[SR] MVGA Holliston 2008-09-25
- 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.
Roll call: Eric, Anton, Charles, Walt, Rich
(Eric, Anton, Charles, Walt, Rich)
We were happy to receive a visit from Charles
this week. Charles has been at MVGA before,
but it's been a while. We also had Walt and
Eric in the building at the same time---both
of them have been sporadic in attending and
they'd been missing each other. It was great
to have 5 gamers right at the start, but we
wanted to begin with a short game in case
more people showed up.
We often begin with a game or two of Race for the Galaxy these days, but
that wasn't an option for 5. We scanned the shelves of the fabulous MVGA
game locker and pulled out No Thanks! (originally known as Geschenkt.)
No Thanks! is a "push your luck" game of avoiding pain. Nine cards are
randomly and secretly discarded from a deck of 33 cards numbered 3
through 35, and you bid with chips to avoid taking cards. Your score is
the total of your numbered cards, minus any chips you have left at the end,
and the lowest score wins. The "twist" is that a card you take does not
count against you if you also have the card below it. For example, if you
end with the 13 and the 15, they count as 28, but if you end with the 13,
14 and 15 they only count as 13.
No Thanks! confuses some people because they try to calculate the expected
value of taking a card and run out of chips attempting to execute a
strategy related to this value. Like 2008's stock market investors, they
learn that a liquidity problem can ruin otherwise sound long-term plans.
Walt took some risks on the liquidity front in this game, and in fact he
ended the game with only 6 chips, but he strung together the 13, 14 and 15
for a net score of 7 (calculated as 13 minus 6.) This was enough to win
by a wide margin over Eric and Charles, who both finished with more
chips but also more cards.
Walt 7 = 13-15 minus 6
Eric 14 = 4-5 + 28-31 minus 18
Charles 19 = 3 + 6-11 + 23 minus 13
Eric's rating: 7. It's quick and there's quite a bit of luck. Your score can
be strongly affected by the choices made by your opponents, though this
doesn't matter so much in a short game (if someone is out to get you in
every game, it could be a problem.) I love how this game seems to
confound the analytical types.
POWER GRID [Korea]
(Eric, Anton, Charles, Walt, Rich)
No one else arrived during our game of No Thanks! and we were ready for
some meatier fare. Walt recently purchased a copy of the Korea/China
Power Grid expansion for the club, and we were ready to give it a spin.
The Korea map is less "different" than the China map (in Korea there are
two separate fuel markets, and you can use only one market each turn,
but in China the first 26 plants come out in numerical order, eliminating
the uncertainty of the power plant draw deck for much of the game,) so
we decided to start there. We eliminated the northeastern section of the
map, leaving 5 regions in play.
Walt started us off by auctioning the #05 hybrid, and he got it for face
value (Dan often bids this plant up, but he wasn't in the game.) Rich put
the #04 coal plant up for sale and got it for $6, a bit less than usual, as
we weren't sure how the divided fuel market would affect coal prices. Anton
then took the #06 trash plant, which went for list price as well, and Eric
and Charles followed with the #07 and #03 in that order, all for list. I
don't remember ever playing a 5-player game in which the #07 was the
highest plant bought in Round 1, but that's what happened in this game.
Charles soon revealed why he bought the #03, as he built three cities
(Seoul, Goyang and Incheon) even though he had power for only one.
These cities are part of a connected mass in the center of the map with
no connection costs between them, and he was willing to accept the
position of "brightest bulb" in exchange for cheap early connections.
Rich followed a similar course, connecting Samcheok and Donghae
on the east coast although he, too, could only power one of them. Walt
built just one city, Cheongju, a little south of Charles, and Anton opted
for North Korea, connecting Nampo and Hwangju. Eric was the only
player who could power as many as two cities, but by the time it was his
turn to build there were already 8 connected cities, reducing his options.
He built Suwon and Yongin, a cheap pair of cities just between Charles
Charles needed a better plant for Round 2, but the options weren't all
that attractive (especially since his cash had been drained by building
three cities.) He put the #12 hybrid up for auction and Anton bid $13 to
take it. Charles then took the #13 baby windmill to raise his capacity
to 2 cities. Eric now bid on the #16 oil plant, and was surprised to get
this relatively powerful early-game plant for list price. He had the #07
oil plant, so he would not face competition for oil purchases other than
from Charles' #03, which was not likely to run for long. The #26 was
sitting at the business end of the future market, but Rich couldn't afford
to play another round with only the #04 plant, so he put the #10 coal
plant up for auction. Walt gave it a wide berth and was rewarded when
the #26 oil plant became available---it didn't take Walt long to snap that
one up. We couldn't afford a lot of building in this round, but Walt added
a second city in Daejeon, Rich crept west into Taeraek, and Eric grabbed
Anyang, the 4th of the cheap city cluster Charles had started the game in.
Several attractive plants were visible at the start of Round 3. Eric looked
at the #29, a nice cheap plant available in the current market. He then
looked at the #31 and #32, which were available in the future market. He
didn't want to give a cookie to an opponent, but he was also convinced
someone would buy the #29 and figured he might as well let the #31
and #32 drop (if they were going to drop) while there were multiple bidders.
Eric bought the #29 hybrid for $36 and the #31 coal plant, with its
6-city capacity, dropped. Charles put it up for auction and paid $39 for
it. The #32, the oil version of the #31, now became available, and Rich
put it up for auction. Much to the annoyance of Eric and Charles, Walt
and Anton both passed, allowing Rich to get this valuable plant at list
price. Walt already had the #26, so he wasn't up for a second costly
plant, but we were surprised that Anton didn't want to take a shot at
the #32. In the building phase Anton had some money left and built
Haeju and Walt built Chungju, but the rest of us passed, having used
our cash to purchase plants. We now had 3 cities each, so the turn
order was determined by the power plants we owned.
In Round 4 Rich was brightest bulb on the strength of his #32 plant,
and he liked the looks of the #34 nuclear plant, which can power 5 cities.
One feature of the Korea map is the absence of uranium in the North
Korean fuel market (at least they *claim* there's none!) This can make
it tricky to run nuclear plants; you need to buy ahead if you want to
have flexibility about which market you use next turn. Uranium was
starting to get cheap, and there was no visible competition for it, so
we bid enthusiastically and Rich had to pay $47 for the #34. This wasn't
too much of a burden for him, because he had gotten the #32 cheaply,
but it was still a significant outlay. Rich was also demonstrating a Power
Grid principle: if you can buy several plants with similar numbers (as
Rich bought the #32 and #34 in this game,) you can often keep the
number on your highest plant to a relatively manageable number, moving
you to the dim end of the turn order where you'd like to be. Rich's
purchase dropped the #20 coal plant, with its 5-city capacity and 3-coal
appetite, into the current market. Charles already had a hungry coal
plant and didn't want another, so he passed. Eric was prepared to pay
for this plant and deal with the cash shortage, but Anton really needed
a plant by this point, and he took it at a cost of $31. The #20 often leads
to (and participates in) coal shortages, but perhaps this would be less
of an issue in Korea with the dual markets---we didn't know for sure.
There were no attractive plants left in the current market, so Eric and
then Walt proceeded to pass. Anton now built Pyongyang, the North Korean
capital, to bring him to 4 cities, and Walt added two cities in Sangju and
Wonju to reach 5, the perfect number for his #26 plant. Walt had been
operating efficiently for several rounds and had the cash to spare. Eric
was now hemmed in, so he built Gaesung, hopping over Charles, to
reach 4. Charles and Rich did not build, staying at just 3 cities (even
though they both had plants capable of powering 6 cities.)
When you see a lot of good plants early, as we did in this game, you can
guess that there will be a barren stretch at some point. In the 5-player
game all the plants are in play, so the lousy plants have to come out
sooner or later. It was Round 5 and Walt still had only two plants, one
of them the antiquated #05. He bought the #15 to increase his capacity
by 3 cities, and no one even thought about bidding against him. This
brought the #22 windmill into the game. It was late for such a small
plant, but Eric bought it so he could power 6 cities for just one coal or
oil, putting him in great position for the midgame stall. Oil was getting
expensive and he didn't want to depend on the #16. Again, no one else
bid against him, and after Walt and Eric bought plants, the other 3
players passed. We were starting to pile up the cash, but building was
tentative again this round. Charles built east into Chuncheon, edging
into Rich's area, but Rich decided it was important to break out to the
south, taking Andong and Daegu to prevent Walt from hemming him in.
Anton still had space left up north, and he connected Anju and Sinuiju
to bring his city count to 6. Eric had to execute another wasteful jump,
taking Gangneung and Sokcho on the east coast just north of Rich's
area. Although Walt had just bought the #15 to increase his capacity,
he decided not to build, remaining at 5 cities and running the #26
plant in solo mode for the fourth straight turn.
The Round 6 auction was a short one, as none of us had the slightest
interest in any of the plants and we passed in order. We removed the
lowest-numbered plant and moved to the building phase. Charlie was
well and truly surrounded, and it would have cost him a fortune to add
to his 4 existing cities, so he passed. Walt was next to build, and he
showed no restraint whatsoever, building Jeonju, Gwangju, Naju and
(leaping over Rich) Gyeongju. This increased Walt's city count to 9,
allowed Walt to make full use of the #15 plant and guaranteed that
Phase 2 would begin. Once this happened, the rest of us skipped our
building opportunities in anticipation of cheaper connections next time.
Walt would earn more income than the rest of us, but the increase in
payout for your 7th, 8th and 9th cities isn't all that great and we could
afford to wait.
Better plants were available for Round 9. First up was the #25 coal
plant, which Walt put up for auction, thinking how nice it would look
next to the #26 he already owned. We all liked the looks of that plant,
and Walt had to pay $49 to buy it. This made Eric the auctioneer, and
he put the #28 nuclear plant up for auction. There was only one nuclear
plant in the game, the #34 Rich had bought way back in Round 4, and
the uranium price was all the way down to $1 on the South Korea map,
providing Rich with the cheapest power of any of us. Although the
capacity of the #28 plant is only 4, we liked the low prices and Anton
wound up bidding $36 to purchase it. This brought the #30 plant out,
and Eric put it up, expecting competition, but was delighted to get it
for list price. No one was running trash plants, and the fuel was cheap.
Rich and Charles were hoping another good plant would drop, but
a small plant came out instead and Rich took the #21 hybrid as Charles
passed in hope of a better option. It was not to be, and in fact Charles
had to settle for the #27 windmill, with its smallish 3-city capacity. Our
capacities were now 15 for Rich, enough to make it to the end of the game,
13 for Walt, 12 for Eric (who discarded the #16 rather than the #22 as a
money-saving move when he bought the #30,) 11 for Anton and only 10
Money was piling up in our treasuries, but money doesn't do you any good
if you can't buy the plants you need. Now that we could double up in a
city already connected by an opponent, Charles was free to expand. He
built Anyang, Yongin and Wonju to reach 7 cities. Rich added 4 cities,
Gangneung, Sokcho, Chuncheon and Seoul, to reach 9. Anton jumped
into the area where Charles started, taking Gaesung, Goyang and Incheon
to bring his total to 9 as well. Eric moved down the east coast into the
area originally claimed by Rich, building Donghae, Samcheok,
Taeraek and Andong to make his total 10. Walt had plenty of room
down south and added Ulsan to reach 10 as well, just the number for
his #25 and #26 plants to power.
After the spate of plant purchases in Round 7, it was back to recession
in Round 8 as nothing on offer was even as attractive as the #27 that
Charles had been forced to settle for last time. We all passed and again
tossed the lowest plant back into the box. It was still Phase 2, and it was
looking like someone (including Rich, who had the lead in capacity)
could build to 15 cities soon to end the game. Charles needed to add
cities, and he built Suwon, Cheongju and Daejeon to reach 10, the
most he could power. Anton built Ganggye, the last unconnected city
up in his bailiwick up north, and Rich added two in Gyeongju and Ulsan
to reach 11. Walt could power 13 cities, and he went for it, taking Jinju,
Daegu and Busan. Eric had power for 12, but declined to build, hoping
to get the big plant that would allow him to compete with Rich for the
In Round 9 we were still in Phase 2, and Walt was first to auction a
plant. Much to his chagrin, the best plant left was the #23, with a
capacity that only matched his #15, but with cheaper fuel. Walt bought
the #23, leaving his capacity at 13 cities. There were still no good plants,
but Rich didn't need a plant and passed, hoping his 15-city capacity
would be enough to win. Charles knew it was too late for him and he
passed, turning the auction over to Eric. The best plant was now the
#24 trash plant, which powers 4 cities, but it was 2 cities more than
Eric's #22 windmill, and he bought it, bringing his capacity to 14.
Now the #33 windmill dropped, but it too had only a 4-city capacity
and Anton was forced to settle for it, enabling him to power 13.
There's plenty of space on the Korea map, and it was clear that anyone
with enough money could find room to build. Anton added 3 cities to
reach his capacity and stopped building. Eric added 4 of his own and
he stopped as well at 14. Charles had no reason to build, as he could
not power more than the 10 cities he already had connected. Rich then
built to 15 cities, ending the suspense. Walt was last to build, and he
added 2 cities to reach 13, matching Anton.
Rich won this game by stepping up to buy the #34 nuclear plant early,
paying a healthy price, and with the game ending in Phase 2, none of
us could catch up to him.
Rich 15, Eric 14, Walt 13 + $116, Anton 13 + $22, Charles 10.
Eric's rating: 9. It's amazing how designer Friedemann Friese has
managed to keep the Power Grid/Funkenschlag franchise fresh and
new by adding little rule changes that make a big difference. There's
more variety now than there ever has been, and I'm happy to play a
game in this series every time we meet.
(Eric, Anton, Charles, Walt, Rich)
Have I ever mentioned that we play Power Grid quickly at MVGA? The
game was done and we still had time for another short game. Even Anton,
who normally has to leave early, was willing to stay as long as the game
we chose didn't take too long. We looked in our game closet for 5-player
games and selected Ra, an old favorite (and our second-hottest game whose
name begins with the letters "RA".)
In Epoch 1, Eric jumped in with his tiles early, scooping up a big set of
Pharaohs, a few non-irrigated Nile tiles, a few monuments and one
civilization tile. Everyone joked about the monopoly on Pharaohs, but
Eric was trying to discourage competitors, allowing him to focus on other
things. It was relatively tight at the end of Epoch 1 except for Charles,
who lost 2 points.
Epoch 2 was relatively short, but Eric saw some perfect lots, including
one that would have given him two sets of three like monuments. His
opponents simply had to step up with big suns to keep him from getting
these enormous lots, and this limited their ability to get what they
Rich made a great comeback in Epoch 3, building a huge monument
collection, but Eric sniped away with his small suns and also grabbed
some big suns for the endgame. The 5 VP for highest ending sun total
put him over the top in a game that resulted in large differences among
Final scores: Eric 51, Rich 46, Walt 36, Anton 25, Charles 14.
Eric's rating: 9. Like No Thanks!, Ra does feature a significant luck
element and the opportunity for one player to take actions that prevent
a second player from winning. These games also share a short playing
time that makes these features acceptable. I enjoy both games, but I
especially enjoy Ra, a game I've played 65 times since the start of 2002
and many times before that as well.