Tuesday, 14 September 2021

boardgaming in photos: Terra Mystica, Ascension, Race for the Galaxy, Res Arcana


6 Aug 2021. I played Terra Mystica online. The previous time I played it was a physical copy. My impression of the game then was it wasn't anything particularly outstanding. I could more or less appreciate why it was popular, just that it didn't wow me. It reminded me of The Settlers of Catan, which I thought achieved something similar, perhaps more, with less complexity. You collect resources to construct buildings, which help you generate more resources, so that you can construct even more buildings. You need to compete for space and block your opponents. This time we did a 3-player game, so the space competition was less intense. 

This is a multiple-ways-to-score-points game. You focus a lot on what action scores extra points each round, and you plan your development around them, holding back certain actions until the "right" round to do them, and doing as much of it as possible within that round. It's a little artificial. You do it because the scoring tiles tell you to, not because it fits into your overall strategic plan. I guess you can say your overall strategic plan is to follow what the scoring tiles tell you to do as efficiently as possible.  

The races we played were the Engineers, the Mermaids and the Nomads. I made one big mistake with my power tokens. I sacrificed too many of them, and had only 5 left. In Terra Mystica you can sacrifice power tokens permanently to get a boost in magic power. Sacrificing some tokens can be a good thing, because it will result in you being able to charge up your power more quickly. However when I had only 5 tokens left, it meant I could at most charge up to 5 power. On the board there is one power action which requires 6 power. Without at least 6 tokens, I could no longer perform this action. There were a few times I really needed that action (double spades). Aarrgh!

One important source of victory points at game end is the size of your largest territory. Throughout the game you will be planning for that and working towards it. In this game I was grey, Han yellow and Allen blue. The Mermaids (blue) are a powerful race, due to how they can use rivers. They are able to expand swiftly and easily, and create a large territory. However Han (the Nomads) was able to match Allen in largest territory size. Eventually Han won the game. 

Playing Terra Mystica again solidified what I thought of the game. I reread what I wrote about it last time, and this time I felt exactly the same. 

When you get into such a situation in Ascension, you know you'll be stuck for a while. All the cards in the card row are monsters, and they are all large monsters of at least strength 6. This was a tense moment. We knew whoever was first to defeat one of these monsters would likely get a big advantage that might ultimately determine victory. Large monsters give good rewards. 

I now play a lot of Race for the Galaxy against AI's. This particular game told a funny story of how I started off as a rebel, but later turned traitor and served the Imperium. My 1st, 3rd and 8th cards all had the red Rebel keyword. I betrayed my comrades at the 9th card, where the purple Imperium keyword first appeared. My starting planet was the Rebel Freedom Fighters. I was supposed to be the chosen one. As the Rebel Freedom Fighters if I played any Imperium card I would lose 2 strength. Although I developed the Imperium Planet Buster as my 9th card, and it normally gave +3 strength, I only gained a net +1 strength. It was my 10th card, the Imperium Invasion Fleet, which made me much stronger eventually. 

I didn't score very high this game, but I did win. So the end justifies the means. Not apologising to my dead comrades. Ex-comrades, I mean. 

Sorry bro...

This was another game. This time I decided to side with the Imperium from the get go. My 2nd card already had the Imperium keyword. This was from my starting hand. By the time the game ended, I had three 6-cost developments with the Imperium keyword - Imperium Seat, Imperium Lords and Galactic Imperium. They scored between 12 to 16 points each! I also conquered four Rebel planets. 

27 Aug 2021. I played Res Arcana with Han and Allen. We had all played this before. Both Han and I own physical copies of the game. This is by Tom Lehmann, creator of Race for the Galaxy. At BoardGameArena.com, the game setup is done using a variant. I remember when I played the physical game, I could look at my deck of cards, but when the game started, I had to shuffle my deck and then draw three cards. In the online version, I can already see my starting hand before I pick my mage. This makes picking my mage easier and planning ahead easier at the start of the game. I like it this way. 

These are the cards at the centre of the table. The first row is the magic items. Every round you'll pick one to use. Those on the left in the second row are the monuments. They are worth victory points and most have special abilities. You pay gold for them. Those on the right are the places of power. These are the most expensive cards, and they are usually the most important way you score points. They normally require some effort in order to score points. You need to spend resources. 

When you hover the mouse over a card, details pop up. 

These were Han's and Allen's resources and cards. Han was first to buy a place of power. His mage generated fire (red resource). Both his artefacts generated fire too. Thankfully his place of power didn't score points based on fire, otherwise it would be a bloodbath. Now that I look back at this particular game, he probably should have bought a different place of power - the Dwarven Mines - which scored using fire. It would probably have worked out better for him. He raced to buy the Alchemist's Tower because it was relatively cheap and could be afforded earlier in the game. It cost 3 gold. However the Alchemist's Tower needed a set of four different resources to score 1pt, which was tedious. 

My cards gave me many resources at the start of every round. Just the Elemental Spring gave me three every round! The place of power I managed to buy was Sunken Reef. It required water and life (blue and green resources) to score points, and I produced both of these. In hand I had the Horn of Plenty. Once I got that played, it would give me three resources of any type every round. That would make one set I could convert to 1pt using the Sunken Reef. 

My Hawk helped me a lot. I could use it to peek at and arrange the top three cards of my own deck or the monument deck. When I peeked at the monument deck, I found the pyramids among the top three. I positioned it to allow me to buy it. The pyramids is the highest valued monument at 3pts. The rest are all worth 1pt or 2pts. It takes 10pts to win a game of Res Arcana, so 3pts is significant. The drawback of the pyramids is it doesn't have any special ability. 

At this point I had 5pts on my Sunken Reef. The pyramids gave me 3pts. This would be the final round. I would hit 10pts and end the game. 

This was another game. I had the artefact Windup Man in my starting hand, and decided to try it out. When you place resources on the Windup Man, and leave them there at the start of a round, the card generates 2 of each resource type on the card. If you have resources in all five colours, that means generating 10 resources per round! However this is a long-term investment. You need to store your resources there for a few rounds so that they generate good returns for you. It's like a fixed deposit. Later in the game when you claim all those resources at one go, you will be able to do a lot with them. It is best to combo the Windup Man with a card which lets you reset it. If you can reset it even just once per round, you will be able to place two types of resources within the same round, and next round you will be generating 4 more resources. 

Res Arcana is a tight game. At game setup you already need to analyse your cards and set a general direction. You need to make an effective combo of your mage, your artefacts, magic items you will pick, and places of power and monuments you will buy. You want cards which help one another. You will compete for the places of power and the monuments. Things don't always go according to plan. This is a game of high decision density. There are not many decisions, but they tend to be challenging decisions requiring some thought of the consequences. The game feels short and intense. There's a little feeling of not enough wriggling room. You need to build an efficient combo quickly. If I compare this with Race for the Galaxy, the outcomes of Race for the Galaxy can vary greatly, with some players obviously leading from mid game onwards. In Res Arcana scores tend to be closer. However the story arc is shorter in Res Arcana, and I prefer the longer arc in Race for the Galaxy

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