Yet another low-key game night came to pass, this week at the house of Dave Adams and Kathy Kizer in West Seattle, at 5:00 PM on Saturday, 11 January. Present were Dave, Kathy, Chad McDaniel, Ron Hale-Evans, John Braley, Alex Rockwell, and Jay Lorch, for a total of seven people.
This was Dave's first Saturday game night in many months, so attendance was somewhat higher than at the last game night at his house. We hope that as word gets around that Dave is hosting his game nights on Saturdays instead of Fridays, attendance will continue to climb.
I just got a digital camera (Canon Powershot S330) and this is the first report that I've added photos to.
Ron, John, and Alex showed up around 5:45 to find Dave demonstrating Abenteuer_Menschheit? to Chad and Kathy. With the addition of Alex, they now had enough players for a decent AM game, so they started playing around 5:50 PM.
(1) The starting board arrangement. (2) AM in progress. Clockwise from bottom left: Alex, Jay, Kathy, Dave. (3) Dave ponders his winning moves as Alex studies the board.
The game ended about two hours later, at 7:40 PM, with Dave having taken a pronounced lead, and the other three players tying for second.
I have mixed feelings on this game. It was fairly fast-paced and had some different paths to take, but the production of goods seemed very critical and was based on the luck of the dice. Alex suffered through many runs of 8 rolls that helped everyone but him. I generally don't like that much luck in a strategy game. Also, the translation of the rules lacked a tie-breaking determination.
I really like this game. It feels to me like an improved version of Settlers... it has multiple victory paths, etc. Actual different STRATEGIES other than just trying to get resources to build cities and towns in good spots. I did run into a string of 5 consecutive 8's which helped all three other players by multiple resources a roll, while giving me nothing, and that effectively knocked me from a good position into last place. But I feel that if played with a deck of cards containing one 2, two 3's, three 4's, up to six 7's, and back down again, to eliminate a bit of the luck, it would be a wonderful game. And it's still a good game as it stands. I look forward to playing again. (Though I can't ever manage to spell the title of it correctly.)
Just ask me next time you play, and I'll lend you my Deck_of_Dice?. It's usually with me.
WOW - check out my long beard in that third photo! Yes, a Deck of Dice could even out the distribution. There was only 1 four rolled in the game...
[whine mode] Yeah, and since my primary source of the bone resource was on a 4, and bone was the scarce resource all game, that was LAME! argh...mumblemumble settlers dice mumble mumble unfair.....[/whine mode] ;) :)
Meanwhile, John and Ron started a game of Alien City, the piecepack/Icehouse game. Apart from Chess, at which John is literally a past Master, Alien City is John's favourite abstract game (he tells me). Alien City replaced Entropy in John's affections, which had supplanted Sid Sackson's game Focus. Not that John doesn't still enjoy the other two games, but he likes it enough that he's been putting some effort into a bunch of AlienCity pages on our Wiki.
John recorded tonight's game using a notation he developed that is similar to algebraic Chess notation. This may be the first game of Alien City ever recorded. The recorded game is at AlienCity20030111, including photos of the board at the beginning and end of the game.
John ponders his first move
A few notes on the game:
First of all, the board "closed up" more quickly than in other games John or I had played.
Part of the strategy (as we now understand it) lies in delaying the placement and capping of towers on the board as long as possible. I placed and capped the first tower, probably foolishly.
Another part of the game is calculating how many points each tower is likely to get you. Last night I was too lazy to do the math on the fly, whereas John was calculating points for towers as he recorded the game, probably an advantage. (John's willingness to think things out is a big advantage for him over people who play more impulsively.)
At one point, I made what looked like a particularly good move. John told me he was actually worried he was losing at that point. However, about a move later we realised my move had been illegal, so we each had to take back a move or two, and I played the illegal move over. If I had moved the tower just one square, it would not have netted me as many points as the illegal move (36 points, if I recall), but it would have been significantly better than the move I eventually made with that tower (22 vs. 15 points, IIRC).
It was around this time that I made my big strategic blunder. I played a blue tower and capped it on the same turn. John was very easily able to neutralise my blue tower with another one placed very close by. I had been frustrated by having to take my illegal move back and had played too impulsively. Playing John, it is often very clear to me how much playing abstract strategy games (or games that are close to being abstract strategy games, such as Alien City) requires patience and restraint. I think that by playing John at this kind of game, I am learning these qualities in my game play. Certainly, despite my strategic blunder, I did much better against John in this game than I expected to.
Jay Lorch arrived around 6:45, and after observing the AM game, he joined in a game of Trias with Dave, Alex, and Chad. (Kathy sat out for the rest of the evening.)
(1) Trias board after the first drift
(1) Trias players (front to back: Alex, Chad). (2) Trias board later in game.
Trias is a game set on Pangaea, Earth's primitive proto-continent: a majority-placement game with a board in which segments split off and rejoin. Jay was the winner, but it was a close game, as seen below.
Jay was awarded a notepad resembling a $100 bill for his victory. (Yes, he has one already.)
In this game, each player represents a species of dinosaur vying for dominance on Pangaea, the large protocontinent of Earth. During the game, the continent breaks off into chunks. Whenever a new island is formed this way, the dominant species on that island gets 2 VP and the second-most dominant one gets 1 VP. The other way to score is at the end of the game, when each island has a final scoring of X VP to its dominant inhabitant and X/2 VP to its second-most dominant inhabitant, where X is the size of that island.
In the early game, Dave and I were doing pretty well since we were sharing an island and each of us spent our turn rejoining the island to the mainland and then breaking it off again, causing each of us to score 2 VP each time. Unfortunately, I eventually realized that for a couple of turns I had been breaking the rules by doing so. I had been breaking off tiles of the mainland even though I had foolishly abandoned the mainland entirely early in the game, and one of the rules in the game specifies that you can only break off a tile of an island you're on. At that point, we realized that not only had I been breaking the rules, but my abandonment of the mainland would mean that for the rest of the game I would be fantastically restricted in my available moves. I resigned myself to a devastating loss. It was even worse when on Dave's next turn he kicked me completely off the island we'd been sharing, restricting my movement even further.
Those refugees from Dave's treachery floated around near the island for a few turns, doggedly surviving on a small scrap of an island despite having no reason to live. However, after a few chance moves on my part that in retrospect I could call fiendishly clever but in reality were just colossally lucky, I managed to get those guys back onto the big island and kick Dave off! The end result was I actually won, albeit by the extremely narrow margin you see above.
I am not really sure what to think of this game as I haven't really got a handle on the full strategies available. It seems like there may be some interesting meat there, so I look forward to another play to finish evaluating this game.
I thought this was a very interesting game, and I would like to play it again now that I understand the strategy of it better. The game was extremely close, and also it was in doubt until the end. The game ends when the meteor card is drawn, but this card can be anywhere from the last to the 10th to last card. I believe that in this game, had the game ended 4 or 5 turns earlier, Dave would have won, whereas if it had ended 2 or 3 turns earlier I would have won. The way the board breaks apart can be a bit confusing, and it can be hard to tell where the pieces are actually supposed to be... but still, I think it's a great game and look forward to another try.
About a week after playing this game, I discovered we played with a couple of rules wrong. Each herd may only reproduce once per round, and a herd cannot reproduce on the same turn it is born. Also, I don't recall if we played the South Pole scoring rule correctly: an island that includes the South Pole never scores, not even at the end of the game.
Having played it twice now, I rate it a 7/10, i.e., it's a game I like playing enough to seriously consider buying.
(1) Breakthrough, early in one game. (2) John thinking really hard (why he wins).
The rules of Breakthrough (see link above) are simple. It is played on a standard 8x8 chessboard. Each player has two rows of pieces where Chess pieces would ordinarily go. Apart from distinction in colour between the players, all pieces are the same. Each piece moves one square straight or diagonally forward to an empty square, or captures by displacement, moving one square diagonally forward. The first player to move a piece to their opponent's back row wins.
That's it! Very simple rules. It is reputed to have complex strategy, but John couldn't decide whether he thought the game was deep or shallow. In any case, in the first game we played, he discovered that when X is attacking O as in the diagram below, O cannot defend (all else being equal):
X X - - O O <-- O's back left corner
An indefensible position for O.
Yes, John learned this stratagem in his first game with me, then used it again in the second game! He was awarded a handful of eye-poppers for his victories.
We finished playing around 10 PM (so, half an hour per Breakthrough game). I had to leave around 11:00, so rather than start another game, we waited for Alex to finish playing Puerto Rico (see below), since I was giving him a ride home. John and I chatted some more and played with my PDA, then John watched the Puerto Rico game and I read for a while.
Clockwise from lower left: Alex, Chad, Jay, and Dave wait for an invisible fifth player to make his move.
Jay won, despite the fact that Alex says he has played something like 300 games of PR online. Jay was awarded a "Big Money" prize, which contained yet another simulated $100 bill, but this time with a yo-yo shaped like a US coin. Yes, Jay has won this before too.
Stop bitching about prizes, people! If you don't like the prizes in the Prize Bag, contribute some yourself -- or stop winning so much!
After Puerto Rico, we closed up and went home. (Chad usually leaves around 11, and I was hoping to get up early for a game day hosted by Tim_Schutz?. Fat chance; I ended up sleeping in, which is why I'm writing this newsletter instead.)
We played this game with the new buildings that Rio Grande Games nobly placed on their website for free recently. In the set-up for the game with the new buildings, the players take turns deciding what buildings will be played with, and, as expected, we chose mostly new buildings. I say this was expected because naturally we wanted to experience the new, novel buildings.
When choosing buildings, I was intentionally trying to set up a really pro-builder strategy, since I wanted to try something different from the balanced builder/shipper strategy I usually pursue. Others were going along with this, so we wound up with a fairly pro-builder set of buildings: hacienda, forest house, church, factory, specialty factory, small market, large market, no harbor.
I was seated second, so after Chad started the game with Settler I was able to choose Builder twice in a row. I chose hacienda and forest house, considered by many on the Internet to be a broken combination. Our game revealed just how broken, especially when joined by the church, which I built soon afterward. Despite a few mistakes I made in play, and despite a very well executed effort by Alex and Chad (who, unlike me and Dave, didn't have both hacienda and forest house) to craft and ship a lot of goods, the uber-broken hacienda, forest house, church combination won handily. In the mid-game I was building guesthouse, large market, and tobacco storage, all for free. Near the end of the game, I had three occupied quarries and six forests, meaning that both times I chose the Builder and built double-size buildings they cost me only 3 doubloons each!
It seems to me that forest house may not have been properly playtested with hacienda. I think that in future I will suggest a rule that the hacienda draw work with the forest house in the same way that it works with the hospice and construction hut. That is, just as you can't place an extra colonist on, or substitute a quarry for, the hacienda draw, you probably shouldn't be able to substitute a forest for it either. This rule still makes a combination of hacienda and forest house strong, but it may reduce it from the level of brokenness it currently seems to be at.
On the other hand, it may be that this combination is not broken at all, and that we merely don't yet understand well enough what should be done to counter this combination. Just as some early players thought that hospice was unbeatable but now realize that it is only unbeatable if opponents without hospices accommodate the hospice-owners to an irresponsible extent, it may be the same with hacienda and forest house. But, somehow, I don't think so.
Oh, and, by the way, I don't remember bitching about the prizes, just saying "Yes" a lot to the question of "Do you already have this one?". I'm very happy to receive the prizes I get, although I should say my happiness at the prizes is minuscule compared to my appreciation for Ron's establishment of this game group to provide me the joy of gaming with its members every week.
Thank you, Jay. I wasn't pointing my finger at you and have re-broken the two paragraphs in question to reflect this. The fact is, however, that there has been a certain amount of complaining about prizes lately. Some people actually tried to return their prizes the next week because they didn't like them. What is one to say about that kind of thing?
Heh heh... yeah, I've played 300 games online, but that doesn't mean you can win 'em all. Specifically, it doesn't mean you have a chance going up against the Hacienda/Forest Hut/Church combo, which I was 1) unable to stop from being entered into the game during the building selection phase and 2) unable to prevent Jay from acquiring. (Though I could've stopped Dave from getting it too by buying one of the forest huts, this wouldn't really have helped the situation at all, as one player still would have had the combo.) I felt I did a very good job of trying to score points while preventing the builder players from getting much shipping done, but in the end it was only enough for a five point loss to Jay, who combines being a good player with having a broken strategy (which generally will win in any game!).
The Puerto Rico new buildings were NOT tested in combination with the old buildings, but rather only with themselves. Thus, when mixing the two sets, there are going to be unexpected effects or broken combinations which arise, probably. Hacienda/Forest Hut is merely the greatest of these. I feel that Union Hall/Large Warehouse might possibly be another, but each time I play someone has placed the Small Wharf into the game and thus prevented it from being tested. I think that Puerto Rico, without the expansion, is probably a superior, more stable, and more balanced game. But I've only been able to play the expansion twice, so it's hard to tell.
The Center for Ludic Synergy and Seattle Cosmic Game Night are associates of Funagain Games. This means that 5% of your purchase there goes toward supporting us if you buy games via THIS VERY LINK. Any game you buy during a web session you start by clicking the previous link qualifies; in fact, if you click it and bookmark the Funagain page that appears, you can donate 5% to Seattle Cosmic whenever you buy games, without having to return to this page. It's just as easy to bookmark as not, so why not make this your regular Funagain link? THIS MEANS YOU.
We've never yet earned enough money from the associates program for Funagain to cut us a check, and we're not sure what we'd do with the money -- but we promise not to squander it on booze and floozies.
Saturday, 18 January 2003, 5:00 PM in Mill Creek (Bothell). Come play for fun and FABULOUS PRIZES!
Remember, Seattle Cosmic Game Night occurs every weekend, in one of four locations: Kent, Mill Creek, South Park, or West Seattle. Email Ron Hale-Evans for a full schedule and directions. If you come, please bring a snack or drink to share (cookies, chips, soda, juice, etc.)