Monday 27 January 2020

Machi Koro Legacy

Plays: 4Px10.

Machi Koro Legacy is a legacy game, so there are spoilers. I'm going to write about it in two parts. The first part will be mostly spoiler-free. The second part will reveal all, so proceed at your own risk.

Part 1

The Game

Machi Koro is a game which my children and I love. My version is the tin box version, which contains the base game and the two major expansions, Harbour and Millionaire's Row. When I first heard that they were making a legacy version of Machi Koro, I knew there was no question - I was definitely going to buy it. The legacy campaign is played over 10 games. Every game there will be some new element or change introduced. New components, new rules. After completing the campaign, you can continue to play, just that there will be no new elements. There will be some randomness in setup, so there will still be variation from game to game.

When I set eyes on this box cover, my heart melted.

The core mechanism in Machi Koro Legacy is the same as in Machi Koro, which I have written about before (Machi Koro, Harbour expansion), so I won't describe it again. I'll focus on what's different.

The moment you open the box, what will catch you eyes are these six sealed boxes hiding the new components. These are revealed during the legacy campaign. You will be instructed to open them and taught how to use the contents. The story in Machi Koro Legacy's campaign is linear. Your actions do not affect how the story goes. They do cause some differences in the game setup, but the main story progresses at a set pace and direction. Everyone buying the game will experience the same core story.

The coins are pretty.

Every player has his own player board. You get to name your little town, and you write the name on your player board. To win a game, you must complete the three landmark buildings on your player board, and also contribute to a community landmark building at the centre of the table. The costs of the three landmarks are printed on the player board. The cost of contributing to the community landmark is printed on the card itself. In some games, the winning condition changes. Also, from game to game, the community landmark changes, and your set of three personal landmarks also changes. All landmark type buildings have some special ability, so them changing means a change to how you will play.

At the top right side of the player board you can see four white circles, two of which are ticked. This means at the start of a game, you may pick two start buildings from a hand of such building cards. As the campaign progresses, you will get more cards to pick from, and you will also get to pick more starting cards. Eventually you'll be able to pick up to four cards, once all four circles have ticks. Players will have different starting strengths when they pick different starting card sets.

That card at the far left is a community landmark. You need to spend $20 to contribute to building it. You may build the landmarks and the community landmark in any order you wish.

The Forest building from Machi Koro appears here too. It's a good building. It being blue means you get to earn money on other players' turns too. However this building is a little pricey at $4.

The overall flow is the same as Machi Koro - roll dice, make money, buy building. It is a race to buy the four landmarks. In the first game, there are not many types of buildings to choose from. As the campaign progresses, there will be more and more. I won't describe all the new mechanisms in detail, but I will briefly touch on two of them. One important mechanism in the game is the ability to reroll your dice. This can be crucial. The game is essentially a race, so the difference of one turn can mean win or lose. A reroll or two may be exactly what you need to save that one critical turn. Rolling dice in Machi Koro can be like playing jackpot (slots). Sometimes you can set your town up such that if you roll a specific number, you will earn a windfall. Rerolls increase your chances of getting what you want, i.e. hitting the jackpot. Rerolls are also a protection against bad luck. If you roll a number that allows an opponent to rob you dry, you can reroll and hope to escape this fate.

The other game mechanism I want to mention is a push-your-luck mechanism, which is implemented using a die roll too. There is a particular action type where success depends on a die roll. If you are successful, you may gamble again, hoping for an even bigger reward. However, if you fail, you will lose all progress made so far on your current turn. This mechanism plays on our greed and tests our risk appetite.

The Thoughts

One of the biggest joys of playing a legacy game is watching how the story unfolds, how your actions affect the story, how new components and new rules are introduced. The new elements introduced throughout the Machi Koro Legacy campaign are cute, without being overwhelming. It still remains a family game. The campaign is best played with the same group of friends, preferably without too long a wait between games. If you swap people in and out, and if the gap between games is large, the kimochi (feeling) and immersion may be lost. You may forget rules and have to relearn. I did all ten games of my campaign with my wife and daughters. We did our first game in October. There was a gap after that due to the children's exams. In December during the Christmas period we resumed and did all nine of the remaining campaigns games within a week. If you are considering getting the game, it is best if you can get a bunch of friends to commit to the campaign beforehand.

There is one particular strategy in the game which I find to be overpowered to the point of being unbalanced. Many of our 10 games were won by whoever applied that strategy. One possible counter argument is that if everyone knows that's the best strategy, then everyone will fight for it, and as a result, no one will be able to gain an edge over others. However, this argument is flawed. If it becomes a must to pursue a particular strategy, for the sake of denying your opponents, then the strategic freedom of the game is reduced. I'd rather the game have multiple different and equally feasible strategies that players can pursue from the start.

One reason for this dominant strategy problem is Machi Koro Legacy uses the market mechanism of the original game, and not the one that comes with the expansions. With the original market mechanism, all buildings are laid out and made available to all players right from the beginning. So you can go in with a preset plan, deciding exactly which buildings you are going to buy. In the expansion market mechanism, only a subset of ten types of buildings are available at any one time, and the number of cards per type is usually low. Only when one type runs out then more cards are drawn from a deck to replenish the market. If the card being drawn is one of the existing nine types, it is added to the corresponding stack, and another card is drawn, until there are 10 types in the market again. With the expansion market mechanism, you can't go in with a predetermined plan. You need to be flexible and react to the market situation. The building you want may not be available, and even if it is, there may not be enough to make your strategy effective.

I think you should get Machi Koro Legacy only if you are a big fan of the original. If you are new, I recommend getting the original first. The story element and the new mechanisms are cute, but they are just a novelty. I have now completed my campaign, and I doubt I will play it again. I find the base game plus expansions a better game than the legacy game post Game 10. I think the gameplay is better. The 11th plus games of Machi Koro Legacy uses some rules to randomise game setup, but the setup is no longer thematic or logical like the campaign games are. During the campaign, new rules and components reflect the story being told. Post campaign, you are randomly picking landmarks from different parts of the story, and the random combination of landmark abilities may not be interesting or useful.

I may sound harsh, but I did enjoy Machi Koro Legacy. It was good to spend time with my family. The new cards and components were a string of pleasant little surprises. It was well worth the money. I am happy having had 10 plays out of this game.

This was Game 1, and there were not many building types in the building market at the centre of the table.

In Machi Koro Legacy you can always choose to roll one or two dice. You don't need to build a train station in order to roll two dice. On one of Chen Rui's turns, she rolled a 3, and then exclaimed that she had again forgotten that she meant to roll two dice. We said fine, just roll again. And this above was what she rolled. I guess it was meant to be.

Part 2 (contains spoilers)

The Play

Gems are a new resource type which can be used for rerolls. This new mechanism is introduced quite early in the campaign. On your player board there is a section called the gem mines where you may spend actions to fill in lines. When you successfully enclose one or more triangles, you get to collect gems, and from the next game onwards, you collect more starting gems (default being 1). Developing your gem mines can be very useful if you do it early. It benefits you for the rest of the campaign. The gem colours have no special meaning. The different colours are only for aesthetic purposes.

These are gem stickers you get to stick onto your player board when you complete triangles in your gem mines.

When back in Kota Kinabalu for Christmas holidays, we played using two mahjong tables. Shee Yun is the more serious and strategic type. She counts cards, takes note of the icons on the front and back of the double-sided buildings, and builds combos. She seriously tries to win, and when luck fails her, she gets flustered. She did eventually win one game, and that was very satisfying for her. Chen Rui plays with no expectations to win at all. She plays for the hell of it and does whatever she pleases, without really caring whether it helps her towards the winning condition. When the sailing mechanism turned up during our campaign, she decided that was the fun thing to do, and spent all her energy sailing and sailing. Michelle played in a relaxed manner. She fiddled with some combos, but didn't go into nitty-gritty bean-counting.

When you play, it is best to have a fine marker pen (or two) ready.

My copy of the game is missing one turtle sticker sheet, so I asked Chen Rui to draw turtles on two of the faces of this visitor die on the left. The turtle mechanism helps players earn extra cash. When the active player rolls dice, he also rolls the visitor die. If the visitor die shows the turtle face, the turtle moves a number of steps equal to the pips on the other dice. The turtle's path is all players' normal buildings in front of them. It moves from left to right, and when leaving the last building of one player, goes to the first building of the next player on his right. When the turtle lands on your building, it gives you an amount of money equal to the cost of that building.

This is the yokai, or monster. You need to add the yokai stickers to the visitor die. Unlike the turtle, the yokai moves along the buildings in the building market at the centre of the table. When it lands on a building, it becomes temporarily unavailable for purchase. If that building is a double-sided building, it is flipped and transforms into the other type. If anyone has this building type in his play area, that building is flipped too. This can screw things up a little, but sometimes it can be a life saver too, e.g. if it transforms an opponent's stack of attack buildings into harmless ones.

The sailing mechanism is introduced roughy mid campaign. You get a new action type - sailing. There are two ways to sail. The safe way is paying for it. You pay an amount equal to the number at the next stop. The risky way is rolling a 12-sided die. If the number you roll is equal to or higher than that at the next stop, you sail successfully. You may choose to roll the die again to take an extra step, and if you keep succeeding, you may push your luck further. If at any time you fail the die roll, you lose all progress made on your current turn. In one of the campaign games, reaching that number 11 island is one of the winning conditions. Locations numbered 7 and above give some benefits. That entices players to sail.

That white 12-sided die is used for sailing. Chen Rui's colour is blue. See how far advanced her ship is.

The third visitor which appears in the game is the princess. Once you attach the two princess stickers to the visitor die, every die face will be in use, and there will always be one visitor making a move. Like the yokai, the princess moves among the marketplace buildings. However she is benevolent. Instead of stopping you from buying a building, she is making it free instead. Long live the princess!

If the princess meets the yokai, she neutralises its power.

After adding the yokai and the princess stickers, the visitor die looks like this.

If you look closely, you will see that some cards have a grey flag icon at the top left. These are the starting cards. Eventually you'll get to pick 4 out of about 10 to be your starting town.

The Theme Park is one of those double-sided buildings. You can see at its top left there is a white circle with a tick. The tick means this is the side you start a game with. New double-sided cards are drawn at the end of a game, and the winner decides which side to tick. This is the side that will be in play at the start of the next game. During play, the yokai may flip it to the other side.

Rockets are introduced in one of the campaign games. You get to attach these cool rockets to your ship.

My seat is at the bottom right. In this particular game I pursued an offensive strategy, so I had many red cards, which robbed others.

At the bottom left you can see a special building on the left of my player board. There are five such special buildings in the whole game, each having a unique power. When you do sailing, you get a chance to peek at these secret special buildings (initially no one knows what they are), then decide whether to claim it for yourself. If you claim such a special building, from the next game onwards you may use it as one of your starting buildings.

In one campaign game, the sailing path is extended all the way to the moon. You are supposed to launch your ship into the sky using those rockets, and reach for the moon. The number 33 written on the moon space cannot be achieved by rolling the 12-sided die. You must pay cash to sail there.

The moon base community landmark appears in the same game you are supposed to land on the moon.

Michelle (red) and Chen Rui (blue) in a neck and neck race for the moon.

Thursday 23 January 2020

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Boardgames as educational tools

In the past few months I have been exploring the training industry as a possible new career path. Suddenly my Facebook feed was flooded with all sorts of ads related to training. So many gurus offering free two to three hour seminars, on property investment, stocks trading, digital marketing, entrepreneurship, and so on. I went to some of these. These free seminars are all preview sessions, i.e. marketing sessions where they try to sell you their non-free workshop or training. All of them sounded a little dodgy to me. Perhaps it was because I recognised the many techniques they used to encourage (a.k.a. psycho) people to sign up, like saying how expensive the course originally is and just for today only you get this special price. In one case the presenter set a 7-minute countdown clock at the end of his talking, and said if you signed up before time ran out, you'd get some extra stuff. All these techniques only made me more skeptical. The presentations were spectacular and entertaining, but was what they sold really effective? It sounded too good to be true. In the end, I signed up for one of these courses.

The most well-known boardgame used in trainings is probably Robert Kiyosaki's Cashflow 101. Robert Kiyosaki is the author of Rich Dad Poor Dad. I have not read the book or played the game myself. What I have now is this game below called Leverage.

Allen gave this to me when he heard I was considering getting into the training business. This was a game from his friend who attended a business training course. The game was played during the course, and Allen's friend bought a copy. It was quite expensive, and I imagine the training course was probably very expensive too.

I have not played this game, and I do not intend to. Strictly speaking, I should not comment on it. My opinions on it are purely based on reading the rules and looking at the game components. Let's take a look at how it plays.

The game board has a circular track. Every player has a pawn which moves along the track based on a die roll. When you land on a space, you draw a card from a deck indicated by the space, and you do what the card says. This game simulates running a business. The text on the cards are all related to business situations. When your pawn passes a Profit space, this represents your business having run for one month, and you collect a monthly profit. If you have taken an overdraft, you must pay interest.

There are 10 types of cards in the game. 5 of them are called marketing leverage cards. They help you improve some aspect of your sales, and increase your monthly income. 4 of the card types are called business leverage cards. They are on the outside of the track. They represent important aspects related to growing and sustaining your business, e.g. IT systems, staff training and logistics. To win the game, you must achieve two things. You must have a monthly income of at least $100,000, and your business leverage value in all four areas must be at least 5 points. The 10th card type is the Oops card. These are unforeseen disasters that hurt your business.

These are the marketing leverage cards. They all describe various ways a business can improve its sales. This content is what the game is trying to teach the players. In game terms, the general function of these cards are similar. You are given the choice of investing a certain amount of money, for the chance of increasing one of the KPI's of your business. If you decide to gamble, you flick a spinner to see how much your KPI increases. In the best case, it increases by 10%. If you are unlucky, you gain nothing.

These are the business leverage cards. Sometimes you have the opportunity to increase one business leverage value by 1 or 2 points, at a cost. You may sell the rights to an opponent at a mutually agreed price. Sometimes the card is put up for auction, and everyone may bid for it.

If you land on a Bonus space, you may pick any card type to draw.

That's the spinner on the left, and the rulebook on the right.

At the start of the game, everyone draws a random profession card. Your profession card determines the starting parameters of your business. That long sequence of calculations is how you calculate your monthly income. It is another thing the game intends to teach. Every profession card has a different combination of business leverage values (they don't start at zero). The profession card also specifies your overdraft limit. That business at the lower right has no overdraft facility.

After you draw your profession card, you write down all the important starting parameters on your record sheet. This is the front page of your record sheet, where you write your starting situation.

This is the back of your record sheet. Every time you increase one of your marketing leverage KPI's, you calculate your new monthly income here.

I think the paper money in the game is decent. The design is loud and clear.

These are the Oops cards. Some force you to lose turns. Some make you lose money. Some lower your KPI's.

I think this is a very luck-heavy game. It's mostly a roll-and-move game after all, not all that different from Snakes and Ladders. You do have opportunities to make decisions, but you don't really have many meaningful decisions. When you draw a marketing leverage card, you get to decide whether to buy it. In most cases you probably should, because that's how you make progress. I can only imagine not buying when you are short on money and need to wait for the next monthly income. It actually doesn't matter which marketing leverage KPI you are going to bet on increasing. All five KPI's are multiplied to get your monthly income. When you increase one KPI, you multiply it with a certain percentage increase. Since everything is being multiplied, it doesn't matter which KPI. If I look at this from a game design perspective, this is quite stupid and pointless, like all resources are wood in Catan. But remember, the purpose is actually communicating those five KPI's to the players - the students. This game is not about playing a game. It is about teaching business.

Another opportunity for making decisions is when you draw a business leverage card. If it is something you lack, you probably should buy it. If it is something you don't need but someone else needs it, you probably want to sell it at as high a price as possible, unless he is close to winning and you need to deny him. If it comes to an auction, how you value the card very much depends on how lacking you are in that particular business leverage area. Not exactly rocket science. I have not analysed the cost distribution of the various cards. If the distribution is different for different types of cards, it may be an additional factor to consider when making decisions.

I have no urge to try this game myself. I study it only out of curiosity, to see what a training tool boardgame is like. It is certainly very different from what I usually play. It serves a different purpose, and it should not be assessed based on its entertainment value. If it conveys the lesson effectively, and people remember the lesson for a long time afterwards, it has done its job.

Here's another training tool game. I have played this one, during a training course I attended. It is a two-player game. The play area is a network of nodes with terminals along the edges. It is played within a 5-minute time limit, and the players may not speak or communicate in any way. You may play as many times as you want within the 5 minutes, and you take turns to be the start player. There is only one pawn on the board, and it always starts at the centre. You take turns moving the pawn one step. The pawn must not visit the same node more than once. Your goal is to move the pawn to a terminal on your turn. It's a very simple game.

Soon after my opponent and I started, I realised that when played competently, the start player would always lose, due to the design of the network. Both players would avoid setting up the other to win, resulting in the pawn moving in a big circle. Eventually it would run out of options, and be forced into a terminal. I pondered the lesson behind the game as I played. It was telling us that the whole point was to not compete. If we played competitively, a game took rather long to play, and our total wins would be low by the time the 5 minutes was up. If we played cooperatively and took turns to win, we would be able to play many games and score many victories. It was win-win. Once I realised this, I adjusted my method of play. When it was my "opponent's" turn to win, I helped her instead of playing against her, sending the pawn in a straight line to a terminal. Unfortunately she hadn't yet worked out what was going on, and I couldn't tell her due to the no talking rule. When it was my turn to win, she still played normally, which dragged the game. When time ran out, we didn't do very well.

After this exercise, the whole classroom compared scores, and one particular team outscored everybody else by a huge margin. One of the teammates was a German guy, Martin, and he too had figured out what was going on. However, he handled the situation in a different way from mine. Regardless of whose turn it was to win, he always selflessly made the pawn take the shortest path to the nearest terminal. When he started to do this, his "opponent" very quickly racked up many wins. She didn't yet fully understand the situation. However due to Martin's generosity, she felt compelled to also let him win sometimes. That was how their team went on to score many more points in total than the rest of us. I certainly learned something from this experience. Had I been smarter about this, and less insistent on taking turns to win, I could have achieved what Martin's team did. The lesson behind all this is in order to be successful, you must help others to be successful. Give, and you will receive. Great successes are built on a collaborative mindset.

As a game, this is poor design. A game where the start player always loses is a stupid one. However what I learned from it was valuable, and would stay with me for a long time. That is the true value of the game, or rather, this exercise. We probably should not think of this as a game. It is called a game because people associate a game with fun. It makes people feel relaxed. It makes people think it is something easy to do. It takes away seriousness.

When we say the phrase "educational game", we all know it comes with a negative connotation. The first thing that comes to mind is this game is going to be boring. Sometimes educational games fail to be fun, or educational, which is rather sad. There are certainly boring and ineffective educational games. In some cases, they are not as bad as we think. They are bad because we evaluate them based on entertainment value. Most gamers would scoff at those pricey business training games. At these prices, you can buy a dozen fantastic games. I find it amusing to examine some of these educational games. It's novel to me, because the games we play are so very different.

Sunday 12 January 2020

Meeples Cafe spring cleaning sale

Meeples Cafe in Kuala Lumpur is doing a spring cleaning sale, 8 - 19 Jan 2020.

Saturday 4 January 2020

Colonial Twilight

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

Colonial Twilight is the 7th game in GMT's COIN (Counter Insurgency) game series. These games are categorised as wargames, but they are a very different breed from conventional wargames. Instead of battles between nations, these games are more about rebellions and uprisings. Usually one of the sides is the government in power, while another is a rebel faction. Many COIN games are designed for four players, e.g. Fire in the Lake, Cuba Libre and Andean Abyss, and are at their best when played with four. Colonial Twilight is designed for two. If you often have difficulty finding enough players for a full four-player COIN game, then this is good news. Just note that in a 2-player COIN game, you won't have those intricate relationships between factions, e.g. temporary alliances, betrayals, ganging up on the leader, and checks and balances.

The setting is the Algerian war of independence, from 1954 to 1962. Algeria is a French colony. Some rebels want independence, but the French government wants to maintain control. In France and in Algeria, there are people who support maintaining the colony and also people who oppose it. Both the government and the rebels want to win public support for their causes. Public support counts towards victory points, and also gives money. The game board shows a map of Algeria, bordering Morocco in the west, Tunisia in the east, the Sahara desert in the south, and the Mediterranean Sea in the north. Both Morocco and Tunisia became independent earlier than Algeria, and when they became independent, Algerian rebers used them as bases to launch attacks. The three round areas are the major cities in Algeria.

On the track, the two cylinders indicate the money of the players - black cylinder for the rebels, blue for the government. The green square marker is the victory point marker of the rebels. The VP value is calculated based on two things - the number of rebel bases on the board, and the support of the people. The two square markers showing the French flag are the commitment level and the government VP. Commitment can be thought of as the support of the people in France. The government VP value is also based on two things - the commitment level, i.e. support level in France, and the support level of the people in Algeria. The government player and the rebel player each have a VP goal.

This is a propaganda card. Some such cards are shuffled into the deck. You check for victory only when a propaganda card is drawn. If the game doesn't end, you go through a reset procedure, which includes collecting income, and then you resume playing. The game ends when the last propaganda card is drawn, even if no one has reached the target VP. Whoever is nearer to his goal wins. The timing of propaganda cards is semi-random. You can't precisely plan for it. You need to make sure your funds can last until the next propaganda round.

Every area on the board has two square spaces for markers - the support marker and the control marker. A yellow support marker means the people support the government, while a red support marker means the people support the rebels. No support marker means the people doesn't care either way. The light blue control marker with the French flag means the area is controlled by the government. Control simply means having more pieces than your opponent. The dark green control marker means the area is controlled by the rebels. Support and control are separate concepts. An area being controlled by the government may not necessarily support the government, and vice versa. The number at the centre of an area is its population value. This determines the VP value if the area supports the government or the rebels.

The cubes are government employees. Blue are French, green are Algerian, i.e. locals. Darker cubes are soldiers, lighter cubes are policemen. The main difference between Frenchmen and Algerians is Algerians may be persuaded by their brethrens to defect and join the rebels. The main difference between soldiers and policemen is policemen can only investigate and expose underground rebels, while to actually fight and kill rebels, you need soldiers.

The black hexes are the rebels. Each rebel has two sides - a plain black side and a side with a green moon icon. Black means the rebel is still operating underground and cannot yet be targeted by soldiers. Green moon icon means the rebel is exposed and vulnerable. Some actions performed by rebels get them exposed. The government may also perform specific actions to root out the rebels. It's troublesome for the government to kill rebels, because of that extra step needed to expose them. It is also challenging for rebels to kill government personnel. Firstly, because it's iffy - rebels often need to roll a die to determine if the attack is successful; and secondly, because they will suffer casualties.

When the neighbouring countries become independent, they become accessible to the rebels. The rebels may build bases and train operatives here, and government forces may never enter. This is a pain in the neck for the government player.

This track on the right is the border zone track, and it indicates how well the government is patrolling the borders. By patrolling well, rebels which cross the border, especially when in large numbers, are more easily detected. Both the government player and the rebel player can perform actions to manipulate the border zone track.

This is the France track, and it simulates the political mood in France. If this is not managed well by the government player, or the rebel player takes steps to worsen this, the commitment level of the French population will drop, and the rebels will receive more funding.

Every round a new event card is drawn. There are usually two effects, and if you choose to use the event card, you pick one of the effects. Usually one effect benefits the government, and the other the rebels.

This little diagram called the Initiative Track is very important. All your actions are driven by this neat little mechanism. The two boxes at the bottom determine who goes first and who goes second during a round. In this example, the rebel player goes first. If you go first, you may place your marker in any of the five spaces, and execute the allowed actions accordingly. The player who goes second may only place his marker in a space adjacent to the first player's marker, unless he passes (central space). Let's say the first player picks the bottom right space (Execute Op Only). The second player then may only pick the central space or the top right space. This is how the first player can restrict what the second player gets to do.

If the space you pick is a shaded space (top left or bottom right), in the next round you will be the second player.

Let's look at what the five spaces mean, starting from the top right. Execute Limited Op means performing actions in only one location on the board. At the bottom right, Execute Op Only means performing actions in one or more locations on the board. At the top left, Execute Op & Special Activity means you can perform both normal actions and special actions in multiple locations. At the bottom left, Execute Event means using the event card of the round. The central space is for Passing, which means earning a little bit of money.

The number of game pieces is limited. If you run out, you won't get to train new troops or build new bases. This section of the game board is for placing the available rebel pieces. The black discs on the right are the rebel bases. The numbers allow you to instantly tell how many bases have been built on the board (10 now).

This is the section you place the available government pieces. The discs are the bases. The government has fewer of these.

These are Pivotal Event cards. Depending on the scenario you play, both players start with some specific Pivotal Event cards in hand. During a round, you may play a Pivotal Event card to replace the normal event card of the round. Pivotal Event cards have long term effects. They have their pros and cons. In the game I played with Allen, I never played mine because I thought it wouldn't be beneficial for my situation. Since Allen's Pivotal Event card had mine as a prerequisite, he never got to play his either.

In Colonial Twilight, you need to train troops, move troops and fight, but you must remember that ultimately it is the victory points that matter. All that fighting are but means to an end. You need to win the support of the people. It is a big chunk of your victory points. The rebels want to build bases, and the government needs to manage the political mood back in France. Rebels building bases is a tricky thing to manage. If you are the rebels, building bases is victory points, but when these bases get destroyed, it's victory points for the government. Many events are powerful, and drive the story. It is not just about whether you want to use the event. You also need to think about not allowing your opponent to use the event.

The timing in earning victory points is important, since the victory condition is only checked when a propaganda card comes up. Even if your opponent has achieved the required victory points, all is not lost yet. You can still pull him back before the next propaganda round.

The Play

I played the government, and Allen played the rebels. We did the mid length scenario, in which Morocco and Tunisia were already independent.

There are two rebel bases (black discs) in Tunisia. This is a good place to recruit and to launch attacks from, because the government can't march in. Tunisia is now an independent country and French forces can't just walk in. Normally each space on the map can accommodate two bases. See the circles printed on the map.

Cities (round spaces) are more easily controlled by the government, whereas the rural spaces are more easily controlled by the rebels.

As the government, if I wanted to fight rebels, I had to use my army, and not my police force. The police could expose the rebels, but could not actually kill them. Only soldiers could kill rebels. I think soldiers need to be concentrated into a few or even just one strong army, so that they can kill off rebels and destroy rebel bases efficiently, i.e. spending fewer actions and taking fewer turns. That was how I played. Concentrating my soldiers did mean I only had a few armies, and I could not be everywhere. I had to prioritise and pick the most troublesome areas to focus on. In this photo I had one such army - the dark blue and dark green cubes just outside the city. Most of my other cubes on the map were light coloured.

Later in our game, we realised that Allen's strategy was probably not a good one. He had been using the concentration strategy too. We felt this was bad for him, because it meant making things easier for me. I could just send my armies to where he had amassed rebels and bases, and strike hard. He had conveniently gathered his pieces for me. In hindsight, he probably should have adopted guerrilla warfare. A whack-a-mole situation would have been difficult for me.

One nifty thing which Allen's rebels got to do was to convert Algerian units. They could convince Algerian soldiers and policemen to stop working for the government, and even convince Algerian policemen to become rebels themselves. This was a pain to deal with. I had to make sure I didn't leave a group of Algerians unsupervised. I must get some Frenchmen to partner with them. At least if the locals were converted, I still had some Frenchmen remaining.

Near the top left in the photo above, I had an army of four dark blue cubes, poised to destroy the last remaining rebel base (black disc) in the territory. In the city (round space) near the top right, I had two French policemen (light blue cubes). A rebel (black pawn) had just entered, and was certainly up to no good. I had to do something. The countryside had many red Oppose markers. I only managed to maintain support (yellow markers) in and around the cities.

Typically, the government is rich and the rebels are poor. In our game, the opposite was true. At one point I ran low on cash and struggled to get things done. Many actions require spending money per location you want to perform the act. Being poor means doing much less, and sometimes not even having the choice because you can't afford it. I had thought I was rich, and I had spent too recklessly. In the photo above you can see I was down to $5 (blue cylinder). I sometimes had to Pass just to earn a bit of money. I think it is important to not run out of money. If you are completely out of money, or close to it, it means you have no options except to Pass. This is a vulnerable position and you don't want to be caught with your pants down like this. I think it's better to Pass and sacrifice some progress when you are near bankrupt, and never let yourself get into a bankrupt state.

In this photo you can see I had a large army (8 dark blue cubes) near the centre. I was going to destroy that concentration of rebels and bases, and afterward I would send my troops to the east, where the rebels were multiplying like rabbits. At this point Allen already had 13 (of 15) bases on the map, as indicated by the table at the bottom right.

Now my main army was in the east, ready to kick names and take ass. Rebel bases were attractive to me, because by destroying them, I not only reduced the rebel victory points, I also gained victory points myself in the form of political commitment in France. Destroying bases is not easy. As long as there are still undercover rebels, the government needs to first expose them, then kill them, before moving on to destroy the bases. So the rebel player can protect bases using rebels as human shields.

Pieces killed during fighting are moved to the Available Forces area and the Casualties area alternatively. Sometimes pieces are moved to the Out of Play area. When you recruit, you can only recruit from the Available Forces area. Usually pieces in the Casualties area and the Out of Play area are only moved during the propaganda phase. It is important to manage your pool of pieces because it determines how flexible you are on the map itself.

In this photo you can see my government funding was down to $4. I was in dire straits and my position was about to crumble. I was only saved by the next propaganda card coming up in time. After that I spent my money more carefully.

This was after the propaganda phase. My money was now at $39. In this game the government player is supposed to be richer, but I don't think that's true. Although the government has more money, its actions are also more costly, usually $2 compared to $1 for the rebel player. Things work out to be about the same. The government isn't really that much richer than the rebels. In this photo you can see that the rebels in the eastern part of Algeria had been dispersed. However the support for the rebels was still strong - so many red Oppose markers all over the map.

Algiers the capital city had a Pop +1 marker, so the population was actually 4. It was supportive of the government (yellow marker), so it was worth 4VP to me at this point.

Intense fighting was bad for the rebels. Allen had many pieces (black) in the Out of Play box, which limited his recruitment on the map.

This territory in the centre is a plains space, while the territory on the left is a mountain space. It is harder for the government to deal with rebels in mountainous spaces. The effort is double. E.g.2 policemen are needed to expose 1 underground rebel, or 2 soldiers are needed to kill 1 rebel. On plains, the rate is 1:1. In this territory in the centre, the two policemen (light blue cubes) had exposed two rebels. We still needed to update the control status of the territory. This should be controlled by the rebels, because there were six rebel pieces to the government's three. The white pawn is just a reminder pawn used for marking locations where actions are being performed. Often the active player must pay based on how many locations he is performing actions in.

If you look closely, you will notice that in many territories there were exposed rebels, showing the green moon icon. This is because Allen had performed the Extort action. Extortion means taking money from the people. Whenever the rebel player does this, one rebel is exposed.

At this point, my government VP was at 36, which meant I had achieved the required 35VP. The rebels needed to reach 30VP, and they were at 26 now. Allen had much local support, especially in the rural areas. I had strong commitment from France, mainly because I had destroyed many rebel bases. Soon afterwards, the next propaganda card was drawn, and I won.

Four rebels had gathered in the capital. I had to expose them quickly and then get rid of them.

The Thoughts

Colonial Twilight is a complex wargame. This is not a conventional war. It is a rebellion. You fight mainly for the support of the people. Killing enemies are just the means to this end. The government and the rebels play very differently, and this is one of the main attractions of the game. The game has strong historical flavour and strong character. The event cards is a box of chocolate. You never know what surprise lies beyond the corner. It keeps you on your toes. Every card can be a crisis or an opportunity. You need to be mindful of the timing of the propaganda cards. You must ration your spending wisely, and be prepared for the next victory condition check. The game is certainly educational. I learned about the history of Algeria. Compared to 4-player COIN games, I must admit it is not as rich and the interaction is less varied. However it is still a decent and worthy COIN game.