Sunday 29 June 2014

revisiting Die Macher

My one-long-game-a-month project is going well. For June I picked Die Macher, the 4-hour game of German elections. This is a classic game, first released in 1986. It is very different from games of its era, because it is much more complex and also plays much longer. The game is best with five, so I rounded up five players about a month beforehand, and also persuaded Jeff of to open earlier that day, at 8pm instead of the usual 9pm, so that we could start playing earlier. Unfortunately he was ill that day and couldn't make it himself, so we went ahead with just the four of us. Not perfect, but we still had a great time.

My fellow political leaders Dith, Allen and Ivan.

Die Macher is played over 6 rounds, with one state election happening at the end of every round, except for the final round where two elections will take place one after the other. During a round players (representing political parties) take actions to influence the election in the current round as well as three other upcoming elections. The two main ways to gain votes are (1) by making sure your policies coincide with what the voters want, and (2) by being likeable (seriously). You also need to organise meetings to convert the above to votes. Votes will get converted to points, and points from state elections are a big chunk of your final score. When a state election is completed, the winning party may move media influence markers to the national board, representing gaining influence at the national level. The winning party also gets to move public opinion cards from the state to the national board, representing influencing the national opinion. Both of these affect scoring at game end. How much your party policies coincide with the national public opinion also affects how much your party membership grows, which in turn affects your income and also your score at game end. The game has many interlocking mechanisms, and gives you many levers too. It is quite a complex piece of machinery to tweak.

Here are the four election boards that form the main play area. At this point we had concluded the first election. The second election is on the board on the right, the state with 26 seats. Subsequent elections go in clockwise order, so the board at the bottom is the third, the board on the left is the fourth, and the board at the top is the fifth. When the second election concludes, that state board will be reset and used for the sixth election.

At each state board, the big square tile near the centre of the play area is the state tile, specifying how many seats the state has. The seat concept is abstracted. In practical terms it only means the max VP a player can score from the state election. It doesn't really mean there are a fixed number of seats for players to fight over. Next, the section with five colours are for indicating the popularity rating of each party. Every party is represented by one colour. Pink is not used since we didn't have a fifth player. Further outwards, the track with 1 to 50 is for keeping count of votes gained. This game features early voting and postal votes. If you look at the board on the left, which is the fourth state election and is still two rounds away, the yellow and black parties already have some votes. The four cards on each state board are the public opinions of the people in each state. The icons represent the issues in question. A white background means the people support the issue while a dark red background means the people reject it. The microphone icons on the state boards mean media control, and the large cubes on them mean some parties have influence over the media. Whoever has the most influence in a state can change one public opinion card there, which can be to help himself or to hurt other, and of course, ideally both.

When we set up the game, the first state turned out to be the biggest state in the game, with 60 seats. The game comes with 16 states of different sizes, and in any game only 7 states will come into play. Which states appear and the order of appearance affect how a game will play out. Getting the largest state in the first round means if you can win many votes, you'll earn a lot of money in the early game, and life will be much easier. As part of player set up, I secretly committed many resources to this first state. Allen and Dith had the same idea, and all three of us did quite well in the first election, making a lot of money. Unfortunately for Ivan, his party platform did not jive well with the public opinion in the first state. There was not enough time to adjust his own party platform or to try to influence the public opinion in the state, so he did not do well, and had much less money in the early game compared to the rest of us.

Allen maintained a large member base throughout the game, and also did very well in all four of the first four elections. That meant he was very rich. We all called him BN (largest political coalition in Malaysia).

Due to the abundance of money (especially Allen's), our bidding for the opinion polls went quite high. Opinion polls are the only random element in the game. Some people think it's a flaw. I think it's fine. It's good for some excitement and surprises. Every opinion poll card specifies for each party whether its popularity will go up or down, and by how much. If you win the card, you may apply the effects for one or two parties. The tricky part is when players bid for the card, it is still face-down. So you are basically gambling. If you win a card and find that it doesn't help you or hinder your opponent, there is still a consolation. You can roll dice to increase your party membership in lieu of applying any effect on the card. In some of the bidding wars we spent quite large amounts on cards which turned out to be not what we had hoped for. We could only use them for a small increase in membership. These new members had better be hardworking - we spent so much to entice them to join! I try to think of opinion polls as always useful in a way. Even if you win one that doesn't help you, you can think of it as preventing another player from hurting you or preventing another player from helping himself. That's surely worth something. There was one which I lost and regretted not having fought harder for. It turned out to be one that hurt my party's popularity, and I gained much fewer votes because of it.

Coalitions is one interesting mechanism. Every party can gain at most 50 votes in a state election, but if you form a coalition in that state, your combined votes can go as high as 100. Hitting 50 is not uncommon, so sometimes coalitions are the key to victory. Forming coalitions is not easy. You need to have played a specific shadow cabinet card in the state in question, and also the party platforms of the coalition partners must be similar enough - at least two exact matches. In our game we didn't really plan very far ahead to form coalitions, because of the many considerations involved. We mostly started discussing it only when the actual election came around. However coalitions still turned out to have affected the results of quite a few elections.

Ivan made good use of coalitions, which helped him move media markers to the national board. Only winners get to move media markers to the national board. By game end, four of his five media markers were on the national board! There was one election where Allen planned to form a coalition with me so that we could both win. However when it came to my decision whether to partner with him, I turned down his offer because I thought my chances would be better with Dith. Dith was the last player that round, and in case of ties, tiebreaker was reverse player order. So Allen partnered Ivan instead. Then when I was about to form the coalition with Dith, I suddenly realised I couldn't do so! I had just adjusted my party platform earlier that round, and now our platforms were too dissimilar to be able to form a coalition. Oops... I wished I could have crawled back to Allen to beg for forgiveness. Allen and Ivan went on to win that state election.

The board on the left is the national board. The section at the top is for media markers. State election winners may move their media markers from the state board here. Every media marker here is worth points, the earlier it is placed, the higher the value. The section in the middle is the party membership. This was still the early game, and Dith (red) had the most members at this point. The section at the bottom is the national public opinion. Such cards are moved here by state election winners. They affect party membership growth every round, and also game-end scoring.

The board on the right is just for organising game components. Those cards at the bottom are the swap pool for changing public opinions in states. In the basic rules there will only ever be 6 cards in the pool, but we used some variants which introduce more cards and thus give more flexibility.

The final scores. Our final positions: me, Ivan, Allen, Dith. The left side is for points from the seven state elections. I lost Dith's sheet so I don't have the breakdown. The scoring columns from left to right are for Allen, Ivan, Dith and I. The first, fourth and fifth states were the large states, with 60, 54 and 48 seats. The second and third states were medium states. The sixth and seventh states were small ones. From the state election scores you can see that Allen (1st column) did well in the first four states, and moderately well in the fifth and sixth. Ivan (2nd column) did well in the second, fourth and fifth. I (4th column) did will in the first, third and fifth. I was the only one to score in the last state election. The others did get votes, but they had too few votes, not enough to be converted to points.

The right side is for end game scoring. The first row is just the sum of the scores from the state elections. The second row is for media markers. Ivan made a killing. I did moderately well, not because I had many markers, but because I had some early markers, which were worth more points. The third row is for party membership. I was surprised that I had the most members. I only caught up and overtook the others in the last two elections, both of which I won. My party platforms matched the national board well, and I think that was what gave me a big boost. The fourth row is the bonus points for having the most members. The fifth row is for having party policies that match the national opinions. It was my turn to make a killing here - all five of my policies matched the national opinions. The last row is the bonuses for matching national opinions which are secured opinions, i.e. the voters are very adamant and it is hard to change their minds.

Our scores were actually quite close, except for Dith who had a tougher time because his policies tended to deviate from the others, so he was against the mainstream. Also there were a few opinion polls that hurt his party quite badly.

I was surprised our game of Die Macher took only 3.5 hours (excluding rules explanation). It was the first time for Dith and Ivan, and Allen had only played half a game before. I had expected to need 4 - 4.5 hours. It was a very fulfilling experience. Die Macher doesn't feel like a 1986 game at all.

Thursday 19 June 2014

in photos: Age of Steam, 6 Nimmt / Category 5, Through the Ages

4 Jun 2014. I bought four 2-player maps for Age of Steam quite some time ago, but had only played one of them. I took some days off work recently, and took the opportunity to play these 2P maps with my wife Michelle. This is the Antebellum Louisiana map. Only three types of goods are used - red, blue, black. The map starts with only two cities and no towns. One special rule for this map is you can spend money to build towns, which can then be urbanised to become cities. The two starting cities are so far apart that it's not feasible to build one long track to link them up. Intermediate stops are needed.

I issued shares aggressively to gain cash, and I spent them on bidding for turn order, grabbing the urbanisation action, building towns, urbanising them to become cities, and picking goods to deliver. I did this in the first two rounds, and then realised I had made a grave mistake. I had issued too many shares and spent too much money, and I was not making enough profit. I ended up in the embarrassing situation of borrowing money to pay interests. That of course led me into a downward spiral, and eventually I went bankrupt! Disgraceful! In the mean time, Michelle simply piggy-backed on the new cities I built, building tracks cheaply, and still being able to deliver some goods. She reached the breakeven point, so she could do nothing and still win, because I was already digging my own grave. She only had to wave and smile while I crashed and burned.

My (green) income level dropped back to zero because I did not have enough cash on hand to pay dividends, and when I went negative, I was out of the game for being bankrupt.

I asked for a rematch, this time on the 1867 Georgia Reconstruction map. This map uses 3 goods types too, and also starts with two cities. What is unique here is there are some unfinished tracks which players can claim by finishing them. In this game I focused on developing the area between the two starting cities. At this point two towns have been urbanised to become cities A and C.

Most of the competition was in the corridor where the two starting cities were located, on the right side. Later when we expanded to the left side, it was not for making money. It was only for scoring points. There were no cities on the left where we could deliver goods. Michelle and I were on par in delivering goods and making money. However she (red) did much better in building more tracks and longer tracks. Eventually she won the game with a comfortable margin.

The red goods on the red cities were mostly untouched. The two red cities were right next to each other, so there was not much incentive to deliver the red goods. Such a one-route delivery would only increase profitability by $1. Now I had just built a new track from the red 123 city to the town on its lower left. This new track opened up new opportunities. I could deliver a red good in a roundabout way, all the way to the blue 456 city and then back to the other red city just next door. This was good for me, but unfortunately it was equally good for Michelle. She could do similar deliveries. So this move didn't help me gain on her at all.

8 Jun 2014. I taught my children and my niece to play Category 5 (6 Nimmt / Take 6). This is an old classic from Wolfgang Kramer, probably 20 years old.

12 Jun 2014. I think Chen Rui (7) doesn't quite get the longer term strategies in Category yet, e.g. it is not just about playing a card that won't get you into trouble now, it is also about making sure the other cards left in your hand which you will eventually have to play won't get you into trouble (or at least not too much trouble). She took many cards from the table (which is a bad thing).

On the other hand, Shee Yun (9) when playing this game kept saying she needed to think carefully. I'm glad that games are triggering her to strategise and to plan.

Chen Rui asked her elder sister for help, but when Shee Yun picked a card for her, she picked a wrong one by mistake, causing Chen Rui to take more cards. Oops!

Feeling defeated.

13 Jun 2014. There was a period when Michelle and I played Through the Ages intensively. During the recent holiday I brought it out again, and it was still as great as ever. Michelle and I play a peculiar peaceful variant. In the official peaceful variant, aggression and war cards are removed from the game. In our version we don't attack each other, but these (now useless) cards stay in the game. I suppose we keep them just in case. If at some point one of us decides to break the truce and attack, then the option is available. It is a little absurd - we are setting a rule which we may break. In practise, I think Michelle only broke the peace once, in one particular game where she was trailing by a wide margin. I don't remember whether that attack won her the game. Probably not. But at least she felt better. I think we should just use the official variant.

In this particular game, we did a lot of colonising. Michelle founded four colonies (dark green cards, upper left). I had three (lower right). I had a good start, while Michelle struggled in the early game, because she was a little rusty, not only in Through the Ages but in boardgaming in general. However she did better and better by mid game, and soon commanded a strong lead. Her empire generated more science and more culture. We competed in military strength and neither of us managed to stay on top for long. Near the end of the game, I built the First Space Flight wonder (purple card, lower left), which gave me 33VP's. It catapulted me to the front, and won me the game. I was surprised how many points it gave me. By mid game I had been expecting to lose because overall Michelle was doing better than me.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

random thoughts on Hearthstone

I've won 144 games on Hearthstone. Assuming my win rate is about 50% (which is quite optimistic of me) I should have played around 300 games now. I still enjoy the game very much. So far I have only completed one season (end of May 2014), and the highest rank I managed to reach was 15 (lowest is Rank 25, highest is Rank 1, and above Rank 1 there is a Legendary Rank). I hovered around Ranks 16 to 18 at end of May, but recently I have been doing rather poorly, being stuck at Rank 20. At Ranks 20 to 25 you can't drop ranks. Else I probably would have fallen further. I'm not sure what I am doing wrong. Or is it that there are more and more good players? Or the system is matching me with more experienced players, who are mostly better players than me? Despite the many losses, I still like playing in Ranked mode, because I get to play against strong opponents. I like the challenge and the tension.

There are some characters that I prefer over others, e.g. I like playing Warlock and Shaman, I don't quite like playing Druid, but generally I play all characters and don't have any strong preference for any one character. I pick characters based on the quests available. I have constructed one deck per character. I don't fiddle with my decks much. Sometimes when I keep losing with a particular deck, I'll review it and fine-tune it. But generally, I just play.

I get annoyed when I run into players who use many legendary cards. Legendary cards are powerful cards. You can only have one copy of each in your deck, unlike regular cards which you can have two copies of. Since Legendary cards are usually quite powerful, I often have no counter for them. I don't have many Legendary cards myself, so when I see an opponent playing one Legendary card after another, I feel helpless. I also feel frustrated because I feel I'm losing because of the cards he has access to, and not necessarily because he has built his deck better or he has played more skillfully.

I admire players who make very clever use of common cards, and players who hold back cards to be used at the right time. Not players who rely on many powerful cards.

I see some common combos. There is one where a Priest player plays a spell card to double a minion's health, and then another spell card to increase its attack value to be the same as its health value. That minion can become so strong that it can killed off the opponent Hero that same turn. The first time I saw this, I thought it was a very clever combo. However after I encountered this a few more times, I found it to be formulaic, unimaginative and annoying. I prefer opponents who have variety in their decks and who are flexible. Repeatedly used formulas and standard killer moves bore me.

Sometimes it's not just specific combos of a few cards, it's also generally how a deck is constructed. For example a deck with many murlocs is easy to build - just search for keyword "murloc" - and it can be very powerful because murlocs often boost one another's abilities. There is not much skill in building a murloc deck, and there is not much skill required to play a murloc deck effectively. I think it's quite one-dimensional. Thankfully I don't run into murloc decks all that often. If I do, then the fun is in seeing whether I can defeat it, despite knowing how powerful it can be. I am not so keen about using a murloc deck regularly myself.

I am more and more familiar with the characters and their cards now, so when I play I start to anticipate what cards my opponent may have, and I try to avoid getting myself into situations where he can deal a devastating blow. It is very satisfying to be able to reach this next level of play. There is more to think about. There is more skill involved. I think this is what makes CCG's so captivating. The fact that I'm ranting about some of the annoyances I have with Hearthstone means I'm really getting into this game, so it's a good thing. It is rewarding.

I usually just play two or three games per day, which is not all that much. Some days I play a bit more. Some days I don't play. It is very convenient to pick up the iPad and just play. The game is quick and smooth, yet is still challenging and has some depth.

I have been hoping to get to this level of play with Android: Netrunner - to go beyond the initial floundering and to start appreciating and utilising the intricacies of the game. I've installed the software to play Android: Netrunner online, but I still have not actually tried using it. It's a PC-based software, so it's not as convenient or user-friendly as Hearthstone on the iPad. Also the player pool is much smaller. I am still hesitant because it's a little intimidating, but I hope I can bite the bullet and delve further into Android: Netrunner. It is a more complex game than Hearthstone and I think it will be even more satisfying if I commit the effort to learn to play it well.

Thursday 5 June 2014

miscellaneous: the game bringer

I didn't realise that my fellow players always think of me as the game bringer until they mentioned it recently. In hindsight, it is very obvious. It's just one of those things you don't really think about, like how the sky is blue. Whenever I go to, I almost always bring something (or somethings) from my game shelf. I can always find something that I'm in the mood to play. If no one suggests any game to play, I'll take out what I have brought and teach the others to play. Better that than wasting time browsing the shelves to decide what to play, and sometimes having to struggle through half-remembered rules. On a recent visit, I didn't bring anything because I was in a hurry, and when I asked my friends what we were playing, they all looked at me and asked me - didn't you bring anything?

I tend to plan ahead what to play, as opposed to going to game night with the expectation to play, but with no idea at all which games to play. Having something in mind makes me look forward to the session, and I like that feeling. I'm not insistent about what I want to bring to the table. I just want to have a Plan B when Plan A is "let's think of something to play on the spot".

I feel blessed that when I stand in front of my game shelf I can always find something I want to play. This is completely unlike those first-world-problem-joke ladies with a full wardrobe complaining about having nothing to wear, and guys with a full shelf of PC games DVD's complaining about having nothing to play. It's already June, and I realise so far this year I have only added two games to my collection - Race for the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts (an expansion), and Love Letter (a home-made copy). I have reached a saturation point. There are still so many games in my collection that I'm eager to play, that I have little urge to try new games. I do still read about new games, just that not many of them interest me. I don't resist playing new games, just that nowadays I'm much less proactive in seeking them out.

This is an old photo. For reference only.

I recently taught Sinbad, Dith and Zoff (not sure of spelling) Thebes, a game about archaeology. One of the mechanisms in the game is, of course, digging for artifacts. You do this by spending time units to draw a number of chips from a bag. Some chips are blank, i.e. you only get dirt, while some chips are artifacts or other goodies. In this old photo above, I drew 10 chips, only to find two items of value. In my recent game, I drew 11 chips, and all turned out to be dirt! And this happened while the dig site was still quite fresh, i.e. other players have not dug many artifacts from there. That day was really not my day...

In Thebes, one card type that players can collect is conference cards. The more you collect, the more they are worth. If there is only one player collecting these, it can be very dangerous for the others. If all the others are reluctant to spend effort to hinder that single player attending conferences, i.e. no one wants to "take one for the team", then the single player may end up laughing all the way to the bank. This situation happened in our game. Dith was first to go after the conference cards. Zoff followed suit soon afterwards, and Sinbad and I eagerly urged him on. Zoff was suspicious and felt used, and later decided screw you guys I'm going for something else. He went on to do very well at the digs - the complete opposite of how I fared. We all thought he was going to win. When it came to the final scoring, we were shocked that he lost to Dith by exactly one point! We could not stop laughing and screaming we told you so! There were a few times during the game that even Dith himself advised Zoff he should grab the conference card to prevent Dith himself from claiming more. I don't think I have ever had so much laughter over a game of Thebes.

This is another old photo.

After Thebes, I taught Sinbad, Dith and Zoff Lord of the Rings. I have always liked this game, and I enjoy teaching it to new players and watching their learning process. This is a cooperative game, so I try not to tell them what to do too much. It would be like telling people spoilers while they are watching a movie. I try to only guide them gently. However during this particular game there were a few moments when I could not resist telling them "I think we gotta run". I felt like Gandalf at Moria ("Fly, you fools!"). They were quite adamant about collecting the sun, heart and ring tokens, so that they didn't have to become corrupted at the end of the scenario. However I think it is OK to miss a few, because staying on a scenario board for too long is very risky. If a few events occur one after another, it can be disastrous for the fellowship.

Overall we did quite well. Two of us hobbits did get quite corrupted and got quite near Sauron. However we never really got into any life-and-death situation. Even if these two hobbits got killed, the ring was safely with another hobbit which was still a decent distance away from Sauron. After we won the game, I broke the news to them that we were playing at the easiest difficulty level. If we had played at normal difficulty, then you, and you, would be dead.

Sunday 1 June 2014

in photos: Entdecker, Samurai

I take back what I said about the iOS Agricola AI's. The first time I played against them recently, I thought they were pretty decent. The AI's played well and defeated me. I was a little rusty, but I could see what they were doing right and what I was doing wrong. Happily I started a second game against them, human vs two expert level AI's in a 3P game. And this was the result. The blue AI did so badly in managing food that it lost 36pts due to family members going hungry. Ever having to starve is already a big enough sin, because even one begging card (-3pts) is already a significant penalty. 12 begging cards is... unspeakable. That AI ended up with negative points. In this game, I did remember to plan for expanding my home early and increasing the family size early, lessons learnt from that first game. I didn't try to deny the blue AI food. I didn't pay attention to whether it was the other AI screwing it. Now I think the Agricola AI's is more or less like the Le Havre AI's - they are not much of a challenge, but they are available if you want a small diversion.

Spirit of the Ancients is another card from Ascension which I think is overpowered. Every time you play it, you select which Lifebound Hero it will be. The only restriction is you can't pick the same Lifebound Hero again. Every time this card is bought, the owner will pick Cetra, Guide of Ogo, another card which I think is overpowered. And then there are also many other Lifebound Heroes which are very powerful. This card is fun when you have it, but I think it's almost a card which will cost you the game if your opponent manages to buy it before you do.

16 May 2014. Allen came to play, and we revisited Sekigahara. I played Tokugawa this time (black) while he played Ishida (gold). I thought I did quite well throughout the early game. I managed to control more castles as well as more resource locations. My battle losses were a little high, but I didn't feel it was too alarming. Then I sent my leader Tokugawa Ieyasu on an attack, which failed, and on Allen's counterattack, Tokugawa got killed, and I lost the game. I was too impetuous. That attacked which I launched was a 4 blocks vs 3 blocks attack. It wasn't a crucial one I needed to win, and I was only able to deploy 3 of my 4 blocks. Allen was able to deploy all three of his. I should not have put my Tokugawa block in danger like this. What a stupid stupid stupid move that was. Allen was shocked to see Tokugawa come up when I revealed my block. It was Christmas come early for him. Our game lasted less than half an hour, since it ended in Round 3 (of 7).

I have never won any game of Sekigahara, so I think I'm getting a little desperate. I need to rethink carefully to improve my play. This game is teasing me like a seductress!

Innovation was the only game on all three of Han, Allen and my top ten lists when we did such an exercise of making these lists a few years ago. It was good bring it out again, and I still enjoy the game very much. This is a game with much chaos and much randomness. There is also some luck. Don't equate randomness and luck though. Randomness is how the game situation can change quickly, how powerful tools can suddenly become useless, how weak weapons can suddenly become crucial, and how new powers come into play. Luck is gaining an advantage (or even winning a game) due to factors beyond the players' control, i.e. you don't feel like you deserve to win, and it isn't a fruit of your efforts. It's probably impossible to draw a clear line between randomness and luck. They overlap. I'd consider Innovation a chaotic and random game, but not a luck game. You do need to strategise and work hard to make your cards work for you, in order to be competitive and to win.

Hmm... maybe I'm saying this because I won. :-P

23 May 2014. Allen's colleagues Adam and Salah, who are relatively new to the hobby, joined us to play, so we decided to pick something from the classic era, something not too long and not too complex. We decided to give Entdecker a go. This is designed by Klaus Teuber of The Settlers of Catan fame. It is from around the same era. Allen bought a copy last year and deposited it at my place for rules reading, but we never got around to playing it. So it was good to be able to check something off our to-do list.

These cardboard pieces are the native chieftains' homes. Each hut contains a secret good token, the value of which is known only to the first player who has sent an explorer to negotiate a deal with the chieftain. The player who later places an explorer on the space with an eye will get to peek at the hidden good. At the end of the game, only one player with the most explorers next to a hut will claim the good token and score points.

The game starts with an empty board, and throughout the game players draw and place tiles to fill up the map. Whenever you discover a piece of land, you have the option to place one of your game pieces onto that piece of land. When an island is completed, it is scored, and whoever has pieces on it gains points.

The large white house is a settlement. The flat yellow piece is a fortress. The small white cylinders are explorers. Settlements are strongest in competing for island scoring, followed by fortresses and then explorers. If another player needs to sail past your settlement or fortress en route to making a voyage of discovery, he must pay a toll fee. Explorers may be weakest, but after an island they are on is scored, they get to visit the chieftains and try to win influence over their tribes. That is a very important mission because the end-game scoring is a large chunk of the total score.

We are near the end-game now. The map is almost completed. Adam (yellow) and I (white) are engaged in a fierce competition over that huge island at the centre. Two of my explorers are on separate tiny islands which may turn out to be connected to the big island. Tension!

The game feels a little like Carcassonne. However, in Carcassonne you draw a tile and then try to find a place to connect it to the map, while in Entdecker you have to decide up front where you want to sail from and then you draw a tile and hope it fits. In Entdecker, you may select from face-up stacks so that you will know for sure that the tiles will fit, but it is more costly to buy such tiles.

Adam (yellow) had invested four (!) explorers on the first hut, even though Allen (purple) had only put up a weak challenge. Needless to say, it turned out to be the 15VP good - the highest valued good.

We also played Samurai, where we got completely schooled by Allen, who is a big fan of the game. This copy is a second-hand copy, and the previous owner lovingly sealed up every single tile with plastic. Amazing! I'm not a sleeving guy myself, but this kind of effort is impressive.

Pieces on Kyushu and Shikoku (on the right) have all been claimed now. I don't think I'm playing very effectively. I am green (I mean my player colour, not that I'm new to the game). I tend to be opportunistic and whenever I can I snipe away pieces just before others can claim them. I don't really have any overarching plan to try to influence specific areas.

I tried to focus on monks and rice, and seemed to be doing well in the first half of the game. However as the game wore on, my progress seemed to stall. At game end, I didn't have majority in either factions, so I didn't even qualify to compete for shogunate.