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SOG SR: 8/29 in Westford

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  • Josh Bluestein
    We had a light crowd of four people at my place in Westford last night: Rob, Mike, Jeff M. and myself. We started out with a quick game of Cartagena. I
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 30, 2005
      We had a light crowd of four people at my place in Westford last
      night: Rob, Mike, Jeff M. and myself.

      We started out with a quick game of Cartagena. I managed to take an
      early lead but foundered due to not having a good enough card
      supply. Mike, on my right, did everything he could to ensure that I
      couldn't easily draw more cards, and the card shortage was enough to
      give him the edge and win one turn before I would have been. Jeff and
      Rob were both well behind but catching up.

      Next up we played City and Guilds, a tile-laying game from JKLM
      Publishing. These guys are pretty small, but the production quality
      of the games is pretty good. Perhaps not high-gloss Rio Grande
      quality, but still nice enough. (These are the same folks who
      distributed Kogge, which I have a first printing of, and the quality
      of that is pretty poor, so this game is a big step up.)

      The game board consists of a grid containing eight city blocks, all
      separated by streets. Each block has eight spaces on it, but
      otherwise the blocks are shaped differently. One of the clever
      aspects of this game is that, although roads separate blocks, squares
      that are separated by only road (however long) are considered to be
      adjacent. This gives the board some very interesting properties.

      There are 80 tiles in the game. Most of them are assigned to one of
      four guilds: Candlemakers (Red), Bakers (Yellow), Blacksmiths (Blue),
      Clothmakes (Green). Each color has eleven Guild house tiles and seven
      markets. There are also four Minstrel tiles and four Taverns, which
      add value to blocks but are unassociated with any guild.

      The gameplay itself is very simple: You have a hand of three tiles,
      you play one, you draft a replacement from a face-up pool of three.
      But depending on the tile you play, different things can happen.
      Guild houses allow you to place a man on the tile, giving you control
      of the building. They also optionally allow you to increase your
      control of that particular guild. Guild markets don't let you place a
      man at all, but give you two steps of control in a guild. Minstrels
      let you control the building, but do nothing for guilds. (Taverns are

      Scoring takes place whenever a block is completed. Points are awarded
      for control of a block (most buildings, with tiebreaker of most men,
      followed by a first-in rule) and guild control. Block control can be
      a lot of points...guild control is generally smaller but still adds

      The game ends when all blocks fill up, and there's a final scoring for
      guilds. Each guild is worth 1 point per tile in the longest chain of
      that color, and a potentially huge bonus is awarded based on the
      number of blocks the chain goes through. This number is triangular,
      so in one block it's only worth a point, but if you have a chain that
      manages to enter all eight blocks it garners a 36-point bonus.

      The game is pretty strategic, although you are somewhat at the mercy
      of whatever tiles are available to be drafted. Several times I found
      myself with nothing but markets available to draft, which made
      competing for block control kind of difficult.

      Jeff took the early tack of extending the Candlemaker's guild into as
      many blocks as possible, incidentally putting him well in the lead for
      control of that guild. Rob thought that seemed like a good idea so
      spent a lot of effort extending the Candlemaker's guild as well...but
      not enough so as to get himself into first place. Mike and I battled
      for control over blocks and generally jockeyed for position in other

      At the end of the game, Jeff racked up a very nice bonus on the
      Candlemaker's guild, making the final chain worth a total of something
      like 35 points (of which he got half, Rob got a quarter and Mike got
      an eighth). Between that and his control of the Blacksmith's guild,
      Jeff was an easy lock for the win. Rob was in second place, and my
      top positions in the Baker's guild and Clothmaker's guild were only
      enough to get me third. Mike finished a point behind me. The total
      spread wasn't too bad -- Jeff finished at about 80, and Mike was at 65
      or so.

      I enjoyed this game a lot. Rules are simple (although some of the
      details of control determination can be a little odd), game is
      strategic and complex while still giving you fairly limited choices
      each turn. I'd like to play it again, but so far it gets a tentative
      thumbs up.

      Rob had to go home at this point, so we decided to play a few
      three-player games. After a little jockeying back and forth, I
      suggested we start with Der Flaschenteufel. Jeff was new to this
      game, so took a few rounds to get the hang of it, but he still managed
      to do reasonably well. Jeff and I took turns getting stuck with the
      bottle in the first four rounds, with Mike racking up the points.
      Going into round five (of a predetermined six), Mike had about 150
      points, with Jeff and I a point away from each other in the mid-60s.
      The last two rounds were not kind to Mike. He ended up getting stuck
      with the bottle both times, and I was able to pull in enough points to
      pass him by for the win in the final round. Still, it was close --
      final scores were all in a 30-point neighborhood. I love this game
      and I'm always happy to play it.

      Mike had enough mojo for one more game, so I suggested Bus. I've
      played this a lot online, but never managed to get my actual copy to
      the table before last night. Great game, very strategic, no
      randomness at all after the initial determination of who goes first.
      (Funagain was selling copies last fall for $15, so I felt it was my
      time to buy.) This was another first-time play for Jeff, although
      Mike had played before.

      The dynamic of face-to-face play is a little different, but the game
      is still the same excellent, frustrating game. You have to balance
      being able to do what you want to do with being able to do it in the
      order important -- most of the crucial decisions (road building,
      building placement) allow the last person choosing the action to take
      it first (although with diminished capacity). So if you need to place
      buildings, you can take the guarantee of being able to place a lot,
      but possibly after someone else has already filled the spots you want
      to fill...oops.

      Networks got pretty big this game, in part because Mike bought himself
      up to five buses, which made line building easier (most actions are
      limited by the maximum number of buses anyone has). I managed to take
      a two-point lead in the next-to-last turn of the game, and then
      stopped the clock for the final round. Mike, with one stone committed
      to Vroom!, couldn't get enough points on his own to do better than tie
      my score, which would give me the win on the tiebreaker due to having
      the clock stone. Jeff was placed into a kingmaker position -- he
      could build offices on Mike's route and give Mike the win, or he could
      decline and let me win. Unfortunately for him, his route was so
      overlapped with Mike that he couldn't do too much to improve his own
      score -- he would have needed four points in any case, and only had
      three buses.

      So, final scores:
      Josh: 11-1 stone = 10
      Mike: 10
      Jeff: 8

      I enjoyed the face-to-face aspect and was pleased with how quickly the
      game played. The board is a little busy, which can be a bit of a
      problem sometimes when you're trying to keep track of all the lines
      and buildings and passengers...but even so it's a great game.

      Mike headed out, and Jeff and I closed off with a game of Fjords
      (Vitas, I still have your game!). We played the standard three
      rounds, with both of us being fairly new to the game. I'd played one
      round before, and Jeff and I had both watched Vitas and Mike play it.
      On our first round, we were both very conservative in placing farms,
      placing them very late and we split all the territory exactly
      equally. In the second round, Jeff played his farms quickly and I
      held off, attempting to place my last two farms to better advantage.
      Didn't work well for me, and Jeff took a one point lead. In the final
      round, Jeff again played all his farms early, but this time I chose a
      little better about where to place my farms, and scored five more
      points than Jeff, taking the win by four points.

      Fjords is not a bad little game, although I have to say that there's
      something about it that leaves me feeling unsatisfied. I don't mind
      playing it, but after a practice round and a full game I confess that
      I don't feel any real need to own a copy.

      That was all for this week!

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