Sunday 26 May 2013

Saturday 25 May 2013


Plays: 2Px4.

Fleet is a Kickstarter game that I would not have had the opportunity to play if Allen hadn't bought it, because I usually don't follow Kickstarter games. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise for me.

The Game

Fleet is a card game and a development game. Like Race for the Galaxy and San Juan, cards are multi-purpose. A card can be used as money, to bid for licenses and to launch ships. A card can become a ship, if you pay the cost of the ship. You play the card in front of you. You can do this once per round. A card can become a captain. You are allowed to do this also once per round. You just put a card in your hand face-down, and slide it under a ship already launched. Manned ships can start fishing. Licenses that you own, ships that you launch, and fish that you catch all score points at game end.

Top left corner is the cost of launching this card as a ship. Top right corner is the victory point worth if launched as a ship. Bottom left corner is the monetary value if the card is used as money. The ship type depicted is only important for determining whether you can launch this ship. You must have a matching license for the ship type. Once you launch a ship, the ship type doesn't matter anymore. All launched ships behave the same way. They catch the same type of fish token (there is only one type), their maximum capacities are the same - four.

The core of the game is the licenses. These are large cards that form the license deck. Every round a number of licenses are available to be auctioned to players. You can buy at most one per round. A license has two purposes. First, it gives you the right to launch a specific type of fishing boat, e.g. a tuna fishing boat. You must have a license before you can do any fishing. Second, it also gives a special ability. This special ability is what makes the game. One license lets you launch two ships instead of one, and you get to draw extra cards when you launch ships. Another license gives you discounts whenever you buy another license or launch a ship. License abilities are enhanced when you own more than one license of the same type. So there is incentive to bid for a license even if you already own one of the same type. You do it not just to deny your opponent. You can benefit from it.

The tuna fishing license lets you launch tuna fishing ships. Its special ability is you can draw two cards at the end of a round, as opposed to one. If you have two tuna fishing licenses, you draw three cards and discard one. The more licenses you have, the stronger their effect becomes.

One particularly interesting license is the processing vessel license. It lets you move fish from your ships to the license card. Fish that have been moved to the license card can be spent to draw cards, and also can be used as money. This license is interesting because of the 4 fish per ship limit. When you ship fills up, you don't gain any more benefit from it. But if you have a processing vessel license to clear off some fish, you can continue to fish.

The game ends either when the fish run out, or when the licenses deck runs out.

The Play

I have only played with two-players so far, and I suspect the game will be better with more. The game is tight. There are not many rounds, and it feels like the game end approaches before you are ready for it. So every auction is important. Decisions are not just during the auction itself. You also need to think about how much money you will have going into the auction, and what licenses may be remaining in the deck. It is arguable that outside of the auctions, the game is multiplayer solitaire. In fact, outside of the auctions, the decisions are mostly straight-forward. However since the game feels so succinct, and the auctions are so critical, I feel that there is still a good decision-to-work ratio.

The need for cards is a constant pressure. Every round by default you only get to draw one card, right at the end of the round. You need to use your cards wisely, and you need to get an engine going to draw more cards into your hand. The licenses are mostly about drawing more cards, or saving money, which is basically saving cards. You constantly struggle to gain cards, and then you need to use them efficiently to score points. There aren't that many rounds in a game, and when you are short on cards, you may waste one or more rounds doing nothing other than drawing that one card per round. That is painful.

I wonder whether games tend to be shorter with two players, because there is a higher likelihood of rounds where neither player can afford to buy a license. In such situations the licenses on offer are discarded and new licenses are drawn for the next round. This speeds up the depletion of the licenses deck.

Ships launched in the early game will likely hit the four fish limit, so processing vessel licenses tend to be more desperately fought over. I am not sure yet whether they really are that crucial. I need to explore further whether there are strategies which would make them less important. I think if a game ends quickly, the processing vessel licenses would see less use.

Four ships launched, but only three have captains, so only those three can fish. Five licenses, two of which are processing vessel licenses.

The Thoughts

I quite enjoyed Fleet. It's crisp, condensed and tight. It's a tableau game, like Race for the Galaxy and 51st State. It's not as varied or rich as these games. There is less combo-making. However there is a certain succinctness that I like. It's no prolonged engine building. It's a quick knife fight where every moment and every decision is crucial, and you can't afford to make many mistakes.

Saturday 4 May 2013

boardgaming in photos

Blast from the past! My first game of Axis & Allies, in 1997, in St Charles, a town near Chicago. I was in the US for a company-provided training. I was very excited to find the game in a hobby store in St Charles. This is the 1985 Milton Bradley edition.

My opponent was my roommate, Puneet Karla from India. I've completely lost touch with him now. Look at that concentration!

29 Mar 2013. I brought Java to OTK ( Between this and its better known brother in the Mask series Tikal, I think I like Java better. I feel Tikal has a significant luck element (tiles you draw, treasures you find). Maybe the problem is I often play Tikal as a two-player game, and in two-player games the luck element has a bigger impact. With three or four players, at least the trailing players can gang up on any leader who has a lucky break.

I enjoy the 3D spatial element of Java. Nowadays many newer Eurogames have no spatial element at all. In Java, the players have much freedom to build the play area. In every game the board can develop very differently. There may not be many ways to score points, but within these ways, the players have many possibilities to explore - many ways to create and split cities, many ways to ensure your people are at the top positions in cities, and many ways to block opponents.

After Java, we played Goa, another older game. This one has no spatial element at all. This is a development game. The main scoring criteria is your various abilities, and during the game you use your abilities to execute actions which help you improve your abilities. There's a feedback loop thing going on here.

The player boards. One of the areas I decided to focus on was colonisation, the rightmost vertical track on the development board at the bottom. At this point I had reached the highest level. In the plantation board at the top, I already had three colonies in the second row, with one last one to go.

The round markers are placed by the players to indicate which tiles will be auctioned off and by whom. When you auction off a tile to another player, he pays you. You can buy it yourself, but you'd be paying to the bank then. These tiles on the central game board are mostly plantations, resources and special abilities.

One funny thing happened in this game. I had forgotten an important rule and only realised it near game end. I didn't tell the others until after the game. When you take a plantation, it comes fully loaded with spices. You don't need to take a produce action to fill it up. I had forgotten about this, and throughout the game we took empty plantations. I had inadvertently created an ironman version of the game. After the game ended and I told the rest this mistake, their reaction was: wouldn't that make the game too easy? Oooh... we have some hardcore tough guy gamers here.

5 Apr 2013. We played El Grande at OTK. This is a pre-2000 game. I recently read an old article by Michael Barnes saying that 2000 was the year that German games became Eurogames and everything went downhill from there. I don't agree with every detail in the article, but I do agree with some of the observations. Some newer games tend to be unnecessarily convoluted, without really adding much or even any strategic depth. Player interaction is sacrificed. Games become solitairish efficiency exercises. El Grande is not a game I particularly fancy, because I'm not a big fan of area majority games. However I think it is clean, crisp, direct and sometimes even brutal. I sometimes miss the simplicity and clarity of these older German games.

That province of Old Castile near the centre was hotly contested. And then someone (probably me - green) plonked down the scoring tile that modified the VP value from 6-4-2 to 4-0-0. This means now only the top player will score 4VP. The rest get nothing.

This disc is for secretly deciding where to assign your men who are stationed at the castle. During a scoring round, there is a castle scoring where players score points depending on the number of men they have in the castle, and after that they secretly send their men to one province, which can alter the scoring in that province. There is a bit of double-guessing here.

It was a close game, with final scores ranging from 103 to 108. I came in dead last.

The Princes of Florence, according to that article by Michael Barnes, is the culprit of Eurogames going downhill starting in 2000. It is the beginning of the "multiplayer solitaire" games. But I like this game very much. I think the player interaction in the auctions are important and should not be belittled. I can see why player choices diminish towards game end, but I don't think it's a problem. I see it as players needing to plan carefully in the first half of the game, and in the second half they are mostly executing what they have planned and seeing their strategy come to fruition, with just minor tweaks and few deviations, and only when an opportunity presents itself.

I was the only one who had played before, and I thought I would win handily. My complacency cost me the game. I had underestimated the strength of Prestige Cards. At game end, Ivan's two Prestige Cards allowed him to overtake me to claim first place.

7 Apr 2013. Chen Rui and Michelle. We had a family boardgame session. Four of us played Ticket to Ride: Team Asia. I have played the Legendary Asia side of this expansion, but this was the first time I played the Team Asia side. The children have learned to play Ticket to Ride (the base game) on the iPad, so I thought they should be ready for this team variant.

Chen Rui and Michelle played red. Shee Yun and I played green. In the team variant, members of the same team keep their tickets, cards and trains separate, and may not share information. However there is a shared card rack where they can place tickets and cards. They try to use this to communicate their intentions and help each other. E.g. it's always good to place a joker in the shared card rack, in case your teammate needs it more desperately than you do.

Getting to Kathmandu is not easy. You need to play one yellow card or three white cards, and then draw six cards from the draw deck. If any are yellow (or white), or are jokers, you need to play more cards to claim the route.

Box cover.