Struggling for Power

This week’s session allowed Avri to introduce Azriel, Peleg, Sheer, and me to Power Struggle, a cynical worker placement game with some interesting twists. The theme is corporate advancement. You are trying to be the first player to get to four victory points. You get VPs by excelling in certain areas – for example, shares held, influence, corruption (told you it was cynical) and so on – and you achieve this by maneuvering your workers into positions of power in the various company departments or the board of directors.

There’s corruption because each divisional head (and the chairman of the board) has a unique power they can use. In your turn, one possible action is to offer a bribe to the holder of that power. The person offering the bribe gets a corruption point. If it’s accepted, the power changes hands and the person taking the bribe is also corrupted. If the bribe is not accepted, the person offering the bribe exacts retribution by firing one of the other person’s workers. Brutal.

Managers and workers hard at, er, play?

The game round has a unique flavour. Each round, the head of communications is dealt a batch of cards including the mandatory Bonus card (payout to all players) and Board Meeting card (end of the round with a board meeting). The head of communications can order the cards as he wishes. And, he can therefore set the length of the round – after a minimum of four cards – and hopefully profit from the knowledge of what is coming up when.

Most cards adjust the company’s reputation (standing?) and that affects bonus powers. Bonus powers are what you get when you bribe the basic power away from the original holder, allowing enhanced hiring, firing, bonuses, and share purchases.

Finally, each player has a secret nemesis (it can be yourself!) and secret goals. If you beat your nemesis in three specified categories, that is one VP – 25% of what is needed for a win. There is only a winner; no second prizes. Oh, and if your nemesis is yourself, I think you get the extra VP for being ahead of everybody in two categories.

As to our play, first we had Avri explain the rules as only he knew it. There’s a lot to take in, but we managed and were off and scheming after half an hour. Of course, we made mistakes. I managed to screw myself by allowing the play of a card that affected the divisional head and not, as I thought, the holder of the relevant special power. I made tons of mistakes, but as usual was more interested in seeing the game play than working out how to win. For sure, it’s a bit of a puzzle.

Everything looked rosy from the boardroom

Avri, being experienced in the game, did fine. Sheer, as usual, went for the kill mercilessly, although he did try and pretend he was struggling by asking some questions! Azriel and Peleg played along, though I am not sure either of them was doing any better than me, at least at the beginning. In the later rounds, Peleg and Azriel raced away from me, though Sheer and Avri were clearly further ahead. A well timed board coup by Sheer was the killer blow, and so he won.

It’s interesting to compare this to Caylus. Power Struggle is less complex, but still has a lot going on. That may be one reason I preferred it, though I would not go as far as to say I liked the game. Another reason I found it better than Caylus may be that the Power Struggle theme fits better. You can almost see the plotting going on. Ultimately, it’s a question of personal taste.

One thing  I was less keen on, was the luck element. (Avri disagrees there is luck.) This is a meaty game – not overly long – and there seemed too much luck to me. For example, the length of the round is dependent on one player’s selection. So, a strategy that needs more turns than are played gets burned. Further, the cards turned face over at the start of each round can affect the efficiency of your chosen action. Again, you have no control over this. And I don’t think it’s enough to say you can reduce the lack of knowledge by acquiring the post of head of communications, because that only works for one player. In addition, the bribe mechanism leaves you at the mercy of other players’ choices. The amount of the bribe given may be too high or too low, thus giving an advantage to one player or another, with no way of you legitimately influencing that decision.

So, in short, while I enjoyed playing the game, and I like it better than Caylus, it’s not going to be one of my favorites.

I will try and write up my thoughts about the whole scenario of euros, complexity, luck, and personal enjoyment.


Why, why, why?

Avri, Azriel, Sheer, and I played Caylus in this week’s regular gaming session. This is an old, but venerated game. (Avri calls the two player version ‘better than chess’ so he is clearly a fan.) It uses worker placement and a combination of different resources and converters (stuff that uses the resources to generate better resources, victory points, and so on) to give you a game where there are a lot of choices, but never enough time. And those pesky things called opponents keep getting in the way.

I had played the game a long, long time ago, and I wasn’t that taken with it. But Avri’s enthusiasm appealed to Azriel and Sheer, and I was willing to go along for the ride.

Avri’s explanation of the rules was good, as attested to by the fact we had very few questions during the game, and got just about everything right. Of course, the one thing I didn’t get right was my strategy, but no surprise there.

Avri’s familiarity with the game inevitably led to him winning. But Azriel’s ferocious building program gave him a wee fright, and Sheer came even closer by dint of his usual powerful analysis. Unsurprisingly, having made all the wrong choices, I was in last place. And I still didn’t like the game.

So, why don’t I like the game? That’s for another post.

Meantime, note that I still enjoyed the night. It gives me pleasure seeing gamers having a good time.



First Cristot

Ran and I played the ASL scenario First Cristot, a June 1944 encounter between the British and the Germans. I was the German player, and Ran the British.

The British infantry start at one end of the board – eight squads, two leaders, a hero, three LMGs, and a PIAT – and have to break through the German line to climb the hilly terrain at the other end of the board to claim victory. The Germans have two SS squads, three SS half squads, a couple of leaders, a medium machine-gun, a panzerschreck, and a 50mm anti-tank gun.

Both sides have tanks. The British tanks – four Shermans and a Firefly – have advanced too far ahead of their infantry and are sitting close to where the infantry have to reach. The German tanks – two Panthers – enter on the first turn to face up to the British tanks.

The scenario – played in wet weather conditions – has one quirky rule: the British player has to choose in each turn if he will move his tanks or his infantry. Since his infantry need to get across the baord, they should get most of the movement opportunities, leaving the British tanks as sitting ducks. That simply means the British tanks have to set up well, and Ran managed it in his typically skillful way.

The scenario began with a weather roll that worsened the rain. That didn’t really affect the outcome. If it had changed by having the rain stopped, that would have hevaily favored the attacker since they could then use their smoke capability to mask their advances.

Unfortunately for me, Ran’s twin pronged approach breached my thin line on one side of the board. Led by his PIAT toting hero, he had soon cleared enough room so that the victory area was in sight.

Worse, one of my tanks had its gun malfunction. Things went from bad to worse. The Firefly killed the gun capable tank, then the other gun broke completely and it had to be recalled.

By then, the British forces were well on top and I conceded.

The next day, after checking, Ran was a gentleman and told me that his overachieving hero should have died. (It was wounded and wounded again.) That did have a major impact in cracking my defense open, but given the dreadful state of the tanks’ performance, I doubt it would have made a difference.

The posted results of the scenario favor the Germans, but I think we agreed the setup challenge for the Germans is a hard one.

As usual, I learned a lot from the game. If only I could remember it…


On the beach on the table

On the table, I’m on the beach – Omaha Beach on D-Day (6 June 1944) – trying to recreate the successful amphibious invasion against Nazi occupied Europe. The game is John Butterfield’s D-Day at Omaha Beach, published by Decision, and is a solitaire game with the system controlling the German defenders.

Essentially, the action is controlled by a deck of cards which uses a combination of colors (each matching a defending position), fire symbols (each representing different intensities of fire) and counter symbols (determining which units are hit) to give you a tough opponent. As the American player, you are given the historical forces to achieve your goals, but you have to survive the landing operation, brave the fire on the beaches, and get in close to wipe out the well dug in defenders. And all against the clock.

I have played the standard scenario several times and never got close to a victory. The extended scenario adds actions for the German defenders, making it a lot tougher.

Things I like: a genuine solitaire system that you cannot second guess. There are tough decisions to make every turn. The game does a good job of creating the right atmosphere, transporting you to that time and place. You do get a true sense of the bloody slaughter.

Things I don’t like: my success rate…

There are two more games using a similar system but about Pacific battles.

Highly recommended if you like WW2 and want a good solitaire game. Not recommended for novices, unless you have some to show you the ropes.



Running out of time

This week’s session got off on the wrong foot as we set up the excellent Terra Mystica, only to realize we wouldn’t have time to finish it. Instead, Azriel, Roy, Sheer, and I did a five lap version of Automobiles. This was new to Roy, but Sheer did a great job of explaining the rules and we were soon off and running.

Unfortunately, Roy ran out of time, so we crashed his car and had the three survivors battle it out.

Azriel was out in front first, and was steady, steady, and steady. He just wasn’t fast enough. Sheer and I overtook him on the second lap or thereabouts, after which we took it in turns to have the lead. Just as it was getting to the final lap, two awful draws by me meant my car was stuck and going nowehere, leaving Sheer an easy run to be first across the finishing line.

My pet hate about Automobiles is that with the wrong cubes drawn, there is nothing you can do. That luck element – supposedly – balances out. But I am not convinced. I wonder what would happen if we allowed a player to play two for one (or three for one) so that he could always trade for one or more cubes that would allow movement,

I then introduced Azriel and Sheer to Ivanhoe. This is a fine filler from Knizia, being a trick taking game with a tournament theme tacked on.

Azriel again was out front first, but was overtaken by Sheer. I caught up a little, but had burned my cards in too many lost challenges, and could not keep up with the pace, allowing Sheer the win after a struggle over the final tournament.

Lots of losses, an element of frustration, but also lots of fun.


Down Mexica Way

Avri, Azriel, Sheer, and I had fun this week with two closely fought and tense games.

Dominion: Prosperity was first, using one of the suggested preconstructed decks that allowed for much friendly interaction. Sheer got off to his usual quick start, and was soon amassing all the money he needed to buy the necessary victory point cards. Avri, Azriel, and I were slower in starting, but managed to generate some momentum and grab a decent amount of victory points. After a while all of our hands – suitably stuffed with VP cards – started to slow down a bit. It was at this point that I though we might catch Sheer, but alas it was not to be. Sheer held on for a win by four points, with Azriel and I behind, and Avri only one point further back.

Next, I introduced everyone to Mexica. This is a classic action point area majority game where, as usual, you can never quite do enough to advance your own plans and, simultaneously, beat up your opponents. Everyone picked up the game reasonably quickly, though Azriel struggled somewhat with the scoring. We tried to help him out, and by the end he was in contention if not enlightened. The game has two rounds of scoring, and after the first my advantage was reflected in my leading position. In the second round, Avri did all that he could to haul me back, so it was no real surprise to me that this allowed Sheer the win. Again, a tight game. And the stabbing and backstabbing – metaphorically of course – was great fun.

Thanks to my three plucky visitors for a fine night of entertainment.