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[SR] MVGA Holliston 2009-03-05

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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 , Mar 22, 2009
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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.

      Roll call:
      Paul H., Eric, Anton, Rich, Charles, Dan

      NO THANKS!
      (Paul H., Eric, Anton, Rich, Charles)

      We've been getting stronger attendance in
      recent weeks, and one reason is that we've
      added a new regular---Charles. He's been
      able to stop by most weeks recently, and
      even one additional person adds a lot of

      This week we needed a quick starter for 5,
      and with one or two people lukewarm about
      Race for the Galaxy, we settled instead on
      No Thanks! (or, as it's called in German,
      Geschenkt.) This is a mind-bending little
      auction game in which you pay to make the
      pain go away, at least for the moment, and
      you collect all the previous bids when you
      finally take a "pain" card. The trick is
      that you can join two or more cards in a
      sequence and only eat the lowest-numbered
      card, a fact you can take advantage of by
      letting others pay for a while before you
      take the card for a nice reward.

      In this game, Charles grabbed a collection of the smaller cards early on and
      kept adding to it, taking a chip here and a chip there. At the end he still
      had to eat four low-ish cards, but he also had 20 chips to soften the blow.
      Paul was stuck with only one point-generating card, but it was a big one and
      he had only 10 chips.

      Final scores (low is better):

      Charles 17 = [3], [5-10], [13-14], [16] - 20 chips
      Paul 21 = [31-34] - 10 chips
      Rich 29 = [18-20], [23-24] - 12 chips
      Eric 29 = [30] - 1 chip
      Anton 44 = [4], [25], [27-28] - 12 chips

      Eric's rating: 7. This is a game with plenty of luck (principally from
      which 9 cards are randomly removed from the deck at the start,) but it's
      quick and has plenty of decisions. It also seems to confound attempts to do
      an exact mathematical analysis.

      (Anton, Rich, Charles)

      Dan came in as we were finishing No Thanks! and when the game was over we split
      into two groups of 3, playing a pair of Uwe Rosenberg games. One group played
      Agricola, the current BoardGameGeek #1 game.

      Charles focused on animal husbandry with the help of some cards that gave him
      advantages in this area. He maxed out all three of the animal categories and
      won by a fairly comfortable margin over the other two.

      Final scores:

      Charles 44, Rich 36, Anton 35.

      Eric's rating: 7. I don't ask for this game, but I don't mind playing it.

      LE HAVRE
      (Paul, Eric, Dan)

      The other group of 3 played the more recent Rosenberg game Le Havre, which has
      some similarities with Agricola although it is set in a French port city with
      a more sophisticated financial system than the farm region of Agricola (they
      have invented the loan!)

      Dan had played the game a few weeks earlier, and Paul wanted to learn, so we
      had a group of 3. It's a game that moves along relatively well once you get
      used to it, but it's intricate and it can be disorienting at first. You also
      need to understand what the various buildings do before you can really plan an
      optimal strategy, and with many of the buildings on the other side of the table
      in front of your opponents, it's a game that you feel more comfortable with
      after a few playings.

      In this game Eric took a few loans early while his opponents strove to stay out
      of debt. I emphasize when I'm teaching the game that loans are not disastrous
      like begging cards in Agricola, and that they can even give the borrower an
      advantage, but I've found that beginners seem reluctant to take them. The
      problem is that you need to take a lot of fish to avoid loans in the early
      going, and I'm not usually willing to take as small a pile of fish as my
      opponents are. Eric also worked hard to build Iron and Steel ships to help
      feed his people and take full advantage of the Shipping LIne later in the

      Final scores:

      Eric 243 = 59 francs + 90 in buildings + 78 in ships + 16 bonus
      Dan 188 = 36 francs + 106 in buildings + 46 in ships
      Paul 62 = 14 francs + 32 in buildings + 16 in ships

      Eric's rating: 8. It remains to be seen whether Le Havre will eventually
      become stereotyped, given the fact that most of the buildings come out in
      close to the same order each game, but I've played 12 times already and am
      still enjoying it, so I've gotten my money's worth already.

      (Anton, Rich, Charles)

      Agricola finished some time before Le Havre, so the Agricola players moved on
      to a game of Web of Power, a perennial MVGA favorite. In this game, Rich got
      a dominant position in Frankreich and rode that to victory. It's odd; in some
      games people seem to avoid Frankreich, perhaps for fear of giving opponents an
      opening, but in other games they rush right in.

      Final scores: Rich 65, Charles 57, Anton 51.

      Eric's rating: 9. Sure, there's luck in the cards, but you can watch the
      cards, seeing what everyone picks up and what cards haven't shown up much, and
      this provides information (though not perfect information) on which to base
      your decisions. It's also a game that plays in 25 minutes, yet does not feel
      like a filler.

      (Paul H., Eric, Rich, Dan)

      The Fragor Brothers (Gordon and Fraser Lamont) have been publishing a game
      each year since 2004. Although they are a small operation, their games don't
      lack for cool bits, especially Hameln, which comes with an adorable cat and
      a set of adorable rats. I played the first three games---Leapfrog, Shear Panic
      and Hameln---and while I admired the ingenuity of the designs, I didn't like
      any of them enough to buy them. I haven't played Antler Island, the 2007
      design, but I had the chance to try Snow Tails, the most recent game in the
      line, during my year-end holiday gaming. Snow Tails is a significant
      departure from the others I've tried---it has more conventional (and less
      spectacular, though very nice) bits, but more importantly it's an excellent
      race game. I placed an order at Gamesurplus as soon as they had it in stock.

      I'm not a huge race game fan. Race games must navigate the narrow gap between
      the Scylla of excessive randomness and the Charybdis of analysis paralysis. I
      enjoy Daytona 500 (in which the cards you play move your opponents' cars too)
      and Royal Turf (in which you roll a die but get to choose which horse to use
      it on,) but there are many other race games I'd be happy not to play again.

      Snow Tails hits the spot perfectly, allowing some degree of planning by giving
      you a hand of cards you use to move your dogsled, redrawing at the end of your
      turn. The cards are numbered from 1 to 5, and at any moment you have
      two cards for your two dogs and one for your brake, with the speed of your
      sled being equal to the sum of your dogs minus the brake. On your turn, you
      *must* play a card to the left dog, the right dog, or the brake, and you may
      then play 1 or 2 additional cards to one or both of the other spots, as long
      as the additional cards have the same number as the first. (I guess you can
      yell "Faster!" or "Slower!" to one dog, or to both dogs, but you can't yell
      "Faster!" to one and "Slower!" to the other at the same time.)

      The track is laid out in lanes, with spaces in each lane and fewer spaces on
      the inside of the curves, just as in so many other race games, but Snow Tails
      introduces a brilliant innovation to the time-worn race game track. In this
      game, the lanes do not follow the curves in the track perfectly; they run
      off the edge of the board at the curves. This means you must change lanes
      in the curves to avoid crashing. To change lanes you play a higher card on
      one dog space than on the other, causing your sled to drift to the left or
      to the right, and, if things work right, keeping you on the course as you
      barrel around those curves.

      The limitations on the card play together with the way the lanes run off the
      sides of the track at the curves provide just the right amount of control---or
      lack thereof---for a race game. The fact that the drifting is what you expect
      in a dogsled racing game is just icing on the cake. Another ingenious feature
      of this game is the "dent" cards you draw when you run into an obstacle or
      enter a corner at an unsafe speed. These cards cannot be played, but they
      fill up your hand, so a player with a dent who draws enough cards to hold five
      cards really only has a 4-card hand and reduced flexibility. Sometimes it's
      worth taking a dent to gain a positional advantage, and sometimes you can't
      avoid taking one, but it's another simple, thematic mechanism used in this
      outstanding game.

      In this game the 4 racers had some jostling right at the start of the game,
      and Eric took advantage of his edge in experience to pull out to a comfortable
      lead, which he was able to maintain and extend, winning by a significant

      Winner: Eric

      Eric's rating: 8. I've already played Snow Tails nine times, and it's going
      into my collection right next to Daytona 500.

      Eric Brosius
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