[SR] MVGA Holliston 2004-12-23
- MVGA meets Thursday nights at 7pm in the
Masonic Hall in Holliston, on Route 16 just
east of the center of town.
We welcome visitors. We'll even
waive the $3.00 fee for your first visit.
Roll call: Paul H., Eric, Walt, Evan, Dan,
Rich, Anton, Tom, Katherine, Katie, Scott.
NEW ENGLAND RAILS
(Walt, Dan, Rich, Anton)
Walt and Greg have been playtesting a new
game tentatively named New England Rails
at MVGA, and we've given it a number of
test drives at MVGA over the past few
months. Walt had arranged to playtest the
newest version, so 4 of us sat down at the
start of the evening to put the game
through its paces. Walt took detailed
notes and promised to post a separate
report on the Unity Games website, so I
will not report on it here.
(Paul H., Eric, Evan, Tom, Katherine, Katie)
As New England Rails got underway, we had 3 additional gamers
looking for a game. We started Puerto Rico, an MVGA favorite, but
before we had played more than a few rounds, three first-time
visitors came through the door: Tom, Katherine and their
daughter Katie, who live in Virginia but were visiting relatives
in Massachusetts. They had read one of our session reports on the
internet and decided to stop by. Of course, they didn't have to
pay the $3.00 because none of them had been to MVGA before.
With 6 players we had two options: we could choose a 6-player
game, or we could split into two groups of 3. With 3 visitors it
seemed more appropriate to play a 6-player game so we could get to
know each other, so we settled on Viva Pamplona (the title of the
game includes a "!", but I can't bring myself to keep typing it
that way.) Viva Pamplona is a light-hearted game that we had
played twice at MVGA, once in August and again in September. The
more serious gamers at MVGA object to the randomness of the game,
but others of us enjoyed it.
We explained the rules and started off. A number of high die rolls
at the start left runners out in front as the bull moved slowly and
then went wild, opening up a gap in the courage rankings. When you
outnumber any opponent in a space, you may shove the opponent's
runner (or runners, if you outnumber him or her 3 to 2) forward or
back, and at this stage we were shoving forward to put each other
even further out in front (you gain no courage points if you are
too far out in front when the bull goes wild.) Paul H. played a
friendly game, opting not to shove people at times in a show of
All of a sudden, the bull got the urge to run. We drew a series
of 4 and 5 cards from the Toro deck and the bull raced ahead of
the runners as we tried to keep up. The bull slipped on the
tomatoes a few times and we were able to bunch up around him,
pushing and shoving each other as we went. Tom got a few high
rolls, forcing him to cross the tomatoes, but the bull followed
him across and went wild before the rest of us could join him,
opening up a big lead.
It was now a race for the seats and Katie must have had an in
with the ushers as she got all three runners into the arena,
leaving several of us to pay substantial penalties when we still
out on the track as the bull entered. It wasn't enough to catch
Tom, but our visitors acquitted themselves well, taking the top
Tom 59, Katie 41, Eric 28, Katherine 24, Paul H. 16, Evan 0.
Eric's rating: 8. I've now played Viva Pamplona fourteen times,
all of them since July. It's a good game for a group (I played it
twice, with my own family and with my wife's family, when we went
to Pennsylvania for the Christmas weekend.) I know Rich was
disappointed when I traded Amun-Re to get Viva Pamplona, but I'm
happy with the deal.
(Paul H., Eric, Evan, Tom, Katherine, Katie)
New England Rails was still chugging along, so Eric suggested
another party-style game he had acquired in a trade. Nur Peanuts
(how did we manage to play TWO games with "!" in the title, one
right after the other?) is a die-rolling game with a twist: if
people play recklessly, so that someone goes bankrupt, the winner
is the person with the most cash, but if everyone plays carefully,
and no one goes bankrupt, the winner is the first person to buy five
properties. If everyone is paying attention, there should be an
equilibrium in which there is a chance, but not a guarantee, of
bankruptcy. This means you need to steer your course in such a way
as to take both alternative victory conditions into account.
"Nur Peanuts" is German for "it's only peanuts." During each round
of the game, players roll dice in an attempt to be the person on the
highest-numbered space at the end of the round. If you don't like
the space you land on, you may roll again by paying cash equal to the
number on the space to the person who has bought that space (or to the
bank if the space is unbought.) If you land on the 100, it's an easy
decision---$100 is "only peanuts" and you're sure to move to a better
space. If you land on the 2400, it's also an easy decision---you're
on the highest-numbered space, so you stay put. But if you land on a
space in between---the 1000, say, or the 1200---it's costly to roll
again and costly to stop where you are. Each time you roll, you have
three alternative sets of dice to choose from, each with its own
pattern of numbers, but the most critical decision is whether to stay
or keep moving.
The game started off sedately. Tom, Katherine and Eric won the first
three rounds, collecting payoffs from opponents and earning the right
to buy one property each. There are plenty of decisions in Nur
Peanuts, but there's a lot of luck, too. Things didn't go as well for
Paul H. and Evan, who couldn't seem to land on the right spots. Tom,
Katherine and Eric each won another round, buying their third
properties, Katie won two in quick succession to make a comeback, and
Evan broke the ice with one victory of his own. Eric then landed on
the 2400 space, and was looking good, but Tom on his turn landed on
the same 2400 space, kicking Eric out and forcing him to roll again.
Tom was only one property from victory, so we began to take chances.
Katie could see that the game was nearly over, with Paul H. or Evan
likely to go bankrupt, so she stopped on the 200 space. We asked her
why she didn't want to pay the $200 to keep moving, but as it turns
out, Katie had misinterpreted the sequence of events in case of a
bankruptcy and was thinking she'd never have to pay the person who
landed on the highest-numbered space, so she was trying to save
money. When the round was over, Tom was once again on the highest-
numbered spot, and both Paul H. and Evan went bankrupt trying to pay
him. This ended the game before Tom could buy his fifth property,
but he won on cash anyway. Fortunately, the margin of victory was
wide enough that Katie's decision didn't matter; Tom would have
won even if Katie had moved to a higher spot (if Katie had rolled
until she landed on the 2400, she might have won, but this would have
been a long shot.)
Tom $13,900 (4 properties)
Katie $9,100 (3 properties)
Katherine $7,200 (3 properties)
Eric $5,200 (3 properties)
Evan bankrupt (2 properties)
Paul H. bankrupt (1 property)
Eric's rating: 7. Nur Peanuts is by no means a great game, but it
has nice bouncy dice, big colorful pawns and a suitably garish board.
The dual victory conditions are a unique touch for a die-rolling game,
and the casino flavor feels authentic to me.
(Katherine, Katie, Scott)
Paul H. had to leave at this point, but Scott arrived, so we once
again had 6 players not involved in New England Rails. We had already
played two 6-player games and gotten to know our visitors, so we
decided to split into two 3-player games. Katherine and Katie joined
Scott for Saint Petersburg, one of the surprise hits of 2004. Though
Katherine struck it rich in the noble sweepstakes, Katie outpaced her
with well-timed building purchases to win in a walk.
Final scores: Katie 84 (7 nobles,) Katherine 64 (9), Scott 48 (3).
Eric's rating: 10.
(Eric, Evan, Tom)
For our other 3-player game we chose Einfach Genial. None of the
MVGA regulars owns the game, but Tom had brought it along in his
big tub o' games. Einfach Genial is a Knizia abstract in which the
players lay domino-like tiles in an attempt to score for strings of
a single color lined up in a straight line. There are six colors in
the game, and you achieve a score in each color, but your score for
the game is the lowest of the six scores you get for the six colors.
This means it's important to balance your scoring between the colors.
If you max out your score in any color (at 18,) you earn a free extra
placement, which can be valuable, but there's no other benefit.
Eric was dealt three double yellow tiles in the initial draw,
leaving him with no practical option other than to focus on yellow in
the early going. As Evan was explaining the rules, he stated that
there are just two of each double color tile, putting a smile on
Eric's face as he looked at his three double yellows. There was soon
a mass of yellow on one side of the board, and the game proceeded in
this fashion, with little defense being played. Eric had 17 points
in yellow almost immediately, with nice yellow scores for Evan and
Tom as well. We also had feeding frenzies in orange, purple and red,
leaving blue and green as the difficult colors. Eric's distribution
was most lopsided, as he had 15 or more in five colors while he still
had only 1 point in green.
Each player maxed out three colors to earn free placements (you call
out "genius!" each time you max a color out) as we tussled over the
final tile plays. Eric's ability to focus on nothing but green won
the day. Eric pushed his green score to 12 while Evan and Tom were
forced to neglect other colors in their efforts to stay ahead in
Final scores: Eric 12, Evan 10, Tom 9.
Eric's rating: 5. Einfach Genial moves along very smoothly, but it
doesn't feel exciting to me. I'm not a big fan of abstracts anyway,
but the lack of tension makes this game just something to do to pass
the time while I'm waiting for a game I enjoy more.
(Eric, Evan, Tom)
Saint Petersburg still had a few rounds to go, and New England Rails
was not yet finished. We needed a quick 3-player game, and we found
one we all enjoy in San Juan. I wasn't crazy about San Juan when I
first got it, but it fills an important niche in the gaming
ecosystem. It's a quick, small game with real decisions that plays
differently each time out. I love Puerto Rico---it's one of the few
games I rate as a "10"---but you have most options available in most
games, so games of Puerto Rico among experts tend to be fairly
similar. In San Juan, you must play the cards you're dealt, so each
game is a completely new challenge. The downside, of course, is
that luck plays a more significant role, but it's not a big problem
in such a quick game.
Evan got the buildings that make it cheaper to build purple buildings
(the quarry, the carpenter workshop) together with an early library.
He went on a purple building binge, laid down a city hall, and ran
away with the game. Tom got a chapel, buried a stack of cards
under it (including both triumphal arches, which Evan was fishing
for,) and finished off with a guild hall. Eric got an early smithy
and built a number of production buildings, but never got a guild
hall, a library, or any of the buildings that help with construction.
He settled for a palace, a building that isn't very useful if it's
your only large building.
Evan 28 + 9 for a city hall = 37
Tom 14 + 8 for a chapel + 10 for a guild hall = 32
Eric 20 + 5 for a palace = 25
Eric's rating: 8.
(Eric, Walt, Evan, Dan, Rich)
If it's late at night and you need a quick game that won't overtax
your brains, Liar's Dice is a game you should consider. We found
a copy for the MVGA game locker back in March and we've played it
roughly a dozen times since.
Dan started us off with a bid of 14 5's. That's a lot of 5's for
only 25 dice. Eric was not quite with us; he kept asking how many
total dice we were playing with and didn't seem to be able to grasp
the implications of playing with 25. With 5 players who get 5 dice
each, you have 25 dice; it should be simple, but there's a big
difference between "should be" and "is." Eric called Dan's bid and
there were exactly 14 5's, so everyone except Dan lost a die.
Walt was emboldened by Dan's success to bid 8 *'s, but Rich called
him and there were only 6 *'s, so Walt lost two more dice. It looked
like Walt would go out first, but Eric beat him to the punch. A
little later Rich bid 4 5's and there were only 2. Dan called him,
costing Rich 2 dice. Walt hung on for a little longer as Evan was
second to go out, and Rich followed Evan, leaving Walt as the
improbable survivor of the winnowing process. Unfortunately for
Walt, he had only a single die left to use against Dan's complete
set of 5 dice. Dan had not yet lost a single one of his 5 starting
Walt rolled his die and bid 2 4's. Dan looked at his dice, saw 2
4's, and raised to 2 5's. Walt raised to 3 4's and Dan called.
Walt showed a 4 of his own, costing Dan a die. On the next round,
Dan knocked Walt out to win an impressive victory.
Eric's rating: 7.