Session Reports: 2003

Games that MVGA owns are titled in red. Most of our session reports are provided by Eric Brosius. Thanks for your hard work, Eric!

2003

19 June 26 June
3 July 10 July 17 July 24 July 31 July
7 August 14 August 21 August 28 August
4 September 11 September 18 September 25 September
2 October 9 October 16 October 23 October 30 October
6 November 13 November 20 November
4 December 11 December 18 December 25 December

June 19, 2003

Roll call: Ralph, Rich, Dan, Walt, Eric.

We agreed to split the duties for this SR up three ways: Eric will write it, Ralph will post the scores, and Dan will do the rebuttal.

PARIS PARIS (Ralph, Eric, Rich, Dan)

Ralph and Eric started setting this up as a 2-player, hoping that Walt might come in (Walt's distaste for this game is comical in its intensity: he claims to be as clueless as Eric and Ralph claim to be at Modern Art, which is saying something.) Rich and Dan came in before we finished setting up, so it became a 4-player game. Walt showed up halfway through, fresh back from his trip to Germany. He scooped up many of the new games (good) but all his luggage was lost on the way home (bad.) However, Walt was in a good mood because he had just received good news from his publisher, so he didn't heckle us too energetically. Scoring started off slowly, and shops were going into the bag fairly evenly, but there was a sudden flurry of scoring during which Eric had at least one shop on each of Hotel de Ville, Pompidou and Pont Neuf, and this cleared most of the potential grands tours leaving Eric with a wide lead that he protected for the rest of the game, giving him a comfortable victory.

This is a quick game (20 min?) with a lot of luck, but a meaningful amount of skill. I like this combination of features. The luck comes when you place a shop that no one has a chance to bag for a long time (because the tiles for that stop don't come out) or when multiple tiles come up for the same bus stop (if there's one shop on Odeon already and two more come up during one round, the first player to place on Odeon takes the risk that someone else will bag that shop before it even has a chance to score. This can be good luck for the final player of the round, and Eric had that sort of luck twice during this game.

Eric's rating: 8

EL GRANDE (Ralph, Eric, Rich, Dan, Walt)

El Grande is "one of the great games of all time" or "a boring cube majority exercise" depending on who you ask I'm firmly in the former camp, but it's hard to get a game up because most groups have some people on both sides of the argument. This time we had five willing to play, despite claims by Ralph that he can't play his way out of a paper bag in this game and claims by everyone that Rich is unbeatable in El Grande. I joined MVGA only in January, after Unity Games, when I played a few games with Walt and Dan and decided it would be an enjoyable group be part of, but some of these guys have been playing together for decades, so there's a lot of lore built up. Neither claim proved to be true, at least not this week! We started out with Eric making a bonehead decision to score the "4" regions on the first turn, benefiting Walt. Then Walt moved the low-scoring mobile scoreboard to Aragon, where he had the most cabs in a move that was puzzling but effective. Before we knew it, Walt was all the way to the first corner of the scoring track while the rest of us were still back around 10. Walt was exhausted from his trip, and there he was blowing us out of the water in a game that Rich was supposed to win. Two different grandes were in Galicia, where the king took up almost permanent residence, and another two, including mine, were in New Castile. I just couldn't get out of my own way. About halfway through the card came up that sends ALL your opponents' cabs from the yards back to the provinces. This is a card you must respect. Dan bid 12 and I bid 13, hurting all my opponents but especially Dan. The problem is that in my experience the person who plays this card usually loses, and so it turned out. At one point Dan was complaining bitterly about how poorly he was doing, and I was tied with him for last place (!) In the end, Rich demonstrated his form by almost catching Walt, but Walt won by about 3 or 4.

Eric's rating: 10

TRAUMFABRIK (Ralph, Eric, Rich, Dan, Walt)

Traumfabrik presents the usual Knizia auction game dilemmas: Do you go for actors or stars at the beginning? Do you go for quality or quantity? Do you rush movies out for the "first" bonuses or do you wait for what you really want? Do you try for worst film? The one drawback in my opinion is that it can be somewhat unstable, so it's better with a group that plays fast. You don't want to be hopelessly in last for hours. Our motto at MVGA is "play fast, make mistakes" and we achieved that goal this week. Ralph grabbed the only actor in the first half-season and got a good party draw to leap ahead. He extended his actor lead and put out a couple of good films. Eventually I overtook him for actors even as I realized it was too late to do so. Sometimes in this game I can see that the path I'm taking isn't going to work, but I can't decide how to change it. We all tried, but Ralph won by a mile even before he remembered to count his vertrags. It was not one of the most suspenseful Traumfabrik games of all time, but it was nice to just admire Ralph's display of gaming success.

Eric's rating: 8

ALHAMBRA (Ralph, Eric, Rich, Dan)

This was my second playing of Alhambra. A lot of folks have been looking for this game, but among the groups I play in, only Ralph actually has a copy so far. I've never played its predecessor, Stimmt So, but Alhambra has a nice "feel" to me. Again, there's plenty of luck, but plenty of opportunity for skill as well. If you play fast, the luck isn't a big annoyance. Ralph and Rich started off with some good wall building while Dan and Eric had a harder time making exact purchases. Early wall building scores points, but it can limit your options. Ralph and Rich overcame the dangers and rode their walls to good scores. The majorities in colors can be overtaken (the game feels a lot like Union Pacific in this respect) but walls are forever. I was able to buy colors reasonably, but I couldn't string a decent wall chain together (I think I ended with separate stretches of 6, 5 and 5 walls that were ALMOST linked together!) Dan collected a fistful of cards, and at one point I think he had about a dozen but still couldn't make an exact buy. Rich took this one going away after duelling closely with Ralph for most of the game.

Eric's rating: 8

June 26, 2003

Roll call: Ralph, Eric, Dan, Anton, Mike, Walt

BALLOON CUP (Ralph, Eric)

Ralph and Eric were the first to arrive again this week, and in a bit of a coincidence, both were carrying brand-new copies of Balloon Cup. Ralph also had copies of Alhambra and Coloretto for Eric from a recent Game Surplus order (the handoff in the parking lot behind the Masonic Hall felt just a little bit illegal, as a plastic bag and a check changed hands.) The delivery from www.gamesurplus.com certainly is quick. The two of them ran through the rules and started to play while they waited for the others to arrive. The game itself was no contest, as Ralph seemed to pick up the idea more quickly. He scooped up a load of cubes and won 3 trophies to 1. There's a lot more going on here than is apparent at first, and it also seems like a good game to play with a non-gaming spouse. Both high cards and low cards are in theory valuable (since you get to choose whether to play them for you or for your opponent.) The middle cards are trickier to play, and there's a big timing aspect (if you play your best cards right away, your opponent gets a lot of information to base subsequent moves on, but you hold off, the slots can get filled up.

Eric's rating: 7 after one game

MEDICI (Ralph, Eric, Dan, Anton)

Dan and Anton came in as we were finishing up Balloon Cup, and they walked back and forth looking at both of our hands and thinking about our tactics without commenting. We didn't know when to expect Walt, so we decided to play Medici, which moves quickly if you stick to our MVGA motto: "Play fast, make mistakes." As it turned out, this 4-player game took only 35 minutes. Medici is a great game: clean, quick and brutal (some people consider these to be disadvantages, but I love it.) The one drawback is that luck can run substantially in favor of a specific player. An important aspect of good play is to set yourself up to exploit those lucky streaks, but it can lead to a runaway. This week, the luck was evenly distributed throughout most of the game and it was a thriller. One key tactic is to get yourself into a position where everyone else has three or more cards and you have fewer than three. You can deal out the top three cards in the deck and take them for a bid of 1, since no one else can bid on a lot that would leave them with more than their capacity of five. If they're great cards, it's good luck for you, but if they're horrible, it's bad luck. Eric achieved this situation twice, and the three cards were just about average, which kept the game even instead of leaving him way ahead or way behind. After the first round, the scores were close, and after the second round they were even closer (everyone was between 72 and 78.) This brought us to the third round with everyone having a chance to win. Ralph had a big position in Blue (we played with the graphically superior German version) and he pushed that position for good points, getting good deals on Blue cards the rest of us were reluctant to bid high for. Eric got decent cards cheap, while Dan went for Red and Anton tried for heavy boat. At this point, luck struck, as few Red cards showed up for Dan and Anton got the last two cards which turned out lousy: a 0 and a 1 in suits that didn't help him.

Final scores: Ralph 122, Eric 120, Anton 106, Dan 91. If only I'd bid Ralph up a little more on those Blue cards! Ralph wins yet another game he claims to be clueless at (maybe we'll try Modern Art one of these weeks...)

Eric's rating: 10

WYATT EARP (Ralph, Eric, Rich, Anton)

Walt still hadn't arrived, so we opted for another quick 4-player game. Wyatt Earp is a stepchild of the Mystery Rummy series, and I've played it twenty times already this year because my family really enjoys it. The play is smooth, there's plenty of luck and plenty of skill, and the theme seems to work for people. We were on edge after a close Medici game, and this one turned into a nail biter as well. In the first hand, Eric had a lot of Outlaws and few Sheriffs, so he aimed to go out by surprise early and catch his opponents napping. He came close a few times, missing out on big scores, and each time around the table Dan played more cards. By the time Eric could finally lay down and go out, Dan actually had a higher score, but waiting was going to make things worse, so Eric went out anyway. The score was 12-8-8-6 for Dan. The second hand also went quickly and ended with the score 20-17-17-10 for Dan. In the third hand, Dan's luck dried up. Eric started with a giant Wes Hardin play, a "hideout magnet" which in fact had three hideouts played on it, all unsuccessfully. Everyone was eyeing his fellow players carefully, calculating who was in the lead. In the end, Eric's Wes Hardin monopoly won the game.

Final scores: Eric $25K, Ralph $24K, Dan $22K, Anton $21K.

Eric's rating: 8

PRINCES OF FLORENCE (Ralph, Eric, Dan, Anton, Mike)

Walt still hadn't arrived, but Mike, who can't arrive at 7:00, came in right after we finished with Wyatt Earp. Ralph had a brand-new copy of Princes of Florence that was burning a hole in his game bag, so we set it up and started to play. This is a game of brinksmanship. The winner is typically the player who pushes his luck the most without pushing it so far as to cause a catastrophe. The game started off evenly, and during the first few rounds the builders all went to different players, the jesters all went to different players, and the recruiters all went to different players. Jesters were selling for $600 to $800, builders for $500 to $700, and recruiters for $500 to $600, and at least one prestige card went for $200. Eric pulled out to a lead, as he won best work in Round 2, Round 3 and Round 4, tying only once with Anton, helped by one and then two jesters and six personality/recruiter cards. Eric had the advantage of many personality cards that needed a forest, so he was able to concentrate his efforts more easily. In the end it was a runaway, as Eric got down six works and got five best work bonuses. He had no prestige cards, but it didn't matter.

Final scores: Eric 73, Anton 58, Dan 51, Ralph 49, Mike 48.

During the last few rounds, Walt came in. For the second week in a row he was wearing a suit and tie. I guess when you're the "new master of military science fiction" and your publisher is asking about buying the rights to two books, including one you haven't even written yet, you have an obligation to your public to upgrade your wardrobe. Walt used his 3MB digital camera to take a photo of the final scoreboard showing that while Eric never lapped anyone, he did get them to think about the possibility.

Eric's rating: 9

EUROPA TOUR x 3 (Walt, Dan, Anton)

Normally we play downstairs at the Masonic Hall, but occasionally the Hall is rented out to a group that pays real money (as opposed to the token contribution they ask of us gamers) and tonight was one of those nights. The alternate upstairs gaming room was as hot as we could imagine (except for Ralph, who lived in Alabama, and whose imagination regarding heat is more robust.) It got a little better when Walt found that the electric heater had been left on and switched it off, but it was a relief when the downstairs folks left and we could move down. It must have been 20 degrees cooler. At this point we considered playing a 6-player game, but we decided to play two 3-player games instead. Three players tried Europa Tour, which is like Racko except that to get your cards in order you have to consider geography (a map is included for Americans and other geographic illiterates.) I enjoy Racko, as we use a variant in which there are only 4 * N + 1 cards, where N is the number of players, so that there's no draw pile and you pass the one-card discard pile from player to player - we call it "One-card Racko." However, I am totally clueless about Europa Tour; I've played two games and never come close. I suspect experience helps, but I'm afraid it will take a lot of experience to help me. The group played three games of Europa Tour, with Walt winning the first and third and Anton winning the second. There are no scores in this game; either you win or you don't.

Eric's rating: 3 based on the two games he has played. Note that Eric didn't play this week and perhaps it's a sour grapes rating given his poor success in the game.

ALHAMBRA (Ralph, Eric, Mike)

While Europa Tour was going on, the other three played the new SdJ winner. We agreed that this was the best of the finalists, and in fact we felt it's a reasonable selection given the goal of making the SdJ reach out to the general public: certainly it's a better choice than Villa Paletti. Alhambra has lots of luck, but it also has lots of skill. The tile arranging part of the game draws your attention and minimizes any perception of "down time." It also creates more differences in value than in Stimmt So, the game Alhambra was based on. The first scoring card came up very early, and the scores were in the 8 to 12 range. This provided a long period during which we could prepare for the second scoring card, and as a result we were a little more inclined to collect money cards and a little less likely to overpay, since the usual urgency wasn't as strong. Eric kept getting a chance to grab two small money cards, a big advantage, and he even picked up 3-1-1 twice. The larger hands made for more efficient purchases, and the tiles were getting laid down rapidly. By the second scoring card, Eric had good majorities and a 22-length wall completely encircling his tiles, shutting off any further purchases (barring swap possibilities.) However, there were only six tiles left at this point, so the game ended soon thereafter. Scoring 22 for walls twice is a huge difference-maker.

Final scores: Eric 144, Ralph 129, Mike 129. One important decision in Alhambra is how far you are willing to risk becoming "wall-bound" to grab short-term points while hampering future expansion. In this game the very late second scoring card made Eric's wall-bound strategy a good one. We were even wondering what happens if you run out of tiles before the second scoring card comes up - can this possibly happen?

Eric's rating: 8

BALLOON CUP (Eric, Mike)

Everyone else left and we finished up with another game of Balloon Cup. Eric taught Mike the rules and then proceeded to prove that his one-game edge in experience was of no value, as Mike won, 3 trophies to 1. Eric got off to an early lead, but then flopped around uselessly for the remained of the game as Mike snapped up three in a row. I can see this will be a good game to play with my wife, who will probably clean my clock regularly.

Eric's rating: 7 (but maybe it could go up as I figure it out)

July 3, 2003

In the absence of Eric B, a 100% SR-Generator-free report of our activities (Walter wrote this Session Report).

Roll call: Dan M, Anton, Greg P, Paul H, Walter, Mike L.

Greg and I arrived a bit late, and the other three had set up to play Web of Power but gave it up after one round. Dan claims he was winning, but I have no scores.

MYSTERY OF THE ABBEY (Dan, Anton, Paul, Walter, Greg)

We next sat down to play Mystery of the Abbey, which has been (aptly) described as "Clue on Steroids". It's a murder mystery game involving a medieval abbey, with one monk card placed under the board as the murderer and the remaining ones distributed to the players, who pass them around, steal from each other, and ask questions. The key to the game is to ask questions that give you info while giving none away. . . we played for about 90 minutes, with Dan finally making the correct accusation, Walter and Anton hot on his heels.Mike showed up toward the end of the proceedings, so we broke up into two groups.

GOLDLAND (Paul, Dan, Walter)

Paul, Dan and I played Goldland, a 2002 Goldsieber release that involves building a board through unknown territory to reach a golden temple at the far end. One of the interesting mechanisms is the "backpack" - the thing you carry your equipment and treasures in. The more you carry, the slower you move - so it's important to only pick up stuff you'll use. I found a fast route directly to the temple and gathered up most of the scoring disks (for most encounters with bandits, pumas, crevasses, deserts, etc). Beautiful components for this game.

Final scores: Walter 27, Dan 13, Paul 6.

ACQUIRE (Greg, Mike, Anton)

The other group pulled out old favorite Acquire. I don't have any details on the game, but it ended up very close, with Mike edging out Greg and Anton trailing. We've been playing Acquire at MVGA since its old Avalon Hill days, and we miss the blank tiles :-)

Final scores: Mike 41.7k, Greg 40.5k, Anton30.0k.

Paul then left, and we decided on a quick closer of Hick Hack.

HICK HACK IN GACKELWACK (Dan, Walter, Anton, Mike)

I won't belabor the report with a description of the game - it fits well with the "think fast, make mistakes" motto of our club. Greg demonstrated his mastery with a convincing 46-point win, with Dan (30), myself (28), Anton (17) and Mike (17) in the rear view.

In last week's session report I made an appeal for a few extra players so we could play 4-player games. This week we had eight, including three who have not been coming regularly. Eight is an MVGA high for 2003. We took advantage of the bounty by playing five 4-player games, with one 5-player game at the end when a few of us had to leave.

July 10, 2003

Roll call: Walt, Lisa, Eric, Dan, Anton, Rich

COLORETTO (Walt, Lisa, Eric, Dan, Anton)

As of 7:00, the group was larger than usual, as the regulars, were joined by Walt's wife Lisa, who attended MVGA for the first time since I started coming in January. Their daughter was off at YMCA camp, so the happy couple was footloose and fancy free for the evening (and of course, they chose to spend it at MVGA.) We knew Rich was on his way, so we pulled out Coloretto, a quick little game of set collection that is designed for five, but plays well for three or four as well. The aim is to collect large sets in three of the seven colors while keeping cards in the other four colors to a minimum. You choose which three colors will be your good colors after you have finished collecting. Several players used a "small stack" strategy, picking up one-card stacks early rather than risking big lousy stacks later one.

Anton and Lisa shared the three wild cards; some people believe these are so valuable that they unbalance the game. Eric, Walt and Dan were the last three left in most rounds, and Eric kept tossing Walt some bait to get him out, leaving Dan to pull a card that just kept being one that helped Eric no matter which stack Dan put it on. In the last round, Eric had one good yellow card showing, guaranteeing the win, but he showed off by flipping two more cards which both turned out to be +2's to win by a mile (it was clear that most of the cards left in the deck were +2's, yellows, grays and greens, all of which were good for him.)

Final scores: Eric 34, Walt 24, Lisa 20, Dan 19, Anton 17. The small stack and wild card strategy was not a winner, at least not this week.

Eric's rating: 8 for a fine "filler" game with luck and skill.

ATLANTIC STAR (Rich, Lisa, Anton)

It took a while to select our next game---should we try one 6-player game or two 3-player games? Finally Atlantic Star was suggested and half of us started in. This is a game that forces you to select the least damaging of a number of agonizing alternatives (I love that kind of game, especially when someone else is playing.) It must have lived up to its reputation, because Anton was complaining all game about not being able to work with these actors...er, ships. The highlight was when one of the players tried to borrow off another player's cruise (a good trick if you can swing it.) But in the end, Rich won convincingly with a score of 81 to Lisa's 70 and Anton's 69.

Eric's rating: 7 (oddly enough, Showmanager gets an 8 from me even though it's the same game - the theme is so much better and you get to say "I can't work with these actors!")

ALHAMBRA (Dan, Eric, Walt)

While three of us were playing Atlantic Star, the other three fit a series of three games in. The first was SdJ winner Alhambra. I've played Alhambra eleven times already and I'm enjoying it a lot. To me it's a fine SdJ choice, even if I personally like Age of Steam better. My family has taken well to Alhambra, and I don't think they will like Age of Steam nearly as well. In this game Dan and Walt overpaid for a few tiles early while Eric got a few exact purchases, and then Eric achieved a run of exact purchases based on his larger hand of money cards. This was aggravated by the fact that Dan and Walt were fighting each other for Red, White and Purple while Eric had Brown and Green all to himself. At the second scoring, Walt stayed close with a wall of length 12 to Eric's 4, but then Eric completed his length 16 wall and it was all over.

Final scores: Eric 144, Walt 124, Dan 105.

After the game Eric announced that he had some observations about how to improve one's chances in Alhambra. First, if you take cards with numbers 1-4, you decrease the chance that your opponents will get two or more cards in one round. And second, if your compound is wall-bound, save big cards that will buy the tiles that have few walls, whereas if your compound has few walls, save smaller cards that will buy the cheaper tiles that have many walls. Walt and Dan replied that this advice about what cards to pick up is obvious; the true key is making exact purchases. I'm not sure.

Eric's rating: 8

EUROPA TOUR (Dan, Eric, Walt)

Next we played Europa Tour, with Eric protesting loudly that he has never come close to winning and has no real idea what to do. This game is fun as a way to learn geography, but it's not easy to play well. The game started off slowly with players drawing from the face- down deck. Eric stated "when in doubt, kill a plane [by burying it under another card]" but this is advice from someone who had never won. The game went on for quite a while, with Walt snapping up Balkan cards as Eric grabbed a few Baltic cards. Then Walt announced a victory, turned his rack around, and we all noticed that you can't take a boat from Scotland to the Netherlands (too bad, Walt.) On Eric's next turn, he announced a win, stealing it from Dan, who would have won on the next turn.

Eric's rating: 5 up from 3 previously as a win makes him feel a little better about the game.

WYATT EARP (Dan, Eric, Walt)

The Atlantic Star game was still grinding on, so we tried another quick 3-player game. Eric shot out to a big lead, 11-8-6 after the first hand and then 23-17-14 after the second. If he hadn't played out of turn, giving away the fact that he had six green Outlaws and the corresponding photo, he may have been even further ahead. He was getting Wyatt Earp cards in such abundance that he wound up discarding two of them during the game, a decision that may have been a mistake. In the third hand it all turned around as Dan laid down set after set. Walt and Dan played two unsuccessful hideouts on Eric, but it didn't matter as Dan scooped up 12 points compared with 5 each for Walt and Eric.

Final scores: Dan 29, Eric 28, Walt 19.

Eric's rating: 8

UNION PACIFIC (Walt, Lisa, Eric, Dan, Anton, Rich)

The games had all finished, and Rich put in a request for Union Pacific, a game from the MVGA club library. After a brief discussion of alternatives, we agreed. This is a fine game that requires nerves of steel and a fine sense of when you need to meld and when you can afford to wait just one more round...or maybe just two more...RATS! The scoring card came up just before you were going to meld! Lisa and Rich went for the big Red and Green strategy while Walt, Anton and Eric tried the small line strategy and Dan took a middle course. The face-up cards soon became a cause for humor as Red, Green and White just kept showing up. The first scoring card came out before anyone had melded much at all, and in fact all four scoring cards came out earlier than I thought they might (but maybe it's just the fact that in a 6-player game, you don't get very many turns.) The second scoring card came out with only Anton and Eric having melded their whole UP stashes, but Dan clawed his way back toward the lead by getting Yellow uncontested for 10 or 12 points. When the final scoring was finished, the game ended in a dead heat.:

Final Scores: Dan 81, Eric 81, Rich 71, Anton 70, Walt 64, Lisa 56. I'll take it; it's my best showing in Union Pacific ever (and my wife has slaughtered me a few times.)

Eric's rating: 7

BOHNANZA (Walt, Lisa, Eric, Dan, Anton, Rich)

People were getting tired, so we pulled out an old favorite. The start of the game was amusing as Lisa good-naturedly gave away three or four cards for "future considerations." These weren't common Coffee or Wax beans either; there was a Green bean and a Soy bean. As the game went on, people repaid Lisa for her kind and generous gifts, and she took the gifts and kept quiet. When we finished our third trip through the deck, what do you know? Future considerations turned out to be valuable.

Final scores: Lisa 17, Rich 16, Dan 14, Anton 13, Walt 13, Eric 12.

Eric's rating: 6

EDEL, STEIN & REICH (Rich, Lisa, Walt, Eric)

At this point Dan and Anton went home and we decided we had energy for one more game. Eric requested Edel, Stein & Reich, a game from Walt's bin that Eric had never played. This is a remake of Basari with no board, and with the "die roll" replaced by an action card or scoring card that the winner can use. Each of the four players simultaneously plays a face-down card representing one of three action choices. If you are the only one who selects a given choice, you get the action free, if you and one other select the same action, one of you must pay the other off in gems, and if three or four select the same action, those players get to do nothing for the turn. It's funny; I played Basari on July 6, and we were more than two-thirds through the game before we had three players select the same action. This time it seemed to happen to me every other time I played cards. It's not as though I selected the same action, either; the other players seemed to be secretly hunting me down. If you can avoid actions in common with other players, you can win this game, but it's not easy to do. The irritating thing about this game is that Rich selected his action randomly most of the time and spanked us soundly.

Final scores: Rich 77, Walt 54, Eric 54, Lisa 53. At least it was close for second place...

Eric's rating: 6. I rate Basari an 8, but this is only a 6 so far. The problem for me is that the action cards in ESR allow you to pick on another player directly. This feels much less elegant than Basari, where if you want to stop the leader, you need to plan a lot more carefully.

July 17, 2003

Roll call: Eric, Claire, Walt, Rich, Dan, Ian, Anton, Bill

COLORETTO (Walt, Eric, Claire, Rich)

Last week Walt brought his wife Lisa. Their daughter was at YMCA summer camp, and what better to do with their time alone than come to MVGA? This week was Eric's wedding anniversary, so he brought his wife Claire for their big night on the town. Obviously this group has its priorities in the right place; MVGA has met for almost 40 years now and you can see why.

The theme of the evening was "blowout" and Coloretto got us off to a rousing start. Claire had never played, but the rules of this game are easy to learn and we were soon on our way. Eric tried a bit of a "small stack" strategy, taking piles early with only one or two cards in them, limiting his offensive power, but also avoiding penalties and keeping options open. As the game wore on, Eric was the only one looking for two of the colors, and this proved to be a big advantage. The wild cards were spread around and didn't prove to be the difference in the game. Some people use a variant that requires you to choose a color for your wild card when you first get it, but we don't yet feel this is needed, so we're playing by the original rules at MVGA.

Now that we've played a number of games, it's clear that one strategic goal in Coloretto is getting colors no one else is seeking. How to achieve that goal isn't so obvious, however.

Final scores: Eric 47, Rich 32, Walt 32, Claire 30.

Eric's rating: 8 for a "filler" game that continues to hit the spot at the beginning or end of an evening, or while you wait for another game to finish. It plays well for 3, 4 or 5 players, so it accomodates the player who arrives just as you finish setting it up.

ALHAMBRA (Rich, Anton, Claire, Bill)

By the time Coloretto finished, Dan came in with his son Ian, Anton arrived, and we were pleased to see Bill, who has been able to attend only sporadically recently but should be able to make it more often now. We split up into two groups of four, and one group started in on SdJ winner Alhambra. This game just buzzes along once you get into the flow ("play fast, make mistakes.") Bill was new to the game, but he's a quick study and pulled out to a big lead after the second scoring card. Bill had a huge wall and some well situated leads in key colors.

Rich made a strong comeback during the final third of the game, capped by a final auction in which he was able to buy all three remaining tiles to grab first in Towers and Pavilions, but it just wasn't enough to overcome Bill's lead and his Great Wall.

Final scores: Bill 120, Rich 115, Claire 79, Anton 73. This was the only non-blowout of the evening.

Eric's rating: 8

PUERTO RICO (Dan, Ian, Eric, Walt)

We really enjoy Puerto Rico at MVGA; it's one of the games the club itself owns a copy of, and its ability to accomodate 3, 4 or 5 gives us welcome flexibility. None of us is a Puerto Rico junkie, but it comes out every few weeks. This week we initiated Ian to the game, with Walt explaining the rules as Eric and Dan set up.

The scuttlebutt in Puerto Rico tells us that the player to the left of a new player is heavily favored, especially if the new player selects Craftsman without fully realizing the consequences. We selected a starting player and the lineup was Dan first, followed by Eric, Walt and Ian. This put Dan in prime position to exploit his son's inexperience, and it presented Walt with the challenge of overcoming the fact that he'd be last in the buffet line.

As it turned out, the conventional thinking outlined above was completely wrong for this game. It was as if Walt was on cable modem while the rest of us were stuck with dial-up connections. In the first round, Walt Mayored to fill his Corn and Small Market, and Ian didn't populate his Corn. Walt then used Trader in round 2 to sell Corn for $3 plus a doubloon that was sitting on the role while none of the rest of us could sell a thing. This gave Walt $6 to buy a Coffee Roaster later in the second round without even having the Builder's privilege, and he was off to the races. Once the first four roles of the game had been selected, I decided to put all my attention into stopping Walt, but it was fruitless. Walt sold a Coffee, I got Coffee going, Walt bought a Factory, and he just blew us away. Ian did choose Craftsman a lot, but it didn't seem to slow Walt down. I passed up a chance to Captain and splash a huge load of Ian's barrels, but it was all about Walt, so why bother? At the end, Walt focused on sucking up the colonists and ending the game, rather than on gaining even more points, so his victory point margin doesn't fully reflect his dominance.

Final scores (shipping + buildings + bonuses): Walt 7 + 21 + 11 = 39, Eric 8 + 17 + 8 = 33, Ian 12 + 15 = 27, Dan 4 + 14 = 18. You don't see many 4-player games with only 31 shipping points, or with a winning total of 39, or with a player who scores 18. Ian beat his dad in his first game of Puerto Rico, so he wasn't too unhappy either.

Eric's rating: 10 for a game that gives you new things to think about even after many plays. I'm already wondering how to keep someone from ever doing what Walt did to us again.

TAJ MAHAL (Dan, Rich, Anton, Walt)

Another game in the club's collection is Taj Mahal. We don't play this great game as often as we should, maybe because of the perception that Rich is almost unstoppable. Not this week, though! Sometimes in Taj Mahal you can't seem to make anything work, while on other occasions you always seem to have the right card at the right time. This time, it all came to Dan. He'd play one card and people would let him withdraw with two early palaces. He'd win elephants with a minimal expenditure of cards. The only thing he didn't achieve was scoring twice as much as anyone else!

Final scores: Dan 65, Rich 38, Anton 38, Walt 35. We'll have to pull this out more often.

Eric's rating: 10

UNION PACIFIC (Bill, Ian, Eric, Claire)

Bill and Claire are both big train game fans, so we got yet another game out of the MVGA club collection. When you play Union Pacific in close proximity to Alhambra, you are struck by the extent to which the two are similar. You have the same competition for colors, the same angst about when a scoring card will turn up, and the same concern about the player to your right stealing all your good cards. You also have track building to make life difficult in Union Pacific, while wall management fills the same role in Alhambra.

This was an odd game, in that almost everyone tried a "small line" strategy. The Green line got almost no attention throughout the game, and there was a lot of melding two different shares. The scoring cards came out at reasonable times, neither very soon nor very late. I don't know how Bill did it, but he skunked us (what did he do to win by such a large margin?)

Final scores: Bill 137, Ian 114, Eric 104, Claire 92. It's probably no surprise that Bill won both Alhambra and Union Pacific, since they're both train games (heh.) I haven't played as much Union Pacific as many people, so I'm looking forward to more tries.

Eric's rating: 8

RA (Walt, Dan, Ian, Anton, Rich)

Three players had to leave at this point, so the remaining five finished up with Ra. This is a "chunky" auction game in that you can only bid an amount corresponding to one of your suns. This adds a strategy element; if you can arrange for the auctions to be for sets that are right for your own suns while being too valuable or not valuable enough for the suns of your competitors, you gain an edge.

After a night of blowouts, this one finished up in fine form. Dan pulled out to a huge lead. Rich was way behind and made a rush during Epoch 3, but he was gunning for second (and fell short even then on the final sun tally, with Walt getting +5 for 34 in suns while Anton and Rich both lost 5, as they tied for last in suns with 21.) The finish was notable because all the tiles were used; the very last tile ended the game.

Final scores: Dan 46, Walt 33, Rich 27, Ian 24, Anton 21.

Eric's rating: 9. This is a great game that falls just short of a 10 for me. It's a game of optimizing your choices to take the best advantage of the tile draws. You can win because of luck, and you can lose because of luck, but the better player will be "lucky" more often (like Bridge or Backgammon.) The amount of luck is just slightly more than I consider ideal in a game of this length, but many games of Ra are thrillers, and I'm willing to accept the ones that are not to get a chance to play in the ones that are.

 

July 24, 2003

After last week's high of 8, we had just 5 regulars this week (Ralph has come often enough to qualify as a regular by now.) Walt was out of town at GenCon and Mike didn't show up later as he often does.

Roll call: Rich, Dan, Anton, Ralph, Eric

COLORETTO (Rich, Dan, Anton, Ralph, Eric)

If you've been reading these reports each week, you'll note that Coloretto has been our starter for several weeks in a row. We didn't expect anyone else, but we decided to play this as a starter just in case, so we could adjust quickly for any unexpected visitors. We're getting used to the thought process for Coloretto, and it's rare that anyone makes a big mistake that hands an undeserved advantage to a competitor. This game was unusual in that the colors came out in clumps. Eight of the nine blue cards appeared in the first two rounds, while orange cards were concentrated at the end. Of course, we distributed these clumps of colors fairly evenly between the stacks, and as a result, people took more different colors than usual (Eric and Rich each got all seven colors---a "gala" if you are playing Zircus Flohcati, but not so attractive in Coloretto.) Many groups find that the wild cards make Coloretto unbalanced, and it certainly seems like they should, but at MVGA it hasn't been working that way. Eric got two of the three, but his colors were spread around and he had only one "+2". Ralph, on the other hand, was discreet in his collecting, taking just a single colored card once or twice, and this proved to be the key.

Final scores: Ralph 26, Rich 23, Anton 20, Eric 20, Dan 17. We play just once through the deck, even though the rules say you should play through it four times. We just want to play the game, not beat it to death. This was a close game, and in fact all three games we played were close, in contrast to last week's slate of blowouts.

Eric's rating: 8

PRINCES OF FLORENCE (Rich, Dan, Anton, Ralph, Eric)

This was the fourth time we've played Princes of Florence this year, and as we gain familiarity with the game as a group, it is starting to move more smoothly and the bids are becoming more predictable. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage; it's always interesting playing with a new group and seeing one's presuppositions violated by people who don't play the game the way one expects. Anton won the coveted 2nd spot this week, and indeed, he got six personality/recruiter cards as compared to only five for each of the others. We didn't seem to select varying strategies; I believe that in the first five auction rounds everyone got a Jester, everyone got a Builder, and everyone got a Recruiter, with landscapes (especially Forests) and Prestige Cards making up the odd spaces. No one put a Work on during Round 1, but we soon got into the act, led by Rich, who won three Best Work bonuses (two of them solo) to become the early favorite. Anton started thinking, and muttering, and thinking, and muttering, and it became clear that he was having some trouble trying to put on all six of his Works. That sixth Work is a big opportunity, but it can be a millstone around your neck if you can't get all the pieces together. As it turned out, he finished the game with one of those cards still in his hand, and the failure to put it on ruined his chances. Eric was playing a low-cost game, buying something each round for just a little less than the going rate. He got two Prestige Cards, one for $400 and then another for $200. In preparation for Round 7, Eric and Rich both saved extra money. The worried looks on their faces revealed that they both needed that key landscape, and that they were afraid a bidding war might develop (a Lake had already gone for $600 earlier.) The other three players bought items, and it was down to Eric and Rich. It was Rich's bid, and he offered up a Lake. Both Eric and Rich were relieved to find that Rich needed a Lake, while Eric needed a Park. This brought the game down to Prestige Cards. Rich had one card for 8, while Eric had one that paid 8 for all three Freedoms and another that paid 7 for a Builder, a Jester and two Landscapes (it seems like a lot of points for a modest investment.) Eric passed Rich at the last moment to win.

Final scores: Eric 62, Rich 59, Ralph 56, Dan 53, Anton 52. We had a lot of 3-point gaps in the scoring table during the first two games!

Eric's rating: 9

PUERTO RICO (Rich, Dan, Anton, Ralph, Eric)

Walt wasn't around to defend his title after his stunning victory last week, so we started this game safe in the knowledge that Walt wouldn't win again this week. The initial order of play had Dan, Ralph and Eric with Indigo followed by Anton and Rich with Corn. Dan started out as Builder with a Hospice, Ralph and Eric took Small Indigo (the Indigo players were feeling somewhat cautious after Walt's win with Corn using a Building strategy,) Anton took the other Hospice, and Rich took a Small Market. Eric and Rich saved up for Tobacco and Coffee, and pretty soon they had the resulting temporary monopolies. Dan and Anton both started working toward Sugar (slowed by the Hospice costs,) but Ralph couldn't get the right plantation to start making money early on. Anton became Governor, and when Eric's turn to take a role came up, he could have taken Craftsman, knowing that he'd get to sell Tobacco before the Trading House filled, but he overlooked this chance and took a role just for the two doubloons. This was a great disappointment to Rich, who lost the chance to sell Coffee with the Trader bonus and a Small Market for $6. Rich took the Craftsman, and Dan then took Captain, forcing Rich to ship his Coffee while Eric was able to hang onto his Tobacco because he also had Corn and Indigo available to ship. Rich pointed out to Dan that taking Captain handed Eric a huge money edge (which it did,) and Dan replied that *not* taking Captain would have handed both Eric *and* Rich huge money edges (which it would have,) and that one huge money edge was better than two. As you might imagine, Rich respectfully disagreed. Eric took Trader and used the windfall to buy a Factory and began accumulating a fortune. He then bought a Large Warehouse (a building he rarely buys, but the Small Warehouses were gone and it looked like costly rotting was imminent.) As a result, Eric wound up accumulating large stocks of goods, shutting Ralph on his right (who had the other Factory) out for types of good. Rich, who was quite frustrated by now, settled into the rarely-seen Coffee Shipper strategy (he must have gotten at least 20 shipping points for Coffee.) Eric started taking Captain to unload large stocks of goods, and Dan, who was producing 4 Indigo each time, was shipping the stuff in lots of 6 and 7. Toward the end, Eric had so much money that he passed up two chances to sell Coffee to the Trading House, taking Captain instead, and this provided a window for Anton to sell Coffee instead. Anton bought two large buildings and almost caught up, but Eric won at the end in a point-fest.

Final scores:

VP Bldg Bonus Total 
Eric 31 + 23 + 12 = 66 
Anton 26 + 23 + 13 = 62 
Rich 41 + 14 = 55 
Dan 31 + 15 = 46 
Ralph 19 + 19 + 4 = 42

After last week's low-scoring game, this one was just the opposite. The round before the last round saw only two colonists and two VP chips left, so we piled up 148 shipping points (with Coffee probably accounting for more than any other commodity!) For the second straight week, a player who looked like the runaway leader let up on his opponents and made a close game of it at the end; we'll have to work on our endgame technique.

Eric's rating: 10

July 31, 2003

No session report is available for this date.

August 7, 2003

Rich and Eric were back in town this week after their trip to WBC, and in addition to the other regulars, we had several folks who attend only occasionally. This gave us a new 2003 high of 10, including David, who lives next door and stopped in for one quick game.

Roll call: Walt, Lisa, Anton, Rich, Eric, Dan, Ian, Paul, David and Mike.

EUROPA TOUR (Walt, Lisa, Anton)

Anton arrived promptly, as did Walt with his wife Lisa, and the three of them began a quick game of Europa Tour while they waited for more MVGA members to show up. This geographic analog of Rack-O may be best with only 2 or 3 players, since each player has more control and there are fewer opponents to block routes by hanging on to key cards. I wasn't here for the details, but Walt won, finishing his tour before either of the others.

Eric's rating: holding at 5 as I'm still in the learning stage.

MYSTERY OF THE ABBEY (Rich, Walt, Lisa, Eric)

By this time we were up to eight players, so it was two 4-player games (or maybe a 5 and a 3.) Someone suggested Mystery of the Abbey, the new Bruno Faidutti offering that might be described as "Clue done right." Lisa clearly wanted to play, Dan did not want to play, and the other 6 of us were willing to try, but also willing to try a different game and let someone else have a go. Dan's group started setting up Puerto Rico, so Rich, Walt and Eric joined Lisa while Anton, Ian and Paul joined Dan. Mystery of the Abbey has a number of bells and whistles that make you scratch your head and wonder whether the game really works, but it turned out to work fine for us. Lisa moved the bell flawlessly during the first round, and Eric then lucked out when Rich played a card that made him first player, skipping Eric. Rich was soon sent back for penance when he forgot to move the bell in the required way. We ignored the cards that make you sing, which disappointed me because I'm not crazy about deduction games and the extra silliness would have been welcome. The game started slowly, but the pace of card passing and revelations accelerated and by the middle of Round 3, Rich correctly accused Brother Fortune, giving him 4 points. Rich had an incorrect revelation, but it didn't hurt him because it was a free revelation he had earned early on. Eric came in second with 3 points, made up of two correct revelations (including the fact that the murderer was a Templar) offset by an incorrect revelation (that the murderer was a Franciscan---a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.) Walt and Lisa tied for last with minus 1 for an incorrect revelation each.

Eric's rating: 6 This seems to be a well-done deductive reasoning game, and in this game we didn't find any problems in the rules or game play. I just don't like deductive reasoning games that much.

COLORETTO (Rich, Walt, Lisa, Eric) The Mystery of the Abbey game was finished, but Puerto Rico still had a way to go so we pulled out Coloretto. Coloretto has become the all-purpose filler game for MVGA. It's quick, there's luck and skill, and it will accomodate 3 through 5 (or even 6 in a pinch.) We play once through the deck. In this game Lisa and Eric fell far behind. Rich got a good draw on the last batch and final scores were Rich 34, Walt 30, Eric 22, Lisa 21.

Eric's rating: 8.

PUERTO RICO (Dan, Ian, Anton, Paul)

At the other table four players sat down to Puerto Rico. More than halfway through the game, One player got irritated, because he felt the amount of table talk was inappropriate. Each gaming group has its own tolerance for the fine art of explaining to Player A just why his best move is one that helps you and not Player B. We generally don't have much table talk at MVGA, but this game appears to have been an exception. The player threatened to quit if it didn't stop, and it didn't, so he did. Thus, the game began with 4 but ended with only 3 players. The final scores were Anton 58, Dan 54, Ian 43, Paul 39. I don't expect this to be a long-term problem; we get irritated at each other at times, but we're generally able to work things out and stay friends.

Eric's rating: 10.

COLORETTO (Rich, Walt, Lisa, Eric, David)

As Puerto Rico was in its final stages, David walked in. David is a neighbor and a Mason and an occasional MVGA attender, but he had just come back from a trip and was tired. We cajoled him into one game of Coloretto, just to prove he was here, and he yielded to our pleas and sat down. This game was brutal, with bouquets handed out right and left. Lisa played a "small stack" strategy, often picking up just one card or a color and a +2. She won with David coming in 2nd, and the rest of us tied for last with wonderful assortments of colors.

Final scores: Lisa 23, David 21, Rich 17, Walt 17, Eric 17.

Eric's rating: 8.

AMUN-RE (Rich, Ian, Mike, Paul)

As David was going back home to go to sleep, Mike arrived. Mike is an MVGA regular, but he rarely arrives at the start of the evening. Four players sat down to Amun-Re. Rich has become a bit of a shark at this game; he made it to the finals of the WBC Amun-Re championship last week. He employed his trademark "five is more than three" strategy in this game, winning many of the sacrifices and gaining most pyramids on one side of the river in each kingdom.

Final scores: Rich 44, Ian 37, Mike 35, Paul 28.

Eric's rating: 7. There's plenty of room for skill in this game, but power card draws are a little too random for my taste. I've won games in which I got the right bonus and other cards, and I've lost games in which I got 5 or 6 sacrifice correction cards. The outcome isn't determined by skill often enough for me (or maybe I just don't get it yet.)

NEW ENGLAND (Walt, Dan, Anton, Eric) Lisa and David had both gone home to rest, so we were down to 8. With 4 playing Amun-Re, the other 4 sat down to New England. This game has gotten a few plays, but it hasn't come out as often as I'd like. We played with the free-form set-up, and there was plenty of aggression. Anton got good room, but (because he misunderstood the rules for ship placement) he had no place to put ships and no prospect of making it to the coast. We started with many tiles and few cards up for auction, and none of the big development cards came out early. Anton went for income, Dan and Eric competed for ships, and Walt built barns. Anton grabbed the first 10, Eric the next, and the others pecked away with 3's and 6's. Near the end of the game, Anton took a fourth farmer to pull ahead of Eric who had 3 farmers and 3 ships. Then two 10's came up at once, and Dan and Walt both had spots prepared for them. Anton bid high to deny one to Dan or Walt, but they had the money to overbid him, so that all four 10's were placed, one to each player. Dan then asked for six tiles, so the game ended instantly, with Anton winning pilgrims for 4, Walt winning barns for 3, and Eric winning ships for 2. Dan competed in ships for most of the game, but it didn't pay off well, as he was second most of the time.

Final scores: Anton 36 on the cash tiebreaker over Walt 36, Eric 33, Dan 30. Anton's landlocked position didn't hurt him, and in fact it may have helped him to focus on what he needed.

Eric's rating: 8. This game is so well put together than one never needs to consult the rules. There's luck in the tile and card draws, but I never feel that luck decided the game. It moves quickly and has interesting decisions.

ALHAMBRA (Walt, Dan, Anton, Eric)

Amun-Re was still chugging along, so we pulled out SdJ winner Alhambra. We've played Alhambra at least five times now at MVGA, so we have the mechanics down, together with some strategy and some tactics. People complain about luck, but we don't find this to be a problem. Walt grabbed some cheap tiles early, giving him lots of walls but leaving him hemmed in and without obvious expansion options. The rest of us could look forward to higher scores for colors, but could we catch Walt and his Great Wall? Walt made a good play, swapping a wall-bound tile for one that gave him expansion room, and he grabbed a lead and a second to go with it. Eric finally passed Walt in walls before the 3rd scoring, and Dan took the lead in Towers, but it wasn't enough.

Final scores: Walt 116, Eric 115, Anton 101, Dan 91.

Eric's rating: 8.

August 14, 2003

Attendance was down from last week's record, even if you count Paul, who played some tabletop baseball games with Rich as part of their league, but left without playing anything else.

Roll call: Walt, Anton, Eric, Rich, Dan, Paul, Scott.

PHOENIX (Walt, Anton)

Walt and Anton both arrived 20 minutes early, so they started with Phoenix, a game Walt recently purchased. Walt explained that he considers a game purchase to be a success if the "per player, per game" cost is a dollar or less, and he was out to make this one a bargain (I'm happy if the "per player, per game" cost is less than the cost of a movie ticket, and that's a layup these days!) Phoenix has a board with a row of six brightly colored blocks in the middle and two rows of 10 pawns each, in matching colors, a row for each player, along the sides. By playing cards, you try to line your pawns up in the same order as the blocks. Most cards affect your pawns only, but a few cards let you rearrange the blocks or swap one of your pawns for the pawn across from it belonging to your opponent. It feels a little like programming in assembly language (something I last did in 1978.) The game finished just after 7:00 as more people were arriving. Anton was victorious.

Eric's rating: See below.

PUERTO RICO (Walt, Anton, Eric)

Eric, Rich and Paul arrived promptly at 7:00, our usual starting time. Rich and Paul play in a tabletop baseball league (APBA, I believe) that has been running for over twenty years, and they had some games scheduled face-to-face, so Walt, Anton and Eric decided to play Puerto Rico. We knew more players might be showing up, but Puerto Rico for 3 players moves along quickly, especially given our MVGA motto: "Play fast, make mistakes." This game followed a familiar pattern, as Eric surged out to what looked like an insurmountable lead only to give most of it back near the end. Anton was first Indigo, Eric second Indigo, and Walt was the Corn starter. Anton took a Quarry, Eric grabbed a Corn, and Walt took a Tobacco. Eric built a Small Indigo plant for nothing and Walt saved his money. Walt swept up some dubs, and it looked like he was off to the races with a Tobacco monopoly, but Eric took a chance, grabbed his own Tobacco plantation and managed to get Tobacco going on the same Mayor phase as Walt. Since Walt was downwind from Eric, it was looking like the smoke would be getting in his eyes. The Coffee strategy wasn't an option because we weren't pulling Coffee plantations. Anton went with a Hospice and Quarry strategy, but during the build-up to Tobacco he didn't get any production going, so Walt and Eric both had 5-point shipping leads before Anton got his first VP chip. Eric sold his Tobacco and bought a Factory, and Anton snapped up the other Factory (helped by his Quarries.) Unfortunately, Anton had less diversity in production, so the Factory wasn't worth as much to him. Eric then started in on Large Buildings, wary from a recent game where he waited too long. Walt and Anton bought Harbors and Wharfs and started shipping like maniacs, closing the VP gap. We forgot to load the boat with colonists after one Mayor phase, prolonging the game, and Eric started to sweat. In the end Eric had three large buildings, but only populated one.

Final scores:

VP Bldg Bonus Total 
Eric 19 + 24 + 10 = 53 
Walt 34 + 15 = 49 
Anton 19 + 22 = 41

Eric's rating: 10 This is a great game. It's different but still a challenge for 3, 4 or 5. The amazing thing is that it works so well without needing auctions. We play with the new buildings sometimes, but we play often with the originals. It seems to be the de facto non-filler "what shall we play now?" game at MVGA.

AGE OF STEAM (Walt, Anton, Eric, Dan)

Dan arrived soon after we started Puerto Rico, and waited with admirable patience until we finished, so we let him choose the next game (Rich and Paul were still playing baseball, and I infer from the comments they were making that Rich's team was hitting an unexpected number of home runs.) Dan decided on Age of Steam, a game we played four or five times in the spring, but which we haven't pulled out for a while. There was an immediate outcry to the effect that Eric has had an inappropriate amount of success (like Rich with San Marco,) but we played anyway. Age of Steam is often accused of taking too long, and of having a runaway leader problem. I don't believe either criticism is truly justified, although it certainly is an unforgiving game (at B20 a few weeks back one of the players didn't take out enough shares and was eliminated through bankruptcy.) My advice to new players is "you're better off taking out too many shares than too few" and "Urbanization is the Craftsman of Age of Steam - it can give unanticipated benefits to a player other than the one who takes it." Because there's nothing in Age of Steam that goes clockwise around the table, the game can drag if people fail to notice when it's their turn. The game speeds up immediately if one player takes the "Joe Huber" role, announcing what's happening next. Age of Steam can usually be finished in under two hours if you do this (some people hate being nudged along, and you can certainly play at a more leisurely pace, but that's your own choice.) We took about an hour and 45 minutes this week. Age of Steam has an auction to determine player order, and in particular, choice of special actions. The special actions vary widely in value, so the auction is important. If you let one of the players bid low and get the first selection on a regular basis, there certainly will be a runaway leader problem, so make people pay for those good special actions! It's important to study the board to see where the goods are located; each game is different, and in particular, the game can be more or less brutal depending on the distribution. This game was about average in anticipated brutality, given the initial cube draws. Anton took one share at the start and the others took two each. Eric won the auction and upgraded with Locomotive. Dan took First Build and grabbed the often-valuable Toronto-Detroit link, while Eric took advantage of his 2-link train to build the route Evansville-Indianapolis-Cincinnati (this may be the only game where Indianapolis is a suburb of Evansville!) Anton took Engineer and built Minneapolis-Des Moines. Walt explained that he was tired of seeing the eastern players win while he built in the west, so he connected Cincinnati-Wheeling. This left Anton all alone in the west, normally a dangerous situation, but the western cubes weren't great for early deliveries so the start was reasonably well balanced. Eric's income went to 4 on Turn 1, with two blue deliveries for 2 each, and he pulled out to an early lead. The gap then closed, as Walt and Eric both had an income of 16 on Turn 4. Eric took extra shares out to bid for Locomotive and skipped a delivery to get another upgrade, and the extra hauling power provided him with the opportunity to deliver a raft of yellow cubes over routes of length 5 and 6 (Springfield urbanized to yellow) to pull away again. Toronto let Dan down, as he got a total of 1 measly extra cube there, and when he took Production during one of the middle turns to place a cube there, it never materialized. In fact, the die rolls left an unusually high number of cubes undelivered, so that product shortages were everywhere. This was good luck for Eric with his longer-range locomotive.

Final scores: Eric 93, Walt 69, Anton 54, Dan 49.

Eric's rating: 9.

ALHAMBRA (Rich, Anton, Scott); ALHAMBRA (Walt, Eric, Dan)

Rich and Paul finished the baseball match, and Paul went home, but Rich was ready for a new game. We decided to play two 3-player games instead of one 6-player game, and when we talked about what game to play, it was two 3-player Alhambra games (you can play Alhambra with 6, but 3 is a lot better.) We had a random draw to see who would play at each table, and Eric got the rare chance at MVGA to be green (Anton's last name is Greenwald, so it's hard to be green when he's in your game!) There was some good-natured banter about "duplicate Alhambra" (in which the money and tiles would come out in the same order at both tables,) but we had the sense not to actually try it. Scott had never played, so the first game started with a rules explanation, but he gave the more experienced players all they could ask for. The part of Alhambra that gives experienced players the advantage seems to be the wall-building, with its choices to score big now and sacrifice future expansion or keep you options open. Scott caught on pretty quickly, but Rich pulled the game out with his "2nd place in everything" strategy.

Final scores: Rich 134, Anton 131, Scott 127.

In the other game, luck played a key role as Dan built up a fistful of cards, but never seemed to have the exact buy. Eric, on the other hand, had an exact buy almost every time (one time he spent his very last card on an exact buy.) Walt was filling his usual "Wallboy" role, but Eric had impressive walls as well. Dan's compound was best described as "full of compact goodness." Walt led at the end of the first scoring, and Eric was ahead by 1 at the end of the second. Dan made a late surge, but it was too little too late.

Final scores: Eric 154, Walt 137, Dan 103. Dan made the observation that he has done poorly in a number of Alhambra games, and it can't be luck, so he must be playing sub-optimally (Dan's too smart for the typical "I know this game's all luck because I always lose" comment.) This may be the case, but none of us can figure out what Dan's doing wrong (if he really is doing something wrong.)

Eric's rating: 8.

PHOENIX (Dan, Eric)

Three players left at this point, but Walt was still bent on getting his unit cost for Phoenix down to $1 (see above) so he taught the game to Dan and Eric. There was a serious undercurrent of "Eric must lose a game," and this was the right game for the job. We played a trial hand, which Eric won in about 4 cards because his initial set-up almost matched the blocks, and then started for real (a game consists of 3 hands, with scoring for getting your pawns in order as well as for getting all six colors and getting 3 or more pawns of the same color in a row.) Eric won the first hand 7 to 2, Dan won the second hand 9 to 0, and Dan then completed his victory with a win in the third hand (it was late so we didn't add the scores up.)

Eric's rating: 7. This is an enjoyable 2-player game in which you are racing with your opponent to reach a goal. You can see where your opponent's pawns are, but you don't know what cards he or she has, so you don't really know how close it is. The cards that let you swap a pawn with your opponent or rearrange the blocks are true difference-makers, but you want to wait to play them, since the resulting disruption is more significant when your opponent has already achieved a degree of order. So the feel is of a race, of waiting to spring your surprise (but not waiting too long,) and of making the most of your cards. It's fun, but after one play it seems to be quite luck-dependent. It's possible that more games would raise it closer to the rating of Lost Cities (a '9' in my book,) but it gets a '7' after one play.

August 21, 2003

After several weeks worth of bumper crops for gamers, we had only five this week as the end-of-summer doldrums descended in earnest.

Roll call: Walt, Anton, Eric, Rich, Paul.

LUNAR RAILS (Anton, Eric, Paul, Rich)

Lunar Rails is the latest game in the venerable Empire Builder series. I've been playing these games since the 80s, and some of the MVGA regulars have copies of Empire Builder they bought when it first came out. Rich has been bringing a copy of Lunar Rails out to MVGA for several weeks now, hoping to scare up a game, and tonight was the night. Four of us had already arrived, and we weren't sure whether Walt would make it, so we set the game up and started in. Well, it turns out Paul doesn't like these "crayon rail" games, but he was just too shy to say so until we had already started. Halfway through the initial building rounds, Walt walked in, and Paul saw this as his salvation. We decided it would take too long to play with 5, so we left Lunar Rails set up with a little initial track built and went over to another table to play a game for 5. [this report temporarily interrupted]

PRINCES OF FLORENCE (Anton, Eric, Paul, Rich, Walt)

Walt and Eric had each brought a "tub o' games," so Rich and Paul walked back and forth looking for one that would be good for 5. Paul had been wanting to play Princes of Florence for several weeks, and it's a great game for 5, so we set it up and started in. There was a bit of trash-talking about the fact that Eric is the 2003 WBC champ in this game; it didn't seem to generate any undue respect! We drew for starting player, and Paul won the coveted 2nd slot, with Walt 1st, Anton 3rd, Rich 4th and Eric 5th. The game followed form in the early stages, with Jesters going for 800-900, Builders for 400-500, and Recruiters for 500-600. Eric took a Prestige card for 200 on Round 1, and selected "all 3 landscape types." His initial cards were 1, 2, and 6 (a fine draw) and he thought he might wind up with a lot of cards in the 1-6 group, giving double benefits for the landscapes. Walt, on the other hand, had lousy starting cards, and he decided to pursue a modified builder strategy. This isn't something we see often at MVGA, but Walt made it work well. There were a few amusing episodes in this game. Anton got an early Jester lead, and he squeezed past the opposition for best work two or three times in the early going, giving him valuable points. Anton also bid Rich up to 600 or 700 for one Builder, Anton's second, only to let Walt have one for 200 the next round (Rich was not amused.) Walt focused a lot of attention on Prestige cards, collecting three by the time the game was over to go with his five buildings and four works. Anton and Eric had six character cards each, while Rich and Paul each got five. Despite his Jesters, Anton never got his sixth work completed, so Eric was the only one with six. Eric also drew two 6-point Bonus cards to tie for Best Work in Round 6 and win Best Work in Round 7. During the Prestige card phase, Walt laid down his three cards for 22 points (most buildings, all three freedoms and the always useful four buildings, two freedoms and four works card.) This gave him 58 points and the temporary lead, but Eric's one Prestige card was enough for the win. He built only two buildings, the University and the Laboratory, skipped Builders, and still got building points for every work, and this turned out to be the difference maker.

Final scores: Eric 63, Walt 58, Rich 54, Anton 52, Paul 45.

Eric's rating: 9. The way to win this game is to drive closest to the cliff without falling off, which more or less guarantees a tight, suspenseful game (drawing good cards doesn't hurt any, either.)

LUNAR RAILS [reprise] (Anton, Eric, Walt, Rich)

At this point Paul happily announced that, because he had work early Friday morning, he would not be able to stick around for the rest of Lunar Rails. Walt took over his spot, we finished the building rounds, and off we went. Lunar Rails covers both sides of the moon, with special "wrap-around" rules, and it presents a new challenge in that the shortest distance between two points is often not clear. Sometimes you can do better by going around the other side. This is a big difference from most of the Empire Builder series, where you learn to identify the shortest routes almost immediately. The near side of the moon has less difficult terrain than the far side (which is almost entirely mountains,) but you have to go with the cards you get, and we wound up focusing on the far side during the early going. It's amazing how quickly you can use up $20 million, and how pitiful the resulting built track can look when you're done! Eric lucked into a huge spec load early on (delivering Fish to Messier for $11 million and drawing Robots to Messier for $32 million with a spec load of Robots on his train) and upgraded to speed 16 long before the others. As the game wore on, however, he couldn't get the cards to work together as well as one would like, and the others started to catch up. The Empire Builder series can play quickly if everyone knows the cities and the loads and moves quickly, but it can drag terribly if the cities and loads are unfamiliar, or if one or more players are not quite into the game.

Since Lunar Rails is new, none of us really knows where you get Beer on the moon yet, or can find Aristarchus with his eyes closed. (It was amusing at WBC to play Empire Builder with a woman who helped develop Lunar Rails, but had never played on the U.S. map. She know that Alien Artifacts come from Tycho, but had no idea that Steel comes from Pittsburgh!) This is a particular problem for Anton, who cannot read fine print easily from a distance. Our Lunar Rails game took about four hours (not counting the time we spent with Princes of Florence) and Anton had to leave at midnight. We left his track in place and continued to play with three. The disasters seem to work well in Lunar Rails, but they can be quite severe. Each of us suffered to some extent from them, and in fact a three-round delay for Eric helped Rich and Walt catch up. When the tax hit, Eric had $232 million, Rich had $221 million, and Walt had about $190 million. The tax put the end of the game off, and gave Walt a chance. Walt delivered two big loads to pull even, and Eric delivered one. Rich was stuck with tiny loads; all three of his were only worth $30 million together. Walt started off on a final run that would put him over $250 and Eric dumped cards looking for a quick hit, which he found. He also got a disaster that hit the southern hemisphere (where Walt and Rich were situated,) delaying them one round. This allowed Eric to complete his run and win, with Walt one turn from winning himself.

Final scores: Eric $262 million, Walt $234 million, Rich $226 million, Anton dropped out, Paul replaced in the first inning by a relief pitcher.

Eric's rating: 7. This rating will probably go up as we gain more familiarity with the loads and cities and the game starts moving more quickly. Empire Builder is a favorite, and the "around the other side" feature in Lunar Rails is a definite plus.

August 28, 2003

Roll call: Eric, Will, Anton, Rich, Jeff, Paul.

PARIS PARIS (Eric, Will)

The past few weeks we've had players here before 7:00, but this week Eric and Will showed up just on time, and with no one else in sight, they set up Paris Paris. This game plays in half an hour, and it will take 2, 3 or 4, so it's a good choice for an opener. Will had never played, and Eric had never played with 2, so we began by reviewing the rules. In 2-player Paris Paris, there are no points for "most shops in the bag." Also, in addition to the secret grand tour color held by each player for the end of the game, there is one additional public end-game grand tour color, for a total of three. There are a number of Euro games that, while designed for 3 or more, play very well with 2. One outstanding example is Through the Desert, but after this week we can add Paris Paris to the list. Like with Through the Desert, the 2-player game provides more control (and is thus less tolerant of mistakes.) It also wipes out the "who gets picked on most" factor, so that the "whining bag" isn't needed. This game was close on the scoreboard most of the way through, with the two score markers staying within 2 or 3 points of each other. Toward the end, however, Eric managed to tempt Will into taking a few short-term gains at the cost of junction position, and this together with some luck in the tile draws proved to be the difference. The last tile choice had two Oranges, forcing Will to allow an Orange grand tour that gave Eric an edge, and the end-game grand tours extended that edge.

Final scores: Eric 120, Will 90.

Eric's rating: 8.

RA (Anton, Paul, Rich, Jeff)

Four more players, including Rich's son Jeff, came in partway through the 2-player Paris Paris game. They played a 4-player game of Ra. This game was unusual in that the Ra tiles came out in rapid succession during the first two epochs, giving the edge to the players who were not too greedy, but got what they could get while the epoch lasted. Rich grabbed some decent loot during the first epoch (and took some low suns,) but the second epoch passed so quickly that he was in danger of being stuck with the same suns for the third epoch. He managed to unload two of them, but he did get stuck with an unused '2'. If you have a '2' you'd like either to get some stuff or at least a higher sun... This set up a third epoch in which a large subset of the tiles were still available for play. This is a tricky situation. You expect a larger haul for a given size sun, but the other players are expecting the same thing and it's not clear how greedy you should get. In this game, the players were not too greedy, and in fact Anton was the only one left with a sun while Ra was still only halfway across the sky. This is a good position to be in, but you still are limited to eight tiles. Anton filled the board with eight tiles, but one was an earthquake and would ruin his monument plans (he didn't have enough spares to throw away.) He then filled up the board a second time, and the choice was more attractive than before, but still left him short of the giant monument bonanza he had been hoping for. With the sun starting to set, he decided to settle for the eight tiles he had rather than tempt fate.

Final scores: Jeff 42, Rich 38, Anton 31, Will 28.

Eric's rating: 9. There's lots of luck in this game, but it's fast and the decisions are interesting.

UNION PACIFIC (Anton, Eric, Will, Paul, Rich, Jeff)

We've been playing Union Pacific every few weeks; it is a fine option when you have 6 players and don't want to split into a pair of 3-player games. The decisions can be agonizing, even though the player who doesn't make the best decision can win if the scoring cards come out unexpectedly early or unexpectedly late. The last time we played this game, Will beat us pretty badly with his "meld your stock too soon" strategy. Somehow this strategy beats the pants off of the "meld your stock too late" strategy that the rest of us wound up playing (who knew?) And this game set off on the same course. I'd like to think Will has already played Union Pacific enough to have learned the hard lessons, but maybe he just has more common sense! The start of the game was fairly even. Jeff grabbed 6 UP shares, Eric got 4, Anton 3 and the others took 2 each (Eric traded a UP for a UP, leading to some puzzlement on the part of the stock counters in the group.)

The Red and Green lines did not draw the early interest they sometimes do, and in fact the Green line was blocked early (though it didn't matter, as no one was pushing it very hard.) There was more interest in the Blue, Purple, Black, Brown and Yellow lines. As a result, Eric and Rich split 2nd in Green throughout the game with a lousy 1-share meld each, while Paul and Will tied for 1st in Red with only 3 shares each. There were a lot of suspicious looks as visible leaders in lines worried about "silent partners." There was a lot of laughter as Eric added to the Black line (a line he had no melded stock in, though he could tie for 1st with shares in his hand) and said "I'm going to compound my mistake." There was more laughter as the final scoring card came out soon afterward, leaving Will as the beneficiary. (Can I help it if every single scoring card comes out unfortunately early for me? It's just bad luck, I tell you...Hmmph!)

Final scores: Will 86, Jeff 79, Eric 73, Rich 72, Anton 69, Paul 66.

Eric's rating: 8. I am still learning the tactics and strategy of this game, and I typically wait too long to make my move. But I can still hope to learn my lesson and get better results in the future.

PUERTO RICO (Eric, Rich, Paul, Jeff, Will)

Anton had to leave, so we took out the MVGA copy of Puerto Rico, an MVGA favorite. Eric was first player and settled, Rich mayored, Paul took builder and a Hospice, as did Jeff, and the last players scooped up prospector doubloons. There was more defense than the last time we played. Will had sugar ready to go by the end of the first governor, and Eric had tobacco by the end of the second governor, but it was all wastefully loaded onto ships, a fate made more likely by the total lack of indigo production early in the game. This game was a shipper's bonanza. The early Hospices encourage shipping. We also had good shipping buildings purchased, with Rich and Jeff buying Harbors while Jeff and Will bought Wharfs. Eric was the only one pushing a building strategy, and he may have started in on the bonus buildings too soon, given the character of the game. In the end, Rich's Factory-augmented shipping strategy won it.

Final scores:

VP Bldg Bonus Total 
Rich 33 + 21 + 6 = 60 
Will 31 + 17 + 7 = 55 
Eric 15 + 23 + 13 = 51 
Jeff 34 + 15 = 49 
Paul 22 + 15 = 37

Eric's rating: 10. This is probably a great game when played by experts (I've been reading the discussion on boardgamegeek.com,) but it's just as enjoyable when played by regular gamers like us. It presents interesting decisions that matter, and it can take a lot of different twists and turns, so it doesn't become repetitive.

September 4, 2003

No session report available.

September 11, 2003

No session report available.

September 18, 2003

Roll call: Eric, Rich, Paul, Anton, Walt.

This is the first MVGA session report for September. On September 4, Eric rushed out after one game of Amun-Re to go home and watch the first NFL game of the season with his wife, who is a rabid football fan. This brought catcalls from the MVGA crowd. Rich won Amun-Re that night in a runaway, but I have no results for the rest of the night or for September 11, when I wasn't able to come.

BASARI (Eric, Rich, Paul, Anton)

Rich generally brings a stack of two or three games with him to MVGA (one of which is always San Marco - Rich would hate to miss any chance to play San Marco.) This week he brought San Marco and Basari (the new version from Out of the Box Games.) Paul, who's been hoping to play Funkenschlag for a while, asked whether Rich had brought Funkenschlag. Unfortunately, Rich stared at Funkenschlag on the shelf before he left his house, but in the end decided not to bring it. We decided to play Basari. This previously out-of-print game has recently been re-issued in its original form (with new artwork) by Out of the Box, and also in a revised version with somewhat different rules under the name Edel, Stein & Reich. Basari is limited to 4 players, while Edel, Stein & Reich takes up to 5, but we had 4 and weren't sure whether anyone else was coming, so we started in.

In Basari, players simultaneously and secretly select from among three actions each turn: score some points, roll the die for points and movement, or get some gems. If you're the only one who chooses an action, you get to take it. If two players choose the same action, they silently negotiate by offering gem sets in exchange for the right to take the action. If three or more players choose the same action, none of them gets to take it. Usually you want to be the only one choosing an action (though sometimes it's valuable to get into a negotiation with an opponent who really wants the action so you can get a good haul of jewels.) This makes it important to predict the choices of the other players and act accordingly (or, if you want to show off, you can choose your actions randomly and win the game through solid negotiating.) This week Paul was the zen master of Basari. He repeatedly chose the right time to choose jewels, scooping up huge piles of them while the rest of us butted heads constantly. Of course, when we went for the jewels, Paul deftly side-stepped and picked some other action. The course of the game was clear after the first of three rounds when Paul won most yellows, most greens and most blues.

Final scores: Paul 83, Anton 72, Rich 69, Eric 53.

Eric's rating: 8 for the game as a whole, but only 7 at MVGA, because at MVGA I always pick the same action as someone else. In comparison, I rate Edel, Stein & Reich as a 6. I find the special action cards in Edel, Stein & Reich clash with the rest of the game, and I also miss the clever round-end timing mechanism that the die in Basari offers. (We use the Basari variant that all players move on the same die roll number during the "everyone move" phase, making the die roll action much more valuable.) I'll play Edel, Stein & Reich if others want to play, but I'd usually rather play a different game.

PRINCES OF FLORENCE (Eric, Rich, Paul, Anton, Walt)

We dithered back and forth about our next game and finally decided on Princes of Florence. As we were starting into a 4-player game, Walt came in and we played with 5 instead. Paul was first player, Rich took the coveted second slot, Eric was third, Anton fourth and Walt fifth. Paul surprised us on Round 1 when he did not buy a Personality. This gave Eric the chance to snap up the last one, so he and Rich both got five while Paul had only three. Other than that, the game developed fairly normally, with jesters, builders and recruitment cards spread fairly evenly around the table. Anton bought several bonus cards and used them to snarf up best work several times. Eric decided to punt on the Library and brought out his Cartographer without it for a measly 13 WV during Round 3. In Round 7, Eric and Walt were both in a position where a Prestige card was worth far more than any other option. Walt had taken a lot of money out of his Round 6 work, so when Eric bid enough to buy it, he then had to cash in two PP for florins to build a building and put on his last work. Walt bought a landscape for an extra 3PP and finished with a lot of extra cash. It was still a wide-open game as we revealed Prestige cards. Rich made it to 61 with the help of 7PP for most forests, and Eric made it to 61 with two Prestige cards, but Rich had money left to break the tie for the win.

Final scores: Rich 61 with 200 florins, Eric 61 with 0 florins, Walt 59, Anton 55, Paul 38. Eric had six works, Paul four, and everyone else had five.

Eric's rating: 9. We've played Princes a lot at MVGA this year, and the games have been close and exciting recently. If you enjoy this game, stop by and join us!

MEDICI (Eric, Rich, Anton, Walt)

Paul had to leave (he starts work early) so we needed a 4-player game. Walt said he'd like to try Medici, a game he played a long time ago but has gotten away from. After a quick run through the rules, we set our score markers at 40 (as opposed to 30 for a 5-player game) and Walt was chosen to be first dealer. Scores were fairly even after the first of three scoring rounds, but in the next round Eric, showing more than his usual patience, found himself dealing, with room for three cards while everyone else had room for at most two. He then dealt two 5's and a 4 in reasonably good colors and used this lucky break to run away with the game.

Final scores: Eric 149, Anton 121, Rich 117, Walt 91.

Walt didn't make any obvious errors, and had some bad luck, but this is a game in which experience matters.

Eric's rating: 10. This game is brutal and has a fairly significant luck component, but it's short (no more than 35 minutes this week, including the quick rules review; then again, our motto at MVGA is "play fast, make mistakes.") The decisions are agonizing. One of my very favorite games.

After Medici wrapped up, Eric had to leave and Anton, Rich and Walt spent some time discussing the fantasy baseball league they play in together. As September winds to its conclusion, fantasy baseball owners either plan for the playoffs or (if the playoffs are not an option) plan their personnel moves for next year. This league has been going on for many years and it matters to these guys. I'm a football guy, not a baseball guy, but I respect obsession when I see it.

September 25, 2003

Roll call: Eric, Rich, Paul, Anton, Walt.

FUNKENSCHLAG (Eric, Rich, Paul, Anton, Walt)

Paul had been asking for a game of Funkenschlag for a few weeks, and the week Rich brought his copy out to MVGA, Paul didn't come. This week everything came together and we got our game. Funkenschlag is a unique and wonderful mix of gaming elements. The heart of the game is the power plant auction - there is a deck of large, attractive power plant cards and a clever auction mechanism. Each player can own up to three power plants (if you buy a fourth, you must discard one of the plants you already have.) In some cases, buying a plant can give another player a great deal on a different plant, so you have to bid carefully. You also buy and use fuel (coal, oil, trash and uranium) and you build power lines by drawing them on the map in a manner that resembles track building in Empire Builder. We joke that Funkenschlag is a railroad game, but the name means "Power Struggle" and it's really about the electricity generation and distribution industry. The full game is composed of three "phases." In each phase the rules for power plant auctions is different. Because the game is fairly long when you play all three phases, the beginner's game ends at the end of Phase 1, but this short version is also unbalanced, so it's good to move on to the full game as soon as you can. It's a tense battle of money management and brinksmanship.

The game started with selection of starting areas. Walt picked first and started near the middle, Rich started nearby, and Anton, Eric and Paul got spots around the outside. The center spots have a small edge, but if the players are aware of this, they should be able to nullify the edge by leaning just a bit on the center players. The winner is the player who powers the most cities at the end, and the center positions generally find it a bit easier to connect the cities they need than the peripheral players. Funkenschlag provides a strong slow-down-the-leader mechanism, as the player with the most cities connected is the last to buy fuel, the last to build track, and the first to put power plants up for auction. For this reason, one tactic is to deliberately delay connecting cities to keep a better spot in the turn order. On the other hand, more cities means more cash (though the law of diminishing returns applies here,) and you don't want to delay too long lest an opponent snatch that building route.

The game took an unusual turn. Walt grabbed a nuclear plant early at a fair price and benefited from the move as there were no other nuclear plants available for quite some time. This allowed him to be the only buyer of uranium while the rest of us were competing for fuel. Another nuclear plant became available, and we let Walt buy that one too (probably a mistake.) As the game moved into the later phases, Eric let Walt snap up the coveted fusion plant for about $85. In the three-phase game, you have to balance fuel cost against plant capacity (a trade-off that is not an issue in the beginner's game,) and the fusion plant has a large capacity and costs nothing to fuel. As one approaches the 18 cities needed to end the game, the key question is how many cities it will take to win. The game ends at the end of the turn in which some player connects 18 cities, but it's the player who connects and powers the most cities who wins. In this game, Rich could connect 20 or 21 cities, but he only had power plants to power 17. Thus, he had to buy a bigger plant, and this used up so much money that he could only connect 19. Walt had plants to power 20, but he could only connect 19. Eric had plants to power 19, and that's the most he could connect anyway. It was looking close, and in fact four players all powered 19 cities so the game came down to the tie-breaker, which is cash. Walt's cagey bidding made the difference in this one, but we all resolved to pull Funkenschlag out again soon.

Final scores:

Walt 19 cities + $137 
Rich 19 cities + $119 
Anton 19 cities + $118 
Eric 19 cities + $114 
Paul 16 cities 

Eric's rating: 8. Funkenschlag has some awkward elements (as noted above) but it's still a wonderful blend of calculation and seat-of-the-pants improvisation.

ALHAMBRA (Eric, Rich, Anton, Walt)

Funkenschlag is a longish game and Paul had to leave, so the four of us who were left decided to finish with Alhambra. This SdJ winner has gotten a lot of table time at MVGA this year despite occasional whining about bad luck. Alhambra players often specialize in one or two particular types of building, but in this game it seemed everyone was in the hunt for everything, and the situation persisted throughout the game. Walt found it hard to make exact purchases, so he made his own luck by overpaying for a few key tiles. Eric simply could not get the walls to behave (he couldn't even find overpaying options) and ended the game with a long wall that was a miserable 6 in length. The others ended in a bunch.

Final scores: Walt 110, Anton 107, Rich 104, Eric 92.

Eric's rating: 8

October 2, 2003

Roll call: Dan, Eric, Scott, Paul, Anton, Walt

SAN FRANCISCO (Dan, Eric, Paul, Scott)

Walt and Anton had a tabletop baseball series to play, so the other four looked for a game. Walt had brought a copy of San Francisco, which some of us had never played, and we decided to give it a try. San Francisco features two currencies, money and influence points, which you use to bid for the right to place your markers on the map. The city is represented as a grid of squares, and each marker marks a line segment representing the boundary between two squares (or a side of a single square at the edge of the map) as the property of the corresponding player. Once a player has achieved enough control of a square, the square flips over and scores points for that player.

In some ways, San Francisco feels like a "Frankenstein's monster" of games, since it contains many mechanics borrowed from other games (I think this metaphor was suggested by someone else, though I'm not sure who to credit.) Money comes in the form of "checks" of different amounts that do not allow the making of change. Influence bids of the same amount by different players cancel out, possibly allowing a player with a lower bid to win. The game started off with hesitant play, especially on the part of those who had not played before. It's hard to know how much to bid in money or influence for various options, and it's hard to know how to balance money against influence. If you find yourself too low in either currency, you can wind up in trouble (there is a replenishment mechanism, but you may not be able to wait.) As the game wound to its close, Dan had a large lead in victory points, but Eric had more money and influence. Eric could have gotten a big score, but it would leave him one victory point short of Dan. A period of jockeying back and forth ensued, as Dan tried to give Eric a score that would end the game, while Eric desperately tried to avoid scoring until he could score two blocks at once for the win. This part of the game was not pleasant for Scott and Paul, who had a choice of playing kingmaker or killing time waiting for the end. Eventually, Dan forced Eric to score, bringing the game to a close.

Final scores: Dan 42, Eric 41, Scott 30, Paul 26.

Eric's rating: 7. The game works reasonably well (I think the endgame anomaly we ran into is rare) and there are decisions that matter. I generally enjoy bidding games. On the other hand, the game feels a little bit like the pieces were sewn together in the dark; the workmanship is good, but the joins are a little too visible in the final product.

LOST CITIES (Eric, Dan)

Scott had to leave, and the baseball games were not yet finished. There wasn't time for a real 3-player game, so Eric and Dan played a hand of Lost Cities. The cards were stubborn for both players, but Dan won out, winning 14 to 4.

Eric's rating: 9. I love playing this game fast, in blitz mode. At WBC I lost a thriller to Doug Galullo, and he plays as fast as I do. We had to play a fourth game because we were tied after three games (a win, a loss and a draw for each of us, with exactly the same totals,) and it still didn't take more than 10 minutes. Dan moves the game along quickly, and by the time we were finished one hand, Walt and Anton had finished their series.

ALHAMBRA (Dan, Paul, Eric, Anton, Walt)

We played a 5-player game of Alhambra; we ordinarily try to stick to 3- and 4-player games because it can drag with too many, but perhaps we were tired and willing to play a slower-paced game. This one was close across the board, but Dan continued his success ("it's all about Dan," as we like to say.)

Final scores: Dan 97, Paul 87, Eric 87, Anton 83, Walt 80 (maybe the baseball guys were tired from 4 games under the lights?)

Eric's rating: 8. This game hits the spot.

WYATT EARP (Dan, Anton, Eric)

Three stubborn gamers stayed for one more game, even though it was late. We couldn't let Dan win every game for the night, could we? As it turned out, Eric and Anton competed for the most notorious outlaws and Dan fell far behind. What a relief!

Final scores: Eric 32, Anton 30, Dan 21.

Eric's rating: 9.

October 9, 2003

No session report available.

October 16, 2003

Roll call: Dan, Eric, Scott, Paul, Anton, Walt.

PUERTO RICO (Dan, Walt, Paul, Rich)

Four regulars showed up for the start at 7:00, and they pulled out what's already become an old favorite: Puerto Rico. This week we used the new buildings; we often play with the original buildings, but when we feel adventurous, we throw some of the new buildings in. We generally avoid the Forest House and the new large buildings, randomly select six other types, and fill in around them with old buildings. This week's game featured a Union Hall. The Union Hall just begs to be abused by a player who saves up a huge load of some commodity, and this week Paul pulled it off with a Small Warehouse full of Indigo. He piled up 41 shipping points to win over Dan, his only serious rival.

Final scores: Paul 54, Dan 52, Walt 36, Rich 32.

Eric's rating: 10. I'll play this game any time. It seems to me that we're steadily increasing the quality of our Puerto Rico play at MVGA, with wins spread across our membership, but we're by no means sharks yet.

UNION PACIFIC (Eric, Dan, Walt, Paul, Rich)

Eric showed up at this point, making 5. When we have 6 players we often split up into two 3-player games, but with 5 we play a 5-player game. We've been into Union Pacific quite a bit this year. This week Dan won by a fairly wide margin. It seems we still tend to wait too long to meld on average, so that the early bird gets the worm (or at least a larger share of the worm.)

Final scores: Dan 103, Walt 95, Rich 84, Eric 76, Paul 73.

Eric's rating: 8. I'm not very good at Union Pacific (my best finish is a single tie for 1st,) but I enjoy it nevertheless.

EUROPA TOUR (Eric, Walt, Dan)

We finished up with two games of Europa Tour, the Moon/Weissblum European geography game that's like Rack-O on espresso. I'm still a bit clueless about the game, but I did get my second win, which makes the game a little more fun.

Results: Eric won the first game, and Walt won the second.

Eric's rating: 5.

October 23, 2003

Roll call: Walt, Evan, Anton, Paul, Rich, Dan, Eric.

PUERTO RICO (Walt, Anton, Paul, Evan)

We had 7 in attendence this week. Three of us wanted to try Age of Mythology, so the other 4 played Puerto Rico. It was a magical game for Walt, who shipped and built his way to an overwhelming victory.

Final score:

Ship + Bldg + Bonus = Total 
Walt  28 + 24 + 12  = 64 
Evan  34 + 15       = 49 
Anton 15 + 19 + 11  = 45 
Paul  22 + 13 + 10  = 45

Eric's Rating: 10.

EUPHRAT & TIGRIS (Walt, Anton, Paul, Evan)

The next game up for this group was E&T, an MVGA favorite that hadn't been out too much recently.

Final scores: Evan 6, Anton 5, Walt 4, Paul 2. It should be noted that the rules review left Paul with an idea about the victory conditions that wasn't quite accurate; he would have had a better shot if he had known what he was actually aiming at.

Eric's rating: 7. I enjoy this game, but it isn't one of my Top 10, as it is for many other gamers. Perhaps if I were to play it more often I would enjoy it more.

WYATT EARP (Walt, Anton, Evan)

Paul had to leave, so the three remaining from the E&T game played Wyatt Earp. Walt won his second blowout of the evening.

Final scores: Walt 28, Anton 18, Evan 14.

AGE OF MYTHOLOGY (Rich, Dan, Eric)

Three players had made an appointment to try this new game out. It's a visually stunning game, with scads of multi-colored plastic figures, nice chunky cubes, cards, player mats---it feels like someone went through a German game store and took some of everything and put it into this game. You collect plantations and build buildings like in Puerto Rico, and you build up armies for battles with your neighbors. You earn resources from your plantations and buildings (or by taking them from defeated foes.) At the start of each turn, three red victory point cubes are distributed by the players onto the four victory point cards. We drew randomly for country. Dan was the Greeks, Rich was the Norse, and Eric was the Egyptians.

Eric put a cube on "Last Battle Won" to try to take advantage of the temporary edge created by his elephants, but he didn't draw an Attack card, so he built up his army instead in the first round, as his opponents countered by building their own troops. The next round, Eric took two randoms out of his four cards and both of them were Attack cards. One was a god card which allowed him a free resurrection at the cost of favor (and Egypt has a lot of favor) so he attacked Dan, winning some resources and a VP.

As the game progressed, it was clear that a player who takes a lot of random cards must play them as they lie, and that a player who does not take a lot of random cards is in danger of falling behind. Dan got good building cards (and shot ahead in building,) Eric got good recruitment cards (and gained the largest army,) and Rich had the most resources (especially gold) but didn't get the cards to take the lead anywhere. Halfway through the game, Eric had another good attack card and hit Rich this time for another 2 VP. There's a lot of luck involved in the battles in this game, and Eric had most of it. Near the end, Rich defeated Dan in the third and final battle, gaining 1 VP and knocking Dan's buildings down to equality with Rich.

Final scores: Eric 13 (10 for largest army, 3 for winning 2 battles) Rich 1 (for winning a battle) Dan 0 There were 6 VPs unclaimed on the Wonder, 9 unclaimed because of the tie for most buildings, and 1 that someone forgot to place one turn.

Eric's rating: 7. This is a very interesting and involving game. We were playing fairly slowly as we tried to get our arms around what we were doing, and we made a few errors in applying the rules. We also perceived that Eric had a big advantage in the god cards he drew. In part this was because he drew a lot more god cards than his opponents, but we looked through the random action decks after the game and it seems the Egyptians have much better cards than the Norse do. Perhaps this is a balancing feature for some other advantage granted to the Norse, but in our first playing it left a bit of a sour taste. I'd be happy to play again, mainly because I'm willing to experiment with a new and interesting game system even if there's a possibility it may be unbalanced.

MEDICI (Rich, Dan, Eric, Anton, Evan)

Walt had to leave for a trip, so the rest of us finished off with this quick Knizia auction game. Rich was the master in this game, scooping up a few valuable loads at low prices (why did we let him get away with it?!)

Final scores: Rich 86, Eric 75, Anton 66, Dan 59, Evan 58.

Eric's rating: 10. Quick and brutal. One of my favorites.

October 30, 2003

Roll call: Walt, Eric, Rich, Paul, Evan, Dan.

HISTORY OF THE WORLD (Walt, Eric, Rich, Paul, Evan, Dan)

We had 6 in attendence this week, and there was a call for History of the World. We recognized that we would probably not finish (given that Paul had to leave at 10:00) but we decided to play as far as we could, just for fun. The club owns the old version, not the newer version with plastic figures, but there are only a few differences between the two versions. History of the World (HotW) is a magnum opus that spans the course of history from the Sumerians to World War I. There are seven epochs, and in each epoch there are seven empires of varying strengths.

With 6 players (the maximum,) one empire will be unplayed in each epoch (Epoch I, with only six empires, is an exception.) The signature feature of HotW is the distribution of empires; at the start of each epoch, the player who has received the fewest armies in the game thus far draws an empire from the card deck, looks at it secretly, and either keeps it or passes it to another player (who may not look at it.) The player who has received the next fewest armies so far then draws a card and either keeps it (if he has none) or gives it to a player who does not yet have an empire. The empires take their turns in a predetermined order, and you don't know who has a given empire (or whether that empire is untaken) until the point in the epoch when that empire's turn comes up. This mechanism adds interest and strategy (and luck) and helps other players catch the leader. The group has played HotW before, although we did make a few rules mistakes because it's been a while and we didn't re-read the rules in detail before we started.

In Epoch I, Eric (selected at random as the starting player, given that no one has received fewer armies than anyone else at the start) drew the Minoans and passed them to Rich (who complained bitterly. Eric was hoping for one of the better dynasties, but got stuck with the Aryans, the last empire drawn and the worst Epoch I empire. Paul led off with Egypt and played a card that gave him two extra armies to pull out to an early lead.

End of Epoch I:

Paul Egypt (5 armies) 10 VP, 5 total armies 
Rich Minoans (4 armies) 7 VP, 4 total armies 
Dan Babylon (4 armies) 7 VP, 4 total armies 
Walt Indus Valley (4 armies) 5 VP, 4 total armies 
Evan Shang Dynasty (4 armies) 5 VP, 4 total armies 
Eric Aryans (5 armies) 4 VP, 5 total armies

In Epoch II, there were no Persians (usually the strongest empire in the epoch.) The big scorers were Dan with the Greeks, Paul with Carthaginia and Rich with the Assyrians. Walt got stuck in India for the second straight epoch, limiting his reach and costing him VPs. Of course, Dan's holdings were threatened by the imminent arrival of Rome, one of the strongest empires in the game.

End of Epoch II:

Paul Carthaginia (8 armies) +19 = 29 VP, 13 total armies 
Dan Greek City St. (9 armies) +21 = 28 VP, 13 total armies 
Rich Assyria (8 armies) +19 = 26 VP, 12 total armies 
Eric Chou Dynasty (6 armies) +13 = 17 VP, 11 total armies 
Walt Vedic City St. (6 armies) +12 = 17 VP, 10 total armies 
Evan Scythians (7 armies) +11 = 16 VP, 11 total armies 

Epoch III featured a set of unusually feeble Romans. Walt decided that Dan wasn't the right guy to attack, given that his Macedonian empire was forced to come in smack on top of the remnants of his Greek City States empire from Epoch II. Instead, Walt headed for India and China (a successful Roman empire can easily make it to both.) Unfortunately, he lost a number of battles despite the use of a Weaponry card, and didn't pick up as much of a lead as he could have. Once you take the Romans, you're going to be last in the draw and you'll get lousy empires for a while, so you need a lead.

End of Epoch III:

Walt Romans (25 armies) +37 = 54 VP, 35 total armies
Rich Maurya (10 armies) +25 = 51 VP, 22 total armies 
Paul Sassanids (9 armies) +20 = 49 VP, 22 total armies 
Dan Macedonia (15 armies) +20 = 48 VP, 28 total armies 
Evan Han Dynasty (12 armies) +28 = 44 VP, 23 total armies 
Eric Hsiung-Nu (7 armies) +14 = 31 VP, 18 total armies 

In Epoch IV, no one was surprised to see Walt stuck with the Khmers, who not only have a weak army, but who also go last in the order of play. It's traditional to give the Khmers (if they come up) to the Romans. You score at the end of your empire's turn, so being last in the order of play gives maximum time for the other players to cut away at the remnants of the Roman empire. Many players kept the empire they drew this time: Eric drew and kept the Byzantines, Even drew and kept the Huns, and Paul drew and kept the Arabs. Paul had to leave before the Arabs came up in the order of play, so we all played for him (and did pretty well, I'll add.) We stopped at the end of this epoch.

End of Epoch IV:

Evan Huns (14 armies) +33 = 77 VP, 37 total armies 
Rich T'ang Dynasty (11 armies) +25 = 76 VP, 33 total armies 
Paul Arabs (18 armies) +25 = 74 VP, 40 total armies 
Dan Guptas (8 armies) +26 = 74 VP, 36 total armies 
Walt Khmers (5 armies) +17 = 71 VP, 40 total armies 
Eric Byzantines (12 armies) +38 = 69 VP, 30 total armies 

Eric's rating: 8. This game is long but retains interest all the way through as long as the players pay attention and keep things moving. There's an ability to stop the leader, but not so much as to make early rounds meaningless. The ability of the player with the fewest VPs to draw first is an important balancing factor, and the fact that a given empire is worth more to some players than to others makes it a challenge to decide whether to pass the empire you draw (and if so, to whom.)

AMUN-RE (Walt, Eric, Rich, Evan, Dan)

After Paul left, we discussed what game to play with 5 and finally settled on Amun-Re. We've been playing this quite a bit at MVGA, as it's a favorite of several of the regulars. The Old Kingdom had some interesting province draws. All four temples came up in the same round, and the early provinces were poor for farmers, resulting in a meager sacrifice and a lot of stealing from Amun-Re. Rich pulled away to a lead of about 6 points going into the new kingdom, and he looked like the runaway favorite, but that's not how it turned out. Walt and Evan both made up ground, and Evan (with a sacrifice of 18 on the final round) nipped Rich at the tape.

Final scores: Evan 43, Rich 42, Walt 41, Dan 36, Eric 29.

Eric's Rating: 6. I like this game a lot less than the other MVGA regulars. It feels like the game is dominated by lucky power card draws (this can't really be true, because the same players do well in game after game, but enjoyment is, after all, based on feelings.) In this game I set up to benefit from a fairly wide selection of bonus cards, but drew only one bonus card the entire game (after I had already bought provinces that made the bonus unachievable.) I'll keep playing from time to time, to be a good sport if nothing else, but I'd really rather play a different game.

November 6, 2003

Roll call: Walt, Eric, Rich, Paul, Anton, Evan, Dan.

FISCHE FLUPPEN FRIKADELLEN [FFF] (Walt, Eric, Rich, Dan, Evan)

Many of the MVGA regulars are members of an APBA tabletop baseball league that’s been running for over 20 years. Anton and Paul had a 4-game series to play, so they went at it while the rest of us sat down to FFF. FFF is another Friedemann Friese game that is published by 2F in a green box. It seems Herr Friese is fond of the letter “F” and the color green because many of his games come in green boxes and make liberal use of the letter “F” (shades of “Sesame Street”!) FFF is at its heart a game like Merchants of Venus or even Empire Builder; you move around the board buying and selling in an attempt to amass the victory requirements before any of your opponents can do so. The setup is random, so the optimal trading routes vary from game to game. In addition, some games are “easy” (with many lucrative routes) while others are “hard” (so that it is not easy to increase your wealth.)

Walt, Rich and Dan had played FFF before, but their experience was with an “easy” game in which one player hit the jackpot and won going away before the other players had even gotten started in any significant way. They were unimpressed with the game due to this perceived runaway leader problem, but they wanted to try it again because it had gotten good reviews from others. This week’s game was a “harder” game, and it was close all the way, and thus much more enjoyable. The shops that buy and sell goods were clustered near the bottom of the board, while the trading posts that allow you to trade one good in for two other goods were up near the top. The fetish shop (where you buy fetishes---three fetishes are needed to win) was way down in the lower left corner and hard to get to. Most of the players started the game by trading their way up to the three goods needed for the first fetish. They were hampered by the high prices, which made it hard to buy in the quantities needed for fast turnover and high profits.

Eric took a different tack, buying three Food (everything in this game starts with “F”) and selling them at an exorbitant price, giving him most of the money he would need for the rest of the game. Pretty soon everyone but Eric had a fetish and was poor, while Eric had no fetishes but was wealthy. Rich then bought his way up to two fetishes. Dan got a “move another player’s pawn” action and used it to hurt Eric, who protested that he was losing, though only half-heartedly, because he was almost immediately able to buy a first and a second fetish in rapid succession, putting him in contention for the lead. There were only two decent routes in the game, and the one in the middle of the board generated huge quantities of Fennel, so that the players were virtually choking in Fennel for most of the game. Evan greedily bought up several large loads of goods, only to realize that he was at his limit of 7 goods and could not buy or trade until he sold off. This left him at one fetish while the others all had their second. It wasn’t long before Rich and Eric both made a dash for the fetish shop to purchase their final fetishes. Rich had used his special action tokens, but Eric had saved one hot foot, which gave him two extra action points. He purchased the winning fetish as Rich’s pawn stood on the doorstep of the fetish shop.

Final scores: Eric 3, Rich 2, Dan 2, Walt 2, Evan 1.

Eric's rating: 7 for a game that is ingenious and interesting, but that seems quite dependent on other players making moves that favors you over other opponents. You need a tolerance for chaos to enjoy this game. There is an interesting option to play 2 or 3 boards with up to 15 players moving between boards, but none of us has tried this option yet.

WYATT EARP (Walt, Eric, Paul)

The baseball series finished with Anton’s team clinching the division championship, so we had seven players ready for the next game. Walt and Paul had to leave by 10:00, and Eric was tired, so the three of them played a quick game of Wyatt Earp while the other four started in on Acquire. Wyatt Earp is a rummy-like card game with an Old West theme and a number of special action cards. The winner is the player with the most money when one player has at least $25,000, but we decided to stop at 10:00 regardless of whether someone had reached this level or not. In the first hand, Walt laid down some good melds and then drew all three Hideout cards. He managed to play both hideouts on Eric, wiping out two good suits. The score after one hand was Walt $11,000, Paul $10,000 and Eric $4,000. In the second hand, Eric managed to lay most of his hand down all at once, but unfortunately Walt had already gotten a lot of the cards on the table to keep up. Time was up, so we ended with final scores Walt $24,000, Eric $18,000 and Paul $14,000. Eric barely caught up in the second hand (he probably should have found a way to play his hideout on Walt.)

Eric's rating: 8. This is an enjoyable quick card game either for gamers or for non-gamers. The only thing it needs is a new edition with better cards (some of the other Mystery Rummy games are being re-printed, so perhaps there’s hope.)

ACQUIRE (Rich, Anton, Evan, Dan)

This game started off in a lopsided way, with Rich and Anton getting all the merger tiles while Evan and Dan suffered. I left before it finished, but I’ll bet Rich or Anton won.

Eric's rating: 8. The merger tiles really matter, but it seems like the better players (and I am not one of them) can overcome poor tiles. It’s simple and challenging.

November 13, 2003

Roll call: Walt, Eric, Evan, Rich, Dan, Scott.

WYATT EARP (Dan, Eric, Evan)

Three of us arrived early, so we started Wyatt Earp with the understanding that we'd finish whatever hand we were playing when a fourth player walked in and score at that point. Rich came in during the first hand.

Final scores: Eric 14, Evan 7, Dan 6.

Eric's rating: 8.

PUERTO RICO (Rich, Dan, Eric, Evan)

Evan is fairly new to Puerto Rico, but he holds his end up just fine. We played with the original buildings and he just destroyed us with a lot of shipping and a respectable amount of building. Eric probably ended the game too soon by being Mayor too often.

Final scores:

Ship + Bldg + Bonus = Total
Evan 25 + 16 + 6 = 47 
Eric 13 + 20 + 6 = 39 
Dan  11 + 14 + 7 = 32 
Rich 17 + 14     = 31 

Eric's Rating: 10.

ATLANTIC STAR (Rich, Dan, Eric, Evan)

Atlantic Star is a re-theming of Showmanager. The new theme is less convincing than the old one (we still still shout "I can't work with these actors" as we clear the board,) but it's fundamentally the same game. This week's game was unusual. The Baltic Sea cruise (which received one star and would normally have been the source of many loans) closed in a hurry, so that only Rich was able to take a loan from it. There was no five-star cruise (people played spoiler with the first cruise in each sea.) There was some drama toward the end, but Rich "cruised" to victory based on his strong early showing.

Final scores: Rich 53, Eric 49, Evan 42, Dan 24

Eric's rating: 7. For me, Showmanager is an 8 while Atlantic Star is only a 7, based on the less appropriate theme.

MAMMOTH HUNTERS (Evan, Dan, Eric)

This was the first playing of Mammoth Hunters (the English version of Alan Moon and Aaron Weissblum's Eiszeit) at MVGA. A few of the MVGA regulars had played it elsewhere, but they were unimpressed because of the sense that it was too much of a "bash the leader" game. We decided to try it with 3 to ameliorate this concern. People talk about this being a long game, but we played dark cards freely and it didn't take more than an hour. The rules are clear and we had no problems with the mechanisms of play. Dan jumped out to an early lead, with Eric getting the first glacier placement, but somehow there was no way to bash Dan, so Eric took out a regiment of Evan's troops instead. This suggests that Dan was playing better than his opponents. Eric and Evan tried to catch up, but Dan slipped out of our clutches each time and maintained his lead for a well-deserved win.

Final scores: Dan 43, Eric 37, Evan 37.

Eric's rating: 7. I didn't have much feeling of control, though I suspect Dan had more than I did. On the other hand, the game was interesting and moved quickly. Our first playing certainly did not support the "leader bashing" criticism. I suggest playing this with 3 players as you learn it.

CARCASSONNE (Rich, Scott, Walt)

While Mammoth Hunters was underway, the other three players sat down to Carcassonne with the River and the Expansion. Scott completed two large cities with Cathedrals; he shared one with Rich and got one all to himself. Walt did yeoman's work staying close, but the two cities made the difference.

Final scores: Scott 152, Rich 130, Walt 129

Eric's rating: 7. I enjoy Carcassonne, but I have only played a few times. Games that are as tactical as I perceive Carcassonne to be are not usually my favorite games.

CITADELS (Eric, Dan, Walt, Evan, Scott, Rich)

We finished the night with a 6-player game of Citadels (Ohne Furcht und Adel.) We play to 7 buildings instead of 8, which shortens the game, and we stick with the original roles (but we allow a player who is assassinated to collect two gold in an attempt to reduce the luck factor somewhat.) Eric jumped out to an early lead with several middle-sized buildings, and he survived an assassination attempt by someone who thought he must be the priest (the real priest, Scott, died in the crossfire.) The other players targeted him and Evan was soon in the lead. Rich had taken a few random shots and was trailing badly. At this point Rich spent two turns as King. Rich took a role, Evan took a role, and Eric took Assassin and tried to guess which of the three possible cards was Evan's. Both times Evan ducked and Eric hit Rich instead, much to Rich's disgust. This activity allowed Walt and Dan to make a comeback, and attention focused on them as the game approached its end. On the final round, Eric took the Architect, but lost his hand to a Magician with no cards. He drew his two free cards and was able to build both of them for 7 buildings and 5 colors. This gave him a win in this seesaw game.

Final scores: Eric 26, Dan 24, Walt 21, Evan 17, Scott 17, Rich 14.

Eric's rating: 9. I enjoy the think/double-think that this game requires. It plays very well for 3 to 7, and there's a good variant for 2 as well. There's a lot of luck, but if you play to only 7 buildings it is relatively quick.

November 20, 2003

Roll call: Walt, Eric, Rich, Dan, Anton.

CAN'T STOP (Eric, Rich, Anton, Dan)

Walt had a tabletop baseball series to play before he could join the rest of us, so we pulled out Can't Stop, a quick dice-rolling game that's fun, even though it has a lot of luck. During your turn, you roll four dice, separate them into two sets of two, and advance your marker in the column or columns corresponding to the totals. For example, if you roll 1-2-4-6, you can take 1-2 / 4-6 for 3 and 10, or 1-4 / 2-6 for 5 and 8, or 2-4 / 1-6 for 6 and 7. You get markers for only three columns, and if you can't advance at least one marker on your roll, you end your turn and lose all your progress for that turn. Alternatively, you can choose to stop of your own free will and keep your progress (but it's awfully hard to stop!) There are eleven columns, for 2 through 12, and it takes many more advances to reach the top of the 6, 7 or 8 column than to reach the top of the 2 or 12 column. Once you reach the top of a column it can no longer be used by you or anyone else. The first player to win three columns wins the game.

Eric started off strongly in the 6 and 9 columns, with the other players delayed by failures to advance. Soon Eric had the 6 column and (on a few lucky rolls) the 2 column, but Dan, spurred to take risk by the imminent end of the game, took three columns in rapid succession to win.

Final scores: Dan 3 columns (7, 9, 10), Eric 2 columns (2, 6), Rich 1 column (8), Anton 1 column (5).

Eric's rating: 9. This game has clear rules and decisions that matter. It works well for 2 to 4 players (or 5 if you use an extra set of pieces from Monopoly Junior) and is usually exciting. It's a fine start or end to a gaming evening.

WEB OF POWER (Eric, Rich, Anton, Dan)

We still weren't sure whether we'd get another player, and Walt was still engrossed in his baseball game (his team looks especially good this year) so we decided to play another short game. Web of Power is a favorite at MVGA, and it was just the length we were looking for. The cards in Web of Power give you a lot of flexibility, but you can't always get what you want. Eric and Dan got off to good starts, but soon ran into card droughts, often able to play only one piece. Frankreich filled up early, with 2 cloisters for each player, making Frankreich cards millstones for the remainder of the game. Rich took advantage of over-eager play on the part of Eric and Dan to grab a dominant advisor position and ran away with the game.

Final scores: Rich 75, Anton 64, Dan 49, Eric 48.

Eric's rating: 7. I can see that this is a solid game, and I'm eager to play more, but I'm definitely still a beginner, which makes it frustrating at times. You have to wait for your chances to materialize; forcing matters generally doesn't work. I also find myself surprised when the game ends before I'm expecting it to, though this is much better than wanting the game to end while there's still a long way to go.

WYATT EARP (Eric, Rich, Anton, Dan)

Walt had one baseball game left to play, so we pulled out one more short game. We've played Wyatt Earp a lot; maybe it's because when you win it seems like a game of skill, but when you lose it seems like a game of luck! Wyatt Earp is played until at least one player gets to $25K, at which point the richest player wins. In most games it takes 3 hands, but it took 4 hands this week. The game was close all the way and no one was able to accumulate money quickly. Anton got off to a fast start, leading 7-5-5-4, which made him a target in the next hand, in which everyone else got 8 while he got 4 to make the scores 13-13-12-11. Eric pulled ahead slightly during the third hand to lead 23-21-20-20 and managed to end the fourth hand before the others could gang up on him.

Final scores: Eric 33, Anton 29, Rich 26, Dan 23.

Eric's rating: 9 (newly raised from 8.) There's certainly a lot of luck in this game, but you can improve your chances substantially by clever play. There are different strategies that are suitable for different circumstances. You can hold most of your cards in your hand in an attempt to go out all at once (this can lead to a big gain,) but it's hard to get rid of your sheriff cards if you do this. You can try to grab all the money for an outlaw for yourself, but don't be surprised if you lure a hideout card. Almost everyone seems to enjoy Wyatt Earp; it has become one of our "filler of choice" games at MVGA.

PUERTO RICO (1 Eric, 2 Walt, 3 Anton, 4 Rich, 5 Dan)

Now that Walt was available, we needed a five-player game that wouldn't take too much more than an hour. We decided to play Puerto Rico, and because we played without the new buildings last week, we decided to use the new buildings. We added Black Market, Guest House, Church, Small Wharf and Union Hall, and got rid of Hacienda, Hospice, Large Market, Large Warehouse and Wharf. We at MVGA enjoy Puerto Rico, but we aren't true sharks, and we are still working to understand the implications of a selection of new buildings. Eric Settled for a Quarry at the start, and Walt took a Tobacco, leaving the Corn for Anton. Walt then used the Builder privilege to take a Tobacco Storage. This seemed like a strong start, but he wound up shipping the Tobacco. Eric also got into the Tobacco business (perhaps not the best choice.) Rich and Dan were poor for most of the game, but Rich was up to 4 Corn in a hurry and took the lead in shipping. Anton played a quiet game, trading effectively and shipping well, and he timed the end of the game in such a way as to get two of the large buildings to win.

Final scores:

Ship + Bldg + Bonus = Total
Anton 19 + 23 + 13 = 55 
Eric  19 + 24 + 10 = 53 
Rich  29 + 16 +  7 = 52 
Walt  12 + 20 +  5 = 37 
Dan   19 + 16      = 35

Eric's rating: 10. For us at MVGA, this game is still different every time. We haven't played enough to have settled into standard play patterns, and everyone seems to have a chance to win (we've had at least seven different people win Puerto Rico at MVGA this year, and that's pretty much every one of the regulars.)

December 4, 2003

Roll call: Walt, Eric, Rich, Dan, Evan, Charlie

PRINCES OF THE RENAISSANCE (Rich, Dan, Evan, Charlie, Eric)

Excitement was high at MVGA this week as Walt's Adam-Spielt order arrived in record time! Several of us pooled our orders to keep shipping costs manageable, and Walt submitted our order on November 26, the day before Thanksgiving. It arrived on December 4, just 8 days later (the truck must have caught the boat just right…) We tried several new games this week. We also welcomed Charlie back to MVGA for the first time in a long while. The six attendees were all present soon after 7:00, but Walt had to attend a wake for one of the Masons who had passed away, so the other 5 of us started in on Princes of the Renaissance, with Rich, who had played before, teaching the rules.

It's a bidding game with two kinds of currency (money and influence) and it appears there are many possible strategies. We drafted our initial roles, with Evan taking the artillery specialist, Eric the guy who can bid 1 less to become the condottiere, and the other players forced to settle for the "keep and extra treachery card" and "buy an artist cheap" cards. The initial stages saw the purchase of most of the military units. Charlie bought two yellow cards, and Eric bought the blue "bid 1 less to become condottiere" card, giving him a double advantage. We had two wars, with Eric the winning attacker in one and the winning defender in the other. The four cards that end the decade went fairly soon (no one bid for the Pope,) with the last one auctioned off by Eric, who erred in bringing the decade to a close when there were laurels still to be won. At this point Walt returned, and because we didn't want to make him sit through two more decades, we put the game away and split into two groups of three. This is a game in which you can't effectively score partway through, so no winner was declared.

Eric's rating: 8 at this point, because my head is still spinning from all the possibilities. The rating is tentative at this point.

INDUSTRIA (Rich, Evan, Walt)

We all liked the looks of Industria, but it is for 3 or 4 players and we had 6, so Rich, Evan and Walt decided to play. Evan had played one previous game, so he explained the rules. Industria is a game in which you can get behind with no way to catch up if you're not careful (or if you're a new player,) and this is what happened to Walt. Evan specialized in Technology while Rich specialized in well-located factories, and while the game was close all the way, Evan's experience won out in the end.

Final scores: Evan 64, Rich 58, Walt 44.

PUERTO RICO (Eric, Charlie, Dan)

While Industria was being played, the other three hemmed and hawed for a while about what to play and finally settled on Puerto Rico with the new buildings. We added the Acqueduct, the Black Market in place of the Construction Hut, the Guest House in place of the Hospice, the Small Wharf in place of the Large Warehouse, the Lighthouse in place of the Factory, and the Specialty Factory in place of the University. Dan got out to a quick start with a well-timed early Tobacco monopoly that was protected from the Captain by Eric's Sugar and Dan's Indigo. Eric tried to catch Dan by using the Lighthouse and Harbor, but Dan matched him building for building. Eric finally got a Coffee monopoly going, but it was a little too late. Charlie was playing his first game with the new buildings, and he got behind on money generation, making it difficult to keep up in the building race.

Final scores:

Ship + Bldg + Bonus = Total
Dan     20 + 25 + 14 = 59 
Charlie 22 + 16 +  7 = 45 
Eric    25 + 24 +  6 = 55 

Eric's rating: 10

FINSTERE FLURE (Eric, Charlie, Rich, Dan, Evan, Walt)

We had only about an hour left, so we pulled out another new game, Finstere Flure from Friedemann Friese. This game is supposedly the thematic continuation of Fische, Fluppen, Frikadellen, the trading game by the same designer, but there's no similarity in the game play. Like FFF, however, the components are of high quality and no longer have the slightly amateurish feeling of Friedmann Friese's earlier games. This game could (I suppose) be played with a lot of thought, but it really begs to be played quickly and with a lot of laughter. That's our motto at MVGA anyway - "play fast, make mistakes." Each player has a set of wooden discs (3 discs per player in the 6-player game) with numbers on each side (a 1-6 disc, a 2-5 disc and a 3-4 disc) and a picture of a character on the other (the FBI, the Friends, the Family, and so on. There's even a set of stickers for Friedmann Friese, but as far as I can tell you'll have to supply your own disc if you want to play with him as a character.) Eric had two cute kids and a cute dog on his discs.

You move the disc using one number and flip it over so you will use the other number on the following turn. The discs all start in one corner of the game board, and the winner is the player who first exits two characters off the opposite corner of the board. It sounds easy, but there is a monster roaming the board and threatening to eat the characters. Each turn the characters move, and then the monster moves. The monster follows a set of movement rules, so in theory the last player to move a character can influence the monster to eat someone else's characters, but the first player has little control of the situation. It's not clear that there's much strategy in the game the way we played it, but it was enjoyable and quick. Eric exited his two disks on a turn in which he was the last player. The faithful dog sacrificed itself to distract the monster, guaranteeing a safe exit for the cute kids - you'd have thought you were watching a rerun of Lassie!

Final scores: Eric 2 exited, everyone else 0.

Eric's rating: 7 at this point for a fun, quick game. I think my family will enjoy this one.

December 11, 2003

Roll call: Eric, Rich, Dan, Anton, Keith

PRINCES OF THE RENAISSANCE (Eric, Rich, Dan, Anton, Keith)

The big news this week was the arrival of a first-time visitor. Keith read about MVGA on the Unity Games website and decided a visit might help raise his gaming frequency to a more acceptable level, so he drove down from Framingham to join us. His presence was especially welcome, because we were missing a few regulars. Of course, we waived the $3.00 fee because it was Keith's first visit.

Last week we tried one decade of the new game Princes of the Renaissance, and with five people present, we decided to play a full game. We went over the rules again, correcting a few missed rules or incorrect interpretations from last week, and we started in. We drafted our initial roles. Rich took the guy who pays 1 less to become condottiere with the first pick, Eric took the artillery specialist with the second pick, Dan took a guy who pays 1 less for an artist, Keith took a guy who can hold an extra treachery card, and Anton took the other guy who pays 1 less for an artist. We then rolled again for order of play (a wrinkle we missed last week) and Eric got to go first. Rich picked his guy first, but was last in the order of play, so it was more difficult for him to build up the powerful army that would maximize the value of his discount. We had seen last week how effective it could be to have a big army and win battles, so we all tried that strategy to some extent. Dan focused on attack and wound up with a total attack value of 12, Rich focused on defense and wound up with a defense value of 9, and Eric went for a balance and got both an attack and a defense value of 9. Keith and Anton made significant investments in military force, but not as much as Dan, Rich or Eric.

The early purchases of city tiles focused on the yellow and blue cities, especially the Armorer and Swiss Mercenaries (bought by Dan and Eric respectively to counter Rich's discount.) We used all the wars this game, but focused more as a group on being condottiere and getting the money and potential laurels than on exactly what the effects on city status were. Anton had a heavy investment in Naples and kept starting wars that had the potential to benefit Naples. This strategy worked well, as Naples went from the bottom of the totem pole to the top during the course of the game. Anton was not condottiere very often, but the wars helped him anyway. Dan's offensive power was the deciding factor in the laurel chase, winning him six laurels, as compared to only two for Eric, his closest rival. Eric had some bad luck in the die rolls, but couldn't have expected much success in wars where Dan was attacking and Eric defending in any case. Because Anton and Evan were not focusing on military force, they scooped up most of the orange event cards at fairly reasonable prices. These helped them adjust the values of the cities, and provided a nice source of victory points. In the third decade, the treachery cards and special powers came to the fore, as two wars were vetoed and the game came to a close before some of us were ready. In the end, Anton's strategy of focusing on city ownership and event tiles was the best. It's nice to see that the military strategy isn't the only one that will work.

Final scores:
     City Event Pope Gold Infl Laurel Total       
     ---- ----- ---- ---- ----  ----  -----  
Anton 34    8     0    3     0    1     46  
Dan   17    0     0    0     0   21     38  
Rich  30    2     0    0     4    0     36  
Eric  21    1     3    6     0    3     34  
Keith 22    6     0    0     0    1     29  

Eric's rating: 8. As is typical in Martin Wallace's designs, there are so many different things to do in this game that it's hard to know what to do. It's hard to identify all the viable strategies, and it's hard to know who's winning partway through the game. I'm sure this will all become clearer with more plays, but I enjoy games with this feature. If it turns out that one strategy is dominant, a game loses its appeal over time, but I'm not sure that's going to be the case for Princes of the Renaissance. Anton's victory was particularly enjoyable because it refuted the "conventional wisdom" we had gained based on one decade of play the prior week. On the other hand, we are going to watch more carefully next time to make sure one player doesn't reap such easy gains by baiting over-eager condottieres!

ATTIKA (Eric, Rich, Dan, Keith)

Princes of the Renaissance took about 2:30 to play, and Anton had to leave after just the one game. With four of us left, we pulled out another new game from Walt's giant Adam Spielt order. Attika works for 2, 3 or 4, so we were in business. After a run through the rules, we set the board up and began play. Eric was first player and set down two main buildings. Dan and Keith followed, and Rich, who was fourth player with seven cards, set up in a blank area away from the rest of us. Pretty soon we noticed that Rich was threatening to connect two shrines, and as we drew tiles to try to block him we realized that it was futile. It isn't that we ignored Rich altogether, but by the time we tried to respond, we didn't have enough cards to stop him unless we could draw the right tiles, and as it turned out, we couldn't. Rich won by connecting two shrines. It took him only 9 tiles on the board (the theoretical minimum is 7, so Rich didn't waste much time!)

Winner: Rich (there are no scores, just a winner and losers.)

Eric's rating: See below.

ATTIKA (Eric, Rich, Dan, Keith)

Since Rich won the first game in about 20 minutes, we didn't feel we had gotten a chance to really try the game out, so we immediately started a second game. This time we were a bit more cautious about blocking shrine connections. On this second play, Rich went first, followed by Eric, Dan and Keith. Oddly enough, it seems the fourth player may have an advantage. After three players have started, the fourth player can survey the board for under-utilized areas and begin there. Of course, it's possible that this approach can be countered by a player who draws three cards in his first turn to delay placing a first settlement. We'll have to play more games to find out.

In the first few phases, Rich made as if he'd go for another shrine connection win, but Eric and Dan were all over him like an oversized suit. In the meantime, Keith quietly laid down a street across the board. Streets are a big threat in the hands of a shrine connector, since you don't need to get them in any particular order to get free placements. Rich and Dan both started new settlements to try to block Keith, who got within one tile of a win at his high water mark. Eric failed to get a useful tile to join in the blocking effort. He could have started his own new settlement at a high price, but because he was already in fourth place, he decided to focus on catching up. If Keith was to be stopped, Dan and Rich would have to do it.

Keith drew four or six tiles without getting that crucial street, and the threat subsided. It started to look like it would take 30 placements to win. One of the challenges of Attika is the balance between efficiency and board position. On one hand, you'd like to draw a lot of cards before you start to draw tiles, so you don't have to waste time. On the other hand, this can lead to difficulty with placement. So one finds oneself running out of key card types (and playing two cards as a wild sometimes) in an attempt to grab key spots. We'll have to play more to learn where the balance should fall. Near the end of the game, Eric emptied a stack and laid down a new board section that allowed him to threaten a late connection. Rich, who had been looking like the favorite, had to make some short-term plays in a blocking attempt. The expenditure cost him enough to let Eric build his 30th tile for the win. Each of the other players had more than 25 tiles on the board at the end. It was a close game, with Rich, Keith and Eric all threatening to win at some point.

Winner: Eric

Eric's rating: 7. Attika is an enjoyable game to play, but at this point it seems that the luck of the draw is quite important. I suspect this will recede as a concern as we learn the flow of the game, but at this point the amount of luck limits my rating to a 7. If you play this game, be aware that it can take from 20 minutes to more than an hour, depending on how the game is won.

December 18, 2003

Roll call: Anton, Paul, Dan, Walt, Rich, Eric

WYATT EARP (Anton, Paul, Dan, Walt)

The live steam group was meeting downstairs at the Masonic Hall this week, so MVGA moved up to the smaller room at the back of the building. Three regulars were present at 7:00, so they played Wyatt Earp while waiting for others to show up. Walt showed up after one hand, so he joined right in (though without the benefit of scoring during the first hand.) As long as you're not taking
the score too seriously, there's no reason players can't join or leave halfway through this game, since there's no link between one
hand and another other than stray money left on a few outlaws.

Final scores: Anton 25, Dan 23, Paul 18, Walt incomplete.

Eric's rating: 9.

INDUSTRIA (Anton, Dan, Walt, Rich)

Paul had to leave at this point, but Rich arrived to keep the count at 4. We moved to Industria, a game that made its MVGA debut on December 4; this was our second try. Although Rich and Walt had played the game before, it was Anton who prevailed.

Final scores: Anton 45, Rich 42, Walt 41, Dan 27.

Eric's rating: 8. I've now gotten into two games of Industria (neither at MVGA) and I've come in last both times. It just adds to the attraction; I'll be requesting it for some future Thursday.

LOGISTICO (Anton, Dan, Rich, Eric)

At this point we were in for another player swap as Walt left to get some rest and Eric arrived late. We set up Logistico, another of the new games from Walt's massive Adam Spielt order. This is a game of picking up and delivering commodities (an alternative title,
and a more descriptive one, would have been "Boats, Planes and Trucks.") The game bears some resemblance to Empire Builder, but any demand can be filled by any player (leading to race conditions,) you have three different kinds of transport, and there's no
track building (the trucks run on roads that are pre-printed on the board.) During a turn, each player's boat moves, then each player's plane moves, and finally each player's truck moves. You can transfer a good from one of your transports to another, but it takes a lot of planning to make your transports work together efficiently, and the other players can mess those plans up.

The turn order in Logistico is unusual in that one player is chosen as the start player, and that player goes first in every turn. In our game Rich was the start player, so he moved his boat first, his plane first and his truck first in each turn. Dan was second, Eric was third and Anton was fourth. Some reviewers have complained that the start player has too much of an advantage, but the designer recently posted a message disagreeing with that idea (he suggested that more experience would demonstrate that the later players have compensating advantages.)

The game worked smoothly from a practical standpoint. We moved around the board shifting goods with our boats and trucks (and only occasionally with our planes.) Dan made a few more clever plays than the rest of us and came out ahead.

Final scores: Dan 63, Rich 57, Anton 56, Eric 45.

Eric's rating: 7. This game feels like a puzzle and I find myself often wrong-footed. I wish my transports moved in a different order, or a demand disk is used by another player just before I'm ready to deliver it. However, it's still enjoyable, and I believe this game will appeal to certain people who are less interested in many of the other games we play.

December 25, 2003

MVGA did not meet on the holiday.

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