Monday 28 May 2012


Plays: 2Px6.

The Game

Dragonheart is a two-player-only card game with a bit of psychology element, where you often find yourself baiting your opponent to do something you want him to do, or bluffing him into not doing something you don't want him to do. Each player has five cards, and every turn you play as many cards of one type as you want, then draw back to your hand limit. There is a simple board which shows where each type of card must be played, the number of cards that can be played, and the effects of playing the cards. In most cases playing cards let you claim another type of card already on the board. These claimed cards are worth point values, based on the numbers on the cards.

Some examples: Playing a Flying Dragon card(s) lets you claim all Treasure Chest cards (if any are on the board). Playing a third Archer card lets you claim all Flying Dragon cards, after which the Archer cards are moved to the stack beneath the Ship card space. Playing the fourth Dwarf Miner card (bottom right) lets you claim all four such cards, including the one just played.

There is a dragon token in the game, and whenever you claim any Petrified Dragon card, you claim this token too. The token holder's hand size increases to six, and the token is also worth victory points at game end. So this is something very much worth fighting for.

The game ends after the ninth ship card is played, and whoever has the most points wins.

The Play

Han and I played this at BoardGameArena (BGA). It is very quick to play, even when playing a few games at one go. The game is simple, but quite fun. You must play at least one card every turn, and sometimes that is tough, because you don't want to set up scoring opportunities for your opponent. You have to pick the least bad option, or hope that he doesn't have the right card to claim what you are going to play. It is possible to do card counting. Each player has his own deck of cards.

Sometimes you play a card to lure your opponent to claim it, so that you can in turn claim the card he has just played. Sometimes you are merely tricking him into thinking this way, so that he hesitates to claim the card you have just played. Some card types require multiple cards to be played to take effect, and often you want to hold multiple cards of these types so that you can suddenly fill up the slots while your opponent is not expecting it. However holding cards will tie up the slots in your hand, making you less flexible.

Timing can be very different from game to game, depending on when the players draw Ship cards and when they play these cards. Scores are hidden, so you only have a rough idea of how well your opponent is doing. Manipulating the pace of the game can be critical.

What cards your opponent may have constantly keeps you in suspense. In one game, when it was my turn, I had the choice of playing a Knight card to claim a number of lucrative Troll cards, or playing two Ship cards to claim a very big stack of used Archer and Knight cards. If I did the former, the Knight card would go to the accumulated stack too. I had to gamble whether Han had two Ship cards in hand. If he didn't, I could earn not only those Troll cards, but also the newly played Knight card, and all the other accumulated Archer and Knight cards, when I played my two Ships on the subsequent turn. I was behind in points, and I thought I probably needed the boost. So I went for the Trolls first. Alas, Han did have two Ships! Aarrgghh!!... Greed is not always a good thing...

The Thoughts

Dragonheart is simple, but has interesting decisions. In fact it has downright difficult decisions, like those you have to make in Lost Cities. There is some luck in the game, and if you keep getting the right cards at the right times, you will win. I don't think it's a problem, because most of the time you have interesting decisions to make and there is skill required to play well. Each player having his own deck of cards reduces the luck element somewhat.

I like the bluffing and baiting aspects of the game. Often you need to try to read what your opponent is thinking and what cards he may be holding. I enjoy this psychological element. Dragonheart is a juicy little gem.

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Thursday 24 May 2012

concise reference sheets updated

I have just added a batch of games to my concise reference sheets. New games added, and games updated are:

  1. Antiquity (only typo correction)
  2. Confucius
  3. Hammer of the Scots (rules v2.0)
  4. Nature of the Beast
  5. Nightfall (rules v1.2 - with Blood County expansion)
  6. Ninjato
  7. Ora et Labora
  8. Paths of Glory
  9. Power Grid: The First Sparks (correction)
  10. Rommel in the Desert (updated to include more details)
  11. Sekigahara
  12. Ticket To Ride: Asia
  13. Tournay

Tuesday 22 May 2012

boardgaming in photos

6 Apr 2012. Tower of Babel is a lesser known Reiner Knizia design. It looks a little drab, but is quite a clever medium weight game. Rules are actually light-weight, but strategy is definitely medium-weight. On your turn you only have two options - to build or not to build. However, behind that there are many considerations and sub-options, e.g. which wonder of the world to work on, which type of resource to use, etc.

The two main ways of scoring are (a) being majority contributor at completion of a wonder and (b) holding many resource tokens at game end. The former requires careful manipulation of timing because wonders completed later score higher, but when the game ends, incomplete wonders score much less. There's a push-your-luck element. The latter often forces you to make the tough decision between letting another player claim the token and letting him become a bigger contributor in wonder construction. Tower of Babel is a game of few rules, but subtle strategies and tricky decisions.

8 Apr 2012. Maori. Playing with all the advanced rules makes this a satisfying medium-weight game. It becomes more challenging and requires careful planning. It has the rather overused multiple ways of scoring aspect, but I find the spatial element fun and engaging.

All trees must point north, so tile placement is trickier. However you choose tiles from a grid and don't blind draw.

11 Apr 2012. I downloaded Blokus on the iPhone for free. This is the two-player Blokus Duo which is included in the app. I have only played one game and cannot yet tell how good the AI is. I find using touch-screen controls to manipulate the pieces too cumbersome compared to physical-touch manipulation of real game pieces, so I never bothered to play a second game.

18 May 2012. Ora et Labora. This was probably the first time I used building actions to score many points. In my previous games I largely neglected this aspect and focused on only buildings and settlements. One of my buildings, the House of the Brotherhood, let me buy 10VP for $5, and I had used it four times.

My monastery (yellow banner cards) and monastery town around it. That piece of hillside land at the bottom right was wasted. I never managed to build anything on it before the game ended. Money down the drain.

19 May 2012. Caylus at BoardGameArena (BGA). I recently started playing some boardgames at BGA with Allen and Han (who is working abroad now). Games at BGA are real-time / live games, unlike the PBEM-like format at SlothNinja. We scheduled a virtual boardgame session to meet up online to play, using Skype for banter and rules questions. This was a first for me.

The user interface at BGA is quite good and easy to learn. I struggled more with remembering the rules of Caylus.

Mid game. All but one wooden buildings have been constructed. I've never managed to learn to play Caylus well, and will need more plays to improve my game. One thing that's stopping me is the game is a dry cube conversion exercise. The setting doesn't excite me at all. There are other shallower games that excite me more. I will need much will power to look past that boring setting in order to learn the intricacies and strategies underneath. It'll be a challenge, with so many other attractive games singing siren songs to me.

21 May 2012. Kahuna, a clever and confrontational two-player game. I was black and Allen was white. This was Round 1, and we were still establishing our power bases.

Round 3, and competition was fierce. Allen had destroyed some of my bridges and removed my control over some islands. Thankfully I still managed to control one island more than him at the end of Round 3, and I won by tiebreaker.

21 May 2012. Stone Age. Another game played against Allen at BGA. I had played this before, but it was quite some time ago and I had forgotten many details. Playing it as a two-player game seems to be less interesting than with more players though.

One thing good about playing at BGA is the computer does all the maths for you. I lost by a big margin, 288 to 202.

End game situation. Stone Age is a pleasant worker placement game, and I can understand its wide appeal. It has resource collection, a little civ building / development, set collection, and dice. It sits comfortably in the medium-weight range, and is something that a wide variety of gamers can enjoy. I guess in a way it's like 7 Wonders. Smooth to play, easy to learn, and sits in a pleasant middle ground. What Stone Age lacks for me is an interesting quirk that draws me. The design almost feels too safe. I'd happily play it, but would not request it. In comparison with 7 Wonders, I find that 7 Wonders can be played at a deeper strategic level (e.g. carefully considering others' tableaus and wonders), and I am often presented with interesting and difficult choices (multiple cards I want but must pick only one).

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Monday 21 May 2012


Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Confucius is another game that Allen, Han and I played at SlothNinja. None of us have played it before. The unique part of the game is the gift obligation mechanism, where if someone has given you a gift, you have to be nice to him and you are restricted in certain actions. Confucius himself is actually not in the game, and in fact has been dead for hundreds of years at the time period of the setting of the game, the early Ming Dynasty in China. Players are powerful families competing for glory by contributing to the nation's military expansion, by sending expeditions to distant lands, and by exerting influence on government ministries.

There are many types of actions in the game and each round every player receives a number of action cubes depending on the number of gifts given and received. Most actions require one action cube, but usually if you want to take the same action more than once in the same round, you pay two action cubes instead. Some related actions are paired so that they incur this penalty too. The game forces you to spread out your actions and to plan ahead.

You can raise armies and send them on conquests. The military aspect has a cooperative element. There are three foreign lands available for conquest. There is a countdown timer for when each is due to be conquered, and if a large enough army cannot be deployed in time, no victory points can be gained. It is usually difficult for a single player to raise and send enough armies to conquer a foreign land by himself, so a bit of cooperation is usually required. There is a danger of wasting your effort if noone else is participating. At the same time there is also competition for the better rewards, so deploying earlier than your opponents is desirable.

You can build ships and send them out on exploration voyages. There is no time limit here, and it is a simpler race for the most lucrative distant lands to discover. One tricky part is you can buy at most four junks (ships) at one time, but a successful voyage needs five. That forces you to take more actions.

Bribing officials, thus making them "yours", give you benefits, e.g. discounts when raising armies, building junks or bribing other officials. When all officials of a ministry are claimed, a ministry scoring is done to determine who becomes minister and who becomes secretary. This is not a simple majority comparison. Anyone not in contention must lend his support to one of the two leading players, so even if you have the most officials, another player with fewer may gather support from others to overtake you. There is an exam mechanism, which is basically a one-on-one competition to place a loyal official in one of the ministries. Every round, at most two players can enrol a student for exams. At the end of the round, every player must contribute tuition money to one of the students, and whoever has more money for tutors "wins" the exam.

The board is quite big and I need two screenshots to show everything. In this screenshot, the top left section is the exam section. Candidates can be placed in the red or orange circles. The tile is the post in a specific ministry being fought over. The middle section is the actions table, showing all the things you can do. The top right section is the score track and the gift status summary. My colour is yellow, and the table shows that I have received a value 1 gift from the green player, and I have given a value 1 gift to the green player and a value 2 gift to the purple player.

The lower half are the three ministries, the Ministry of the Army, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Public. I (yellow) have bribed four officials at this stage. The victory points for winning the minister and secretary posts are shown in each ministry.

The other half of the board. The top left section is the military conquest section. The nine Great Wall of China boxes are the timer, marking number of rounds completed, with soldiers on the 4th, 6th and 8th rounds indicating the deadlines for conquering the three foreign lands. Round 4 is still in progress but the first foreign land tile has been conquered and turned face down. Allen (purple) has one army ready for deployment. The top right section is the expeditions section, with five distant lands to be discovered. One of them has been discovered by Allen (purple) now. He has four ships in harbour and one at sea. Han (green) has seven ships in harbour, ready to sail.

The lower half is the player status. Squares are action cubes remaining. Gifts not yet purchased, gifts purchased and not yet given, and gifts received are shown here. I (yellow) have given one gift each to Han and Allen, and have received one from Han. This screen also shows money cards (called Confucius cards) in hand.

The money system is interesting and challenging. You are often cash poor and you often need to spend many actions on making money. Also you can't carry over more than four cards (cards are both money and licenses), so you can't hoard money for a series of big moves. Every round you have to be careful how you spend your money so that you don't end up bankrupt or short of money when you desperately need some. Money cards in the game are either $1/3L (3 licenses), $2/2L, or $3/1L. You can use a card as money OR as licenses, never both. You need licenses to raise armies and sail ships. You need money to deploy armies, to build ships, to take exams, to bribe officials and to buy gifts. As long as you have need of both money and licenses, every card is good, because low money = high licenses and vice versa.

Now, the gift system. If you receive a gift from someone else, you have to smile and say thank you, even if you are now tied down with lots of obligations. If the giver has a student taking an exam, you must pay money to him, even if your own student is in the same exam. If at a ministry you already control the same number (or more) of officials than him, you can't bribe more officials. When a ministry is being resolved, and you do not have enough officials to be in contention, your officials must support him. These may not sound like much, but they are actually quite critical. There are ways to absolve yourself from such obligations, e.g. returning an even bigger gift, voluntarily giving him one of your officials, but they are often costly. The gift giving / receiving aspect is also important in determining the number of actions you have for a round. You can have 3 to 5 actions, and every action cube difference can have a huge impact.

The game ends after Round 9, or when certain conditions are met, e.g. all ministries being resolved. The player with the most points wins. There are only 3 main ways of earning victory points - conquering foreign lands, sailing to distant lands, and winning the minister and secretary posts.

The Play

When Han, Allen and I started playing, we were a little lost as to what we should be doing. We also misunderstood a number of rules. But we forged on, and learned some things the hard way. The early game seemed rather uneventful, especially compared to the recent nail-biting games of Tammany Hall also played on SlothNinja. I focused on military, Allen focused on sailing, Han initially did some military, and then shifted to sailing. We only bribed enough officials to gain the discounts, and didn't really compete for majority at the ministries yet. Due to gift relationships, Han and I had more actions, and Allen was disadvantaged due to having fewer actions. It is possible for two players to give each other gifts of the same value, which results in mutual obligations.

We found cash flow to be a constant juggling act. It was dangerous to run out of money, because you'd be stuck with few options until you make some money. It was impossible to carry over much money to the next round due to the hand limit. You don't want to have surplus money because wasting money is painful.

Around mid-game, I got myself stuck with the military aspect. Han and I both raised armies to conquer the first of three foreign lands. He didn't raise any more armies after that, but I continued to do so for the second foreign land. Allen invested in an army, and I thought he was going to participate in the conquest. However it turned out that he was actually using that army for a special emperor reward card. Having committed myself to conquering the second foreign land, I couldn't bear to back down and waste all previous effort, so I proceeded with the expensive venture, needing to spend more action cubes than I expected. I barely made it, managing to complete the second conquest before time was up. Needless to say, I didn't go anywhere near the third conquest.

In the Ministry of Finance (centre), the purple marker with a tiny "S" means this official is secured, and noone can take him away from his owner. You can spend money to secure the loyalty of an official. In this case this official was Allen's student who won an exam, so he's by default already 100% loyal to Allen.

In the military conquest section, Allen's army (purple) has been used to complete a side mission to earn him two points. I (yellow) had to painstakingly build my own armies to complete the conquest of the second foreign land. In the expedition section, four of five distant lands have been discovered.

At this moment I have many cards in hand, but I will be needing them to deploy my armies. For the second foreign land, it's $7 per army, which is very expensive. Near the top right, you can see Han (green) holding two emperor reward cards. These are special one-time-use cards awarded when you complete a voyage and also sometimes when you deploy armies.

In sailing, Han came from behind to launch more ships than Allen, discovering three distant lands to Allen's two. One thing good about distant lands is each gives an emperor's reward, as opposed to only some spots in the military conquest section.

Towards the second half of the game, there was not much left to do in the conquest and exploration aspects, and competition gradually heated up in the bribery game at the ministries. This was when the tension intensified. This was also when I realised how big an impact the gift obligations had. When you have an obligation to another player, it means you can't further grow your influence in a ministry if you already have as much influence as he does. The exam aspect also became prominent at this stage of the game. It may seem expensive and risky to spend actions and money on exams, when you may not gain anything in the end. However the reward can be big, because the winning student can be used to remove another player's not-yet-loyal official at a ministry. This means you are decreasing an opponent's influence and increasing your own at the same time. That is a very powerful move. Gift obligations can greatly affect exam results, because if you have an obligation to your opponent in an exam, you must fund his student's tuition and not your own! Needless to say, your student will be rather upset with you too.

Han's candidate (green) and mine (yellow) competed in the exams.

Compare this screenshot with the previous one, and you can see that Han's (green) winning student has displaced Allen's (purple) No. 2 official in the Ministry of Public (right).

The military conquest and expedition sections are now being ignored, since whatever can be claimed realistically has been claimed.

Somehow my students were the laziest, always coming last in exams (well, you are either first or last, since there are at most two candidates). Allen's students won three exams and Han's won two. I did poorly in competing at the ministries, and only managed to win one post, while Han won three and Allen won two. At game end, Han won by a big lead at 31pts, while both Allen and I had 21pts.

The officials in the Ministry of Public are all claimed now, which means there will be a ministry resolution at the end of this round. Han (green) has three officials and is in the lead. Allen (purple) and I (yellow) each have two, but my most senior official is #3, while his is #4. That means I have more influence and will be in contention (being in the top two), while he will not be in contention. He must lend his support to either Han or me. He has no gift obligation to either of us, so he can freely choose who to support. Whoever he supports will become minister (7pts), and the other will be secretary (6pts).

However, before ministry resolution is done, exam resolution must be completed. Allen and I are competing. Han (green) has a gift obligation to Allen (purple) and must support his student. It is likely Allen will win the exam, and if he wants to earn points at the Ministry of Public resolution, he must place his winning student there and displace either Han's or my unsecured official.

By this time, many gifts have been removed from the game, either by being replaced with a higher valued gift, or by transferring officials.

In a desperate move to secure the minister post at the Ministry of the Army (left), I have controlled five officials. It may look like overkill, but if I don't secure the fifth official, my fourth official can easily be replaced by the winning student (either Han's or Allen's), and being left with three officials means I may end up only winning the secretary post.

The Ministry of Public has been resolved, so all officials are marked as secured (tiny "S").

Currently Allen (purple) has a gift obligation to Han (green). Both Allen and I (yellow) are holding gifts that we have bought and have not used.

Game end.

The Thoughts

When I first read the rules, Confucius felt rather convoluted. There are quite many small details covering each aspect of the game. However, upon playing, things clicked together much better. The different aspects of the game are interwoven well. At first I was wary whether the designer was trying to cram everything important about early Ming Dynasty, the gift mechanism and Chinese bureaucracy into the game. I wondered whether the various pieces would feel forcefully glued together. It turned out that they meshed together better than I expected. One thing that really ties them up well is the challenging cash flow mechanism. You need to constantly manage your income to ensure your flexibility, and you need money and licenses for most actions.

In broad strokes, you are competing in just three aspects - military conquests, exploration voyages, and influencing ministry officials. There are various actions you need to take and steps you need to plan for to achieve your goals. You need to set your priorities and plan carefully so as not to waste your actions and resources. Gifts come into play as an important tool to hinder your opponents in exams and in influencing officials. If not given to an opponent, they can be used for their one-time special abilities (in the advanced game).

Scoring is low granularity - there are only a handful of victory point tiles to be fought over, so each need to be fought over fiercely. Every tile is a big deal. Even a 4pt tile is a major swing (in our 3-player game, scores ranged from 21 to 31pts). This low granularity makes things quite exciting, since much effort is invested in each fight, making winning sweet and losing agonising.

During our game, Han suspected that the game would probably work better with more players, and I tend to agree. With more players, the gift obligation relationships and ministry bribery competition will be more interesting. The military conquest aspect should also be more interesting. With three players, the combined resources seem insufficient to make competition (and cooperation) interesting enough in the military and exploration aspects.

Overall Confucius was a pleasant surprise.

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Thursday 17 May 2012

boardgamer lifecycle

This year, it struck me that me exiting the boardgame hobby is a possibility. Not that it is likely in the near future, but this is probably the first time I considered it a possibility at all. One of the reasons is I have got back into another old hobby not related to boardgames (or any games at all). The other reason is I have been quite jaded about some aspects of the boardgame hobby for quite some time, in particular the quantity of new games that are being published and how very very few of them excite me. Almost all of them feel very been-there-done-that. Even some which seem to have unique ideas elicit only a "so what?" from me. Hmm... I probably shouldn't be spreading this negativity here. On the brighter side, I am trying to focus on playing fewer games, but good games. Games with some depth. I try to do multiple plays of games, to better appreciate and enjoy them. I find that I more often think of playing again older games that my friends or I already own, than seek out new games to explore. I think I am getting more contented with games I already have access to, and am more keen to get them played more frequently.

My BGG addiction is reducing. One big change in my BGG browsing habit is that instead of sorting articles (blog posts, geeklists, reviews, forum posts and game forums posts) by recency, which ensures that I don't miss any article, I now sort them by hotness, i.e. only those highly thumbed (recommended) float to the top of the lists and are visible. I don't need to visit BGG daily now. I still open up Google Reader daily, going through all my boardgame related subscriptions. However I often just mark an article as read after looking at the title and deciding I am not interested.

As I pondered the stages that I go through in my boardgame hobby, I thought it would be interesting to list them down and see whether others experience similar stages as I do. The stages below will not occur in the same order for every person. It is probably more like a checklist to determine how deep into the hobby you are. The dates I put in this table may not be very accurate. They are only the best that I can remember. Hopefully these will bring out a chuckle or two as you go through them.

My collection in Oct 2004, when I was in Taiwan.

My collection in Dec 2011.

  1. Wow! Didn't know there are so many different types of boardgames; got to buy every good one that I like.
  2. Q4 2003In my case, and probably this is the same for many people, it was the discovery of BGG. I remember my shock at how low Axis & Allies (1984) ranked (around #250 then). And what's this Puerto Rico thing (then #1)?
  3. I self-make a boardgame (including making Print-and-Play games).
  4. Q4 2003I think the first ever boardgame I self-made was Reiner Knizia's Samurai. I played a computer version of it and didn't even know it was originally a boardgame. I thought I was very smart for observing that it could be a boardgame to be played with human players. I have never done a Print-and-Play boardgame though.
  5. I try to introduce boardgames to anyone I think may like them.
  6. Q1 2004Introducing boardgames to my friends in Taipei was very successful. Too bad after I left Taipei, they gradually drifted away from boardgames.
  7. I play a boardgame online (vs another human player).
  8. 2004It was on BSW. I remember playing Carcassonne, Power Grid, San Juan.
  9. I make my first bulk boardgame order from an online retailer.
  10. Q4 2004
  11. I buy a game(s) so that I can reach the free shipping threshold.
  12. N/ANot offered when I buy from overseas, because it's international shipping. Not taken advantage of when I buy locally, because, hey, I'm a rational buyer.
  13. I follow specific designers and publishers because I know theirs are the types of games I will probably like.
  14. 2004 (2008)Since around 2004 I have been following Reiner Knizia's works closely, and to a certain extent Rio Grande Games' publications. Only around 2008 I started paying specific attention to some other designers and publishers.
  15. I attempt to buy most of or all of a particular designer's games.
  16. N/AI did buy many of Reiner Knizia's games at one stage, but I was still selective. I like many games by Martin Wallace, Uwe Rosenberg, Vlaada Chvatil, Wolfgang Kramer, Marcel-André Casasola Merkle and Larry Harris, but never felt the urge to buy a game because of who designed it.
  17. I meet a fellow gamer that I got to know via the internet.
  18. Jan 2005That would be Han.
  19. I reach 50 games owned.
  20. May 2005
  21. I reach 100 games owned.
  22. Jun 2007
  23. I start a boardgame blog.
  24. Jul 2007I created a boardgame section at my old personal website around Jun 2005. But it was only in Jul 2007 that I started blogging. My "Boardgaming in Photos" blog posts are based on my old boardgame section.
  25. I participate in game trading.
  26. Aug 2007I've only done this once. I'm too lazy to arrange trading.
  27. I sell a game.
  28. N/AI still hold on to every stinker, just because I dread the logistics of selling.
  29. I cull my collection (by 10% or more).
  30. N/AI don't think I can pick enough games to get rid of to make 10%. Some I can't get rid of due to sentimental value. Some due to the mentality that I will play them again, some day.
  31. I teach my children boardgames.
  32. 2008No just playing with game components, but playing with at least simplified rules. Not so sure about this date, but I think I started when my elder daughter was about three.
  33. I pre-order a game.
  34. Jun 2009Martin Wallace's Automobile. I read the rules beforehand, and was quite confident that I'd like the game. I was right.
  35. I Kickstart a game.
  36. N/ANot sure whether this should be lumped with pre-ordering. This should be considered the same as participating in a P500 system, because publication is dependent on the funding goal being reached.
  37. I buy a very expensive game.
  38. N/AEveryone will have a different definition of "expensive", just use your own. For me, I have bought some expensive games, like Indonesia (~MYR330 / USD105), Automobile (~MYR251 / USD76), Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition (~MYR313 / USD100), but I don't feel the prices are too excessive. Antiquity, which I'm still trying to find at a reasonable price, going for MYR470 / USD150 is excessive.
  39. I'm running out of shelf space.
  40. N/AWell, this is a bit harder to measure, because in the past I have purchased more shelves for games before running out of space. If I hadn't, then I would have already run out of space originally allocated to boardgames. Also, different people have differently sized homes / boardgame storage rooms / boardgame space. The way I measure this is you run out of space before you have time to make more space, and you have to temporarily place your games on the floor, or on other shelves which are meant for other things, or in any other non-ideal locations.
  41. 24-hour marathon session (short breaks / naps allowed).
  42. N/AI think my longest single session was 9 hours (Here I Stand). I have done a (primarily) boardgame trip before, but we did have long breaks and it more a relaxing trip than an intense marathon session.
  43. I mostly play with just a few friends who are also into the same types of games.
  44. 2010I have been hoping for many years to build up a regular boardgame group with maybe 5 - 10 players, i.e. like the gang in Taipei. It never quite worked out. Many friends came and went. Eventually I became too lazy to evangelise, and settled into a comfortable routine playing with Han and Allen, and sometimes at OTK.
  45. Light games don't feel very satisfying anymore. I need something deeper and more challenging.
  46. 2010I thought this happened earlier, but as I went through my game purchase records, I found that even up to 2009 there were some relatively light games that interested me enough that I ordered them.
  47. More than half of the new games sound bland.
  48. 2010
  49. I reach 200 games owned.
  50. Aug 2011
  51. More than 90% of new games sound bland.
  52. 2011
  53. Exiting the boardgame hobby is a possibility.
  54. 2012
  55. I take time off boardgames.
  56. N/ANot yet.

Note: Table edited on 19 May 2012 based on feedback and suggestions received.

Any other important milestones that I missed?

Monday 14 May 2012

Sunrise City

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Sunrise City is one of numerous games that Allen has participated in Kickstarting. It is a city-building game where players build a city together and try to score the most points, and there is a touch of Sim City (the computer game) in it. There are only 3 rounds in the game, and in each round, players add new zones (empty plots of land designated for a particular building type), then compete to claim zones, and then finally construct buildings on empty plots or on top of existing buildings.

There are 5 types of zones / buildings (like residential, industrial, commercial) and each is colour coded, with purple being a joker / wild colour (multi-purpose zone / building). Every round each player gets some land tiles and building tiles. All land tiles will be placed during zoning, which is basically expanding the play area. After that players take turns claiming zones using their disks. Disks can be placed on top of other disks, even your own. By placing your disk over that of another player, you are robbing that zone from him, which, of course he can do to you too on his next turn, if he still has any disk left. Placing a disk on your own means you are securing that zone and others may not rob it from you anymore. Then comes building construction. Each building consists of two squares of one or two colours, and it can be built only on empty plots or buildings with corresponding colours (taking into account that purple = joker). When building on an empty plot, you must own at least one of the two zone. If the other zone is owned by another player, he may earn points from your build action.

This is the zoning phase. The game starts with just one tile, the city hall on the left. During zoning, some rivers may be formed. You can't construct buildings across rivers. When placing a new zone tile, you must extend an existing road, but it is not necessary to make sure every road matches another road or every river matches another river. This is not Carcassonne.

This is the zone claiming phase. If you place a disk directly on another one of your own disk, you secure that zone tile for yourself. Yellow and blue each has two secured zone tiles, and green and orange each has one.

Mid way through a game. Buildings can be stacked on top of other buildings. It is even possible to stack one building on top of two other buildings, i.e. using half of each of these two buildings. We don't have such an example in this photo though.

There are a few ways of scoring, and all are quite straight-forward.

  1. When zoning, you earn 1pt per adjacent zone of the same colour as the new zone that you have just placed.
  2. When you build, you score for the building itself.
  3. When you build on an empty plot, zone owners (possibly including another player) score bonus points.
  4. When you build on top of another building, if the new building is the 3rd, 5th, 7th etc level, you score bonus points.
  5. When you build a specific building type next to some special zones, you earn bonus points.

The items that can score big are the building score (#2) and the zone owner bonus (#3). The others usually score 1pt or 2pt. For every 10 points you gain, you earn a star, and stars are what counts at game end. What's interesting about scoring is if reach your next 10 points precisely by landing on the 10 spot, you earn two stars instead of one. So you want to manage and plan your scoring so that you score these bonus stars as often as possible.

There are some role cards, which are drafted at the start of the game. At the start of every round, each player secretly picks one from his hand and all cards are then revealed simultaneously. The numbers on the cards determine the start player, and the special abilities on them are effective for their owners for that round. E.g. a bonus point whenever anyone constructs a Level 1 building, the ability to rob secured zones.

Components are nice. That's a role card at the top. Stars are your final score. The disks are big and beautifully done.

The Play

We did a four player game, and all were new to the game. I found that each round required planning right from the start, because based on the buildings you hold, you need to try to do zoning so that you will be able to construct as many of your buildings as possible. You often need to make use of zones placed by other players. The zone claiming is a competitive part of the game, because to be able to construct a building on empty plots, you need to secure at least one of the two zones where you want to construct the building. Competition can be fierce, if players are desperate for a particular zone and keep placing their disks on top of one anothers' disks. Sometimes you may need to concede some zones in order to not get stuck in too many bidding wars and then get left with too few zones. Sometimes it may be better to go for the less desired zones because you may be able to claim more of them.

Turn order is important in both zone claiming and construction. In zone building it can advantageous to go later, because it means you can usually put your disk on another player's disk if his disk is sitting on a zone you insist on claiming. However, during construction it is usually better to go earlier, because you can build on the best spots earlier, before your disk gets used by other players' build actions. You always try to construct as many buildings as you can, but sometimes when there aren't any possible spots, whether empty plots or on top of other buildings, your buildings will be wasted.

I find that planning for the bonus star (i.e. landing on the 10 spot on the scoring table) is always a high priority, because of how significant the reward is. The scoring methods which give few points can be very useful for this, so they should not be underestimated. When you can hit the 10 spot, scoring two stars, and then on your next turn, score exactly 10 points again to earn another two stars, it is very satisfying.

Unfortunately we only managed to play 2 (of 3) rounds, because one of us had to leave. We fumbled a little in Round 1, but were able to fully understand the game by Round 2.

The Thoughts

The rules of Sunrise City are pretty straight-forward, and I'd say this is a family game that can be played with casual gamers. When we played, we had casual (or possibly non-) players in the mix (we played at OTK). They actually found the rules a little complex at first. I think as a long-time gamer, I take for granted my familiarity with many game mechanisms and forget that to non-gamers, many of these mechanisms are quite alien. I wonder whether in my many past blog posts my assessments of "can be played with non-gamers" or "suitable for families" were overly optimistic. As for Sunrise City, after some thought, I still believe it is suitable for casual gamers, as long as they are interested to play. If a person is resistant, he will struggle even with Carcassonne, even if he is a rocket scientist.

Sunrise City has an interesting mix of viciousness and pleasantness. The pleasantness is in the building aspect of the game, and nastiness is in the zone claiming and also in building over an opponent's disk. I find the scoring mechanism the most interesting, because instead of maximising every move, you are fine-tuning, always trying to hit the 10 spot jackpot. I can imagine in more advanced play, players will be watching out not to directly or indirectly help opponents hit the 10 spot, and even try to intentionally push them over the 10 spot.

I worry a little about the amount of luck in getting valuable buildings. The building values have a rather wide range. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that more valuable buildings are harder to build than less valuable ones, e.g. good ones require specific colours, while cheap ones often have a purple (joker) part. Also higher scoring buildings usually make it harder to fine-tune your scoring to hit the 10 spot frequently. So, my worry may be unfounded. I need more plays.

Overall Sunrise City is a light-to-medium weight game which is Euro-ish but does not feel too familiar. I like that the design feels fresh (or maybe I just haven't played enough games...).

Noble Knight Games - Buy, sell and Trade! New and Out-of-Print RPG's, Board Games, Miniatures, Dungeons & Dragons

Monday 7 May 2012


Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

Sekigahara is an entry-level card-driven block wargame about the civil war in Japan which ended the Sengoku Jidai (the warring states period) in 1600. The two factions in this war are the Ishida and the Tokugawa. Ishida is loyal to the young heir of the previous supreme military leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi who had died of illness two years ago. He perceives Tokugawa as a threat that needs to be eliminated. Afterall, Tokugawa's clan is the richest and most powerful clan in Japan. As Ishida plots to unite various clans to destroy Tokugawa, Tokugawa too has been building alliances via policital marriages and diplomacy. As the tension builds, the great clans align themselves to one of these factions. Open warfare breaks out.

The game is played on a map showing Honshu, the main island of Japan. Armies are represented by blocks, and each block belongs to one of the great clans. Players use cards to muster blocks onto the board, to move blocks, and to conduct battle. There are 9 castles and 9 resource locations that the players fight over. They are worth victory points, and whoever controls more victory points after 7 rounds wins the game. There are a few sudden death victory conditions. If the enemy leader, i.e. Ishida or Tokugawa, is killed in battle, you win. If Tokugawa successfully besieges and conquers Osaka, capturing the young heir Toyotomi Hideyori, he wins.

Blocks in this game are simpler than most block wargames. They usually just show one to three mons (clan symbols), which indicate their strength. A block does not rotate to represent losses. If it takes casualties, it is eliminated and leaves the game. Cardplay is what drives the whole game. On your turn you have limited movement and mustering actions. You need to spend cards to do more than the bare minimum. You also spend cards if you need to force march your armies. Armies, especially big ones, often move rather slowly. Cards are also used to conduct battle.

This is the starting setup. Ishida blocks are golden, Tokugawa blocks are black. Osaka, where the young heir Toyotomi Hideyori is located and needs to be protected by the Ishida faction, is where those eight golden blocks are. The capital Kyoto is just to the east of Osaka, where the two golden blocks are. Tokugawa's capital of Edo (modern day Tokyo) is in the southeast.

The top right and bottom right corners of the board are the recruitment boxes. Players need to take a muster action to bring those blocks into play. The thick brown lines are highways which connect Osaka, Kyoto and Edo. Red dots are resource locations.

Initial Tokugawa forces in Edo. The board and the blocks have icons indicating how the setup should be done, which is convenient.

The initial setup in the area near Kyoto. Normal-looking castles are initially controlled by the Tokugawa player. Castles with yellow outlines initially belong to Ishida.

Battle strength is not determined only by the blocks present. You need to have cards with mons matching the blocks to deploy the blocks. Else the blocks cannot lend their stength to the battle. So a big enemy army may in fact be quite weak if your opponent has few matching cards. A small or medium sized army can be very powerful if the owner holds the right cards. Being able to deploy many blocks from the same clan is very powerful, because every subsequently deployed block of the same clan gets a strength boost depending on how many blocks of the same clan have been deployed. Some blocks have a gun or a cavalry icon, and these when paired with special attack cards can be devastating. One type of card which can completely turn the tide of a battle is the Loyalty Challenge cards. Whenever you deploy a block, your opponent may play a Loyalty Challenge to make your block turn traitor. If you are unable to show a card of the same clan from your hand, the block betrays you and contributes strength to your opponent instead. So, often you need to think carefully before playing the last card of a particular clan from your hand.

After all cards are played, whoever has more strength wins the battle. Both players need to take casualties based on the opponent's strength, and the loser takes one extra casualty. Big battles are usually devastating to both sides.

Some of the cards. Cards with two mons (clan symbols) can be used to deploy two blocks instead of one. The small number in the lower right corner is for deciding turn order. Every round both players must simultaneously spend one card to determine who will decide the turn order.

At the start of every round, you must discard half your cards before you draw 5 new cards. This means you can't really hoard cards and hope to get a perfect hand for one big battle. However each round you have two turns, so based on what your hand is like at the start of the round, you can try to manouevre your armies into position in Turn A, and then go for the big battle in Turn B. The control of castles and resource locations determine who gets to draw an extra card and who gets to draw an extra block into the mustering box at the start of a round. So during the game there is this economic aspect to compete in.

The Play

This was my first play, against Allen who had played once before. In his previous game he played Tokugawa, so for this game I asked him to play Ishida. The first thing I felt once the game started was - Whoa! Tough decisions! And it's hard to get things done. Movement is usually quite slow. The default movement speed is just one step. There are ways to increase speed, but if you try to move more than 4 blocks together, there is a speed penalty. Also in the early game, the number of cards we had was hardly enough to fight any battle effectively.

In the early game Allen seemed to fumble a little with the rules. The last time he played was quite some time ago. He lost a few early skirmishes. I managed to keep ahead economically. I started the game with five castles to his four, and I also grabbed resource locations more quickly. That gave me the advantage of drawing an extra card and drawing an extra block into my recruitment pool every round. In the central region, my mostly-Fukushima army attacked and captured one of his cities with a castle. On the eastern side, his Uesugi army obliterated my Date army. My huge Tokugawa army in my capitol in the southeast kept rather quiet. Only around mid game some of the Tokugawa forces marched northwards to besiege and eventually capture one of Allen's castles. Allen's Uesugi army in the east did not approach my Tokugawa army or my capitol Edo. I caught up with him and defeated him in battle. His remaining forces retreated westwards and captured my Maeda castle at the northern tip of the map. My Tokugawa army continued to give chase, eventually defeating his Uesugi army again and recaptured my Maeda castle.

On the far right, Allen's Uesugi forces had destroyed my Date armies. I mustered many Tokugawa blocks but had not yet done much with them. Now I marched a big stack towards Allen's castle, while still keeping some blocks in Edo, in case his Uesugi armies came calling.

My smaller Tokugawa army had captured Allen's castle and had also marched further north to capture a resource location. Allen's Uesugi forces on the east had completely destroyed my Date forces there. I needed to muster more troops in Edo to deter him.

On the eastern side, Allen's Uesugi forces had retreated to the northern shore while securing some resource locations. My Tokugawa army had previously fallen back to the castle, wary of his greater numbers and also wanting to rendezvous with reinforcements from Edo. Later, this Tokugawa army chased the Uesugi army along the northern coast, heading westwards.

Meanwhile, things on the western side of the map were tense too. My large and mostly-Maeda army marched from its northern home towards the central part, near the capital of Kyoto, meeting with my other medium and mostly-Fukushima army which earlier captured one of Allen's castles. Allen mustered many of his Mori forces from the Mori recruitment box to Osaka. The Mori clan is a special case, having a special recruitment box with five blocks in it at game start. If I attack Osaka, these five blocks come onto the map for free. But if Allen wants to bring them in, he needs to pay one card per block, which is expensive. The story behind this is Ishida was wary of the powerful Mori clan and ordered the Mori daimyo (clan leader) to stay in Osaka. Allen had a terrifying stack of blocks in Osaka and Kyoto. He marched some of them to attack my combined Maeda-and-Fukushima army in Sawayama, the city east of Kyoto. This was the first big battle of the game.

We were both well prepared for this, having cards to deploy every single block. I had more blocks, and had a higher total strength to win the battle. Losses were heavy on both sides. Allen lost all but one block, which was subsequently overrun (and killed) anyway. This was a devastating loss for him. Our forces were greatly reduced on the western side. However after that Allen was able to muster new blocks more quickly than me, and we had a second major battle, this time with Allen emerging victorious. My armies were outnumbered in the west, but Allen split up his armies to go conquering resource locations and castles. I hurriedly sent a Tokugawa army from Edo in the southeast, traveling along the southern highway, to come to the aid of my much dwindled Maede army.

My Maeda (five circles) army and my Fukushima (three-pointed leaf) army prepared to converge.

The first major battle, Allen's eight blocks against my eleven.

Allen's army contained many Mori blocks, which he had spent many cards mustering from the Mori recruitment box. At first we thought I lost the battle. Then later we realised I had missed out one Maeda gun block. I still had a card to deploy this block, and this was enough to tip the balance.

The aftermath of the first big battle. I temporarily occupied Kyoto after overrunning Allen's lone survivor from the battle.

This was the second major battle. This time Allen's army was led by Ishida himself (that complex kanji character). My army was crushed.

On the western side, I had an army en route from Edo to support my depleted forces. Thankfully the highway let me move more quickly.

Only towards the second half of the game Allen was able to compete more effectively for castles and resource locations. Towards late game, I wiped out his armies from the eastern half of the board, but didn't have enough armies or time to capture all of the castles and resource locations there. I guess that's poor planning on my part. A wasted opportunity. Most of our remaining armies were in the western and central parts now, and our numbers were about equal. I had a comfortable economical lead, and if I could last until the end of Round 7 still holding on to this lead, I would win. Since movement speed is generally quite slow in this game, it would be tough for Allen to capture enough castles and resource locations in time. In Turn B of the Round 7, I intentially marched a smaller army to Kuwana, a resource location, to prevent Allen from getting to my castle in Anotsu, just past Kuwana. I could afford to lose the battle in Kuwana and let him gain one resource location (worth 1VP) as long as I could secure my castle (worth 2VP). I left a sizeable army in Gifu castle to deter him too.

A medium sized and previously very successful Tokugawa army lead by Tokugawa himself descended upon Tsuruga, a resource location, to secure yet another resource location for myself. Just to be on the safe side, you see. Things looked bleak for Allen. There wasn't much he could do now that it was his final turn. Then I suggested why not try to attack the Tokugawa army? If he could kill Tokugawa himself, he would win a sudden death victory. And he thought, why the hell not?

And I'm sure you can guess what happened next...

In hindsight, I didn't need that lousy Tsuruga resource location at all, which put me in range of Allen's army. I already had more than enough VP's. I had miscalculated in my haste. Even when that climatic (or anti-climatic, depending on how you see it) battle started, I could still have kept my win. I only had two Tokugawa cards for my four Tokugawa blocks, which should already be a warning bell. However I still went ahead to deploy my Tokugawa daimyo block first (because, hey, it was free to do so). When it was time to take casualties, I was forced to eliminate my Tokugawa daimyo, because the priority for elimination is deployed blocks first. If I had considered the situation more carefully, I should have simply not deployed my Tokugawa daimyo block, and just let the other blocks suffer losses. I didn't need to deploy blocks to eliminate Allen's blocks. I was going for an economic victory and killing his blocks was completely unnecessary in this battle. So, two perfectly aligned blunders - advancing my over-confident Tokugawa daimyo into Allen's attack range because of one unnecessary VP, and committing the same daimyo to battle unnecessarily - allowed me to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. I just taught myself a lesson on complacency.

Allen's Turn B of the very last round. I had sent a small 2-block army from Kiyosu to Kuwana to prevent Allen from marching towards my castle in Anotsu. I was willing to sacrifice this small army to ensure I would still hold Anotsu castle at game end. Two blocks from Kiyosu also marched to Gifu to boost the defenses there and to deter Allen. My Tokugawa army prevoiusly at the Maeda castle in the top right corner had marched to claim Tsuruga, a resource location. Allen left Gifu castle alone, and attacked both the small army in Kuwana and the Tokugawa army in Tsuruga.

This was where Tokugawa fell (the single mon block with the three-dot banner). Ishida himself had personally led the army which defeated Tokugawa. Such sweet victory for Allen!

The board situation at game end. Look at those dead people on the left side of the board! I can't help thinking of "I see dead people; they are everywhere" from the movie Sixth Sense. On the board, I controlled 6 castles (12VP) and 4 resource locations (4VP), totalling 16VP. Allen controlled 3 castles (6VP) (there's one in the northwest hidden by two of his blocks) and 5 resource locations (5VP) (Tsuruga was his, not mine), totalling 11VP. Why??!! Why did I send Tokugawa to die?!!

The Thoughts

Sekigahara is succinct and easy to learn among wargames. However it does not feel simplistic. The starting setup is partially (maybe 25%) random, so there is some variability. The cards you get determine how you want to play your first round, so there is no standard opening move. There is more manoeuvring than battles in the game, and I would say the manoeuvring is more important than the actual battles. Movement is slow, which means you need to plan ahead where you want to move which army. Getting your armies into position and saving up the right cards for battle (or striking at the right time when you have the right cards) are critical to your battle success. So battles are mostly a culmination of all the manoeuvring beforehand. You still do have some decisions to make during battles, e.g. which blocks to commit, the order of committing them, whether to save some cards to protect yourself against a Loyalty Challenge, and when to play a Loyalty Challenge card. The Loyalty Challenge card aspect presents a difficult decision not only to the potential target (who needs to consider saving a card for protection), it also presents a tough decision to the card holder. Having a Loyalty Challenge card means you have one fewer card that you can use for deployment. If you play a Loyalty Challenge card too early and your opponent can defend against it, you have just wasted the card while your opponent loses nothing. The card he has just shown you returns to his hand and you'll probably scream silently "I'm screwed!!".

There is a bluffing element in the manoeuvring. You don't exactly know how strong an army is, because even if it is an army you have battled before and you have seen the composition, you don't know whether your opponent is currently holding the right cards to have it fight effectively. A bold move may be a mere bluff. A humble army may be more potent than you think. There is no dice or randomness when battle is joined. The blocks and cards involved are fixed now, and it comes down to how the combatants play their cards. When a battle ends, both sides get to draw the same number of cards as they have spent during the battle. So you will not become card starved due to battle, just that the cards you draw may not be useful for other battles you may want to fight. You draw cards for battle casualties too, so the loser who has lost more blocks sometimes has a bit more compensation.

The game is very exciting. Every block lost in battle leaves the game permanently. There are no step losses. You don't really get to muster many blocks, so you cannot afford to waste your blocks. Because of how costly battles can be, even for the victor, the build-up towards each battle is tense.

Due to the mostly fixed setup and the relatively simple map, I do worry a little about replayability. At the moment I'm enthusiastic to play Sekigahara again. It'll take at least a few more games to see whether replayability is a valid concern. Luck of the card draw may be another concern. However, due to the slow army movement, you do have time to prepare and ensure you get the right cards you need. Every round you discard half your cards, which means you can keep those you want and hope that the new cards drawn include some that you want. One action that a player can take in lieu of movement is to discard some cards and draw the same number. This can be helpful if you are desperate. Generally my view is you should just make the most of the cards you have. If you get many Date cards, then try to position the Date army to fight. You sometimes need to spend cards for movement anyway, so "useless" cards can be used this way.

Sekigahara reminds me a little of Hammer of the Scots in terms of granularity and complexity, but the rules have fewer exceptions so it is easier to learn. Gameplay and feel are quite different though, but both bring out the backstory well.

Noble Knight Games - Buy, sell and Trade! New and Out-of-Print RPG's, Board Games, Miniatures, Dungeons & Dragons