Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Games I Don't Quite Get -- 6/19 Session Report

I took off work early on Monday, watched Spain spank Tunisia with three goals in under twenty minutes, and then hurried over the Dragon's Lair to find Brian and Michael playing Roma. My guess is that some dice were rolled, one of about 864 card types was drawn from the discard pile, and somebody won. Meanwhile Jonathan arrived, so we broke out the attention-getter...

A dexterity game crossed with an area control game, with wicked leaning magnets. Jon is much better at placement than me, even getting a double at one point (a leaner on another leaner), but a few too many conversions and conservative play by him allowed me to run out of discs first and nip the 5-4 win.

Figuring we had just over an hour before Ted and/or Simon arrived, the four of us decided to give this a shot. I've always preferred to call this game "Sellout" rather than "Acquire", since it seems like your goal is to be bought many times over. Brian took a commanding early lead by founding five (!?!) of the seven companies. I thought I was making an excellent comeback, though -- I was the majority holder in the first and third merger, and shortly after the third merger I was majority shareholder in the two large, safe companies. There was only one other company (one of the middle-value ones) that could grow past the safe point, and try as I might I couldn't merge it into one of the big ones. Meanwhile Brian and Jon managed to merge one baby company after another into it, cashing in over and over again. In the end that cash on hand was too much -- Brian finished with $54,000, Jon with $34,000, me with $30,000, and Michael (cut out of nearly every early merger) somewhere south of $20k. Not that I've played that much Acquire, but I think this is the first time I've seen tile play take on such importance, as opposed to buying into the right companies at the right times.

Still no new players, so we stalled with a short filler game. Players build tunnels towards a hidden gold mine, with (maybe) one secret saboteur trying to hold them up. This game seems very group-dependent to me; if people are really determined to be the first one to the gold, then and only then does the saboteur have some chance. But even then, the scoring mechanism makes the winner a coin flip. Bleh. Jon won the first two rounds for a vast chasm of winning.

Age of Steam
Ted arrives, and giving up on Simon we pull out the meaty game of the evening. The starting goods are an almost perfect mismatch for the nearby cities, so I pay a ton to get the first Urbanization and set up what appears to be a solid starting position. Unfortunately I forgot the first rule of AoS/Railroad Tycoon: the way to win is to build where nobody else is. On the first turn Brian builds two links at one end of my route, then on the second turn bids high and builds on the other end. Game over for me, though I managed not-last solely by keeping my shares and locomotive size low and making 2-link deliveries all game. Brian was the runaway winner, which is my main problem with this game -- while I like the idea of it, all four of my plays have (a) gone over 2 hours (last night was the shortest at 2:15; the longest was 3:30), and (b) had an obvious winner before the end of the first hour. I was that winner once, too, so it's not sour grapes; I just don't like playing a decided game for over an hour and a half. Note that my one playing of Railroad Tycoon was much tighter, though I couldn't tell you why.

Ricochet Robots
This is what passes for "light end-of-session filler" in this crew. I played horribly, and for once was saved by the tiebreaker rule that I still so strongly dislike (see, here is a game where a runaway leader is not a problem, because the game is only 20 minutes long -- start another!). Michael and Jon were quickest on the draw, but Michael's fast calls came too early, leaving Jon with the 5-4-4-3-1 win.

I'll be in Boston next week, but I'm looking forward to a monster day of gaming on July 3rd!


At 4:21 PM, June 20, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

Man, I need to start coming by again. you guys are letting Jon win far too often. Seriously, he took a game of Ricochet Robots? Are you kidding me?!

By the way, double leaners in Polarity are no sweat, it's the triples that command respect.

At 5:22 PM, June 20, 2006, Blogger Ted Kostek said...

At first blush I was worried about Age of Steam, but my fears proved unfounded. It sounded like it was going to require detailed calculation every turn. I don't consider that fun; to me it's work. As we got into the game, though, I enjoyed it quite a bit. The turn-by-turn calculations weren't as onerous as I feared, and I enjoyed planning out the routes.

Dennis claims there's something of a run-away leader problem. I can't speak to that since it was my first game. I was just enjoying learning the mechanics.

I tried a long-term strategy by building tracks other folks would need to use. I got a N-S lock from Chicago to the bottom of the board. Then I decided to serve the neglected folks in Duluth; bringing their goods into the lower midwest brought a lot of points. Along the way, I picked up points as people were forced to use my tracks. Thanks to Michael for sharing 2nd with me.

It was my first ever game of Ricochet Robots, and I could almost feel my brain growing. At the beginning, I couldn't see anything. People would show a route, and I would think "Whee! Pretty colors!" By half-way through the game I started catching the hang of it, and I could follow a solution when presented. By the end I was able to spot easy solutions on my own. In another game or two I might be contender.

I'm not sure how I feel about the tie-breaker. It's a nice "carebear" rule, but like Dennis says the game is short.

At 6:41 PM, June 20, 2006, Blogger Brian said...

Age of Steam has a learning curve and can have a runaway leader issue, although usually it's 1-2 players who fall behind, and the rest contend. Last night certainly had the harshest example.

I could have been knocked back into it if Jon had bid 9 the turn I won 1st for 8. Then I wouldn't have had enough money to do what I needed to. Also, Michael shouldn't have skipped his income move on the 2nd good of Turn 6. If both of those things had happened, the game would have been within 3-4 points...

In fact, I thought about offering to end it after turn 3. Perhaps we should be more agressive about calling games, but for someone's first game I'm loathe.

About half of my AoS games aren't clearly won until the last turn. I've never seen anyone break even as fast as I did last night, and I think I've got a dozen games under my belt.

At 9:28 PM, June 20, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

I think you all need to stop inviting Jon.

Re: Acquire

I think it's definitively a game that takes a few plays to see how it all works out. This last time that I played I ended with 43,000. The second player, my dad, had 34,000 and I thought he was doing awesome, BUT he was doing what I did in games 1 and 2 below.

For me, growing into this game went like this:
Game 1: Just learnt the rules. So I guess the strategy is, buy a lot of the stock of the company you founded because "it's your company" (it took me a few rounds to realize that that really wasn't the case), and wait for the cash to come in. Boy was I wrong.

Game 2: Of course, you don't own the company you founded UNLESS you have majority of stocks. Plus you need to focus on the small companies early in the game, and large/safe ones towards the end. So ok, as soon as I have a merging block, I'll hold on to it for a few rounds while I gather enough stock of the soon-to-be-defunct company. Then merge. This ended up being a little more effective, but still didn't work (supporting Dennis's thoughts about block-laying not really being that important for victory).

Game 3-4-5 etc: To me, like you said Dennis, block draw is secondary to being an aggressive stock buyer of small companies next to the big ones specially at the beginning of the game. This is also particularly true later in the game when the small ones are being absorbed by safe companies. And if these safe companies are the expensive ones even better. Trading 2 cheap company stocks with 2 tiles, for 1 stock from a 30 tile expensive company resulted in great profits in the end.

At 10:49 PM, June 20, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

I wasn't quite that far out of it...i was around 25k at the end but it felt horrible having no cash for the entire game.

Not taking the income on that turn was pretty stupid of me. It was a break even play at worst (assuming i had stuff to ship later) and if Jon gave me points it was even better. I wanted to save my big shipments to make a big move later and it got me.

The beginning of the game is very critical. If you get off to a slow start its very hard to recover. I had a terrible start and although I was able to get my income level up pretty quickly, my issued stock hamstrung me for the rest of the game.

At 11:36 AM, June 21, 2006, Blogger Jonathan W. said...

Man, people are complaining about me winning, and the only games I won were filler.

Polarity - I really like this game and need to play it more so I can get back in practice and start breaking out triple leaners.

Acquire - This was my first play of the game, and I only managed to win because I was either a majority or minority stockholder in a lot of the mergers. I ended taking second just because of the shear amount of cash I had from all of the mergers.

Saboteur - Not that big of a fan of this game, but it does manage to kill some time in a slightly entertaining way. I only won because I completed two of the three tunnels.

Age of Steam - I horribly lost this game making up for the two wins I had that night. My company broke even on the second to last turn, and only turned a profit of 2 dollars on the very last turn.

Ricochet Robots - I really like this game and I do not mind the tiebreaker rule. Even without the tiebreaker rule I think it would have been close between Michael and me because he had the fast calls earlier in the game, and I had them later in the game.

All in all a good night of gaming, and I look forward to next week.

At 11:53 AM, June 21, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Jon 99.9% of the time wins in our block gaming sessions.

When are playing your copy of Europe Engulfed? The new GMT flyer came out with details on Asia Engulfed....I'm pumped.

At 1:22 PM, June 21, 2006, Blogger Michael said...

I don't understand the deal with Ricochet Robots. Every time I play I start off very strong, seeing good solutions very quickly. Then within 5 or 6 chips, I can't see a one robot 5 move solution most of the time. I have some sort of negative ricocheting curve as time goes on.

Going out of town for a few weeks so try not to play any 7 ages while I'm gone. (pretty please)

At 3:57 PM, June 21, 2006, Blogger Simon said...

Who wants to play some 7 ages?

At 11:38 PM, June 21, 2006, Blogger Rob said...


At 10:01 PM, June 22, 2006, Blogger Ben said...

I don't know about 7 Ages (though I'm sure I'd be willing to give it a try), I'm definitely bringing Mare Nostrum + Expansion on 3 July.

At 5:18 AM, June 24, 2006, Blogger Rob said...

Yet another one I'd like to try in this lifetime.


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