Sunday, February 27, 2005

Game Day / Night - February 26, 2005

Showed up at Javy’s for an afternoon of gaming before we moved over to Frog’s for dinner and even more gaming. Eileen and Deke were on hand, so we decided to give Mexica a spin. Mexica is the last of the Action Point games that I introduced to Javy, and I was interested in what he would think about it vis-à-vis Java, Tikal and Torres. So far, Tikal was “ok”, Java a cool brainburner, and Torres a nice quick diversion.

Mexica [4P]

Eileen and Javy took the first tow turns and scattered from the staging area, planting a few canals but not founding any neighborhoods. Deke and I followed, completing the first two. This first set of Calpulli tokens had the large size 13 neighborhood, which Javy completed on his next turn. All but three of the neighborhoods were founded in quick succession. During this stage our Mexicas were mostly just hotfooting it around the immediate vicinity of the staging area. Once all that were left were the smallish Calpullis, the Mexica’s pulled out their surfboards, started zipping around the board and erecting monuments.

This is the part of Mexica we enjoyed a lot – getting the Mexicas from place to place using the canals and sea routes, and trying to prevent entry into the larger neighborhoods by placing monuments at the foots of bridges. We also tried to close out neighborhoods by using the smaller monuments to chew up as much real estate as possible, in an attempt to prevent enough opponents’ monuments from stealing the top slot away. Deke and I were to only ones to make it back to the staging area before the end of the phase.

At the end of the first phase, in which Javy and I used up all our monuments, Deke built a sizable 18-point lead by having founded the most neighborhoods and having a significant presence in most of them.

The second phase went faster, as the large neighborhoods were founded in short order. The Mexicas made heavy use of the canals, and the teleportation power was needed in many cases due to rampant blockage and large distances to cover. Deke founded the 12 neighborhood in the far eastern side of the island, which forced me to use 11 stories of monument power to exceed him and create a 12-poitn swing in my favor. Still, Deke continued to widen the gap, and at one point was up by 26 points over the next closest player. I expended all my buildings in two neighborhoods – to take first in the 10 and first in the 12. Javy had two mid-sized neighborhoods to the south, and Eileen founded the rest to the north. Deke finished off the last Calpulli token, and I ended the game by using my final size 3 monument and making it back to the staging area alone.

None of us bothered with any unfounded districts, since these were mostly small outlying sections of the island in chunks of two and three squares, and there were very few of them.

Final scores – Mexica:
Deke – 100
Rick – 94
Eileen – 84
Javy – 82

I like Mexica. It doesn’t have the depth of Java or the elegance of Torres, but it’s far more interesting than Tikal. There is a lot of opportunity for clever plays, players do have options to play defensively, and it’s no slouch in the looks department either. Once players are comfortable with the Mexica play time drops to the 60 to 90 minute range, which is around the speed of Torres. While I’m not a huge fan of the majority mechanism, it’s good in this game simply because of the spatial aspect. You can defend against other players challenging you by founding the neighborhoods in distant reaches, closing off access points, and filling the area up with your own buildings. There is no randomness or luck in the game, and there is perfect lookahead, which is always a definite plus for me. Javy and Deke really enjoyed the game, and I think we’ll be able to get this title back to the table in the future.

Greg had arrived with Khalil while we were playing Mexica, so in between turns I taught them Blue Moon. I’ve had Blue Moon on a loaner from Titus and have been trying it out with different people to see how what they thought of it. So far, including this time out, the verdict has been rather similar. Too simple. Boring. Not enough options. Too random. Titus also loaned me the four boosters, but I haven’t had the opportunity to open any of them to try them out. After testing the base game, no one has shown any inclination to explore the game any further. I wish I knew people who had never played Magic. I think the comparison kills Blue Moon easily.

We headed over to Frog and George’s place for dinner. While waiting for George to get home and for the food to cook, Javy, Greg, Khalil and Eileen launched into a game of Quests of the Round Table. This little game is a group favorite, and is fun if you don’t take it too seriously. Greg, being the master of Quests, got pounded on early and fell behind. Luckily, the game has a catch-up mechanism, and he was back in contention. In the end Khalil emerged as foremost among the knights.

When Nix arrived I again pulled out Blue Moon and we played a couple of games. Same story, same opinions. I give up on Blue Moon. It’s just not good enough for us.

George finally arrived, with Myles right behind, and dinner was served. Afterwards, we cleared the tables and split up into two groups. Javy, Nix, Greg and Khalil began the inevitable game of Puerto Rico. I convinced Myles, Frog and George to try out Age of Steam.

Age of Steam [4P]

This would be my first time to play Age of Steam with four players, and I was rather looking forward to it. After the requisite rules run-through, which I think I botched in a few places especially in movement of goods and effect of that on the income track, we were underway.

I repeated my warning on the tightness of cash before the first share issue. George elected to be conservative, Frog and I were aggressive, Myles was in the middle. Bidding had George winning first turn, while Frog and I bailed early to conserve cash. First Move, First Build, Engineer and Skip Bid were the privileges chosen. We all began track in the south and southeast, with Pitt being the most popular city. Everyone built maximum track, and everyone moved two links, except for George who moved one.

After a live demonstration of how goods production worked, and a look at the painful income/expense cycle showed that everyone was bleeding cash, we launched into the second turn. I bailed early again, and Myles paid to go first. Same roles were chosen, and I think that while I was deliberately not choosing Urbanization since I had other plans (I took Engineer), the others didn’t fully realize how strong it was. Oh well, learning game. Pitt was completely closed out except for the southern hexside. I elected to extend some track in the east running south to Pitt, and open a line in the northwest away from the logjam. Myles had similar ideas, defecting to the southwest to take advantage of Kansas City’s sudden goods prosperity due to the production rolls which gave it three goods. George ran into trouble, being unable to secure any good routes in the south and being blocked off from the alternative areas. We all again moved two links, except for George who moved one.

Third turn saw a few more share issues. Myles again won turn order, followed by Frog. George and I bailed early. First two abilities off the board were urbanization and production, while George took loco and I took turn order pass because I wanted urbanization next turn. Frog completed a lucrative line running north to south, while Myles extended his western line. I prepared for urbanization next turn by running a line two ways, both planning to terminate in a new city to the southwest.

At this point, we assessed the game situation and decided to call the game since everyone had learned the basic mechanisms. It was a bit late to restart, and Myles had to take off soon, so a full game of Age of Steam would have to wait. Myles thought that the whole thing was interesting, but Frog’s take was that it was too much like work. George did agree that the game was very unforgiving, and any mistake which resulted in a player being locked out of routes with immediately transportable good early in the game would result in a downward spiral. Not surprising, since that’s the nature of AoS. The fact that all players are bleeding cash in the first three or four turns makes it an early struggle just to establish income. Just reaching breakeven point isn’t easy at all.

I don’t think another game of AoS is likely in the near future.

Over at the other table, Javy won the Puerto Rico game. Khalil had taken off, so Javy, Nix and Greg started up a game of Colossal Arena. The endgame had Javy out since he had just one 4-point bet left alive, his secret bet having been killed off early. Nix had elected not to make a secret bet. When the dust settled, Greg won 11-8-4.

Javy, Greg and Myles said good night, so we needed a light and fluffy game to close the night out. Four player Puerto Rico was just the game we needed.

Puerto Rico [4P]

This was a very strange game, with Nix and I getting the Factories early, but Frog and George countering by taking the Harbors. Nix and I raced to build out, but Nix was ahead with two buildings on that front. Frog and George continued to ship heavily, but Frog seemed to fall behind since he had very few buildings. However, Nix and I were clearly shipping-light. It looked like a contest between George and Nix. On the final turn when Nix built out, I decided to give George the final play and took trader, leaving her with an unmanned Fortress and a mess of goods to ship. She chose to ship.

Final scores – Puerto Rico
Frog – 47
George – 42
Nix – 32
Rick – 31

If George took the Mayor she would have won since Frog made 10VP in that final shipping round. The Fortress was worth 5VP, which was the same amount George made in the final shipping round. Puerto Rico can give very interesting games like this one, which is why we enjoy the game so much, and use it to close out game night so often.


At Wednesday, March 02, 2005 11:57:00 PM, Blogger Titus said...

Too bad about the negative reactions to Age of Steam. It's one of my favorite Euro games. I've played it several times with my non-gamer brothers and they like it. Yes, it's unforgiving, but with experience players can handle it. I like it with 4 players as 5 or 6 adds too much chaos. I'm considering getting the expansion maps but the game just isn't popular in the groups I play with.

At Thursday, March 03, 2005 9:28:00 AM, Blogger Rick said...

Hey, I'll play AoS with you. I'd rather play 1830, 1856 or 1870, but since it looks like we'll never get those to the table, we're stuck with Age of Steam. With 4P I think we can finish it off in 90 minutes. If it's on the agenda with Mark and whoever let me know! :)


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