Sunday 25 April 2021

Imperial Struggle


The Game

Imperial Struggle is designed by Ananda Gupta and Jason Matthews of Twilight Struggle fame. Twilight Struggle used to be the #1 game on BGG. When they partner up again after 15 years, people pay attention. Imperial Struggle is a 2-player game about the two major colonial powers in the 18th century - Britain and France. 

I must say the game board is rather intimidating. So many different shapes, colours, lines, charts and symbols. You need to patiently read through the rule book before everything makes sense and you can calm your nerves. The game is not as scary as it initially seems. Still, it is a complex game, more so than Twilight Struggle. The board is divided into four regions, North America and Central America on the left, and Europe and Africa / India on the right. 

This small section of the board shows the flow of a complete game. You will play six peace turns, and in between some of these peace turns there are wars (triangles) to resolve. There are four wars in a complete game. The six peace turns are divided into three eras - white, green and purple. When you change era, you will swap the cards you use in the game. 

This is the global demand chart, which shows 6 commodities. Some of the spaces on the game board are markets, and commodities are sold at markets. Each market specialises in one specific commodity. Every peace turn, three commodities are randomly determined to be the in-demand commodities. Players have to compete to control markets trading these commodities. At the end of the peace turn, whoever controls more markets in the relevant commodities gain some benefit. 

This is the main score board. It is used to keep score and also to track a few other things, like your debt limit and current debt level. There is only one victory point marker, which starts the game at 15. Whenever France gains points, you add to the VP total. Whenever Britain gains points, you deduct from the VP total. It's a tug of war. If the VP marker hits 30, France wins immediately. If it hits 0, Britain wins. 

This is the British player's player board. The nine shapes on the right represent the various actions you can perform in the game. The shapes have different meanings and represent different types of actions. The two face-down cards on the left are ministry cards. They are special powers you get to pick at the start of every era. They stay face-down, and thus are secret, until you are ready to use them. The square tiles at the upper left are advantage tiles. When you control certain locations on the board, you get to claim these advantage tiles. They too are special abilities you may use once per peace turn. 

This is the admin board. There are nine investment tiles at the bottom. They are used for performing actions. At the start of a peace turn, nine such tiles are randomly drawn. Players then take turns picking one and using it to perform actions. A tile specifies two types of actions you may perform, and the number of action points in both types. E.g. the first tile gives you 2 economic action points and 2 military action points. The three action types are economic, military and political. Some tiles allow you to play an event card. Some tiles allow you to replace an army. Throughout a peace turn each player will claim four investment tiles. The last one left will be discarded. 

There are five location types on the board, with different shapes. Most locations in Europe are diamond-shaped political locations, representing diplomatic relationships and alliances of Britain and France. Round locations are markets. You compete for markets to control commodities. Hexagons at sea are for deploying navies. Hexagons on land are forts. Squares are controlled territories. Pentagons are not locations you can control. They represent advantage tiles you claim when you control certain locations on the board. When you control all locations connected to a pentagon, you claim the corresponding advantage tile. 

Some locations are in blue or red. These are locations France and Britain control at the start of the game. 

This is the Central America region. At the start of every peace turn, you randomly draw and place an award tile for each region. The award tile is that black bordered square token on the right. At the end of a peace turn, whoever controls more locations in a region claims the award tile and scores points accordingly. In addition to the 0VP or 30VP instant win condition, there are two other instant win conditions. One is peace victory, and the other war victory. To achieve peace victory, you must win the award tiles of all four regions, and also beat your opponent in all three commodities. If you are able to achieve these, your opponent is probably in a very bad situation and it would be a mercy to end the game. 

In the photo above, every market location (round) has a small icon representing the commodity it deals in. 

This is a war board. There are four such boards, called War Displays, in the game, one for each major war the combatants will fight. You set up the game with this one in play - the War of the Spanish Succession. Wars are resolved at specific points in the game. Prior to that, both sides get to prepare and influence the outcome of the upcoming war, e.g. securing alliances, building forts, deploying navies and sowing unrest. Once a war is resolved, the next war board is brought out, and players may now start preparing for the next military conflict. 

A war board is divided into four theatres. Each theatre tells you what elements affect the outcome in that theatre, e.g. alliances which will confer strength and whether naval presence will help. You may also deploy war tiles (which I think of as armies) to increase your strength. The outcome of wars includes scoring points and annexing enemy territories. Normally territories can only be gained as the outcome of a war. 

You can achieve instant win through warfare. You win a war victory if you achieve the maximum victor rewards in all four theatres of a war. 

These are ministry cards. The three boxes on the left tells you which eras the cards can be used in. The card on the left can only be used in the first era, i.e. the first two peace turns. The card on the right can be used in the second and third eras. 

These are event cards. Players share the same event card deck. The colours white, green and purple indicate the era the card is for. Every peace turn you can have at most three event cards. Some event cards resolve differently for France and Britain, e.g. the one on the right. 

The similarity between Imperial Struggle and Twilight Struggle is that you are competing to control as many locations as possible on the board. You want to do this as efficiently as possible, making use of events, ministry cards and achievement tiles. In Twilight Struggle, what you can do is highly dependent on the cards you draw. In Imperial Struggle, the investment tiles are placed in the same pool and are accessible to both players. You take turns claiming what you want most. There are still cards, but they are a secondary mechanism and not the core mechanism. The ministry cards are pre-set. There is no luck of the draw. It is a matter of guessing what your opponent has picked. The game is mostly open information. Similar to Twilight Struggle, it is a tug of war. 

The Play

Allen played Britain and I played France. 

Game setup is convenient, since the locations you control are clearly marked (in red or blue) and you do not need to look up some reference chart. This above is how a game is set up. All ready to go.  

In the early game, Allen (Britain) worked diligently to pacify his backyard. He invested much effort in Ireland and Scotland. One of the Irish locations was initially French-controlled, so it took significant commitment on his part to wrest it from me. Later I realised he did this due to misunderstanding an event card he held. That card said if you controlled Ireland and Scotland you would get to do so-and-so. However this ability only applied to the French and not the British. I missed this part when explaining the rules, and he only realised it later on when he saw the French and British icons on the card. Sorry about that.

In our first peace turn many of the investment tiles were political tiles. Most of the political locations were in Europe. I (France) spent most of my energy competing in Europe. I had one ministry card which gave me extra political actions if I controlled locations in Spain, Austria and Italy. I worked towards that, so that I could play this card under the best conditions. When I eventually used the card, I received 5 or 6 political action points at one go! This helped me dominate politics in Europe. 

Some political locations have a green border. Whoever controlled more of these scored an extra 2VP. This was an additional layer to compete in. My dominance in Europe gave me a strong advantage in this. 

In North America Allen (Britain) was much stronger than me. Britain started the game with a stronger navy, and he built upon that, commissioning more ships to assert his naval dominance. He sent three squadrons to North America (the red hexagonal pieces). 

In the first peace turn, we tentatively explored and learned the game, internalising the rules as we went. I find that in simple terms, this is a game about controlling more locations on the board than your opponent. Yes, there are different location types, you need to use different action types to compete for them, and there is regional scoring, war scoring, global demand scoring and victory point scoring to juggle, but under all that, it's still about controlling locations. Events, ministry cards and advantage tiles are your extra weapons in this fight and you want to fully utilise them. The game board is your platform, and the various ways of scoring are overlapping arenas you have to manage. Markets are important because they contribute to both regional scoring and global demand scoring. Some political locations are important too because they contribute to both regional scoring and war scoring. 

This is Central America. Allen (Britain) had an advantage here too. He had 8 flags to my 6. When competing for markets, you need to have connectivity to capture any new market. However for controlling sea locations, there is no such requirement. You just sail your ship there and squat. There are different rules for different location types.

This is Africa and India. At this point Britain had an edge too. The yellow hexagonal marker with crossed muskets is a conflict marker. If you create such unrest at your opponent's locations, they become easier to steal. They also lose effectiveness when competing for the various scoring. Mess for enemy, good for me. 

In the second peace turn, I (France) used that same ministry card and gained a bunch of extra political action points again. This helped me claim many advantage tiles, and they in turn gave me many perks. In contrast, Allen (Britain) had only a few advantage tiles. Advantage tiles are not always useful. It depends on what you need. You have to study what benefits they give before deciding which ones to go for. At the end of the peace turn when we did regional scoring and global demand scoring, I was surprised that I managed to reach 30VP. I knew that I had a significant lead in Europe, and that indirectly helped me in other regions, but I had not expected that the little wins here and there could add up to 30VP. Don't underestimate small victories! 

The Thoughts

I like Twilight Struggle, but it didn't click for Allen despite multiple attempts. He felt at the mercy of the card draw. Indeed Twilight Struggle is a lot about hand management and disaster management. The first thing Allen said after we completed our game was "this is good stuff"! Indeed you do feel more in control when playing Imperial Struggle. You pick your own ministry card. The investment tiles, which is the core engine, is a shared pool. You decide whether to take that tile you want most, or that other tile your opponent wants most. Only the event cards are subject to fate, but they are an accessory, not the core engine. There will be some luck in the three random commodities to fight for every peace turn. If you always draw commodities you are weak in, you will be disadvantaged. That said, at game setup, no one is significantly stronger in any of the commodities. So I would say this is unpredictability and not luck determining victory. You still need to make your own luck. 

I like that Imperial Struggle is rich and flavourful. The mechanics, the board design, the ministry cards and the event cards all portray well this 100-year competition between Britain and France. Admittedly, we only managed to play 30 years or so, but it was an immersive experience. You compete in multiple overlapping arenas and you need to keep track of them all. You can't be everywhere all the time. You are forced to concede some areas. I admire how the complex politics and economics of the era are presented in the game. It is a complex game, but the complexities are justified. Imperial Struggle is quite different from Twilight Struggle. That is good. If you want something more similar, check out 1989: Dawn of Freedom. Despite being a complex game, I like how Imperial Struggle does not feel hard to digest. The mechanics make good sense. The component and graphic design help make the game easier to understand. While we were still trying to remember the rules, we frequently referred to the rule book. However the overarching strategy was always clear to us. It was only the details we had to double-check. I felt I was already playing the game and not still learning the game. 

I highly recommend Imperial Struggle

This is my favourite ministry card, because Samuel Johnson is now a famous internet meme. He was probably just short-sighted. Now he has been turned into a what-the-hell-did-I-just-read joke. 

Sunday 18 April 2021

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The email subscription widget I use for this blog will no longer function from July 2021 onwards. Feedburner is stopping this service. If you are subscribed to this blog using email, you will no longer receive emails. 

One option is following this blog on Facebook. I'm trying to figure out an easy way to embed another email subscription widget. Does anyone have any recommendation on a painless way to get this done? 

Saturday 17 April 2021

Azul: Summer Pavilion

The Game

Azul: Summer Pavilion is the third game in the series. It shares many similarities with the original Azul. It is a very accessible family game and works well with casual gamers. You compete to claim tiles, and then you place them onto your player boards to score points. Normally you want to get as many tiles as possible, but you need to be careful of taking more than you need, because when you are unable to place tiles and are forced to discard them, you lose points. 

The box cover is on the right. On the left you have a red tower into which you discard tiles. It has an opening at the top. Initially I thought this was rather unnecessary. However I later found this quite handy. When the tile bag runs out, you need to refill it with all the discarded tiles in the red tower. The opening of this red tower is small enough to fit into the opening of the bag. So you can easily pour all the tiles here into the bag. 

Unlike the original Azul, Summer Pavilion is played over a fixed number of rounds - 6 rounds (well, arguably Azul always ends with 5 rounds). Every round, one colour is designated the joker colour. E.g. the joker colour in the first round is purple. Each round has two halves. In the first half, you collect tiles. In the second half, you place tiles onto your respective player boards. The mechanism for claiming tiles is similar to Azul. The factory discs (see photo above) each has four tiles. When you pick a factory to take tiles from, you pick a colour and take all tiles of that colour. If the factory has a joker colour, you take one joker tile too. You then move all remaining tiles on that factory to the centre of the table. 

Using the photo above as an example, if you take the blue tiles from the factory at the lower right, you would take both the blue tiles and also the purple tile, because purple is the joker colour for the round. You then move that red tile to the centre of the table. 

You may also take tiles from the centre of the table. The rule is the same. Pick a colour and take all tiles of that colour. If there are joker tiles, take one of them. Within each round, the first person to claim tiles from the centre must also take the start player marker (the white one). This player will also lose points based on the number of tiles claimed that turn. 

Players take turns claiming tiles until there is none left. Then you go into the second half of the round, where you get to place tiles onto your player boards. 

Every space on your player board specifies the tile colour, and also how many tiles you must collect to be able to use that space. The dark blue spaces in the middle allow any colour, but when you fill that star, you must use different colours. Let's take the Yellow 5 space at the bottom right as an example. To put a tile on that space, you must have collected 5 yellow tiles. Some of them can be jokers. When you use that space, you place one yellow tile on it, and discard the other 4 tiles into the red tower. 

Whenever to place a tile onto your player board, you score points. By default you score 1 victory point. If the newly placed tile is connected to one or more tiles, you score for every one of these connected tiles too. This is limited to tiles within the same star. E.g. when you fill in the last space of a star, you will be scoring 6VP, because there would be five connected tiles when you do so.  

At game end, there are two types of bonuses rewarded. If you manage to complete any star, you will get extra points. Completing a star is not easy, because of the 5- and 6-tile spaces. If you manage to fill all the spaces number 1, 2, 3 or 4, you will also score extra points. 

On the four corners of your board you may temporarily keep up to four tiles for the next round. This can be handy. You may want to keep tiles of a colour which will become the joker colour next round. It will give you much flexibility. When the game ends, you may no longer keep tiles this way, since there will be no next round. Surplus tiles must be discarded and you lose 1VP per tile. At the end of a round if you happen to have more tiles than you can carry over, you lose points in the same way.  

On the player board there are three types of icons - circles, statues and windows. Whenever you manage to fill all the spaces around these icons, you will claim up to three extra tiles from the main board. This is very useful and will further help you fill your board. 

In this particular game I managed to complete the orange star and the yellow star, which felt great! It is not easy to complete stars. 

This is the main board. There are 10 tiles for you to pick from whenever you encircle the icons on your player board. 

Along the top, the main board shows the joker colours for each of the six rounds. On the right, you can see how many points you will score for stars completed, and for 1, 2, 3 and 4 spaces completely filled. 

The Play

The player interaction in Summer Pavilion is centred around competing for tiles. Everyone wants more tiles. How you fill your player board affects which colours you want. Every round the distribution of tiles will be different. If there are colours which many people want but the number of tiles is low, everyone will be fighting for them, even if it means only getting one tile. You will need to pay attention to which colours your opponents are collecting, to decide how you will pick tiles. If no one is collecting "your" colour, then maybe "your" colour will be safe, for the time being. You also need to watch which objectives your opponents are going for - which stars to complete, which icons to encircle, which numbered spaces to fill up. That gives you clues about which tiles they will be going for. You can use this information to hinder them. However there is always a need to balance between hurting others and helping yourself. 

There are a few broad strategies you can pursue, and they all somewhat contradict. That is the whole point - to force you to make difficult decisions. Trying to fill all spaces of a specific number is one broad strategy, and it the direct opposite of trying to complete stars. It is very difficult to do both. The other broad strategy is encircling icons. This is yet another thing to pull you in a different direction. If you are distracted, you may end up neither here nor there. You need to do your cost-benefit analysis before deciding how many different goals you want to aim for. 

I am guessing most players will naturally try to fill the low numbered spaces first, the 1's and 2's. Every time you place a tile, you will score points. Taking a simplistic view, filling those 1's and 2's is more worthwhile. You need fewer tiles to achieve the same number of points. In actual play, things are not always as straight-forward as that. 

The penalty element is not as severe as the original Azul. The first player in a round to take any tile from the centre must lose points, while gaining first mover advantage (which is attractive). If you really want to minimise losing points, you can choose to take a colour with just one tile. No one is forcing you to take many tiles. If you decide to take those 8 red tiles because they are just too good to pass up, you are doing it willingly. Don't blame the system. In Cantonese there is this idiom: "If you want to eat salted fish, you have to accept that you will feel thirsty afterwards". 

Every round you can keep four tiles for the next. This also reduces the risk of getting penalised. It gives you much flexibility. Near game end, if you have already filled in most or all of the low numbered spaces, you will have a higher risk of not being able to place all your tiles. The remaining spaces you have will be harder to fill. Sometimes you will suddenly lose many points at game end because of this. You can't carry over four tiles because there is no next round.  

This was Michelle's board. She had surrounded five circles and three statues. She had also completed the central star. 

This was my board in my second game. I did rather poorly, collecting fewer tiles than Michelle and Chen Rui. At one glance you could tell I was doing worse than them because I had obviously fewer tiles on my board. In the final round I barely managed to squeeze into second place. It was a minor miracle that I did not come last. In the first few rounds Chen Rui was start player, and I was last to go because I was seated to her right. Player order is important in competing for tiles. I was initially ambitious hoping to complete that orange circle. I later realised I had to give that up. I focused on filling the spaces numbered 2 and 3. I also managed to surround all the circle icons, and in the process completed the central star. 

This was Chen Rui's board. She won despite being the only new player. A proud parent moment for Michelle and I. Chen Rui filled all of the spaces numbered 1 to 4, and scored all four bonuses. She surrounded all the statue icons. When I took a photo of her player board, she asked me to also take the scoreboard, so that she could flex. * roll eyes * Her scoring marker was the black one at the top right. She beat us by a mile. 

The Thoughts

Summer Pavilion made me happy. It is an abstract game, but the component design and the game mechanism make it very inviting. It does not feel dry and academic at all. It makes me feel I have a lot to do. There is a lot I want - this colour and that colour, these spaces to fill and those ones too. It is a beautiful life with much to look forward to, many dreams to pursue and multiple appealing options laid out before me. Life is good. 

The tactics you need to consider are uncomplicated. You feel confident because you can grasp the strategy quickly. Every round it is obvious to everyone where you can grab more tiles. The question is whether it's in a colour you want, and whether it is more important for you to grab another colour despite this other option offering you fewer tiles. Every round is a kind of reset. You don't know how many tiles will come up in each of the colours, and you don't know how they will be distributed. This is a good thing. You don't need to plan or calculate too far ahead. You can't! You just go with the flow. That creates a relaxing mood, despite the game being an open information game. 

Azul is a wonderful series, and certainly deserves the many awards it has won. It is a good introductory game to new players. It works splendidly with families and casual gamers. It makes a pleasant experience even for seasoned gamers. I am looking forward to play Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra

Friday 9 April 2021

Clinic Deluxe Edition

The Game

Clinic is designed by Alban Viard, who did Town Center, which I enjoyed. Some aspects of Clinic are similar to Town Center. Here, you build and run your own clinic, making sure you have the right equipment and recruit the right staff to be able to treat patients. You make money by successfully curing patients. One important way of scoring points is by spending the profits you make every round. At the end of the game, you also score points for your staff and some aspects of your clinic. 

Every player has his own player board. This is your piece of land on which you can build your clinic. This above is the basic version, where you have a 3x4 grid. The advanced version uses a 3x3 grid. This player board allows you to build on the ground floor and the first floor. You can build higher than this. Just get an extension board. However the higher you build, the higher the cost. You build your clinic tile by tile. Think of your clinic as being constantly under renovation. Every room type has its own rules and restrictions. For example, every floor only allows one service hub, which determines the kind of medical service that whole floor offers, like psychiatry or cardiology.  Treatment rooms must be connected to both a service hub and a supply room in order to function. The service hub must be on the same floor, but the supply room need not be. 

The game is played over 6 rounds. Every round, every player gets to perform only 3 actions. So you will have exactly 18 actions in the whole game. There are only 3 action types: Build, Recruit and Admit (as in admitting someone to a hospital). Players simultaneously decide which type to execute. If you pick different actions, you generally won't affect one another. However if you pick the same action, they will need to be performed in player order, and you may end up fighting over the same resources. The player earlier in turn order will have an advantage. 

The game board looks complex, but once you understand it, you will realise it is just a comprehensive reference sheet. It shows all the relevant information about the three action types, and also lists all the administrative tasks you need to perform every round. 

Once everyone has completed his 3 actions for a round, you have to move your staff and patients to legal spots. Normally you will be sending them to treatment rooms, operating theatres or outpatient rooms, so that the patients can be treated. Movement takes time. Time spent moving people about is recorded throughout the game, and at game end you will lose points based on how much time you've spent. This is usually a big chunk, so time management is an important aspect of the game. To reduce time spent, you will heavily rely on your conveyor network. You build conveyor stations all over your clinic. Movement of people between conveyer stations is free, i.e. taking no time. 

The middle column in the photo above lists all the things you do in phases 2 and 3 of a round. Phase 2 is making money. You earn fees for treating patients. The more severe the illness of the patient, the more he pays you. If you are not able to treat a patient, the severity of his illness increases at the end of the round. The severity of an illness has 4 stages, with white being the mildest stage, followed by yellow, orange and red. Red means the guy is about to die. If untreated, the patient dies, and you will lose 5 victory points, which is a lot. One funny thing about this game is you can intentionally not treat a patient, let his condition worsen, and then treat him next round to make more money. I'm not sure if that's always a good idea. If you can treat him now, and treat another patient next round too, that may work out to be better. 

After making money, you have to pay for your expenses, i.e. the salaries of your staff, and the maintenance costs of your facilities. 

Doctors are divided into four grades, similar to the patients. Red doctors are the highest grade. They command a higher salary, and can treat red patients. However they can't by default treat patients in milder conditions. Specialist doctors can't treat the common cold. You need nurses to adjust the doctor's skill level. E.g. a red doctor, if supported by two nurses, can adjust his skill down to yellow, and treat a yellow patient. Similarly, a yellow doctor can be supported by two nurses, to adjust his skill upwards, to treat a red patient. 

There are 5 types of medical services in the game: psychiatry, cardiology, ophthalmology, orthopaedics, and neurology. The number of types in play depends on the player count. The cubes are the patients. This photo above shows an appointment book. You come here to grab patients for your clinic, using the Admit action.  

At the bottom right, that piece with the yellow arrow is an entrance. This is one way staff and patients enter the clinic. Stepping in from the entrance to the room next to it takes 1 minute. Walking from room to adjacent room within the clinic also takes 1 minute. The grey cylinders are conveyor stations. Moving from one station to another orthogonally or vertically costs no time. That means my orange doctor on the first floor only needs 1 minute to move from outside to where he is now. Moving from the entrance into the clinic takes 1 minute. Moving one step to the adjacent (orange) treatment room takes no time because he uses the conveyor. Moving one floor up to the (blue) special room (lab) takes no time, because he is using the conveyor again. So in total he only needs 1 minute. The conveyor network is crucial in saving you time. 

One other important aspect of the game is parking. Every staff member and patient drives a car when coming to the clinic, and must find a place to park. If there is no parking spot left, they cannot come. Cars can be parked in car parks, if you have built any. They can also be parked on the edges of the squares of your board. If they are parked on an edge of a square, that square cannot be used for construction of rooms. Cars cannot be moved about freely. You get to remove them only when a patient is cured and goes home, or when a patient dies and a family member drives the car away. In short, every person in your clinic will have one car on your board as well. 

At game end, doctors of different levels and nurses score points (blue hexagon icon). If you have two or three separate buildings, you score extra points. Treatments rooms on the first floor and above score points. If you have any patients not yet cured, you lose points (red hexagon icon). You also lose points based on the total time spent moving people about throughout the game. 

The Play

I did a 2-player game with Allen. At game setup, we only had the psychiatry service. With just two players, other than psychiatry, we would only have cardiology and ophthalmology in the game. In the early game, the only thing we needed to compete to build were the four special modules (blue). There was only one unit in each of the four types, so we had to fight for them. This was our first time playing, so we weren't sure which ones were better. I took a triage module, which reduced my time spent moving, and a lab module, which allowed me to upgrade my doctors. After completing our game, I found both of these to be stronger. I felt I had an advantage due to being lucky and having picked the right ones. However it is also possible that we simply didn't know how to utilise well the two modules Allen picked - the operating theatre and the outpatient room. 

Being a doctor is a highly stressful. Every round, all doctors downgrade one level, and eventually they all become white (i.e. basic) doctors. Doctors become dumber over time! It is a challenge to maintain enough skilled doctors to treat very sick patients. You can recruit new doctors, but you don't want too many doctors. You need to pay them, and you can't fire them. I had the lab, which allowed me to upgrade a doctor by two steps once per round. That helped. 

The overall game flow starts with building your clinic and recruiting staff. When you have the equipment and capability to treat illnesses, you admit patients and cure them, and you make money. You will spend some of the money to buy victory points. You must also spend some of it to expand your clinic, to be able to treat more patients and more different illnesses. Ideally you want to fully utilise your doctors every round. If your staff is idle, it is your problem and not theirs. You still need to pay their salaries every round. 

From the early game, Allen had been troubled by needing to spend much time on movement. By the end of the game, he suffered a large penalty which cost him the game. In the first half, I had a comfortable lead, being able to make money more efficiently. However, towards late game, Allen managed to orchestrate some big turns and made a ton of money. In contrast, I didn't utilise my capabilities fully in the last few rounds. One thing we both underestimated was the need for parking spots. In the final round, we both had to reject patients because there was not enough space for them to park their cars. If we had just upgraded one car park, or built another one, we would have made more money in that final round. We had enough doctors and facilities for those patients. Allen's score overtook mine after the final round, and only dropped behind again when we did the game end scoring and counted the penalty for time spent moving.  

One aspect neither of us managed well was the entrances and helipads. We had only one entrance for most of the game, and only added a second near game end. In hindsight, that was a rookie mistake. Building more entrances and helipads increases the ability to admit more patients. We should have done this earlier. It would have saved us precious actions. 

At this point I had two separate buildings on my campus. The one on the left was the cardiology centre. The one on the right was the original psychiatry centre on the ground floor, and the ophthalmology centre on the first floor. 

That's a garden at the top right. This is a special type of smaller room. The tile is physically smaller. It still allows cars to be parked on its edges. If a garden is adjacent to a treatment room (orange), patients who use the treatment room pay $2 more because of the beautiful view. 

The Thoughts

Clinic is Town Center Advanced to me. Much of the game is figuring out how to build your clinic. There are many restrictions and considerations. You need to think about parking and the conveyor network. In a two-player game, only the special modules need to be fought over. Other than that, you can build at your leisure. With more players, there may be competition to build service hubs, because for each service hub type, only one unit may be built each round. 

You do have to compete to recruit doctors and to admit patients. There is player interaction in these aspects of the game. You are competing for customers. There are many details you need to remember when playing Clinic. It's a coordination game. You must have everything in place for your clinic to function well. In addition to building the rooms and facilities, you also need the right doctors for the right patients, and nurses to support the doctors. Then there's always that doctors getting dumber issue to manage. 

I personally prefer the simplicity in Town Center. I like how concise it is. Clinic does have many more rules, game components and mechanics, but when you look at the soul of these two games, they are not that different. Town Center is almost like an abstract game. Clinic has much more stuff, and is more immersive due to how the many details of the healthcare industry are presented. 

Friday 2 April 2021

Blue Lagoon

The Game

Blue Lagoon is a recent game from Reiner Knizia. He is a master level game designer and has produced many classics. Boardgames is in an age of abundance now. We have many published game designers and many new games every year. It is no longer a hobby dominated by only a handful of well-known designers. Still, whenever I hear that Knizia has a new game, I pay attention. Blue Lagoon is from Blue Orange Games. It reminds me a little of the classic Through the Desert

You are tribes in the Polynesian islands, and you send your tribesmen to populate the islands and collect resources. The game is played over two halves, with a reset in the middle. Scoring is done at the end of each half, based on how well you have spread your people across the islands and the resources you have claimed. The highest scorer wins the game. 

At game setup, you randomly seed the map with resources and statues. You place them on the spaces with stone circles. In the photo above, the brown pieces are statues, and the yellow, green, white, and light blue pieces are resources. Statues are worth 4pts. Resources are scored in two ways. Every set of four different resources scores 10pts. For each resource type, if you have two or more, you also score points. You score for both breadth and depth. 

These are your tribesmen. One side of the tokens is used when placing them on land, and the other side when placing them at sea. The different artwork is only for aesthetic purposes. It doesn't really matter which type you use or which side you use. 

In the first half of the game, you may place a tribesman on any sea space, or you may place a tribesman next to an existing tribesman. What this means is usually the tribesman you place at sea will be the starting tribesman for a connected group of tribesmen. You stake a location, then expand from there. Think of a group of connected tribesmen as a village. You create new villages, and then grow them. When you place a tribesman on a space with a resource or statue, you claim that resource or statue. 

As you expand your villages across the islands, you have to keep in mind the various scoring rules. Every island has a point value, ranging from 6pts to 10pts. Whoever has the most tribesmen on an island scores these points. Your villages will usually span across multiple islands. You pick one largest village, the one which spans the most islands, and score it based on the number of islands it covers. There are 8 islands on the board. If you have presence in either 7 or 8 islands (even if they are not linked up to one same village), you will score a bonus. So in terms of spreading across the islands, there are three ways of scoring you need to remember. This is in addition to the statue and resource scoring. 

Every player has a number of huts. In the first half, you may place a hut in lieu of a tribesman. Huts are important because they will be the start of your villages in the second half. In the second half, you may not longer directly place tribesmen at sea. Instead, you must grow your villages from your huts. During the mid-game reset, all tribesmen are removed, and only the huts remain. 

This photo above was taken in the first half. The yellow player had placed a tribesman at sea. This was a good placement, because in the next turn she could go left for the brown statue, or go right for the white resource. 

Once the first half ends and the scoring is done, the board needs to be reset. All resources, statues and tribesmen are removed. Only huts stay. After that the board is randomly seeded with resources and statues again, before you start the second half. Scoring at the end of the second half works the same way as the first half. 

The Play

I played with Michelle and Chen Rui. They complained that I took too long to think. There are quite a few ways of scoring in this game, so for new players it is challenging to keep track of all of them. This is an open information game, so I can't help studying the board and analysing the many possibilities and opportunities. What I remember most about the game is how I am constantly torn between the various ways of scoring. You can't have everything, so you need to weigh which one you want to go for. 

What you do on your turn is very simple. You simply place one tribesman. In the first half, you have the option of placing a hut instead. But that's it. You are just placing one thing. Easy! The game can certainly be played very quickly. One big difference between Blue Lagoon and Through the Desert is that in Through the Desert, you get to place two camels on your turn. In Blue Lagoon you only place one tribesman. Although the design decisions are different, I find that they both work very well in their respective games. 

The spatial element plays a big part. It is important to block your opponents, and to avoid getting blocked. You race to extend your reach to resources and islands. On the 6-point island in the photo above, Yellow has blocked off access to the remaining empty spaces from Purple. Currently the strengths are Purple 5 vs Yellow 3. However there are three more empty spaces on the island, and if Yellow is determined to win this island, she can place three more tribesmen to secure victory. It is only a matter of whether she thinks it's worthwhile. 

In the first half of the game, where and when to place your huts is crucial, because this is setting yourself up for the second half. On this 8-point island above, all three of us had huts, so competition was fierce in the second half. 

In this photo, Blue has a large village spanning six islands. Only two islands are not yet connected, at the top left and at the bottom right. It is already impossible for Blue to get to the island at the bottom right. It is technically still possible to connect to the island at the top left, but it will be easy for Purple to block Blue. 

On the island on the left, Blue and Yellow both have five pieces. When the island is scored, the points will be shared equally. If either player wants to monopolise the points of the island, she only needs to place one more tribesman. However the other player can easily neutralise that by adding just one of her own tribesman. If this escalation goes on and on, the players may find themselves spending a lot of effort here and losing out elsewhere. 

The Thoughts

Blue Lagoon reminds me of an age when most of the hot games were concise. That was the 90's and 00's. I find that most hot games nowadays tend to be rather complex. Not that complex is bad, just that being complex for the sake of itself is not meaningful. In some games, after I remove the veil of complexity, I find them uninspired, and the complexity unnecessary. I don't blame the designers or the publishers. This seems to be what the market wants. Boardgame hobbyists are like drug addicts. I am often guilty of this too. They crave for more, more, more. More complexity, more mechanics, more ways of scoring points, more actions types. Because of this, we have plenty of new complex games, but not all of them are innovative or have good depth. 

Rant over. Let's return to Blue Lagoon. It is swift and clean. You just need to remember you are trying to do two things - expanding your villages across the islands, and claiming resources (and statues). Every turn, you just play one piece. Often you can plan a few turns ahead because you can see which are the islands you want to reach and which are the resources you want to claim. You are in no hurry to advance in areas where you are safe from competition. You will probably prioritise areas where you are at risk. Still, sooner or later you have to spend turns grabbing those islands and resources which are safe. 

Playing one piece per turn is like Go. Such a simple action, but there can be much thinking behind just this one action. Not to say that Blue Lagoon is as complex and intellectual as Go. It is a light game, but not a brainless one. It is an open information game, and it is a strategy game. The rules are simple. Half the rules are about how to score points, because the actual actions you can do are very straightforward. 

I did a 3-player game. The game supports 2 to 4. I think the game will feel quite different depending on the number of players. When you collect four of the same resource, you score 20pts. With 2 players, it should not be too hard, but with 4 players it seems nigh impossible. The same applies to the competition for the islands. I suspect the game will be more interesting with 3 or 4 players than with 2.