Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ides of March

SAGA's Ides of Gaming event occurred on March 15th this month, the Ides of March. It was also the 1st anniversary of the event, so it was 12 hours long, had scheduled stuff, and was also the official announcement of RinCon, a full gaming convention which the group will be putting on over Halloween this year.

As a side note, the convention sounds pretty cool, and it's only $20 to pre-register. Check out for more info.

I had a good time, and got a lot of games in. Here's what I played:

I'd been under the impression that Pandemic is a neat attempt at a cooperative game, but it suffers from some of the same shortcomings of all cooperative games. Namely that it's solitaire. Jim Cote wrote up a nice post on Pandemic, and my comment on that post says a lot of what I had thought of the game after 2 or 3 plays.

Until yesterday I hadn't really lost the game. Since it had seemed easy, we decided to play in "Heroic" mode, which means using 6 Epidemic cards instead of 5, making the game harder. What I didn't realize is that the game also gets harder the more people you play with. So when we played 4-player in Heroic mode, we got thoroughly squashed by the game twice in a row. Then we decided to step it back to Normal mode (5 Epidemic cards). With 4 players in Normal mode we lost twice when we would win the very next turn. Later we tried one more time, determined to win a game... we played with 3 players on Normal mode, and not only did we win, but it felt like a foregone conclusion.

My new position on this game is that the discrete difficulty levels are kinda weird. It appears that there's a significant jump in difficulty going from 3 players to 4, and of course there's a big jump going from Normal to Heroic. 4 player Heroic seems neigh impossible, while 3 player Normal seems too easy. many 4 player games on Normal appear to be lost on the last turn, which seems likely the best outcome (intense, but maybe winnable). I'd like to try 3 player Heroic to see how that goes.

I'm a little unsettled by something which I suspect is true (and which I hear has been mentioned on BGG) - that there's a certain percentage of games which, based on the order of the cards in the deck, are simply unwinnable no matter what the players do. This wouldn't be a problem if the percentage were low, but I get the impression that the number is likely pretty high with 4 players. I'd be curious to know what that value is for 4 players on Normal, and if it's "too high" (I'm not sure where I'd draw the line) I'd probably not want to play with 4 players anymore.

In the Year of the Dragon
I played another game of ItYotD, and I continue to really enjoy the game. This time I started out with a first turn Double Dragon, a play which people on the internet appear to think is the obvious first play, and is likely unbeatable. I do not agree with them, but it seemed like a good play to make anyway, so I did it. Tyler on the other hand started with a Court Lady and a Craftsman. He struggled some in the midgame while I did pretty well, so I thought I would end up beating him. In the end though I had struggled with space constraints and had to fire some people, and Tyler ended up winning by 5 points. There's some more evidence that the Double Dragon is not unbeatable!

Race for the Galaxy
I played 4 games of Race for the Galaxy yesterday, with Tyler winning most of them. They were all 3 or 4 player games, and I think I really prefer the game with 2 players. The best news was that I found out that I didn't lose a card last week at the restaurant after all :)

I had played Qwirkle once before, and I met the designerl last year at a convention. I loved the idea of the game, but playing it yesterday made me think 2 things...
1. It takes a long time for my opponent to take their turn. This means my opponent is probably thinking the same thing. Maybe it was just that opponent, as I don't recall this from the last time.
2. (and this is a much bigger deal) I'm not sure how 'fair' the game is. It seems like the luck of the draw can be very swingy. In yesterday's game I didn't have a play in the world for the first half of the game, and i was getting trounced. Then later, every tile I drew seemed to match up with the board, I scored 3 Qwirkles in a row! I just wonder if the luck of the draw doesn't play too big a role in the game. I still like it, and I might like to get it as a gift for my mom (who likes Scrabble) or my sister (who likes pattern matching stuff like Set and Tetris).

Puerto Rico
I'm pretty good at Puerto Rico. I've played a lot, and I've put some effort into studying strategies and improving my play. In this game it was me, my friend John (who's also very good), Bill who plays once in a while, and his wife... who despite playing once in a while, seems to not remember what actions do what from one turn to the next (let alone from one game to the next). We also had a new player at the table, who seemed to pick things up very quickly.

Bill went first and chose Builder. As player 3 I made an unusual play (for me) - based on the thought that player 2 (the newbie) would choose mayor to get her Indigo running I chose to build a Hospice so I could then Settle a manned quarry. I felt this would be an interesting start, and since the number of 'inexperienced' players was high, I figured anything could happen and I'd have a fun and interesting game trying to keep on my toes. I spent most of the game trying to make sure I was staying ahead of John, who I figured would be my main competition. John was doing a very extreme strategy as well, he had nothing but corn plantations, a small market, and a Wharf.

One turn the new player was going to take a Prospector with 1 gold on it so she could get 2 gold. There was also a trader with 2 gold on it, and no one had any goods at all. I recommended that she take Trader instead, and explained that it's the same 2 gold for her, but taking trader makes the trade action less good for whoever ends up doing it later. In the following round, who ended up choosing Trader? Me of course :) Way to talk yourself out of 3 gold, Seth!

In the end, when John was scoring 5-7 points per Captain phase, I looked around the board on my turn and saw that everyone had 1 or no goods (John had none) so I chose Captain. While we were loading goods, I found out that Bill's wife had 3 more gods that I couldn't see before, so she made out with even more points than I did during that captain phase. If I'd seen her other goods, I would have chosen the more obvious play at the time: Prospector. In fact, when this happened, Tyler walked up and said "Who doesn't pick Prospector?"

When final scores were tallied, I had beaten John handily, but it turns out that Bill's wife (who had built 2 large buildings) had scored the same as I had... I counted up my goods plus money and looked at her huge stash of production and they were equal! Then there were a couple coins beside her player mat, which turned out to be he final tiebreaker.

Age of Gods
I have not played Age of Gods, but I won it in the raffle. I'm not too sure about it though, I have only heard that you own one of the factions, but you don't know which - and you control any faction on your turn. Over the course of the game, faction control is revealed. So maybe in the early game you don't want to damage any faction too much or build anything up too much because it might/might not be yours. I'll probably geta chance to try it on Thursday.

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