html> Friends Over Gaming: October 2005

Saturday, October 22


FOG: session two

Power Grid
Rogan and Sue were over Friday evening and we had time for one longer game, with a firm closing time of 11 PM. We decided to play somthing new and selected PowerGrid, which I had played once before with the WAGS group in Toronto. Power Grid is a game about spending efficiently to maximize your gains each turn. Players represent utility companies, buying power plants at auction(ranging from coal, oil, trash, nuclear, to green sources like wind and fusion), purchasing fuel resources to power their plants plus building up service networks on the board representing the cities to which they will eventually be supplying power. All of these actions cost money, which players receive through income received based on the number of cities to which a player successfully provides power. To win a player needs to provide power to the most cities when the game end conditions are met (one player creating a utility network of 17 cities). Now that description itself may not make you want to jump up and play, but we certainly had a great time none with Power Grid and are looking forward to playing again soon...Hopefully this weekend. Our playing did suffer a bit from the fiddilyness of the mechanics. I know we messed up on eliminating plants from the market several times. which added turns to the game between step 2 and 3. When 11PM rolled around everyone was so into the game that we had to keep going, finishing at midnight. I have since downloaded player aids from the Geek to provide helpful reminders as we become more comfortable with the turn to turn upkeep. This playing suffered a bit from a runaway leader scenario, but I think my previous play contributed to the situation and don't expect a repeat now that we all have a game under our belt.
My Rating: 8


A few more games played...

During the last GamesDay Jonathan had graciously extended an invitation to me to join him and the other Left Coast Gamers at his home. Luckily my work load and travel schedule had me in town this week and available so I made the drive to the Valley for a weeknight of gaming. This was a rare treat for me as between work and familial duties games are hard to squeeze in on weeknights.

I arrived at 7:30, in time to join an opener of Taboo, with what grew to two teams of 5. We played two rounds. Dave quickly introduced the game to those who had not yet played before. It is actually quite simple. The object is to get your team to guess a word without you using any restricted words from a list of 5 on a a card. You have one minute to get your team to guess as many word cards within the time limit. With the house variant, correct guesses are +2 points, saying a restricted word clue is -1 point and passing on a card is -1 point (I think). Word restrictions include any portion or form of the restricted words or the word to be guessed. Dave ended his explanation by saying that some nights he is off and some nights he is spectacular. Well tonight he was spectacular, as he scored 12 points in 1 minute. Some memorable clue sets were:

(for 'green')
Kermit is... [a frog]
...and they are...[green]

(for 'rose')
This by any other name... [rose]

Those who know me know that my brain stagnates with words so, as you can guess, I did fairly poorly with providing clues. I was better at guessing. My best show for giving clues was 5 right, but with one word violation so I only netted 4 points for our team. Surprisingly, I enjoyed Taboo. Plus, I could probably do myself some good by playing more. It sure can't hurt! I'm picking this one up from a fellow BGG'er at BGG.Con in a couple weeks.
My Rating: 8

We next broke into two groups, one playing Riddles & Riches, a game Dave won from solving a contest at R & R games. I was looking forward to an opportunity to play something meaty and joined in for a 5 player game of Wallenstein. This was also a new play for me. Jonathan brushed up on the rules as he explained them to the group and we were set to go. Wallenstein is sometimes described as a blend between a EuroGame and a WarGame, though to me it still felt strongly like a EuroGame. Sure there are some battles and conflicts, but the action selection mechanics and goals of achieving majorities were the driving component of the game for me. I especially enjoyed the mechanic of having a collection of actions which players assign to their various regions and which are then executed in an order that is half known and half unknown. It seems to consolidate the analysis into a simultaneous event leaving a much smaller decision tree available should things change before a player gets to execute their action. The cube tower is just a novelty, but it works nicely. Our game did suffer from everyone bashing the leader of the first scoring round, and with only two scoring rounds, this was fatal for that player. Jonathan came up from behind (third) to win. Dave stopped by as we were finishing and commented that our experience highlighted the downfall of Wallenstein, that it's hard to win if you are in first place after the first scoring. Going in knowing that, I think players could use that as a component of their strategy, establishing a strong base in the first round and then maximizing scores in the second. I demand a rematch!
My rating: 7

Edel, Stein & Reich
We ended with a 4 player game of Edel, Stein & Reich, a gem bartering game in which the richest trader wins. At it's core Edel, Stein & Reich is a semi-blind bidding game in which players have the choice of three actions: take money, gems, or an event card. If only one person selects an action they get to take it freely. If two people select the same action however they must barter with their gems to determine who takes the action, with the other player receiving the gems offered. If three or more select the same action then none get it and they effectively lose their turn. Edel, Stein & Reich plays quickly and simply with two angst moments, the semi-blind bid and the gem bartering. At three points in the game the gem majorities are scored and bonus money is distributed. In the end only money matters but along the way players need gems to win majorities. In the semi-blind bidding each player is bidding on a different set of choices printed on a card delt to them face up prior to bidding. Players can then use this information to deduce which actions the others are likely to take and thus which are safe for them, if it weren't for doublethink and secondguessing. In this game I started with a solid gem collection but lost my majorities on the closing bid of the round. That left me in good position for round two in which I could concentrate more closely on money. In the end scores were close and I won by one point.
My rating: 7

Sunday, October 16


SoCal GamesDay

SoCal Games Day 23 is this weekend, October 15, 10am to 11pm in Burbank.
What's that, you ask?
It's a full day of playing board games with others from across the Los Angeles area and a great way to discover new games and play with lots of great people. Hosted about 5 times a year, recent events have drawn 80 to 100+ people with their game collections in tow, resulting in a multitude of gaming options. Its how I became hooked on the hobby back at SCGD10 and how I have discovered many of my favorite games now in my collection. New attendees are always welcome, so if you can make it I encourage your to come...I think it's worth the drive. The next Games Day will likely be in January.
Post event update:
Other obligations kept me from the full day event, but I did get in 4 hours of games none-the-less.

The first game played was Carcassonne with the river and first expansion. I played with Daniel and his teenage daughter, Erin(?). It has been some time since I have played Carcassonne. It is a game I think is best played with fewer players, allowing for more tile draws to mitigate some of the luck-of-the-draw (though sometimes that only exacerbates it!). Now, I find that Carcassonne is a game that can be played several ways, varying from passive/cooperative to more aggressive/invasive especially in two player games. In three player games, if two players get into aggressive take-that type of back and forth play, the third player can often walk away with the win. Not knowing what to expect, I decided to play a fairly neutral game, looking to create co-operative potential with both players to ultimately end up ahead of both. At the start of the game Daniel went quickly for several farmers, while his daughter started a couple cities, both outside of Daniel's fields. I staked out a farmer adjacent those cities and was soon able to start a third in what were my fields at the time. As the game progressed I began to play more aggressively by moving in on each of my opponents cities. One Erin and I cooperatively completed for big points, while Daniel fought to regain a majority in the other city, but doomed it by creating a difficult final tile play situation which he was ultimately unable to complete. I then switched over to reinforcing my farmer and maximizing the city development in my fields. In the end this proved enough for a win, with Erin not too far behind.
Rating: 7

Age of Steam:
My second game was one I had hopes of playing, but had resigned that I wouldn’t get the chance. Jonathan D. was planning on playing a number of Martin Wallace's games at this GamesDay and had earlier requested people to sign-up to express interest. I didn't sign up for fear that my outside commitments might conflict with the play times, and then come Saturday morning the game sign-up was full. Now fast-forward to the end of my Carcassonne game and the simultaneous preparations to start of Age of Steam...Jonathan's opponents were absent so I and for others stepped in to play. We were six total, 3 new to the game, 2 that had played once, and Jonathan with multiple games under his belt (but on maps other than the one we were to play...Germany.). Jonathan took the time to extensively explain the rules, which is critical to more complex games such as Age of Steam. Some at the table were chomping at the bit to just start playing and learn as we go, but I for one was glad that Jonathan persisted with his explanation of all key components plus the unique rules associated with Germany. Age of Steam is primarily an economics game with a very tight money supply, where efficient planning and balancing of your income and expenses is critical. but it is also a connection goods delivery train game, where players are trying to build routes connecting cities across the map to link cities producing a good with the cities consuming the same good (plus an auction for turn order and special action selection). I found Age of Steam to be just what I was hoping for...a real thinking game with depth and room for long term planning. Although in this first game I was really only operating at the level of short term tactics, by my mid-game I began to see how all the pieces were fitting together and discovering future possibilities. There is a lot of thinking to be done on one's turn (the only fear I have of bringing this one home) and the game is certainly not short (our play clocked in at a bit over 3 hours after the rules explanation), but I felt engaged throughout. This is definitely one I want to play again.
Rating: 9

And with that my time at the 23rd Games Day was over but we did find time for a few games with my family and some family friends in from out-of-town. Before the weekend was over we had played Category 5, Ticket to Ride, and Finstere Fleure (the kids also got a quick game of Klondike in, but that session seemed to emphasize flaws in either the game or my explanation, I'll have to investigate further to decide which). Anyway, our guests, Amy and her children, David and Lucy were new to EuroGames but certainly took to them quite quickly. Lucy was especially eager to continue playing and was always asking to start a game whenever we had a break between other activities. I wish our schedule had allowed for it as I would have enjoyed that as well.
In our Category 5 game Reanna struggled with the 'help' offered by mom during and felt that, in the end, she would have done better off following her own judgment. That is probably true as she ended up with over 40 points in one round to Maria's 1 (a little suspicious, one might think...). All three newcomers caught on quite quickly to the card-play and appreciated the game.
After dinner Sunday, James and I introduced David and Lucy to Ticket to Ride. Once again they both caught on quickly and asked the right questions during my rules explanation, so I could tell they were attentive and ready to go. I went for a string of long routes, as from three separate ticket draws the longest route I could muster was an 11 point connection to Pittsburgh. James and Lucy both had long continuous routes going which linked their ticket routes efficiently (James completing three, with 2 at 20+ points each, and Lucy completing all but one, but getting the 10 point route bonus to compensate) David connected all of his routes as well, but his were shorter like mine. Back to me, well, the game ended before I could get the train card draw I needed for my last (critical) route-link and I missed out on 2 of my four routes. I was impressed by Lucy's play she seemed to grasp the end-game very well and pushed hard to end the game quick once she had completed the routes that were possible (she got shut out on one route and simply couldn't make the connection). In the end, James won with his big routes, but Lucy was close behind. I came in third thanks of my string of 6 train routes (my ticket scores left me in negative territory), and David suffered from his low point routes and shorter links. Both Lucy and David were very impressed by Ticket To Ride and wanted to know where we had got it. Sounds like we just found some new EuroGamers for the Bay Area.

Wednesday, October 12


Why I play

Wolfgang Kramer (designer of Tikal, Torres, El Grande, Princes of Florence, 6 Nimmt...) ended an interview with Tom Vasel with the following:

"Board games are a bridge which brings people together. Playing games is jogging for our mind; it is freedom, event, adventure, discovery, fun and challenge. Board games are like real life, but they have nothing to do with real life, because all that does happen happens only in the game. Reality is serious; playing is the opposite of it; it is pleasure."

Mr. Kramer has beautifully encapsulated why I so enjoy EuroGames. I guess it is no wonder I am particularly fond of his creations.

Sunday, October 9


Game Night!

Rumis is a 3 dimensional puzzle played on a playing board which defines the boundaries and height limitations for playing stones. The stones are 3D tetris-like pieces. Each player has a common set of 10 stones and the players take turns placing their stones on the board with the objective of maximizing the visibility of their color visible when viewed from above. All stones must be played adjacent to other placed stones and the stones of one color must always be played such that they touch their color. Rogan (blue), Sue (red), and I (green) played the board titled Coricancha, which forms a ziggurat. I played first with an L shaped piece along the midpoint of one edge. Sue mirrored my move on one side and Rogan followed with a similar move on the other. I struggled up the middle of the board and eventually broke free on the far edge and gained some ground for myself, but both Rogan and Sue grabbed corner territories on either side of me. Rogan was more expansionist in his approach, going for the 1 and 2 height limit edges, while Sue staked out her territory and defended it at the edges by building to the height limitations to prevent intruders. In the end, this proved to be a winning strategy, as Sue successfully played all her pieces and maintained a large footprint while Rogan and I were left holding unplayable stones. Final scores: Sue 22 points, Rogan 21-2=19, Jeff 19-1=18.
Jeff: Rumis is a great simple game. The task at hand is simple in concept but one that I still seem to struggle with. I know what I am supposed to do but just can't execute. It plays fast amnd I am always willing to play.
My Rating: 8

Next up was Clocktowers by Allen Moon and Aaron Weissblum, where players compete to build the most clock towers before the cards run out. Towers consist of three components: tower floors, a clock, and a roof, each represented by cards. The tower cards are one or two floors tall and the roofs come in five different colors. Some of the tower floors and clocks are also inhabited by mice or cats, which determine the scoring for completed towers. Card-play is simple: starting with a hand of three cards, players play a card onto an existing tower or start a new one (or discard) and then draw a new card to retain a hand of three cards. The card drawn is from a choice of three face up card stacks: a roof, a clock, or a floor card. A completed tower consists of a number of floors topped with a clock and a colored roof. The first completed tower in each color can only be a one or two floor tower and each subsequent tower built in that color by any player must be one floor higher than the previous. Tower building continues until all cards are played or discarded and the towers are scored. 5 points are awarded for animal free towers, 4 points for towers with cats, 3 points with cast and mice, and 2 points with only mice. Tower heights do not impact scores but do come into play in tie-breaker situations. In our construction efforts, Maria diversified early by starting multiple towers bases with hopes of completing them as needed. Sue and I played a similar game but only had three towers going to Maria's four. Rogan had three towers going, but overbuilt in height which left him waiting to close one tower. Tower floors ran out first and everyone had unfinished towers to try and close as the other piles ran dry. In the final turn Maria Sue and I all had one tower to cap. Mine required Maria to cap her three high tower in blue and for Sue not to follow with her four high in blue. Luckily that is how the cards fell and I completed my final tower and squeaked out the win. In the end our scores were: Jeff 11 with 3 towers (5+3+3), Maria 10 with 3 towers (4+3+3), Sue 8 with 2 towers (5+3), and Rogan 6 with 2 towers (3+3).
Jeff: Clocktowers seems to play best with two or three but even then the successful draw of animal-free cards seems to be key to scoring well. The only real card management to the game is watching and anticipating the roof colors being built to successfully complete your own. Expanding bases and drawing non mouse/cat cards are also notable. As past experiences with fewer players have been more enjoyable, I think we will only pull this one out with three or fewer from now on. Even then it remains a very light game, good for a quick fix.
My Rating: 5 with 4 players, strong 6 with 2.

San Juan:
San Juan is a card game derivation of its predecessor Puerto Rico (a game we should to play again soon as it's been too long). Like Puerto Rico it uses a mechanic of role selection whereby the role selected determines the action all players take on the turn plus it grants a special privilege to the player selecting the role. The twist that San Juan brings to the game is in the way the cards serve multiple functions simultaneously: as the currency, the buildings, the plantation crop, and in the case of the chapel, as victory points. This provides a certain novel efficiency to the game as an object and impact gameplay by inducing (some say limited) hand management angst as to build one building in your hand you have to use some of the other cards in your hand to pay for the one you build (card are both buildings and money) The buildings impart different privileges depending on the role in effect and over time as you build more they begin to shape your strategy as certain roles become more desirable for you due to the added building privileges.
James, a real fan of 2 player San Juan, joined us for this one as Maria had to run out briefly. James and I both built Libraries early, but couldn't build fast enough to catch Rogan who quickly churned out lots of smaller purple buildings which were enhanced by his City Hall. Sue had 4 production building and the Guild Hall plus the quarry and smithy to reduce building costs but also missed a few builds and was behind Rogan as well. James built both the Guild Hall and City Hall, which didn't perform as well together as his purple building count was lowered by his production buildings.
Rogan 20 buildings + 1 Chapel + 10 City Hall = 31
Jeff 24 buildings + 3 Chapel = 27
Sue 18 buildings + 8 Guild Hall = 26
James 13 buildings + 5 City Hall + 8 Guild Hall = 26
Jeff: I really enjoy San Juan and appreciate the multiple roles the cards play in the game. Compared to San Juan, Puerto Rico's colonist management begins to feel a bit fiddly. It scales well from two to four players and at the casual frequency that we play games offers plenty of strategic options in discovering new building combinations that work well together.
My Rating: A solid 8

We then moved on to the Egyptian themed game, Ra by Reiner Knizia. Ra is all auction, but with a few Reiner twists. In Ra players are trying to collect sets of tiles which score varying point values depending on the tile combinations collected. On a player's turn they have the choice of adding a tile to the pot or starting an auction. Tiles are won at auction with each player bidding once (a once-around auction). The bid amount that a player can bid are fixed by the 3 small wooden sun tablets which each player has. These tablets are numbered between 1 and 13 (for four players) and are divided equitably at the beginning of the game. The game begins with the '1' tablet in the 'pot' and the high bidder of the first auction exchanges their winning tablet bid for the '1' (and all subsequent auctions do the same, exchanging the winning tablet for the one in the pot) The beauty of the games comes in how those mechanics interact to create dynamic auction situations in which both the relative value of a single set of tiles and the bid ability of each player varies and must be considered when deciding whether to add to the pot or start an auction. In our game Sue threatened to pull away with an early collection of monuments and a strength in Pharaohs but Rogan crept up and won with 7 different monuments and one 3 of a kind set plus the high sun bonus with 33 sun points. Sue finished 6 different monuments and one 3 of a kind set plus the low sun penalty with 14 sun points, Jeff also received the low sun penalty. Maria and Jeff just couldn't get the monuments needed to stay in the running for the final epoch scoring. The gods were with Rogan as he ran the board and got a full tile set before Ra invoked the end of the round. In the next round Sue and I were left holding the bag as Ra came fast and early leaving each of us with an unused sun tablet. scores: Rogan 37, Sue 34, Jeff 28, Maria 27.
Jeff: Ra is becoming our favorite game (It's the first game that we played two sessions in a row). It plays relatively quickly, presents dynamic bidding situations which turn to raw gambling when playing solo against the Ra tiles, and provides a variety of scoring options, with bid optimizing balanced by luck of the draw ...all beautifully blended together. This game was won by monuments, which are probably important in nearly every win but I think the essence of game is knowing when to call RA to induce an auction.
Rating: 10

Category 5
We capped off the night with a quick game of Wolfgang Kramer's 6 Nimmt republished recently with a hurricane theme as Category 5. Played with a deck of cards numbered from 1 to 104 and starting with a hand of 10 cards players select and simultaneously reveal one card each turn. The cards are each added to one of four rows in numerical rank. Each row has a capacity of 5 cards. If an added card pushes the row to six cards the player that played the offending card takes the previous five cards as negative points. If a card is played with a number lower than the last card in each row, the player may select which row they take in penalty. Play continues until all 10 cards are played, then penalty points (represented as from 1 to 7 hurricane warning flags on each card) are tallies and a new round is begun. Play continues until a player's penalty score exceeds 66 points, at which point the low player wins. Our game went five rounds, with each player having one round in which they collected 20 points or more. Maria and I each had an early round of 0 points. Rogan made a big recovery late in the game with two back to back single digit scores, but it wasn't enough. End of round two scores were: Rogan 42, Sue 26, Jeff 15, Maria 11. Our final scores: Jeff 53, Maria 58, Rogan 62, Sue 71. (We played with the original 6 Nimmt end game scoring of 66 or more. Category 5 officially ends at a score of 74, the wind speed at which a tropical storm becomes a hurricane.)
Jeff: 6 Nimmt is a great quick casual game with repeated mini-dilemmas of which card to play to avoid taking a column. For all its simplicity there doesn't seem to be a winning strategy. In fact, the only constant in 6 Nimmt is that there is no constant winning strategy. It's too chaotic for a consistent strategy, yet always feels like you have some control...but it's only fleeting control. Do you play high or low cards early or both? It depends on the other players. I think it's best with 5 or 6 players, where all rows have the potential to fill on a single turn and there are still enough cards missing to keep you guessing. With many more several rows can switch out in a single turn and things get even more unpredictable, or at least a different kind of unpredictability. I guess I prefer the creeping angst that fewer players provide. That said 4 players is great too.
My Rating: A very strong 7

Saturday, October 8


Game Ratings

As I post session reports to our games played I will try to include my ratings and would welcome rating reports from others as well. My ratings will be based on the convention established by the BoardGameGeek site which I am reprinting below:

BoardgameGeek Game Rating Scale:

10 - Outstanding. Always want to play and expect this will never change.
9 - Excellent game. Always want to play it.
8 - Very good game. I like to play. Probably I'll suggest it and will never turn down a game.
7 - Good game, usually willing to play.
6 - Ok game, some fun or challenge at least, will play sporadically if in the right mood.
5 - Average game, slightly boring, take it or leave it.
4 - Not so good, it doesn't get me but could be talked into it on occasion.
3 - Likely won't play this again although could be convinced. Bad.
2 - Extremely annoying game, won't play this ever again.
1 - Defies description of a game. You won't catch me dead playing this. Clearly broken

Wednesday, October 5


Where Can I get these Games?

If you are lucky, there may be a game store in your area which stocks EuroGames, but for most that is not the case. I order most of my games online. Here is a list of some of the more prominent sources:

Funagain Games: (Oregon)
Funagain games is a retail website which serves as a great information resource about available games. For most of their games hey have reviews posted by customers and links to additional information. Their inventory is very extensive and includes many games available as an import only. The downsiide is that their prices are higher than their competition, but have been becoming more competitive. This was the first site I discovered when surfing for more information about eurogames.

Time Well Spent: (Colorado)
My current favorite online retailer. They have the best prices and a competent selection, not all that extensive, but they do stock most of the popular titles. Their delivery time is quick and their service has always been top notch.

Fairplay Games: (Michigan)
Fairplay has some of the best prices and selection. Their website doesn’t provide as much support information, but their service is prompt and courteous. I often turn to Fairlay if Time Well Spent doesn't have what I'm looking for.

Boulder Games: (Georgia)
Boulder one of the original mail-order/online retailers (Funagain is the other, the others are relative upstarts). Boulder and Funagain are the best domestic sources for import only titles. (The other option is ordering direct from Germany, but that takes a certain level of gaming-obsession to contemplate...) They have very competitve prices and proivide personal commentary on some of their games and have a website newsletter.

Games Surplus: (Pennsylvania)
Game Surplus is a favorite online retailer for people on the East Coast. Their service always gets rave reports but their prices are higher than some of their competition and their site doesn't have the added features of Funagain. I've 'window shopped' here but haven't ordered from them yet.

Gamefest: (Washington)
Gamefest is an upstart that is trying to give Funagain a run for its money with customer-interest content. They were formed by a couple dot-com millionaire retirees to support their hobby intersts. They have begun amassing reviews and player aids for many of their games and have hired someone specifically to report on the eurogame market. Their prices, however are on the high side.

Tuesday, October 4


Introduction to Euro-Games

The pastime of playing board games has certainly evolved from those games of childhood memory, but you wouldn't know that from a visit to your local toy store, where many long familiar titles such as Sorry, Risk, Clue and Monopoly continue to fill the shelves. These titles seem self perpetuating, surviving on nostalgia and familiarity alone. They are the games everyone seems to think of when I mention that I enjoy playing board games…but they’re not what I mean. When I mention board games, I’m talking about EuroGames (At least that is what I am calling them. To others they are also known as Designer Games, German Board Games, Family Strategy Games, and even TGOO, an acronym for ‘these games of ours’ popular among some internet discussion groups. More on all that later…).

But what are EuroGames? Well, the title EuroGames cover a surprisingly diverse variety of games which are generally distinguished by several common traits:

There is great variety within the games included under the umbrella title of EuroGames. This variety is generated by the diversity in game mechanics upon which these games are designed. The evolution of board game design continues with the development of clever and elegant new mechanics and the refining and intercombination of different mechanics (a cross-breeding of sorts). By looking at a game's mechanic, Eurogames can be further categorized into different types of play:

(this article is still a work in progress...more to come soon)

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