Saturday, 15 July 2017

boardgaming in photos: Lost Cities, Ra, Splendor

24 Jun 2017. Lost Cities is a classic from Reiner Knizia which I had not played for quite some time. I had to double check the rulebook when I taught Chen Rui (10), despite having played it many times before. I suggested this to Chen Rui one evening when both of us were bored, and she was just waiting for bedtime. A short filler was perfect for the occasion. She enjoyed it well enough, and we played again afterwards. She managed to win too, even though she always thinks she is not as good as me or her elder sister at boardgames. She has an inferiority complex, always feeling that she is not as capable as her elder sister or me. She is the youngest in the family, so it is normal that her sister is more advanced in many areas. That does not mean she is a poor performer. She calls me the boardgame god. I tell her I am but mortal. It's just that I have played more games than her. On the positive side, she has no pressure when playing and is never overly competitive. She just enjoys the moment with a carefree mind.

26 Jun 2017. Over the Raya holidays some colleagues came over to play. Some had come before, some were here for the first time. Some had tried boardgames before, but all were casual players and not hobbyists. Blokus is a game suitable for casual players and players new to boardgames. Zee Zun, Winter, Eva and Yong Le were first to arrive, so I started them off with Blokus. They quickly understood the importance of not getting blocked and planning how to extend their reach.

After Edwind arrived, I got them to play Kobayakawa, also a short game ideal for when you need to wait for others to arrive.

Confetti is a filler too. It's a real time game, so I told them it was better to play this standing up.

Once everyone was here, I joined them to play. We played The Message and Hoity Toity. The Message was not easy to teach. In particular the character powers were a little overwhelming. It was not easy to remember everybody's powers. The basic gameplay was actually not that complex. I wonder whether it would be feasible to play the first few games without character powers, or with a much simpler set of characters. It took one full game for the new players to better grasp how the game worked and to appreciate some of the tactics. After we finished our game, they suggested we go again, since they had spent the effort to learn the game. So we did a second game right afterwards.

In the second game I was on the red team. We were close to victory when I made a mistake which costed us the game. CK was my teammate and already had two red messages. I had a red message that I could send directly to him to allow us to win. What I hadn't expect was he would reject the message, because he was not yet sure I was a teammate. He only realised so when we flipped over the card to reveal the red message. In hindsight I should have revealed my identity before sending him the message. My character ability allowed me to expose my identity to delete a message in front of any other player. I should have done this to tell CK openly that I was his teammate. What a shame. We were so close!

Hoity Toity was fun. It was a highly interactive psychological game because everyone had to guess what everyone else was trying to do. I was rather greedy, hoping to steal money and artifacts from others early in the game. Both my thieves were caught very quickly, and I suffered a long time being laughed at - "don't worry about him, all his thieves are in jail". We were generally rather conservative, often not daring to put up exhibitions for fear of theft. Artifact thefts were rare. However when they did occur, it was painful for the victims. One funny incident was when we had four players deciding to visit the castle. One decided to try his luck by sending a thief. If any of the others put up an exhibition, he would have something to gain, even if it meant his thief getting caught by any detectives who might be present. Unfortunately all other players decided to send detectives. So the poor fellow was mobbed by detectives, and had nothing to gain but a jail sentence.

Another surprising incident was when five of us decided to visit the auction house. With so many players coming, sending a thief was risky, because whenever there was more than one thief, none of the thieves would be able to steal the money spent at the auction. To our surprise, Zee Zun made the gamble, and became the only person to have sent a thief. He managed to steal the money paid by the highest bidder.

Ra reminds me of the time I spent in Taiwan. I introduced it to my friends there, and all of us played it many times.

When I tried it with this group, it worked out well too.

They understood that when their sun tiles were weak, they needed to invoke Ra frequently to prevent those players with strong sun tiles from getting too many good tiles.

My copy of Ra is an old German version. When I first learned of this game, it was out of print. I decided to hand-make a copy. Looking back at the effort required, I feel amazed at myself. When I introduced the game to my Taiwanese friends, we played my black-and-white homemade copy endlessly. We were all fond of the game. They found a second-hand copy on eBay Germany, and secretly bought it as a birthday present for me. We had a boardgame session that day, and they insisted that I be start player. For my first turn, I naturally drew a tile from the bag. I was stunned to see a beautiful, colourful tile in my hand. It took me a while to process the information. I realised this surprise present was why they insisted I be start player. This was one very touching moment I would never forget.

27 Jun 2017. Splendor was on sale at the iOS Appstore, and I couldn't resist buying it. I have played the physical version, and I think it's a wonderful game. I did not buy a physical copy because I felt I might not have many opportunities to play it at home. Also, if I wanted to play, I could easily find friends who owned a copy. When I saw it on sale, I decided why not support the game makers. I also hoped that I would get to play the digital version sooner on later. I did get to play it soon after buying it. I enlisted the children to play with me during the Raya break. At first I thought we could play using individual devices, but it seemed quite a hassle so eventually we just played using the pass-and-play mode on one device. The game was mostly open information, so it was fine playing this way. The children liked the game. They spent the first game exploring the strategies. By the time we played the second game, Shee Yun (12) was able to plan ahead which nobles to fight for, and managed to win the game. I was certainly glad to see her apply strategic thinking and achieve victory by doing so.

One pleasant surprise I found in the electronic version of Splendor was the Challenges - single player puzzles. A Challenge consists of a set of special rules and an objective. E.g. you need to reach 18pts within 18 turns, there are only two gems per type on the board, and they are exhausted once used. In some Challenges the starting cards and the draw deck are preset. In some others only the starting cards are preset while the draw deck is randomised. In this screenshot above there are many locations shown. Each location has 10 different Challenges. There is a lot of content!

Each Challenge comes with a short historical note. This is just flavour text, but it is a nice touch.

The objective and the special rules are listed this way. So far I have attempted only a few Challenges. They are not easy at all. I have only managed to solve one. There was one I failed to solve after many attempts. I realise there is much more to Splendor than I expected. I still have much to learn. Interesting!

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