Seattle Cosmic Game Night

(Saturday, 3 August 2002)

Twilight for the Jol-Nar, Morning for the Hacan

by Ron Hale-Evans

Game night transpired again at Tim and Antonio's last Saturday. Present were Tim Higgins, Antonio Lopez, Marty Hale-Evans, Ron Hale-Evans, Meredith Hale, Lindsey Dubb, Dave Adams, John Braley, Kisa Gryphon, Jay Lorch, Michelle Teague, Mark Purtill, Eric Yarnell, Mark Haggerty, Dave Howell, and Gorm Nykreim. That's a total of 16 people, down from our all-time high of 21 people, but hey, it's summer.

Twilight Imperium

Six early birds started "game night" at 1:30 in the afternoon. We played a game of Twilight Imperium (Second Edition, with the first expansion) that ran until late at night. Marty won after about 8 hours by mutual concession. I, the puny Jol-Nar species, was eliminated well before that. Clockwise from me, the players and their races were as follows:

Ron Hale-Evans ..... Jol-Nar
Lindsey Dubb ....... Xxcha
Dave Adams ......... Sardakk N'Orr
Tim Higgins ........ Yssaril
Marty Hale-Evans ... Hacan
Meredith Hale ...... Mentak

John Braley arrived with me, Marty, and Meredith, and observed the game until around 5:00, when Kisa arrived. John remarked that Twilight Imperium seemed to be an interesting mix of Cosmic Encounter, Risk, Diplomacy, and Democrazy.

There was an extended postmortem of the game on the Seattle Cosmic mailing list the following week. Rather than paraphrase the other players -- probably badly -- I have organised and stitched together their discussion of the game below, lightly edited and interspersed with commentary and clarifications by me -- and without most of the acrimony...

5:00 PM: The players and the board, 3.5 hours in

Marty: I walked in and sat down. About the seating: several people had already picked seats by the time I got there; I asked which ones were taken and plopped down in one of the ones that wasn't. No big thing there. We placed the tiles; you can bet that I didn't place my end of the wormhole until I saw where it was going, and I used my supernova to help pen in Dave (since I knew he was the most military player, and that wasn't going to be my strong point).

Tim: My comment towards Dave [that Tim didn't want to sit next to Dave, although he ended up doing so -- Ed.] was based on that I knew going in he and I were probably the two to have the strongest (loudest) opinions, and that sitting next to each other and therefore in conflict with each other would bring that much more to the fore than desirable. And it did. [See the section "The 'Skilled Retreat' Question", below. --Ed.]

Marty: I found myself next to Tim. I know Tim. Tim is a strategic and aggressive player, and I am a [species] with little military advantage and a lot of potential to make money (more in a minute on that). If you find a tiger in your back yard, what do you do? Do you fight the tiger and piss him off, or do you pet the tiger (with a non-aggression pact) and feed him (with a trade agreement)? Choosing the latter course, I got a) a tiger not coming in my back door, b) a tiger guarding my back door, c) a tiger going after the most military player [Dave] (keeping him away from me), and d) a tiger out winning planets that are going to bring me money. In return, the tiger gets food it needs, a safe base in my back yard, and nobody coming after him with a gun anytime soon.... Certainly there's a risk involved in having a backyard tiger, but I took it. I figured he wasn't going to come after me immediately because I made it worth his while not to, and in the meantime I might be able to either a) make the win conditions before having to fight him, b) figure out how to beat him in time, or c) capitalize on a mistake he might make.

Tim: Marty and Tim formed a gentleman's agreement early on to split the planets in our area. That lasted through the entire game.... A law passed early on seriously irked Timothy and Marty, enough to instigate a war with Lindsey, who could have stopped the law but refused to. The law limited the action cards held to three. [Tim's special power was that he could draw extra action cards each round, so this hurt him most.--Ed.]

Lindsey: Well, I didn't refuse -- I was just holding out for a better bribe. My read on the game at the time was that you and Marty wanted to slow me down, and were using the issue as the excuse.

Tim: Marty had a [wormhole] in front of her planet that took her over to the [wormhole] in front of Ron's position, and from there she could head over to Lindsey. Which she did. Sort of. Timothy was unable to effectively get over there, but did manage to get over to the central big planet and was going to move on before he realized that a certain individual to his right [Dave] was ripe for the picking. He held off Mer by offering to negotiate for the planet. Mer was NOT using her ability until late in the game and probably should have come storming in to wipe Tim out of the system. It wasn't until late in the game that Lindsey finally decided that he had to attack Tim and successfully took control of the central system. But by that time Tim was so bogged down in the David war that there was no way he was going to fend Lindsey off. Meredith in a wholly hostile and belligerent move used an action card to transport half of her fleet (that's an exaggeration) deep behind Timothy's line. David took the opportunity to provide helpful advice at how best to cripple Tim in the process. And meanwhile Marty kept growing and growing and no one else seemed to notice until it was really too late to stop.

Lindsey: I was keeping my mouth shut about it, but it was clear that Marty was doing very well. My take on the situation was that I couldn't beat Marty and yourself simultaneously, so I was waiting for one of you to attack the other.... My main mistake was that I didn't realize the end was so close. It wasn't until after my last turn that I noticed I needed to keep seven outside planets that turn in order to stay in the game.

Marty: When I saw Tim decide to play Vietnam with Dave and king-of-the-mountain with Lindsey simultaneously, it was obvious to me that the thing to do was keep Lindsey annoyed on his flank while he was fighting Tim on his main front by harrassing him with cheap (to me) cruisers and fighters over his border planets (and keep Lindsey poor financially). Simultaneously, I could take the planets I needed by wiping out Ron, move on Mer if I needed a few more planets (since I had her pinched between the two ends of the wormhole), and wait to see who staggered out bloody at the end of the donnybrook on the other side of the board. Meanwhile, I was building enough firepower so that I could take out whoever did, since they'd be exhausted. As I said, I was hoping to make the win conditions without it having to come to that (which was probably going to happen), but I was ready for it if it did.

7:30 PM: Marty surges forward, 6 hours in

[Around this time, one of my favourite moments of the game occurred. Lindsey had been pouring most of his money into building Cruisers. Mer looked at the small stack of poker chips in front of him and remarked, "He's poor." I asked him, "Lindsey, are you leaving room in your budget for education and social services?" Lindsey, as leader of the Xxcha, cupped his hand to his ear and said, "My translators are having problems with that."]

Tim: Second memo to self: don't leap out ahead in the game. It begs for a more methodical expansion strategy.... Timothy's major miscalculation in the game was to not prepare enough before attacking David. By not supplying enough ground forces, he was unable to occupy the planets and therefore the only real effect he had was to shut down David's space stations (yes, all of them), and therefore David's ability to produce ships. David was not amused. David eventually produced PDSs and would have commenced blowing Tim out of the sky, but by that time, the game was called due to exhaustion.

Marty: About money: essentially, that also took knowing how to gamble. I did start out the game with the two trade agreements, but I had to "back the right horses" to make them pay. Obviously I was going to use one on Tim (see above), and I saw that Lindsey had the room to expand and the experience to know how to do it. Also, he was across the table, so I wasn't likely to need to take his planets (thereby cutting my income). After that, I paid attention to getting the tech that would expand on my financial base, and I was careful to keep my trade balances in my favor while maintaining relatively cordial and/or profitable relations with my trade partners. Anybody who knows anything about management knows that win-win situations are always the way to go; if you need to win more, you just make the balance a little off, but not get so greedy that you upset people.

Dave: I made some (2 or 3) serious mistakes in my play. I think Marty should have won earlier - her position was RAKING in the dough.

Lindsey: Well, but the situation was more interesting than that, since Tim had a lead (for a while) in technology. And Marty was far enough from me that it took a long time -- and a mistake of mine -- for her to attack my position.

[When the game ended, Marty had not only spread across the board, but was the only player at the "Empire" stage on the Galactic Progression Chart, just one short of winning the game. Everyone but Dave ceded to Marty, and then Dave did too.]

The "Skilled Retreat" Question

Dave: At one point there was a strenuous disagreement on how a card (my card) should be interpreted. Some people felt that the result should be left up to a coin toss between my interpretation and my enemy's interpretation. I felt that this was an unfair suggestion, but the fact that I felt it was unfair appeared to show that I was being unsportsmanlike, or just plain stubborn. I don't think Tim should have had any say in the interpretation of the card, since he had a vested interest in the outcome (he was attacking me at the time). But he was styling himself as the rules arbiter at the time, which was helpful since it was for the most part, everyone's first time, thus the problem.

Marty: You both [Dave and Tim] had vested interests in the outcome of the interpretation, and you both were styling yourselves rules arbiter, and neither of you was going compromise even an inch. The coin toss suggestion came from those of us who did NOT have a vested interest except that we were all extremely uncomfortable and wanted to ensure that we wouldn't be sitting there glaring at one another three days afterward.

Lindsey: Well, tactically I wanted [Dave's] interpretation to be used. But my opinion was that Tim's interpretation made more sense. The 'roll a die' suggestion was just to get things away from the argument.... [The card was] "Skilled Retreat," and the question was how "friendly system" is defined. (Is it a system with a friendly planet, or a system with friendly ships? And if the latter, is the system still considered friendly if another player's ships are also present?) [Dave wanted to define "friendly system" so that he could retreat to a system with friendly planets but with enemy ships. --Ed.]

Paul Unwin: For future reference, there is a list of FAQs that address some of the more common questions about the cards, such as which credit value to use when playing Spatial Jump. If people want, we can hash out the "Seattle-Cosmic" interpretation for your particular situation (now that everyone can look at it from a more or less neutral standpoint) and stick with that.

[When Dave says, "I don't think Tim should have had any say in the interpretation of the card, since he had a vested interest in the outcome (he was attacking me at the time)", this strikes me as very odd. Is he claiming that he himself didn't have a vested interest in the outcome, or that no one who had a vested interest should have had any say? If the former, I can't agree -- Dave obviously had a vested interest because he was the defender. If the latter, since he did have a vested interest, he should have stopped arguing and let the rest of us (not including Tim) figure it out. Lindsey and I did dig through the rulebook for several minutes without shedding any light on the question. For what it's worth, I just searched the Web. The Official Twilight Imperium FAQ was not helpful. However, the Unofficial PBEM Rules make the following statement: "Skilled Retreat: The retreat must follow all retreat rules as detailed below in the space battles section", which states that "A retreating fleet may not retreat to a hex containing another player's fleet or a hex that hosted space combat this turn, even if the space combat is already completed." So it would seem that PBEM best practices are the same as the interpretation that Tim and Lindsey advocated, and which was the way the dice fell anyway.--Ed.]

Committing Xenocide on the Jol-Nar

8:30 PM: The victorious Hacan forces storm through the Jol-Nar ghost planets, 7 hours in

[Around 8:30, about an hour before everyone conceded victory to Marty, she completely wiped out my species, the Jol-Nar. --Ed.]

Dave: I feel that Ron's position [as the Jol-Nar] seemed to be unbalanced.... I would be up for another game, possibly with the auction rules this time, since now we know the differences in the racial traits. Jol-Nar ought to be GIVEN money to play it... ;-)

Paul Unwin: I'm told that Sol and Jol-Nar won most often during play-testing. In my late, lamented PBEM game, the Jol-Nar did quite well. It all depends, I guess.

Marty: I think there is probably a way to play the Jol-Nar effectively, but we can't see it quite yet through inexperience.

Tim: I think Ron's position was the weakness, not the race. In particular, the placement (by him) of a [wormhole] right in front of his planet, without at the time knowing where the end was going to be was just begging for disaster. I think it would have been even worse if either of the military guys had actually been more aggressive in their play.... Ron (from my perspective) really hosed himself in the initial placement of the tiles. That [wormhole] allowed Marty to come roaring in, and he never had a chance to expand far. If it had been in my hand, I think I would have placed it near someone else unless I knew where the opposite side was. Ron basically fought a war that he could never adequately prepare for (lots of money vs. science; guess which won?)

Lindsey: Well, Ron's weakness was that anyone attacked him. Mer and I left the Jol-Nar (mostly) alone for a while, which would normally have left Ron in a good position. I suspect that more aggressive angling for trade agreements -- and skipping early tech for more ships -- would have improved Ron's position a lot. So I don't think he was really doomed from the start. Still, it isn't great to see someone knocked out early.... That was probably the biggest flaw. Ron, playing a militarily weak race, and without any trade agreements, was pretty much out of the game. And the victory rules meant that Mer, who took a while to catch on, wasn't in the running at the end. But there were three of us in the running toward the end, which isn't too bad for a six player game. Even had Tim and I not conceded, someone (very likely Marty) would definitely have won soon thereafter.

[I probably wouldn't have placed the wormhole directly in front of my home system had I realised when we started that the Jol-Nar were so weak -- I was hoping to prey on someone weaker. And I do think the Jol-Nar are weak; all their units fight at -1, which means that at base level everyone else's Carriers were twice as effective as mine (9 or 10 on a d10 vs. 10 on a d10) and their Cruisers were half again as effective, etc.. Theoretically, I could have bought Red (Military) Tech to beef up my units, but Military Tech cost me 40 units where it cost everyone else 30, and cost twice as much as any other tech I could buy. I had no trade agreements the entire game -- and I was the only player who had none -- so I was cash-poor. If I bought Military Tech, I couldn't have bought much else. I had lots of other Tech, and as Lindsey said, if I could have survived to the end game, I might have had a chance, but when my beloved wife decided to exterminate my species, it became clear that would never happen. ;-) I was also, er, indisposed while people were picking out their races, and wasn't aware I could have swapped the Jol-Nar for another race. As Mer said, "It's dangerous to go to the bathroom in this game." --Ed.]

Final Opinions

The endgame: Marty's forces (White) spread across the board, 7.5 hours in

Lindsey: I liked it. It turned out to be much more about political/economic maneuvering than about battles.... The beginning was a little slow as everyone got used to the rules, but things picked up after that.... I suspect that the [game] length this time was pretty standard, and that it won't speed up any more. We passed a law which gave an extra 5 credits per trade agreement, another which decreased the action card hand size, and there never was a really big war. So the beginning will probably be faster now that we know the rules, but the length of the game might not decrease.

Marty: I had fun, and would play it again. I think the balancing is complex, so I hesitate to say whether it's too balanced or not -- I think with further experience on the part of all the players, subtleties in strategy would emerge. Right now, I think one of the main reasons the game was so long was because a) everyone was learning the mechanics, and b) everyone was figuring out how to play.... It would definitely been interesting to see how it would have actually played out -- I'm not saying, either, that I completely had it in the bag, but just that (as [Lindsey] said at the time) I had arranged it so that the odds were pretty much with me.

Mer: Fun, yet grueling. I think now that we've all played, we all agreed we'd like to play again, but some things were slow going because we didn't really know what we were doing (except for Lindsey who had to play referee the whole game, even though we all read the rules ahead of time). I definitely had a good time, though near the end I was definitely ready for it to finish. Then again, I tend to get antsy.

Dave: Besides that one sour situation, I enjoyed the game, but feel there should be more emphasis on speeding up the game the next time we play. I'd like to see an official win...

Tim: It was fun, and I'll definitely play again. Although I'd actually prefer to play Advanced Civ.

[I enjoyed it too, but more at the beginning and end than in the middle. Paradoxically, I enjoyed being wiped out more than the mid-game, in which I would gain a planet and Mer would knock me down one again, ad nauseam. That wasn't too much fun. I had more fun making a desperate last stand, which at least lent some drama to my pathetic situation. --Ed.]

Krieg und Frieden

Kisa Gryphon arrived around 5:00 and proposed that he and John Braley play a game of Al Cabohne around 5:30. Kisa started teaching John the rules, but Jay Lorch and Michelle Teague arrived a few minutes later, and all four started a game of Krieg und Frieden instead, since Al Cabohne only supports two players.

Krieg und Frieden

I haven't played this game, so I can't tell you much about it, except that its title means "War and Peace", and it is one of the few contemporary German games with a war theme. John Braley said that it was hard for anyone to get ahead in the game, and that the end was arbitrary, based almost entirely on what cards were in one's hand.

Jay agreed with John's analysis, even though he won the game. (His prize was a digital pocket game timer.)


Mark Purtill arrived around 7:10 PM, and Eric Yarnell, Mark Haggerty, Dave Howell, and Gorm arrived a few minutes later. They sat down to a few rounds of that perennial Seattle Cosmic favourite, Zendo.


Mark Purtill and Gorm each won two Zendo rounds. Mark was awarded a gyroscope, and Gorm was awarded a fidgety wire sculpture thing.

6 Nimmt!

Ron, Marty, Meredith, Dave Adams, Tim, and Lindsey then played a round of 6 Nimmt! ("6 Takes It!"), a fast-moving card game in which players laying the sixth card to a row of five must take all five cards in the row and any penalty points they contain. Continuing the Seattle Cosmic 6 Nimmt! tradition, we did not finish the game.

Tim takes five

Zoff im Zoo (Frank's Zoo)

Lindsey, Tim, Marty, and Dave Adams managed to coax Antonio into a game of Zoff im Zoo around 9:45. Lindsey, the trick-taking, cardsharping maniac, won the game. There may also have been a bit of "beginner's luck" involved; it seems every game night we teach this game to a new person, they immediately win. But there's no doubt that Lindsey is a fiend at this kind of game.


At 10 PM, Mer, Kisa, Jay, and Michelle played a game of Barbarossa, Klaus Teuber's Pictionary-like game of clay sculpture. Kisa won the game. I don't have any photos of this session, so here is a Seattle Cosmic "stock photo" of the game from an earlier game night.


Everyone but Mer had played the game before. Clay sculptures made were as follows. Michelle: film and telescope. Jay: kiss and pendant. Kisa: parasol and bolo (!). Mer: toupee and Bantha (!!!). "Telescope" was guessed first. "Telescope", "film", "parasol", and "toupee" all received two guesses and were removed from the table. "Pendant" was never guessed, despite lots of hints from Jay as to what letters the word contained. At the end of the game, only "bolo", "Bantha", and "kiss" survived -- guessed just often enough.

At one point, someone asked Mer if her sculpture (Bantha) were something from mythology, to which Mer said yes (it is an imaginary creature from Star Wars). This prompted an interesting discussion at the end of the game as to whether Star Wars should be classified as mythology.

Kisa won the game, but judging from how often Jay cracked up on the floor, he probably had the most fun.


(1) John (Chaos) consider's Ron's play as Order. (2) Close-up of the Entropy board.

John Braley and I started playing Eric Solomon's game Entropy (published by Franjos as Hyle-7) at the card table. One player, as Order, attempts to form symmetrical rows and columns of counters. The other player, as Chaos, draws new counters from the bag and attempts to place them in a way that blocks Order from forming patterns.

If you're not familiar with this gem of an abstract game, you might want to check out the rules. Eric Yarnell observed a lot of the game, then a crowd of people gathered to watch John trounce me, 110-73.

100 is considered an excellent score, 70 an average one. John's score of 110 is similar to scores made at the Mind Sports Olympiad. Of course, I didn't put up much of a fight. However, as Eric is my witness, I made some lousy draws from the bag as Chaos -- right at the start, when there were no pieces on the board to block John from placing the pieces together, I drew four of one colour, then a couple of pieces later, four pieces of another colour.

John was awarded a gyroscope from the Museum of Flight for his victory.


Four players ponder Blokus

Around 11:10, Marty, Tim, and Dave Adams agreed to play the Seattle Cosmic favourite, Blokus, and Eric Yarnell quit observing the Entropy game to join them.

Blokus drew a lot of the crowd that had been watching me and John play Entropy. Gorm, one of the observers, asked, "Tetris, the Board Game?".

It was lucky for Eric that he joined the Blokus game, because he won. He even managed to place all of his pieces on the board, the first time that has been done at one of our game nights.


From center: Mark Haggerty applauds, Gorm mugs for the camera, Mark Purtill pulls his hair out, Lindsey Dubb sits in shock, and Dave Howell spouts off.

The five players in the action shot above played several rounds of Twitch, a "real-time" card game in which fast reflexes are essential. Dave Howell won a plurality of rounds, and was awarded a pack of Fluxx Blanxx for his lightning speed.

Most people left around midnight, and Tim kicked the rest of us out around 12:15. Once again, there were no drive-by shootings.

See you next week.

Games played or discussed this week:

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Saturday, 10 August 2002, 7:00 PM in South Park. 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. If you come, please bring a snack or drink to share (cookies, chips, soda, juice, etc.).

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