Sunday 25 June 2017

little stories: Escape, Machi Koro

Recently Benz, Ruby, Edwin, Xiaozhu and I resumed our Escape quest - we wanted to try out all the expansions that I own. We got stuck with one particular mission - the one which required sacrificing two dice. It sounded simple enough, but again and again we failed. We had managed to complete all other missions, but the victory over this one proved elusive. It was as if we were cursed. The bright side of it was we certainly had many entertaining failures.

In one particular game, Benz and I were separated from the other three. We had expected that the two of us would cover each other if we needed help. That was what partnership was about. However it turned out that both of us got all our dice locked! We were quite far from the rest. They were forced to launch a rescue mission to get us. It took much time and effort, and needless to say, we were nowhere near escaping the temple when time ran out.

In another game, I was down to four dice when I got completely paralysed. All dice were locked. I couldn't do anything except wait for rescue. We were quite conservative about adding the extra gem to unlock all dice. Then one of my teammates managed to reach me and unlocked all four of my dice at one go. I picked them up excitedly and rolled, only to get four black masks and immediately locked them all again. What were the chances? 1 in 1296. Whoever saved me must be thinking what a waste of oxygen I was.

We played with the curses expansion. One curse which I found particularly nasty was the one which weakened the yellow masks. Normally a yellow mask unlocks two locked dice. If the curse is in effect, your yellow masks only unlock one locked die each. This doesn't sound like much, but from experience, it easily leads to too many dice locked and it heavily hinders progress. It is definitely one of the curses you want to break sooner rather than later, if at all possible.

When we finally managed to beat the two-dice-sacrifice mission, it happened within the last 10 seconds of the countdown. All five of us managed to assemble in the same room - the one next to the exit room - with 20 seconds or so remaining. All of us had lost dice, we each had 2 or 3 left, which was a precarious situation. We needed to move one step to the exit room, and then move again to exit the temple. With few dice left, we were nervous about dice getting locked. We stayed close together, so that in case anyone's die was locked, someone else could try to help him unlock. We all frantically tried to roll the icons we needed to move. Those who did not have the right icons to move tried to get the right icons. Those who had the right icons and had a surplus die tried to roll the golden mask, so that they could immediately help anyone who had dice locked. Those who had no dice to roll watched nervously, waiting for when everyone had the right icons to move. Once everyone could move, we must move immediately. Time was running out. When we got to the temple exit, I was the first to see that everyone had enough icons to exit. I was under the silent curse so I couldn't speak. I waved my hands desperately in a shoo-shoo manner to tell everyone to run. The soundtrack was playing the last stretch of crescendo when we stepped outside into glorious sunlight. It was such a tense moment I almost screamed.

We all felt drained after this session. We had made four attempts and only succeeded upon the last. We had tried this two-dice-sacrifice mission before quite a few times in previous game sessions. I have lost count of how many times we failed.

The missions expansion of Escape comes with three difficulty levels. You play with one, two or three missions. So far with Benz's group we've only played with one mission. Given how challenging it can be with even one mission, it is unimaginable how we can survive three missions. I don't remember whether I have done two or three missions when I played 2-player games of Escape with Shee Yun, or whether I used the curses and treasures expansions. It may be more manageable without curses.

I played Machi Koro with the children again, this time swapping out the Harbour expansion and swapping in the Millionaire's Row expansion. I now firmly believe it is better to play with one or the other, not both, because the card pool becomes too diluted when both are added.

Millionaire's Row has more destructive elements. You can force your opponents' buildings to go into renovation. You can force the dreaded loan office onto your opponents. Games can drag a little longer. In our game I managed to get a good furniture factory combo going. If I rolled an 8, I would earn a huge sum which would allow me to build a landmark. Unfortunately for me, Chen Rui made use of her renovation company to force my furniture factories into renovation precisely the turn before I rolled an 8. So my 8 merely helped me cancel the renovation status. I had to wait for my next 8 to earn my windfall. This sounds a little frustrating, but if you enjoy Machi Koro and play it often, an occasional change in scenery is refreshing. This expansion is not bad, just a little different.

The star in our recent game was the Tech Startup built by Chen Rui (10), i.e. the photo above. At the end of each of your turns, you may put $1 from your own pocket onto the Tech Startup. If you manage to activate it, you collect an amount from every opponent equal to what you have amassed on it. You need to roll a 10 to activate it. When Chen Rui declared she wanted to build it, I told her it was a bad idea. At the time she only had a handful of buildings in her town. She didn't even have the train station yet so she could not roll two dice, which meant she wouldn't be able to activate the Tech Startup yet. I advised her that she should work on some smaller buildings which could be activated with a single die, and not rush into the more advanced buildings. This was what Shee Yun (12) and I were doing. Chen Rui insisted on building the startup, saying she was planning for the future. I shrugged and let her decide for herself. I suspect she decided to do it because it was cheap anyway. To my surprise, she soon built her train station, and after that she kept rolling 10's, robbing Shee Yun and I each time. Tech Startup was super effective! I joked that she had built Google. In the photo above she had invested a total of $11. Eventually she increased that to $13. Every time her turn came, Shee Yun and I winced and prayed she would not roll a 10.

I made a rather clumsy blunder. Towards late game, I commanded a strong lead. I had built the airport, so every turn that I didn't construct a building, I would earn $10. This let me steadily amass money for my next landmark. Eventually it was down to one last landmark. When my turn came again, I happily declared that I would not build anything. I greedily clawed $10 more from the bank to add to my stash. The girls burst into laughter. I didn't understand why. I was going to win and they laughed? They debated whether to tell me. I had no clue. Eventually they explained to me that I already had enough money to build my last landmark. I had $24. My last landmark costed $22. Somehow I kept thinking I needed $30 for that last landmark. I had been focusing too much on the airport, which costed $30. I had already built it and I had been using its power. Thankfully I managed to last one full round without my money being robbed by either of them, so I still managed to win, albeit one round later than I should have. The children would have had an even bigger laugh had I lost because of this silly mistake.

The children and I have many fond memories of Machi Koro. This is one game they will surely remember when they grow up.

Sunday 18 June 2017

Great Western Trail

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Great Western Trail is one of the more popular games within the past year. It is designed by Alexander Pfister, also a hot designer in recent years. I have tried his other popular games Mombasa and Isle of Skye, but I didn't like them. They gave me the feeling of a mesh of scoring mechanisms bound together. Isle of Skye does have an interesting auction system, but although I find it novel and clever, the rest of the game doesn't grab me. Mombasa has some clever mechanisms, but it also feels like just multiple systems for scoring existing for the sake of scoring. I can't feel the story. There is decent logic, but no emotion. Still, Great Western Trail has been getting high praise, so I didn't mind giving it a go. This time I found something I liked.

The game board has many one-directional routes and many nodes where the routes diverge and converge. The routes start from the bottom left corner, and they all eventually lead to Kansas City at the top right. At the start of the game, the board is already seeded with some neutral buildings (those square tiles with grey edges). What you do repeatedly during the game is travel from the starting point to Kansas City, each time bringing in a herd of cattle to sell. A turn consists of moving your pawn from one location to another, and then performing the actions allowed at your destination. You may use up to three movement points. Moving from one location to the next requires expending one movement point, regardless of the physical distance between the locations. At the beginning, locations are few and far apart, and you can travel long distances every turn if you choose too. As the game progresses, new locations are added to the board, and you will find yourself traveling shorter physical distances due to the more and more locations created on the board. You may need to increase your mobility. All this sounds illogical. I explain it by thinking of the locations as distractions. Each time you pass by a town, you are tempted to take a break. So improving mobility is actually improving your will power to forge ahead resisting the temptations along the way.

It is not always necessary to travel as far as possible all the time. Often you do want to take your time stopping at many useful locations to perform the actions they offer. Let's talk about the cattle herd mechanism. Every player starts the game with his own deck of cards, and a hand size of five. Your hand of cards represents the herd you are handling and bringing to Kansas City. How much they are worth depends on the card values. When you get to Kansas City, you may only count one card per colour. So what you want to do before you get there is modify your hand so that you have cards in as many different colours as possible, and preferably cards with higher values too. This is why you need to perform various actions during your journey. Other than modifying your hand, the locations have many other types of actions.

This is the player board. It keeps track of your abilities. Those white discs currently cover many abilities and actions which are not yet available. Once you move them away, you gain new abilities. Along the top, the three sections A, B and C summarises what you do on your turn. A is for moving your pawn. B is for executing actions. If you stop at a neutral location or a location you own, you may execute the action at the location, or a basic action. Basic actions are listed on the left. If you stop at any other location type, you may only execute a basic action. Section C is for replenishing your hand to the hand limit. The hand limit can be increased.

The central section is for placing your employees. You start the game with one each of cowboy, craftsman and engineer. Cowboys help you buy cattle cards. Craftsmen help you construct buildings. Engineers help you upgrade your train. Sometimes when you recruit a new employee, you gain a one-time benefit.

Everyone gets this same set of buildings. When you perform the construct action, you may directly construct one of these buildings, or upgrade an existing building to a new one. The number of craftsmen needed depends on which building you want to construct, and whether you are upgrading. Buildings have point values, as indicated in the shield icons. The black and green hands on buildings mean you get to charge a fee whenever anyone stops ar passes by. Placing your buildings at strategic locations can earn you some side income.

Everyone has a train pawn for marking his train technology level. Some buildings and actions let you increase your train level. Along the edge of the board, you can see the various cities your herd of cattle is delivered to after you sell it in Kansas City. How far you can sell depends on your herd value. You want to sell as far as possible, because that is more profitable. However in order to deliver the herd, your train needs to be sufficiently levelled up. Otherwise you will need to pay a fee to have your herd delivered. This effectively means you are earning less from the transaction.

Each city can be delivered to only once per player. This creates pressure to keep improving your herd value. If you can't sell to the next further city, you will be forced to sell to a nearer city, and usually there is a point penalty for selling to nearby cities. Due to the pressure to sell to cities further and further away, there is pressure to upgrade your train.

If you look closely at the train track, there are small detours leading to train stations. When upgrading your train, you may decide to take these detours to visit the train stations in order to upgrade them. What you do is move one disc from your player board to the station, thus improving your ability. Each train station allows one disc per player. If you are the first to upgrade a train station, you get a station master privilege. This is a permanent ability for the rest of the game. In this photo we have not started upgrading our trains, so you can still see the small rectangular station master privilege tiles next to the train stations.

Each player can deliver to the same city or upgrade the same train station at most once, so you will notice that the disc colours at each location do not repeat.

The large square tiles with red and blue borders are player buildings. When you visit your own building, you may perform the action allowed by the building. When you visit another player's building, you may only perform a basic action. The tepees represent Red Indian villages. They always charge a fee when you pass by or stop (see the green and black hands). One building type lets you claim tepees from the map. You can make money from such an action (representing trade with the Red Indians). Tepees may also help you complete missions to earn points.

There is a deck-building aspect worth mentioning. Everyone starts with the same deck of cards, and all of them are low valued. During the game you may purchase better cards to add to your deck. When purchasing a card, it is put in your discard pile. So it only goes to your draw deck the next time you need to reshuffle your discard pile. Everyone will need to buy better cards at some point. This is an area nobody can neglect.

The game has a countdown mechanism driven by the frequency of players making deliveries to Kansas City. Each time you arrive, one of the things you need to do is to update the game board. You have options to choose from, and depending on what you pick, you may add tepees to the board, or add hazardous locations to the board, or add workers to the worker pool. The worker pool acts as the countdown timer. As workers are added, a marker advances, and when that marker reaches a certain spot, the game enters the final round. How swiftly players travel, how frequently they arrive in Kansas City, and also their choices in augmenting the board game all affect how soon the game ends. You try to manipulate this pace to your benefit.

The Play

The number of different things you can do in this game is a little overwhelming, but what you actually do in one turn can be described simply. You move your pawn, then execute an action at your destination, and finally, if necessary, you draw cards up to your hand limit. The game is very much about thinking the big picture, and then making sure your tactical decisions consistently help you in your chosen strategy.

The underlying core mechanism is repeatedly herding cattle to Kansas City. That is your basic rhythm. Everything hangs off it. In itself it is not a strategy. It is your platform. In broad brushes, the strategic areas you need to consider are upgrading your cattle cards, upgrading your train, constructing buildings, and completing missions. You do need to upgrade your abilities and employ workers, but the purpose of these is mostly to help you with one of the four areas. Upgrading your cattle cards and train are two areas you must not ignore, since there is a constant pressure to improve your herd value and to deliver to cities further and further away. You have more freedom in deciding whether buildings and missions fit in your strategy. Buildings not only augment the actions you can perform, they also modify the map, making it more difficult for your opponents and also helping you earn some toll fees. Missions can give you some extra points, but if you fail to complete any you commit to, there is a penalty.

At the start of our game, I arbitrarity decided to focus on upgrading my cattle cards. I didn't know what would be important, so I made up my mind on a whim, mainly because I was interested to see how the deck-building worked here. One big mistake I made was neglecting my train upgrades. Each time a delivery was made to Kansas City, the train level was checked to see whether I needed to pay some fee to have my herd forwarded to its eventual destination. When I fell behind in train level, my profit was affected every time I made a delivery. The effect compounded and stunted my growth. Money was needed to purchase cattle cards and to recruit workers. Also I failed to make use of Han and Allen's progress. When upgrading your train (i.e. moving your train pawn along the train track), if there happens to be someone else's train on a spot before you, you get to skip that spot for free. E.g. if I am supposed to advance two steps, but there are two other train pawns right in front of mine, then I actually get to advance four steps in total. It is important to make use of this leapfrog mechanism. When I fell behind, Han and Allen's pawns become too far ahead for me to do leapfrogging. Han focused on train upgrades in the early game. This allowed him to be first to upgrade many of the train stations, getting him the station master privileges. Great Western Trail is a development game. Each time you improve your abilities, they help you to further improve, so there is a snowball effect. The station master privileges were quite handy, and with an overall more efficient play, Han eventually left Allen and I in the dust.

There is a fair bit of forward planning you need to do. The paths on the board are one-way streets. Once you miss or pass by a building, you won't be able to visit it again until the next cycle. You need to think ahead which buildings you want to use for your trip. You also need to think about how urgently you need to complete your current delivery.

Points come from many sources - delivering cattle to the more distant cities, completing missions, cattle cards, buildings, some upgrades on your player board, upgrading train stations. This is very much a point salad game. The two scoring aspects most closely related to your core activities are your cattle cards and delivering to cities. You must not neglect these; and as long as you don't, you will score reasonable points from them. It is a matter of whether you score more or less compared to others. In other aspects of scoring, you have more freedom to decide how to invest your energy. You want to play to your strengths, and be efficient - minimal effort, maximum gain.

The Thoughts

Great Western Trail is a development game. You are constantly under pressure to improve your abilities. It feels good to see how you are steadily building up your little engine. It reminds me a little of Goa. It also reminds me to Russian Railroad, but I wonder whether it's just because it has a railroad track. In Russian Railroad there are a few different general strategies you can pursue. You shouldn't try to do everything, because you will end up being a master of none. You need to be selective. In Great Western Trail, there are some areas you must work on. It is only a matter of sooner or later, and how high you want to go. In other areas, you have some freedom to decide how much effort to spend. Scoring is generally wide, unlike games like Navegador and Goa. In these games, you have to focus on a few areas in order to score high in them, i.e. you need enough depth. Great Western Trail is more about breadth. It is about how efficiently you are upgrading your abilities, and how efficiently you score points from the various sources.

Compared to Mombasa and Isle of Skye, I like Great Western Trail better because I like the central mechanism of repeatedly driving your herd through the map. It has a tempo and it creates a relentless pressure to upgrade yourself. The map evolves and each cycle through the map there will be differences. The players are collectively modifying the playing field. Navigating the map and deciding which path to take are an interesting problem to solve.

Player interaction is indirect. You grab stuff before others do, e.g. being first to upgrade a train station, being first to claim a spot with your building, buying the last cheap worker available. You place buildings to hinder your opponents and force them to pay you toll fees. Generally you can plan a few moves ahead without needing to worry that someone will spoil your plans. Still, you need to pay attention to what others are doing, especially when nearing the end of the game. You don't want to miss out on one final delivery which can be the difference between winning and losing.

Great Western Trail has many rules and details. It is not suitable for players new to boardgames. There is a similar feel to Mombasa and Isle of Skye, in the point salad nature. What sets it apart for me is that central cyclical mechanism. It gives the game character. All the other aspects of the game support and supplement this mechanism. The cycles may feel similar, but they are gradually evolving and you need to adapt.

Saturday 10 June 2017

Pax Porfiriana

Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

Pax Porfiriana is based on the rule and the eventual fall of Porfirio Díaz. He ruled Mexico as a dictator for 35 years, from 1876 to 1911. You are one of his lieutenants, a local warlord. You and your fellow colleagues are all plotting to overthrow Diaz to become president yourselves.

The card at the top left is my character. Character cards are double sided. You start the game using this grey side, which means openly you are still loyal to Diaz, and you are still earning a salary of $2 per turn from him (the two cubes). Once you flip and declare your intention to overthrow him, you lose the salary, so you'd better have secured other sources of income by then.

The game comes with many cards, but only a subset is used each time you play. During setup, four Topple cards are shuffled into the deck. Scoring is done whenever anyone activates a Topple card. If one player has enough points to overthrow the government, he wins immediately. One unusual thing about Pax Porfiriana is its scoring system. There are four types of points (called Prestige). Each time scoring is done, only one type counts. It depends on what Regime the country is under at the time of scoring. If the regime is Pax Porfiriana (i.e. peace), only Loyalty Prestige matters. If the regime is US Intervention, then only Outrage Prestige matters. To win the game you need to decide which Prestige type to gather, you need to have the right Regime, and you need to have the Topple card resolved at the right time. When a Topple card is resolved, to win the game, the leading player must have more Prestige (of the right type) than the last two players plus Diaz himself combined. Diaz's Prestige is 2 by default. So even if the last two players have 0 Prestige, you still need 3 Prestige to win.

If no one manages to overthrow Diaz by the time the fourth Topple card is resolved, whoever is richest by then is the winner, because he is the most successful among Diaz's lieutenants and will eventually succeed him when he decides to retire.

Let's go back to your character card. When you declare your intention to become President, you lose your $2 salary. However making a declaration gives you 1 Prestige, which can be crucial to winning. Each character has two types of Prestige he can choose from, but once you declare, that Prestige you gain cannot be changed. Also there is no going back to serving Diaz. In this photo the Prestige options for my character are Loyalty and Command.

The card at the bottom left is an Army card. Armies can guard your businesses, or they can be your bodyguards. They can even camp at an opponent's business to extort money. The card at the bottom right is a Partner card. This card type has many different abilities. Both these cards have an oval mark, and these are the Prestige points. They are only counted if you have played the cards. To play a card you need to pay money.

This is the game board. There are always 12 cards on offer. The prices are shown. After cards are bought, remaining cards are shifted left to fill the blanks, and new cards are added at the rightmost slots, i.e. the most expensive slots. The card at the bottom right is the current Regime. It tells you what take effect during this Regime. The red and blue cards on the right are special cards which are always available. They are powerful, but expensive. Also you must use them the moment you buy them.

The card on the left is a business. The 10 at the top right corner is the cost to play the card. The single cube at the top left means a starting income of $1 per turn. The American flag at the bottom left means this business is located in the US. The mule icon means the mode of transportation to this location. The train icon means you may upgrade the mode of transportation to train for $4.

The card on the right is a bandit. You play it on a business to rob the owner of cash, and to cause unrest. As long as the business remains in unrest, it does not make money. The owner needs to spend actions to remove unrest. The Outrage Prestige icon means when you play this card on an opponent, you give him 1 Outrage Prestige.

Let's take a closer look at this Army card on the left. The train, mule and boot icons at the bottom tell you how much it costs to deploy the Army. These icons refer to the mode of transportation at the location you wish to deploy the Army to. The Mexican flag and the text Chihuahua means this Army can only be deployed in the Chihuahua region. The text Anarchy means upon playing this card, you must change the Regime to Anarchy. Cards which change Regime are valuable, since the right Regime is crucial for victory.

The Play

I did a three player game with Han and Allen. Han taught us the game. I struggled badly at the start, being very slow in getting my businesses running. Money was tight in the early game and businesses were not cheap to start. I did try to collect cards which I felt would synergise well, but without cash to play them, I was stuck with zero progress for quite some time.

Han was the Anarchist. He focused on collecting Revolution Prestige and he needed the Anarchy Regime. Allen focused on Outrage Prestige, and he needed the US Intervention Regime. I picked Loyalty Prestige, and I needed the Pax Porfiriana Regime. All three of us were quite focused on just one Prestige type. I felt it was more efficient this way. Allen was first to threaten to win, because he amassed Outrage Prestige quite quickly, mostly due to Han sending bandits his way. Economically he was able to match Han in the early game, while I floundered, so Han mostly directed the merry men his way. The first Topple card normally comes out about 40% into the draw deck, but when the first one appeared in our game, I felt it was quite soon. Allen did not manage to win at this first Topple event, with Han and I coordinating our efforts to stop him, but I was alarmed at how soon we had to be ready for the first possible push for victory. There was no time to waste! We had to be on alert right from the start.

I had thought my case was rather hopeless, since I had such a lousy start. To my surprise, we had quite a few twists of fate in our game, and all three of us had our moments of domination and near victory. We had dramatic rises and falls in fortunes. At one event, the Sonora region (I think it was) fell into turmoil. All business were destroyed, and new ones could not be started. This was devastating to Allen, who had many business there, while I was completely unscathed, because all my businesses were in USA. The underdog suddenly became the top contender. Such a game-changing event did not just come out of the left field. All cards enter the game at the rightmost, most expensive slots on the game board. They normally won't get claimed so early, so you have time to prepare, e.g. buy it yourself to cancel the event. Also once you have some rough idea of the card mix of the game, you will know it is a bad idea to put all your eggs in one basket.

Still, this is a turbulent era, so there will be many nasty events. You can mitigate but you can't avoid taking some hits. In our game we suffered an economic depression, which hurt all of us badly. A depression is triggered when two consecutive bear events occur. Han had explained this, but I had not paid attention to the bear and bull icons. I was caught unprepared. When a depression happens, income is greatly reduced, sometimes to negative, because you need to pay $1 per card in your play area every turn. You are often forced to discard some cards because you simply can't afford to keep them. When depression hit us, Allen had amassed the most cash, but with earning power plummeting, even that kind of cash wouldn't last forever. At that point I had one card in hand which could help me change the Regime to Pax Porfiriana. I was leading in Loyalty Prestige, and I would win if I could orchestrate the next Topple card to resolve with the Pax Porfiriana Regime. I was very anxious because I had it all figured out. I had enough cash and I knew what I needed to do to win. And then on Han's turn just before my victory, he changed the Regime to Anarchy. My plans went down the drain. So near to heaven, only to find myself crashing straight to hell. It was an emotional rollercoaster.

I became kingmaker on the last turn of the game. The fourth and last Topple card was on the board. Han was poised to win because the Regime was Anarchy, and he had enough money to trigger the Topple card, and would have enough Revolution points to overthrow Diaz. I could trigger the Topple card early to spoil his plans, but the game would end anyway since this was the last Topple card. Allen would be the winner because he had the most cash on hand. In the end, I decided to stop Han, since it felt wrong to not stop the most immediate threat. So Allen won, by tiebreaker (kind of).

My play area. My character card on the left is still showing the grey side, which means I have not yet openly betrayed Diaz. I still have those two cubes earning me $2 per turn. The two orange bandit cards under my character card indicate that I have been attacked by bandits twice, each time giving me 1 Outrage Prestige. This was Han's work. He had attacked Allen and given him many Outrage Prestige points earlier in the game, and then later on he said he had to give some to me in order to prevent Allen from winning. That was so... convenient. Disrupting my businesses was an... ah... unfortunate side effect. All four cards in the centre are my businesses. One of them is still suffering from unrest (red discs), so it is not making money for now. The two mines on the right have no cubes on them because we are in a depression now. Mines don't generate income during a depression.

The Thoughts

Pax Porfiriana is about competing amidst chaos. I find the twists of fate exciting. You can never be sure how long your good fortune will last. You need to be alert all the time. It is not easy to win since the rest will always work together to rein you in. Masterminding a successful coup takes patience and careful planning. If you manage to pull it off, it is very satisfying. The buildup towards the day of reckoning is tense. That feeling of almost getting there is tantalising. This is the kind of anticipation and exhilaration in football (soccer), not the kind in basketball.

Leader bashing might be a point of contention. It seems relatively easy for the non-contenders to work together to stop the leader, when to pull of a win the leader needs to get so many balls aligned. It can be frustrating to see your carefully laid plans spoiled by a rabble of losers. Still, I feel a successful coup is very much possible, albeit challenging. In fact the difficulty makes the victory sweeter. Ultimately, everyone wants to win, and not just stop somebody else from winning. It is more important to invest in your own path to victory. You should only do the minimum necessary to stop an opponent.

The victory condition is unusual and requires getting used to, but once you grasp the concept, it is not all that complicated. Overall, this is a game with many rules and details to manage. Learning it does take some effort. However the level of detail makes the game an immersive experience. This is a gamer's game, and a flavourful one.