Sunday, 12 March 2017

boardgaming in photos: Race for the Galaxy, Ark, Pickomino, Yspahan, Arena: Roma II, 7 Wonders: Duel

29 Jan 2017. It had been a while since I played Race for the Galaxy, one of my most played games. I brought it back to Sabah to play during the Chinese New Year holidays. This set contains all the expansions in the first story arc - The Gathering Storm, Rebel vs Imperium and The Brink of War. The deck is monstrous and rather unwieldy, but I'm too lazy to sort the cards. I like the gameplay even though it's a little complex in this form.

I bought the fourth expansion Alien Artifact, and even bought a second copy of the base game because of it, since it's a new story arc. Unfortunately I didn't quite like the new mechanism in this expansion - the alien orb. I haven't played this expansion much, not even in the format excluding the alien orb. It is supposed to be better balanced than the first story arc. The fifth expansion has been released now - Xeno Invasion. I decided not to buy it, since I don't play Race much nowadays. No point getting it just for the sake of completeness.

19 Feb 2017. We had a kind-of family day of boardgaming, playing quite a few games in one long afternoon. My wife Michelle joined us at the beginning, playing Machi Koro. This was her second time playing and she didn't do as well as the first time, because she was not very familiar with the game. My children Shee Yun and Chen Rui and I had played Machi Koro many times and we knew the buildings well.

The children ganged up on me again. This was understandable, since I was the leading player throughout most of the game. When one of their aggressive cards was triggered, they normally chose to target me. Sometimes when certain powers were triggered, they would even forgo their own benefit to help the other gain an advantage. E.g. when Chen Rui rolled a 10, she would use her Harbour to convert the result to 12 so that Shee Yun's Tuna Boat could be triggered. Chen Rui didn't have any Tuna Boat herself.

We now play with just the base game and the Harbour expansion. I have taken out the Millionaire's Row expansion. It feels better with fewer cards in the mix. With too many cards, the deck is too diluted and it is difficult to collect many cards of one type or of the same family to create effective combos. Maybe next time we should play with base game + Millionaire's Row, swapping out Harbour.

The children still enjoy Love Letter. The effort spent self-making this Adventure Time themed version was definitely worthwhile. The cards are already looking a little battered. I love the artwork in this themed version, which I found on BGG. Compared to the original, I find the original rather dull. I'm sure the children prefer the Adventure Time artwork too.

This is Ark, a game about Noah's ark. Shee Yun (right) suggested it. She is going to a missionary school now, and I wonder whether that's why she is interested in this game based on a Bible story. This was the first time the children played this game.

On the right half of the photo where animals are grouped into sets, these sets represent cabins on the ark. During the game your job is to load animals onto the ark. There are many restrictions and difficulties. Large carnivores cannot share a cabin with smaller animals, because they would eat the other animals. Herbivores cannot share a cabin with your provisions, because they would eat your provisions. Every animal has a weight and will tilt the ark one way or the other depending on which side of the ark you put it. The ark must be kept in balance. Initially I wondered whether all these would be too much for the children, but it turned out OK. We just kept reminding one another and they managed fine.

This is essentially an area majority game. There are five categories of animals, and you compete to load the most in each category. I remember when I first played Ark, it felt so-so. The setting was unusual, the artwork cute, but gameplay was not particularly interesting. Having played it again recently, my opinion did not change.

Chen Rui is good at Pickomino. Or she's lucky. But not so lucky this time. I managed to beat her quite comfortably. We did a 2-player game since Shee Yun was not interested.

The tiles in the centre are the score tiles. The numbers are the dice total you need to achieve in order to claim the tile. The worms are the victory points. When you claim a new tile, you stack it on top of your existing tiles. The tile on top is still vulnerable - other players may rob it from you if they manage to roll the exact number.

This is Yspahan, on older game that has faded away. Most newer gamers will not know it. It uses dice in an interesting way, like the more recent El Gaucho (2014). At the start of a round, the start player rolls a bunch of dice and then groups them by value. For the rest of the round, the players take turns claiming a dice group to perform actions, the strengths of the actions depending the number of dice in the group.

Things seemed to go rather too smoothly in the game we played. I think both Michelle and I managed to construct all six of our buildings, and Chen Rui managed five. I wonder whether we made a mistake. It felt too easy. We did mostly ignore the caravan aspect, and we didn't aggressively hinder one another. Maybe due to these we saved much energy and managed to build our individual engines efficiently. I felt a little empty though, because things went too well. Geez... gamers are hard to please...

By Day 2 of Week 3 (the final week of the game), only Michelle (red) had 2 cubes at the caravan - the smaller board on the right.

24 Feb 2017. I asked Allen whether he wanted to go to He had to babysit his kids. So I went to his place to play instead. Arena: Roma II was one of the games we played. This is Roma Version 2. I had played Roma before, but had forgotten almost everything about it. I had to learn the rules from scratch.

This is a 2-player game. The game board is a long strip divided into 9 sections. On your turn you roll 3 dice, and use them to perform actions. If you place a die on the coin space (leftmost section of the strip), you earn coins according to the die value. If you place a die on the card space (rightmost section), you draw cards according to the die value. If you place a die on any of the seven spaces in the middle, you trigger the power of the card on that space. Six of these spaces only allow a specific die value. The 7th space - the bribery space - allows any die value, but you must pay coins according to the die value. Playing a card does not require spending a die, but there is a cost in coins.

You start the game with 10 Victory Points, which prepares you for losing VP in the early game. Every empty space in the middle seven sections causes you to lose 1VP at the start of your turn. So it is important to try to fill up your side of the strip. The game ends in two ways. You lose if you lose all VP. The game also ends when the VP tokens run out. You compare scores to see who wins. The VP tokens are the light blue and light green square tokens.

The most important element in the game is the card powers. At the top left corner of each card you can see the cost for playing the card and its defense value when being attacked. There is much variety in card powers. Some let you score VP. Some let you attack and try to remove your opponent's cards. Most cards are triggered by a die, but some require no die. In this photo, the card on the right lets me discard another one of my cards and then score VP according to its defense value.

Cards come in two colours. Green cards are buildings, yellow cards are characters.

My Ballista card lets me attack a card directly or diagonally opposite it, but it may only attack buildings and not characters. If Allen limits himself to character cards at these three positions, he will not need to worry about the Ballista. You may play a card to an occupied space. It will replace the existing card.

The second space from the right is the bribery space. You may use any die to trigger the card here, but you must pay a cost equal to the die value.

In this photo both of us had filled up all spaces. Arena: Roma II is all about how you make good use of your cards and how you respond to your opponent's cards. There is interaction between cards, e.g. how the Ballista may only attack buildings, but most card powers are individual and don't synergise with other cards to create combos. The key is how to match your card play with the board situation. If you have a card which scores points based on how many character cards your opponent has, you probably want to hold on to it until your opponent has played many characters. Or you can play a Ballista to entice him to play more characters first.

Allen and I played two games. I had a horrible start in the first game. I kept losing VP because my hand cards were high cost cards and I was unable to earn enough money due to low die rolls. It took me a long time to fill in the spaces on my side of the strip. That was painful. The second game was kinder to me. No death spiral in the early game.

Arena is a fast-paced game. There is some strategy. There aren't that many rounds - just enough for you to feel satisfied that you've done something, exercised some mental muscles. How the VP chips work is interesting. It is not necessarily about scoring as many points and as quickly as you can. If your opponent's rate of scoring points is higher than you, that's suicide. You are just expediting the game end and digging your own grave. You should instead try to force him to lose points, or you should attack his point-scoring cards. You need to slow down the game. There is an interesting balance between being constructive and being destructive. In the early game, destroying your opponent's cards can force him into a bad position, and you may even be able to force him to lose the game by running out of VP's.

I also taught Allen to play 7 Wonders Duel. I had played it with Michelle a few times, but playing it against Allen allowed me to see some aspects which I hadn't seen before. One of these is the tech tokens. When playing with Michelle, she preferred to collect many different science symbols, hoping to achieve a science victory. She didn't go for pairs of identical science symbols to claim tech tokens. When playing against Allen, we made more use of these tech tokens, and I found that some of them synergise rather well. They can also help tremendously when pursuing a specific strategy. The other aspect which came into play more was the military aspect. Responding to military threats is not just about keeping your opponent a safe enough distance away from your capital, it is also about denying him victory points. Having a military advantage can also force your opponent's hand when he is picking cards from the table. You can force him to pick military cards to protect himself, allowing you to take another card which you want, or which he would otherwise have wanted. It is interesting to see how 7 Wonders Duel gradually reveals some of these subtleties.

No comments: