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[SR] MVGA Holliston 2007-01-04

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  • brosiuse
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 8, 2007
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      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:
      Anton, Steve, Dan, Eric, Rich, Walt


      LEONARDO DA VINCI
      (Anton, Dan, Eric, Rich)

      We had 6 gamers at the start of this week's
      meeting. Normally we'd play two 3-player
      games or one 6-player game, but Steve had a
      shiny new copy of BattleLore, the latest and
      most-hyped entry in Richard Borg's highly
      successful Command and Colors series. Walt
      and Steve really wanted to try it, so the
      other 4 of us chose the chapter's brand-new
      copy of Leonardo da Vinci to start with.
      Rich and Eric had each played one previous
      game while Anton and Dan were first-timers,
      so Rich taught the rules before we started.

      The theme of Leonardo da Vinci is the development of inventions.
      You start with a master, a number of workers and a lab, with ways
      to obtain more workers, an additional lab, and/or robots to help
      with lab work. You also have a supply of florins and components;
      the florins help you buy new items while the components are needed
      for inventions. Inventions pay florins once they are complete,
      though if a rival beats you to the patent office, your payoff is
      reduced.

      In Leonardo's "expert" game, you pick three upgrades at the start.
      Your options for each are as follows:

      a) 5 florins
      b) a set of 4 components
      c) 1 extra worker
      d) a lab upgrade, 2nd lab or robot (first 2 also with 1 component)

      In the beginner's game, each player gets three specified, pre-chosen
      upgrades. These starting upgrades are different by player (but are
      meant to give an even game.) Eric was randomly chosen to be first
      player, but he had been the first player in his previous game. Rich
      was the fourth player, the position he had played in his previous
      game. They decided to swap so they would have the chance to try
      something different. This left the players with the following
      upgrades:

      1. Rich: 2 extra workers and a set of 4 components
      2. Anton: 2 extra workers and a 2nd lab with 1 component
      3. Dan: 1 extra worker, a lab upgrade with 1 component and a robot
      4. Eric: 10 extra florins (2 sets of 5) and a set of 4 components

      We each complained a bit about our opponents' starting advantages,
      which may imply that the beginner's game is reasonably balanced. It
      would be more interesting to choose our own upgrades, and I'm sure
      we'll want to play the expert game in the future.

      We were a bit tentative getting started. In the first phase of each
      turn you initiate research. The game includes a deck of 25 invention
      cards in four degrees of difficulty, and 5 inventions are displayed
      on the board at the start of each turn, with replacements for any
      that were invented on the previous turn. Each card shows 1 to 4
      components needed (depending on difficulty) and the number of work
      units needed to complete the research (from 4 to 15.) Rich and Anton
      started research, but Dan and Eric, with fewer workers, didn't. Dan
      had a robot to start the game, so it was clearly a mistake not to
      start one of the simplest inventions, though this wasn't obvious at
      first.

      Eric was delighted to be the only one in the lab upgrade section on
      the first turn. He added a second lab, flipped it and bought a
      robot, using 5 florins. He reasoned that the competition would be
      greater later. There was a crowd waiting to hire more workers, so
      no one was able to hire more than one.

      Rich and Anton got off to a strong start in the invention area,
      completing inventions (and getting paid) before Eric or Dan had even
      started. It's tempting to put off research till you've built up
      some infrastructure, but the cash, discount and potential VPs from
      even the smallest invention represent a substantial advantage, so
      it's a complex decision.

      On the second turn Eric tried to complete a level-1 invention using
      two workers and a robot. Rich was surprised, as he thought a robot
      did only one unit of work (so two workers and a robot would be 3,
      when 4 is needed.) Eric had learned that a robot did two units of
      work. We checked the rules, and learned that, indeed, a robot does
      two units of work. (A master is more skillful than a mere worker,
      while a robot is tireless and can work at night and on weekends.)
      This misunderstanding hurt Dan, who would have put his initial robot
      to work on an invention right away if he had known the robot could
      complete a level-1 invention all by itself in two turns. With a new
      appreciation of the effectiveness of robots, we made sure the lab
      upgrade area was heavily fought over for the rest of the game.

      The worker placement process is well designed. It's an advantage
      to have to last placement, but the player with the most workers
      doesn't always get that benefit, because you often want to put a
      batch of workers in a single place (you can't place workers twice
      in the same spot during any one turn.) This leads to maneuvering
      as players angle for best position. Rich made effective use of the
      council, taking the "move a worker" action a few times. His key
      move, however, was to use the council to look at the first four
      cards of the invention deck near the end of the game, rearrange it,
      and purchase the cards needed to finish a level-4 invention (if he
      hadn't been able to do this, he would have been left with nothing
      to do in the final "invention only" turns.

      Eric got an advantage in the first turn lab upgrade purchases, but
      Rich's early start on inventions and clever council use was just
      enough to make the difference. As one would expect with this game,
      the two experienced players finished well ahead of the rookies.

      Final scores:

      Rich 64 (4 types,) Eric 60 (3), Dan 41 (3), Anton 30 (2)

      Eric's rating: 7. I've played Leonardo da Vinci twice now, and
      find myself thinking about the game even after we've put it back
      into the box. On the other hand, the beginner's game has worn
      thin; I want to make my own starting mistakes next time!


      BATTLELORE
      (Steve, Walt)

      Richard Borg's latest addition to the "Command and Colors" series
      is BattleLore, which was recently released by Days of Wonder. It's
      a game with a huge stock of gorgeous bits, and (unlike many games
      that have great bits) it's graphically well designed to make it
      easier to play. Each player receives a set of cards that detail
      the options available, and you can pull out only the cards that are
      needed for the scenario you are playing. The game has a medieval
      theme, with knights and bowmen and swordsmen, but it also includes
      a fantasy component, with "lore" cards you can play to get effects
      that aren't possible for ordinary mortals.

      Steve and Walt set up a scenario that was set in Acquitaine, but
      they played using the lore rules. Steve chose a Level 2 Commander,
      a Wizard, a Warrior and a Cleric. Walt chose a Level 2 Commander,
      a Warrior, a Cleric and a Rogue. The Commander increases your hand
      limit, while the others allow you to play various lore cards. The
      dice are similar to those in other C&C system games, but one face
      is a lore face; these do not normally hit in battle, but each lore
      symbol you roll gives you a token that can be used later to cast
      spells. This provides a balance to the game; misses in battle
      may be offset by use of lore in the future.

      Walt got off to a great start, using Darken the Sky to great effect
      and pulling out to a 4-1 lead (you must kill six enemy units in
      this scenario to win.) Steve came back by charging with his heavy
      cavalry, and Walt couldn't buy a hit with his archers. The heavy
      cavalry units can do a lot of damage if you don't kill them first,
      and Steve killed five of Walt's units in a row for a comeback win.

      Final scores: Steve 6, Walt 4

      Eric's rating: 8. BattleLore boasts a coherent design and is a
      bit easier to learn than the excellent Command & Colors: Ancients.
      I haven't yet played with the lore rules (though my wife and I did
      run through the Agincourt scenario using historical capabilities
      only.)


      BALLOON CUP
      (Steve, Walt)

      Steve and Walt finished their BattleLore game and saw that Leonardo
      da Vinci was still several turns from finishing, so they went to
      the fabulous MVGA game locker and pulled out Balloon Cup, a 2-player
      game designed by Stephen Glenn. It's a quick game, and Walt won a
      close one.

      Final scores: Walt 3, Steve 2

      Eric's rating: 6. Balloon Cup works well, but there are many
      2-player games I'd rather play.


      CANAL MANIA
      (Steve, Dan, Eric, Rich)

      Anton and Walt had to leave, but the rest of us stayed for one more
      game. Eric had a brand-new copy of Canal Mania in his tub o' games
      and everyone was eager to give it a try. Canal Mania is a member
      of the railroad game genre, even though it represents an era before
      railroads became predominant. You build canals to connect cities
      and towns on a map of England, and you deliver goods cubes, moving
      them along the canals to score VPs for the canal owners. It has
      strong elements of Ticket to Ride and Age of Steam, two excellent
      railroad games.

      Eric was the only one who had played the game before. In the one
      game he played, his daughter scored about twice as many points as
      he did, so this didn't mean he was likely to win, but at least he
      understood the rules and could teach them! In Canal Mania, players
      take turns, with each player getting the same number of turns. In
      this game Rich was the first player and Eric the last player, so
      we knew the game would end after Eric's last turn.

      The game comes with an attractive map, showing cities and towns in
      six colors (like Age of Steam) with clear and rough terrain hexes.
      There are also three decks of cards: contract cards that you try
      to complete, build cards that let you build canals on the board,
      placing tiles from your supply, and five engineer cards, each of
      which gives the person who holds it a special ability.

      Your turn has three phases:

      (1) Either take a new contract (in some cases, two new contracts,)
      or swap your engineer out for a new one, or discard all the build
      cards on display and replace them with five new ones.

      (2) Either take three new build cards from the five that are face
      up, or use as many cards as you want to build canals along routes
      that you have contracts to build.

      (3) Move a goods cube along canals, scoring VPs for the players
      along whose canals the cube moves. You will try to use your own
      canals, and the final segment *must* be along your own canal, but
      sometimes you'll need to use an opponent's canal.

      You may skip any of the three phases and take a build card unseen
      from the top of the build deck instead. At the end of your turn,
      you discard down to seven held cards.

      Rich went first and scooped up the contract to build a canal from
      Manchester to Liverpool. You may only build if you have a contract
      from Parliament to connect two cities, so selecting appropriate
      contracts is a key element of strategy. Each contract shows the
      maximum number of tiles you may lay to connect the terminuses, and
      you may not use more than this number of tiles. The Manchester to
      Liverpool card must be built using at most 3 tiles. Rich chose to
      connect the two cities via Chester, giving him two links right at
      the start of the game and enabling him to begin scoring 3 VP if he
      could move cubes along that route.

      Steve was next. He took the contract to connect Manchester and
      Stoke, and Dan took Worcester/Birmingham. This left just two
      contracts, and a player with no contracts can take two as long as
      he or she takes the last of a set of five, so Eric took both
      Oxford/Gloucester and Worcester/Gloucester, reasoning that the two
      should work well together.

      Rich followed his initial canal with the Chester/Nottingham canal,
      which visits Stoke on the way. This gave Rich a long route from
      Manchester to Chester, Stoke, Burton and Nottingham, allowing him
      to begin scoring 5 VPs for a single cube move. As the rest of us
      were still hoping for 2 VPs at most, Rich pulled out to a giant
      lead. Eventually Dan got his act together, but Rich held the key
      Birmingham/Coventry link, so Dan's cube moves often gave 5 VP to
      Dan and 2 VP to Rich, while Rich was scoring for Rich alone.

      Eric and Steve limped along scoring at most 2 VP a turn. Steve
      drew the potentially valuable Leeds/Liverpool via Skipton contract,
      but he built via Manchester, introducing two black spots in a row
      into his network (Manchester and Skipton.) It's impossible to
      ship any cube along a link that has the same colors at both ends,
      so this meant Steve had spent a lot of effort building a largely
      useless line (it wasn't obvious when he started work, but it
      became obvious later---we'll avoid that trap in the future.) Eric
      eventually drew the Oxford/London contract, giving him his own
      5 VP route, but it was much too late to matter.

      In the endgame, we counted our contracts. The players with the
      most completed contracts get bonus points. Eric and Dan tied for
      most, but Eric's 6 contracts had a total value (adding the maximum
      lengths) of 26, while Dan's 6 had a total of only 25. This gave
      Eric 10 VP for first place while Dan had to settle for 7 VP. Rich
      completed 5 contracts for 4 VP and Steve completed only 4 for 1 VP
      (Steve was burdened by the enormous effort involved in the canal
      from Liverpool to Leeds.)

      Final scores: Rich 74, Dan 71, Eric 59, Steve 40.

      Eric's rating: 6. Canal Mania plays very smoothly, but so far it
      has seemed to me that the game is driven by who gets which contracts
      and by whether the new contracts that appear fit into the network
      you have already built. Often you can see that you're headed for
      trouble, but there's nothing you can do about it. Perhaps more
      games will show that there are options I haven't yet identified.


      Eric Brosius
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