Monday, June 25, 2007

Session Report June 5, 2007

Attendees (7+1): Michael, Barbara, Danielle, Troy, Andrew, Sharon, Andy and Matthew

We had everyone over to our house for some gaming this week.

Pick Picknic
Matthew (my 5 yr old son) was excited to get to play with some adults. Daneille and Troy joined my wife Barbara and played a quick game with him.
He and Heather both enjoy Pick Picknic and I would recommend it for a game to play with your children. The game consists of a deck of cards, 6 different colored tiles, cubes for feeding the birds in 3 colors, and 1 die for resolving some conflicts. Each player is dealt 4 cards during setup and then 1 or 2 each turn depending on the number of players. The feed cubes are drawn and placed randomly on the 6 tiles (one cube on each). Green cubes are worth 1 pt, Blue cubes 2pts, and Yellow cubes 3 pts. Everyone selects one card (or 2 with smaller # of players) to play face down in front of them and then they are revealed simultaneously.
Some cards will have colored birds on them along with a number, some will have colored foxes with a number, and some will have a colored bird that flew away with a -2 number. If anyone plays a fox card that matches the color of any of the bird cards played then the fox will eat those birds and the player who played the fox card will take the bird cards and get points worth the # on the bird cards. If a player plays a bird card of a color that no one else players then that player will get ALL of the feed cubes on that colored tile (this includes feed cubes that were left from previous turns). If more than one player plays a bird card of the same color then a conflict may occur. The players involved must either agree on a way to split up the feed cubes between them or they will have to resolve it by fighting over the feed cubes. A fight is resolved by each player rolling a die and adding the # of the bird card -- highest number wins all the feed cubes. Ties are resolved with roll-offs until someone wins. If multiple foxes are played then they will always fight over the birds (no negotiating allowed) with the winner getting all the birds in that color available. The -2 cards allow a player to take one green cube (1pt) before any other birds and in addition they count as -2 pts for any foxes that match that color and would normally eat a bird. The game continues in this manner for many rounds with more feed being drawn and placed and cards drawn and played until there is no more feed to be drawn. Then the player with the most points wins!
The game is great for teaching kids counting and recognizing different values for similar objects (ie 1 Yellow cube is better than 2 Green cubes). They learn that negotiating can get you to share points and that this can sometimes be a better strategy than just fighting and hoping on the die roll. Also, the game has enough luck that everyone has a chance of winning yet you get to make interesting decisions along the way.
Danielle (42) won followed closely by Troy (38) then Barbara (30) and Matthew (28).

Taj Mahal
I have been wanting to play this Knizia game again for some time and Sharon brought it so we got it to the table. Andrew and Andy joined us in visiting India and claiming palaces and influence. The game is played with cards as resources with an interesting auction/bid process. There are 12 different visits/turns during the game. Each turn there are 6 different "prizes" that players can win. These rewards have different types of benefits that help players score points or win future auctions. Players start with 6 cards in hand and n-1 cards face up on the table (where n is number of players).
The auction process involves playing a colored card (there are 4 different colors) with the option of adding one white card also. Play continues with players either playing or dropping out. To continue playing, you must play a card that matches the color that you originally played (it doesn't need to match opponent's colors) and again you may also add a white card (although you may not play a white card alone). When a player drops out they get to choose two of the face up cards to add to their hand (the last remaining player only gets one card). In addition, when a player drops out she gets to take any rewards for which she has a majority among all players still in the auction. So dropping out early when you have a majority in a few categories can be very strong since it saves your resources (ie cards) and gets you benefits. Finally, if a player skips the auction entirely (drops out without bidding) then they get an additional card from the draw deck along with 2 cards from the face up display.
The rewards consist of majorities in different icons: Elephant, Vizier(Green), General(Purple), Monk(Orange), Princess(Yellow), and Grand Mogul (Crowns). Elephants win commodity tiles which will generally have 2 different commodities on them. The others allow a player to take a token (ex Vizier token) and place a palace on the current province. Two matching tokens will allow players to claim special white cards that can be used each round until someone else claims them (with two matching tokens). These cards help with additional icons (General - Elephants, Vizier - Crowns), additional victory pts (Princess- 2 VPs), and the Monk allows a player to play one card that doesn't match his original color. Players place palaces when they claim a reward other than an elephant and must place their palace on a space not occupied by another palace, so players dropping early get more selection. There are some special tokens placed on fortress spaces that can be claimed by placing a palace on that space but these are usually not adjacent to other provinces so players must make strategic choices. Finally, the winner of the Grand Mogul reward gets to place a palace in ANY space in the region even if occupied by another palace, however he cannot take any tokens from fortress spaces with this palace.
Scoring in the game consists of commodities and palaces plus special tokens placed on fortress locations and the princess card. Commodities scoring is cumulative so if I have 2 tea and 1 rice and win an auction with 1 tea and 1 rice then I will score 3 pts for the tea and 2 pts for the rice or 5 pts total. If I also claimed a rice token through palace placement then I would get 3 pts for it. Fortresses score 1 pt for each region (not for each palace) but they also score 1 pt for each region that is connected by a chain of palaces to the current scoring region. At the end of the game players score 1 pt for each white or bonus card in hand plus a pt for each card in their longest color.
I was fortunate to get a bunch of bonus cards and hold onto them through the middle rounds of the game and this let me build a substantial lead. This scoring showed that an unchecked commodity or palace strategy can result in too many VPs and players must defend against these strategies (if possible). Michael (80), Sharon (44), Andrew (30), and Andy (22).

Troy, Barbara, and Danielle tried building up the city of Elasund. I enjoy this game and can't get Barbara to play it with me so I was surprised to see that she played it. I like the changing tactics and interesting decisions that influence and building permits allow players to do in this game. I don't think she likes the aspect of building over other players and knocking them down in VPs but I think of it as a struggle (like the largest army or longest road) in Settlers. The game does have an awkward flow to the turn order but the reference sheet is excellent for this and once you "get it" the game moves along quicker. I do feel that the game tends to run a little long with four players and I would like to get it to the table more often. Scores: Troy (10), Barbara (8), and Danielle (7).

We taught Andy Caylus after Taj Mahal. It ran a little late and Barbara took over for Andy late in the game. I was able to leverage the building favor track while everyone else went for the victory point track. Final: Michael (97), Sharon (82), Andrew (71), and Andy/Barbara (69).

Session Report May 29, 2007

**Thanks to Sharon for another great session report!**

Attendees (6): Warren Madden, Sharon Madden, Steve Walker, Adam Whitney, Eileen Tooke, Matt Asher

We played games at Steve's house this week. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera along, so you'll just have to use your imagination for this report.

Power and Glory is the first expansion to Thurn und Taxis, and the changes are very subtle. In P&G, players build routes throughout Northern Germany, as opposed to Southern Germany in T&T, and there are "free cities", which give one point to the first player to build a post office in that city. The carriage cards are not used in P&G, but rather, players must build their carriages from the cards they draw.
And since carriages aren't used, the Cartwright officer doesn't have a purpose; however, all other officers are available.
The city cards have two functions -- (1) building postal routes, as in T&T, and (2) building carriages. Each city card has between 1 and 3 horseshoes on the back. On their turn, players have a choice of either expanding their routes or building up their carriages, so they are not limited to only expanding their routes, as in T&T. Each player starts with a carriage card showing 2 horseshoes and they build them up from there. When a player is ready to score a route, the number of horseshoes in his play area has to be equal to or greater than the number of cards in his route. After scoring, the route cards and the carriage cards are discarded.
I had seen this played at the Gathering several times, but I never got an opportunity to try it. Most of the buzz I heard at the Gathering and read on-line was rather negative -- mainly that there wasn't enough variations from T&T. But, I enjoy playing T&T, and despite the negative comments, I still wanted to give it a shot. And I was wonderfully surprised. I think it should be marketed as a sequel, rather than an expansion. Also, P&G comes with all the playing components except for the wooden post offices, and I think they should be included. I guess the publishers assumed that most people purchasing P&G would already have T&T and they could keep costs down that way. But, I compare T&T/P&G to the Ticket To Ride series -- each TTR game comes all components needed to play the game -- including the train pieces. So for example, if someone purchases Ticket To Ride Europe before purchasing the original Ticket To Ride, they will have all the components they need to play Ticket To Ride Europe.
Steve established the most effective postal route system in Northern Germany with 24 points, followed closely by Matt with 22, and because I still had quite a few houses left over at the end (I see now those free cities can make a difference), I came in with only 6 points. I definitely want to try this one again.

St. Petersburg is played over several rounds, and there are 4 decks of cards representing each phase of the round -- worker phase, building phase, aristocrat phase, and trading phase. Workers earn income at the beginning of the worker phase, buildings earn victory points, and aristocrats earn either victory points and/or money. The trading phase is the only phase when players do not earn money or victory points, since the cards they are purchasing are used to upgrade the workers, buildings or aristocrats that they already own. On the board, there are
2 rows with spaces for 8 cards. At the beginning of the round (worker phase), the start player turns up the appropriate number of worker cards (depending on number of players), and he has first opportunity to purchase a worker. Other players in clockwise order may purchase the remaining workers, and purchasing lasts until all players have passed.
Then during the building phase, the number of building cards available will be the appropriate number of cards minus the number of worker cards left over from the worker phase, and the same with the remaining 2 phases. Once the trading phase is complete, remaining cards slide down to the second row, and they are available for purchase during the next round at cost less 1 Ruble. If they are not purchased in the next round, they are out of the game.
On most occasions when players purchase a card, they lay it in their play area so that they can reap the rewards. However, there will be instances when a card is available for purchase, but not playable at that moment. In that case, a player may take cards into his hand, but the hand limit is only 3. Each card in hand at game end count -5 points. Speaking of game end, it is triggered when the last card of a pile is played. Once this happens, players complete all phases of the round and the player with the most victory points at the end of the game is the winner.
It seems our group has fallen into a bit of a rut playing the same games week after week, i.e. Power Grid, Caylus, and Puerto Rico. Don't get me wrong -- all of these are fantastic games, and I really enjoy playing them, but we have so many games just sitting on the shelves -- some even in shrink wrap -- that don't come to the table very often. So, my goal is to get those games more play time and introduce them to some of our newer members. This week, I thought it was high time we gave St. Pete a
This is a rather light game, and having the cards and money available at the same time is the key to winning. Money can be very, very tight and managing it wisely is important. One mistake I tend to make is not buying enough workers during the first round, because I know there are 3 other phases coming up with opportunities to purchase. But, it seems if you don't buy at least 2 workers in the first round, you tend to come up short for the entire game. Take advantage of the workers, buildings or aristocrats on the second row, if they will help you. Also, if you purchase workers, buildings or aristocrats that you already have in your play area, those count 1 Ruble for each similar card toward the full purchase price, so that can save Rubles too. And if you decide to take cards into your hand, definitely have a plan for placing them into your play area before game end. Minus 5 can be painful.
It was a close race to build a new administration for St. Petersburg, but Warren was named St. Petersburg's new administrator with 89 points, followed by Matt with 86 and Sharon with 84.

Warren was tonight's most successful explorer of San Juan with 37 points, followed by Matt with 34 and Sharon with 27.

In this two-player game, two families, Medici and Strozzi, are competing to purchase goods, load them on their ships, and sail them to ports to earn money. The start player chooses 1, 2 or 3 goods to put up for auction -- but no more than 3. He sets a price and his opponent decides whether or not to purchase them. If the opponent buys the goods, he pays the cost to the bank and puts them on the ship of his choice.
Ships have 3, 4 or 5 holds, and once a ship is full, it sails to an open port. If not, it sits in the player's harbor until it is full If the opponent chooses not to purchase the goods, the start player must purchase them, paying the money to the bank and placing them on one of his ships. In choosing which port to sail to, players try to get to the port offering the commodities that match those on their ship. The game is played over 3 rounds, and after the third round, the winner is the player with the most money.
This was a cute, light 2-player game, and I'd be willing to give it another go. One thing neither Matt nor I were sure of is how high to value the goods. As the game went on, we were offering them up for higher costs, and I think we may have overpaid in some instances. But as the auctioneer, that's the chance you take. On one hand, you hope your opponent will be willing to pay the higher price, but if he's not, you're stuck with it -- like it or not. If you run out of money, you can take a loan from the bank, which saved me once. Luckily, I was able to pay it back before the end of the game.
Medici (Matt) was the more profitable family with $113 and Strozzi
(Sharon) has to suffer the shame and disappointment of her family, coming in with $63.

In Sante Fe Rails, players expand rail lines in the Western US, while staking claims in the different cities the lines pass through. There are 5 major railroads available at the beginning of the game and 4 short line railroads that are come out randomly a bit later. As players expand the lines, they also lay down city cards on their turn to claim their entitlement at game end. All cities are assigned a value from 2-7, and the value is multiplied by the number of different lines that connect to it. Thus, the more lines that run through a city, the greater the payout will be. Game end is triggered by 2 conditions -- either all track pieces for the 5 majors are placed or all 5 majors are dead-ended. Players receive victory points for the cities they have claimed and money is also worth $1 per point.
It was full-steam ahead for Adam with this one, coming in with 275 points. Steve and Eileen were chugging behind with 162 and 142, respectively.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Review War of the Ring

Game: War of the Ring
Designer: Roberto Di Meglio, Marco Maggi, and Francesco Nepitello
# Players: 2 (3-4)

Evaluation System used with permission

Components: War of the ring has a lot of components. A map of Northwest Middle Earth, 204 plastic figures representing the Shadow and Free Peoples (FP) armies, FP leaders, Nazgul, Shadow Minions, and the nine companions of the Fellowship. There are 137 cardboard counters, 96 Event cards, 14 Character Cards, 6 FP action dice, 10 Shadow Player (SP) action dice, and 5 combat dice. The board and all those figures are impressive (although some people have complained about the board coloring I enjoy the “old map” feel of the artwork). My biggest complaint is that the Event cards are printed with a small font that strains even young eyes to read. It is particularly frustrating because there is no reason for them to make the cards and font so small and this should have been better. Also, some of the figures can warp, some look similar in design, and the Nazgul “tip over” rather easily. The items on the map and the national tokens are somewhat cryptic and take a while to identify but over time you get them down straight. Overall the components are great but these issues drive my component rating down a bit and I give it a 7/10 on components.

Object of the Game: This is an asymmetrical game with different victory conditions. The FP wins if they get the Ring to Mt Doom (1) or get 4 VP in Shadow Cities/Strongholds (4). The SP wins by corrupting the Fellowship when the Corruption marker reaches 12 (2) or by Military victory when they get 10 VPs in FP Cities/Strongholds. The numbers after the victory conditions break ties if they happen during the same turn (lowest number has priority).

Flow of Play: Before I go thru the options in a game turn I need to explain a few concepts.
Politics: The various nations in the game can only get involved in the War when they reach an “At War” section of the political track. Only Active nations can advance to War although all nations can advance along the track. The 3 SP nations start the game Active and only the Elves start the game active for the FP.
The Fellowship: The nine companions of the Free Peoples represent the fellowship and their location on the map starts in Rivendell and is identified by the Fellowship Starting Position (FSP) marker. The FP player’s primary objective is to get the FSP into Mordor and to Mt Doom. An interesting element of the game is that when the Fellowship moves you move a marker on the Fellowship track to signify the number of regions that the Fellowship has moved from the FSP location. If the Fellowship’s location is revealed then the FP player must decide the exact location of the FSP.
Moving the Fellowship also allows the SP to roll dice for the Shadow forces that are hunting for the Ring. If the hunt is successful then they can draw a Hunt Tile. Hunt tiles can force the Fellowship to reveal its location and/or cause damage to the Fellowship. Any damage (usually 1-3) can be taken as corruption (by Frodo using the Ring) or the damage can be taken by sacrificing the Guide of the Fellowship or a Random companion.
Map: The map is divided up into different regions for movement with national boundaries marked. There are various locations on the map but the most important ones are Towns, Cities, Strongholds, and Fortifications. Armies can be Mustered (brought into the game) in Towns, Cities, and Strongholds of the various nations once they are “At War”. Cities and Fortifications provide additional defense during combat. Strongholds allow up to 5 units to be protected inside and force the opponent to put the Stronghold “under siege”. Captured Strongholds are worth 2 Victory Points and captured Cities are worth 1 Victory Point.
Armies: Armies are composed of military units. There are Regulars, Elites, and Leaders in Armies. Regulars can take one hit, Elites can take 2 hits or 1 hit and downgrade to Regulars, and leaders provide re-rolls in combat but cannot exist without other military units. Companions (that leave the Fellowship), Nazgul, and Minions are special units that are similar to leaders but can exist without other Armies and can even exist with enemy armies.
Action Dice: There are special dice that are rolled to determine the available actions for each player during each turn. The FP player starts with 4 Action Dice and can get two more during the game. He gets one if he brings Gandalf the White into play and another if Strider declares himself as Aragorn. The SP starts with 7 Action Dice and gets an additional die for each Minion he brings into play. These are the Witch King, Saruman, and the Mouth of Sauron.
Event Cards: Event cards have various effects on the game and drive the thematic elements of the game. Each Event card also has a combat effect that can be used during combat (instead of playing the Event effect). These events tie the game and story together. They include events from the books like The Paths of the Dead, Corsairs of Umbar, Ents of Fangorn, Denethor’s Pyre, the Breaking of the Fellowship, and Shelob.

Each game turn if broken up into 6 phases:
Phase 1: Each player draws 2 Event cards.
Phase 2: The FP player can change the guide of the Fellowship (but it must always be a character with the greatest level). Also, during this phase the FP player may “Declare” the Fellowship’s position. This is similar to a “Reveal” during the hunt but the FP player may place the FSP marker in a FP Stronghold or City. This is usually done to avoid the enemy or the Heal the Fellowship. If the FSP is Declared in a FP City or Stronghold then the Fellowship is Healed and the Corruption marker is moved down 1 point on the track.
Phase 3: During this phase the Shadow Player places a number of his Action dice (Eye side up) in the Hunt box. Initially he starts with 7 Action dice and he can place any number of Eyes in the Hunt box up to the number of Companions in the Fellowship. These dice represent the amount of effort that Sauron is exerting toward hunting for the Ring and they take away from his other available actions (the rest of his action dice).
Phase 4: Both players roll their Action Dice (the SP only rolls the ones he didn’t place in the Hunt Box during Phase 3). Any “Eye” results from the SP dice are also place in the Hunt Box.
Phase 5: This is the primary phase of the game where each player alternates turns starting with the FP player. Each player uses one of his Action Dice to perform an action and then the other player does likewise. Each player has various choices depending on the dice results.
Action Dice results:
Palantir Symbol – These allow a player to play or draw an Event card.
Muster Symbol – These allow a player to Muster/Recruit army units. One Muster die result can recruit an Elite, 2 Regulars, 2 Leaders, or 1 Leader and 1 Regular. Muster dice can also be used to play an Event Card with a Muster symbol on it.
Army Symbol – These allow a player to move 2 armies 1 region or 1 army to attack an adjacent region OR to play an Army Event Card.
Character Symbol – These allow an Army with a leader to move or attack an adjacent region OR play a Character Event Card OR the FP may move all companions on the map OR the FP may separate 1 or more companions from the Fellowship OR the SP may move all Nazgul and Minions on the map OR the FP may move the Fellowship OR hide the Fellowship (if revealed).
Will of the West – This is only on the FP Action dice and it allows various special effects (like bringing in Gandalf the White) or it can be used as any other Action Dice result (it is a Wild Card effect).
Eye – These results are placed in the Hunt Box to determine the strength of the Hunt for this turn.

Phase 6: Victory conditions are checked and if any are satisfied then the game ends. If multiple conditions are met, then the side with the lower one (see Object of the Game) wins.

The Hunt for the Ring
The Hunt is a big part of the game. Every time the Fellowship moves the SP may roll for the Hunt. He rolls a number of dice equal to the Eyes in the Hunt Box (max 5) and gets re-rolls if the FSP marker is in regions with SP Strongholds, Nazgul, and/or SP armies. Any results of 6 indicate success and drive the SP to draw a Hunt tile and resolve its effects and damage. The FP player adds his Action die to the Hunt Box and this indicates a modifier for future Hunt rolls this turn. If the Fellowship moves again then the SP will roll the Hunt dice but any results of 5 or more will indicate success. In this way multiple Fellowship moves lead to more successful Hunt effects.

Combat is resolved by each side rolling dice (up to 5) equal to the number of Army units involved in the battle. Any results of 5 are considered hits. If a defender is in a Fortification or a City then the attacker only hits on a 6 for the first round of combat. Strongholds allow defenders to retreat into the Stronghold and start a siege. Sieges only last for 1 combat round and the attacker can only hit on 6’s. This can be extended by one round if the Attacker reduces an Elite to a Regular after each combat round. During combat both sides get the opportunity to play Combat cards to modify the results of combat and this adds more tactics to the game. FP casualties get removed from the game but SP casualties are placed back with the re-enforcements. This means that over a long game the SP will eventually triumph since he has unlimited troops while the FP has a fixed limit.

There are many other effects that happen during the game but this is the basics. The FP player is trying to move the Fellowship rapidly to Mordor but not too fast since the Hunt can result in too much corruption. The SP is trying to get 10 VPs of Fellowship locations quickly but he must keep some resources on the Hunt to slow down the Fellowship. It is an asymmetrical race and if either side falters or over-extends then the other side can counter or win with an alternate Victory condition (FP Military or SP Ring victory). Many games come down to a close finish with the Fellowship in Mordor (where Hunt tiles have more powerful effects) and the SP trying to capture the last few VPs while the SP tries to hold them off in a valiant last stand.

Evaluation: One big pitfall for simulating this epic story is that the Shadow player knows where the Fellowship is headed whereas in the books Sauron never suspected that they were trying to destroy his ring. In the SPI version this almost always resulted in a final confrontation between the Nazgul and the Fellowship on Mt Doom. The Fellowship of the Ring game by ICE solves this issue by setting the Free Peoples player’s goal as getting as far as possible quickly and then disbanding the Fellowship (a little anti-climactic). War of the Ring does a masterful job of incorporating the Hunt in an abstract fashion into the flow of the game and it works wonderfully. The SP cannot simply build a wall of units around/in Mordor to stop the Ringbearers from completing their quest.

The game is best suited as a 2 player game in my opinion even though there are rules for 3 and 4 players. These rules just divide up the 2 player roles. To be fair, I have only played it with 3 players twice and never with 4 players but it just seems more of a 2 player contest. Game length can be an issue, especially when trying to learn it for the first time without a very experienced teacher. The rules have some ambiguities and unusual situations arise during gameplay that they don’t address adequately (thus there is a Huge FAQ for this game). With experienced players the game can take anywhere from 60 min (with certain strategies) to 180min+ for long games.

The game is filled with tough decisions and the Event cards provide opportunities for various strategies throughout. Players must decide which Action Die to use and what action to take and weigh the current situation plus the opponent’s available action dice and also consider all cards (Event/Combat) in both player’s hands and how they might affect each decision. Timing is critical and sometimes surprises do happen in the game!

There are some problems with the game that I will discuss in a 3-part strategy review but if you are a Lord of the Rings fan then this game needs to be in your collection. I own many different Lord or the Rings themed games and none of them come close to capturing the tension, flavor, and theme as well as this game. This is a game that I enjoy playing regardless of who wins because it is so exciting to play. For me, this is the best Lord of the Rings games ever designed and it is one of my top games of all time. For this reason I give it a 10/10 overall since I will always be willing to play it and teach it to anyone with an interest.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Session Report May 28,2006 (Memorial Day)

Attendees(15+3): Warren, Sharon, Joann, Steve, Andy, Dawn, Troy, Brenda, Chris, Michael, Barbara, Adam, Rob, Curt, Danielle, and 3 kids under 10.

We all gathered at the Madden's house for a full day of boardgames and food! It was a lot of fun for my family since both my kids got to play some games and Barbara and I got in several long games with friends. We got in 12 games (at least) and one of them took most of the day for 5 players!

Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers
This has become one of my 5 year old's favorite games (along with Pick Picknic, To Court the King, and Electronic Dungeons and Dragons). He is able to pickup a lot of subtle strategies (for a 5 yr old) and he has learned how to stop his dad from scoring lots of points! Danielle 89, Matthew 88, Troy 72, and Michael 66.

Power Grid
We played this one with the Central Europe map. It proved interesting since some large plants came out early but I was fortunate to get a slight lead on capacity late in the game. When step 3 was triggered, I was able to buy to 17 cities and win while only being able to power 15 of them. Michael, Troy, and Barbara connected to 17 cities but Michael was able to power 15 while Troy and Barbara could only power 13 each. Troy finished 2nd since he had $40 vs Barbara's $8. Curt finished with only 12 cities in his network but he could power them all.

Curt 99, Barbara 94, Michael 92, and Troy 82.

Loopin' Louie
My kids (especially Matthew) enjoy this light dexterity game. It was a new game for Rob and he seemed to enjoy it too. It is actually quite fun for adults and kids and it is one of the 'traditional' adult tournaments held at the Gathering of Friends.
Michael (won), Rob, Matthew, and Heather.

Fairy Tale
This has been a surprise hit in our household. Heather (my 8 year old) has really taken to it and she is quite capable of scoring in the 60-70 range on a regular basis. It is a quick (30 min) card game involving "drafting" cards (ala Magic the Gathering) but the combinations and card play are quick and simplistic once you learn the deck. Tonight it was Rob who got the best card combinations and won the game (on his first playing of the game).
Rob 59, Michael 54, Heather 45, and Andy 24.

To Court the King
This is another one of Matthew's favorite games (he loves to roll the dice). He was able to win out against his mom and Curt. Matthew (1st), Barbara(2nd), and Curt(3rd).

Settlers of Catan (3D)
The Madden's own this impressive edition of the classic Klaus Teuber and Heather teamed up with her Mom to play it. Joann pulled out the victory but everyone was in the running.
Joann (10), Barbara/Heather(9), Sharon(7), and Brenda(6).

Empire Builder
Andy and Sharon tag-teamed this one so Sharon could get dinner ready (gotta keep your priorities and your stomach in check). They were able to hold off Brenda in a close game about building a railroad network across the US. Andy/Sharon (261), Brenda (249), Danielle (201), and Joann (178).

Can't Stop
Game 1: Dawn (won), Sharon
Game 2: Rob (won), Sharon -- apparently Sharon couldn't stop ;-)

That's Life
Adam(23), Sharon (10), Rob (6)

Manifest Destiny
Warren, Adam, Steve, Chris, and Andrew competed over who could dominate the US from the Colonial times to the Modern Era. Chris was declared the winner via tie-breaker (more money) over Warren. They were followed closely by Steve, Andrew, and Adam.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Review Amun-Re

Game: Amun-Re
Designer: Reiner Knizia
# Players: 3-5

Evaluation System used with permission

Components: Amun-Re comes with 110 cards (66 represent Gold (money), 39 Power Cards, and 15 Province Cards). They are smaller (about 1”x 3”) but functional and thick enough to hold up to repeated playing. Amun-Re comes with 30 pyramids, 15 building stones, and 10 player markers. These are all excellent quality plastic and provide that tangible aspect so prevalent in Designer games. It has 15 Province Markers and 45 Farmers. These are all made of cardboard and also of fine quality. It comes with two cardboard pieces that you assemble (Amun-Re Temple and Pharaoh). These are also well done and add more theme and flavor to the game. The map folds out and shows all 15 provinces in easy to read, yet thematic, artwork. It is very functional but not overly cluttered and contains a scoring track around the board’s perimeter. Finally, you get 5 summary cards with all the critical information for each round on one side and a Scoring summary on the other side. All in all, the components are excellent and get a rating of 8/10.

Object of the Game: The object is to have the most victory points at the end of the game.

Flow of Play: The game is split into 6 rounds with a scoring at the end of round 3 (Old Kingdom) and at the end of round 6 (New Kingdom). Each round consists of 5 phases (6 phases in scoring rounds). In the first phase Province cards a selected at random equal to the number of players. The 2nd phase involves an Auction to acquire the provinces. Phase 3 allows all players to buy Power Cards, Farmers, and Pyramids in their provinces. Phase 4 is a blind bid sacrifice to Amun-Re. In phase 5 everyone gets income from their provinces. Finally, in scoring rounds there is a 6th phase where victory points are scored.

The cost of items and provinces is a mathematical pattern (1,3,6,10,15,21,28,36, etc). Thus 2 farmers would cost 3, 3 farmers would cost 6, and 4 farmers would be 10. The auction is a clever bidding process where a player must bid on a price for a particular province in player order. If a player wants to bid on a province with another player’s marker, then she must place her marker on a higher bid. When a player has a turn and their marker has been overbid then they must select a different new province to bid on next. The auction ends when all provinces have a player’s marker on them. Provinces are not equivalent with each other. Some start with farmers or have room for many farmers. Some have fixed income and others have temples. Evaluating the value of provinces is a key element throughout the game since their values will change depending on which round they come out, what items are built on them, and what power cards and other provinces players have in their possession.

After provinces are selected, players buy power cards, farmers, and pyramids. There are limits on the Power Cards and farmers based on the provinces a player controls. Pyramids are the primary source of victory points so they are very important, but they do not have incremental uses like farmers (income) and power cards (breaking the rules).

After all players have purchased their items, players make a blind sacrifice (using Gold monetary coins). If players bid high values then the harvest will be plentiful, but if players bid low values then the harvest will be scarce (drought). All players get rewards (farmers, power cards, buildings) based on the amount of their sacrifice relative to each other. Players may opt to steal from the sacrifice to get money (which reduces the sacrifice by 3) but they don’t participate in the rewards.

Finally, players get income based on how plentiful the harvest. In general, provinces with lots of farmers will want a plentiful harvest while provinces with Camels will want a drought so that their income is maximized. Large income is important, since it sets players in position to bid and buy more in subsequent rounds.

The first 5 phases are repeated for 3 rounds and then a scoring occurs. Scores are based on Pyramids (individual, sets, and majorities), temples, and bonus power cards (if their conditions are met). Money also counts in the 6th round (final scoring).

Evaluation: An interesting twist in the game is that at the end of the Old Kingdom (after round 3 scoring), the farmers and province cards are removed but the Pyramids and building stones are left where they were built. This forces players to re-value provinces. Also, the order of the provinces is different each game and this keeps the game fresh and different over multiple playings.

The Power Cards offer several different benefits. Each card can be played in particular phases. Some give additional options during the auction, some provide extra farmers or help in building, and others modify the sacrifice and help increase income in the 5th phase. Finally, there are some cards that give a bonus during scoring if certain conditions are met.

One complaint of the game is that the power cards vary in usefulness and add a very random element. The other common complaint is that the blind bidding is very luck driven. I agree that the power cards can have a varying effect, but the game does allow them to be converted into gold at 1:1 rate at any time. This does help mitigate the risk of getting poor or useless power cards. The blind bidding auction for the sacrifice is interesting because the results of the bid are both special rewards and a cumulative total affects the income of everyone’s provinces. This means that you don’t want to have a camel province if everyone else has farmers or vice versa. Knowledge of this element will also affect the province evaluation in step 2 and this intrinsic linking of phases and decision-making is it’s strongest appeal for me.

Regarding the number of players. I think that with 3 players it is a little bit weaker because there is less variation in the auctions and less provinces to select. I have found it to be more enjoyable with 4 or 5 players though and it is always a game that I’m willing to play. It can run a little longer (~120-150 min) with less experienced players but once you have a good sense of the game flow it can be played in less time (~90 min).

Overall, I give Amun-Re 8/10 and it is highly recommended.

House Rules/Variants:
The only house rule I play with is when using a power card that modifies the value of the sacrifice. The card allows a player to shift the total bid by +/-3 but it must be played before a player sees the total of the bid. This often leads to a wasted play since the player generally wants to push the bid up or pull the bid down and therefore is only looking to shift the bid in one direction. Our house rule is to allow the card to shift the total bid by +/- 4. This tends to make the card more useful without making it too strong. It falls more closely in relative worth with the other Power Cards.

The only other power cards that I have considered weaker are the auction power cards because once players become experienced at evaluating the provinces these power cards are much less useful. I’ve decided recently to allow the auction power cards to be “interchangeable” so that either card provides either power (but not both). If you have the one that lets you rebid in the same province then you can use that card as stated OR as a blocking auction card that forces someone to bid higher to pass you.