I had another free afternoon, an occurrence that doesn’t happen often enough, so I got to drop by Mark’s place on very short notice. I arrived to find Manuel and Mark going through the rules to Europe Engulfed. I knew Mark and Titus had been exploring the game, but luckily Manuel was new to the game so I was able to join in for the rules explanation and the learning game. For this exercise, the scenario was 1942 to 1943, with the Russians attempting to hold off the Germans and their allies. Mark took the Russians, Manuel and I collaborated on the side of the Germans. (Actually, I mostly kibitzed and rolled the dice!)
Europe Engulfed (learning game) [2+1P]
I’d been slogging through the rules of EE on and off and found them to be a bit difficult to read through. Playing through a couple of turns made the base rules easier to understand. Granted we weren’t using the whole ruleset, but the basic flow of the game was clearer when actually playing it out with Mark’s guidance.
So, each side got a beginning set of forces. We got most of the German units, plus a single Italian unit and s few minor Axis units which had placement restrictions. The Russians started with a lot of Russians. The game setup gave the Russians a front cutting through the middle of the half-map that the scenario used. In this scenario the Germans had already penetrated halfway through the center of Russia, but were yet to take Leningrad and the adjacent swamp area (annoying because that meant that Leningrad was still in supply, and that fortress is a very tough nut to crack due to the stacking limit).
The Germans moved first, and had 28 WERPs (wartime economic resource points IIRC) to buy stuff, primarily units and special actions. The special actions are the interesting part of EE. These cost a painful 5 WERPs each, but allow the side to do things like attack a second time, add units where they couldn’t normally be added, move an extra time, put out-of-supply units into supply, and so on. The Germans had up to four SAs available for purchase, while the Russians only had one. Of course, the Russians had their own little ability, which was they paid half price (or just one WERP) for the first step of a newly-built unit. The Germans had to pay two. Yikes.
So, Manuel and I decided to buy three SAs and a couple of extra units, and move into three of the front provinces of the Reds. This included an assault on Leningrad using four four-step infantry and the single allowable ground support airborne unit. Why just four? That was the max we could send in because Leningrad was a fortress, and you can only attack a Fortress with double the stacking limit worth of units. Russia had two units defending the fortress, both four-step infantry. Another problem – the Russians had a +2 modifier to hit while in the fortress. Since the defender attacks first in EE, this would prove to be very painful.
To cut a long story short, despite burning all three of our SAs to attack twice in Leningrad and the other two front provinces, we failed to clear out the Russians on any place in the first turn. We weren’t rolling all that poorly either. Our units in Leningrad were heavily damaged, while the Russians were just scratched. It’s tough rolling sixes to hit when the other guy hits 50% of the time, and you lose a die for every step of damage that you take, and he attacks first. We also decided just to stick to regular attacks rather than assaults, in a bout of conservatism. Need to try being more aggressive the next time out and see if the results would be different.
Anyway, on the Russians’ turn Mark bought a whole load of units and reinforced the whole Russian front. Most were probably just single-step units, but the number of blocks was impressive. Besides, all he had to do was hold out until the weather produced snow or mud, and he’d have a decided advantage.
On our second turn, we decided to just buy a single SA and spend the rest on units. We relied on strategic movement to get the units to the front, and resumed attacking the same three provinces we had hurt earlier. When the smoke cleared, we weren’t much closer to taking Leningrad, but the other two provinces finally fell.
After some small talk, I had to leave to run a couple of errands. I promised to read up both on the rules of EE and those of Rommel in the Desert for the next opportunity to play the block games. Mark also kindly lent me his for-trade copy of the first edition Paths of Glory for me to look at. (Mark isn’t fond of the card-driven games.)
I ran around town a bit doing the errands, then headed for Frog and George’s place for dinner and possibly some gaming.
One of the errands I ran was for Frog and myself! In anticipation of the long-delayed release of the fourth volume of George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novels, Frog had been rereading A Game of Thrones and wanted to play a game set in Westeros. We briefly discussed the boardgame, which Frog hadn’t played, but due to expected difficulty in finding three other players that would be interested in playing (unlikely) we decided to get a couple of starter decks of the Game of Thrones CCG.
Titus had written briefly on his blog that he was playing the game, and that it played best with three. Since Titus was scheduled to join us that evening it seemed to be a good opportunity to give the game a try. I stopped by Neutral Grounds, the local Fantasy Flight Games distributor, and given the available selection I settled on the Premium Ice & Fire starter which had two preconstructed decks ready to go – House Targaryen (Frog likes Denerys’s story arc) and House Greyjoy (which I enjoy playing in the boardgame). Hey, I also like their silly slogan “We Do Not Sow”. (Yeah, it makes no sense if you don’t know anything about the story. House Greyjoy is a noble family in the land of Westeros based on a bunch of islands in the middle of the sea. This sea is rather salty, and the land of the islands is very ferrous, so they can’t plant crops or anything out there. Thus, We Do Not Sow. Yeah, it’s pretty stupid. The standard of Greyjoy is a big squid. Fine, it’s called a Kraken.)
Conversely, Targaryen is the cool exiled ex-ruling House of the land. Their standard is the Dragon, and they’ve got magic and stuff. Oh yeah, and real dragons. At least Greyjoy isn’t a cliché. :)
So I show up at Frog’s place, say hello to the hosts, and we settle down to try out the new game.
A Game of Thrones CCG [2P]
Ooh, this was brutal. We played our “name” characters early, Asha Greyjoy and Denerys Targaryen. Both characters are cool and strong and female, but Dany got her hubby Khal Drogo to join her soon after. Khal Drogo is really annoying, he kills a 2 strength character outright each turn. Okay, we could deal with that. Greyjoy seemed to be a tappy tappy pumpy pumpy combo kind of deal, which I could handle. Then, Frog played the Dragon, a 6 strength beast that tapped all the characters in the turn that he entered play. Ooookay. There was one card in the Greyjoy deck that might deal with the dragon, but since we were drawing two cards a turn and the deck was, like, 50 cards, chances are I’d be far behind (if not dead) before I saw it.
Erik arrived while my squidheads were being pounded by Frog’s Royal Assassin/Shivan Dragon combo. Frog was ahead 10-0 (he had won all three challenges the turn previous) when Nix arrived and I conceded the game. That was tres ugly; when I conceded I had one character in play (I forced Frog to kill two of his five characters using a plot card, but he still had Dany, Khal D. and the dragon) and had five locations in hand. Ouch.
I got Erik into a quick game of The Confrontation.
The Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation [2P]
As usual had Pippin up front sniffing around. The hairfoot located the Troll standing in Moria! Ha! Retreated Pip, and the Troll followed him in. Good thing Pip had a partner, and Erik picked… Aragorn. Traded pieces. Boromir took Shelob to the Abyss with him. Erik then made a strike with the Nazgul into the piece I had lagging in the back… and ran into Gandalf. Another attack by Dark had the Witch King running right into Merry. Gandalf advanced and cut a swath down the middle of the board. Saruman attacked my left flank, and the two pieces there were Frodo and Sam. Sam stepped up, so the old guy had to play cards. I played Elven Cloak to take out Saruman. With that streak of losses, Erik didn’t have enough pieces to stop Frodo and he conceded.
We had dinner and decided that we’d play Amun-Re after if Titus didn’t appear. After finishing off some Aristocrat Chicken Barbecue and talking extensively about the NBA and our fantasy league, we cleared the table and were just about to set up for some Egyptian pyramid-building when the doorbell dinged. Titus and Mikko walked in, and we changed plans.
Mikko was going to have dinner first, so we decided to break out a six-player game. We had never played six-player Elfenland, so that became the main game of the evening.
I’m still not enamored with the board of Elfenland. I know some people think it’s the nicest board ever, but it seems to be busy and cluttered to me. Never mind the art, this is supposed to be a family game so that’s ok. And what’s with the unpronounceable city names? And the rolling cylinders? Later editions could have replaced them with something more practical, like the Tikal or PR style hex barrels. The big boots are still cute, even if they’re not very elfin. You’d think they’d have tassels or bells or something like that.
Anyway, we draft transport tiles and are off to visit the queens. (The theme of this game might be cooler if we had each of the elves with a girl in each city, and they were off to visit each city and have relations with each of the elven wenches. Think about it, you could then characterize the cylinders as… I still don’t know what they are. We play nice with the initial transport placements, and Frog takes off to the northwest, towards the mountains. George takes a southern route. I follow Frog’s direction and end up in the exact same place, but with one cylinder less. Ow, not good. Nix goes fourth and ends up in the same city as me and Frog! Erik heads south as well, and Titus has the final turn. He ends up in the same city as Nix, Frog and me. Heh. Titus is ahead by one cylinder at this point.
With four elves in the same city, there was opportunity to be nasty since I’d be the first player of the four to take my turn. After drafting tiles, I knew I’d have to take a miss on the northwestern-most city and take the raft heading south. I ended up playing my obstacle down that route, and playing it last, hoping that I screwed up a plan or two.
So we each head our separate ways. There’s a lot of dragon play in the desert, the most annoying part of the board. I end up right in the middle of the sand dunes, hoping that as the start player in the third turn I’ll get dealt a dragon (there was a dragon tile in the opening draft) and be able to get out of there. Titus is still ahead by one cylinder after the second turn.
I get two dragons in the deal, but I know that I’m going to need them both because screwage starts happening around this time. I play my dragon exit from the oasis, and jam the entrance to the annoying dead-end city with a second dragon. Frog jams my southeastern route with an ill-placed (for me) dragon, and completes the screwage by sticking his obstacle on my desert exit route. Hey, I’m NOT ahead here!
Three of us end up in the northeastern corner of the kingdom. Titus has seventeen at the end of the turn, and seems to be comfortably ahead. All he has to do is take one step, save his cards, and screw the rest of us will crummy transport. Well, we all try to perform great acts of screwage, with the four remaining obstacle being placed in the northern reaches. In the end, we missed one.
Elfenland – Final Scores
Nix – 19
Titus – 18
George – 17
Erik – 17
Nix found a route that crossed diagonally through the desert from northeast to southwest, collecting three cylinders through all the crummy transport and fallen logs and earning the win. Titus had to blow four cards just to get his last cylinder and was stuck in the east. George made a furious comeback from behind the field to finish in the pack. I finished last, having to blow all my cards just to get my 17th cylinder.
Elfenland is only really interesting with five to six players, but then it just takes too darn long and has too much downtime for its weight. Sure it’ll play a lot faster with four, but then it won’t be as tight with less competition in placing the transport tiles and wth correspondingly less screwage. For that amount of time investment (120+ minutes) I’d rather play something meatier. Elfenland isn’t a bad game, but it’s best produced for newbies that need an intro to German games. I’d easily pull Elfenland out before Settlers.
You can also see the roots of Ticket to Ride here. The drafting mechanism is present, the “claiming of routes” is present, the luck of the draw is present, and the potential for a bit of blocking is present. The main improvement is in the rapid action-taking and corresponding decrease in downtime. Two Spiel des Jahres awards for the same core of mechanisms? Hey, not bad Mr. Moon.
We brought Mikko back into the fold. Erik was ready to call it a night, but wanted one more game. He’d never played Liar’s Dice before, so luckily Titus had brought along my copy of Bluff.
After the usual compliments on the really nice Ravensburger components, especially the cups built for slamming, we were off. Frog was the first one out, followed by Nix, then me. Erik followed us out, leaving Mikko and George. Mikko was up five dice to one, an overwhelming advantage. Through judicious betting, George won two bids in a row with exact bids, cutting Mikko’s lead to 3-1. The streak ended there though as Mikko won the next bid, leaving him with the win.
Bluff (1st game):
Winner - Mikko
Erik liked it so much he asked for a second game. Titus joined us as Frog was off looking at all the Game of Thrones cards Titus and Mikko had brought along. Nix crashed out spectacularly in the first bid, taking my bait by raising a bid of 12 that I had made. Sorry Nix. :) Turnabout is fair play though as I went out next, losing three dice in one bid, then getting hosed by two exact bids by other people. George was the third elimination, leaving Titus, Erik and Mikko in. Titus had a three dice lead over Mikko and Erik, who had just one each. In a stunning upset, Titus was the fourth person out, losing all three dice to Mikko and Erik. In the final showdown, Mikko prevailed again.
Bluff (2nd game):
Winner – Mikko
Erik said his good-nights, leaving the six of us to mop up. Frog and Nix had started a Game of Thrones match while we were rolling dice, so the four of us decided on a Colossal Arena game to close the night out.
Colossal Arena [4P]
Four is a nice number of Arena. I like it with three, but with four there’s just a little more turn angst especially as the number of combatants declines and the timing of the game changes. Sitting out this staging of the Arena: Daimon, Ettin, Colossus, Seraphim.
Everyone placed a secret bid. The first elimination was the unsupported Cyclops. Ugly beast. The next elimination was the similarly unsupported Gorgon. I had control of the Wyrm and was making good use of it ability, while Mikko was abusing the Amazon. Titus joined me in supporting the Wyrm, so that was a good situation. Mikko and George were heavily invested in the Unicorn and the Troll. I placed my last bid on the Titan, taking over as backer from Titus. Before I could do anything with it, the Titan bit the dust because Titus and I misjudged the turn timing. Eh, that’s two of my bids gone. George played a Referee, forcing the Wyrm’s secret bids to reveal themselves. Turns out both Titus and I placed our secrets on Ol’ Green Scales. I retained my Wyrm backership, and combined it with the abilities of my Magus to leave just five cards, all high Magus cards and a high Spectator. The Troll bit the dust. The deck then ran out, and we were in the endgame. The Unicorn ultimately met its demise, leaving the Wyrm, the Magus and the Amazon as the survivors before anyone ran out of cards in hand.
Colossal Arena – Final Scores:
Titus – 8
George – 4
Mikko - 4
That was a nice game. I really like the way the tempo of the game changes as the number of creatures dwindles. It’s a nice feel for the field of combatants decreasing, and each creature no longer being able to get any breathing room before one of the remaining opponents is on them. Arena should always be played until three critters are left. The endgame condition with the deck running out is unsatisfactory. In this case, it would have left four creatures on the board, and a bunch of cards unplayed. That’s not as good as the game being completed with all the required carnage.
It was 2am, so we all said good night except for Nix, who continued to battle Frog for domination of Westeros.