[SR] MVGA Holliston 2005-06-23
- MVGA meets Thursday nights at 7pm in the
Masonic Hall in Holliston, on Route 16 just
east of the center of town. Turn north on
Church Place (which is more a driveway than
a street) to find parking.
We welcome visitors. We'll even
waive the $3.00 fee for your first visit.
Roll call: Paul H., Anton, Walt, Eric, Dan,
Evan, Bill, Rich
Three MVGA-ers (Rich, Evan and Eric) will
be at the World Boardgaming Championships
in Lancaster, PA in August; does anyone
else from Unity Games plan to attend?
Maybe we could form a team.
(Paul H., Anton, Walt, Eric)
After we played two extremely unsatisfying
games of Palazzo at MVGA on June 16, Walt
posted a question on BoardGameGeek asking
what we were missing. We couldn't imagine
that Reiner Knizia could have released a
game that worked as poorly as this game
worked using the rules as we understood
them. Some discussion revealed the fact
that we were indeed misunderstanding one
key rule. When a quarry receives its fourth
tile, the tiles are no longer auctioned, but
given away, with one tile going to each
player. However (this is what we were
missing,) the 4 or more tiles in a quarry
are given away only when a player moves the
architect to that quarry as part of a "Buy
or Auction Building Tiles" action. On
June 16, we were conducting a free
distribution immediately whenever a quarry
received its fourth tile, even if the
architect was not present.
Palazzo is built around a building theme. Players buy, or
receive free of charge, tiles that can be assembled into
buildings. Each tile is marked with a number from '1' to
'5' to indicate which story of a building it represents.
You must place stories in order (a building cannot exceed
5 stories,) but you may skip stories (a building may contain
stories numbered '1', '4' and '5'.)
On your turn, you choose from one of three options. The first
option gives each player money; you get two money cards as
everyone else gets one. The second option ("Buy or Auction
Building Tiles") provides the chance to get new tiles. You
obtain tiles in one of three ways: (1) buy them for a fixed price
from the warehouse in the center of the table, (2) win an
auction for all the tiles on a quarry (if you initiate the auction,
you get a monetary advantage,) or (3) if there are four or more
tiles on a quarry, everyone gets a tile for free (if you take the
action, you choose first.) The third option lets you disassemble
and reassemble buildings, one tile at a time; this seems
wasteful, but can be essential at certain times. There is a sense
in which the process of assembling buildings feels like the
process of building your compound in Alhambra, though the
overall feel of the game is quite different.
In this game we began by adding to our cash hoards, as the tiles
on offer were not attractive. Soon, however, the tiles were
flying off the board. It seems expensive to buy tiles from the
warehouse, but it's often cheaper than buying them at auction,
especially given the fact that a set won at auction may contain
tiles you don't particularly want. Eric was the money leader as
a result of taking more "money" actions than his opponents, but
he bought too many 2nd story tiles and was hamstrung by the need
to avoid a humiliating 1-story building (which costs you -5 VP.)
Paul and Walt each focused on two very well integrated buildings
with lots of windows while Anton built three and Eric 4. It
seems quality is more important than quantity in this game as
the 2-building strategy was more successful. You can see the
evidence of this in the final score listing, as Eric and Anton
each wasted effort putting together undistinguished 2-story
buildings that scored them no points.
Walt_ 36 = 23 + 13
Paul_ 32 = 17 + 15
Eric_ 27 = 15 + 12 + 0 + 0
Anton 13 = 13 + 0 + 0
Eric's rating: 4. This game is certainly not broken (unlike
last week's version with the wrong quarry rule.) I'd rather
play Palazzo than be poked in the eye with a sharp stick. On
the other hand, the parts didn't fit together well for me. The
money accumulation phase and tricky auction procedure (you can
never pick money cards back up, once bid, until you've either
won or lost the auction) introduce too much fluff given the
tiny number of auctions in a game. It also seems that your
fortunes are heavily influenced by whether the player on your
left or your right initiates giveaways. There may be more to
the game than I'm recognizing, and it's so short I'm willing
to give it another try, but so far I'm underwhelmed.
(Dan, Evan, Bill)
Three more gamers arrived at MVGA soon after Palazzo started.
We were happy to see Bill again; his cribbage league doesn't
play for real in the summer. Palazzo is a short game, so
the 3 new arrivals chose Saint Petersburg as a game that would
end at about the same time. Evan and Dan are Saint Petersburg
veterans while Bill's still new at the game, but it was close
all the way. We tend to buy blue building cards aggressively
starting in Round 3, and this makes it hard to accumulate too
many orange nobles for the attendant bonus.
Final scores: Dan 55 (6 nobles,) Evan 53 (5), Bill 48 (6).
Eric's rating: 10. I haven't gotten as many games of Saint
Petersburg in at MVGA recently, but I'm noticing that when I
go to a group other than MVGA, people are still playing it at
every opportunity. I'm happy to oblige, as Saint Petersburg
is one of my favorite games.
TOWER OF BABEL
(Anton, Eric, Evan, Rich)
Walt is the chief game acquisition agent for MVGA, and he has
made several purchases recently. One new arrival is Manifest
Destiny, which depicts the cultural struggle for North America
(it's Age of Renaissance lite.) Another is Tower of Babel, a
new Knizia area-majority game with a new twist.
The Tower of Babel board is attractive but austere. It shows
eight wonders of the ancient world (the seven you're familiar
with plus the Tower of Babel.) Tower of Babel is an area
majority game in which adjacency doesn't matter; each of the
eight different areas stands on its own. Each wonder has three
circles in which round building disks are placed at random,
face-up, at the start of the game. Each wonder is built when
all three disks are successfully built.
The building disks come in four colors (white, black, brown
and purple) and are numbered from 3 to 6 (the higher-numbered
disks take more cards to build.) Players have hands of cards
in the four colors; cards have no numbers or other information
except color. In order to build a building disk, the players
must contribute the specified number (3 to 6) of cards in the
On your turn you may pass (getting two cards while each
opponent gets one) or build. To build, you select a building
disk that has not yet been built and ask for help from your
opponents. Your opponents are not required to help, but there
are strong incentives to do so, and if one player doesn't
help, someone else may help instead. Each opponent
simultaneously decides how many cards to offer and what kind
of offer to make. You then decide how to assemble the 3 to 6
cards you need to successfully build. You may use your own
cards and cards from opponents. If you don't have enough
cards, or don't want to use what you've been offered, you can
decide not to build, but this represents a failure. If you
successfully build a disk, you keep it for endgame scoring---
unless you give it away (see below.) After your building
turn, each player (including you) gets a card.
The key to Tower of Babel lies in the nature and results of
the offers that are made. You must either accept a given
opponent's offer in total or reject it in total. Not every
offer will be accepted. Often the number of cards offered
will exceed the number needed to build the disk, so you
cannot accept them all. Even if you can accept them all, you
may prefer to use your own cards. If an offer is rejected,
the offerer receives 1 VP per offered card to make up for
the insult. If an offer is accepted, the offerer's reward
varies depending on the nature of the offer. In general,
each card you supply to help build a disk, whether it is
your turn or not, lets you place one of your houses on the
associated wonder. If the offerer did not include his or
her merchant card with the offered cards, the reward
consists of the right to place the corresponding houses. If
the offerer did include the merchant card, it represents a
different type of bargain. In this case the offerer will
let the builder place houses for the offerer's cards, but
the offerer insists that the builder give the disk to the
offerer rather than keep it. You can accept only one offer
with a merchant each turn, because you can give the disk to
only one opponent.
The building mechanism assures that, no matter what offers
are made and accepted, each disk will be awarded to a
player (either the builder or the player whose offer
included a merchant and was accepted) and a number of
houses equal to the number on the disk will be placed on
When the third disk for a wonder has been built, the wonder
is complete and points are awarded to any player who has
houses on the wonder. Even one house gets you a minimum
of 3 VP, but if you have more houses than anyone else, or
even second most, you get more. The reward for first place
varies from 8 VP for the first wonder built up to 20 VP for
the seventh (if the game lasts long enough for seven wonders
to be built.) The player during whose turn the wonder is
completed also gets a special action card with a valuable
At the game's end, players receive points for each set of
more than one disk in a single color: 5 VP for two, 10 VP
for three, and 20 VP for four or more disks in a color.
In this game, Eric started off by accumulating a large set
of purple cards which he began to offer en masse when purple
disks were auctioned. You can accumulate a lot of points if
you make large offers that are repeatedly spurned---in fact,
you may very well win this way even if your offers are
rarely accepted. Rich decided to stop the madness by
accepting a big offer that Eric made in conjunction with his
merchant; Eric got the disk, but Rich got the houses and
drained Eric's card supply. Evan got a few early scores for
completed wonders, but the points for the early wonders are
less than those for the later ones, and before long Evan had
few houses on the board with only a small lead on the VP
The decisions in Tower of Babel involve knowing how large
your offers should be, whether to include your merchant with
them, and (when it's your turn to build) which offers to
accept. It's often tempting to use your own cards rather
than accept another player's offer, but this drains your
card supply quickly. If your offer is too big, the builder
may snap it up, costing you valuable cards. If it's too
small, you won't get the rewards you need to keep up with
your opponents. The increases in VP as each successive
wonder is built also creates some tension; you'd prefer
to score wonders on which you have the most houses later
in the game, but if a wonder is not built at all, the
rewards are much smaller.
Once you are clear about the basic idea of the game, you can
try to manipulate your opponents' decisions by the way you
arrange the number of houses on the various wonders, and by
which disks you choose to build. If two or three opponents
are contending for first place at a given wonder, they may
be happy to let you have a valuable disk just so they can
get that extra house they need to stay ahead. On the other
hand, if an opponent already has several disks of a color,
you may be able to get a generous card contribution (with
your houses going on the wonder) in exchange for the disk.
Rich played the angles masterfully in this game, draining
our cards while keeping a big hand himself and maintaining
a strong presence on the board. Rich won several action
cards, and although they weren't the best cards in the
action deck, he used one card to take two consecutive
building actions and end the game quickly (the game ends
when the disks of any one color have all been built.) Rich
scored significant points for the last three wonders built
and won by a mile as the other players clustered together
on the scoring track.
Final scores: Rich 81, Eric 65, Evan 64, Anton 63.
Eric's rating: 7. Tower of Babel feels like El Grande or
San Marco to me; it's an area majority game with a nice
smooth mechanic that provides plenty of opportunities to
enlist your opponents in carrying out your plans (if you're
clever enough to do so.) At this point it's a 7, but I can
see that it might move to an 8 after more plays.
SEAFARERS OF CATAN
(Paul H., Walt, Dan, Bill)
Settlers of Catan has been an MVGA favorite for many years,
and we've played a number of the Seafarers scenarios in
recent weeks as the Seafarers expansion has enjoyed a
renaissance. This week we played the "Westwards" scenario
from "Das Buch," the book of new scenarios (published in
German) for the Catan world. The Westwards scenario uses
the Seafarers components, so it counts as a Seafarers
scenario. The map in Westwards is laid out in a shape that
represents the United States, and each player starts in a
different East Coast city. I was amused to note that hexes
are placed to represent Canada and Mexico, but they are
placed upside down. I guess this depicts the stereotypical
U.S. citizen's view of the world.
One issue you must confront whenever you play Settlers is
the randomness inherent in the die rolls. This is one of
the game's charms, but like the little girl with the little
curl, when it's bad, it's horrid. In this game, the same
numbers came up over and over, benefiting the players who
had built next to the corresponding hexes. Dan is a fine
Settlers player who can overcome ordinary adversity, but the
luck in this game was too much for Dan, who let us know how
exasperated he was.
To win the Westwards scenario, a player must have 10 VP and
a connection to the West Coast. Bill steered his abundant
influx of resources to a comfortable win.
Final scores: Bill 10, Walt 8, Dan and Paul "5 or 6."
Eric's rating: 8 for Seafarers in general, though I've never
played the Westwards scenario.
(Anton, Eric, Evan, Rich)
Tower of Babel was over quickly, but Seafarers was still in
the early stages. Rich had brought his copy of Ra to MVGA. We
hadn't played Ra for a while, and it's too good not to be
played, so we chose it as our next game.
Anton acted quickly in the first era, grabbing three early
pharaohs and three different civs at the cost of taking the
1, 3 and 5 tiles for the second epoch. The sun was still just
rising when Anton settled back in his chair to watch us play the
rest of the epoch, but it kicked into overdrive, racing across
the sky as the rest of us scrambled to salvage something from
the wreckage. Evan was the last one to use his suns, and he got
almost nothing for his patience as one last Ra tile draw left
him with an unused sun tile. This epoch was unusual; there were
no floods and no gold, but four of the five yellow civs came out
in a single epoch.
The second epoch zipped by in a hurry. Anton bid early and often
with his little suns, using them up on small lots as we continued
to draw Ra tiles. Eric had accumulated the 12 and 13 suns in the
first epoch, but he was left holding them, having managed to spend
only a single sun (and that a small one.) Rich and Evan were also
sadly disappointed, with Evan actually losing money for the second
The final epoch was more typical, though Anton stuck to his plan,
spending his suns quickly, with Rich close behind (Rich explains
that his luck never holds up when he's the last one left, so he
needs to make hay while the sun shines.) Eric got good value for
his 12 and 13 this time, but the gap was too wide to make up as
Anton held on for the victory in a low-scoring game. Anton had to
pay Eric 5 on the final sun totals, but his lead was wide enough
to withstand the damage.
Final scores: Anton 37, Rich 35, Eric 31, Evan 16.
Eric's rating: 9. Any single Ra game will be heavily influenced
by the luck of the draw, but over time better play will win out.
If everyone is trigger-happy, you can score big by waiting, but
the reverse is true as well; Anton's hit-and-run tactics worked
in a game full of cautious bidders.
(Anton, Eric, Evan, Rich)
The Seafarers players were still wending their way to 10 VP
and the West Coast, so we decided to play one more game while
they were finishing up. Walt's order included a copy of
Oltremare for Eric, and he was eager to try it again. Paul L.
had brought a copy of the first edition to MVGA some months
ago, but unfortunately we haven't seen Paul L. for a while.
Eric's copy was the second edition, with the harbor markers
stuck onto blue plastic disks, but the play is the same as for
the first edition. Oltremare has been compared with Bohnanza.
Clever trading of commodities is essential to victory, and you
can't afford to be too picky, as trades benefit both parties.
Evan and Eric were dealt the same commodity (Wine) to start
the game. This is a slight handicap, as two players with the
same commodity are competing to trade for the same card, but
before long we had all staked out separate commodities to
accumulate. In our previous games of Oltremare large sets
were common, but this week saw many small sets. I don't know
whether this was because we were stubborn traders or because
the cards didn't cooperate.
Evan found it hard to trade with other players during their
turns. Up to 12 VP are available as a reward for this activity,
and Evan received only 1 VP (Eric got 12, Rich 9 and Anton 6.)
Similarly, Eric had trouble picking up harbor markers, as most
of his cards were ship-free. This cost him in end-game VP and
also deprived him of the benefits available from harbor markers.
Eric piled up more cash during the game, but his commodity sets
were by far the least valuable. Rich did well in the trading
and shipping aspects of the game, and he also accumulated the
most valuable commodity sets to win a close game. Oddly enough,
each player loaded exactly 5 batches of goods, but there was
a big spread in value.
+ 40 for 5 batches of goods
- 4 for pirates
+ 6 for tokens
+ 9 for trading
+ 37 for 5 batches of goods
- 2 for pirates
+ 3 for tokens
+ 6 for trading
+ 28 for 5 batches of goods
- 5 for pirates
+ 1 for tokens
+ 12 for trading
+ 36 for 5 batches of goods
- 3 for pirates
+ 6 for tokens
+ 1 for trading
Eric's rating: 8.