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Two, two, two SRs in one! (SOG World Tour)

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  • Josh Bluestein
    I have been lazy, and y all are the victims of my laziness. As a result, you have been deprived of the regular SOG SRs which you no doubt sift through your
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2005
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      I have been lazy, and y'all are the victims of my laziness. As a
      result, you have been deprived of the regular SOG SRs which you no
      doubt sift through your mailboxes in search of every Tuesday. Fear
      not, gentle reader...while I can't guarantee a regular supply, I can
      now provide, at no additional cost, a double SR encompassing the
      results of the past two (2) weeks!

      On to business.

      We had eight people in attendance at Mark Towler's place in Belmont on
      Monday, 4/25: Mike, Chris, Rob, Evan, me, Richard, Mark K. and Mark T.

      When I arrived, some of the crew were playing Naval War. A silly
      little card game about, well, Naval War. I played it once at one of
      my first SOGs, and can't say that I have a strong desire to play it
      again. Very old-school, but nostalgia factor is definitely there.

      We were going to start on Manila with five people (me, Mike, Evan,
      Mark, Mark), but then Rob showed up and we decided to switch to 6
      Nimmt! This was your pretty standard 6-player 6-Nimmt game, with
      lots of screwage. This time, I never even managed to make a play for
      first place -- I took scads of points each round, and somehow still
      managed to finish third. I believe that Evan was the winner, but it
      might have been Rob.

      At this point, Chris had arrived, so we split into two groups: Evan,
      Mark T and Rob played Manila, which looked very pretty. Mike, Mark K,
      Chris and I played Louis XIV, the new influence game from Alea.

      The game is set on a board of 12 cards in essentially two concentric
      rings. The inner ring has four cards, the outer ring has eight. Each
      card reprents a different noble in the court of Louis XIV, and each
      one can be influenced to provide you with certain benefits. The game
      has sort of an El Grande-like (now popular in other games, Maharaja
      etc) staging mechanism, where you have your supply of influence
      markers and 'the general supply', which is essentially inaccessible.

      The goal of the game is victory points. Most of these are earned
      through building cards -- five points per card, where each card gives
      you special abilities of varying types (with value dependent on
      difficulty of playing them). Cards might give you extra money to use
      for bribing nobles, might allow you to recover extra markers from the
      general supply, etc. VPs are also earned through taking coats of
      arms, which are generally simple VP chits but have a small random
      element that can add a couple of points to your score if you're
      lucky.

      Basically, each player has a hand of random cards that correspond to
      the 12 nobles on the board. On your turn, you play one of your cards
      and drop up to three of your markers in a chain starting with the
      noble card you played. You can put all three markers on that noble,
      or 1 there and two on an adjacent noble, or 1, 1, 1...whatever you
      prefer. The nobles have different things that they provide, both
      based on who they are, and also based on their 'whim'. (One turn, a
      noble might provide a special token to anyone with two markers on that
      noble, the next turn they might provide it only to the person with the
      most.) This whim is handled by having two-sided cards. Once a noble
      fulfills the conditions of one side of the card, it flips over for the
      next turn. The various shifting benefits of the nobles are very
      important, and it pays to have a good understanding if you want to win
      this game.

      The most directly important favors provided by nobles are tokens.
      There are four basic types of tokens as well as a crown token which
      can be used as a wildcard. Each VP card costs two tokens to build --
      but the easy ones take one specific type and one of any type, up to
      the hardest ones which take two identical tokens. What you are
      primarily trying to do is earn these tokens -- most of the other
      nobles provide some future benefit, like money, marker positioning
      for future rounds, Intrigue cards which can give you secret bonus
      influence...

      This can all sound very complicated, but it all takes place in only
      four rounds. This gives the game a definite beginning, middle and end
      feel, which I think works to its benefit.

      As with most influence games, I made my classic error of trying very
      hard to win one or two specific items, which pretty much guaranteed me
      those items, but also prevented me from having the broad sort of
      distribution that one wants in order to really dominate the board.
      That said, I felt like I had a feel for the game by the end of it, and
      while I didn't win I knew several things that I could do differently
      next time and was eager to play it again. Final scores for this game
      were: Mark 32, Josh 42, Chris 50, Mike 50, with Mike winning the
      tiebreaker.

      I thought this was a very interesting game and am definitely
      interested in playing it. I'd like another play first, but this one
      is moving pretty quickly onto my Buy list.

      Richard showed up at this point and we played a team game of
      Hamsterrolle. Richard and I against Chris and Evan. The other guys
      played Bamboleo or something like that...

      This was my first time playing Hamsterrolle, and it was pretty fun
      even though I don't usually go for dexterity games. The game is just
      a round wooden wheel with small dividers around the inside. On your
      turn, you have to place one of your pieces in the wheel, further
      around the wheel than the previous piece, always going in the same
      direction. This keeps the wheel turning and eventually pieces will
      fall out. If a piece falls out on your turn, you have to take it.
      First person out of pieces is the winner. With teams, partners go one
      after the other and once one partner is out of pieces he starts laying
      the pieces in his partner's hand. Richard and I were able to stick
      Evan with a big stack of wooden pieces and then drop our last pieces
      on the wheel, taking the victory. Fun, fast...very pretty.

      Evan, Mark T, Rob and Mike teamed up to play a Settlers variant,
      Cheops I believe.

      Chris, Richard and I played Web of Power...Chris's first time
      playing. This was something of an asterisk game, as we forgot to
      remove the extra cards from the deck so the board was getting awfully
      crowded by game end. I was sitting to Chris's left and managed to get
      some good plays due to Chris's lack of familiarity with the strategy
      of the game. I was on my way to dominating the game when I overplayed
      with my final advisor and allowed Richard to recover from his bad
      situation. Final scores were not too far different, but Richard was
      the winner. I always enjoy Web of Power...happy to play it
      frequently.

      Chris went home. Richard and I played Coloretto Amazonas while
      waiting for the Settlers game to finish up. This game actually has
      very little to do with the original Coloretto, sadly. It does have
      very pretty cards, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of game there.
      (Although I have to admit that I haven't quite found the game in
      Coloretto yet either...) Each player has four rows: purple, brown,
      green and blue. The deck is composed of 18 different kinds of animals
      (3 brown, 4 purple, 5 blue and 6 green), with five of each animal, and
      each player has a hand of three cards. On your turn, you can either
      play an animal into one of your rows or offer a card to your
      opponent. Your goal is to collect a full set of the animals of one
      color, which allows you to score that stack and, if you're lucky, to
      claim a bonus card for being the first person to score that color.
      Scoring is Coloretto-ish -- 1 for 1, 3 for 2, 6 for 3, etc. The trick
      is tht if you play an animal you already have out into your stack, you
      have to discard both of them. So, the strategy is to offer your
      opponent duplicate cards -- he can refuse them, but in order to do so
      must discard a card from an adjoining row. Ultimately, the game seems
      to come down to whoever draws the right cards. There's very little
      you can do if you can't finish a stack...I was the better card drawer
      in this game, trouncing Richard's puny 29 point score with a score in
      the high 50s. Sadly, the victory wasn't as sweet as it could have
      been...well, who am I kidding? I was happy to win something, even if
      it had very little to do with my skill level. :)

      Final game of the night was Leapfrog. My first playing. A fun little
      race/bluffing game where you have to figure out what your opponents
      will be playing...and if you guess right, you can do pretty well.
      I hung back at the end, collected tadpoles, and met an ignominious end
      in the frying pan of doom in the final race (automatic loss for one
      lucky frog). I did enjoy it, although after the first play I didn't
      see the patterns very well and didn't have a sense for the game.

      That concluded the SOG in Belmont.

      Next up was last night, SOG in Westford. We had six people in all:
      Chris, Rob, Mike, Evan, Adam and myself. Special props to Adam for
      making it to a SOG event all the way from sunny Meriden, NH. Hope we
      see more of him around.

      We started with Ice Cream, a quick filler game about satisfying ice
      cream orders. You start with a limited supply of ice cream cartons,
      and then you build up to 12 ice cream cone orders. The goal is to
      satisfy the orders, earning one point per scoop served. There are
      several things to watch in the course of the game: how cones are
      built -- you ideally want to build cones that you're more likely to be
      able to fill than your opponents. You do this by stacking the flavors
      you have together and hoping nobody drops a flavor you don't have into
      the mix. Then, once all the cones are filled up, you start filling
      orders and claiming points. On your turn, you must fill an order if
      you can fill it exactly, otherwise you have a choice: if you can fill
      all but one scoops of an order, you can fill that order and only score
      points for the scoops you can serve, or you can draw more ice cream
      cartons to try to get more options. There's a timing issue
      here...should I grab that cone now for three points or hope to draw
      what I need and score four points on my next turn? Will anyone else
      be able to take it first?

      I liked the game a fair bit. One complaint is that vanilla and
      chocolate chip frankly look a bit too similar and it would have been
      better if a different color ice cream had been chosen. (What about
      blueberry?)

      Evan was the master ice cream server, followed by Rob, then me and
      then Mike.

      Chris was here by this point, so we played Typo while waiting for Adam
      to show. Typo is best described as 6 Nimmt!: The Word Game. It's
      very similar in feel: Deal 12 cards to each player, place four cards
      face up on the table as 'seed cards' and then each player
      simultaneously selects and plays a card. First round the cards
      selected are placed in alphabetical order, second round reverse
      alphabetical order. When it's time to place your card, you can drop
      it on either the front or end of any row, and then you have to name a
      word that begins with the letter sequence you've formed. So if you
      add 'A' to 'GN', you would say 'AGNOSTIC'. If you can't place your
      card, you have to take the longest row and place your card in its
      place, scoring one point for each card you take.

      Also, if you claim a word that people don't believe is a word, they
      can challenge you. If you lose, you have to take the longest row and
      get an additional 2 point penalty for trying to pull a fast one. If
      you win, the guy who challenges you gets a similar penalty.

      I had an absolutely terrible first round, surpassed in awfulness only
      by my second round in which I was cruelly forced to take a penalty
      when Chris refused to believe that the word 'beveller' was in fact a
      valid word, even when confronted with clear dictionary-based evidence
      (although, admittedly, not actually that exact word in the dictionary
      we were using). You probably can't tell, but I'm still a little
      bitter about it and am carefully plotting a messy revenge.

      I believe that Rob was the winner of this one.

      Next: Leapfrog again. Adam was here, so we played this one. Rob
      clumsily attempted to explain the rules, but it largely degenerated
      into a cacophony of conflicting voices and explanations. Strangely,
      Rob was a little put out about it...see what I have to deal with
      *every* *single* *week*?

      I managed to do better in my first two races this time but still ended
      up in the frying pan again. Bother. I liked it better after my
      second play, but it still isn't on my buy list (fortunately, Rob now
      has a copy...).

      Now we went for something a little meatier, a game of Medieval
      Merchant. This is sort of a networking game, a la Power Grid without
      the power plants and the fuel supplies. Players try to earn victory
      points by dominating markets in 25 cities, as well as by spreading
      their network to occupy as many of the 10 regions of the board as they
      can. One of the big choices you have to make during the game is
      whether to expand in a city you already occupy or to derive income
      from it...you can't do both. Since building new routes is expensive,
      money can be very important. The other big choice is where to
      expand. You generally get to expand to one new location each turn.
      Choosing where to expand to can be hard, as you have to balance your
      need for victory points against expansion opportunities.

      The game was largely a battle between Adam, Evan and me. Mike, Chris
      and Rob didn't seem to be getting the same opportunities in regions
      that we had, and as a result their scores were a good bit lower at end
      game. The final round of the game saw Evan rack up an impressive
      number of points for closing several cities at once, while I was able
      to parlay an early big income round into a good chunk of bonus
      points. This tied us both at 37 points (I believe). However, Adam
      managed to expand to all 10 regions on the board, and the resulting
      20-point bonus put him at 39 for the victory. (Evan would have won
      the tiebreaker against me, had it come to that.)

      Opinions on the game were mixed. I continue to think that this is a
      much underrated game that I'm happy to play more often, while Rob
      thought it was too chaotic with six and Mike just didn't care for it.

      Rob and Chris went home at this point and we closed with another new
      game: In the Shadow of the Emperor.

      This is another influence-based game, thematically sort of similar to
      Louis XIV. The game play is vastly different, though. Whereas Louis
      XIV seems to maintain a very dynamic feel, Shadow of the Emperor feels
      much more static. In this game, one is playing to earn victory
      points, by vying for the roles of Emperor and electors of the seven
      districts of the Holy Roman Empire. Nobles, knights, and cities are
      placed in districts in order to gain sufficient influence to name an
      elector for that district, and the electors then provide votes to
      choose the new Emperor.

      Interestingly enough, the most points are to be gained by winning
      elections in districts. While being Emperor can help with that, it's
      certainly not necessary. What it does mean is that the game tends to
      encourage rapid turnover of the nobles, which is accelerated by the
      fact that your average noble is only good for four turns before they
      age themselves out of a job. (Sort of like a more abstract Kremlin,
      yes...) Certain special abilities can extend or shorten a given
      noble's lifespan, meaning that your position in a region is hard to
      fortify.

      Those of you who have read this far may remember my comment about my
      failing in Louis XIV, where I chose more strength in fewer positions.
      This was also my failing in this game, except that the consequences
      were much more drastic here. I had a region locked up for most of the
      game, and by and large it provided very little value to me. Had I
      diversified a bit more, and gone for winning more elections, I
      probably would have done better. Evan got dumped on early, while Mike
      secured a few boons from the inexperienced players (me and Adam, but
      mostly me). At the end of the game, final scores were: Evan: 17,
      Josh: 21, Adam: 23, Mike: 25

      My impression of this game was decidedly more mixed than for Louis
      XIV. I felt like I was able to see that I was failing to progress,
      but didn't see many opportunities to improve my situation.
      Ultimately, I do want to play this again now that I have more of a
      sense of the game, but I'm not as impressed as I hoped I would be with
      it.

      That was it for this week and the last.

      Next week will be at Chris's new place in Andover. I, sadly, will
      probably not be able to attend.

      Josh
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