[SR] MVGA Holliston 2006-11-16
- 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.
Anton, Eric, Dan, Rich
TICKET TO RIDE
(Anton, Eric, Dan)
There were just two of us at the Masonic
Hall at 7pm, Anton and Eric, and after
we waited for ten minutes for someone
else to show up, we decided to start a
game of Ticket to Ride. Ticket to Ride
is an excellent game for 2 to 5 players,
so we would be able to add anyone who
came in before we started. We also knew
we could finish it quickly, so if a third
player came in after we started, he or
she wouldn't have a long wait for the
As it turned out, Dan arrived before we
had finished setting up, so we played
with 3 players. The 3-player game is the
most cutthroat, because only one player
can build between any pair of cities and
the board crowds up in a hurry. We dealt
out the initial cards. Anton and Dan
kept two tickets each, while Eric kept
all three of his.
The game began with a long period of card collecting, as each of us
seemed to be drawing the cards he wanted. Finally, Anton broke the
drought with a little two-train link between New York and Washington.
He then began to build down the Eastern seaboard, to Raleigh and
Atlanta. Eric took the two-train link between Houston and New Orleans
(often this signals possession of the LA/Miami ticket.) Dan took the
one-train links Portland/Seattle and Seattle/Vancouver. Once Anton
reached Atlanta, Eric took the Atlanta/Nashville ticket, as he needed
a connection to Atlanta from the north. This caused Anton to build
Raleigh/Nashville, outflanking Eric's roadblock. Eric had six red
cards by now and used them to connect New Orleans/Miami.
Dan built south from Portland to SF, and Anton continued west through
Little Rock and Oklahoma City. When Anton leaped ahead to build the
LA/Phoenix link, Dan grabbed Phoenix/El Paso, eliciting an exasperated
sigh from Anton, who built OKC/Santa Fe/El Paso/Phoenix to make his
way around the blockage. It seemed likely that Anton had just finished
the New York/LA ticket, as he relaxed visibly when he built this route.
The roads to LA were getting crowded, and Eric used fistfuls of green
and black cards to build two more 6-train links from LA/El Paso/Houston.
This put him well ahead on the scoreboard. By now Anton and Eric each
had cross-country runs, but Dan built Seattle/Helena together with
Portland/SLC, apparently trying to monopolize the west but making no
attempt to move east.
Dan and Anton each drew some new tickets (it appeared they may have
completed their initial pairs,) but Eric plowed on, striking north from
Nashville to Pittsburgh, NY and Montreal. Rich came in at this stage
of the game, and as Dan laid track from Vancouver to Calgary, Rich
noted that Eric had only a handful of trains left to place. The other
two suddenly realized that they would not have time to connect their
remaining tickets, and Eric laid his last six trains down in four more
turns as everyone scraped for the last few available points.
Eric 134 = 84 track + 40 tickets + 10 bonus
Dan__ 98 = 78 track + 20 tickets
Anton 58 = 45 track + 13 tickets
Dan and Anton suffered penalties of 17 and 22 VPs, respectively, for
unfulfilled tickets at the end of the game.
Eric's rating: 8. I've played the Europe and Marklin expansions to
Ticket to Ride, but I still prefer the original version. I have more
tolerance than most people for games in which random elements can give
and advantage to one player. I play enough games that I don't mind
losing a few because of bad luck; I figure I'll win a few because of
good luck to make up for it. As long as the play is interesting, I
can tolerate the luck. Ticket to Ride is a quick, simple game (we
finished this game in 45 minutes and were ready for the next game by
(Anton, Eric, Dan, Rich)
Now that Rich had arrived, we had 4 players, and there was plenty of
time for a meatier game. Eric had been bringing his copy of Outpost
out to MVGA for a number of weeks, and the others agreed to give it
a shot. Outpost is an out-of-print game for which reprint rights have
been elusive, so it's hard to get, and Eric was delighted to be able
to trade for a copy earlier in the year. He played a few games with
Joe Huber's customized set and copied Joe, using pieces from old Risk
and Numble games, together with some bingo chips, to make the game
easier to follow.
Eric had copies of Tom Lehmann's version 1.32 "Expert" game rules set,
which regular Outpost players all seem to use. These fix imbalances
in the original game and increase the number of viable strategies.
They create options and force you to make tough decisions.
Eric taught the rules before we began play, as none of the others had
played Outpost before. Outpost is fundamentally a card game, though
it has a board on which the cards are displayed. In this sense it
resembles St. Petersburg; you can easily dispense with the board if
you want to transport your game more easily. You begin the game with
limited technological abilities, a few factories and some population
units (to run your factories.) At the start of the game you know how
to build water and ore factories, and you can buy more population,
but that technology will only take you so far. To win you must buy
upgrades, which you can buy via an auction process that resembles the
one in Power Grid. As I describe Outpost, I'll compare it to other
games that may be more familiar, but Outpost was published in 1991
and in fact it's possible that the other games were inspired by it.
The upgrades give you special abilities that help your colony grow.
Upgrades and manned factories are the source of VPs.
The sequence of play is simple:
(1) Determine turn order
(2) Restock the upgrade market
(3) Produce goods
(4) Purchase things (upgrades, factories, population)
(5) Check VPs
The purchasing phase is the heart of the game. It takes up most of
the time each turn, and it is the phase during which players compete
at auction for scarce assets.
First, you determine turn order. This runs in descending VP order,
with the player who has the most VPs taking the '1' turn order card.
If there's a tie, add up the printed costs on the upgrades you have
purchased and the higher total goes first. If there's still a tie,
choose at random. Turn order is the only explicit "stop the leader"
mechanism in Outpost---the first player must bid for a desired
upgrade against all opponents, while the last player may be able to
buy one cheaply once the others have spent their money.
Next you fill the available market with upgrades for potential sale.
The number of upgrades on display will equal the number of players
(in contrast to Power Grid, though, there is no re-stocking during
the turn as upgrades are bought.) There are 13 different types of
upgrade, each a card with a serial number (#1 to #13,) a list price
and a list of the benefits the purchaser will gain. In the first
stage of the game, only #1 through #4 are available. As soon as
one player has 10 VP, the game enters a second stage, and #5 through
#10 are added to the mix. Finally, once at least one player has 30,
35, or 40 VPs, depending on the number of players (as shown in the
"Expert" rules,) the game enters its third and last stage, during
which all of the upgrades are available.
Three polyhedral dice are provided for determining what upgrades are
available. In the first phase, a d4 is rolled and the corresponding
upgrade is placed in the market. In our game, we rolled the d4 four
times (once per player) and placed a #1 Data Library, a #3 Heavy
Equipment, a #2 Warehouse and another #1 Data Library into the market.
At most half of the upgrades can be of a single type; if you roll a
third of the same type in a 4-player game, just re-roll. There is a
limited number of each upgrade type for the whole game, as described
in the "Expert" rules---in our game there would be only 3 of each
type---and the scarcity factor creates competition and assures that
different players will follow different strategies. In the process
of rolling for upgrades, if you choose one for which none are left in
stock, take the next lower number (if there are none with any lower
number, you re-roll.)
The third phase is production. There are nine decks of colored cards
that represent the "currency" available to the players. The least
valuable is ore: the brown ore cards are worth from 1 to 5, with
average value 3. You get an ore card for each manned ore factory
(OrF). Next is water: the blue water cards are worth from 4 to 10,
with average value 7. You get a water card for each manned water
You start the game with two manned OrF's and one manned WaF, so you
are entitled to two ores and a water, but to get the game off to a
faster start, you get double production on the first turn only: four
ore and two water. This is a major luck element in the game and it
happens on the first turn---your cards could total as little as 12 and
as much as 40, and the existence of this luck is one of the principal
complaints people have about Outpost. Later I'll describe a "mulligan"
rule that ameliorates this problem, but there certainly could be room
for more in this direction.
After you get your new production cards, you must discard down to a
hand limit of 10 cards. The limit presents a challenge if you have a
lot of factories, as you could have to discard cards before you can
spend them (you will discard the small ones, but it still represents
wasted resources in a game where every small advantage matters.) One
luck-reducing factor is the availability of special "mega" production
cards. These count as four single production cards. If you have four
operating WaF's, you may take one mega-water card (worth a fixed 30)
instead of four water cards (averaging 7 each.) The average is more,
and luck is eliminated, but the mega-water still counts as 4 cards in
your hand, and you can't get change when you spend it.
The next phase is the purchasing phase---the heart of the game. When
it's your turn, you can buy factories and/or population, paying fixed
prices, or you may put upgrades up for auction. This phase proceeds in
player order, but you may bid during an opponent's turn, even if you
have already taken your turn, as long as you still have money (e.g.,
production cards) to bid with. The decision-making in Outlook focuses
on which upgrades to bid for, how much to bid for them, and when to
eschew bidding and save your cards or buy factories and/or population.
To do well, you must know what an upgrade is worth to you, and you must
be able to estimate what it is worth to your opponents.
To buy factories, just pay the fixed price in production cards to the
bank (put spent cards in the discard pile on the board.) OrF's cost 10,
WaF's cost 20 and population (to run the factories) cost 10. The bank
never pays change, so if (for example) you have two water cards worth 7
each and two ore cards worth 4 each, you might need to spend 22 to buy
a WaF. If you buy several identical factories, or several population,
you can pay for them all in one payment (7 + 7 + 6 for two population,)
but you must pay separately for each type of item. The game includes
titanium factories (TiF's), research factories (ReF's) and so forth, but
you do not know how to build them at the start of the game---you must
buy the right upgrades first. There is no limit to how many factories
you may buy, but you can only house 5 population, and since factories
are worthless unless they are manned, this also restricts your growth.
With your starting technology, you can build up to five manned WaF's,
generating five water cards a turn (or one regular water and one
mega-water,) leaving your two original OrF's unmanned. You'd have
only 5 VPs if you do this. You must buy upgrades to get ahead!
To buy an upgrade, you must have in your hand production cards equal
to at least the list price printed on the upgrade. During your turn,
you may name an upgrade and a price you are willing to pay (you often
start at list price, hoping to buy cheaply.) The auction goes around
the table, with each player raising or passing. In Outpost, you may
pass and then bid again later, but once all but one player has passed
in turn, the high bidder wins the item and pays for it (again, no change
is available.) The auctions can present an arithmetic challenge as you
calculate what bids you can hit exactly with your cards---for example,
if you have nothing but three '7' cards, you might bid 21 rather than 20,
since you'll have to pay 21 anyway. Our group is good with arithmetic,
so this wasn't a problem, but it could be an issue in some groups.
When an auction is complete, the auctioneer's turn continues. He or she
may auction another item or may buy factories and/or population. Early
in the game you can't afford more than one upgrade, but you can buy as
much as you can afford (and you may buy more than one of a single type of
upgrade.) If you see nothing you want to buy, you can save your cards
for the next turn (but beware of the hand limit, which can force you to
Eric advised the others that it's unwise to buy upgrades until you've
added at least one manned WaF to your starting assets. He also explained
the "mulligan" rule, which is designed to mitigate bad luck: if you get
less than 20 in starting cards, you may turn them all in for a WaF on the
first turn. A player who cannot buy a WaF on the first turn is at a big
disadvantage, and this rule makes sure that can't happen. There's no
corresponding rule to limit good luck, and a player who can afford both a
WaF and a population on the first turn has a big advantage. Eric got a
total of 38 on his six initial cards, so he showed the others his hand
and discarded it, drawing new cards. Experience matters a lot in Outpost,
and he didn't want to have a huge advantage in luck as well.
As recommended, we each bought a WaF on the first turn, moving population
from OrF's to man them (you may shift population at any time, so there's
no need to plan ahead in this area.) On the second turn, we each got two
water cards and an ore, and we had to think about how long we would wait
to buy upgrades.
Dan bought the first upgrade, a Warehouse. This raises your hand limit
by 5 cards (in Dan's case, from 10 to 15.) The ability to save cards is
valuable; Brian Bankler believes the Warehouse is the best Stage 1
upgrade. Saved cards are not driving growth (the average rate of compound
interest in Outpost is about 20% per turn,) but the ability save cards
takes away the pressure to buy something you don't really want just to
avoid throwing cards away. Even more importantly, a stash of saved cards
lets you outbid others on a key upgrade when it becomes available.
Rich bought the second upgrade, a Heavy Equipment. The Heavy Equipment
lets you buy TiF's for 30 each. TiF's generate titanium cards, which
average 10 in value, and manned TiF's are worth 2 VP (vs. just 1 VP each
for OrF's and WaF's.) A Heavy Equipment also gives a discount of 5 toward
a Warehouse or Nodule and a discount of 15 toward an Outpost. Anton also
bought a Heavy Equipment. Eric put off buying an upgrade, building up his
inventory of WaF's instead. Rich thought it was expensive to get into the
titanium business: first you pay 30 for the Heavy Equipment, and then you
pay 30 more for each TiF. It's easier to bear the cost if you build up
your economy first, but of course that delays the payoff from those
valuable titanium cards. If you decide to buy Heavy Equipment, you must
be prepared to push TiF construction hard, and Rich and Anton failed to
realize the full value of their purchases because they did not do so.
Eric finally joined the upgrade race by buying a #4 Nodule. A Nodule
raises your population limit by 3 (in Eric's case, from 5 to 8.) He had 4
WaF's running by now, and he bought 3 population for one mega-water on the
next turn, putting two idle OrF's back in use, and paid 40 for two new
WaF's on the next turn, raising his production to 6 water a turn. The new
players found it hard to focus on a single strategy, buying a little of
this and a little of that, and this cost them somewhat in efficiency.
Eric and Rich each bought a Data Library, which gives a discount of 10
toward Scientists or Laboratories. The discount is valuable on its own,
but another benefit of a Data Library is that it counts just like a card
with a value of 10 when bidding for these items, but does not take up
hand space. Eric's lack of either a Warehouse or titanium technology
meant he would have a smaller maximum hand value than his opponents, which
can be a problem when valuable upgrades become available.
Dan pushed us into Stage 2 by buying an upgrade that gave him 10 VP. At
this point you replace the d4 used to select new upgrades with a d10. We
rolled new upgrades and added a #7 Robots. This upgrade lets you buy
robots, which are like population but do not count toward your population
limit. Instead, you may buy one robot (and man a factory with it) for
each population you have. You cannot buy more robots than population,
lest the robots revolt, but if you buy a second Robots upgrade, you can
buy two robots per population, and so forth. The Robots upgrade comes
with a free sample robot, which you can put to work right away. Robots
isn't the most exciting upgrade, and we ignored it for the time being,
buying more of the Nodules and Data Libraries instead. Eventually Rich
would buy the first Robots, as he had not purchase a Nodule and was at
his population limit.
The early part of Stage 2 of Outpost often focuses on the #5 Scientists
and #6 Orbital Lab upgrades. A Scientists upgrade is effectively a
self-contained ReF that does not need to be manned. It produces a
research card each turn with an average value of 13. An Orbital Lab is
similar, but it produces a microbiology card each turn, averaging 17 in
value. Microbiology and research are so tiny that the cards do not
count toward your hand limit, making them especially valuable. Research
cards also let you buy new chemicals factories (NCF's,) as I will explain
later. Neither of these upgrade types appeared during the first few
turns of Stage 2 in our game, and this diverted the game from its typical
course, with purchases of the less expensive Stage 1 upgrades continuing
even after we had entered Stage 2.
Eventually a #8 Laboratory became available. A Laboratory provides a free
ReF and allows you to buy new ReF's for 30 each, which Scientists does not,
and it is worth 5 VPs compared with 2 VPs for the Scientists. On the other
hand, Scientists are much cheaper and do not require a population, so
they are usually preferred during the early part of Stage 2. In this game,
with no Scientists available, the Laboratory was an attractive alternative.
Eric counted his cards and was pleased to see he had exactly 70. He
bought the Laboratory with no opposing bids, as his opponents couldn't
match the price (Dan might have used his Warehouse to save cards, but he
had spent his money already.) The Laboratory was especially valuable to
Eric, who had neither a Heavy Equipment nor a Warehouse, and in fact his
Laboratory purchase was probably the turning point of the game.
The upgrades continued to come out in an unusual order. One or two Outpost
upgrades were sold before the first Scientists or Orbital Lab. The #10
Outpost is a powerful upgrade (they named the game for it, after all!) It
adds 5 to your hand limit, 5 to your maximum population, and provides a
free TiF (though not the ability to build more TiF's.) The Heavy Equipment
players, with their discount, were first to buy Outposts. Eric got one
later, after buying a #9 Ecoplants first. Ecoplants is a cheap upgrade
that lets you buy population for 5 instead of 10 and gives you a discount
of 10 toward an Outpost. It is also a cheap way to gain VPs, as it is
worth 5 VPs for a list price of just 30.
Because of the late appearance of Scientists and Orbital Labs, the game
moved more slowly than usual. We bought some NCF's while we waited for
better upgrades. To buy a NCF you must pay 60, and you must pay at least
one research card for each NCF you buy (so you can't buy NCFs unless you
own Scientists or a Laboratory.) The new chemicals cards pack a wallop,
though, with an average value of 20, and Anton even got four NCF's, which
let him take mega-new chemicals cards worth 88 each.
In a 4-player game, Stage 3 starts once one player reaches 40 VPs. Eric
reached 41, with his opponents clustered around 30. We brought out the
d12. There are 13 upgrades, so you add 1 to the d12 to choose upgrades
during Stage 3. The #11 Space Station costs 120 and is a special factory
that produces an orbital medicine card when manned, averaging 30 in value.
A manned Space station is worth 10 VP (vs. only 5 VP for the best Stage 2
upgrades.) The #12 Planetary Cruiser costs 160, produces ring ore cards
averaging 40 in value, and is worth 15 VP. The #13 Moon Base costs 200,
produces moon ore cards averaging 50 in value and is worth 20 VP. These
last three upgrades push the game rapidly to its conclusion once you hit
Stage 3. They are far more valuable than any alternatives, so you play in
the latter turns of Stage 2 with an eye to setting yourself up for them.
The first set of upgrades in Stage 3 included a Planetary Cruiser and two
Space Stations. Eric had enough for the Planetary Cruiser and was able to
buy it for list price. His opponents had to bid for the Space Stations,
since there were only two for 3 players, and as a result they had to pay
almost as much for less valuable upgrades. Eric bought a Moon Base on the
next turn to pass 75 VP and end the game. We finished a little after 10pm,
so the game took just over two hours (less than two hours not counting the
Eric 81, Dan 55, Rich 53, Anton 52.
Eric's rating: 9. I asked the others how they would rate Outpost. Anton
rated it '3' based on the breakaway leader problem. Dan thought it was
interesting, but needed to be fixed. He rated it '5'. Rich rated it '1'
and said he would prefer root canal surgery to playing Outpost. He had
two main criticisms: (1) only one path to victory and (2) difficulty of
stopping the leader.
There's no doubt that Outpost can produce a runaway leader. This can even
happen as a result of lucky card draws (in this game, Rich had poor cards
early.) If you object strongly to random elements, or to a game in which
you may find yourself out of contention for victory part way through the
game, you may not enjoy Outpost. On the other hand, you make many choices
during the game, and your choices matter. You must pay attention from the
start of the game, because there's no strong "catch up" mechanism. This
doesn't mean there's no way to catch up; if you're leading, you're usually
under pressure in some way (from the hand limit, the population limit,
or a lack of advanced technology,) and your opponents can "squeeze" you by
competing for the upgrades you simply must have. If you let them "overpay"
for an upgrade you absolutely must have, you'll often suffer more then they
will, so you need to keep bidding, up to all your cards. Of course, this
only happens once the players know the game; it's particularly difficult
for an experienced player to teach beginners without running away with it
(though when I played Outpost with Bill and Bob at UG XI, they both liked
it, and Bill came within 1 VP of winning.) I'll also observe that the
three rookies in this game finished within 3 VP of each other, so the game
was well balanced among them.
On the other hand, I disagree with Rich's first criticism. The purpose of
Tom Lehmann's "Expert" rules is to generate multiple paths to victory.
Your upgrade purchases during Stage 1 force you to make important choices,
and those choices affect the value of the upgrades that will be available
during Stage 2. For example, if you buy Data Libraries during Stage 1,
you will trail the others in raw income, but you'll be prepared to jump on
any Scientists that come out early in Stage 2. If you buy Heavy Equipment,
you want Stage 1 to last as long as possible so you can build out your
titanium production while your opponents are stuck with water. If you
invest in a Warehouse, you'll save cards when the current turn's upgrade
selection is unappealing so you can win the auction for a better upgrade
next time. Opponents without Warehouses will be forced to buy something
just so they don't have to throw cards away.
The heart of Outpost is choosing what upgrades you want, deciding when to
bid for them and how much to pay, and keeping track of how the choices
your opponents are making affect the values of upgrades for them. If
you see that a particular upgrade is likely to be ignored by the others,
you may be able to adapt your strategy so as to take advantage of the
chance to buy that upgrade cheaply.
I rate Outpost a '9' because I enjoy the decision-making process, and I
love the sharp nature of the competition. I admit that there can be a
runaway leader (that's why I've rated it a '9' and not a '10',) but I can
enjoy the game even if I'm not in contention for a victory (if my VP
total is only 75% of the leader's, I try to get the ratio up to 80% next
turn---who knows whether I may be able to raise it to 100%, but I enjoy
any progress I can make in closing the gap.) For the first time ever,
Outpost will be on my "Five and Ten" list for 2006; I've managed to play
it five times already (and I'd be happy to make it six!)
(Eric, Dan, Rich)
Anton had to leave, as he often does at about 10pm. We let Rich pick
the final game of the evening so he could get the taste of Outpost out
of his mouth (I guess it's like jalapenos; some people love it and
some people don't.) Rich picked Alhambra, a game that won the Spiel
des Jahres in 2003. It was criticized by some at the time as being an
unworthy winner, but we've played it over and over at MVGA (31 times
in my session reports, and probably more when I wasn't able to come,)
and on this basis it was a fine choice.
The game started off in typical fashion, with Rich pulling out to a
lead in purple towers and gaining the largest long wall. Rich has
won more than half of his Alhambra games at MVGA and is the favorite
to win any time he plays. Dan led in blue and tied in red, but these
are the least valuable colors and he lagged behind.
First scoring: Rich 11 (5 walls,) Eric 5 (2), Dan 3 (1).
As you can see from the first set of scores, we were drawing a lot of
cards and buying little during the initial stages of the game. Our
hands of cards grew fat and we splurged during the second part of the
game. Eric got tile after tile that fit nicely into his compound, and
was able to dominate green while placing well in other colors while
building a huge wall, overpaying several times to get just the right
tile. There's always a risk that you may become wall-bound, but it's
hard to resist when the tiles are just sitting there begging to be
taken. Dan and Rich dueled over the white tiles, pouring their cards
into the color as Eric ignored it completely.
Second scoring: Eric 50 (17 walls,) Rich 42 (6), Dan 41 (7).
There was a bit of a lull as the cards all seemed to be orange but the
tile on offer for orange money was one none of us wanted. Rich and
Dan continued to compete for white. We tried to catch Rich in purple,
but he held his lead, and Eric stayed ahead in green. Eric got a few
key tiles to break out in the one direction still available to him and
added nine more walls to his long wall. Rich built one wall section
of length 11 and another of length 9, which wasn't the most efficient
result. When the last tile was drawn, Eric was delighted to have won,
essentially by the amount of his wall advantage.
Final scores: Eric 140 (26 walls,) Dan 117 (10), Rich 111 (11).
Eric's rating: 8. Rich and I both played Alhambra at WBC. We both
lost to players who scooped up the 8 and 9 money cards, leaving us
with choices of 5 and 6. It's one thing to have a fistful of change,
but you need the sheer mass of the big cards if you don't want to pay
three or four cards for a single tile. We'll have to incorporate the
new ideas into our play before next year's WBC convention.