card, and whoever doesn't get it seems to be at a significant disadvantage throughout the game. We have yet to figure out how to overcome that advantage. The tool and knowledge card costs are fixed, so there is no bidding up the prices. Unlike Power Grid, you can't force an opponent to pay more for a good card. In the first halfway-abandoned game, I had Fire and did well all along while Han struggled a little. In the second properly-played game Han had Fire. I thought I managed my food and expansion well, but I didn't notice that he had been stockpiling a lot of food. When he reached the clan size of about 8, he suddenly grew his clan straight to 13 members to end the game, using his huge stockpile of food. I didn't see that coming, and I was nowhere near 13.

The Thoughts

I quite like Power Grid and don't mind its fiddly aspects. So I didn't find streamlining it (which is what First Sparks does) necessary. First Sparks is attractive and quick, and does retain all the key elements of Power Grid. For me personally, it feels a little unsatisfying, since I'm quite comfortable with Power Grid. First Sparks seems to be more suitable for people who don't like Power Grid (e.g. the maths involved, the fiddly rules). I'm already a fan of Power Grid. Comparing First Sparks against Power Grid:

  • No bidding up the power plant (tools / knowledge) prices in the auctions.
  • No need to decide whether to buy resources (or how much to buy) to run your power plants. In First Sparks you will always want to harvest food with all your tools.
  • In First Sparks your network won't be walled off as badly as in Power Grid. The cost increase to settle in crowded spaces is not as brutal.

I suspect First Sparks is better with 4 or more players. My 2-player game experience was not as interesting as Power Grid 2-player games that I have played.

Saturday 19 November 2011

7 Wonders 2-player game

Plays (2-player variant): 2.

One reason that I bought 7 Wonders was I read that it was good even as a 2-player game. The 2-player game is a variant, and the rulebook says that this should only be attempted by experienced players. There are additional rules. There is a dummy 3rd player that both players take turns to manage. It is a little different from the standard game, which I have written about here.

The 2-player game is set up like a 3-player game. The dummy player's cards form a draw deck. The human players take turns to play for the dummy player. If it is your turn to do so, you draw a card from the dummy player's draw deck (so that your hand size will be one more than normal), and you pick one card each for both yourself and the dummy player. Once a turn is completed, the human players swap their hands.

Controlling the dummy player is very handy. You can use it to build / discard / bury cards that your opponent wants. You can make it buy stuff from you and pay you lots of money. You can make it militarily stronger than your opponent to penalise him. Naturally, your opponent will try to do the same to you. With this variant, there is more to think about and to consider, and the game slows down a little because of it. The game becomes more complex. There are more things you can manipulate.

The rightmost card in my hand is the dummy player reminder card. Whoever is holding the card must pick two cards, one for himself and one for the dummy player. In the background you can see a card with the Great Wall of China on it. This is for remembering which player should start with the dummy player card in each Age.

I personally prefer to play with more players, because I enjoy playing 7 Wonders at a quicker pace, and I find that having to manage the dummy player's civilisations is a little distracting. So 7 Wonders probably won't be a game I'll pick when I play with my wife. The 2-player game adds another layer of strategy and the game does work. So it's worth a try if you like the game, but it will be easier if you have already played a 3+ player game. Michelle didn't want to bother with a 3+ player learning game and jumped straight in. She actually beat me in our first game. So the game is not hard, just not as brisk as the normal game.

Buy from Noble Knight Games. Status: in stock (at time of this post).

Friday 18 November 2011

boardgaming in photos

23 Oct 2011. Playing Automobile with Han, Allen, Wan and Shan. I like this game a lot but have not played it for quite a while. My recent revisiting of my 2009 games eagerness ranking prompted me to bring out this game again.

I positioned myself well in the first round, grabbing the newest model (at the time) of mid-range cars. However this also became my undoing later. I invested heavily in it, building a third factory and also a parts factory. By late game, it was too costly to shut them down. Many others have built mid-range car factories, making mine very very obsolete and costly to maintain. I can only blame myself. I got myself into this hole. I had underestimated how stiff the competition would be in mid-range cars.

In contrast the competition among distributors was not as fierce as I thought it would be. Although many of us had placed distributers, most of the time the types of cars we wanted our distributors to sell were different, so most of the time they were able to sell cars and not get fired for non-performance. I should have placed maybe one more distributor.

30 Oct 2011. 5-player game of Perikles (didn't realise I have always pronounced it wrong until Wan mentioned it; it should be "Peri-cleese") with Han, Allen, Wan and Shan. This is a Martin Wallace design which I have played once before, a few years ago. There are only three rounds, but the length of "only three rounds" in a Martin Wallace game must not be underestimated. The first half of a round is about fighting for political control in the six Greek city states, and in the second half you lead armies of cities you control to war.

Cubes here represent political influence or politicians.

Every round, 7 battles will be fought, and players can send their armies to fight as the attacker (left, purple side) or defender (right, white side). Every battle is worth a number of points, and is claimed by the winner.

I had a successful first round, but that also meant I became ganged up upon afterwards. My politicians tended to be the victims of assassinations. When the game ended, I was in last position. Well, it's also partly due to bad luck. In the last battle of the game (i.e. the 21st battle), it was me against Allen. I had invested much military power in this, and unless the die rolls were unusually unlucky, I should win comfortably. And it turned out that my die rolls did suck. Allen would still have won the game even if he lost that battle, but at least I would not have come last.

Perikles has Martin Wallace's unique style all over it - Euro-ish yet rich and complex, abstracted yet thematic.

I have played 7 Wonders more than 100 times, mostly on the computer. This was the first time I played my own copy after finally buying it. Mine is the second edition, i.e. cardboard coins instead of wooden coins.

6 Nov 2011. Han, Allen and I played our fourth and so far most exciting game of Maria. Han played Prussia/Pragmatic Army (blue / grey), Allen played Austria (white), and I played France (red). This was the same configuration as our third game. We wanted to do it again because that game ended prematurely due to a rule mistake.

Here Austria (white) was already surrounded by the wolves - France (red) and Bavaria (orange) attacking from the west, Prussia (blue) and Saxony (green) attacking from the north. We were all very careful in this game, manoeuvring our armies and supply trains and accumulating cards before committing to battle. However once the battles started, many of them were big ones. Here's the first battle fought between Han's Prussian army and Allen's Austrian army.

Card play was fast and furious.

More and more cards were played, each one-upping the other. So much was committed that there was no backing down now.

The number of cards played was shocking! And of course as the bystander I was cheering them on gleefully. Them spending lots of cards meant I would likely have an easier time when I needed to fight them.

This was the site of the battle. It was in Silesia, which belonged to Austria. Silesia was Prussia's first military objective.

In this game that we played, battles were few, but many were big and crucial. Unfortunately for me (France), I lost two very important battles, and my plans were all out the window. In one of them I was quite confident, and had left my supply train in a slightly risky but convenient (for further advances) location. If I won the battle, I would force the Austrian army to retreat and my supply train would be in no danger. Unfortunately I lost that battle, and my supply train was subsequently destroyed. Allen had to fight many tough battles on his homeground, and lost many armies. However he not only managed to destroy my French supply train. He also managed to destroy my Bavarian supply train, and Han's Prussian supply train. So our advances would be severely set back, and he would have time to recover.

The only invading army with a supply train left was the Saxony army. The green cube is the supply train. What's funny is soon after this an event card caused Saxony to become neutral. It became controlled by Allen, and its army returned to within the borders of Saxony. So there were no more hostile supply trains in Austria.

Since everyone's armies were badly depleted, it would take some time for us to rebuild our strength. Now it was a race to grab the remaining victory points (i.e. place the remaining victory markers onto the board). Maria encourages offensive play, because conquering an enemy's fortress gives you points and defending your own only prevents your enemy from gaining points. We were all down to just a few victory markers. Eventually it was Han's Pragmatic Army which won him the game. My French army, could not stop him. Allen's Austria suffered many losses, but fought well and had a decent chance of winning. We all have been secretly rooting for Austria, because Austria is the protagonist in Maria and the Austria player is the only one who has not win yet. Now that I think of it, although the Prussia/Pragmatic Army player has won, on both occasions the Pragmatic Army was the winning nation.

Afterwards we discovered one rule mistake - it should have been easier for Saxony to shift its allegiance towards Austria. If Prussia loses a battle against Austria, Saxony's allegiance marker will shift. No wonder it has been so tough to play Austria. It's embarassing that we still made rules mistakes in our fourth game.

7 Nov 2011. Power Grid on the Korean map. Coal in the North Korean market was completely sold out. Michelle and I played this because our 6-year-old daughter Shee Yun said she wanted to be the banker.

It felt great to be able to buy that super power plant on the right. It could power 9 cities! But I still lost the game to Michelle...

Monday 14 November 2011


Plays: 2Px4.

The Game

Maori is a tile placement game and a build-up-your-own-play-area game. The theme is about discovering islands, but it's pretty thin. I ordered this game a long time ago after reading some favourable reviews. I thought it might be suitable as a 2-player game with my wife Michelle. Something quick, easy to set up, but not too light. Now that I have played it, it turned out to be trickier than I had expected. And Michelle completely slaughtered me. And this is not even an accountant game like Power Grid or Factory Manager, so she doesn't have a professional advantage over me. I have yet to make my first win.

In Maori there is a ship sailing around a 4x4 grid of tiles. On your turn you must move the ship and then you can claim the tile next to the ship, or another one in the same column if you are willing to pay. You place these tiles on your player board, and when one player's board fills up, the game ends, and you score based on how well you have assembled your island nation. Sounds simple?

The 4x4 grid at the centre of the table, from which players pick up tiles to add to their player boards. I arrange the tiles so that all palm trees point at the same direction, so that it's easier to read.

What's tricky is the various restrictions on how you can place the tiles. The game comes with a number of variants, and each of them introduces additional rules, restrictions or scoring opportunities. We started with the basic game, and with each subsequent game, we introduced new advanced rules. In the base game, palm trees must point north. Islands stretch either north-south or east-west. The available spaces on your player board is itself a restriction, because to fill it up you need to get the right tiles. Single tile islands and ship tiles, although often not high-scoring, are attractive because they are convenient. You don't need to worry about finding a matching island tile to complete the island. When you add the first variant, you gain your own ship on your own board, which you can move around, but on your next turn you must place your new tile next to your ship. With the second variant, you can't move your ship anywhere you want. You must always move it to the most recently placed tile. These additional rules force you to plan well ahead how to construct and complete your board.

Ship icons allow you to move the common ship at the 4x4 grid further, giving more flexibility in picking tiles you want. Shells have various uses, e.g. picking tiles not directly adjacent to the common ship, moving the common ship further, moving your personal ship etc. Both also score bonus points at game end, but only if you have the most.

My player board. The game has ended, so I will have to remove the two tiles on the bottom right because the island is incomplete. Scoring methods are summarised on the right side of the player board.

Game components: common ship, shell, tile back, volcano tile (a special tile which cannot be picked by players, and blocks players from picking tiles beyond it), a regular tile with 3 palm trees.

The Play

In the first few games that I played, I might have been too ambitious and also too liberal in my spending of shells. In the end I couldn't complete some big islands before Michelle ended the game, and I had to discard those half-done islands. So instead of scoring big, I was penalised for the empty spaces on my board. Michelle had been thrifty with her shells, and had also been careful in collecting ship icons. These gave her many points at game end. I lost by a mile.

As we added more and more advanced rules, the game became more and more interesting. It plays as quick as a filler, but the long-term planning of how to move your personal ship, the denying your opponent of tiles she wants, the push to end the game before your opponent is ready, the positioning of the common ship to help your next turn, all make the experience very fulfilling and challenging. This game is not as easy as it looks. Well, at least not when playing with all the advanced rules. This is not Carcassonne-like at all. It is tighter and tougher. It is just different; they should not be compared.

I still have not been able to beat Michelle. I came close, and really thought I could win, but alas, it was not enough. Rematch!

Michelle's completed player board. She even has a completed flower circle, which is worth 10pts (which is a lot).

My player board, using the advanced rules (that's why you see my green personal ship). This is a big improvement compared to my first few games, but I still lost to Michelle.

The Thoughts

Maori looks pleasant enough, but is actually quite tricky. I guess you can play in a more relaxed way by only playing the basic game, but I prefer to have the advanced rules added, at least the first two variants. It becomes a game with lots of tactical opportunities and lots to think about, and yet is still quick. I wouldn't call this a filler game though, or recommend it to be played as one, unless you stick to the basic game.

Buy from Noble Knight Games. Status: in stock (at time of this post).

Saturday 12 November 2011

2010 games eagerness ranking

Here are the games published in 2010 that I have played, and ranked according to how eager I am to play them now. Nothing very scientific. One game being above another doesn't mean it's "better" (whatever that means). It just means I'm probably more likely to pick it to play. It's an interesting exercise to try to rank these games. Maybe you'll find it interesting too. I exclude expansions, but I'll talk a little about some of them further down.

    Keen to play

  1. Axis & Allies Europe 1940 - I actually have not played this game even once, so I'm keen to play it. I've only played Axis & Allies Global 1940, which combines the Europe 1940 and Pacific 1940 games. It feels a bit too long for the enjoyment I get out of it, so I suspect I will like the theatre-specific games being played by themselves.
  2. Innovation - I'm getting comfortable with this game. The expansion Echoes of the Past adds some interesting elements, but I am quite happy with the base game and am in no hurry to expand it. Allen has bought the expansion and we have played a few times.
  3. Merchants & Marauders - The game feels very open, much like the PC game Sid Meier's Pirates. I prefer to play to a higher number of Glory points than the standard game. It gives a fuller experience.
  4. First Train to Nuremberg - I think I am going to break down and buy this. Managing the game components is a little tedious, but I like how the game requires careful planning, and there is a certain story arc to it, where you try to earn fast money and then eventually you need to plan to sell off your rail network to suckers.
  5. 7 Wonders - There is luck. There is set collection. There is no particular innovation. There is a mesh of familiar mechanisms. But somehow this game is a lot of fun. It's an adjustable-depth game - you can think a lot and plan a lot and calculate a lot, but you can also play by gut feel (and still win).

    Axis & Allies Europe 1940. I really need to play this.

    First Train to Nuremberg

    Happy to play

  6. 51st State - Not much player interaction, but I like how you need to constantly plan for replacing cards already played because the points-generating cards have limited capacity and quickly get used up.
  7. Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game - Lots of civ elements, which is fun. But this game is a sprint and not a marathon. In the early game you can explore various paths, but by around mid game you'll need to decide on which victory condition to go for, maybe with one back-up plan if Plan A doesn't work out. You don't really experience the rise-and-fall feeling like in Civilization and Through the Ages. But still, a pretty good game.
  8. Earth Reborn - Interesting scenarios and rich story. I have only done half of the learning scenarios, so I don't know the full game yet.
  9. Inca Empire - Network building, blocking, and playing good and bad event cards that always affect two players.
  10. Alien Frontiers - Complexity level feels like The Settlers of Catan. You develop and colonise. An impressive effort from a new designer and publisher team.
  11. Haggis - Climbing card game (like Big Two) that works with 2 or 3. I have only played with 2. Surprisingly that session was very funny. Learning the tricks and exploring the strategies in the game were fun.
  12. Zombie State: Diplomacy of the Dead - More an experience game than a strategy game, but it's fun to try to survive a zombie apocalypse and to direct your nation at a strategic level.
  13. Labyrinth: The War on Terror, 2001-? - Long game. Hard decisions. Long-term planning and patience is required to achieve anything significant. The two sides are very asymmetrical. Actions are completely different, it's not just about having different strengths and weaknesses.
  14. Washington's War - Relatively quick CDG.
  15. Evolution: The Origin of Species - The formula of focusing on one super specie seems the best strategy. If I'm right about this then the game becomes rather one-dimensional strategy-wise. This is a light card game, the fun being in creating species with interesting combinations of abilities, the ongoing struggle between hunter and prey, and the game of survival when food is scarce.

    51st State


  16. Merchants of the Middle Ages (I played Die Handler, the earlier version) - Requires negotiation and cooperation. Overall a well-crafted game.
  17. Dominant Species - The big hit which was not as big a hit for me personally. The game is interesting, there are big moves to be made and devastating disasters to try to survive through. The area majority mechanism is not quite my thing.
  18. Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York - Good implementation of managing loyalties and betrayals. There's double guessing but I didn't mind it too much here. Deciding whether to be defensive (cheap, but you may be wasting your money) or offensive (expensive, and it's hard for your victim to protect everything, but if you fail, you will waste a lot of money) is interesting. You need to pick where to fight and where to concede. But there's area majority too.
  19. Nuns on the Run - Fun and exciting to play a novice. I have not played the nun side yet.
  20. Commands & Colors: Napoleonics - I never was a big fan of the Commands & Colors series (Memoir '44, Battlelore, Commands & Colors: Ancients). Don't quite like the cards restricting flank thing.
  21. Catacombs - I enjoy it for the novelty.
  22. London - Quirky card game that I couldn't quite grasp. I guess I can't really conclude until I try again and understand it better.
  23. Dungeons & Dragons: Castle Ravenloft Board Game - Easy to learn cooperative dungeon crawl game without the need for a dungeon master. I'm not a particular fan of the fantasy / role-playing genre, so the theme dosen't do much for me.
  24. Navegador - The key seems to be to focus on areas with least competition. Admittedly I have only played two games and there is much space for improvement for my tactics and strategies. I get a feeling I've seen most of what's there to be seen, and the urge to dig deeper is low.
  25. The Great Fire of London 1666 - Interesting enough theme, and mechanisms do match the theme, but the mechanisms aren't very interesting to me.
  26. Troyes - Feels familiar, a little "been there, done that". And this is despite the not-seen-before dice mechanism.
  27. Space Hulk: Death Angel - The Card Game - Not knowing your mission until you reach the last room rubs me the wrong way. Feels like I'm just trying to passively survive and last until the last room, as opposed to going in with an objective and a plan.

    Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs. York . Hmm... who among my opponents' followers should I bribe? Which city should I attack?

    Rather not play

  28. 20th Century - I like the positive message of reducing garbage and pollution. I feel like I've seen most of what's there to be seen.
  29. Horus Heresy - I feel quite restricted in what I can do and how much I can move my troops or get them to fight. The game tells a great story though.
  30. Tikal II: The Lost Temple - Feels like too many paths to victory that don't quite mesh together thematically. Game is very attractive and production quality is superb.
  31. Grimoire - I didn't like the double-guessing.
  32. Irondale - I didn't find this construct-buildings-in-a-grid card game interesting.
  33. Resident Evil Deck Building Game - It didn't feel very different from Dominion, so my interest is low.
  34. Leaping Lemmings - Rules and gameplay require more effort than the light theme suggests.
  35. The Speicherstadt - One nifty mechanism wrapped around an uninteresting game.


These are not ranked. Just a simple list of what I've played among expansions released in 2010.

  1. Dominion: Prosperity - Played on the computer. I like this expansion which expands the strategic possibilities.
  2. Dominion: Alchemy - Also played on the computer. This is just OK. Going for cards requiring potions feels like a "Do or Do Not" thing (Yoda), so going down that path feels like taking a different route, as opposed to the base strategies being expanded.
  3. Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War - I'm a big fan of Race for the Galaxy. I enjoy the additional scope, but the deck is getting rather unwieldy.
  4. Power Grid: Russia & Japan - More variety for Power Grid.
  5. Agricola: Gamers' Deck - I like that the cards are not crazy and are not just a novelty. They feel like they are well thought out and well balanced. Subtle.
  6. Hansa Teutonica: East Expansion - I think I have only played it once, Allen's copy. I don't feel I have played the base game enough, so I have not decided to buy the expansion. I find that I feel this way about many expansions. I have not played the base game enough, so even if I like the base game a lot, I feel no urgency to buy the expansion. E.g. Innovation and Echoes of the Past, 51st State and The New Era. Well, The New Era is technically a standalone game, a kind of 51st State v2.0, but I'm enjoying v1.0 well enough and don't love it that much to want to spend money to replace it with v2.0.

Race for the Galaxy: The Brink of War. We call the 1 Prestige "cherry" and the 5 Prestige "flower".

Not Played

When I browsed to do this section, I was quite shocked that there were so many games published in 2010. This list is by no means complete. It's just some of the better known games that I have heard of.

  1. Runewars
  2. Dixit 2 - I have played Dixit. It's fun and lets you be creative.
  3. Cosmic Encounter: Cosmic Incursion
  4. Battlestar Galactica: Exodus Expansion
  5. Fresco
  6. Defenders of the Realm - Low interest. Some say it's Pandemic with a fantasy setting.
  7. Vinhos
  8. Age of Industry - I'm content with Brass.
  9. Glen More - Some interest to try.
  10. Battles of Westeros
  11. Luna - Low interest, because most Stefan Feld games don't click with me.
  12. Forbidden Island - I'm content with Pandemic and don't really need a similar but more family-friendly game.
  13. Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer - Low interest in trying deck-building games.
  14. K2
  15. Mr. Jack Pocket
  16. Julius Caesar
  17. Lords of Vegas
  18. Founding Fathers
  19. Puzzle Strike
  20. Merkator - Uwe Rosenberg game, but it seems to be doing poorly compared to Agricola and Le Havre.
  21. Rattus
  22. De Vulgari Eloquentia - Allen has it and I have read the rules. Still in the (long) queue to be played.
  23. Gosu - I had some interest in this, but it sounds quite confrontational so I doubt my wife will be willing to play.
  24. Conflict of Heroes: Price of Honour - Poland 1939 - Sometimes I am tempted to try war games, but I never work up the courage.
  25. High Frontier
  26. Asara - I like many Wolfgang Kramer designs. In recent years my gaming tastes have shifted to heavier games, so his new releases don't interest me as much as before, but I still like many of his classics, especially The Princes of Florence.
  27. Onirim
  28. Samarkand: Routes to Riches - If this is similar to Chicago Express, low interest.
  29. Settlers of America: Trails to Rails
  30. Invasion from Outer Space: The Martian Game
  31. Key Market
  32. Constantinopolis
  33. Poseidon - I enjoy the complexity of 18XX games, so if this is 18XX simplified, low interest.
  34. Famiglia
  35. The Rivals for Catan - I have the older Catan card game, which I have not played for a very long time.
  36. Magnum Sal
  37. Hanabi & Ikebana
  38. Grand Cru
  39. Norenberc
  40. Isla Dorada - I think Bruno Faidutti is a wonderful guy - good presence on the internet, friendly and responsive; but somehow his games don't click with me. But I like Castle, which is much less famous than Citadels.
  41. Olympus
  42. Mystery Express
  43. Dust Tactics
  44. Dragonheart
  45. Mousquetaires du Roy
  46. The Mines of Zavandor
  47. Antics! - Limited print run, so this is hard to buy. It sounds interesting.
  48. Wok Star - Interested to try this real-time cooperative game.
  49. Sun, Sea & Sand
  50. Keltis: Das Orakel - They say it's the most strategic of the Keltis family, but I don't play the others enough to justify getting this.
  51. Black Friday
  52. Mord im Arosa - You need to listen to cubes falling and guess where they land. Interested to at least try.
  53. Junta: Viva el Presidente! - Interested to try. You get to negotiate, beg, bluff, threaten and lie.
  54. 1880: China - I only recently dipped my toes into 18XX games, but this one sounds daunting. Not so soon I think.
  55. Prêt-à-Porter - The English version is published this year and it seems to be doing well. Interested to try.
  56. The Hobbit - Reiner Knizia cooperative game. Similar to Wolfgang Kramer games, nowadays I tend to be less interested in Reiner Knizia's new games, despite still enjoying many of his older games.
  57. Show Business - I followed this game a little because it has rock stars.