Sunday, 22 January 2017

boardgaming in photos: Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers, San Juan, Captain Sonar

13 Nov 2016. Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers. It had been a while since I last played. I think it was the first time for the children.

In the original Carcassonne, the farmer scoring is a little complex and difficult to teach. In Hunters and Gatherers, this element is simplified. Instead of needing to count the number of forests (the equivalent of castles) your meadow is connected to, you simply count the number of animals you can hunt. There is no confusion with a forest being connected to multiple meadows. Each animal can only be in one meadow. This is not necessarily better, just easier to teach.

A forest with a gold nugget gives the player who completes it a benefit. This incentivises players to help others complete their forests. When you do this, you get to draw a special tile from a separate deck. These are always better-than-average tiles, and some have special powers. This is something not found in basic Carcassonne. The fishing huts are also a new element. They are scored at game end. You earn points based on the number of fishes in the whole interconnected river network.

In our game we had one humongous meadow right at the centre. Everyone fought over it. In this photo Shee Yun (yellow) was leading.

This was the end of the game. Our central meadow had become even more impressive. Slightly to the left of the centre, you can see the forest fire tile. This tile neutralises all tigers in the meadow. Normally each tiger neutralises a deer. With a forest fire tile, all deers are saved from tigers. Just don't ask me why deers don't fear fires. Near the left edge of the map, you can see a tile with a stonehenge-like structure. That's a shrine. Whoever controls the shrine controls the meadow it is in. Shee Yun was the one who drew the shrine tile, placed a meeple to claim it, and then merged that meadow to the main central meadow. So all our manoeuvring and fighting over the central meadow had been in vain. Shee Yun defeated all of us in one fell swoop.

The score track.

25 Nov 2016. Jason, Allen and I played this 2nd edition of San Juan, the Puerto Rico card game. The 2nd edition has some new cards, and some old cards are modified. It was still fun after all these years. I enjoyed the new cards. I am a big fan of Race for the Galaxy, which is inspired by Puerto Rico and shares many mechanisms with San Juan. However I've never felt San Juan unnecessary. I own both, just that my San Juan is the first edition.. San Juan is more brisk, but still quite strategic. Race for the Galaxy is richer, more complex, but it can be intimidating.

13 Jan 2017. I brought Captain Sonar to, so this time I played with gamers instead of non-gamers. We did two games. I sat out the first one since we had exactly 8 other players. It was interesting to watch them play. I felt nervous for them. Sim (left) and Jeff (right) were the radio operators. Both made mistakes when tracking the enemy submarine's path, so I knew it would take a while for them to locate each other. Eventually it was Jeff who managed to narrow down the right position first. He knew he made some missteps, so he used the path he traced as just a rough estimation. His team used the drone and sonar to help him better determine the enemy position. Eventually his team won.

Jason was the only other player who had played Captain Sonar, but prior to this he played the turn-based version, which I have never tried (and have little interest in trying). He said that with no time limit, they considered and planned many things in detail. Before the captain decided where to move, they made sure the resulting route could fit into as many positions on the board as possible, so that the enemy radio operator could not easily narrow down the possibilities. In a real-time game, there is no such luxury. Having heard Jason's description, I am even more convinced that I should not do the turn-based version.

It turned out that gamers enjoy the game very much too. Success!

In this photo you can compare how close the radio operators' trackings are to the actual paths made by the captains. Captains' paths at top right and top right, and radio operators' trackings at bottom left and bottom right. Naturally you need to compare top left to bottom right, and top right to bottom left, because the radio operators are tracking the path of the enemy submarine.

I participated in the second game. This time I played radio operator, a role I hadn't tried before. I concentrated hard on the enemy captain, almost to the point of ignoring the rest of my team, but I still managed to make some mistakes. It was not easy! I did manage to do a decent enough job, and so did my counterpart on the other team, who had by then experienced one game and understood how things worked. Both of us managed to work out where each other were. In our first encounter we both scored hits. Due to path constraints we headed off in different directions. The enemy submarine took the opportunity to surface and repair all breakdowns. My team didn't. We had self-inflicted one point of damage due to poor management of the auto-recovery circuits. That minor explosion had allowed us to clear our board of all breakdowns. Don't ask me how we shot ourselves. I had to pay attention to the enemy captain and had no time for chit chat. Both our submarine and the opponent submarine circled around, and were poised for our second encounter. We both had good ideas where the other vessel was. We were both ready to strike once we got in range. Then the enemy used Silence. For a short moment, I couldn't be sure where they were. They could be headed towards us, or headed away from us, and I didn't know how far they had moved. It turned out that they had taken a bold move, speeding right into our range of fire. They shot first, and sank us before we could fire. When both sides know where the other is, speed becomes critical.

I have played four games, and I have lost all of them. I am either jinxed or a lousy player. Now there is only one role I have not tried - the first mate. My fellow gamers commented that one of the responsibilities of the first mate was to be the bridge between captain and engineer. He does sit between them. I have never thought of it that way. I feel this is not quite right though. I think it is better that the captain communicates directly with the engineer, or the engineer proactively warns the captain. I guess the first mate can pay attention to what the captain is doing and what the engineer is doing, and point out any risks, but him being an office boy would probably be inefficient.

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