Friday, November 23, 2007

Malevolent Lifeforms at Jeff and Amy's


I arrived right at nine, and after a few minutes we had a crowd. Expecting Mare Nostrum to get started, I suggested Race while we waited for everyone. Let it be noted that at 9:15am, I finally played on my copy. After that we broke into two groups ... Downstairs Ben, Chad, Dennis and I worked our way through Brass. I liked it well enough (and won), although I've got a few concerns. I'd certainly be willing to try it again. Upstairs, the rest of the crowd played Power Grid, with the new expansion deck. I hear that Chris won because he got an absurdly cheap wind plant (4 cities for 25 Euros?). After the caloric interlude, the much talked about Mare Nostrum game broke out. Since there were six, I happily ducked out.

Amy was teaching Tiffany Magic (and later, Blue Moon), so Dennis and I played Magic, and then Wings of War. Wings of War is quite similar to Blue Max, which I like. Seeing as how the Horse Nose game was still going strong, once Tiffany left Dennis, Amy and I broke out Race for the Galaxy. After each game, Dennis would head upstairs and hear "Just one more turn." Occasionally, one of the upstairs lifeforms would come down and grouse. Overall, we got four games of Race in. Amy, tired of "gaining experience," demanded a change. This led to Hare and Tortoise and Coloretto. Mare Nostrum was still going, so Dennis, Amy, and I declared ourselves winners of Saturday Gaming (along with Tiffany, winner in absentia! )

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10 Comments:

At 8:22 PM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Ted Kostek said...

Mare Nostrum
While folks were finishing their lunch, I started setting up the main attraction (in my mind): Mare Nostrum + mythic expansion. After some negotiating, we settled on a 6 player game with Chad, Ben, Jeff, Scott, Chris, and myself. We got started about 1p with a rules run-down.

About those rules...
I thought I covered all the rules, but late in the game the same question came up several times. Hmm...I guess maybe I should practice that rules explanation...sorry about that guys.

Early and Mid-game
This was my first game, and I enjoyed it a lot, although it has some quirks and odd features. Carthage seemed to move out to and early lead, and we stomped on him pretty hard. Going into the middle game we were pretty evenly matched, and we all had some heroes and wonders. Rome and Babylon started looking pretty powerful. Rome got stomped, but Babylon managed to duck and weave. Meanwhile Carthage rebuilt his empire. The last few turns we had all developed our empires fairly well, and we all had decent military forces. We traded skirmish battles back and forth around the board.

Ends with a whimper
On the last turn Chris/Carthage /Director of Commerce decided we would trade 14(!) cards to finish things out. That left three of us in the final mammoth trade with 3 watching on the side-lines. Both Babylon (Jeff) and Carthage (Chris) were looking to buy their 4th hero, putting Political Director Scott (Egypt) in the awkward position of fairly arbitrary king maker.

Post-Mortem
At the end 2 people were able to build 4 wonder, 1 (Rome/Chad) only had 1 wonder (I think), Scott and Ben both had 3 wonders. If we had finished out the final trade, I might have been able to buy my third wonder. Fairly close game, although the end was slightly arbitrary and a little anti-climactic.

Game Analysis
Altogether, I liked this game a lot, despite it's quirks. The trading mechanism is good, but sometimes can bog down a little bit, especially on big trades. Having played Civilization, I don't think this is "Civ-lite." The essence of this game is not about nurturing and growing your empire; rather this is a game about gaining resources.

The rules problem? We used a house rule to help speed up the process of buying a wonder. You are allowed to buy any wonder you want, but there are about 20 which can lead to some AP. To speed things up, we let people pick from the top 5. That's OK, sort of, but it messes up some of the heroes and wonders.

I enjoyed the game, and I'm looking forward to another. We started about 1p, then spent about 30 min on the rules, and we finished about 5p or so. Was it worth 3.5-4 hrs? I think so.

 
At 8:27 PM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Chris said...

The Mare Nostrum delay was my fault. As the economic leader, I kept delaying trading, as I was afraid it would hand Jeff the victory (we each needed one more hero for the win), since he was producing either 6 or 7 unique good every turn. By setting trading to zero, I forced everyone to turn in sets of 3, which made people build primarily military units, which then went and caused chaos while I slowly caught up in production. Once I was even, we did the end game trade. I ended up with 11 unique goods, but it wasn't enough for the uncontested win. Jeff and I both built our fourth hero and I'm pretty sure we announced a joint victory. This is allowed in the rules to prevent kingmaking in the situation that happened, where the whim of determining build order (by a third party who cannot win themselves) is otherwise enough to award a win to one person over another.

So I *had* to drag it out to play for at least a piece of the pie. Mmmmm, pie.

I really like Mare Nostrum. (I think it helps that I ended up doing well, though. If I'd been in Ben's shoes I might think differently.) I do like how protracted warfare becomes costly due to constant attrition (well, you usually have to throw units in that will die to save your good units) and then you have to build more to hold on to the new territory and you have to spend resources to do something with the new territory (like build influence), unless you just want to "suck on the [insert resource name here]." But you still NEED to attack to get the resources you need. Interesting choices to make. It still has the trappings of a civ game, though, which I also like (even though I agree it's not exactly a civ, as Ted pointed out).

Sorry for dragging it out guys, but I was encouraged to play for the win and that seemed the best way.

Ben, I've picked out a game for us to play tomorrow. It's called Mare Nostrum. :-D

I'm looking forward to trying Wings of War. Anyone wants to come over to my place tomorrow at 9am, you're welcome. So far, I think it's me, Ben, and Steve.

 
At 9:09 PM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Carlos said...

I spent today playing with the kids, so this session was not even an option for me. Sounds like it was good. Chris, I remember the last time I played TI3 with you, you caused all kinds of havoc with the economy as the mighty Haccan, so you report with Mare Nostrum is consistant with your style. I would like to be at you house in the AM on Saturday.

 
At 9:46 PM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Ben said...

Great session reports. I actually was more disappointed in my play of Mare Nostrum than I was of the game itself. Like many in many Euros, overly aggressive play is harshly punished. If I would have just quietly built cities and husbanded tax cash, I most likely would have had the cash I needed to win. There were 2-3 turns were I had 8 taxes in hand rather than the required 9... alas, it didn't last long before I was sandwiched. Thanks to Ted for investing the time to organize and lead us through the game.

Tomorrow I will bring a pile of games... I'd even be up for 3-4 player TI:3. I have to swing by the vampire castle of Time Warner to pick up two cable cards for my new HD Tivo at 0900, but hopefully I'll be at Chris' by 0930 hours.

 
At 10:05 PM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Ted Kostek said...

Chris: From my perspective, no worries. That end part with the smaller trades was, for me, the most fun part of the game. Giving us small sets made us build more units. At the same time, the need to get more unique resources sent us on raids with said units.

Big Trades (mostly) Stink!
I speculate that most people who had a negative experience with the game suffer from too many large trades (say 6+ cards).

From what I can tell after 1 playing these large trades suffer from the following drawbacks:

1. You really have no idea who will benefit the most, so it's almost certainly sub-optimal play from the Doc.

2. They are cumbersome and bog down the game.

3. They limit on the board action because you can always get the goods you need via trade.

From what I can tell, small trades are the way to go and really emphasize the fun part of the game.

Sorry, Ben!
Towards the end not everyone was having fun, but as much as anything that's because they were getting beaten on from all sides (Sorry Ben! I'm one of the guilty parties). Never a fun place to be.

Long Victory Conditions
FWIW, I believe that if we had played to the longer victory conditions, the game would have tightened up again. Although Ben's empire had been mauled, he had 3 heroes compared to 2 for Rome and Atlantis. Focus would have shifted to beating on Babylon and Carthage, and Greece and Rome would have been left alone.

From what I can tell at this point, the long victory conditions are the way to go once you have a few games under your belt to get the rules figured out.

 
At 10:48 PM, November 23, 2007, Blogger Tiffany said...

Yay for being a winner, even if it was in absentia (it doesnt happen very often). I think i should get points for the current hey look its a holiday and I am at work marathon, but maybe thats just me.

 
At 8:34 AM, November 24, 2007, Blogger scott said...

For my part I think I could have accelerted the game by playing smarter and going for being able to collect 8 taxes a turn which would only have required the building of 3 cities or temples and along with at least 1 resource (which I already had) and Cleopatra's ability would have let me crank out a hero/wonder a turn even if there was no trading. In fact in that scenario the only way to stop me (and presumably 1 or 2 others could have gone the tax route instead of the resource route) would have been to conquer one of the three clustered territories (really all I would have needed, my expansionist play was based on civ like assumptions that proved wrong) or forcing out large trades to force me to take resources to replace my taxes (difficult practically to accomplish). I could have done this as late as the last 2 turns and could have joined the group or individual win bandwagon on the last turn.

 
At 9:23 AM, November 24, 2007, Blogger Brian said...

General thoughts:

1) It's the economic directors job to start calling out "Trade Nothing" or "Trade Huge Numbers" as the game dictates. Nothing wrong there.

2) The game does suffer from the "What should I do" problem, like Struggle of Empires, which has a zillion options on T1. Mare is better, in that you get the gods, then a few turns later get to pick wonders, but then it explodes. It's not like Ursuppe, which has 5-8 genes available T1, then a growing number each turn.

3) We always house rule that if multiple people win on the same turn, and the political leader isn't involved, they win jointly. (If the political leader is involved, he wins by himself).

4) Mare Nostrum is very un-Euroish in that it does absolutely nothing to stop the leader. No "Final turn counts double" or catchup mechanics. You want to stop the leader? Hose him. I find that a refreshing change of pace, although it does mean that jumping out to an early lead isn't great. On the other hand, Heroes/Wonders (Honders) are forever, so getting smashed a bit is OK.

Our games at DLair over the summer took 2-3 hours each, which is probably what you'll get on your second play.

 
At 10:30 AM, November 24, 2007, Blogger Dennis Ugolini said...

Final tally for me:

5x Race for the Galaxy
2x Magic: The Gathering
Brass
Wings of War
Hare and Tortoise
Coloretto
Formidable Foes

I think I played more games yesterday than all of BGG.Con.

 
At 12:44 PM, November 24, 2007, Blogger Ted Kostek said...

Cleopatra, Queen of Taxes

The archives at BGG suggest Egypt is often a powerful contender with the tax strategy.

De-railing this strategy would have required some good old fashioned smiting.

More thoughts on the game
After re-reading the rules last night, I didn't find any new glaring mistakes that we made, but I found a few subtle issues along with a bunch of little tricks and combos.

For example, Vulcan lets you destroy a caravan at any time. If the caravans are already used up, you use Vulcan just before you build. Note that you can take one from the leader and give it to yourself for an overall swing of 2.

There are a lot of wicked combos like hidden in the game.

 

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