Turning the red planet green

So, there I was, wondering what game to play at this week’s session. Five gamers. Hmm. Terra Mystica, Puerto Rico, or Power Grid

One gamer called off.

So, there I was, wondering what game to play at this week’s session. Four gamers. Hmm. Acquire, Tigris to Euphrates, or Dominion

One gamer called off.

So, there I was, wondering what game to play at this week’s session. Three gamers. Hmm. Alhambra, Ticket To Ride, or Game of Thrones

One gamer called off.

So, there I was, wondering what game to play at this week’s session. Two gamers. Sheer and me. So, I asked Sheer, and Terraforming Mars got the nod.

In all seriousness, if only for a moment, it meant that Sheer could teach me to play this game – one I have been looking to play for a while – without any distractions. We took it easy, and before long we were up and playing.

If only I knew what the good cards were!

In short, each player is a company tasked with terraforming Mars, the famous red planet. Each company has its own special power. The extent to which Mars is improved is measured by its temperature, oxygen level, and ocean coverage. Each player is dealt cards and uses these cards to acquire the necessary building blocks to acquire the necessary cards to acquire…you get the picture.

Being card driven, there is a substantial luck element. Sheer’s house rule to alleviate the effects is a good one: using a 7-Wonders type drafting mechanism for each batch of new cards. It adds time, but was well worth it.

Like with many of these types of games – with a ton of cards and card interactions – Sheer’s extensive previous plays gave him a big advantage. I knew that before we started, but it was all about learning the game, and Sheer probably had some of the enjoyment drained out of the experience as well since he faced such a modest challenge. But it was fun, and I think Sheer enjoyed competing against himself to see how far he could boost his average score. Quite far, methinks!

Red was doing well. I wasn’t red…

I am even more keen to play the game after that first exposure. It took us, including rules briefing, about three hours. The problem is, with more than two players, it may be too long for a single night’s play midweek. Maybe I will need to wait for another night of call-offs!

Thanks To Sheer for coming and teaching me the game. A keeper.


Entering the arena

Avri, Azriel, Efrat, Rosalynn, and Sheer joined me for this week’s regular gaming session. Surprisingly, Mr Prompt (aka Sheer) was last to arrive, and late, so a group decision was made to kick off with Between Two Cities. I’m not sure if there was a connection, but another rarity occurred: Sheer finished in last place. Who won? Glad you asked. I did. Sort of. Actually, it was a tie between Azriel and me, but for some strange, illogical, unfair, and prejudicial tie breaking rule, Azriel won. So, I sort of won, but Azriel really won.

So far as the game play itself is concerned, there was a quick rules briefing required for some, but once started the play was straightforward. The different scoring for different types of tiles is neat, and although there is some considerable luck, there is more skill than may at first appear. I like it well enough to keep playing it.

We then moved on to 7 Wonders.

  • Efrat had never played it before, and – inevitably – struggled. She hung on like a trouper, however, and kept fighting for every last point until the bitter end.
  • Rosalynn cornered the science cards and amassed a might 40 points in that category alone. Unfortunately, there was little else on her scoreboard.
  • Avri went for a military win, did well enough with that and finance, but otherwise made little impact.
  • Sheer added to his military prowess with some blue and yellow cards, doing well enough to finish 3rd.
  • Azriel scored well in the final rounds, picking up some decent guild cards, and important sets of science cards. He was 2nd.
  • My blue card strategy turned out to be a winner. A couple of guild cards in the closing rounds made sure of victory.

Rosalynn went off for an early night, and the five remaining tackled Titan the Arena, a classic Reiner Knizia design.

The game is built on the theme of monsters fighting in an arena, with one eliminated each round. You start with eight, and stop when three are left standing. Each monster has a special power (extra draw, extra discard, swap cards, and do on) but you can only use the power if you play a card of that type, and you control the monster. Control is determined by the strength of your bets. You have poker chips to signal your bets, and each round the value of your bet is decreased. There is also a maximum of one secret bet per player which is tricky. It’s valuable if it survives, but at the outset it is a guess, really, of who will survive no matter the cards in your hand.

All were new to this except me, so I explained the rules and led by example, making a suicidal secret bet, and then desperately trying for some respectability. Let it be said that there was a lot of backstabbing in this game, and some of it even had a point…

Avri put me out of the reckoning, then Azriel, Sheer, and Efrat got in a tangle. I stayed clear, but still finished last. Most others were huddled above me in the ‘respectable score’ region, with Efrat a clear winner. Good, clean fun.

Thanks to all who came. It was fun.


The damn crossroads

16 June, 1815, 14:30, on the road to Quatre Bras.

Still on the table is the Quatre Bras battle from Battles of Waterloo.

Generally, I have to fit in my wargaming in snatches of time, so I rarely get a chance for a single long session to immerse myself in a game. That’s when I get the best out of playing a wargame. It’s one reason why I love playing ASL, because you have to be at it for hours! It’s another reason why I treasure my trips to Consimworld. Therefore, this game hasn’t had the best of chances to shine. However, there’s a lot to like, and I’ve enjoyed playing and replaying the battle for the famous crossroads.

The French Cavalry are about to cross the stream and outflank the Allied line, threatening mass slaughter. Will Ney seize the chance, or is he worried what’s behind the ridge?

I want to try the Ligny battle in the Battles of Waterloo box. However, the Ligny game by Walter Vejdovsky (Ligny 1815: Last Eagles, published by Hexasim) has received rave reviews, and I am more likely to play that first.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if the original command system were given some love, care, and attention, it might be worth reusing.  That having been said, in this particular battle, there’s a need for straitjacket rules to prevent grossly ahistorical developments. No French player worth his salt would dilly-dally the way Ney did.

The combat system – like Fallen Eagles – uses both fire and shock combat. The Gamers‘ Napoleonic Battle Series (NBS) took fire combat out for infantry, and rolled up into a quite brilliant shock combat system. That does speed play enormously. I fiddled around with implementing a combat system like that into Battles of Waterloo, and it sort of worked. But, why was I going halfway towards NBS instead of just using full blown NBS? Another gaming project for retirement!


Between Games

First, an apology to Efrat. In the report of last week’s session, I should have mentioned that she brought the Manhattan Project game we played, and I also should have thanked her for bringing it. So, belatedly, thanks Efrat!

Now onto my report of this week’s session.

Azriel, Peleg, and Sheer came along and we started with a new game to all of us: Between Two Cities. It’s a tile placement game with shades of 7 Wonders. The neat thing is that you build two cities, not one, sharing one with the opponent to your left and right. Your score is the lowest city score you have.

The game is played in three rounds, with a hand of tiles dealt to you in each round. (The middle round has duplex tiles which are somewhat trickier.) There are different types of buildings, each with its own scoring mechanism. Neat. You choose (secretly) two to play, and pass on the rest. Then, after placement, you pick up those tiles you have been passed, choose two, pass on the rest, and so on.

A city – but not a high scoring one!

The game is fast, and I suspect has greater depth than we gave it credit. For example, since you know the pool of tiles, you can guesstimate what the other players are holding and likely to play so as to improve their cities.

The scores were close, but Sheer’s two cities were top and that made his lowest score the best score. I think what was also interesting is that we played without table talk, and that smoothed and sped up play. I want to try this again.

While I remember: this game also game with a unique set of starting player cards. You draw randomly, and it tells you how to determine the starting player. For example, alphabetical by city of birth. This is a neat idea that is, of course, available to use for all games. Maybe I will adopt it as the house standard.

Then, an old favorite: Dominion: Dark Ages. We took five basic action cards and five from Dark Ages to give a slow, smouldering deck. I went for a money strategy and an early finish. Sheer and Azriel were using Rampage and Pillage cards, and Peleg was doing that too, but with a bit more variety. My strategy paid off just in time, as I was able to finish the game and claim the win by a mere two points.

We ended the night with a three handed game of Eight Minute Empire while Peleg busied himself on a conference call with Bill Gates, Larry Page, and Warren Buffet. Sheer had never played this. After playing it, he described it as ‘the worst game I have played in a long time’ so I don’t think he’ll be playing it again soon.

It was Azriel whose play was spot on, and he handily beat Sheer and me. Once again, he professed to not understand the set scoring. Once again, he scored the most for his sets…

As an aside, Sheer’s comment reminds me to note that every gamer has his own style of game that he likes or dislikes. For example, when we played Santiago, Efrat said she disliked auction based games. And then there’s my own dislike of complex abstract games. Then again, for every game we hate there will be many gamers who love it. It’s a funny old world the world of gaming. Thankfully!

Thanks to all who came and made the night so much fun. We had a lot of laughs.


Water, water, everywhere…

This week’s session started with a five player game of Eight Minute Empire. Roy and I had played it before, but the game was new to Avri, Azriel, and Efrat. Although Azriel said he was struggling with the concept of a set, I should have remembered the lad has form in the field of misdirection. And so, once again, the youngster won, albeit just one point ahead of Roy. As expected, it was a tight game, proving this is a nifty little filler game.

Next up, Santiago. This is a 2003 game featuring a specialized turn order auction mechanic combined with tile placement and bribery. (Efrat, midst game, said she dislikes auction games and wouldn’t be rushing to play it again. I sympathize.) Avri and I had played this before, and there was a brief rules introduction before we started. There’s a lot you can analyze about the game and the value of your decisions (assuming matters work out as you think…) and Avri is well skilled in doing exactly this. Of course nothing turned out the way I had hoped, and my bold strokes turned out to be foolish foibles. Such is a life in games, sometimes! Anyway, Avri saw everything turn out well for him, and he was a relatively easy winner, with the rest of us a bit behind.

It’s early in the game, but already things don’t look good

With Roy departing to save the western world, that left four of us to plot how best to build an atomic bomb or two.

Yes, the theme of The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction is to build weapons of mass destruction. It’s a card game version of a successful board game, and cuts the action down to simple bare-bones card combinations. You have a hand of five cards, each with one or two workers of different types, as well as resources. You must choose how best to use each card, and how best to use that card in conjunction with another card. For example, one card might have two scientists and a enrichment plant. Which should you use? The two scientists can be combined with some yellow cake to get you uranium. But maybe it would be better to use the enrichment plant. And so it goes. Fun. Fast. A good filler. Avri won just ahead of Efrat. Azriel and I were too busy enjoying the game play to think about anything as sordid as winning the game…(Ahem.)

A good night. Thanks to all who came.


On the Road to Waterloo

The Battles of Waterloo is the Richard Berg design published by GMT Games (1994) on the four battles of Waterloo: Quatre Bras, Ligny, Wavre, and Mont St Jean. Each hex is 210 yards, each turn is half an hour, and each unit is a regiment. Units have strength points at the rate of one per 300 infantry, 200 cavalry, or 6 guns.

The physical components – especially the maps and counters – are very good, but the rules are somewhat troubled. You can play the game with the original rules, but there are some areas where you will have to use your judgement. A later rewrite didn’t completely solve the problems. However, the core design is just so damn enthralling that it is worth slogging away and filling in the blanks. Not ideal, but the absence of any more games using the system meant there was no commercial impetus to fix the rules properly. On Consimworld, Richard said the issues were to do with the complex Allied Army command structure. Unfortunately, that’s only partly correct. The irony is that the game system does quite a good job of replicating command and control issues.

I played it a few times when it first came out, but only tried the Waterloo (Mont St Jean) scenario. It is a bit of a slugfest, and I don’t recall Napoleon ever coming out on top. This time around, I decided to play Quatre Bras – the encounter between Ney and Waterloo that featured the classic non appearance of the entire French I Corps. The historical situation, apart from the I Corps, is that Ney was not aggressive or as forceful as he should have been had Napoleon’s orders been clearer. The special rules handle this well, though it is a bit frustrating for the French side to have the tools to do the job, but be held back by command issues. One good thing about the Quatre Bras game is that there is no guarantee Ney will be so slow as in his real life performance. So, after a first attempt that saw Ney fairly easily rebuffed, it was good to see that in the second run through, the French were victorious.

Here come the French!

Although there were no more in the series, if you look closely you can see how some of the ideas here have been sharpened up and packaged inside the Fallen Eagles system. the scales are similar, though Fallen Eagles allows much more stacking, and uses one hour turns. That series now covers Waterloo, Austerlitz, and Ligny, and seems to be doing well. Also similar in scale is the Napoleonic Battles Series from the Gamers, but there are going to be no more of those as sales, apparently, were disappointing.

The Allies are waiting…


Eight Minute Empire

Despite the misleading title, this is a decent filler game that does a good job of synthesizing some worker placement themes into a fast, fun, and thoughtful challenge.

It’s designed for two to five players, and the game length varies according to the number of players. If you are super fast, you could finish a two player game in under ten minutes, but I would guess most games will take 30-45 minutes.

There is a double sided board, allowing you to choose what map you want to play on. Each is split into continents and areas. All players start in the same starting area (with three armies) and then the game begins by laying out six cards. The first player chooses a card, plays any price, executes the action, and the player’s turn is done.

You start with a set amount of money that has to last the game. Each card has a price according to its position in the row, varying from 0 to 3. If you run out of money, you have to take the ‘0’ card. Each card has an action – introduce new armies, move armies, build a city, or eliminate an army – and a commodity. At the end of the game you get victory points for areas controlled, continents controlled, and sets of commodities. Control comes from having the most armies plus cities in an area.

You can only add new armies to the start area (which is where every player’s army starts) or where you have a city. And you can build a city where you have an army. That means you need to think about when and where (or if) you want to take a turn to build a city.

The key trick in the game is to watch the available cards, work out what you need, work out what your opponents need, and take the card that best advances your position whilst least advancing your opponents’ positions. You are unlikely to get stuck with analysis paralysis, but the decisions are not always easy.

Susan and I played this a couple of times, once with a third (novice) player, and enjoyed it. It’s a very good example of a filler game, with a nice balance of luck and skill, and is highly replayable, even if it will take you more than eight minutes to play.


Dead Heroes

This week newcomer Asher and I shared a game and chat session as others were busy skiing, recovering from illness, getting their hair done (hi guys!), walking the cat, or suffering a diary malfunction. We played Hero Realms. With Asher being new to Ra’anana and new to the game, there was probably more chat than game, but it was a very pleasant evening.

Hero Realms is a super fast, cut-down version of Dominion which is all about kill, crush, destroy. And Asher truly killed, crushed, and destroyed my deck. It was quite amusing to watch him ignore all my genuinely well intended advice, and for him to slip slowly towards oblivion. Then something strange happened, he recovered, and it was me who ended up in oblivion. I’m not quite sure how that happened, but it happen it did and Asher was the worthy winner. Well done, Asher. Next time, I won’t explain all the rules so clearly…8)


Among the Gamers

In this week’s gaming session, we went from deep space to deepest Puerto Rico. Quite a night.

Newcomer Efrat joined Azriel, Sheer and me for Among the Stars. a sort of 7 Wonders in space. Neither Efrat nor Azriel had played it before, but both picked it up quite well. Efrat mastered it a bit better, as she demonstrated by winning her first ever game, just ahead of Sheer.

Where’s Captain Kirk when you need him?

In brief, Efrat’s compact space station strategy worked. Sheer’s more strategic placements – taking positions in anticipation of cards still to be drawn – fell short because the cards he was looking for must have been among those (randomly) withdrawn at the start.

Azriel and I floundered around a bit. I know I made some bad choices. At the end, he and I were a bit behind. Anyway, as said, our newcomer was the winner. Well done Efrat.

Efrat didn’t quite manage to repeat the feat in the next game, San Juan. Again it was her first time, and she was certainly in contention. I am sure Azriel has played this a lot, but he seems to prefer some of the expansions to this base game, and his strategy just did not work here. My mistake – no strategy; I did not have a plan until it was too late. Sheer had a plan – a master plan – and it worked masterfully well, securing him the win. Well done Sheer.

Great night: two fine games, and some funny moments among the game play. Thanks to all who came.


War on the Sidelines

This week’s session saw something old and something new.

The old was Sheer repeating his impressive teaching of Great Western Trail to new players: Avri, Azriel, and Ken. The new was Peleg and I trying out Columbia Games’ Combat Patrol.

There’s danger on the trail

I watched the Great Western Trail game from the sidelines and was impressed at how quickly the three newcomers picked up the game mechanics. There were very few rule questions after Sheer had finished his explanation. That having been said, how many of them were playing the game well?

Azriel was struggling a bit with the variety of choices. Also, he misunderstood how the train track victory points (VP) worked, and suffered a 10 VP reduction. Ouch. The inevitable result was that he finished fourth.

Ken seemed quite happy, working away at his strategy. It just turned out not be a very good one… Ken’s best performance was in collecting hazards for VP, but he also had a loss (7 VP) from the train track. Ken finished third.

Sheer was the favorite to win given his playing experience with the game, but Avri performed an amazing feat of game analysis. He not only worked out how to play the game, but also how to crush everyone else at the board. His score was so high that it would have taken Sheer and Ken’s combined score to just beat him! Sheer may have been misdirected from his mission by trying to keep the other players – pardon the expression – on track, but it might also be that Avri found a crack in the design.

I previously thought that the game did a reasonable job of hiding the winner. Avri thought otherwise. He also thought that once a player got in to the lead, it was impossible to catch him – given competent play – and that the lead would grow and grow. His play suggested that was true. I suspect Sheer will want a rematch, and I would like to see that, preferably from the sidelines again, if only to test Avri’s theory.

Everyone did seem to enjoy the game, and in all the circumstances it is likely to end up back on the table again, even though I don’t like it.

Away from GWT, Peleg and I played Combat Patrol for the first time. This is a block game – your forces are hidden from the enemy – on tactical WW2 combat. We played the first scenario which is a beach landing by the American forces (Peleg) against the German defenders (me).

If only I could have seen things from this angle

The rules are not that complex, and although despite that I am sure we made a few mistakes, things seemed to go well. The game plays fast, and we fairly rattled through the seven turns.

At the start, the Americans were held up by the defenders. But once the Americans broke out of the beachhead, it was just a matter of time. Peleg drew well fro his company support units – at least a couple of tanks – and they were effective. My artillery managed to kill two German steps by friendly fire. Not my finest hour on the battlefield.

Lying in wait, but badly outnumbered

Eventually, the Americans had just about cleared the map and I conceded. Well played Peleg. This was fun, and although there were some wrinkles I was not completely happy with, a reread of the rulebook should be enough to sort things out.

Thanks to all who came to make the night so enjoyable.