Sunday, 18 March 2018

boardgaming in photos: Machi Koro, Roll for the Galaxy

7 Jan 2018. Photos of Machi Koro have appeared so many times in this blog that it reminds me of how I used to post many photos of Race for the Galaxy, Through the Ages and Agricola. For the latter games, by studying the player area at game end, you can read the story of how the player has played, the paths taken, the strategies executed. My photos of these games were mostly of this nature - records of how gameplay developed. In Machi Koro, the game end player areas can be studied this way too. You can see which buildings synergise. You can see which early game buildings were chosen, and which late game buildings. However when I take photos of Machi Koro, most aren't for this purpose. It hasn't really occurred to me to take photos for this purpose. Machi Koro is not as strategically deep as the other games, and has less variability. I'm mainly taking photos about spending time with the kids.

The kids are not growing to become boardgame enthusiasts. They rarely suggest to play a game. When I do, younger daughter Chen Rui is more likely to say yes. Elder daughter Shee Yun is older now (officially a teenager) and has her own hobbies and interests. If we are to play Machi Koro, Chen Rui prefers to play together with Shee Yun, because she wants to join forces with her big sister to defeat me (not that it always works). So when Shee Yun declines to play, we often end up not playing at all.

What's good about Machi Koro is all three of us are very familiar with it. We play briskly and can fully enjoy the game.

27 Jan 2018. It had been a long time since I played Roll for the Galaxy, so when I brought it out, I had to relearn most of the rules. Michelle had basically forgotten all of it, and I had to teach her from scratch. She fumbled through her first game (after the hiatus) rather cluelessly and only started to grasp the tactics by the second game.

Many elements look and feel similar to Race for the Galaxy, but the core feeling when playing Roll for the Galaxy is different. The dice are your citizens. You expend a die to perform an action. The expended die returns to the Citizenry, i.e. the employment office, and you need to pay $1 to employ him again for the next task. Yeah, these buggers are all daily wage labourers. Having a more or less steady income to be able to regularly employ citizens is the underlying pulse of the game. If it gets disrupted, you will likely fall behind in tempo. The citizens (dice) do have different abilities (different probabilities of performing the various actions). Sometimes an action can be very effective, and sometimes not so much. While these are important too, you must never neglect the underlying blood circulation of generating enough income to reemploy your citizens over and over.

In this particular game, my space empire tried to emphasise two areas. The first was income. In this photo I had two tiles which would give me income, when I developed and when I shipped. On my player board there was a new technology yet to be completed which would also give me income when I shipped. So naturally my other emphasis was shipping. After I completed that 6-cost tech, I would have two tiles giving me income when I shipped. I had a purple die, which had a higher chance of rolling the shipping action. I had many blue dice, which had higher chances of rolling the production action. You need products to ship if you want to do shipping. I had three production planets, one each in green, blue and brown.

Roll for the Galaxy is not an easy game to teach or to learn, so it is not suitable for new gamers. The mechanisms are unusual and unintuitive, event a little convoluted. They do work, but I find it difficult to associate them with reality. They feel unnatural to me, and difficult to explain, and to digest. I find it harder than Race for the Galaxy to teach, assuming the new player knows neither game. It is a little easier if you know Race for the Galaxy, but the game mechanisms are overall quite different.

In this photo, I placed my dice this way to guarantee the shipping action (5th column). After all available dice were rolled, they were all placed in their respective columns first. The asterisk icons are wild cards, and I had chosen to place those dice in the shipping column. The cylinder icon means production. I had decided to forgo production, so I moved that production die to the shipping icon on the mini board. The production die became a shipping action. The development die (diamond shaped) stayed where it was.

31 Jan 2018. This was another game. This time I emphasised settling and production. My starting tiles gave me 2 red dice, which meant higher probabilities in rolling the settle action. I later gained two more from new tiles placed. I had 4 production planets by this point, two blue and two brown, and more to come. On the player board I had set up a stack of planets to be settled. The next one would be a high cost green planet, and I already had two dice committed. The challenge in settling high cost planets (and also in developing high cost techs) is that you will have many dice tied up until the project is completed. For this green planet I would need to place three more dice to settle the planet before all five dice could be released back to the Citizenry (the employment office).

It felt great to play Roll for the Galaxy again. I don't game as often as I used to, and because of that it feels hard to justify buying new games. I still have so many good games in my collection that I can play. Since I am rusty with most of them, playing them would be like playing a new game. I have to relearn the rules and rediscover the strategies.

If I am to buy a new game, it'll likely be because it has some hook that makes we want to try it, and I don't have easy access to a friend's copy to be able to try it. I am interested to try The Quest for El Dorado by Reiner Knizia. I used to be a big fanboy. This deckbuilding race game sounds fun and I'm curious to experience it. Another game I'm interested to try is Kingdomino, the Spiel des Jahres winner. Both of these are light to medium weight games. I think both are available in my circle of friends. Lucky!

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