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Session report: GiP, 4 Oct 2003 (El Caballero, Castle)

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  • J C Lawrence
    I got in just before noon, finding Roy, Eddie (new to the group), and Larry already present. Eddie confessed himself new to TGOO and Larry was having a busy
    Message 1 of 4 , Oct 5, 2003
      I got in just before noon, finding Roy, Eddie (new to the group), and
      Larry already present. Eddie confessed himself new to TGOO and Larry
      was having a busy customer day and so begged off playing. Eddie was
      understandably uncertain as tp what he wanted to play, or even what he
      liked in games, so I ran through quick descriptions of various games and
      game mechanics trying to find out what would suit him. He ended up
      picking El Caballero, which none of us had played before.

      El Caballero

      I'd already been researching El Caballero on the 'geek before buying
      it from Walter Hunt (thanks Walter!), which had left me with two basic
      summaries of the game:

      This is __MEAN__ Carcassone.

      Heavy brain-burner.

      I found only the first to be true, and true in an enjoyable way.
      While there is brain burning, it didn't dominate our game and there
      was little tendency toward AP. However that latter could have been a
      characteristic of how our map developed rather than El Caballero in
      general. I'll comment more on this point later.

      Bits complaints:

      The scoring pad sucks. It is quite unnecessary, annoying, and a
      pain to use and keep track of. All that is needed is a simple
      little scoring track, say like the ones in the Carcassonne games.
      Yeesh! If they had really wanted to have the option of private
      versus public scores for some reason, scoring chits or even rotating
      tiles ala the Caballero tiles would have worked well. Silly design,
      badly playtested.

      The rules, especially for the advanced game, are unusually vague,
      incompleat, and contradictory. In particular they don't cover a
      number of obvious ambiguities and internal contradictions, which
      I'll be asking about on Spielfreaks and the 'geek later.
      Impressive, badly.

      As I'd reviewed the rules the night before, I was burdened with the
      rules explanation. As we started working through the rules, Dave, the
      other half of Face2Face games, walked in and took the #4 player slot.
      After a quick rules explanation which was heavy on demonstrations with
      the board pieces and questions from the peanut gallery we started.

      Roy managed to roll the privilege of being first player and stuck
      another three-sided land tile inline beside the 3-sided land tile that
      started the map and hung a caballero card off the long side with a
      castillo on it. My turn was next, so I quickly noted that I could
      drop a land tile beside his caballeros, forcing him off the board.
      But, being a nice, kind hearted and generous soul, I didn't kick him
      in the shins, but rather started a new island across the sea and hung
      some caballeros off the water beside it, hoping for the free acballero
      score when the land grew my way. This positioning had the second
      advantage that it would require at least two tile placements before my
      caballeros were endangered. Dave quickly responded to my generosity
      by thumbing his nose, kicking Roy's caballeros off the table while
      going "Nyahh!", and then also adding his caballeros in a position that
      would require at least two land tile placements to be threatened.
      This action earned the general response, "Oh yeah, this is /mean/
      Caracassonne. Mean baby, mean."

      Knives were bared and the fight was on.

      Unfortunately Eddie started to drown. As the game progressed he had
      difficulty with the mechanics for keeping track of his caballeros and
      didn't quite seem to understand the bidding rounds (El Grande-style)
      for turn order, or how he should approach or think about combining the
      various mechanics in the game. We all ended up helping him
      extensively, but unfortunately he didn't quite seem to ever get the
      hang of it. More simply: El Caballero was a horrible choice for his
      introduction to the hobby. We should have done Castle first (later in
      this session).

      outside of this the game proceeded fairly rapidly and smoothly. A
      large island grew which Dave and Eddie fought for ownership of, with
      Dave nicely demonstrating how his two caballero card placements could
      seal off all entrances to the island while also guaranteeing him
      dominance Eddie's single caballero card. Roy and I started sharing a
      nice sized ocean with a couple ships, which we then grew out fairly
      aggressively.

      There was peace in the land; an armed, knives ever-ready, tense sort
      of peace that waited patiently.

      Everybody was very careful with their caballero placements to only
      choose positions that would require multiple land card placements to
      endanger. This pattern had a couple side effects:

      1) Caballero cards tended to cluster in walls and kitty-corner pairs
      on the edges, making it very hard to get up beside them to kick them
      off.

      2) When such a group was endangered more caballero cards tended to
      be played to defend the ones already present.

      3) The number of "free edges" on which new land tiles might be
      placed was always fairly small, making the analysis problem of what
      tile of the 5 to choose, as where to put it fairly direct. In fact
      in the later game we ended up with a grand total of only two exposed
      land edges.

      The map grew fairly steadily into the third round, with me regularly
      pointing out the huge point advantage that Dave had secured with his 8
      caballero dominance of a nice large island with several gold. Hoping
      to make up for this I quickly slapped two caballero cards on the two
      exposed edges of the large ocean that Roy and I had been sharing, and
      stuck a ships on each. This turned out to be the critical move of the
      game as it closed the ocean to everyone that followed, give me three
      ships to Roy's one and netting me 24 points heading into the 4th round
      scoring.

      I wish I could say that I planned it, but I didn't. Happy accident!

      Dave played his 9 in the fourth round, using the two land tiles to
      extend and steal dominance of a nicely scoring island that Eddie had
      started. He also build a small 4 point lake between his two caballero
      cards on his big island and stuck chips on either end. Very nicely
      done.

      4th round positions:

      Roy: 18
      JCL: 36
      Dave: 28
      Eddie: 17

      The 5th round started with a very juicy set of land tiles so Roy
      played his 9 -- which got me thinking that the 9 card with its double
      land tiles as a potent scoring move, and that I really should ensure
      that I played my 9 in the last round to give myself opportunity for a
      big scoring finish. So I set myself up for bidding 1 in the 6th round
      and then 9 in the 7th...

      At this point we also ran out of ships. This limit was crucial to the
      game. All the ships were tied up in locations that were pretty much
      unassailable. We had some other great water blobs out there, but
      large as they were, they weren't larger than what we had. This mostly
      hurt Roy and Eddie.

      The second half of the game mostly consisted of me (successfully,
      barely) defending my caballeros on the juicy ocean, Roy attempting to
      get either a nice ocean or island that Dave or I didn't take over, and
      Dave and Eddie fighting over another large island. By this time we'd
      gotten well practiced at playing defensive caballero cards (eg two
      side by side, one a big earner, the second acting as defence for the
      first), as well as land tile placement to threaten or support an
      already placed caballero card -- thus forcing board growth in a
      particular direction. In fact we were so successful at this defensive
      play that there was almost no value or use for castillos.

      More simply the map turned into trench warfare with massively dug
      redouts and salients.

      The short version of the end game is that I managed to pick up another
      couple of islands, including second placement on a huge 20-pointer.
      Dave, Roy, and Eddie cooperatively fought to kick me out of that huge
      island and succeeded, but ended up failing to use that island to also
      force once of my ships off the big ocean (luck of the tile draws --
      there were no tiles pulled in the last round which could do it), and
      so we entered the last round with everyone convinced that I had the
      game tied up, sealed, and delivered -- which turned out to be true,
      but not as much as they thought.

      Final scores:

      Roy: 63
      JCL: 75
      Dave: 67
      Eddie: 61

      Everyone was surprised at how close the scores were.

      Post commentary:

      I'd expected the game to be rather caballero starved. This turned
      out to very much not be the case. At one point Eddie did run out of
      caballeros, but it didn't constrain or limit his actions or scoring.
      I ended the game with 15 caballeros still in my court. Roy, Eddie
      and Dave both ended with reasonable numbers of caballeros (5? 6?)
      as well.

      The shortage of ships really surprised me and had a huge effect on
      the game. That seems a key point to plan for and predict.

      The non-value of the castillos was another surprise, but one that
      was defined and enforced by our very defensive play pattern. I'm
      curious if that is a typical pattern for the basic game, and if so,
      how much the advanced game changes it.

      The game was shorter than expected. Good, but shorter. It seemed
      to end just when the really vicious opportunities were starting to
      become possible -- which in turn made the advanced game seem even
      more attractive. Dave, Roy and I had quite favourable impressions
      of the game. Eddie had to leave for work before I could ask him.

      Castle

      Eddie unfortunately had to leave, so Tami stepped in to take his place
      and we started a game of Bruno Faidutti's Castle (another Walter Hunt
      acquisition). Castle is a light weight tile laying game using
      card-like tiles. Each card represents a character with a special
      ability (written on the card).

      Again, none of us had played before.

      Bits complaint:

      The writing on the cards is tiny. Many could have difficulty
      reading the cards. In addition reading the cards in the exchange
      for people at the other end of the table can be very difficult.

      The "board"/folding castle walls are really cheap. I like the idea
      but slightly heavier card stock or some sort of interlocking of the
      walls might have been nice.

      The rules are poor. A number of ambiguous card interactions are not
      covered, like what happens if the ghost is played on a card on a
      tower which is already protected by a knight? (We said you
      couldn't) Or, how should the cards in the Exchange be arranged and
      handled? Should Exchanges trades be public or private? (We put the
      Exchange cards face up and had all trades public)

      The courtyard quickly turned into the predictable charnal house with
      cards flying in and out as people ran about kicking each other in the
      shins. Roy quickly picked up a pattern of using the Magician and King
      on alternate turns to get a card played and his token off it so that
      it couldn't be returned to his hands. I built a block of cards from
      the Queen, Lady in Waiting, and <something> with the Priest to protect
      them and then barricaded them on all sides in the courtyard with other
      cards.

      I thought they were safe. Then, in the late game Tami assassinated my
      Priest and then <something> on a rampart that kicked my Lady in
      Waiting back. Ouch!

      Tami and Dave finally managed to break Roy's Magician/King pairing,
      letting me steal the King. Dave dumped the Merchant on me in a very
      one-sided card swap, so I dumped it on the Exchange for a few turns
      until I realised how powerful a card it was. Tami started lined
      ramparts with Soldiers and kicked back Dave's Siege Engine. Roy
      started used Knights to protect his cards and played games with the
      towers using the Ghost and other cards. I messed up people's plans
      using the Alchemist.

      Then we started running out of cards. I was first down with an empty
      deck and only one left in my hand. A carelessly sequenced Exchange
      play left that card vulnerable but still viable. Dave quickly ensured
      that I had the Mistress which couldn't be played as the Queen (mine)
      was already on the board. The next turn had me dumping the Mistress
      on the Exchange only to note that Tami was the next big threat. I
      quickly sent one of her cards back and was left with one two in my
      hand, both playable. This left Dave stuck. He could send one of my
      cards back, ensuring that I didn't win on my turn, or he could send
      one of Tami's, letting me win instead.

      He gave me a card, and Tami won.

      Post commentary:

      The early game was hesitant and somewhat chaotic. Understandably
      nobody knew what to do. The middle game was rich, active, and
      bloody. Good stuff. The end game was far too predictable and
      rather a let-down. While Tami played well, if I'd had a "mean" card
      in my hand I could have prevented her, which would have left her
      stopping Dave and so forth until eventually one person in the chain
      ran out of "mean" cards, thus letting the next player win. Not a
      horrible pattern, but also not a great one.

      We all agreed that greater familiarity with the cards and their
      interactions would improve play and make the game more interesting.
      The general summary was, "Amusing, willing to play again, will
      likely never suggest."

      --
      J C Lawrence
      ---------(*) Satan, oscillate my metallic sonatas.
      claw@... He lived as a devil, eh?
      http://www.kanga.nu/~claw/ Evil is a name of a foeman, as I live.
    • Mark J. Edwards
      ... Heheh, who are you kidding JC? You went to GiP with every intention of playing El Caballero. Eddie s answers had nothing to do with the result. Gah.
      Message 2 of 4 , Oct 5, 2003
        At 05:15 PM 10/5/2003 -0400, J C Lawrence wrote:
        >I got in just before noon, finding Roy, Eddie (new to the group), and
        >Larry already present. Eddie confessed himself new to TGOO and Larry
        >was having a busy customer day and so begged off playing. Eddie was
        >understandably uncertain as tp what he wanted to play, or even what he
        >liked in games, so I ran through quick descriptions of various games and
        >game mechanics trying to find out what would suit him. He ended up
        >picking El Caballero, which none of us had played before.

        Heheh, who are you kidding JC? You went to GiP with every intention of
        playing El Caballero. Eddie's answers had nothing to do with the
        result. Gah. Nothing worse than a game pusher trying to rationalize their
        behavior.

        Mark


        "Just look at him. Square. The shape of *EVIL*" - Plankton
      • Walter Hunt
        ... You re welcome, but you bought Castle from me, not El Caballero. But I own it and like it. For some reason, it s not well liked in UG circles, though El
        Message 3 of 4 , Oct 5, 2003
          On Sunday, Oct 5, 2003, at 17:15 US/Eastern, J C Lawrence wrote:

          >   I'd already been researching El Caballero on the 'geek before buying
          >   it from Walter Hunt (thanks Walter!), which had left me with two
          > basic
          >   summaries of the game:

          You're welcome, but you bought Castle from me, not El Caballero. But I
          own it and like it. For some reason, it's not well liked in UG circles,
          though El Grande is very popular.

          Walter H. Hunt
          hotc@...
          http://www.walterhunt.com/


          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • Tami
          ... Actually, I don t think there was a Siege Engine out... the card I played was Traitor, which acts like a soldier, but allows you to return something from
          Message 4 of 4 , Oct 6, 2003
            --- In Unity_Games@yahoogroups.com, J C Lawrence <claw@k...> wrote:
            > Castle
            > until I realised how powerful a card it was. Tami started lined
            > ramparts with Soldiers and kicked back Dave's Siege Engine. Roy

            Actually, I don't think there was a Siege Engine out... the card I
            played was Traitor, which acts like a soldier, but allows you to
            return something from the courtyard. I returned Lady in Waiting,
            which was the only space on the board that would allow Dave to use
            the Assassin. He didn't do it, though.

            > He gave me a card, and Tami won.

            Actually, I gave Dave a card back, which prevented him from winning,
            and Roy won. That was a mistake; I thought Dave having that card
            would allow him to win, or at least get the game back to me, so I
            could win.

            Just don't want to take credit that isn't mine.

            Tami
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