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Session Report - Wednesday (1 Sep)

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  • Richard Pardoe
    Sterling arrived just before Dave to join Rich for an evening of games. However, in the few minutes between Sterling and Dave s arrival, the youngest member
    Message 1 of 4 , Sep 2, 2004
      Sterling arrived just before Dave to join Rich for an evening of
      games. However, in the few minutes between Sterling and Dave's
      arrival, the youngest member of the Tri-Valley Gamers (Sabrina, Rich's
      just turned 6 year old daughter) pulled out Blink!. Blink! is
      Out-of-the-Box's version of the Adlung-Spiele card game Speed.

      A deck of 60 symbol cards is evenly divided between 2 players. This
      forms each player's draw pile. The cards depicts from 1 to 5 pips.
      The pips can be crescents, triangles, stars, rain drops, flowers, or
      lighting bolts. Finally, each card is one of 5 colours. Each player
      places one card face up to start a discard pile. Three cards from
      each player's draw pile are taken into hand. Cards are discarded from
      the hand by matching 1 characteristic (colour, shape, or count) with
      the topmost card on either of the discard piles. As a result, the
      card with four yellow stars, can be played on any card with yellow
      symbols (matching colour) or on a card with any number of stars
      (matching shape), or on any card with 4 symbols of any kind (matching
      count). After a discard, each player then refills their hand back to
      3 from their draw pile. Gameplay is simultaneous, and the game is a
      simple race to see who can discard their cards first. Rich and
      Sabrina were battling neck and neck with the slight edge to Rich when
      the doorbell rang to announce Dave's arrival. As Rich answered the
      door, Sabrina finished her discards to win the game.

      In all seriousness, Blink! is a great game to play with youngsters as
      the initial split of cards can be adjusted to give the "faster" player
      more cards such that both players could finish in the same time. If
      nothing else, a great drill in pattern recognition, especially as the
      pattern matching shifts from card to card.

      Now that the evenings attendees had arrived, it was time to vote on
      the first game of the evening. The winner was Dos Rios. The variable
      game board depicts a mountain valley with a city at its lower end and
      the mountain peaks at the other end. Arising from the mountains and
      flowing to the lakes by the city are 2 rivers (hence the game title).
      Each player sends "campesinos" from the city in an attempt to build
      their 4 "casa" and 1 "hacienda" in the valley. The first person to do
      so is the winner of the game. Should a person get 3 casa and their 1
      hacienda built in hexes connected to either river, they can garner an
      "early victory" as that is the alternate victory condition.

      But it costs money to construct buildings. Players start with no
      funds, but can generated income by having campesino's in field hexes
      when those hexes get harvested. The fields up for harvest are
      determined by "harvest tiles" which are laid face up, so not only is
      the next harvest known, but also the following harvests. The rivers
      are the life of the valley as only hexes with water flowing through
      them can be harvested. Of course, not all can be tranquil in this
      valley. There is a limit to the number of campesino's allowed in a
      hex (2) and other players can force campesino's to leave their fields
      and return to town. An additional threat are the desperado's lurking
      in the mountains. When activated, they will swarm down the river
      forcing campesino's back to town. One advantage of the hacienda is to
      offer protection against these desperados.

      After a quick rules explanations and laying out the initial flows for
      the rivers, it was time for the players to get to work. The first
      turns were relatively mild as campesino's were placed in anticipation
      of gathering the upcoming harvest. The first harvest saw Dave collect
      1 dam and $300 as he had campesino's in 1 forest hex (lumber = dam)
      and 3 field hexes along the Rio Verde. Rich gather $400 from the 4
      field hexes his campesino's occupied. Dave then shuffled his
      campesino's to divert the river into a string of tobacco fields that
      were due to be harvested. As a result, Dave collected an additional
      $400 while Sterling finally gathered $100. This turn also saw the
      first desperado's storm down the Rio Verde to send 1 of Dave's and 2
      of Rich's campesinos back to town. Tobacco was especially abundant in
      the early going as the next harvest was again tobacco. Sterling
      managed to displace Dave's campesino's from one field to get $200 for
      this harvest, but Dave still got $300. Dave had a fairly large stack
      of money after the first 3 harvests.

      Rich was a distant second at this point and hadn't generated enough
      income to build his first casa. He managed to monopolize the first
      corn harvest to gain $400 while everyone else scored nothing. Dave
      spent his second turn to build his first house almost in the center of
      the valley. More importantly, it was next to a critical dam so the
      house would make it more difficult for others to divert the flow of
      water away from Dave's fields. Sterling also built his first house
      along the left side of the valley. Rich sent one of his campesino's
      to the mountain's foothills to dam Dave's river at the source and
      managed to divert the Rio Moreno from the central valley to the
      rightmost edge of the board.

      The harvests continued and the final set of desperados did not show up
      until the end of the first pass through the harvest cards. Dave
      continued to develop the central valley by building his hacienda
      there. Furthermore, Dave built an extensive dam network to make it
      much more difficult to redirect the river away from Dave's buildings.
      Sterling similarly was building along the Rio Verde on the left side
      of the valley. Dave's construction was fairly robust with 2 houses
      and 1 hacienda enjoying prime riverfront property along the Rio
      Moreno. Dave's diversion of the river had dried up Rich's fields.
      With little income in hand and less possible income to be generated,
      Rich had few options. As Dave had sufficient funds to purchase a
      third casa (and get the win if it were along the river), Rich built an
      extensive dam network just above Dave's dam network. This did manage
      to divert the river away from Dave. However, Rich needed about 6 dams
      to irrevocably divert the river away from Dave's hacienda, but with a
      hand limit of 5 dams, it was just not possible. Dave quickly
      redirected the river, built his 3rd casa and secured the win.

      I can see how others comment about the down-time between turns. This
      is a very tactical game. The river course oftern changes
      significantly between turns so one must maintain enough flexibility in
      plans to be reactive. Interestingly, I felt that the game was perhaps
      a bit too long for the gameplay involved, but a check of the clock
      when finished indicated that our game had lasted 90 minutes including
      rules explanation. So the game does play more quickly than it feels
      to be playing. But with 6 movement points per turn and builds limited
      only by money and resources (wood for dams), there can be quite a few
      options for each turn and a lot of analysis as a result. The game can
      play 2 to 4 players. Based on our play with 3, I can see the game
      being even more tactical if played with 4 as there are 3 opportunities
      to completely change the board before a player has their next turn.
      With 2, the game might be an interesting struggle of move,
      counter-move. 3 players seems to fall right in the middle. Looking
      at our game, one player developed one river (Dave=R.Moreno), the other
      player developed the other river (Sterling=R.Verde) leaving the 3rd
      (Rich) spread too thin to do much. This dynamic might change with 2
      or 4 players, but might be something to watch for on further playings.

      With a good hour of playing time left in the evening, we selected
      Drunter und Druber (Dos D's?) for the second game. This was the 1991
      winner of the Spiel des jahres and the 3rd SdJ for Klaus Teuber in 4
      years (1988, 1990, 1991) prior to his 1995 win for some little game
      about settlers on some little island called Catan. D&D (no, not that
      one, this one) is about a town that has been built but built a bit
      backwards. The key buildings (and lots of outhouses) are in place,
      but the roads, walls, or aquaducts have yet to be built. Four
      building crews stand ready at each corner of this rectangular town to
      build the necessary roads, walls, and aquaducts. Each player is
      randomly dealt a set of tiles depicting these items. Some tiles are
      length 1, some are length 2, and some are length 3. The roads, walls,
      or aquaducts are extended by laying the appropriate tile at the end of
      the development. As each player has a limited selection of tiles from
      which to choose, there is some tile management to maintain flexibility
      as the game progresses. If the tile is placed over an building, it is
      destroyed. Razing an key building is not an issue, but razing an
      outhouse requires a vote of the town people (players).

      Each player is dealt 3 yes, 3 no, 1 variable (yes or no), and 1
      abstention card. The yes and no cards vary in strength from 1 to 3
      points. When a vote is called, each player plays one of their vote
      cards face down. If there are more yes votes than no votes or an
      equal number of yes and no votes, the tile remains in place(*). If
      the no votes outnumber the yes votes, the tile is removed and the turn
      advanced to the next player. At the end of the voting, all cards
      (except the abstention card) are discarded, so out of all the possible
      votes (there are 14 outhouses on the board, but some might get voted
      repeatedly if the first vote is no), there are only 7 votes where a
      player's vote counts. Once those oppotunities are used, there is
      nothing a player can do to influence the voting.

      (*)Slight aside here. We had some discussion during the rules
      explanation about tied votes. Looking on the Geek, found the
      following, which confirms that we did in fact play with the correct
      rules:

      [q]
      The German rules state: “Ueberwiegen die Ja-Stimmen oder waren Nein-
      und Ja-Stimmen gleich stark, bleibt das Plaettchen ueber dem
      Toilettenhaeuschen liegen.”

      Which can be translated as: "If there are more Yes votes than No
      votes, or if there is an equal number of No and Yes votes, the tile
      remains in place (lit. covering the outhouse)."
      [/q]

      This seems to be missing from several English translations of the
      rules resulting in numerous variations about how to handle ties.

      Finally, each of the key buildings is numbered 1 through 5. Each
      player is secretly dealt one type of key building that is "their"
      building type. The winner of the game is the player with the most
      points (sum of numbers for their building type) still standing in the
      town (on the board) after all the possible tiles have been played. So
      in quick summary, the game combines development (placing tiles) with
      limited voting and an element of bluff (keeping your key building type
      secret as long as possible).

      The inital moves were a bit tentative as no one really knew who was
      trying to protect which building. After a few moves, the first
      building to be razed was the 1 point fire-house. As the pathways
      developed, the aquaduct was fairly limited to one edge of the board.
      The two walls seemed to head towards the center (where the 5 point
      buildings are located). The roadways seemed to stick to the other
      edge of the board. As the walls, started to destroy the the first
      couple of 5 point buildings, the others were quickly razed also so
      that no player would have a 5 point building by games end.

      As the game progressed, one wall and the aquaduct were "killed" in
      that their ends snaked into themselves leaving no possible route for
      further development. In the final stages of the game, there were 5
      points of firehouses and 5 points of museums remaining on the board.
      Dave attempted to lay a roadway toward the 1 point museum, but had to
      cross over an outhouse on the way. A quick vote of the townspeople
      (especially Rich) resulted in a no vote. Sterling then built a 3 tile
      roadway down which went in unopposed. At this point, Rich played a 1
      tile roadway which made it impossible with the remaining tiles to
      destry to 1 point museum. As no further destructive construction was
      possible, it was time to tally the points. The firehouses and museusm
      were still tied at 5. The clocktowers had 4 points on the board.
      Dave owned the clocktowers while Sterling owned the firehouses. No
      surprise that Rich owned the Museums (why else vote no to the previous
      roadway?) So in the end, Sterling and Rich tied for the win.

      Even with the win, I didn't feel much sense of control in the game.
      In the late stages, when the options were much more limited, I could
      sense some control and realized that no votes were important as they
      change the tempo of building. For example, I didn't want Dave to
      build the roadway as Sterling would destroy my museum. But I didn't
      care what Sterling built as I had the tile to counter his move. So
      the strong no allowed me to shift the roadway tempo from Dave to
      Sterling and perserved my share of the lead in the game. But this
      feeling of control existed only near the end of the game when the
      possibilities were more limited. In the beginning, there were too
      many possibilities, that the game felt almost random in its
      progression. I might have enjoyed something closer to the middle of
      the two extremes.

      As part of the post-game analysis, Dave raised an interesting point
      about D&D, this game is very much 1-on-1-on-1, but a move that hinders
      your opponent directly helps you. There is no sharing of results in
      the game. (Dave contrasted this with Dos Rios which is also
      1-on-1-on-1, but where river moves can help/hinder you and your
      opponent almost equally. Sterling needed cash, but his best move also
      gave cash to Dave.) Dave thought the variant rules where one has
      other "key buildings" - for example, all the 4 pont buildings - might
      be useful as now there might be two players seeking to preserve
      certain buildings. Just enough commonality of some goals to make the
      decisions more interesting. An interesting idea I would certainly
      encourage in the next playing of the game.

      So in the end, we played 3 games and had 4 winners. Interestingly,
      everyone won a game tonight. Can't be more egalitarian than that. A
      nice mix of games for the evening. Thanks everyone and I look forward
      to the next session.
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