Wednesday, November 9
BoardGameGeek.CON: Day 1, Thursday November 3
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 earned...no 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.)
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.
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.)