Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Game Night - 26 November 2005 - The First Campaign

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So Die Macher was on the table, set up and ready to go. Chester had thoughtfully shipped everything he had in terms of documentation with the game. I had also printed off every player aid the Geek had available. In the end I chose to use the colored "note blocks" Mark Coomey had recently uploaded, and Mark Blanco's phase-by-phase guide. I gave my usual theme overview, and this led into a side discussion on the recent German election which resulted in Merkel becoming Chancellor. We also had a discussion on the theoretical relationships of the game mechanisms, and what the paths to victory looked like. There was some discussion on the seven issues, and what would be relevant today as opposed to 1985. And there was a discussion on what other stuff Karl-Heinz Schmiel had done (the only one I really remember was Extrablatt, a game I also want to eventually play and own). This all took around an hour.

Just to prove we're a tight gaming group, we all invested a significant part of our setup resources into the third region, which had 80 seats up for grabs. (In hindsight I think it was a mistake.) The first couple of regions went fairly slow as we got a feel for the mechanisms, especially the regional opinion manipulation and the Tauschpool. Business picked up, and I decided to powder out of the running for winning the 80 seats, and focus on winning a couple of the smaller (20+ seat) regions. I ended up winning the second region, and in a winning coalition for the 80 seats anyway. Unfortunately I had not place a media presence there so I missed out on the points.

Initial thoughts on the opinion polls - strong, but you can protect yourself either by incrementally buying votes beforehand if you think your trend in a region is vulnerable. Or you can control the media, making you immune. Or you can win the poll yourself. Either way, it didn't bother me all that much.

We were slow to pick up on how useful holding an absolute majority in a region was - this was a trick of timing and resource investment. If no one else invests in a region when you do (usually way in advance) then you can make a change a turn, and when that region becomes current you'll have decent synergy with the regional opinion. The seats may not be great, but placing media and opinion on the national board is a reward in and of itself. My national membership kept ticking up because I tried to keep matching the big board, and altering what regions I controlled to match as well.

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The whole deal took six hours, including frequent side discussions on game mechanisms, paths to victory and game design analysis. I won, mostly because I took three little (20+ seat) regions that the other folks didn't invest much in, while keeping a finger in the bigger pies (80, 60, 50). I enjoyed myself immensely.

Favorable comparisons from my gaming buddies to PR and PoF, from both a mechanism and stylistic standpoint. I have a better one. Macher's nature and rhythm, among all the games I've played, is closest to Kramer & Kiesling's Maharaja. You're planning and executing 4 elections simultaneously, and trying your darndest to insulate yourself from the inherent chaos of the game system while keeping your timing and resources as straight as possible. You're trying to make sure that you get close to your desired result in every region that matters, whether or not someone whacks you with a bad opinion poll when that region becomes current. (Or outright insulating yourself with media control, which is expensive to set up, but even more expensive for your opponents to undo when they choose to.) I would equate this to being able to do what you plan to do in Maharaja regardless of what hijinks people pull with your character card and the governor track. What Macher has over Maharaja is many, many more paths to victory at the cost of a significantly higher fiddle factor. However, given the theme the whole thing works, and in a surprisingly elegant manner despite all the moving parts.

In short, I (or should I say we) like it a lot, and I can see us polishing off a full game in 3-4 hours once we have the whole thing down and can take turns rapidly a-la Goa at full throttle. Clearly an "only game of the night" situation, but that was how it was when we first started playing 5P PR years ago (we were averaging 3.5 hours a game early on, and we still take 2.5 hours today).

The only trouble we had rules-wise was with the exchange pool. Playing it with Schmeil's "flood the pool" rules was rather counterintuitive, but in the end I guess it follows theme-wise since issues do get more muddled as elections get close to climax.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Deal, and the Pilgrimage of Die Macher

To start this story at the beginning, Chester Ogborn enjoys Die Macher. Loves it. It's one of his favorite games. Ches is one of my little "original" online (board)gaming group, The Four Friends, along with Mary Weisbeck and Gerald Cameron. We "met" on boardgamegeek.com - Mary wanted to learn Euphrat & Tigris so I set up a 4P game and invited Chester and Gerald to play. We've been playing online ever since.

Anyway, it's common knowledge to these friends of mine that Die Macher is my "holy grail" of boardgames. So one day, Ches says "hey wouldn't it be cool if I shipped you my copy of Die Macher and you could play it and write stuff about it?" I say "that would be cool, but you would be nuts to propose such a thing since I live on the other side of the world and all sorts of bad things could happen to the game enroute, not to mention the cost." Ches says "I don't mind taking a risk on it, it's only a game, and I'm happy to do it." I say "I appreciate the thought Chester but I'm a stranger living far away and Macher is a rare and expensive game so it's a really bad idea so I won't hear of it." "Ok," he says, "but I'm not going to get to play Macher in a while as I won't have time due to work. It's really something I'm happy to do."

I don't quite recall what happened, but I eventually agreed to the pilgrimage of Chester's Die Macher over to Manila. It cost him $25 to ship it, it took over 8 weeks to get here, and it cost me $25 to claim it from customs after it arrived. But arrive it did.

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I'm glad to report that the game arrived in great shape. The box has a few dings along the edges, but nothing noticeable unless under close scrutiny. I kept the box for the game's return trip, though I'm secretly hoping that somehow, someway I'd get to hand the game back to Chester in person and get to play it with him.

Two people have asked Ches what possessed him to do such a thing as send a valuable, highly sought-after boardgame to a person he's never met halfway around the world. This was the answer: "It just seemed like the kind of thing I wish would happen more in this world."

So. My end of the deal is to write a review and a couple of session reports. Ambitiously, I'd like to attempt a strategy guide at some point, though that would seem to be on the order of my three-quarters finished guides to Euphrat & Tigris and Torres - daunting, and the games hold me in awe so much that I battle with myself to consider anything written in depth about them as "done."

Anyway, I took Macher straightaway to game night on the same day I collected it from the post office, stopping at a Starbucks to refresh the rules over an Extra Hot Peppermint Mocha. When I got to game night, I laid out the following games for the people present to select (there were only three other players that evening, fortuitously). They had not played any of the games I laid out - I had played 2 of the 4.

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The Frog, our host, immediately identified Macher as "that German election game" I had been mentioning to be on a slow boat, sent to us from Missouri by a doctor who I had never met. Yeah, they think Ches is slightly mad too. But poor Magna Grecia once again got passed over, and Macher was the game of the night. Our only regret was that we only started playing after dinner, as I knew it was going to take time to get going.

(Next: The First Game)

Friday, November 25, 2005

It's Finally Here

I got the notice from the post office this morning. I'll should be able to post something on it tomorrow. Question is, should I bring it to game night?

Thanks, Ches.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Finally Some Actual Gaming Content

I realize that I haven't really talked about the games we've been playing. Blame it all on Magic: the Gathering. That night I picked up a sealed booster after years off, I went and started a really LONG post on the little 4-person pod booster draft we did with the new Ravnika set... and I never completed it. I promise to get that up soon, along with some catchup.

A quick summary of the past four gaming nights has a pretty interesting pattern - every night we've had Traumfabrik and Clash of the Gladiators on the table, and we've also had The Princes of Florence out on every night except the night we played La Citta instead. And last weekend, we found out that Louis XIV is the most difficult Eurogame we've tackled so far. Yes, it's way tougher than Puerto Rico, Power Grid, El Grande, Goa, PoF, La Citta and anything else that's hit the table. Anyway, more on the mentioned games in future installements. For now, all I'll say is that Traumfabrik was worth every dime of the US$70 I paid, and I have no idea why no one is talking about Clash of the Gladiators and why its rating on the Geek is a mindboggling 5.80, lower than such classics as Chez Geek, War & Sheep and The Powerpuff Girls - Saving the World Before Bedtime. Shades of Falling (rated even lower at 5.42) I think, being a misunderstood game, but also carrying the expectations of Knizia+Hans im Gluck. (For a similar situation, I think Tower of Babel is also getting a raw deal so I'm going to hazard getting that game, eventually. Trust in Reiner and Bernd.)

I just planed back into Manila from Singapore, and I had a blast two nights ago playing a couple of games with "my Singapore gaming group." Wow, that's a strange one to hear. Siow Hwee, Janey and Wilson graciously invited me for dinner and games. We were one short as Wilson's wife Shih Huei was home sick.

Siow Hwee did me a huge favor by picking up the uberplay RA before it was bought out at the FLGS. Thanks man! He also brought a game I've been wanting to play again - Intrige, the Amigo card version. Janey and Wilson, Siow Hwee's wife and good friend, had never played. After getting confirmations from them that they were aware of what kind of game Intrige was, I launched into the rules explanation, and we were off.

Predictably, Siow Hwee casts the first stone and screws me on the opening deal of the game. He got nothing out of me from then on. Wilson did the same thing to me, but flipped back when Siow Hwee screwed him. Janey was my early ally, trading $10k jobs, but soon enough I was abandoned and it was Wilson and I who were in cahoots. In the end, no one was spared, and a huge final round by Siow Hwee looked like it won him the game - or so we thought.

Janey - $103
Siow Hwee - $93
Wilson - $92
Rick - $85

The next game was KuhHandel. First time for Wilson. I used the quickstart with each player having a chicken, goose, cat and goat to begin the game, and we were auctioning off two animals at a time. There's just no way to narrate the game, other than to say that I completed a set of cows and just needed the horses, but Janey beat me for the equines and that sent me from potential winner to next to last place.

The evening was great fun and I always look forward to hooking up with this group. Just to make things that much more astounding, Wilson lent me three games - Flandern 1302, Capitol and Keythedral. Thanks Wilson! I'll take care of them and report on how they fared over here.