Tuesday, 27 December 2011


Plays: 2Px6.

Famiglia is a card game in a very small box. It is by Friedemann Friese (Power Grid, Factory Manager, Fearsome Floors). I already have enough simple card games in my collection, so Famiglia never caught my interest. However Allen had bought a copy, and assigned homework to me - to read the rules so that I could teach him to play afterwards. After reading the rules, it seemed a little quirky, relatively simple, and nothing too surprising. However, upon playing the game, I was pleasantly surprised.

The Game

Famiglia is a 2-player-only game, where the players compete to collect as many gangsters (cards) as possible, with each gangster being worth a number of points. There are four suits, each representing a different gangster family, and each having a special ability. Gangsters are numbered from 0 to 4. There is a Street, which is a common pool from which both players can recruit gangsters. The basic way of recruiting a gangster is to show two gangsters of the same gang of value one less than this gangster. E.g. show two Green 1's from your hand to claim Green 2 from the Street. One of the Green 1's will become exhausted, i.e. played into your own playing area and unusable unless you are able to take it back into your hand. So, to claim the higher valued gangsters, you will need to work your way up the hierarchy. You'd need five 0's to get four 1's, which can in turn be used to get three 2's, which can then get two 3's, and finally the single 4 of that family. This sounds ridiculously hard, needing to get every card in the family to be able to reach the big boss number 4. This is where the family powers come in.

The Mercenary (green) family gangsters can be used as jokers, e.g. a Mercenary 2 can be treated as an Accountant 1, and thus paired with a real Accountant 1 to claim an Accountant 2. The Accountant (blue) family gangsters can be used to swap cards between hand (unused) and play area (exhausted), e.g. by playing an Accountant 2, you swap two hand cards with two already played cards. This means some good cards can be reused. Brute (yellow) family gangsters reduce the values of other gangsters, e.g. by playing a Brute 2, a Mercenary 4 gangster can be treated as a Mercenary 2 gangster, and thus becomes much easier to claim. Famiglia (red) family gangsters have no special power, but they are worth more victory points compared to their counterparts in other families.

0-value gangsters can always be recruited for free, and when there are no such gangsters on the Street, a gangster can be discarded to bring new gangsters onto the Street. This is how gangsters enter the Street, and how they are discarded. The deck is played through twice, and then the game ends. Players score for all their gangsters, whether already played in front of them or still in hand.

That's "toilet" written on the forehead of the Green 1 guy.

Game in progress. Used or exhausted cards are laid in front of you. At this moment, there is only one card on the Street, the Red 1 guy. The Street is the card pool at the centre from which players can recruit gangsters.

The Play

What surprises me about this game is it has more depth than I expected. I underestimated it. The family powers are tempting, because they are quite handy. However, every time you use a Brute power or an Accountant power, you are playing one gangster into your play area, and thus reducing the number of gangsters you have in hand. This can be dangerous if you do it too much. You'll be short of cards to use for recruiting. Also you really need to plan your path into the gangster families. In some games where I hadn't planned properly, I ended up with gangsters (in hand) that could not be paired to claim any gangster on the Street. I was stuck and could only hope to end the game as soon as possible to minimise my opponent's chances to recruit more gangsters. So long-term planning is important. Don't walk into a dead end.

There is also the consideration of which families to go for. This partly depends on which gangsters are available on the Street. You have to play by ear and grab opportunities that come up. Working up a gangster family tree takes planning and commitment. You also need to meddle with your opponent's plans, e.g. taking gangsters that he wants, or discarding them, thus disrupting his plans or simply denying him victory points.

Some aspects of the game are quite tactical; short-term opportunities oriented. However working up a family tree is a long-term commitment that you need to plan for and keep in view. You often need to react to what your opponent is doing, so the game is quite interactive.

I didn't notice my daughter taking this photo when my wife and I were playing. The numbers at the bottom of the cards are the point values.

The Thoughts

Famiglia is a fast and clever card game, and has some depth that is not immediately apparent. It is tactical, but also has some longer-term strategy. It is quite interactive. I enjoy working out clever uses of cards, especially combinations of card plays that result in big moves. I have now bought the game. I have not yet reached my self-imposed quota of 20 new games per year, but I didn't buying Famiglia just because I didn't want to waste a slot. I do like it enough to want a copy for myself.

Buy from Noble Knight Games. Status: in stock (at time of this post).

Sunday, 25 December 2011

new concise ref sheets

New reference sheets for games released. Download here. New / updated games are:

  1. Airlines Europe
  2. Antiquity
  3. The Bottle Imp
  4. Coney Island
  5. Dungeon Petz
  6. Famiglia
  7. Jab
  8. Manoeuvre (correction done)
  9. Mondo
  10. Power Grid: The First Sparks
  11. Successors (3rd edition)
  12. Undermining
  13. Urban Sprawl

Full list of games is here.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Don't arrest the wrong guy...

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

fun with Uno

You probably don't expect to read about Uno at a boardgame hobbyist's blog. It is such a common game that there is not much to talk about; and to us gamers, it is much inferior to the kind of games that we play. But you can still have a lot of fun with Uno. On a whim, I brought it on a family trip, along with a number of other games. I introduced it to my children (6 and 4), using very slightly simplified rules, and we had a blast. It is simple enough for my 4-year-old to play, and the luck factor is big enough for her to win a fair share of games. She can't even fan her cards properly yet, and holds them in a stack, then flips through them one by one to see whether there is any card she can play. My wife and I prefer to play Draw Two's and Draw Four's on each other and not the children, and we blatantly encourage our children to play such cards on the other parent. Catching people forgetting to say "Uno" is fun. The simple "take-that" elements are fun. I don't think I want to play Uno with a group of adults, but the games with the family were a lot of fun. It is about enjoying the simple things in life, and the togetherness.

My hand of cards.

My family. 4 years old, none-of-your-business years old and 6 years old.

Uno was the most played game over that weekend.

Thursday, 15 December 2011


Plays: 4Px1.

Antiquity, published by Splotter Spellen (publisher of Indonesia, the game in my current blog header), was first released in 2004, reprinted in 2006, then went out-of-print, and in 2011 it was reprinted again. Prior to this 2011 reprint, prices for a copy were ridiculously high. I thought although I would probably like the game, I wouldn't be paying this kind of price for a boardgame. When I learned of the 2011 reprint, I decided to try-before-buy. It is still expensive, recommended retail price being EUR80 (around USD105 / MYR335), but if I like it enough, I will pull the trigger. Jeff has a copy, so I read the rules, and found a Friday to visit OTK to try the game.

The Game

The theme of Antiquity is developing cities in medieval Italy, but I find the actual mechanisms very relevant to the modern world. The game board is made of hexes representing different types of terrain. Each player starts with one city on the map, and has a 7x7 grid off the board which represents the space available in that city to construct buildings. You can construct buildings in your city (and later, cities) as well as in the countryside, i.e. the main game board. You start with building houses, each of which give you a worker. Most buildings need a worker to operate. You build countryside buildings to gain resources, e.g. woodcutters' huts, fisheries, farms. You build city buildings for various functions, e.g. stores to keep your resources, cart shops to allow you to build countryside buildings, harbours to allow you to access water spaces. So far, everything sounds fine. It sounds like a pleasant city-building or civilisation-building game. But Antiquity is not "pleasant" at all.

First, you get famine. Every round there is a general famine level which keeps going up. Some incidents cause it to increase more quickly, some cause it to drop slightly. If you do not have enough food in store, or buildings which help reduce famine effects, you get starvation, and you are "awarded" graves which you must put in your city, occupying precious space. Sometimes you are even forced to put graves on your buildings, rendering them unusable. Like Age of Steam, you start the game on a slippery slope. You need to plan to get yourself out of that hole and not get caught in the downward spiral. Second, you have pollution. When you farm, or fish, or mine, the plot of land you use is exhausted and becomes polluted. As you exploit the lands around your cities, you gradually deplete usable land. You need to expand your zone of control (normally two steps out from your cities and inns) to gain more land, and this is the main competition in the game - racing to use land before your opponents do so. Every city you own produces pollution every round (think of it as rubbish), and you need to dump this pollution somewhere in your zone of control. So pollution will grow and grow, and this is the other quicksand pit that you need to climb out of before you drown.

On the main game board, that big piece at the back is my city. I have a woodcutter's hut on the right. When building it, you first place grassland tiles on the forest spaces, then wood resources on them. Finally you place a worker on the (imaginary) hut itself, which is the centre of the woodcutting area. Every round, you harvest one wood resource, leaving behind grassland. Once all the wood resources are collected, your worker returns to the city and can be used for other jobs. The fishery in the foreground works in a similar way. When building it, you first place pollution markers on the water spaces, and then fish resouces on top of them. This means once you harvest the fish, you leave behind a polluted water space.

To win, you need to be first to achieve one of the five victory conditions. In addition to struggling against the game system, you also need to race against your opponents. During the game, when you build a cathedral, you must pick a patron saint, who gives you some special abilities, and also determines your victory condition. Victory conditions include building all 20 houses, constructing all available buildings in the game, having 3 each of all food and luxury resource types, and spreading your zone of control to completely cover the zone of control of another player. If two or more players achieve their victory conditions at the same time, tiebreaker is unpolluted space in your zone of control.

The Play

I did a 4-player game with Jeff, Dennis and Kevin. Jeff has played before, the rest of us were new. I have read the rules so I taught Dennis and Kevin with Jeff filling in the gaps. Our game had a tough start. All four of us did Explore, and all four of us found food resources, which caused the famine level to shoot up. Starvation aplenty! I sent out a farmer and a woodcutter out early, to ensure I had a stable supply of food and wood for the first few rounds. Jeff was first to start working on a luxury resource (gold), and it gave him some flexibility. The rest of us were not as ambitious and hadn't planned that far. Managing famine and pollution was tough. From the start I felt like I was in the red and trying to claw my way back to the break even point. Goods spoilt every round and without a manned store they would be wasted. This was yet another challenge. I built a big store to manage this. However I later regretted it, because I selected the patron saint that allowed me to store an unlimited amount of resources in my cathedral. My big 3x2 store became a waste.

My city had many water tiles nearby, so I made good use of the harbour, which allowed me to increase my zone of control to these lakes and their coasts. I was also active in building inns, which let me further expand my zone of control to more and more lakes. These helped me a lot. I had access to more lakes to fish / dive for pearls / harvest dye. I had access to more farmland and mines too. Also very importantly, I had access to garbage dumping ground. Dennis and Jeff quickly built dumps which prevented me from dumping on spaces within their zone of control. That protected "their" lands somewhat, but thankfully I still had plenty of "dumpable" space.

This was how I started my first city in the first round.

My first city soon getting rather congested.

The patron saint I selected required me to collect 3 each of 8 types of resources (food and luxury). That meant I needed much space to farm and to collect resources. So expanding my zone of control was important. I only built up to two cities. Dennis, Kevin and I all struggled with building our second city. We had not planned ahead far enough, and before we were ready to build our second city, our first city had started filling up and our growth was stalled. Jeff had planned better, and still had much space in his first city when he built his second. Although each additional city produced more pollution, he built a dump and fountains to neutralise that. Jeff went for the patron saint which required all building types to be constructed. He later built a 3rd city. The additional pollution was scary, but he needed the city space.

I was yellow, Dennis blue, Jeff black. We all had two cities at this point. I used my inns aggressively. They are the small squares with yellow emblems. Look at all those pollution markers (skulls on red background). Scary!

In a 4-player game, 8 game board pieces are used to construct the main game board. At this point, Kevin (red) had not built his second city, and things were getting tough for him. Jeff was now planning his third city. That's his hand looking for a suitable spot.

Dennis and Kevin were disadvantaged in the early game because they had built only one cart shop each, as opposed to Jeff and I who had built two. Cart shops were important to ensure resource gatherers (e.g. farmers, miners) could be sent out to work, and countryside buildings could be constructed. Later Dennis was crippled by the lack of a wood supply. He had no wood, and thus could not even build a woodcutter's hut to secure a supply of wood. Kevin was hampered by graves. Due to his first city running out of space, and the famine level, he had to place new graves on his buildings, disabling them, and thus further hurting him. This is not a "pleasant" game at all! At time things looked so bleak that the victory conditions simply felt too distant. We had to worry about survival first.

Later in the game, I managed to reach a kind of equilibrium. My patron saint gave me Doraemon's pocket (infinite storage), letting me stockpile lots of food and thus I feared famines no more. I built a dump and two fountains, neutralising the 6 pollution every round from my 2 cities. I had a hospital which let me remove graves now and then, and a faculty of alchemy which let me clean up pollution. Woohoo! Sustainable development!

Eventually it was Jeff who won by constructing all building types. I had been working towards my victory condition too, but unfortunately I was just one resource short. In that final round, I used the Forced Labour building, which I had previously thought was not very useful. It makes you collect three resources instead of one from all your resource locations, but you must discard the first resource collected from each location. So it will waste your resources and deplete your land more quickly. However in my situation this was exactly what I needed to boost my production for that round. Too bad I was just one olive short of achieving my victory condition. If Jeff and I tied, tiebreaker would be the number of unpolluted spaces in our zones of control.

I had almost achieved my victory condition of 3 each of the 8 food and luxury resources. I was only short of one olive (top right).

My two cities at game end.

The Thoughts

I like Antiquity a lot. I like the cruelty of the famines and the pollution, and how the game challenges you to stay afloat. You need to plan ahead, not only to survive, but also to try to win. There are five different ways to win, and you don't need to decide up front which one to go for. Do you decide early so that you can start using the patron saint ability, or decide later so that you are not committed too early and have more flexibility? Antiquity is not just another development game or engine building game. The challenges it throws at you make it more than that. Player interaction is in the form of racing to gain access to more plots of land and to use them. You don't raise armies or send arsonists, but digging your neighbour's gold and dumping garbage at your neighbour's doorstep can be just as nasty. There are many game board pieces that can be used to build the game board, and they are double-sided. This provides some replayability because your strategy can be very different depending on the terrain near your first city.

The game we played took 3.5 hours, but I can see the time going down now that we know the game and have some ideas about what works and what doesn't. Many actions can be done simultaneously, so there isn't much waiting time. The game looks complex, but is not really that complex. I find it more straight-forward than Die Macher, for example. In Die Macher, things that you do have implications which are not immediately appreciated, but in Antiquity you can see the big picture more easily. The game is fiddly, as in there are many small components you need to handle, but I don't find it too bad. It's less fiddly than the shipping that you do in Indonesia (another Splotter game that I like a lot). I plan to get a copy of Antiquity and hope to convince my wife to try it. It should work well for two, unlike Indonesia which doesn't.

The game is unforgiving, especially to new players, so you should heed the strategy tips in the rulebook. However we didn't follow the suggestion of first timers playing without famine or pollution. I think that would make the game a little pointless.

Cubes on the main game board are resource collectors - farmers, fishermen, miners etc.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

K2 is a mountain-climbing game. You have two mountaineers, and within a fixed number of rounds, you try to get them to climb as high as possible. You score based on how high each of them gets, but only if they remain alive by game end.

Actions in the game are driven by cards. Every player has his own deck of cards, and the decks are all the same. You have a hand of 6 cards, and must play 3 every round. Throughout the game you will cycle through your deck quite a number of times. The deck is small enough that you will have some idea of what cards have come out and what are coming. Cards are used for two things, movement and acclimatisation.

Let's talk about acclimatisation first, which I tend to think of as health, so I will just call it "health". Both your climbers start with health 1. If health drops to 0, your climber dies. You need to build up your health before you try to go further up. Some lower locations increase your health, some cards too. Higher locations reduce your health, and poor weather conditions as well. You need to always manage your health, because a dead climber, even if he has reached the peak, scores no points. Movement is simple. You need one movement point per step. Some locations, especially at higher altitudes, cost more movement points. Weather conditions may also increase movement costs.

Every player has two climbers of different shapes, and each climber has a tent matching his shape. This player board records the acclimatisation level of the two climbers. At first I equated acclimatisation to health, and placed the marker on 10, i.e. full health. The correct way is to start with 1pt of acclimatisation. Numbers beyond 6 have a darker background, which means you can't "store" any acclimatisation more than 6. If at the end of a round you have more than 6, you set your value to 6.

The cards are nice. Numbers in a blue circle are acclimatisation ("health") points, and numbers in green are movement points. The rightmost card is worth different number of points depending on whether you use it to move upwards or downwards.

The implementation of weather conditions is clever. It is integrated with the round countdown. Weather conditions differ every round, sometimes there is increased movement costs, sometimes there is a health penalty, and usually these apply to specific altitudes. Naturally, bad things tend to happen at higher altitudes. Because of this, players often need to plan where they land, to avoid bad weather. You will get weather forecasts at least three rounds ahead, which lets you plan your next moves.

There is a space limit for each location, which depends on the number of players and the altitude. Players will often experience traffic jams near the peak, due to limited space. Turn order is important. When you are the start player for a round, you can plan your card play with certainty. Cards are selected secretly and simultaneously by all players every round, but executed in player order. If you are late in turn order, you may find your way blocked.

That on the top left is the start player marker for a round. It passes to the next clockwise player every round. Every player has his own draw deck and discard pile.

The game board. The right side of the game board (i.e. bottow of this photo) has boxes to record the highest altitude each climber achieves (which is his score). The game board is two-sided. I think this is the easier side.

Every climber has the chance to build one tent, which reduces the health penalty by one. Once built, it cannot be moved, so this is an important decision. Good use of a tent can be a life-saver.

After 18 rounds, players add up the scores for climbers who are still alive, based on how high they have climbed, and the highest scorer wins.

The Play

John taught Allen, Chee Seng and I the game, and he is the only one who has played it before. The rules are simple and thematic, but mountain climbing is quite challenging. It takes much forward planning. You need to pay attention to the weather forecast, you need to watch which routes your opponents are taking, you need to pay attention to player order, and at the same time you are subject to the card draws. Since you have a hand of 6 and you play 3 per round, there is some forward planning you can do, keeping good cards for the right moment.

Chee Seng always kept his two climbers together, triggering some jokes about Brokeback Mountain. We kept telling him this was mountain-climbing, and this was not the time for any romantic hanky-panky. Two climbers were definitely not allowed to share the same tent. As his climbers approached the peak, space limitation forced them to split up eventually, which triggered another round of jokes. John was first to have one of his climbers reach the top. He focused on getting one climber up, while the other stayed behind. This is probably the best strategy. It is very difficult to manage the health levels of two climbers being at high altitudes at the same time.

Look at Chee Seng's two blue climbers... sheesh...

John (yellow) was first to reach the top. A number of tents have been set up near the peak.

I was first to have one of my climbers killed. Aarrgghh!! I had miscalculated the health penalties, and missed by just 1 health point. That was painful. Later Chee Seng also lost one of his climbers, which triggered yet another Brokeback Mountain joke. Allen was the only one who managed to get both his climbers to reach the top, so he won the game with full marks (20pts). John was second, and of course Chee Seng and I were far behind. We tied for last.

The dead. Blue is Chee Seng's, green is mine.

Game end. The two boards on the right side of this photo are the weather boards. Each board covers 3 rounds, and has the corresponding weather conditions.

The Thoughts

The feeling I get when playing the game is very much like facing an insurmountable feat. Health penalties and movement costs get worse and worse, and sometimes the card draws are just not ideal. There is much you can plan ahead for, and you must catch the right opportunity and coordinate the timing to shoot for the peak. I think the game is very much about good preparation, and striking at the right moment. You are wasting time if you charge, but don't quite get there, then fall back a little, and try to reorganise and strike out again. It is better to be precise in your preparation and get it done in one perfect shot. Of course, that's easier said than done, when you are dependent on cards you draw and you also need to compete for limited space.


I quite enjoyed K2. It is thematic. Every part of the game works well together. Everything ties back to health and movement points, so the game is easy to teach and easy to understand. It's a medium weight game suitable for families and gamers. It certainly is a different experience from the average Eurogame. This is a game where the mechanisms really produce the feeling of the subject matter, as opposed to being tools invented or collated to construct a game based on a rare topic. This is what I admire most about this game.

I actually have not watched Brokeback Mountain. Maybe I should.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Airlines Europe

Plays: 4Px1.

The Game

Airlines Europe is a game about investing in airlines, growing them, and making money from your investments. It is played on a map of Europe, with many cities depicted and many routes betweens, each having some spots that airlines can claim. There are many airline companies, and at the start of the game, each of them only has one starting airport, and their share values are low. During the game, players spend money to expand the airlines' networks by claiming routes, growing outwards from their starting airport. As these airline networks grow, the share value of the airlines also increase, and the payouts will increase too. Players also collect airline shares, and during the three payout rounds, they earn victory points (VP's) based on shareholding majority. Collecting and owning shares is a two-step process. There is an action for taking a share from a common pool (Ticket to Ride style) into your hand, and another action to play shares into your playing area. The shares need to be in play before they are considered being own by you. As the game progresses, you compete in shareholding in the various companies, and yet also cooperate in growing companies which you and some opponents have invested in together.

Shares in hand are not shares owned. You need to play them onto your playing area first. The number on the share card indicates the numbers of shares of that airline.

Front: my share holdings. Middle: The share market always has 5 cards for players to pick from. If you don't want any of them, you can blind draw from the draw deck.

One weird company works differently from others - Abacus. It doesn't have an airport and doesn't claim routes. You have to use an action to trade shares in your hand for Abacus shares. During the three payout rounds, Abacus pays out pre-determined VP's. So this is yet another company which the players compete in, albeit in a slightly different manner.

The game ends after the third payout round.

The Play

BGG says Airlines Europe is best with four, and we had four players - Allen, John, Chee Seng and I. All were new to the game. The game starts with some every player having some shares, which makes the starting positions slightly different. All of us were quite diversified in our investments. Only Chee Seng and John bothered with Abacus. Allen and I only put in token effort to gain 3rd place VP's. Money was very tight, and we often had to take the Take Money action, or Play Card action which also gave money. The Expand Airline action is tricky. For one action you can do one or two expansions. During the game I realised that it is not always better to do two expansions. Whether you do one or two expansions, you only get to take one share. Each expansion costs money, so if you do two expansions, you will soon run out of money and need to take some money-earning action. If you do single expansions, you don't get to expand airlines as quickly, but you will be able to collect more shares because of using fewer money-earning actions. This is an interesting balance.

The game board. Some cities have coloured markers, which are the airline headquarters. When expanding (claiming routes), airlines must start from their headquarters. Allen was the majority shareholder for the blue airline from the start, and he spent much effort growing it. The track around the board is for recording the share value. At this moment green and white were leading.

The orange tile is a bonus tile, which only four companies have. If the orange airline expands its routes to reach London, its share value gets a boost of 6.

This being an investment game, we had to constantly watch the share-holdings of other players, and also the shares available in the common pool. This common pool restricted our options somewhat, and prevented the game from becoming very open. You can't claim any share you want. I think this is good. The game is less absolute and less calculable. There was fighting for majority shareholding within each airline. There was also the mentality of "why don't you do the hard work since you also own shares in the company". Smaller shareholders tried to leech off the efforts of the bigger shareholders. Vested interests were very intertwined so it was very hard to not indirectly help others. The game is about how to help yourself most, how to piggy-back on others' efforts, and how to invest wisely. The payout rounds are semi-random, so you won't know exactly when they will happen. Sometimes you need to gamble a bit and hope they happen at a good time, e.g. right after you wrest majority in some airlines.

VP's were hidden so during the game I didn't have much idea who was leading and who was trailing. By game end, our scores were not far apart. Allen won, I was second, Chee Seng and John had the same score, but John won by tiebreaker - Abacus shares. Before game end I was thinking whether Chee Seng and John would win because they were the only ones taking Abacus seriously, while Allen and I didn't spend much effort. Abacus did pay out well, but I think investing in it was costly for both Chee Seng and John, because they had to fight hard for it, sacrificing shares they could have owned in other airlines. So Abacus is a clever mechanism that spices things up a little.

The Thoughts

Airlines Europe is an investment game, and investment games are generally not my cup of tea. So it didn't do much for me. I think it is well-designed and well-balanced. That is not surprising since this is a refined version of Alan Moon's previous games, e.g. Union Pacific. Airlines Europe, being an investment game, has this aspect of multiple entities (airlines) that multiple players have vested interests in. There is jostling for position in the shareholding. While the airlines compete with each other, the players have to manipulate this competition such that they as the players are the ones benefiting, and not any particular airline(s). After the game, I realised that the payouts are good for 1st and 2nd place shareholders, but drop significantly for 3rd place onwards, so there is incentive to fight for the first two spots within an airline, as opposed to simply diversifying everywhere. The way that we played may not have been the best way.

Buy from Noble Knight Games. Status: in stock (at time of this post).

Thursday, 1 December 2011

good Eurogames and good movies

A random thoughts post...

Good movies

I have a love-hate relationship with good drama movies. I usually like this kind of movies (e.g. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Shawshank Redemption, The King's Speech), but somehow I often find myself resisting to watch them. Maybe it's because I find it hard to commit the time and to invest the emotional commitment to watch such movies. I don't experience such dilemmas with comedies. It's strange how I often don't give such movies a chance. I still have not watched Slumdog Millionaire.

I notice that there is a similarity with how I treat typical Eurogames, not really a parallel, just partial similarity. I tend to feel that they lack creativity and they can't break out of a mould, and I rarely give them any chance, even though I started the hobby with these games. Nowadays I tend to prefer heavy Eurogames. I recently read Michael Schacht's new game Coney Island described as a potential classic like Web of Power / China. Coney Island never interested me, simply because it's a light-to-medium weight Eurogame (sorry Michael). But China is a game that I like and admire very much. So, I probably should not be dismissing new games based on such unfair criteria. The challenge for a boardgame hobbyist nowadays is how to filter through the overwhelming number games being published every year to find the games he likes. I rely on snippets I read from various online sources - boardgame blogs and www.boardgamegeek.com rankings and news, and I tend to just browse quickly, only delving deeper when something really catches my interest. Because of this, I think many good games slip through. Unfortunate, but inevitable.

Hey, that's our song!

I entered the hobby in 2003 / 2004. Games that I bought and played heavily during that period (the formation years) would always have a special place in my heart, just like pop songs during one's teenage years. For me, "our songs" are games like The Princes of Florence, Carcassonne, and Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper. There are newer games which have similarities with these games, some may even be better designs, but they will always be inferior to "our songs". If I want to play games with similar depth, or using similar mechanisms, I would just turn to "our songs". There is no need to buy a newer game unless it is significantly different or provides something that I don't have yet.

Newer boardgamers will have their own newer "our songs", and we old farts may frown upon them, just like the even older farts frown upon our "our songs". Noone is right and noone is wrong.

And then there are some classics that most people can agree on. Can I compare Acquire to When I Fall in Love?

Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper


Cooperative Ark

My 6-year-old daughter Shee Yun wanted to play Ark after reading a book about Noah's Ark. It's a bit too much for a 6-year-old, so I created a cooperative version. Players have a hand of 4 cards, and take turns adding one animal to the ark. Weights of animals and tilt of the ark are played. Restrictions on carnivores, herbivores, and food apply. Room temperatures apply. Room size applies. Special animal rules (exclamation marks), animal categories (fast animals, shy animals, heavy animals etc), and payment for new rooms don't apply. There is no scoring. We just worked together to place all the animals onto the ark, in as few rooms as we could. It was quite pointless, but she enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011


Plays: more than 50 games vs AI.

Brawl is a game I discovered by accident when browsing www.boardgamegeek.com. An iPhone version was recently released and I downloaded it to give it a try since it is free (it comes with 3 characters, and there are 3 more you can buy). The artwork isn't quite my kind of thing, and I didn't really expect much from it. However it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. I later found out that the designer is James Ernest, who also designed Kill Doctor Lucky and Lords of Vegas, and is the guy behind Cheapass Games.

The Game

Brawl is a 2-player real-time card game which can be played in 45 seconds. Really. The setting is one-on-one fights, and the execution is done using one pre-set deck of cards for each player. There are quite many characters in the Brawl game system, and each is represented by a deck of cards. The card mix of a character determines his (or her) strengths and weaknesses, and makes him unique. The objective of the game is to win the bases (there can be up to three of them) at the centre of the playing area. Once all bases are frozen, the game ends, and whoever wins more bases wins the game. The game is tied if both players win one base each.

Two of the characters available for free in the iPhone game.

The game starts with two base cards at the centre, each portraying one of the fighters. The character on the base is a tiebreaker - if both players have the same strength played onto a base, the character on the base wins this base. During the game bases can be added (player's decks contain bases) and cleared (by Clear cards). Each player start with his deck face-down in front of him. There are no turns and everything is done in real-time. You can play as fast or as slow as you want. At any one time you only have two choices - draw the top card from the deck and place it on top of your face-up pile, or play the topmost card of your face-up pile. This means that other cards in the face-up pile are not accessible, until you use the card(s) above them. So it can be tricky to decide whether you want to cover a good card which you can't use yet. Do you wait until the right moment comes, or do you cover it now, hoping that later enough cards will be used so that this good card becomes accessible again? Often there will be cards that you need to give up on.

The most basic card type is Hit cards. They come in three colours. You play them next to your side of a base card to fight for the base card. Once you commit a colour to a base card, you can only add cards of the same colour to that base. Then there are Block cards, which also come in three colours, and they are usually played on your opponent's side of a base card to stop him from playing more Hit cards.

Clear cards let you remove a base and all cards attached to it from the game. Usually you clear bases that you are losing. You can only clear outer bases, so if there happens to be three bases, the centre base cannot be cleared. This is one consideration when you decide to play a base card (when there are fewer than three bases in play). You want to position it such that a base you are winning is protected, or that a base you are losing remains vulnerable. Playing your base card is usually good, because it being your base card (having your character on it) means you win ties. When playing your base card, you also need to consider whether to play it on the left or right.

There can be up to three base cards in play. At this moment, my opponent (Hale) is leading in all three bases. For the two bases at the sides, our strengths are the same, but the base cards themselves are his, so he wins ties.

There are Smash cards which are Hits x 2. There are always three Freeze cards at the bottom of the deck. You play a Freeze card to freeze a base, preferably one you are winning. By the time you reach the Freeze cards, you know you are at the end of your deck, and usually there is not much else you can do if you are already losing. If you are winning, you want to quickly freeze the bases you are winning to secure your overall win.

These are the cards in the three basic character decks. There are more types of cards, some with the three other characters in the iPhone game, and some with other expansion characters in the physical game.

The Play

So far I have played against the Normal AI and the Hard AI. My win rate is quite average with the Normal AI, and is downright pathetic against the Hard AI (which is only the second of three levels). It is very challenging. I'm not sure whether the AI cheats by being luckier with its card draws. So far it does not seem so. The Hard AI appears to play both quicker and smarter. It applies some tricks that I have not seen at Normal level. I am still working hard to become competitive against the Hard AI.

The game is very quick, and being a real-time game, you really need to focus. My games usually take less than the 45 seconds advertised. Sometimes luck is a big factor, but you do often have to make quick decisions and tricky decisions. You need to watch the cards that your opponent is drawing. Sometimes you need to pause to see what he does, e.g. if he has a blue Block and you have a blue Hit, you shouldn't blindly commit that blue Hit because he would happily block the base you commit it to. Do you wait for him to draw another card which would make inaccessible his blue Block? Do you draw another card yourself, potentially wasting your blue Hit? Sometimes you can plan for a big reverse run, e.g. if you know you have a string of Hit cards of the same colour in your face-up pile, you can wait for the right moment to free up the cards above them, to allow you to make a big attack.

One thing that I find is often you are trying to force a tie, when things look bad. Sometimes even being able to achieve a tie is satisfying.

Despite the simple rules, you are constantly pressed to decide whether to draw a new card or not. You do need to get familiar with the decks in order to be able to make good decisions. Card counting certainly helps, but I have not really bothered with it much. This is meant to be a fast and furious game.

The characters are all unique and are suited for different strategies. To play well you need to know thy enemy, know thyself.

End of a game. I win both bases and thus win the game.

The Thoughts

Brawl has simple rules, but has more depth than I expected. There is emergent gameplay that is not apparent at first. You do need to play quite a number of games to pick up the tactics. You should also check out the card distribution of the decks. These aspects remind me of Blue Moon. Brawl takes time to appreciate. The game is condensed. It definitely is a filler, but it is one that you can enjoy for a long time (over many games, not a single 45 second game).

The interface of the iPhone version is well done. The AI's are challenging (or I am a very lousy player). I am still playing with the basic three characters that come with the game, and have not bought any of the other three. I hope in future they will release more characters which have been available in physical form.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Dungeon Petz

Plays: 4Px1.

Dungeon Petz is one of the new Essen 2011 game fair releases that I am interested to try, the others being Power Grid: The First Sparks, Power Grid: The Robot (probably a good addition to the 2-player Power Grid games that Michelle and I play), Pret-a-Porter and Eclipse. In my recent visit to Meeples Cafe, in addition to First Sparks, I also played Dungeon Petz.

The Game

Dungeon Petz is a sequel of sorts to Vlaada Chvatil's Dungeon Lords. Now instead of playing a dungeon lord building up his dungeon and protecting it from the intrusion of those self-righteous heroes, you play a family of imps managing a pet shop. The pets are, of course, not your regular type of pets. Some would call them monsters, which is not very nice of them, but you know better. You equip your pet shop, you buy young pets and take care of their daily needs and see them grow up, you show them off at pet shows, and when the price is right, you sell them to dungeon lords who appreciate them. At the end of a fixed number of rounds, whoever's pet shop has the highest reputation wins.

Dungeon Petz is a worker placement game, but the theme is so rich that it doesn't feel like "yet another worker placement game" to me. At the start of every round everyone secretly groups their imps and coins into groups of different sizes. Once these groupings are revealed, players take turns to place their groups onto the game board, priority being given to the bigger groups. This means if you make big groups, you will likely get higher priority, but then you won't be able to make many groups. The spaces on the board do all sorts of things related to running your pet business. You buy baby pets, you buy cages, you buy enhancements to cages, you buy pet food, you visit the immigration office to "import" relatives to help run your business, you bribe pet show judges, and so on. You don't need to assign all your imps to tasks on the board. You can keep some behind for other off-board tasks which are done later, e.g. playing with pets (they can die of boredom) and cleaning poop.

The player board looks like a T-shirt. The top part is the screen which can be used to hide the tunnels section of the board when players are secretly grouping their imps and coins. The screen has a lot of useful reference information, but until you understand the game, they will appear very daunting. The lower left section is for tracking whether food in storage has rot. I'm not sure what the other sections are for. We just used them generic storage.

The main board looks quite busy. It captures much important information and I find it very practical. Three baby monsters are waiting to be purchased (egg shaped pieces).

One key aspect of the game is handling the different needs of your pets. This is implemented using Need cards. Depending on the sizes and characteristics of your pets, you must draw Needs cards and assign them to every pet under your care. The are four Need cards colours - purple cards are usually (half the time) the need to expend magic power, red to vent anger, yellow to play, green to eat. However sometimes a Need card shows a Need icon that is different, e.g. a green Need card (which usually shows an icon for the need to eat) may show an icon for the need to poop instead. Sometimes a usually playful pet gets angry. Sometimes a pet falls sick. So the characteristics of a pet give some idea of how it usually behaves, but sometimes it behaves unexpectedly, so you need to be prepared to handle the various possibilities.

If a pet wants to play but you have no available imp to play with it, it suffers. The same thing happens if you can't feed it when it's hungry, and when it falls very sick because it's cage is too dirty (poop not cleaned away). Suffer too much, and a pet will die, and your reputation will be damaged. If a pet gets angry it will try to escape, and you can only hold it back if the cage is strong enough, or you have available imps to stop it. If a pet's magic powers get out of control, it will mutate. Mutate twice, and it will fall into an alternate dimension, and your reputation will suffer too.

In addition to managing your pets, you also bring them to pet shows and sell them to buyers. Both of these are important for increasing your reputation. Judging criteria for pet shows are announced two rounds beforehand, so that you have time to buy the right pets to prepare for them. Buyers' preferences are made known three rounds beforehand. The judging criteria and customer requirements can vary greatly, so you have to plan ahead which ones to try to compete in or to fulfill. At game end, there are two competitions held to compare how well-run the pet shops are, and some additional reputation is awarded. Whoever has accumulated the most reputation by game end wins.

The Play

I taught this game to Han, Log and Nicky (not exactly sure of name). The explanation took longer than expected. There are quite many details to explain, even though the game board and player boards do a very good job in showing important information. Most rules are logical and intuitive. Despite the many rules details and how long it took to go through them, the game pace was relatively quick. Everyone had some idea what he needed to do every round, and when it was his turn, it was just placing his group of imps and executing the action. Some activities could be done simultaneously, e.g. managing the needs of your own pets. Only occasionally when an action one player needed was taken by another, then the former needed to take a bit of time to work out a Plan B. I think we also played a little by gut feel. When there was a lot of food available, someone was bound to be unable to resist taking it (Agricola syndrome). Artifacts generally seem quite useful, so unless we had specific urgent actions we needed, collecting articfacts seemed a good action.

Being the rules reader, I was more familiar with the game details, and had a good lead up to the second last round. I didn't have many pets, but somehow my pets always did well in the pet shows, partly because I often bribed the judges. Bribery was a very powerful action. However I didn't do so well in buying baby pets. I had more cages and other equipment than I really needed. Overkill. Han had the most pets. He was aggressive in buying baby pets, and this paid off very well in the last round. The judging criteria and buyer preferences in the last round also suited his pets well. He overtook me to win the game. And he did that with only his initial 6 imps. He never managed to visit the immigration office to arrange for his imp relatives to come work for him. By game end he still had four cousins stuck in China complaining about him and causing him to lose reputation points. I was the one who did that to him, because I took the immigration action in the last round to bring in two more of my relatives before he could do the same. It was +4pts for me and -8pts for him, a 12pts difference, but it wasn't enough to keep him from winning.

We didn't have any pet escaping in rage or dying from suffering. I think there was only one case of mutation. So we seemed to be managing our pets well enough. I might have been a little timid in buying baby pets. It seemed we were over-prepared to take care of our pets, which was inefficient.

The Thoughts

I quite enjoyed this first game of Dungeon Petz. I'm not yet sure it is a "To Buy" game yet, but the tilt is yes now. The whole package of running a pet store is very entertaining. I prefer this to Dungeon Lords because the core action selection mechanism in Dungeon Lords sometimes makes me feel I am penalised because of unlucky guesses. In Dungeon Petz I feel I have a bit more control. It is more forgiving too, although being more or less forgiving is not good or bad. It is up to personal taste.

I enjoy how you are juggling many balls when running a pet shop. All actions have their uses. You need to coordinate many aspects to make sure you can take good care of the pets. Running your own pet shop may sound like solitaire, but you are forced to compete with others due to the worker placement mechanism, and also via the pet shows. The pet shows award points based on relative positions of the players and not based on how well each is doing, so it is not important whether your pets are doing well or not, they just need to do better than the other players' pets. Although the buyers buy pets from every player, they too offer competition because players would try to rear pets and manage their behaviour so that they match the buyers' tastes best.

I am guessing that 4 players is the best way to play the game, because there is most competition. I have not tried 2- or 3-player games, so I am just guessing. Like Dungeon Lords, they require some changes in rules, but here I think they are less troublesome and they feel less artificial / forced. So hopefully the 2- or 3-player games are not far off from the full 4-player game.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Power Grid: The First Sparks

Plays: 2Px1.

Meeples Cafe in Subang Jaya offered me a free game session to play some of the latest Essen 2010 boardgame releases. They visited Essen and brought back quite many new games, and they offered some free gaming sessions (drinks not included) to their members on specific days in November. I rarely visit boardgame cafes nowadays, because in my regular gaming group there are already more than enough games for us to play. However I couldn't pass up this opportunity to try some of the games that I was interested in, so I booked a Wednesday evening to visit them.

Meeples Cafe reminded me a lot of the Settlers Cafe in Singapore (although the last time I was there was a number of years ago). Many helpful staff. Gaming hours and drinks prices are good. Most importantly, game selection is very good. Log (the boss) told me they are nowadays usually full on Fridays and Saturdays, but when I was there on a Wednesday, it was full too. Good thing I made a reservation.

Just like what I used to do in Taiwan when visiting Witch House boardgame cafe, I read rules beforehand and made rules summaries, so that I could jump straight into the games, the first one being Power Grid: The First Sparks.

The Game

If you have played Power Grid, then I'll describe First Sparks as a streamlined and quicker version, simplifying the calculations required, and yet still preserving all the key elements of Power Grid.

Players are clans of hunters and gatherers in pre-historic times. They hunt for food and learn to farm, and with the food gathered they feed and grow their clan, spreading clan members across the board. Food is the currency in the game, and is also used to "buy" better tools and to gain knowledge, which will in turn help the clans hunt and farm more efficiently. The game ends when one clan reaches the size of 13 clan members, and whoever has the biggest clan wins.

There are four types of food that the players can hunt (or fish, or gather) on the board - mammoths, boars, fish and berries. All of them require the right tools, and are worth different amounts of food units. The abundance of these natural resources fluctuates during the game, depending on how heavily each is being hunted. If everyone hunts boars, then of course the number of boars will drop. So there is some competition for the same types of food sources, and it is usually good to go for food sources that others are ignoring.

The storage board for storing the available natural resources. The cardboard pieces with numbers on them are a handy reminder for how many resource pieces to replenish at the end of a round.

Players can also learn to farm, and this does not depend on positioning on the board or the abundance of wild animals / vegetation. You secure a regular supply of food.

Like Power Grid, turn order plays an important role in the game. The leading player (whoever has the biggest clan) is usually penalised. He is first to pick a tool or knowledge card to buy, and everyone else, starting from the last player, has the right to buy it before he does. He only gets to buy it if noone else wants the card. This is a different form of auction. The first player is also last to harvest food from the common pool, so by the time it is his turn, there is less to harvest from. He is last to expand his clan, so he may find that others have occupied spaces that he had intended to expand to, and thus will need to spend more food to expand.

The cards in the game are either tools (for hunting or farming) or knowledge. You can have at most 3 tools at any one time, but knowledge cards are not limited. Knowledge cards have special abilities, e.g. your food doesn't rot, or you pay less when expanding to spaces already settled by other clans.

The starting cards in the card market for a 2-player game. Tool cards have an icon showing the type of food they can be used to harvest. E.g. the bottom right card is a Spear tool card and it is for hunting mammoths. For this particular tool, if there are between 1 and 7 mammoths in the common resource pool, you can harvest one mammoth. If there are 8 or more, you harvest two. Technology cards have text describing their abilities. The Fire card on the top right is a technology card.

The number on the top left of a card is the "size" of the card, for comparison of which card is "better" and thus their ordering in the card market. The number on the top right is the (fixed) cost in food units.

The Play

I did a 2-player game with Han. The 2-player game requires a dummy third player. The game pace was very brisk. In fact it was so quick that we played more than half a game before realising that we had completely forgotten about playing the dummy third player. So we restarted the game. Food seemed to be sufficient all the time, as long as we were careful not to over-extend ourselves. Maybe we were too conservative in expanding. We didn't really need to compete much in the same types of food. There was only two of us, but four types of hunted (or gathered) food, plus farming was also an option. The game didn't seem very interesting with 2 players.

Our incorrectly played 2-player game. We got this far without realising that we had completely forgotten about the dummy 3rd player.

Game in progress. Each tile is made of two hexes, and each hex has 3 spaces. There is no limit in the number of clan members in a space, as long as they are from different clans. However it is more expensive to settle in a space that already has other players' clan members. Also it is more expensive to expand through mountains (the rocks).

The knowledge of Fire seemed to be a big factor. The player who has Fire doesn't lose one third of his food every round. In a two player game, there is only one Fire card, and whoever doesn't get it seems to be at a significant disadvantage throughout the game. We have yet to figure out how to overcome that advantage. The tool and knowledge card costs are fixed, so there is no bidding up the prices. Unlike Power Grid, you can't force an opponent to pay more for a good card. In the first halfway-abandoned game, I had Fire and did well all along while Han struggled a little. In the second properly-played game Han had Fire. I thought I managed my food and expansion well, but I didn't notice that he had been stockpiling a lot of food. When he reached the clan size of about 8, he suddenly grew his clan straight to 13 members to end the game, using his huge stockpile of food. I didn't see that coming, and I was nowhere near 13.

The Thoughts

I quite like Power Grid and don't mind its fiddly aspects. So I didn't find streamlining it (which is what First Sparks does) necessary. First Sparks is attractive and quick, and does retain all the key elements of Power Grid. For me personally, it feels a little unsatisfying, since I'm quite comfortable with Power Grid. First Sparks seems to be more suitable for people who don't like Power Grid (e.g. the maths involved, the fiddly rules). I'm already a fan of Power Grid. Comparing First Sparks against Power Grid:

  • No bidding up the power plant (tools / knowledge) prices in the auctions.
  • No need to decide whether to buy resources (or how much to buy) to run your power plants. In First Sparks you will always want to harvest food with all your tools.
  • In First Sparks your network won't be walled off as badly as in Power Grid. The cost increase to settle in crowded spaces is not as brutal.

I suspect First Sparks is better with 4 or more players. My 2-player game experience was not as interesting as Power Grid 2-player games that I have played.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

7 Wonders 2-player game

Plays (2-player variant): 2.

One reason that I bought 7 Wonders was I read that it was good even as a 2-player game. The 2-player game is a variant, and the rulebook says that this should only be attempted by experienced players. There are additional rules. There is a dummy 3rd player that both players take turns to manage. It is a little different from the standard game, which I have written about here.

The 2-player game is set up like a 3-player game. The dummy player's cards form a draw deck. The human players take turns to play for the dummy player. If it is your turn to do so, you draw a card from the dummy player's draw deck (so that your hand size will be one more than normal), and you pick one card each for both yourself and the dummy player. Once a turn is completed, the human players swap their hands.

Controlling the dummy player is very handy. You can use it to build / discard / bury cards that your opponent wants. You can make it buy stuff from you and pay you lots of money. You can make it militarily stronger than your opponent to penalise him. Naturally, your opponent will try to do the same to you. With this variant, there is more to think about and to consider, and the game slows down a little because of it. The game becomes more complex. There are more things you can manipulate.

The rightmost card in my hand is the dummy player reminder card. Whoever is holding the card must pick two cards, one for himself and one for the dummy player. In the background you can see a card with the Great Wall of China on it. This is for remembering which player should start with the dummy player card in each Age.

I personally prefer to play with more players, because I enjoy playing 7 Wonders at a quicker pace, and I find that having to manage the dummy player's civilisations is a little distracting. So 7 Wonders probably won't be a game I'll pick when I play with my wife. The 2-player game adds another layer of strategy and the game does work. So it's worth a try if you like the game, but it will be easier if you have already played a 3+ player game. Michelle didn't want to bother with a 3+ player learning game and jumped straight in. She actually beat me in our first game. So the game is not hard, just not as brisk as the normal game.

Buy from Noble Knight Games. Status: in stock (at time of this post).

Friday, 18 November 2011

boardgaming in photos

23 Oct 2011. Playing Automobile with Han, Allen, Wan and Shan. I like this game a lot but have not played it for quite a while. My recent revisiting of my 2009 games eagerness ranking prompted me to bring out this game again.

I positioned myself well in the first round, grabbing the newest model (at the time) of mid-range cars. However this also became my undoing later. I invested heavily in it, building a third factory and also a parts factory. By late game, it was too costly to shut them down. Many others have built mid-range car factories, making mine very very obsolete and costly to maintain. I can only blame myself. I got myself into this hole. I had underestimated how stiff the competition would be in mid-range cars.

In contrast the competition among distributors was not as fierce as I thought it would be. Although many of us had placed distributers, most of the time the types of cars we wanted our distributors to sell were different, so most of the time they were able to sell cars and not get fired for non-performance. I should have placed maybe one more distributor.

30 Oct 2011. 5-player game of Perikles (didn't realise I have always pronounced it wrong until Wan mentioned it; it should be "Peri-cleese") with Han, Allen, Wan and Shan. This is a Martin Wallace design which I have played once before, a few years ago. There are only three rounds, but the length of "only three rounds" in a Martin Wallace game must not be underestimated. The first half of a round is about fighting for political control in the six Greek city states, and in the second half you lead armies of cities you control to war.

Cubes here represent political influence or politicians.

Every round, 7 battles will be fought, and players can send their armies to fight as the attacker (left, purple side) or defender (right, white side). Every battle is worth a number of points, and is claimed by the winner.

I had a successful first round, but that also meant I became ganged up upon afterwards. My politicians tended to be the victims of assassinations. When the game ended, I was in last position. Well, it's also partly due to bad luck. In the last battle of the game (i.e. the 21st battle), it was me against Allen. I had invested much military power in this, and unless the die rolls were unusually unlucky, I should win comfortably. And it turned out that my die rolls did suck. Allen would still have won the game even if he lost that battle, but at least I would not have come last.

Perikles has Martin Wallace's unique style all over it - Euro-ish yet rich and complex, abstracted yet thematic.

I have played 7 Wonders more than 100 times, mostly on the computer. This was the first time I played my own copy after finally buying it. Mine is the second edition, i.e. cardboard coins instead of wooden coins.

6 Nov 2011. Han, Allen and I played our fourth and so far most exciting game of Maria. Han played Prussia/Pragmatic Army (blue / grey), Allen played Austria (white), and I played France (red). This was the same configuration as our third game. We wanted to do it again because that game ended prematurely due to a rule mistake.

Here Austria (white) was already surrounded by the wolves - France (red) and Bavaria (orange) attacking from the west, Prussia (blue) and Saxony (green) attacking from the north. We were all very careful in this game, manoeuvring our armies and supply trains and accumulating cards before committing to battle. However once the battles started, many of them were big ones. Here's the first battle fought between Han's Prussian army and Allen's Austrian army.

Card play was fast and furious.

More and more cards were played, each one-upping the other. So much was committed that there was no backing down now.

The number of cards played was shocking! And of course as the bystander I was cheering them on gleefully. Them spending lots of cards meant I would likely have an easier time when I needed to fight them.

This was the site of the battle. It was in Silesia, which belonged to Austria. Silesia was Prussia's first military objective.

In this game that we played, battles were few, but many were big and crucial. Unfortunately for me (France), I lost two very important battles, and my plans were all out the window. In one of them I was quite confident, and had left my supply train in a slightly risky but convenient (for further advances) location. If I won the battle, I would force the Austrian army to retreat and my supply train would be in no danger. Unfortunately I lost that battle, and my supply train was subsequently destroyed. Allen had to fight many tough battles on his homeground, and lost many armies. However he not only managed to destroy my French supply train. He also managed to destroy my Bavarian supply train, and Han's Prussian supply train. So our advances would be severely set back, and he would have time to recover.

The only invading army with a supply train left was the Saxony army. The green cube is the supply train. What's funny is soon after this an event card caused Saxony to become neutral. It became controlled by Allen, and its army returned to within the borders of Saxony. So there were no more hostile supply trains in Austria.

Since everyone's armies were badly depleted, it would take some time for us to rebuild our strength. Now it was a race to grab the remaining victory points (i.e. place the remaining victory markers onto the board). Maria encourages offensive play, because conquering an enemy's fortress gives you points and defending your own only prevents your enemy from gaining points. We were all down to just a few victory markers. Eventually it was Han's Pragmatic Army which won him the game. My French army, could not stop him. Allen's Austria suffered many losses, but fought well and had a decent chance of winning. We all have been secretly rooting for Austria, because Austria is the protagonist in Maria and the Austria player is the only one who has not win yet. Now that I think of it, although the Prussia/Pragmatic Army player has won, on both occasions the Pragmatic Army was the winning nation.

Afterwards we discovered one rule mistake - it should have been easier for Saxony to shift its allegiance towards Austria. If Prussia loses a battle against Austria, Saxony's allegiance marker will shift. No wonder it has been so tough to play Austria. It's embarassing that we still made rules mistakes in our fourth game.

7 Nov 2011. Power Grid on the Korean map. Coal in the North Korean market was completely sold out. Michelle and I played this because our 6-year-old daughter Shee Yun said she wanted to be the banker.

It felt great to be able to buy that super power plant on the right. It could power 9 cities! But I still lost the game to Michelle...