[SR] MVGA Holliston 2009-03-05
- 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.
Paul H., Eric, Anton, Rich, Charles, Dan
(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 = , [5-10], [13-14],  - 20 chips
Paul 21 = [31-34] - 10 chips
Rich 29 = [18-20], [23-24] - 12 chips
Eric 29 =  - 1 chip
Anton 44 = , , [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.
Charles 44, Rich 36, Anton 35.
Eric's rating: 7. I don't ask for this game, but I don't mind playing it.
(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
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.
WEB OF POWER
(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
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
Eric's rating: 8. I've already played Snow Tails nine times, and it's going
into my collection right next to Daytona 500.