html> Friends Over Gaming: November 2005

Sunday, November 27


Game Night: Saturday, November 26

David, Victoria, Jasper, and Evan joined us for dinner and an evening of board games this holiday weekend. We had been trying to get together for the last few weekends, ever since playing Atlantic Star and High Society at their place a while back. We have been playing together irregularly, ever since an introductory evening playing Ticket to Ride and Finstere Fleure last year. Since then, we have played Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers, Transamerica, Acquire, Union Pacific, Category 5, and Africa together. They have since begun their own collection and have become a budding board game family. Jasper (who is 11), in particular has been taken by the board game bug.

While waiting for David to arrive, the rest of us sat down for a game of Diamant, which is fast becoming our new favorite introductory family game. Everyone caught on quickly; it's such a simple game. Reanna had played before and has declared Diamant to be her new favorite game, which persuaded Evan to reluctantly join in. She and Reanna, both 7, teamed up and played as one for our game. They made good calls in the first two mines getting out solo and cleaning up the gems on the way out. This gave them a comfortable lead and allowed them to play conservatively for the remaining mines. By the end of the third mine all of us had banked some gems, but things didn't look too good for me as I was far behind the pack. In the fourth mine everyone bailed early except Victoria, who held out for more and got a few more before getting nervous and fleeing with her cache. We all roared when we flipped what would have been her next card. It was a 13. In the last mine the roles reversed and it was I who stayed the course and did some solo collecting. I needed to stay in until I got something big. I was up against 3 exposed dangers but made it out, fleeing after revealing 3 additional cards 2 of which were low gem values. The last was a 13 and enough for the win. Had Victoria stayed the course for one more card in mine 4 she would have taken top honors. Lucky me. Everyone loved it and wanted to play again (even Evan who was reluctant at the start). Too bad this is only available as an import only item, though it seems to be widely available in the US. I've seen it domestically at Boards&Bits, Boulder Games, Funagain, and GameSurplus. It's certainly worth picking up.

Since David had just arrived we decided to move onto something a little more substantial for the four adults and the kids ran off to entertain themselves. After our game of Atlantic Star of a few weeks ago, Maria thought David and Victoria would love Ra, so this was my natural choice for our first meatier game for the evening. After getting through the rules, the first few turns were filled with some uncertainty in determining when to call Ra and then how to evaluate the relative value of the set at auction. This was quickly established after the first few bids. David decided he had overpaid for his first two sets and played more conservatively with his last sun tile. Epochs one and two ended with one player playing chicken with the Ra tile track. In the first epoch it was David who abandoned his conservative play to add a few more tiles to the set before cashing in (his timing was perfect as in trial test of fate David pulled one more tile from the bag which turned out to be a Ra tile. We quickly returned that tile to the bag and continued.) The second epoch found the daring Victoria in the same situation. As the tile set filled a few disasters crept in and poisoned the developing set. To everyone's disbelief Victoria took the big risk and cleared the set and started rebuilding. Surprisingly she managed to assemble a pretty desirable row of tiles before cashing in. That left Maria and I up against the wall for the third epoch. We both ended up getting caught short together but as a consolation avoided having the lowest sun tile sum (that honor went to David). In the end though, David's playing style was just right for the win, which was achieved from a substantial set of monuments and a set of 3 civ tiles.

Since the auction style of Ra went over so well Maria suggested that we continue in that vein with another Knizia title, Traumfabrik. Maria and I had just played Traumfabrik last weekend with Rogan and Sue so I was able to explain it quickly with only minor references to the rules. This playing was to be a 5 player outing as the filmmaking duo, James and Jasper, rejoined the table. The first quarter passed without any films reaching completion. This made for some fairly active movie making in the later quarters. Yet, Victoria and the young duo seemed to struggle throughout the year. James and Jasper at times disagreed about whether to up the bid or pass. I think the partnership resulted in them pursuing a bit of a muddled strategy on their part. Victoria missed a key auction for her and seemed to struggle to regroup. Always behind in hiring stars, she also always got the last choice at the parties. In the end she completed four films, but received no critical acclaim. In contrast, Maria focused on quality productions, producing a mere 2 films, one of which was 'Gone with the Wind' which garnered her much success. With it she completed the first entertainment production, which came surprisingly late in the game, the best film of the third quarter and the best entertainment production at year's end -- quite a sweep for one film. Like Victoria, I produced three films, one of which was the first adventure production and in the end the best of its genre. James and Jasper produced only three films yet were able to secure both the worst film award and best direction -- quite a. Unique combination. They did this with two top directors producing their better works and one marginal director for their camp adventure film. David succeeded in producing a whopping 5 films. He also garnered several awards along the way: first drama, best drama, and best film of the second quarter. David seemed to use a patient strategy of waiting for the exact auction combinations and then paying whatever it took to get them. This paid off for him as the desirable auctions were spaced such that he could regroup between active bid sessions. In the end scores were David 69, Jeff 60, Maria 48, Victoria 38, James and Jasper 36.

It was late but given the high energy level in the room following the conclusion of Traumfabrik, I quickly grabbed Taboo as our closer for the evening. We formed husband/wife teams plus the 2 camp filmmakers continued their partnership for one more game. We would be playing with the Left Coast Gamers modified rules set (2 points for correct responses, -1 for passing or word violations. Points only to the active team. I'll have to confirm with Jonathan that I've got that correct.)Jasper and James started off, with Jasper giving the clues. They had a respectable start, getting through 2 cards successfully. David and Victoria then showed how it was done getting 4 correct with no missteps. Maria then struggled through our turn getting one correct but then following it up with 2 violations for a net of zero. James then followed in mother's footsteps and ended with a -1 score. We ended up playing two full rounds and ended with the final scores of J/M: 20, D/V: 16, J/J: 3. James and Jasper had a couple of tough rounds which hurt them significantly. Next time we'll incorporate the boys into our teams and play with two teams of three. Taboo is a great game to get them thinking on their feet to use their vocabularies creatively and to open themselves to their stream of conscious thinking to just let it all out quickly.

We called the game at that point as it was far later than we had originally planned to play (that seems to happen every time…we just can’t stop). We had a great evening together and look forward to getting together for another game night soon!

Saturday, November 26


Post-CON catchup report

Since BGG.CON I have been anxious to continue our board gaming, but we just haven't had as much time to as needed. That said, James and I walked through a game of Land Unter and I introduced him to Attika; plus James and I went to the local Games Gathering and played Carcassonne: the City, Tsuro, Entdecker, Evo, and San Juan; then, Rogan and Sue came over one night and we got in three games: Diamant, Traumfabrik and Power Grid; and, Reanna, James, and I played Diamant several times on various nights before bed; then finally, Maria and I introduced her cousins, Vincent and Matthew, to Diamant over Thanksgiving and played that several times together. (We had greater ambitions, but they never came to fruition. Nonetheless...looking back, I have been getting far more gaming in than usual.

James was very interested to see what we brought back with us from Dallas. At one of the recent SoCalGamesDays he and I had started (almost) playing Attika, but only made it so far as to get through all the rules and be ready to go before James’s eye was caught by Mark Johnson's son, Sam, setting up the StarWars Attacktics miniatures which brought our game to a screeching halt. We never did get back to Attika that day, but James noted on the way home that he still wanted to try it, so upon seeing it a the CON flea market, I picked it up. James was excited to see me pull it out of my bag when we got home and unpacked and eagerly asked to play the first night he didn’t have homework. We got in a quick game which I ended up winning by building all my buildings. I got lucky on a couple of my draw sequences and crowded James out of some of the territory he was saving around his city tile. James is studying ancient Greece in school right now so he enjoyed the theme more in this playing than the first time I explained the rules to him. He wants a rematch.
My rating: 7 (with two players)

Land Unter:
We also walked through a game of Land Unter, just the two of us, with a dummy had for the third player. We only played one hand and James won. I came in third, behind the dummy. Humbling. In Land Unter (aka Turn the Tide) each player gets a hand of 12 cards which have values from 1 to 60 and a rating of 0, 1/2 , or 1 life preservers (difficulty rating. The mid value cards (mid 20s to mid 30s) have full life preservers, the next +/- 10 cards higher and lower have ½ life preserver, and the highest and lowest cards have no life preservers). Each player then gets one life preserver card for each full life preserver from the sum of their hand. There is a second deck of 24 flood-level cards which has cards numbered from 1 to 12 (twice) which are shuffled and two cards are turned face-up. Players then simultaneously play a card from their hand with the player playing the highest card taking the lowest of the 2 face up flood-level cards and the next highest player takes the other card. Then the player with the highest valued floor-level card loses one life preserver card from their stock. Players each set aside the cards played from their hand in individual discard piles. Also, players retain their collected flood-level cards in personal piles so the top card is showing for each player, because in future rounds their card may still be the highest and they would then lose another life preserver. Play continues with 2 new water level cards being turned over and each player simultaneously playing a card from their hand and collecting flood-level cards for highest and second highest value played, then the player with the highest flood-level card showing discards a life preserver. If a player is forced to turn over a life preserver but has none left, they have gone bust and are temporarily out of the game. That player turns over their cards and the new highest flood-level card owner loses a life preserver. This continues until either all 12 hands are played or only two players are left in the game. At this point each player receives one point for each remaining life preserver and eliminated players get –1 point plus the player with the lowest flood level card face up gets a bonus point (both players get the bonus if tied). Players then pass their hand of 12 cards plus their respective life preservers to the player to the left and the game repeats itself until each player has had a turn playing each hand. Whoever plays the collective hands the most effectively is the winner. Now, our play hardly constituted a playing of the game but it allowed us to see how things played out and made us eager to get a real game of it going soon. The aspect of the game which led me to purchase it was the fact that each player played the same hands throughout the course of the game. This seemed like an interesting approach to add information to the game as it progresses and players learn the contents of the other hands through repetition. It seems that this would fill later hands with strategic guessing and second guessing what others would play. I wanted the German version because of the artwork, which I find rather humorous. I’ll report back once we have played a few times and I can comment on how my expectations were met/dashed.

James and I went to the local GamesGathering in La Cañada on the weekend of the 12th. We only attended for the afternoon, yet still got in a number of shorter games. We started with Carcassonne: The City. Now James isn’t a big fan of the Carcassonne series (his favorite it H&G) but he was willing to give it a shot anyway. In comparison to the game Maria and I played earlier, the walls were more contested, with James setting up some scoring sequences which netted him some big points. I ended up with the lead due to the (farmer equivalent ?) scoring at the end of the game. I’m still not impressed enough with this one to pick it up though I want to find what others see in it. If given the chance I’ll play a few more times before passing completely.

Next up we grabbed a copy of Tsuro, which has impressive component artwork. The player pawns are quite nice too (even if they are plastic, they are well formed with an ergonomic tactility about them. The game feels much like Metro, in that you are playing tiles that form movement networks and are trying to be the last man standing on the board by driving your opponents off the edges. Gameplay is simple: draw a tile, select a tile from your hand of 3 and play it to the space ahead of your own pawn, move all pawns to the end of their paths. The rules about the dragon card were very confusing (There are clarifications on the Geek) so I just skipped over them as from what I could gather they weren’t going to apply to a two player game. The decision to be made each turn is rather simple (‘which tile will keep me the most alive’) and is repeated each turn. That said the simplicity of the game is nice for a lighter game, though not one I’d want to play regularly. I got myself worked into a corner late in the game and found myself with no options other than crash and burn. James outlasted me for the win.
Tsuro: 6

We then joined Mark Johnson for a game of the original Entdecker, which I commented on earlier during my BBG.CON blog report. James certainly enjoys this title. I’ve had my eye out for a copy of the original but haven’t purchased yet. During our game, the winner of the Saint Petersburg tournament was announced and was followed by a prize drawing. These GamesGatherings have the best odds for prize draws, it’s great. There were approximately 30 attendees at the event at the time of the drawing with 5 prizes to choose from: Descent: the Dark Ages, Ra, Diamant, Einfach Genial, and Parthenon. When we walked in I spied the table and thought I wouldn’t mind picking up either Diamant or Parthenon, both of which I knew James would like and Reanna would likely go for Diamant. Well, it turns out I was the last lucky winner and Diamant was left just for me. Lucky Day!

James was then eager to get a game of his current favorite Evo onto the table. We found two willing opponents to join in and after a brief explanation of the rules we were off. While, Evo has a theme of dinosaur evolution and migration, the mechanics of the game make it a fairly dry area majority game for some. James however fully enjoys the theme and has developed a winning strategy with this one. His aggressive bidding seems reckless at times, but since he is undefeated, on can hardly challenge his approach, which is partial to the development of horns, feet and egg laying. In the final turn of our game, one of our opponents played an action card that precluded the play of any further action cards that round. I had an action card that granted me two additional mutation (victory) points at the end of the game. We decided since my opponent precluded the playing of any further action cards that round, that I couldn’t play my card, which snatched a come from behind victory from my grasp.
My rating: 7

San Juan:
We finished our day with a game of San Juan. One of our opponents went for the church early and consistently stashed cards into the church for points, The other was clearly going for the Guild Hall, (and did build it in the end) with lots of production buildings giving him the clear win. James got shut out of the big buildings but still scored well, surpassing me in last place. I built the library early and was hoping for better than last with it, but could only come up with the triumphal arch and then only had one statue to support its score. My worst showing in San Juan, but still fun. Scores were 24, 28. 30. 36.
My rating: 8 (still a favorite, despite my play)

Once we got home I opened up Diamant and retrieved the rules from The BoardGameGeek, as the supplied rules are in French German and Italian, but not English (I wonder if this was intentionally done in hopes of selling English distribution rights later?).
Diamnat is a simple, press your luck game in the vein of Can’t Stop and is a big hit with Reanna. Players represent miners collecting gems from 5 different mines. All the miners head into the mine together and work cooperatively to collect gems, dividing them equally among all present and leaving any extra on the ground. Ocassionally dangers are encountered which may stir fear in some of the miners who may opt to escape from the mine (and thoughtfully pick up the gems left behind on the way out) rather than continue mining in the increasingly dangerous conditions. As soon as a single danger strikes twice, all remaining miners are incapacitated and unable to escape the mine with their loot. Only those that sensibly left earlier have anything to show for their days work. After the fifth mine collected gems are tallied and the winner determned. Since winning my copy, this has been the most played game in our home, especially because it is so quick, which means we can get a game or two in on school nights after dinner.
At the beginning of the game, each player is given a mine cart and a wooden miner. The cart is assembled out of very thick cardboard with graphics that make me think of early California orange crates more than mine carts.(The slightly oversized box leaves room for the carts to remain assembled after play.) The deck of cards consists of cards numbered between 1 and 17 (with at least 11 repeated twice. I’ll have to look closer at the rest of the card distribution) and also includes a number of mine disasters (3 of each of 5 types: scorpions, snakes, rock slide, explosion, and poison gas). The numbered cards represent the number of gems discovered in the mine at that location. The deck is shuffled thoroughly and placed face down on the table. Each turn the top card is turned face up and if it is a number card, gems are distributed equally among all players with the remainder being left on the card. Players then simultaneously vote whether they are staying in the mine or running out by a closed fist vote: if the player’s hand contains their miner they are continuing on, it empty they opt to flee to see another day. The fleeing players get to keep all the gems that have been given to them through earlier divisions of the stake, plus these players equally divide amongst themselves and keep any gems picked up on the way out (if only one player flees, they get all the gems to themselves). The other players gems remain outside of their cart and are only added to their cart once they too opt to flee. Fleeing players are out for the remainder of the current mine. The remaining players await the risks of the next card, which is flipped over, either revealing a danger of more gems. The alternating voting then flipping continues until either all miners have fled the mine or two matching dangers are revealed (in which case the remaining players are trapped and lose their loot). Each mine is played out in a similar manner and at the end the winner is the player that has banked the most gems.
Sometimes it is surprising how fast those dangers stack up. In about half our games it seems we have one mine that closes out without revealing any gem cards. The odds seem against this happening though others I am sure are better poised to explain otherwise. Equally surprising are the mines that seem to go on forever. These wild swings of possibilities make for all the momentary angst in deciding ‘should I stay or should I go now.’ True it is very light angst, but fun none the less, especially for my kids, which makes it all the more fun for me!
My Rating: 8, a great filler that even plays great with the kids.

In my next post, I’ll expand upon our recent game session with Rogan and Sue, in which I got caught in a surprise ending at Power Grid and Reanna showed us she could hold her own in Traumfabrik.

Just discovered your blog, Jeff. Good reading, great photos, and I particularly like hearing what games work with James.
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Tuesday, November 22


BoardGameGeek.CON: Day 4,Sunday

As the event wound down to it’s final hours we had one game that we had not yet played which I really wanted to try to squeeze in. This was Indonesia. With time running short, I doubted that we would get a full game in and so Maria and I sat down resolved to give a two-player game our best effort. No sooner had we opened the box than Troy (from Australia with whom we had played Kaivai earlier in the week) and Ed (from Oklahoma) joined us at the table. We explained our situation, we had to pack it in by 2:30 to catch a shuttle to the airport and thus were up against a real deadline and the likelihood of not finishing. Both were fine with that and were equally eager to get the game on the table to see how it ticked. I had just started to explain what I knew of the game, from having read the rules previous to arriving at the CON, when Derk came by and volunteered his services as a ‘splainer. Having read a session report of a game that he had participated in, I had the comfort of knowing that he knew his stuff this time. Derk more than made good on his previous explanation efforts (see Kaivai). And so we were soon off and playing. We completed 2/3 of the game, going through the ‘A’ and ‘B’ card sets before time was called, but not by us. The Game Library was packing up and needed our copy. We were minutes from having to call the game ourselves and were at a natural break in the game so it worked out perfectly. We all had a good sense of the mechanics and got our feet wet with thoughts about how things would play out. Maria was enthusiastic enough about it to request that we get a copy, even after I explained how it was an expensive limited print run game available only from German retailers (so how could I turn her down…).

Speaking from my half-played-game experience, the game itself feels like a crossbreeding of a pick-up-and-deliver type train game with the company merging aspects of Acquire resulting in an interesting economic hybrid. Players represent the controlling interests in production and shipping corporations. Production companies earn income through the selling of goods produced to the various cities located on the board. The shipping companies earn their income from the production companies, which must pay for the transportation of their goods to market. Further profits can be realized through the timely sales of corporations through mergers of similar corporations. In our game Edward made a timely merger between two shipping companies to virtually corner the shipping trade and was beginning to reap significant financial rewards from his empire just as time was called. With that we had an inkling of what was under the hood. And things looked pretty good.

Maria and I both shared initial positive reactions to the games components; the board and the pieces themselves are beautifully printed and similarly toned in an aged washed-out color scheme that works well together…except for the boats which are red blue and yellow and feel like a real mismatch with the rest of the components (another opportunity for custom components. I could easily see that my cutting new boats out of different naturally finished tropical woods would provide a real enhancement to maintaining the design concept lost with the original bits). But once one gets past the initial impressions and begins to play some of the subtlety of the board’s markings becomes a bit detrimental. The boundaries of different regions are somewhat difficult to discern and could have been slightly heavier without detracting from the overall imagery. There is also one area where the exact extents of the sea boundaries near Bali are rather ambiguous (which Mikko Sari has mentioned in one of his blog posts and for which the Splotter guys later provide the clarification that the seas are indeed separate, so we played that wrong...). I found these boundary identifications to be the most problematic. The problem also made landfall and manifested itself in the way the card distribution data created legibility issues with some of the internal region boundaries. Less of an issue for me was the script font used for all of the location names. The names were less critical to game play and so the legibility issues for reading names upside down could be overlooked a bit on the grounds of thematic development. However, in that case, the graphic key for locating the regions on the city placement cards are more critical and they are hurt a bit by their size. in spite of all these comments the game remained very playable, but did leave itself room for improvement. I could see that some real effort went into the graphic production, but it looks like the final product was rushed to print in the end before the final stages of quality control could be implemented.

On the cab ride to the airport, which we shared with Matthew Monin (Octavian), Maria and I noted how many games seem to trip at the finish line with less than stellar graphical implementations. Maria noted that Edward Tufte should be required reading for any illustrators working to convey complex information. As Tufte says in the Visual Display of Quantitative Information: "Above all else show the data." If you are at all interested in the graphic presentation of information (which is one of the fundamental functions of a game's board) then I recommend seeking out Tufte.

My Final Thoughts on the CON:
Maria seemed a bit aprehensive about coming to the CON at first and I was initially surprised when she said she wanted to come along. (She had never expressed interest in coming to our local SoCalGamesDay events so I didn't anticipate her interest in flying all the way to Dallas for a similar event that would last for 4 days.)I'm glad she came. The event really opened her eyes to the full spectrum of games (and gamers) out there and seemed to expand her enjoyment of them (both, games and gamers). The real enjoyment for us was having the time to spend together (It was almost our anniversary after all) and to meet such great new people with a shared interest in gaming. There were lots of other people that I wish I had taken the time and inititive to stop and talk to. I never did get to a game of Neuland with Chris Bailey like I had hoped to (let alone meet him. Sorry, Chris!). On the whole we didn't have too much difficulty starting up games we wanted to play, but did have the advantage of being two players for some games by ourselves. I like the open gaming arrangement more than scheduled gaming or tournaments, and find the idea floated elsewhere of having 'players needed' flags an interesting one worth considering. All told Derk and Aldie and their committed volunteers did an excellent job of creating a welcoming environment for us all to feel at home in and in whiich we could enjoy each other's company. And for that I offer my personal thanks.

And as a final seal of approval, Maria has already announced to everyone that we will be back next year. (What can I say other than 'See you next year!')

Monday, November 21


BoardGameGeek.CON: Day 3, Saturday

Saturday morning started with the Flea Market. I was interested in sharing my Triasaurs with others, but equally interested in seeing what else was on the table. I just missed out on getting Starfarers and Usurppe for $10 each and almost grabbed up the original release of For Sale, but I did get a copy of Traumfabrik from Yehuda (which we just played this weekend), Land Unter, and Attika, plus a prearranged purchase of Taboo. I had several people express interest in my Triasurs and have one pending sale as a result. One other couple from Colorado were interested in some dinos for Evo, which is a project I should do for myself too as James has just made Evo his favorite game ever (and I thought that ranking was reserved for 2-player Citadels or San Juan). Anyway, after the market closed, I went and met Maria for breakfast before returning to the game room.

Carolus Magnus:
On Saturday Maria and I sat down and played the Leo Colvini game Carolus Magnus. This is a game which I had been curious about for some time. My initial interest derived from seeing some of the images of the game on BGG, which really caught my eye, particularly the tiles which form the board. I had almost purchased it multiple times, either on the BGG Marketplace or at my FLGS. Finally, after Jon Grimm sang its praises the evening before, I decided we had to try it out and as we seemed to share similar tastes in games, I figured it was going to be enjoyable.
Needless to say, it did not disappoint. Sure, it is a bit abstract, but that doesn't bother me (or Maria, as she in particular really liked it).
After reading through the rules, which are quite straightforward and provide a couple of excellent examples to illustrate some of the strategic depth involved in some of the cube placement decisions, Maria and I played a two-player game. The game’s components consist of a set of 15 multi-hex based tiles which are laid out in a circle (each tile represents a region within a Kingdom), a bunch of colored cubes which represent both paladins and the amount of influence exerted over them, sets of towers (1 set for each player), and a piece to denote the Emperor. The game involves bidding for turn order with a chip numbered from 1-5, which is also the player’s movement allowance for the turn. The low bid player takes their turn first and places 3 cubes either to their influence track, which tracks who has the majority influence (and thus control) over each cube color, or add them to one of the tile regions to influence the level of control that cube color has within the region. Influence control is tracked on each players influence track. The player with the most influence cubes in each color indicates control in that color by adding the cylinder of that color to their track. To steal the influence marker from an opponent one must establish a majority in that color (the cylinder remains with the current player in tie conditions). Once any changes in influence have been made, the player moves the Emperor and checks for control of the region with the Emperor. When the Emperor stops on a tile the player who controls influence over the most paladin cubes (as tracked by the influence track) secures control of the region and adds a tower in their color to the region. If the same player controls adjacent regions, they are combined to form a single region. Towers are also counted when assessing controlling influence within a region. Finally, the player rolls a set of special dice to determine the 3 cubes available for their next turn. This process continues until one player builds 10 of their towers or there are 4 or fewer regions remaining.
We enjoyed the blend of offensive and defensive plays, defending territories by increasing your influence in a color and offensively playing to the tiles to take over regions. Rules are also provided for 3 and 4 player versions of the game, which are noted as being more complex. We are anxious to pick this one up and try them soon. This also makes me anxious to break open another Colvini, the copy of Bridges of Shangri-La sitting unplayed on my shelf.
My Rating: 8

A fellow gamer had brought his personal copy of Saturn to the event and left it set it up on the table as he played something else. As we were packing up Carolus Magnus Nate Sandall was just sitting down with a friend to give it a try and invited us to join in. (The photo to the right is one of his, which I found here.) Saturn is a simple physics lesson in the form of a dexterity game. The ‘board’ is a series on balanced rings which each balance on the ring on the next inner ring (or in the case of the innermost ring, on the yellow sphere). The axis of the balancing point for each ring is rotated out of alignment with the other rings creating a series of nested axial rotations, all of which come into play when one tries to place one of their spheres onto the rings and not have any portion of any of the nested rings touch the table. The spheres come is 3 weights each worth 1, 2 or 3 points (1 for the lightest and 3 for the heaviest) and a successful placement on a ring is worth the sphere value multiplied by the ring value of 1, 2 or 3 (1 for the innermost and 3 for the outermost) for a potential score of between 1 and 9 points per sphere. Needless to say the heavy spheres were very difficult (maybe impossible) to place on the outer ring. A couple of us waited too long to being placing the heavier spheres (in my case I was waiting for more counterbalance weight to be added in hopes of a mid or outer ring placement that never materialized for the number of spheres I was holding back). Eventually everyone but Nate was left with impossible plays due to the weight of their leftover spheres and he got to continue placing a couple more spheres before he too could play no more. However, Maria succeeded in getting several of her large spheres on the mid ring which proved to provide enough scoring advantage for the win. I found the game very intriguing and would certainly enjoy playing more, but don’t see it as something that I would want to play regularly. Looking at the prices on the BGG Marketplace, I doubt I’ll be playing it again soon anyway. It commands a pretty penny.
My Rating:6

Elasund: The First City of Catan:
We spied Jon Grimm at the next table starting to set up Elasund and quickly jumped tables to join in. Also at the table was John Gravitt, with whom we had played Caylus the night before. Elasund is the new game by Klaus Teuber and is the latest in the Catan empire. Jon had just finished a game with Ed and Susan Rozmiarek and Mark Johnson and was eager to play again (a very good sign). He quickly explained the rules which all seemed quite clear (however there was one which I seem to have misheard, but that had no impact on the game. It dealt with the ability to build over the large buildings. I mistakenly thought they were protected and that is not the case). Elasund’s theme is about the building of the first city of Catan and is played on a gridded board with 11 columns (for the familiar, 2-12 outcome potentials on the roll of two dice) some surrounding wall spaces and a windmill track for tracking the collection of building bonuses for building on certain spaces on the board. Players collect gold and influence cards (in three colors) based on dice rolls matching column locations in which they have buildings built (each player starts with two initial buildings). To build additional buildings players must purchase and place building permits and then on a subsequent turn must pay the building cost for the desired building. The buildings will provide the owner with either gold or influence cards when a dice roll align with one of the columns the building was built in. Each building also counts as a victory point cube toward the ten points needed to win. The Catan ‘robber’ makes an appearance as a ‘pirate’ who, on the roll of a 7, visits one column as decided by the rolling player, and each player with a building in that column loses one of the resource their building produces (influence or gold). If the rolling player has built a wall segment that includes a soldier they then get one of the discarded cards (selected randomly). There are also special spaces on the board marked by a windmill symbol. Building on these spaces earns the building player a bonus point along the bonus point track, with every third point being worth an additional victory point. Finally there is a special building, the church, which is composed of 9 individual tile segments which when fully built forms an image of one church. These tiles can be build without a permit but cost more, can overbuild other buildings of any size, and cannot themselves be overbuilt. The first tile built has a fixed starting point but the tile placed there is selected from two possible tiles by the first person to build a church tile. The selected tile will then determine the direction of growth and position of all other future church tiles, which are played in their appropriate position relative to that first starting tile based on the overall image. The game can be a bit nasty, as players can use other players building permits and can build over other players buildings, causing them to lose victory points. On this level Elasund reminds me very much of Domaine, which happens to share a similar gridded board format as well. The positioning of the church seemed important to me so this was one of the first things that I did, and positioned it to be a threat to two others (Jon and Maria) and safe from my buildings. the church threat never materialized as this was the only piece of the church built in our game, but I could see it wreaking havoc in the center region of the board. As the game evolved I fell into an influence card heavy stragtegy which allowed me to turn in card sets for additional gold, which allowed me to build faster than the others. There were plenty of nervous moments when I had to build defensively or upgrade permits to prevent others from building over my buildings. It all felt great and I am really looking forward to playing again. This was probably my favorite of the CON.
My Rating: 8

Next, Jon was joining Ed Rozmiarek and his fellow gamers from ‘The Ranch’ for a game of Kreta. Lucky for me, one was mysteriously absent (through no foul play on my part, honest!) and I was able to join in. Kreta is a Stephan Dora title which combines a number a different mechanics to produce a great game that is right up my alley. Others have criticized it for being too derivative, as it is an amalgamation of other tried and true mechanics, but I found Kreta to be greater than the sum of its parts. Kreta takes an area majority game foundation and adds a hand management of variable card powers mechanic and set collection to the mix. Players play cards from a fixed hand set to add tokens to the board in advance of the scoring of different regions on the board. The players hands are not reset until one player plays the card which instigates scoring of a region. the scored region is determined by a row of face-down cards in which two cards are face-up (so you know the region scoring now, and the next region to score) As regions score the initiating player turns over the next card in line and decides whether to keep it or replace it with one from a face-down stock pile. Each of the tokens have special attributes associated with them (Forts are fixed in location and are played at the intersections of regions and count for scoring in each region; villages count as two points in the region they are built but only one can be built for each agricultural tile harvested; villagers count as one point and can harvest an agricultural tile if they are placed in a chain of adjacent regions forming a chain from the region with the tile and ending in a boat; boats count for scoring if present in the region’s harbor, and abbots restrict other player placement into a region unless their abbot is present. Additionally, a couple of the pieces are mobile and can move across the board upon playing of their card. The villagers (5 per player) can move a total of four spaces, the abbots (1 per player) can move three spaces, the ships (2 per player) can sail to any port in which there is space (The buildings, being buildings, are fixed and do not move). All of these actions allow for some strategic play in assembling sequences of moves. Players also need to be aware of the scoring sequence for regions and not commit too heavily to one side of the board as future scoring regions may be at the opposite end of the island. Some have raised this point as an issue for criticism. I agree that it does introduce a fair amount of luck into the game but I see it as something that can be somewhat mitigated by balancing commitments across the island so as to maintain tactical ability across the region,. As I mentioned, I really enjoyed the thinking this one induced. Unfortunately, it is only available as an import as no domestic publisher has picked it up. It is high on my list for a future Adam-Spielt order. (note the photo with me in it is from Ed and the 'Game Ranch')
My Rating: 8

While I was playing Kreta, Maria joined a game of Medina. Her game was still going so I wandered around a bit and found a group sitting down to play Ubongo, a speed version of Tangrams played with Tetris-like playing pieces. With identical tiles, players try to fit a predetermined subset of tiles into a fixed shape shown on a playing mat. The first to finish within the prescribed time gets to select a gem from one of the columns of available gems on the gem ‘market’ board. Play continues through a series of cards (about 9 cards or so) and the winner is the individual with the most gems in one color or if tied the most in the second most color and so on. (most most as opposed to the most least of E&T.) Being a visual person, I found that I was quite quick at the puzzles. Occasionally I ran across a puzzle I couldn’t solve only to discover that I had assembled the wrong tile set to work with. The scoring seems a bit disconnected with the rest of the game but it probably serves as a balancing mechanism to level the playing field a bit for those less visually inclined (though I doubt its success at that). Ubongo seems like it would suffer from varying ability levels among the players (a problem I suspect would be common for speed games like Turbo Taxi, another one which I am curious about but haven’t seen yet.)It seems that it would be good for a quick filler or a change of pace. I played it three times in a row and was done with it for the CON by the end, though would play again.
My Rating: 6

We then headed off to dinner with Anise and her husband Jason and some of their fellow gaming friends at the Irish place, which had come justifiably recommended by Derk and Aldie. We rode the DART train a couple stops to get to the pub. While on the train we were talking about some of the games we had played and piqued the curiosity of a fellow passenger who asked what we were talking about. The poor guy was then set upon by a pack of rabid evangelicals eagerly trying to explain what these games are all about and how they differ from Monopoly or Risk before we reached our destination. As luck would have it he got off at the same station as we did so we could continue our ‘sermon’. I gave him a short list of websites to visit such as the Geek and some online retailers as well as a recommendation that he pick up Ticket To Ride as an introduction to what we were talking about. The locals with us suggested a store in a nearby mall that carried some Eurogames. There was an Irish band playing at the pub and the food was quite delicious, but I was eager to get back.

Igel Ärgern:
Upon returning we played a near complete game of Igel Ärgern, which I had read about but never seen (We stopped the game early as Anise had previously committed to join her first game of Werewolf which was starting.) We played enough to get a good sense of the ebb and flow of the game and to get the feeling that it would be worth picking up if I run across it somewhere. More than a single game, Igel Ärgern is apparently the framework for many games and variants. The playing board is a grid of boxes with the two end rows numbered with 1 to 5 pips and some of the mid-board boxes colored black. In our four player game players started, 2 on each end, and were racing individually to the opposite side of the board. Movement was determined somewhat by the roll of the die, as the roll determined in which column the forward movement would take place. Before moving forward the player has the option of moving sideways from one of the adjacent rows (with the edge rows 1 and 5 also being considered adjacent). Pieces can also be stacked and only the top piece is available for movement, thus it is advantageous to bury your opponents. On a roll of 6, the player can move all the top pieces in the direction of their movement (towards the current player’s finish line) which creates the sense of ebb and flow in the game as pieces move back and forth across the mid section of the board. The winner is the first player to get two pieces across the finish line, I enjoyed the small puzzle-like aspect of each turn and could see how decisions made on one turn carried over to the next, suggesting the ability to have some limited multi turn ambitions (albeit, constrained by the die rolls). Many people comment about how their kids love this game and I can understand why; the basic mechanics are simple to understand, the goal is clear and the movements sequences can be fun to optimize while remaining rather simple to analyze.
My Rating: 6

Euphrat & Tigris: The Card Game:
It was now past midnight and we were both tired from the past marathon days of gaming, but it was hard to stop and just go to bed. I wanted to try the E&T card game and remembered the basics of play from the board game but had a bit of difficulty explaining those concepts back to Maria who didn’t remember our previous experience too clearly. As we set up the cards, I was surprised with how much room the game was going to take up. It seemed like it was more space than the board game required, as it was a tight fit across the width of the table we were playing on. Once set up, we got through the first several card plays and had had an internal and external conflict occur and the collection of one treasure, before it became quite clear that it was far too late to be playing anything, especially something that required any bit of mental effort and we called the game. In the limited extent that we did play I could see that the mechanics of the board game were quite literally ported over to the card game format without adding anything significant in the process. As I already own the board game I don’t think I will be picking this one up.
No Rating.

Sunday, November 13


BoardGameGeek.CON: Day 2, Friday

After our late gaming the night before, we got a late start on Friday. Before the Game Library closed on Thursday night we had checked out Mexica, and still had Kaivai from our sesson the night before. We grabbed a table, opened up Mexica and began to set it up while reading through the rules. With Mexica being one of Kramer's 'mask' trilogy (Java, Mexica, Tikal) and both having played Tikal before, we had a sense of what to expect in regards to the action point mechanic. I enjoy the diagramatic simplicity and clarity achieved on the player aid cards for Tikal and Mexica (and I assume Java, but haven't seen those). Once you have been told what the various actions are the diagrams are very clear reminders of the actions and their costs. When we were just about ready to start Jon Grimm stopped by and we eagerly requested he grab a seat and join in. Jon was familiar with the game and was ready to start, though it had been a few years since his last play.
Jon (white) and I (orange) quickly got into an arms race over two of the high scoring regions whiile Maria (yellow) wandered off on her own and started racking up control over multiple smaller regions. Through some cunning blocking manouvers, Jon got the better of me in both regions and I moved on to set up some smaller regions which I thought might be less contested. Jon meanwhile ventured over into Maria's area and added a couple temples here and there to pick up some second place scorings and had enough time to make it back to the starting square for the mid game scoring bonus. Maria made it back as well, but I decided to set myself up for the upcoming 10 point capulli token. Unfortunately Maria was able on her turn to move and form a 10 point district before my turn (why didn't I see that coming?) so I had to settle for 8 points. Jon and Maria contnued to build the larger point districts as I built uncontested smaller ones. The capulli tokens ran out with all of us having several buildings left to build and one large unbuilt portion of the board left open. Maria burned the rest of the canal tiles by filling in various small regions left open and began to build up in the last open district and I got one big one is to try and hold second place. I teleported into one other of Maria's uncontested regions and built to score in second to end the game. Again, Jon made it back to the start temple for the bonus. Neither Maria or I did. In the end, my uncontested regions and second in the big leftover area district was enough for a win: Jon 93, Maria 97, Jeff 110.
My thoughts:
I prefer Tikal. Though some of that may be a fondness for the game that hooked me in, I also like the discover aspect and the unfolding of the board. Both games suffer under the weight of analysis prone players. I found the canal building and canal movement to be quite interesting adn could see that portion of the game really opening up more with further plays. I'll have to get a game of Java in sometime soon to compare it as well.
My rating: 7 (Tikal is an 8)
We had a great time playing with Jon so we immediately started another game together... Kaivai. We added one more to our group (sorry, I've forgotten your name) and I tried my best to provide a clear explanation of the game. I emphasized the economy, roles of the buildings, the scarcity of influence tokens, and the end game scoring. It seems that my explanation was sufficient as we were able to get under way smoothly and continue without too many peeks back at the rules (except once in particular to find where in the rules it said you could pass your whole turn and collect two influence tokens, and that was to help out Mark Johnson's group, which had missed the rule. They ended up aborting thier game, as it just didn't click for them.) In this playing, the meeting huts were used more effectively and ended up bringing our fourth player from third place to tied for first. I built up a large fishing fleet and was in the lead throughout much of the game until the end when my score was matched. Once again, the game ran on too long, probably a bit over three hours. At times the game dragged as players pondered their move. In spit of that, I still am intrigued by the game and enjoy it in concept. I only wish it were shorter by at least half.

Jon was eager to introduce us to Caylus, having played the night before. We were joined by one of Jon's fellow game-group members John Gravitt. John and Jon are part of Ed and Susan's posse over at the Game Ranch. Sam A rounded out the group to 5. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that at least one game of Caylus was in play at any moment during the CON, primarily thanks to the efforts of Valerie Putman who became the honorary Caylus instructor for the full run of the event. However, in our game, Jon had the honors of introducing the game and did a great job himself.
(I plan to come back and add a description of the game itself here later... In the meantime you can find a good one here)
Our game turned out to be a tough crowd. There were several occasions when players (red and green) dared to choose ahead of the provost in hopes of getting some prime building benefits early only to be shut down by other players moving provost back. Red, in particular, continued to push his luck only to be shut down each time, with growing frustration. Red and green then tried to broker a deal to ensure that they would get their actions executed, but that also failed in the end when it relied on black to commiserate. This in no way dampened my enthusiasm for the game, if anything it enhanced it.
I felt that the game has a nice narrative feel to the way it progresses. The basic actions remain the same throughout but the mix of buildings that have been recently built is always expanding/changing.
As far as length goes, Caylus is another longer game. We thought we were moving along at a brisk pace. The beginning does go fast but, as more buildings are built, the options increase and each round takes longer to complete. We ended up clocking in at about 3 hours, but in this case it didn't feel like it. We were involved throughout and time flew by.
My Rating: 8

6 Nimmt:
We got a quick game of 6 nimmt in while waiting for a pizza order to arrive. We played with Theresa and Alan, whom we met the night before playing Werewolf, and Annise and Jason, whom we had dinner with the next evening. The game was new to Annise and Jason but they caught on immediately and each had two very low scoring hands until through a series of unfortunate events, Theresa ended the game quickly in the third round with a collection of points she refused to count but was enough to end the game and then some.

While Maria went off to play another game of Werewolf I joined Mark Johnson, Greg Wilzbach and Tim for Mark's personal variant for the original Entdecker. This is the only way I had played Entdecker until this recent weekend when James and I got another game in with Mark (at a local Games Gathering), this time with the original rules. The game plays well both ways though feel more gamery with Mark's modfications. Mark won each time we played, and both times made some use of the strategy of picking up small small islands which close and score by creating a condition where a remaining corner of a 4 square tile grid an only contian one tile type and is thus automatically placed. It seems that in our playing of the two versions that the original Entdecker is more likely to produce discoveries of larger islands as there is no added cost for sailing in for the other edges of the board or for sailing past another player's encampment markers, as in Mark's variant. In both versions though there does seem to be a strategic benefit to independently trying to make and score a series of small two tile islands and to pick up the discovery token bonus by placing a settlement marker, as this gains points for you only. When another player begins formaing a larger island it is then advantageous to switch into a defensive posture by adding a token to the island to collect second place scoring there. It seems that the incremental steps gained from solo scoring the small islands are often enough to stay in the running and likely the win. I should try the New Entdecker next to see how it compares. So far I certainly enjoy the exploration theming of Entdecker and think that Mark has done a excellent job of expanding on Klaus Teuber's base game.
My rating: 7

After the werewolves got Maria, she came to join Mark and I for a final game for the night. I had a copy of Hansa out from the Library, a game which Mark had recently discussed on his BGTG podcast (show #41). I had played once before when Hansa had just come out and enjoyed it then but never got around to picking it up. Hansa is an interesting little pick up and deliver game. It is very tactical, as where you begin your turn depends on the actions of the other players. In our game ther were several turns in which it seemed that Mark and Maria's actions meshed together very well for both of them and left me on the short end of a cycling loop which I had trouble breaking out of. I find the artwork of Hansa particularly beautiful, with the yellowed greens and browns giving the board a feeling of antiquity. Maria particularly enjoyed this one and its length would ensure it further play within our busy daily scheudles. I should get this one soon.
My rating: 7

It was now 2:30 am and sleep was definitely in order, especially since tomorrow's flea market started at 9:00 AM and I wanted to check it out.

Wednesday, November 9


BoardGameGeek.CON: Day 1, Thursday November 3

We are back from Dallas having returned from the first BGG.CON exhausted and yet excited about all the new games played and friends made. This was Maria's first big boardgaming event short of having some friends over to our house for a game night. I have become a regular attendee at our local SoCal GamesDays which are actually quite similar to BGG.CON, so I knew what to expect and was all the more excited. Maria seemed a bit unsure of the whole thing and joked with friends about our pending trip, whch coincided with our anniversary. As one could expect, most people didn't know what to make of us wanting to faly halfway across the country to play boardgames on our anniversary. Their loss. We had a great time and Maria is already talking about plans for next year. I think this dive off the deep end really sold Maria on boardgames as a hobby. I've seen a real difference in her excitement level about playing. It's great.

The anticipation really started building before the CON as Derk and Aldie posted the contents of the 'Games Library'. A quick skim through the collection and I came up with 61 games I would jump at the chance to play...obviously at least 3x more than we could possibly get to. My two top 'hot games' Indonesia and Caylus topped the list. I had retrieved the rules for Caylus from the Geek and had read through them a couple times and had a sense of the game play. Peeking over my shoulder, Maria was intrigued by the images in the rules for Caylus and curious to see how it played. The rules for Indonesia however weren't available but Chris Brooks was kind enough to forward a copy for me to review in advance of our scheduled game. A couple passes through the rules and I thought I had a pretty good sense of what to expect with Indonesia and I was anxious to see it in action...but the CON was still days away.

Finally, after extensively coordinating the kids care schedule for our time away Thursday arrived. We dropped the kids off at school and headed for the airport. An uneventful flight landed around 4 pm and a 45 minute Super Shuttle ride had us to the Westin a bit after 5 pm. As we checked into our rooms we spied several fellow Geeks heading to the con with armloads of games in tow. The rooms of the Westin were quite comfortable especially the beds (though as exhausted as we were each night I think I could have slept as well anywhere). We quickly headed back downstairs and followed the signs to the CON which was on the un-leased 5th floor of the adjacent office building with an elevator lobby that looked like a mausoleum tomb, bedecked out in white marble. Upon checking in we received some SWAG (a restaurant guide and info about the CON, a cool BGG pin, some promo game items from Asmodee, and a little card game from Diet Evil Games, Fraud Squad.) We also got to draw a ticket for an unexpected instant prize from one of three tables, red yellow or blue in order of increasing value. Greg Wilzbach was just ahead of us and drew a yellow ticket. Maria and I drew red. I picked up the Cheapass Very Clever Pipe Game and Maria grabbed NetRunner. We quickly cruised through the game room, which was in full swing and decided we had better eat before sitting down to play.

Carcassonne, The City:
After margaritas and fajitas, we returned and headed to the Game Library and picked up something new yet familiar to get us started quickly, Carcassonne, The City. I have enjoyed earlier games from the Carcassonne series and have found they play best with fewer players. Maria and I skimmed the rules to see how The City varied from the others in the series. One difference immediately noticeable is the inclusion of a wooden gate, walls and tower pieces that certainly enhance the aesthetics of the game. The game play is divided into three phases, established by three tile draw piles of 30, 25, and 20 tiles each. The walls come into play in the second phase and increasingly in the third and are added whenever a player places a tile, which causes scoring to occur. The walls serve to control the growth of the city by enclosing it and limiting the placement of subsequent tiles. They also provide scoring opportunities through the placement of guards and towers.

The tiles are similar to those of the others in the series in that they are divided into several meeple scoring potentials, in this case it is roads, markets, and residential areas. Roads score mostly as expected, with 'citizen' meeples garnering 1 point per road segment if under 4 segments but 2 points per segment if the road is 4 or more segments long. This provides a defensive encentive to close down one's opponents roads early. Incomplete roads do not score at the game's end. Brown residential areas and green markets do not need to be played with matching adjacencies, only roads must match. Markets are a derivative of vanilla Carcassonne's cities. Upon closing a market the enclosed 'seller' meeple is scored as follows, number of market segments multiplied by the number of different colored wares ( from 1 to 3) available in the market. Like roads, unfinished markets do not score at the game's end. Residential areas are similar to farms in that they score at the conclusion of the game when the 'steward' meeple scores two points for each adjacent market. One notable item of note about tile scoring is that the scoring meeple must be in place prior to the placement of the tile that induces the scoring. So no more meeple-in-meeple-out scoringfor quick and dirty points.

Within the residential areas are two types of buildings, public and historic. The historic buildings are identified as such with a little scroll or banner denoting their significance to the town's citizens. These building come into play with the placement of the guards on the perimeter walls. Walls are added outward from either side of the main gate whenever a tile placement causes a meeple scoring. Whenever a player places a wall segment they have the option of adding a guard provided there is not a guard on the wall segment on the opposite side of the city already gurading the row or column of tiles. At game's end guards score two points for each public building and three points for each historic building on the tiles which lie in their line of sight. After each wall placement phase the player that initiated the phase has the option of adding a tower to either end of the two wall chains and score one point for each wall segment the just placed tower and the previous tower (or gate). The game ends when the last wall or tile is placed or when the city's walls are within 5 wall segments of surrounding the city at which point the guard and steward meeples are scored and the winner is determined.

In keeping with most first time games, we managed to miss a couple rules early on. We forgot about the towers until midway through the second tile pile and then added one is to close out the previously placed walls and start the wall count anew. After a couple references back to the rules for a refresher on the scorng conditions and resulting points things began to flow smoothly. We found that in our game meeples were quickly in short supply as there were two means of locking them up until end-game scoring, guards and stewards. In combination that created a dearth of scoring late in the game and slowed the addition of additional wall segments during the third tile stack. As a result, we ended our game by using all the tiles and only about half of the wall segments. Maria took an early lead from several road segments and market scores but I slowly edged past her to win by about 10 points gaining an advantage during the end game scoring of stewards. My conclusion? The City is definitely the most strategic of the series. The elimination of some of the adjacency requirements on tile placement opens them up to more potential play locations, wall placement can steer the direction of scoring growth, and the emilination of meeple-in-meeple-out scoring means that some advance commitment is required for each scoring more little pick-up scores. I like that. My overall impression is positive. It's not a must buy, but is certainly enjoyable and it is a positive evolution of the Carcassonne system. I'm just not sure that is enough to tip it into the buy list.
My Rating: 7

We then wandered back to the game library and checked out the special table with the latest Essen releases. Indonesia was there but I wasn’t sure if we had the time and energy to commit to that yet. My next immediate interest was with Kaivai which we grabbed just as Derk walked in and offered to ‘splain it to us. We rounded up two others to join us, including Troy who had flown in all the way from Australia. Now I won’t comment too much on Derk’s ‘splainin other than to point out that during the latest BoardGames To Go podcast #42 when Mark Johnson comments about the difficulty Derk had with explaining Kaivai, Derk notes that Mark's game was his 5th time explaining the game. We were his first…

As others have noted, the rules to Kaivai are a bit confusing, but not overwhelmingly so, provided one spends the time to absorb them. We played the game twice during BGG.CON and, while I struggled with the rules in the first game, they became clear and easier to explain for our second game (once I had read through them myself and had one muddled play under my belt as a reference). And so on that note I will provide a rather detailed explanation of the game to better guide future players. (Note: the publisher's English rules can be found here.)

Kaivai is a game of expanding island nations in which each tribe survives on an economy based on fishing, using shells as currency and tokens to the gods for influence. The hex based board playing area consists of an ocean interspersed with multiple starting islands (brown spaces known as cult tiles). At the top edge of the board are circular spaces denoting the six potential actions a player can take on their turn. These include increasing your travel distance, building new huts, fishing, selling your catch, holding a festival to the gods, and taking an additional movement (a basic movement is included in the fishing, selling and building actions). Each player starts with a cache of three fish, three shells (with an initial value of 5 each), and three influence tokens. Players start by founding an island by adding a fishing hut and its associated boat plus one additional building of their choice (another fishing hut, a fishing god temple, or a meeting hut). The second hut may be placed on the same or a different island.

Each player also receives a playing mat on which their turn order bid is tracked, movement range increases are tracked, and the value of the shell currency and freshness of the fish is recorded on a track numbered from 1 to 5. The three shells are placed on the 5 box and represent a total value of 15. As money is spent, change can be made but currency cannot be combined and upgraded (i.e. a 1-value shell and a 3-value shell cannot be combined into a single 4-value shell or repositioned as two 2-value shells). This all becomes relevant at the end of each round when all currency and fish are moved down one space on the value scale. (All 5-value shells become 4-value shells etc.) The fish don’t have any intrinsic value that they are losing, as a fish sold from any box would sell for the same shell value (5, 4, or 3), it’s just that if you don’t sell it before it ends up in the 1-value box it will slide off the end of the chart and be gone.

Throughout the game, players will bid for turn order, with each player selecting a unique bid in the range of 1 to 10. The amount bid influences the cost of building new huts and the distance one can sail. (Low bids have low build-costs and low movement range, mid bids have mid build-costs and maximized movement, high bids have high build-costs and low movement range). Thus, the balance between turn order versus desired action must be optimized to maximize one’s turn. The low bidder each round first gets to add a new cult tile to an existing island and move the communal fishing god token to the added tile (which must be on a new island) and all players who have built a communal hut on this island receive one influence token for each meeting hut of their color present. (This is one of the two ways to collect more influence tokens, the other is to immediately pass your entire turn when it is your first turn to select and execute an action each round. This nets you two influence tokens.) Then in bid order players select and execute an action. The first time an action is selected an influence token is placed on the action from the stock and it can be executed for free. The next player wishing to take the same action in the same round must add influence tokens from their personal supply equal to the number of tokens already on the action (Thus, the cost to take an already selected action doubles with each subsequent selection of the same action). Note, the number of influence tokens each player has is kept secret. Subsequent bids for turn order are executed by position on the victory point track, with low player going first. Ties are broken by shells then fish.

As I mentioned, the game’s economy centers on fishing. Fishing huts are the start point for the fishing boats. To fish a player must move their boat adjacent to a brown cult tile on an island on which they also have erected a fishing god temple. The actual fishing involves rolling special dice, 1 die for each god temple on the island (including the black god token if present). The dice have blue and white spots on them, one on each side. Blue dots represent a successful catch and the number of blue dots on a die diminishes with each additional die added to the roll allotment. If a player has multiple boats, each boat gets to participate in the fishing action separately.

Once a player has caught some fish, the fish can be converted into either money to fund the building of more huts or into victory points. The conversion process first involves selling the fish. Fish can be sold by sailing one’s boat adjacent to fishing huts or meeting huts (but not to fishing god temples). If sold to the huts of another player, the fish will generate shell currency at the rate of one 5-value shell for the first fish on the tile, 4 for the second and 3 for the third. Each hut tile can only hold three fish. Fish sold to other players remain on their tiles (and will eventually convert to victory points for that player during a celebration) and the selling player receives shell currency from the bank, which is added to their player mat in the appropriate boxes. If fish is sold (or donated, as no money is received) to a hut of a player’s own color then the fish are stored for a future celebration at which time they will be converted to victory points. Again, the limit of three fish per tile applies. A player can sell fish to multiple tiles on a single turn provided all tiles are adjacent to the boat from a single point – no mid-turn movement is allowed.

Celebrations are held to convert fish into victory points. By selecting the celebration action a player can choose any island on which a celebration can be held. Players then remove the fish and receive one victory point for each fish on their huts, plus the individual taking the celebration action receives one bonus victory point for every three fish used in the celebration. Victory points are tracked on the point track around the perimeter of the board.

Building new huts is similar to fishing in that the player selecting this action must sail their boat to a water tile adjacent to a brown cult tile near to their desired building site. That player can then build a new hut on any water hex adjacent to the same island as the cult tile and that is adjacent to the player's boat. The player must also pay the building cost which is the sum of the number of existing tiles on the island plus the building cost associated with that players turn order bid. Each of the building types provides game-play value. Increasing your fishing fleet allows you to fish more locations (provided you have fishing gods present) and permit expansion to other islands. Fishing god temples increase your fishing catch and locations for fishing. Meeting huts bring in influence tokens and increase your island size if you are the low bidder.

The game continues for 10 rounds and concludes with a final scoring. At this time all buildings are counted and score two points each for their owners. Plus each island is then reviewed for a majority presence with the player with the greatest presence on each island receiving one point per tile making up the island. In determining majorities, each boats adjacent to an island’s cult tiles count as a presence. Finally players can add to their final total by a closed fist bid of any remaining influence tokens which if successful are lost (and retained if unsuccessful.)

The Components:
First, the box is huge given the components in the game. That is not to say it is oversized, as it is correctly sized given the components. It is really that the playing board only folds in half and not into quarters. Given the size of the board, this is significant, as it creates an awkward box size that would be unique in my collection and thus present storage delimmas.

I found the box art the board and the components themselves to be quite beautiful and functioned well during game play. There was never any confusion arising from the graphic design of the components. The huts are efficiently designed, making use of both sides of the tiles to represent all three building types (fishing god temples are fishing huts with a god token added to them) as are the 2 sided fish/shell pieces. The cardboard is nice and thick and the printing is of high quality.

Words of Wisdom:
End game scoring is significant. Over half the points received by the winning players in our second game were derived from the end game scoring. (In our first game we didn't know about the end game scoring until after the conclusion of our game and further review of the rules.)

Influence tokens are very scarce and care must be taken to use them wisely. In our games I think everyone passed at least once to restock on influence tokens for future turns.

Parting thoughts:
The game is long. Both our plays tracked in at about 3 hours. I believe this is because the economy is so tight that turn decisions tend to be agonized over drawing out the playing time (that may have been a local trait of our group, but I think it would be common). Additional plays will likely speed up, but I do not see the game finishing in under two hours. I would love this game at 1 hour, it would be fantastic. At 2 hours it would be a good game that would probably see some regular play. But at the three hour range the game just seems to drag on too long and overextended its stay on the table. That said I enjoyed playing Kaivai and found the decisions interesting. The mechanics work well together too. There is a lot to like here if one has a fast playing group. I am likely to still pick it up in spite of my fledgling group's lethargic playing time track record.
My Rating: 7

Exhausted from our Kaivai marathon, Maria and I opted for some light flicking for a mental break. Derk and Aldie (I assume) have a couple a very cool BGG Crokinole boards with the Geek logo on them. Maria and I got in a 2 player game. After my first round scoring it looked like it would be a short game, but then Maria shut me out for the next three or four rounds and built up a solid comeback, but it was not to be. I rallied and ended the game in one final round sinking a couple in the center and leaving three other in the center ring while virtually eliminating all of Maria's pieces from the board. Our board at home is a quite a bit faster, due to the dusting of mespi powder it received i one of our previous plays. (this photo is from Ed Rozimarek's photo gallery. check out his CON report too.)

Now fully exhausted we began to wander back to our room but didn't get far before being grabbed by a group of Werewolf players looking to expand their game. Having always been curious about the game I willingly joined in and Maria followed along too. It turns out that our kids have played Werewolf before we did...they played it at summer camp in its Mafia incarnation. Anyway, Werewolf is a social game of deceit and persuasion in which the villagers try to figure out who amongst their group are actually werewolves and lynch them before all being killed themselves during the night. Every evening before nightfall the villagers must lynch one of the group, the one they most suspect to be a werewolf. The suspected individual can make a plea of innocence and try to convince the group to lynch someone else instead. In the end someone is suspicious and gets lynched and then night falls, the werewolves awake and silently select one villager who is killed in the night. Morning then comes and the event repeats until either the werewolves are killed or the villagers are all eaten/lynched. With larger groups other special roles come into play which allows the villagers to learn more information about the werewolves but if not careful become quick targets for the wolves. In our first game I was a villager and Maria was a witch. She had a healing and poison potion which she could use to save a suspected villager and kill a suspected wolf. Through the course of the game she somehow managed to do both and aided the villagers in their successful defeat of the werewolves. I, through my meager skills of persuasion and convincing dialogue barely managed to stay alive as a couple villagers had me pegged as a wolf. I could quickly see that I was going to fail miserably at werewolf, whereas Maria was instantly addicted. That night post-game analysis kicked in and she tossed and turned, waking many times to discuss what happened, what she thought and how she could have performed differently. She played again the next night and got another special villager role, but this time the werewolves won.
(Again Ed Rozmiarek captures the moment with this photo.)

is this the jeff wauer that went to Iowa State?

chris donovan
The one and the same.
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