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Game Session - 6 October - Session Report

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  • Richard Pardoe
    A quick overview - 4 games played in the available time, most (obviously) nice quick games. The only problem with quick games is that there is little time to
    Message 1 of 4 , Oct 6, 2004
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      A quick overview - 4 games played in the available time, most
      (obviously) nice quick games. The only problem with quick games is
      that there is little time to take detailed notes about the play, so I
      hope the report below can do justice to our efforts tonight.

      Sterling was the first to arrive. As we were expecting Dave shortly,
      we tried to decide what quick game to play. Sterling noticed 10 Days
      in the USA and suggested that it would fill up the few minutes while
      waiting for Dave.

      We last played the closely related game 10 Days in Africa back on July
      14, so for those unfamiliar with the game play, I will refer you to
      the session report:
      (Yes, I know I got the subject line wrong.)

      The main differences in 10 Days in the USA are that each state is
      represented by only 1 tile and some special rules for handling Hawai'i
      and Alaska. The first limits the interconnectivity of possible
      routes. The doubles countries in the Africa version do allow for more
      options. Alaska and Hawai'i are both coloured purple and can only be
      reached by air travel. However, there are no purple airlines.
      Instead, they act as wild card destinations from valid air travel
      legs. For example: Arizona (Orange) - Orange airplane - Alaska -
      Yellow airplane - New York (yellow).

      Sterling and I had set up our racks the same way we had always done -
      Bohnanza style where the first 10 tiles are drawn and placed in the
      rack in the order drawn. No sooner had we set up our initial racks
      when there was a knock on the door and Dave joined and the 2 player
      game quickly became a 3 player game of 10 Days in the USA. We noticed
      that Dave filled his rack by viewing the tiles and then selecting
      where in the rack to place the tile. We called Dave on his set-up,
      but a quick review of the rules revealed that Rich (and by extension
      Sterling) had always played the initial set-up incorrectly. As Rich
      and Sterling had their racks set-up, Dave went with our "forced hand"
      order and play began.

      The game plays fairly quickly and was over in 20 minutes with Dave
      winning by picking up the green airplane Rich had just discarded.
      Rich at that point needed only 2 tiles to complete his journey (a car
      and a yellow airline) while Sterling needed any one of 4 states along
      the lower end of the Mississippi river.

      Even thought the geography in USA is more familiar than the geography
      in Africa, the game play is certainly a bit more difficult. With only
      1 of each state represented, it is even more critical to watch where
      others might be planning their journey so as to avoid conflicts of
      looking for the same tiles. Also, with 3 people, there is more chance
      that a desired tile in the discard stacks will be covered by either of
      the other players making it more difficult to pick up tiles discarded
      by the person to your left.

      If one had to choose between USA and Africa as the sole representative
      of this game style in their collection, I would recommend Africa for
      those who prefer lighter, perhaps a tad easier games as the countries
      are a bit more interconnected in Africa. I would recommend USA for
      those who prefer a bit more tactical game as it is a bit more
      difficult to travel around the USA.

      Prior to playing 10 Days in the USA, Rich had noticed Cafe
      International in Sterling's box and had expressed some interest in
      trying this game. Dave was agreeable with the suggestion, so we
      started to set up this 1989 winner of the Spiel des Jahres.

      The game depicts a the many tables in an international cafe. Each
      player represents a Maitre D' attempting to seat guests (tiles) in
      the restaurant (game board). Each guest represents one of 12 nations.
      Each table has 4 chairs around it and only nationals identified on the
      table can sit around that table. Some chairs border between two
      tables and can seat nationals from either country. As a further
      restriction, each nationals is either male or female, and the seating
      requirements are that there must be either be an even number of
      male/female guests at each table or no more than 1 additional person
      of either gender. Thus a table may have 2 males and 1 female seated
      at it, but cannot have 2 males.

      On a players turn, they must place 1 or 2 tiles (guests) from their
      hand at an available open seat (keeping in mind the national and
      gender restrictions). Each guest seated scores points depending on
      the number of guests now seated around the table. Should all the
      guests be from a single nation, the points scored are double. After
      seating guests, each player draws tile back up to their hand limit.

      Each player starts with 5 tiles in their hand. However, should they
      seat a 4th guest at a table and all other guests at the table are of
      the same nationality, not only does the player score double points,
      but they do not replace the just played tile reducing their hand limit
      by 1. Tiles still in hand at games end score -5 points.

      If a person cannot seat any of their tiles at an available seat, the
      tile may be placed at the "bar" in the middle of the restaurant. The
      first few seats at the bar are worth positive points, but the 6th
      through 20th seats are negative points for the player.

      The game ends as soon as the bar is completely occupied, or all the
      chairs around tables are occupied, or their are only 4 tiles in the
      draw bag, or a player reduces their hand limit to 0 (having completed
      5 single nation tables of 4).

      Sterling quickly explained the rules in about 10 minutes and we began
      to play. Scoring was rather moderate, but soon picked up as guests
      seated at the intersection of 2 tables scored for both groups. Dave
      was the first to complete a nation's table reducing his hand size to 4
      and then to 3. A few turns later, Rich completed another table to
      reduce his hand size to 4. By about the mid-point in the game, the
      scores were relatively close: 63-55-72. Dave did start off a bit
      slower than Rich and Sterling, but his complete tables helped him
      catch up. The scores continued to climb until about 3/4 of the way
      through the game. Rich had reached 110 as a result of some 13 point
      and 14 point combined table scoring. Similarly, Sterling had reached
      121 points by closing a couple of nation's tables. Dave had reached
      69 points finding it difficult to place his guests in high scoring
      combinations. But at this point, it was getting harder to find seats
      and there were plenty of seats at the bar. Rich and Sterling found
      themselves with guests and no available open seat so started to place
      guests in the negative seats at the bar. Dave did seat some guests at
      the bar, but could also keep seating guests in the cafe, so could
      reach a peak score of 79. The game came down to needing a single
      gentlemen from India to close the last table, but no one had such a
      player in their hands. Guests were placed at the bar (reducing score)
      until such a tile was drawn. Finally, the last seat at the bar was
      filled just before Rich was able to play that last seat.

      After subtracting for tiles in hand, Rich had 59 points, Dave had 62
      points, and Sterling had 60 points. Slow, but steady scoring with a
      minimum of negative points gives Dave the win. Rich and Sterling had
      peaked early, but probably limited their endgame play resulting in
      many negatives. After the 10 minutes for rules explanation, the game
      was played in about 45 minutes.

      Given that the Spiel de Jahre is trying to reward games that a family
      can enjoy and play relatively quickly, I can certainly see why this
      game might receive the award. It is an easy to learn game, with some
      analysis that can be played quickly. The luck of the tile draw is a
      large factor in the game. It is hard to do anything while open seats
      are available for one nation and your rack is full of every other
      nation. As the final scores show, the game seems to self-balance and
      bring the scores relatively close. One certainly needs to think a bit
      ahead in the endgame to keep moves open to avoid the negative costs at
      the bar. Sometimes it makes more sense to play 1 tile per turn to
      preserve play options for the next turn rather than to play 2 tiles
      and hope that an opportunity presents itself.

      With time still left in the evening, we let Dave have the next
      decision for games. He brought out Hornochsen (a game Rich had
      expressed interest in) and Monkeys on the Moon. A flip of the coin
      later, and Hornochsen was being explained.

      Hornochsen is a card game wherein the cards are numbered 1 through 98.
      Each player (for a 3 player game) is dealt 12 cards and 9 cards are
      laid in a circle on the table. A player may play 1 - 3 cards from
      their hand to the table. A card played from the hand is played on the
      highest card that is less than the number of the card played. If all
      the cards are higher than the card played, the card is then just
      played on the highest card. This has the effect of making the numbers
      circular in that card #1 follows card #98 in "sequence". The trick is
      that as soon as the 5th card is played on a stack, the player takes
      that entire stack. In addition to the number of the card, each card
      has either positive or negative scoring points, so players hope to
      take stacks worth positive points and force stacks with negative
      points on their opponents. Each player has 2 "special cards" a x2
      multiplier and a +5 bonus. The x2 doubles the positive and negative
      points of the taken cards. The +5 simply adds 5 points. These
      special cards do not count towards the 5 card limit of a stack and
      special cards remaining in hand at games end are worth -10 points.

      Players familiar with 6 Nimmt! will notice some similarity with that
      game which is not surprising as Hornochsen is a derivative of that
      game. Certain changes make it more of a thinking game than 6 Nimmt!.
      First is the sequential card play instead of the simultaneous play of
      6 Nimmt!. In addition, the ability to play 1, 2, or 3 cards does
      allow players to attempt to capture positive stacks in a single play.
      If you counted the cards in play for the 3 players game (12 in hand x
      3 + 9 initial = 45), all the cards will be collected. So the last
      person playing will just get all the cards remaining on the table.
      Another nice change is the circular sequence. A high stack now might
      become the low stack if the appropriate low card is played on it.

      We played a single round of the game with Dave going out relatively
      early (scoring 14 points). Rich was down to a couple of cards.
      Instead of going out to leave all the cards to Sterling, he got a bit
      greedy trying to see if a stack could be had for additional points.
      Having a choice of 2 cards, he played the low card. After Sterling's
      play, the only stack left to Rich was one full of negative points, so
      Rich captured that and just barely stayed positive with 4 points.
      Sterling picked up the balance of the cards to score a rather healthy

      I am glad I tried this game as it takes all the things I like about 6
      Nimmt! and removes some of the randomness that I feel with 6 Nimmt!.
      I will admit, I might not be very good at 6 Nimmt! as others seem to
      win more consistently, but Hornochsen gives me more of a feeling of
      control over the cards and card play. I will definitely be looking to
      play this game again in the future.

      Believe it or not, we still had time left. Not enough time to play
      Monkeys on the Moon, so Rich suggested Fetter Autos. I had been
      curious to try the game and Dave had also expressed curiosity about
      this game also. This is a racing games where the cars are controlled
      by cards. But it is not a racing game where one is moving down the
      track, instead one is jockeying for position (1 ~ 7) in the race.
      After all, final position is really the only thing that counts in a
      race. There are some good detailed descriptions of game play at
      BoardGameGeek (e.g.. http://www.boardgamegeek.com/article/8156) so I
      will give only a quick overview. A series of cards representing the
      race track is laid out. These can be straight track (no speed limit)
      or curves (with a speed limit). Each car's speed is determined by the
      sum of 3 tempo cards laid out in front of the player. At the start of
      a turn, course hazards might randomly change one of the 3 cards.
      After navigating the hazards, players can then accelerate/decelerate
      (replace one of the face up cards with a card from their hand). If
      they are over the speed limit in a curve, they must pay chips or
      perform emergency braking. (Chips are earned by matching symbols on
      tempo cards with hazards on the track). After this phase, players now
      attempt to overtake the car ahead of them. This is done by having a
      higher speed than the car in front of you. The chips that are used to
      navigate the speed limits can also be used to temporarily boost the
      speed of each car, so there is a bit of bluff in the driving.

      The attentive reader will have noticed that there are 7 positions in
      the race. In addition to the player's cars, the other slots are
      filled with "old pros" who have mechanistic, but poker flavoured
      method for determining their speed when players attempt to pass. 2
      tempo cards are revealed. The player then decides how many (if any)
      chips to stake before a final tempo cards is revealed.

      The race track laid out for tonight's race was a twisty course with
      only 2 straight sections (section 5 and 8). The other 6 sections were
      all curves. Therefore, all the racers were battling speed limits and
      managing their chips. In the first half of the race (first 4 turns),
      Dave managed to gain 1 position per turn to move from 6th to 2nd.
      Sterling had started last but made it up 4th, before executing a nice
      2 car pass in the final curve before the straight away to get to 2nd.
      Rich had been quickly passed (dropping from 6th to 7th), but did
      manage to get back to 5th passing a couple of old pros.

      At the first straight away, Rich thought he could finally make a move
      and played high cards to get his speed up quickly. Unfortunately for
      Rich, the old pros were just a bit faster and they quickly passed Rich
      once again. At the front of the race, Dave moved into the lead,
      passing Sterling and the final old pro. After 5 track sections (of
      8), Dave was in the lead, Sterling in 3rd, and Rich in 6th.

      The next few curves saw rapid reductions in speed as the cars
      struggled to maintain their position before the final straight away to
      the checkered flag. Rich did manage to gain one spot to 5th place,
      but a final burst of speed saw Sterling fly past Dave to capture the
      checkered flag.

      Fette Autos is one of those games that looks complex while reading the
      rules, but once played, is not that complicated. The first few rounds
      were spent feeling the system out, but with practice the later rounds
      went much more quickly. The game has advantages in that it can play
      up to 7 (with no old pros) and even solitaire (with 6 old pros).
      There is a mix of hand management and seeing the course ahead to
      anticipate the cards you wish to play to both get chips and to
      gain/maintain speed. I feel that this game was a learning game and I
      would like to play a few more games just to get a better feel for the
      game. Right now this game feels somewhere between "OK" and "Good"
      just need a few more plays to decide which one is appropriate for this

      So in countdown fashion, we played:

      4 games of which
      3 were new to all resulting in
      2 double winners (Sterling and Dave) making for
      1 enjoyable evening and a rather longish session report.
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