Saturday, 30 April 2011


The developers of an upcoming iPhone game, RoboArena, contacted me about their game. It is inspired by RoboRally, which I have not played before, but know a little about. They are looking for supporters for their project. If your are interested, take a look at a preview of the game. To support them in their kickstarter project, go here.

Disclaimer: They did offer me a free copy of the game when it is released.

Friday, 29 April 2011

buying habits

I set myself a quota of gaining no more than 20 games every year. "Gaining" includes buying, receiving games as gifts, home-manufacturing games. I don't remember when I came up with this quota, maybe about 2 - 3 years ago, but I know I have not met my target for the past three years. However having a target does help to keep me in check somewhat.

Let's go through again the list of mantras that I came up with to dissuade myself from buying games:

  1. You don't need to own every game that you like.
  2. You don't need to play every good game.
  3. You need to play more of the good games that you own.
  4. Wait until your interest wanes.
  5. Don't impulse buy.
  6. Will you play the game more than 5 (or 10) times?

So far in 2011, I have been a good boy and have only bought 2 new games, A la Carte and Endeavor. I know I will definitely buy the upcoming Race for the Galaxy Alien Artifact expansion. That makes 3. So I think I will finally achieve my goal this year. In fact I think I was close last year. Quite a number of games were bought for my children, some that could already be played, some to be played when they are older - Viva Topo!, 10 Days in Asia, FITS, Ubongo. ColorMonster was a review copy. Wizard was a gift because I helped with the rules translation to Malay. Funny Friends and Planet Steam were rewards for translation work. There weren't many games in my friend's inventory that I was interested in, so I picked these two which I had some mild interest in. I probably wouldn't have bought these two games myself.

A la Carte

I play most frequently with Han and Allen, both of whom also buy games. We still have a long list of games not yet played, so there is no shortage of new games to play. We have also been doing some repeat plays, which promoted longevity of games, and also let us enjoy and appreciate these games more (this is the Game of the Month concept). E.g. 4 plays of Sid Meier's Civilization, 3 plays of Merchants and Marauders, 2 plays of Liberte. Our tastes in games overlap, so sometimes they buy games that I am interested in, and I try-before-buy, and buy only if I really like them that much that I feel the need to own a copy.

Allen and Han. We were playing Wars of the Roses: Lancaster vs York.

With a long list of new games waiting to be played, I feel no urgency to buy games. Also, I find that it is harder and harder to come across new games that captivate me. Not that there are no or few good games among them, just that I feel quite contented with games I own and games I have access to. At the moment I'm just keen to try 7 Wonders and Dominant Species (and Allen has already ordered the latter).

I have enjoyed the recent repeat plays of games. They allowed us to explore the games in depth. Familiarity with the games also meant we could play very quickly. The games were intense, because the decisions to time ratio was high.

Sometimes I have less urge to try new games, and I yearn to bring out some older games (Samurai Swords anyone?). I still have not learnt the strategies in Euphrates and Tigris.

So I tell myself it's OK to miss some good, or even excellent games. Antiquity is a game that I think I will like a lot. But it's very expensive. But then there are just too many good games out there, and one should not try to own or even play all of them.

I am also cutting down on buying expansions to games that I like, because I don't play the base games or expansions that I already own that much. E.g. Grand Hameau expansion to Le Havre, Gamers' Deck expansion to Agricola, the many Power Grid expansions, Age of Steam expansions, Innovation expansion. The base games plus expansions that I already own are already more than enough for me, based on the frequency that I'm playing these games.

Power Grid, a game a like a lot but have not played for soooo long. The recent tournament organised by Jeff ( made me itch to play again. I'm not a tournament person, so despite following the session reports loyally I didn't sign-up for any of the qualifiers.

One game that I have some interest in but will likely not buy is The Resistance. It's a Werewolf-like game, with undercover traitors among the players attempting to secretly sabotage the group's missions. One important difference is noone gets eliminated during the game. This game is only suitable for a big group, and I rarely have that.

I consider myself a lucky gamer. I have regular game sessions. I don't lack games that I'm keen to play. I don't really need to buy many new games, so I shall be very selective and limit myself to buying those that, as a figure of speech, I feel I can't live without.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Speicherstadt

Plays: 2Px1, 3Px1.

The Game

The Speicherstadt means the warehouse district. In this game, a number of cards are available for purchase every round. Players use a unique system to buy cards, and they use these cards to score points.

Everyone has 3 pawns, and takes turns placing them into queues to buy cards. Being at the head of the queue means you have priority to buy the card. However the price of the card is equal to the number of pawns in the queue at that time. If you can't afford it or refuse to pay that much, you leave the queue, and the next guy now may buy the card at a slightly cheaper price.

There are a few different types of cards. Some give goods, some let you convert them to money, some let you convert them to points, some give points directly, some give points at game end depending on other criteria. One type of card that you can collect is the fireman cards. During the game there are 4 times that a fire card will be revealed, and when this happens, the player with the most firemen scores points and the player with the fewest firemen gets penalised.

The game ends when the deck of cards run out. Most points wins.

The deck of cards is divided into four seasons, starting with winter and ending in autumn. I like the card backs.

Ship cards come with 3 random goods drawn from a bag.

The Play

I have played a 2-player game and a 3-player game. The queuing mechanism is innovative (I hesitate to call it a bidding mechanism). Money is very tight. Every round you earn $1, but other than that money is hard to come by. If you don't buy any card for one round, you earn an extra $1. Other than that you mostly need to rely on claiming some goods to sell to earn money, and you also need to have the right cards to sell them at $1. Without the right cards, you sell 2 goods for $1.

A 2-player game.

At the top is a market card that everyone gets at the start of the game. You can convert 3 goods to any 1 good, you can sell 2 goods for $1, and you can store 1 good here.

A long queue.

The queuing mechanism creates some interesting and sometimes painful decisions. You want to be first in line to buy a card you like, but people queuing behind you will make that card more expensive for you, and often they can make it more expensive than you can afford. There are certainly opportunities for some nasty moves. You are always counting how many coins your opponents have. Usually it's 3 or less. Money is that tight.

Being start player feels like a significant disadvantage. Good thing it rotates. Due to how tight money is, people who queue first often end up not being able to afford the card.

There are various ways of earning points. The one that seems to give the biggest scores is the contracts. You can claim contracts, which specify a certain number of goods that need to be delivered and the number of victory points awarded when fulfilling the contract. Contracts that the players have committed to determine which goods will be contested over.

Firemen on the left, traders in the middle who allow you to sell goods for $1 each, and a contract on the right.

3-player game in progress.

The game plays very fast. Sometimes you do need to think a bit when placing your pawn, but the actions for the rest of the game are simple. The cards are simple.

The Thoughts

I didn't like the 2-player game, and the 3-player game was only slightly better. I think the game will be better with more players, but I'm not keen to find out. This feels like a game built around one new mechanism - the queuing mechanism. The types of cards available and how they work all feel too familiar and they bore me. They feel rather JASE (Just Another Soulless Eurogame). I'm afraid this game didn't click with me at all.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Merchants and Marauders

Plays: 3Px3.

The Game

Merchants and Marauders is a pirate game. Or is it? The backdrop is the age of piracy in the Caribbean, but to raid and plunder or to adventure and trade is entirely up to you. Merchant or marauder, something in between, or both at the same time?

You start the game with a small ship. You can sail around the Caribbean and do all sorts of different things. You can buy and sell goods, raid merchants, attack others' ships, complete missions, follow up rumours. You can upgrade your ship to fight better, carry more goods, etc. You can even buy a new different-class ship.

Four types of ship sculpts, from left to right, galleon, frigate, flute, sloop.

At the start of every game you draw a random captain character to play, and every captain has different strengths, weaknesses and special abilities.

Four European countries have presence in the Caribbean - the English, the Dutch, the Spanish and the French. Each port belongs to one nation, and you can enter port only if you don't have a bounty of that nation. That means even if you decide to be a pirate, try not to antagonise too many nations, else you won't find many welcome ports. You do need ports because you buy and sell goods there, you recruit crew, repair ships, hear rumours, gain missions etc. Being a pirate also means that the navies hunt and fight you, and if you happen to have a bounty of a particular nation, their navy will prioritise hunting you down compared to other pirates.

The game board. Each port has a flag indicating controlling nation, a token indicate one goods type in demand, sometimes a token indicating a type of ship upgrade available for purchase. Every seazone has some special rules, which adds some flavour and character to the game.

Things are not necessarily safer if you're a merchant. Other than the four navies, there are also two non-player pirate ships on the board hunting non-pirates. These six non-player ships ensure plenty of interaction. It may not always come to sea battles, but the locations of the ships and the characteristics of their captains, and their relationships with you, affect your decisions on where to sail.

To win the game you need 10 Glory, which can be gained in many ways, like winning sea battles, making big trades, affording bigger ships, completing missions and, most humourous of all, burying treasure. You can stash away cash at your home port and every $10 is 1 Glory.

Coins are big and nice. Every player gets a treasure chest for stashing gold.

Various types of cards used. The dice have numbers 1 to 4, and then two skulls. Skull faces usually mean success when you need to roll dice.

The Play

Allen, Han and I have played 3 times. In our first game we all chose a sloop as our first ship. You have two choices, sloop or flute, the former more suitable for pirating and the latter for trading. I think at the start we were all keen to do some pirating, since that was the fun thing to do. However in the early game our ships were small and weak so we had to do some honest pick-up-and-deliver trading to raise funds to buy bigger badder ships.

I was slower than the others in my ship replacement. I spent some effort on chasing rumours and attempting missions to gain Glory. I had good Leadership and Scouting abilities which helped with these.

Game in progress. Brown ships on those suftboard thingies are the navies.

There wasn't much battling. Buying and selling seemed convenient and less risky. When Han eventually turned pirate, he attacked merchant shipping. These were handled in a simpler and more abstract way, so it wasn't a proper full-fledged sea battle. Allen also attacked merchants for the quick money. At one point we had to remind him not to antagonise too many nations lest he ran out of welcome ports.

All four navies are on the board by now, and one of the non-player pirates too. In the top left you can see that England and Netherlands are at war.

When a sea battle finally occurred, it was me, still the honest merchant, being attacked by the non-player pirate. I had a decent ship, but my captain's Seamanship really sucked. The battle dragged on and on as my ship took more and more damage. Sea battles are very brutal. Once engaged it is very hard to flee unless your opponent has poor Seamanship. The two parties keep inflicting damage to one another until one ship sinks or flees. It is possible to board your opponent, and when this is done successfully the battle changes to a crew battle.

My captain was good at crew battle, but since she had lousy Seamanship, I couldn't successfully board my opponent. Eventually I barely managed to flee the battle. My ship was full of holes.

Immediately after that I saw Han and Allen converging towards where I was. Sharks smelling blood in the water! I wouldn't believe them if they told me they just happened to need to sell some goods at a port nearby.

My player board. My captain is a Dutch lady with excellent leadership (4) but lousy seamanship (1). That little English flag meant I was outlawed by the English. I actually didn't attack any merchant shipping. I think I got the bounty due to failing some mission.

It didn't come to any player-vs-player battle. Han had accumulated enough cash to reach 10 Glory. Neither Allen nor I had even half of that, but Allen did have some cash in hand which he could convert to Glory by returning to his home port to bury treasure.

For our second game, we again started with heavy trading. The game became even more like a pick-up-and-deliver game! We were quite lucky with our card draws and even managed to do many big sales that gave Glory in addition to the big profit.

We did turn pirate eventually, after upgrading to bigger ships. The lucrative merchant ships were hard to resist. I was keen to do some battling, perhaps to avenge my lousy fate in the first game. I hunted and found a non-player pirate. Although I had good odds, the scoundrel managed to flee. What a waste.

Wanting to have some fun, Allen came to attack the same pirate, and even managed to sink it! Hey! That was supposed to be my prize! Allen had been doing well in trading, being able to do more of those Glory-gaining big sales than both Han and I. Immediately after Allen's victory over the non-player pirate, Han came after him before he could repair his ship. A nail-biting sea battle ensued.

Although Han had the upper hand (undamaged ship plus better Seamanship), as the battle dragged on, it became costly for both. It was a bitter fight. Trying to flee is difficult, and each attempt to flee means forgoing a chance to do damage to your opponent. Things got pretty bad and out of desperation Allen had to attempt to flee. He was as good as captaining a raft at that point. To our surprise, he managed to flee before getting sunk. He made a beeline for his home port which happened to be just in range, buried his gold, and won the game with 10 Glory! That was a narrow escape.

A nail-biting battle between Allen (blue) and Han (yellow).

In the third game that we played, we all followed a similar approach of early trading and quickly upgrading our ships. This time I was quite lucky with my trading, and made many Glory-scoring big deliveries. I tried to do some rumour-chasing, but was not successful. Allen attempted a mission of searching for a boy kidnapped by native Indians, but he kept failing it after many tries. Maybe the natives are racist or sexist - Allen's character was a Japanese lady I think. Han also had an Oriental captain, a Chinese guy of English nationality. I guess from Hong Kong? Wait... Hong Kong wasn't under British rule yet at the time was it? Anyway, it reminded me of Chow Yun Fat in Pirates of the Caribbean. Han upgraded his galleon and armed it to the teeth, buying grappling hooks, grapeshots, chainshots and a few other upgrades. He was getting ready for some big-time action. He had started attacking merchants, gaining some bounties.

One of the mission cards. There are always 2 available on the board.

My trading business did so well that I won the game before Han could do any ship-to-ship battles. It was a battle-less game! For three games I have wanted to do some pirating. This time I had hoped to at least fight the non-player pirate ship, but my trading business kept me so busy and distracted me so much that I had won before I could stop myself. Arrgghh... greed is bad! Now I can only retire to brag to my grandchildren about selling spices as opposed to fighting pirates. What would they think of me?!

The Glory track is in the foreground. All Glory is tracked here except for gold that has been stashed away. Stashed gold is 1 Glory for $10.

The first time ever that I was able to put money into my piggy bank.

The Thoughts

I enjoyed Merchants and Marauders very much. I'm not a particular fan of the pirate theme, but I like how thematic the game is and how everything makes thematic sense. There are many details and many rules, so expect to need to refer to the rules in early games. A good ref sheet is provided for each player.

This game really tells a story. It's like Tales of the Arabian Nights, but with much more control. The rumours, missions, events all contribute to the story. I guess after a while you'll see all of them, but the order of appearance and the different combinations will make different stories too.

Trading seems to be generally the easier way to win, based on the few games that I have played. However in a way I don't really mind that. I'm enjoying myself too much with the very open system and with the many choices I have. I'm happy that I have the choice to do pirating if I want to, even if it is more risky and it is more difficult to win. Well, I do need to remind myself to start pirating before the game ends. I still haven't done any pirating after three games! This is not supposed to be Age of Steam.

One thing I'd like to do is to set a higher goal for winning, say 15 Glory. I think I have been enjoying myself too much that the games felt a little short and seemed to have ended too abruptly. When a 2-hour game feels short, that means you're having a good time.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

boardgaming in photos

30 Mar 2011. Race for the Galaxy. This Imperium Planet Buster is from the 3rd expansion Brink of War. This is basically the Death Star in Star Wars. It can destroy a whole planet. And my wife played this on me, busting one of my planets to smithereens. This was the first time ever that I suffered from such a fate.

My tableau. After getting my planet blown to bits, I hurriedly played the Universal Peace Institute to bring myself to negative military strength, so that I could not be target by the Death Star anymore. By game I actually still managed to win, mostly because of the 6-dev card Pan Galactic Hologrid, which gave me a lot of bonus points for novelty goods (blue) worlds.

Michelle's tableau. Our scores were 60 vs 53. She went for a military strategy but unfortunately did not draw many valuable military worlds at all.

3 Apr 2011. Through the Ages. There was a period when this blog had tons of photos of this game. It is still the go-to long game for Michelle and I. This is Michelle's civilisation.

In this game Michelle invested a lot on colonisation, but she was very unlucky with her card draws and never drew many colonies. She had the Colossus which helped with colonisation, and also Cartography, which also helped. But she only managed to get two measly colonies the whole game.

My civilisation. I struggled with both stone and food production in the early game. Nikola Tesla helped me a lot in production towards the late game.

The other part of my civilisation.

This was the end of Age III, and before the resolution of the last four event cards. I (white) was ahead in science rating and military strength, while Michelle (red) was ahead in culture rating. Michelle was 12pts ahead of me.

After resolution of the last four event cards, I won by 7pts!

The last four events. Three of them benefited me more - for stone production, military units and government and special blue technologies. Only one benefited Michelle more - for happy faces. Through the Ages is a game that Michelle often loses at, but she is always willing to play.

9 Apr 2011. I've always liked Attika. Nowadays when Michelle and I play, we are never able to connect two temples, and games always end with completing all buildings.

My copy is the German version. I bought it in Taiwan. "Brunnen" means "Well".

9 Apr 2011. San Juan. Being such a big fan of Race for the Galaxy, San Juan should be quite obsolete. But it is different enough that once in a while I still bring it out and I still enjoy playing it.

10 Apr 2011. Keltis expansion. Michelle and I had not played this for some time, and it gave us quite a challenge. It is much more challenging than the base game. It feels very different. Definitely not meant for casual players.

In the expansion you are not limited to one pawn per path, because there is no concept of single paths anymore. The various paths criss-cross one another. I am a little tempted to get Keltis Oracle, which is quite strategic as well, at least the iPhone version, but then I don't really play the base game or expansion all that much, so I'm holding off.

15 Apr 2011. My second game of Inca Empire, this time a 3-player game with Han and Allen, who were both new to the game. The 3-player version played quite well, better than I had expected. 4-players is still best. With 3-players, the pilgrimages are excluded. Some other event cards are excluded too.

16 Apr 2011. Another game of Through the Ages with Michelle. This was my civilisation. I missed out on the Age II lab, but my Age II libraries helped me to maintain a decent science rating.

James Cook helped me tremendously. 5 colonies meant 10 culture points per turn!

Michelle's civilisation. She went culture-heavy quite early, with her theatres.

Her wonders were culture focused too. Aristotle is still her favourite leader. The only colony that she had was due to Columbus' special ability.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Factory Fun

Plays: 5Px1.

The Game

Factory Fun is a puzzle-like game about setting up a factory. The game is played over 10 rounds, and every round you have a chance to add a machine to your factory. There are four types of material in the game - green goo, pink goo, blue goo and orange goo. Every machine needs some input goo, and will output something else, and you must make everything link properly, paying for necessary piping and storage equipment. You must have the right goo going in, either from one of your goo storage tanks, or from the output pipe of another machine. The output goo must go to the right places, either to the input pipes of another machine, or to some temporary storage (you only have three of these), or if it happens to be a final product black goo, it goes to a special black storage tank (not limited).

At the start of every round, a number of machines are revealed simultaneously, and players simultaneously try to grab the one they want, or forgo the chance to get one. If you take one, but later find that you can't add it to your factory legally (or you choose not to add it), you are fined $5. When you add a machine to your factory, you can move things around, but there is always a cost. The machine that you install earns you some money, but if the cost of all that rearranging is higher than that, you're actually making a loss. So it is important to pick your machine wisely, the tricky part being the urgency to grab the one you want before someone else grabs it.

The other important way of earning money is by connecting your machines, i.e. the output from one machine being connected to the input of another. By doing this you get rewarded a bonus at game end.

The player board, i.e. your factory. At the bottom is a handy reference section for cost of building / moving stuff.

The Play

We did a 5-player game, which I think is the best number, because there are more machines to choose from. I didn't have much idea about the distribution of the machines and their characteristics, and made some poor choices in the early game which limited my options later. There were quite a few rounds that I didn't even want to take a machine, because I would actually lose money by picking any of those available. It's important to know some of the guiding principles like:

  • It is not a good idea to take machines that produce the end product (black goo) too early. (which was what I did)
  • Be careful with taking machines with multiple inputs or multiple outputs. The more there are, the more difficult it is to connect all those pipes.
  • Low valued machines tend to have big outputs. They may not be very profitable in the short-term, but they are good for longer term because they help to set you up for bigger bonuses from machine-to-machine connections.
  • Keep your options open. Have machines with big output capacities in the early game, so that hopefully you can later get machines with big input requirements and then connect them for big bonuses.

Early game. My factory. That big dark green round token in the middle is just a pillar, and serves no purpose other than making life difficult for you. My first machine was that purple coloured Pack-O-Matic on the right. It produced the end product, black goo. It's NOT a good idea to take such machines so early. On the dark green machine on the top left are two small round tokens with +5 and +10. These are the game-end bonuses for machine-to-machine connections. You get 5 x input capacity when you have such connections.

One mistake that we made was we thought that machines once installed could not be moved. That certainly made things harder. You can actually move machines, albiet at a cost. We had unintentionally played with iron-man rules. That made the machine-grabbing quite tense. As the game progressed we became more and more careful with picking the right machines. We realised it was not just about picking the highest valued machine.

Allen won the game by the enormous bonuses that he scored for machine-to-machine connections at game end. These bonuses were a big factor, and I suspect they will normally be a bigger factor than the in-game scoring. I didn't come last despite the poor initial showing. I was saved by my machine-to-machine connections bonuses. My in-game scoring had been pretty disgraceful. So much so that during one of the rounds I was asked whether I had forgotten to move my marker.

Han and I. I don't know why he was laughing. I was laughing because my factory sucked real bad.

The Thoughts

I so need to play this again. That first game was very much a learning game. Factory Fun reminds me a little of Galaxy Trucker, because of the real-time element. But of course here the real-time element is just the grabbing of one machine tile, as opposed to the building of an entire spaceship. The factory building part of the game is pretty much solitairish. I guess you can pay attention to how others are building their factories to see what kind of machines they will be looking for. Just so you know who your competitors are. In our game I was too busy minding my own factory. I'm not sure you'd grab a machine just to deny another player, because you really don't want to be stuck with a machine that you don't want. The game is quite light and fast paced, so playing it with that much thinking will probably make the game less fun and slow the game down.

Factory Fun is a quick and fun puzzle-like game. The recent Z-man Games edition has wonderful artwork and components. I really like the style.

Thursday, 14 April 2011


Plays: 5Px1, 3Px1.

The Game

Liberte is a 2001 Martin Wallace game, recently republished by Valley Games. It has the French revolution as a backdrop. Players influence and support the three factions in the game, the Royalists, the Radicals and the Moderates, and try to win the game generally by being the biggest supporter of the most successful factions.

The game is played on a map of France, divided into 6 regions and each region further divided into a number of provinces. During the game you draw cards, or play cards to put blocks (representing the presence of one of the three factions) into provinces. The game is played over 4 game turns, and at the end of each game turn there's an election. The two biggest supporters of the winning faction scores points. The biggest supporter of the second most popular faction, i.e. the opposition party, also scores points. You can support any, even all factions. If you happen to be the leading supporter of both governing and opposition parties, well done!

Blocks represent the three factions, red for Radicals, blue for Moderates, white for Royalists. The round tokens are players' markers.

This is the 2001 edition of the game. The recent Valley Games reprint has different artwork.

There are other ways to score points. You can compete to lead battles. Some provinces give points during provincial elections. Other than victory points, there are two alternative game end conditions which completely ignore victory points. If the Radicals win a landslide at an election, victory is determined by your influence with the Radicals. If the Royalists control certain provinces, and this isn't even restricted to during elections, the Counter Revolution succeeds, and victory is determined by your influence with the Royalists. These alternative game end conditions are interesting and thematic.

Ties occur frequently and in many situations. They are resolved by spending cards from your personal display. Cards are added to your personal display when you play them to do something. Normally you discard the card to the discard pile. However you can choose to instead add it to your personal display, up to a maximum of 5 cards. Managing your personal display is an interesting aspect.

How faction blocks get removed from provinces make the game quite dynamic. Whenever a faction wins a provincial election, one block is removed, making this faction weaker for the next election. Also when there is a tie, all blocks get removed. So sometimes there's a bit of brinkmanship in whether you dare or want to tie the leader, knowing that regardless of whether the tie is subsequently broken, all blocks in that province will be removed.

There are some special cards in the game which let you remove blocks from the board, cards from personal displays, even whole stacks of blocks from the board. They can be very useful if played at the right moment. They add some spice to the game.

The cards. The one on the left is a general, with a fluffy bunny tail thingy on his hat. The colour of the cards determine which region it can be used, and the coloured blocks on the upper left indicates how many blocks can be placed. The card on the right is a special card.

The Play

So far I have played two games. The first game had 5 players - Afif, Atiqah, Han, Allen and I. We played quite many rules wrong, most of which we corrected at different points in the game, but there was one which we only realized after the game. Despite so, the game still played very well and we had a good feel for the game.

Atiqah did very well from the start, and at one point even managed to be biggest supporter of both the government and the opposition party. There were a lot of nasty moves to remove others' blocks and cards. With five players, competition was fierce. There weren't that many points to go around. The elections typically give out 10 points, the battles potentially 3-5 points to a single player, and in the second half 4 provinces give a total of 6 points per game turn. No wonder the score track only went up to 20.

With 5 players things are a little chaotic and it is not so easy to plan far ahead because the board situation can change a lot between your turns.

There were attempts made towards both the Royalist Counter Revolution and the Radicals Landslide. They didn't really come close to succeeding, but they did impact how we played.

Turn order was important. It changed every game turn and trailing players got to go later, which was good because you could react to what others had done. It was important when competing to be biggest supporter of the battles. Going later meant generals that played could not be targeted by special cards.

Afif, who stayed the longest at 0 points, was a big supporter of the Radicals and sprinted ahead in the second half to win the game with 18 points.

The Radicals (red) are doing very well.

The second game I played was a 3-player game, and this time we played correctly. At first I worried whether the game would be less interesting with only three (the game supports 3 to 6). It turned out that 3P played very well. Individual players had more control and could plan better. The game took longer than I had expected. Because it was now easier to analyse and plan, we (OK, maybe that should be "I") took longer to think and take actions. AP! AP! (Analysis Paralysis - we often tease one another when anyone takes too long to complete a turn)

Similar to the first game, the Moderates did very well in the first half. They won the 3rd election too. Allen and I were ahead and close in scores. However my board positioning deteriorated badly in the second half and things went downhill from there. I find that I have a tendency to do well in mid game and then die ugly deaths at game end. Maybe I should pick more games that take half the time to play compared to what I usually play.

We had a very real threat of a Royalist Counter Revolution. In the fourth and last game turn, both Han and Allen suddenly pushed for this. I panicked because I had very little Royalist influence. I quickly pointed out to Allen that he'd likely lose to Han if the Royalist Counter Revolution happened.

Han had kept two strength 3 generals to compete in the last 5-point battle. I had hoped to win that, but the two generals I had were weaker, and I only had one special card to remove one of his generals. In hindsight, knowing that I was pretty much screwed in the election, I probably should have concentrated my effort on putting control tokens in the battle box. That way I might win by simply having more tokens without needing to rely on the strength of my general to tie-break. Another thing I could have gambled on at the start of the last game turn was to discard cards and hope to draw better ones. At the start of every game turn you take all cards from your personal display into your hand, discard any number of your cards, and then draw up to 7. Since I already had more than 7, I couldn't resist keeping all of them. Bad bad hoarder habit.

Final score: Han 25 Allen 20 me 13. In both games I scored 13 points and came 3rd, but one was a 5-player game and the other was a 3-player game.

The Thoughts

This is an excellent game. You are restricted by what cards you get, but there is still a lot you can do. You have to read the intentions of your opponents. If many players support one faction, it is more likely to win the election, but it also means there are more people competing to be the biggest supporter of this faction. Similarly for the two alternative game end conditions. If you want to work towards one of them, you probably need someone else's cooperation. But then that condition needs to be attractive to him in the first place (i.e. it gives him a reasonable chance of winning), and also you need to ensure he doesn't do better than you and take the victory instead. It's a fine balance.

Long term planning is important. The game is very strategic. In the 3-player game I almost ran out of player markers at one point. That's an interesting challenge to have that we didn't see in the 5-player game.

This is a thinky game in which you are constantly analysing the board situation. It is a lot of hard work to fight over a measly number of points. The game is brutal.

The rules are not complex. The game is thematic. I am impressed by the design.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Chaos in the Old World

Played: once, 4 players.

The Game

I have been wanting to try Chaos of the Old World for quite some time. This is Han's game and he has played it before. It is a Top 50 game at The tricky thing about bringing this to the table is it is ideally played with 4 players, and we seldom have the right number. We didn't want to settle for second best. Then on 25 Mar 2011 when we joined the Friday night session at Old Town Kopitiam Cheras, we decided to bring Chaos in the Old World, and finally managed to get it played.

In this game, players are evil gods trying to exert influence in the Old World. They summon their minions to fight one another, to corrupt people, to kill peasants, to seduce the human rulers, and to completely ruin entire regions. They compete to be most successful in destroying the Old World. However, if the Old World survives, then mankind wins, and the players all lose.

During the game, the players play Chaos cards (which have various effects) onto the regions on the board, and summon their minions. Some minions can attack others' minions. Some will add corruption tokens to the regions. When a region gains 12 corruption tokens, it is completely ruined. There are two ways that a player can win - by victory points or by advancing his Threat dial. Victory points are gained mainly by dominating regions and by ruining regions. The game ends when a player reaches 50VP, or when 5 regions are ruined. Other than accumulating victory points, depending on the evil god being played, a player can advance on a Threat dial by fulfilling specific conditions, e.g. killing enemies, corrupting populous regions. A player can also win by reaching the end of the Threat dial.

The board looks a little scary. Every region has a resistance value, which is also the score it gives if you dominate it. In each region there are 2 spots for playing Chaos cards.

The Threat dials. At each step there is a number associated, which is used to break some ties. There is also a benefit gained whenever you achieve one step.

One of the most praised aspect of the game is how different the four factions are. The conditions for advancing on the Threat dials make the four evil gods very different. Many other things also differ, e.g. distribution of minion types, characteristics of the minion types, the effects of the Chaos cards, the upgrades available. The four evil gods have different strengths, weaknesses and objectives. The rulebook has two pages of strategy advice on how to play each of the factions, including which victory condition to attempt, and how to deal with the other factions.

My minions. Cultists on the left. These can't fight but they spread corruption. Warriors in the centre. One Great Unclean one on the right.

The player reference card describes the unique aspects of your faction. There is a lot of useful reference information. The long row of numbers is for tracking power that you have spent on playing Chaos cards or summoning minions onto the board. At the bottom are the cost-attack-defense values of your 3 types of minions.

The Play

Allen, Han, George and I did a full four-player game. All of us were new except Han. George played Khorne, whose units were very strong, and who thrived on killing opponents' units. Allen played Tzeentch, who specialized in magic and thrived on corrupting regions with warpstones and other magical elements. Han played Slaanesh, temptress and seductress, who thrived on corrupting regions with nobles. I played Nurgle, lord of the plague, who thrived on corrupting populous regions.

The token with a crown is a nobility token. The other two tokens on the right are corruption tokens belonging to Nurgle (green) and Khorne (red).

Being Nurgle, I had to focus on placing my cultists to corrupt the populous regions. However that also meant it took longer for me to build up enough presence to dominate (and thus score) them. Han and Allen picked "kampung" (village / rural / backwater) regions to start, which were easier to dominate. However they were on the fringes of the board which meant it was more troublesome for them to spread to other regions on the board. George also started near the centre of the board.

Throughout the game most of the time most of us were able to fulfill our unique requirements to advance on our Threat dials. In fact we worked hard to stop one another from advancing double steps, by making sure no single player fulfilled his requirement more times than everyone else.

Scoring seemed to progress rather slowly. There really weren't that many points gained from dominating regions. When regions started getting ruined by too much corruption, scoring accelerated. You score for having contributed the most or second most corruption tokens, and also for having contributed in the current round. My score pushed ahead of the pack by mid game, because of my investment in the populous regions which were worth more points. Gaining points was the strength of the Nurgle.

George's Khorne was advancing well on the Threat dial, being able to kill units every round. In mid game he upgraded his cultists so that they now had attack ability too. Normally cultists could only cause corruption, and only Khorne cultists could be upgraded to have attack ability. Everyone tried to avoid him, to avoid giving him too many kills.

I, being the apparent leader (why do I always suffer this fate?!), was often the target of attacks. Thankfully my warriors were cheap to summon, so I summoned all onto the board to deter others.

Han upgraded his units to have stronger defense, which discouraged others from assigning hits to them. This meant other players indirectly became victims. Single hits would be wasted if assigned to his units, so they were assigned to others' units. Allen had many nifty cards, often negating others cards already played, which was annoying for his victims.

Towards game end, we realised George was getting close to his Threat victory. Throughout the game most of us had been avoiding him. So his units seldom got killed and they were all over the place. In hindsight we should have confronted him more even if it meant getting our own units killed. His units were more expensive to summon. I was doing well in victory points and was close to hitting 50. Unfortunately I was just 2 points short. So in the last round, it boiled down to whether George could advance double steps on his Threat dial to win. If he couldn't, I had the best odds to win by victory points, since I was ahead of everyone else. The only way to stop George was to minimize his kills. The difficult thing was he had units almost everywhere so it was hard to completely avoid him. Killing his units wouldn't help because battle was simultaneous. He just needed to kill, and losing units didn't matter so much by this point. At the same time the rest of us also tried to fulfill our own Threat dial advance requirements as many times as possible by corrupting the appropriate regions.

Cultists and warriors had been summoned, Chaos cards played. Now it was time for the dice rolling, i.e. battle resolution. We knew that odds were George would fulfill his Threat requirement more times than the rest of us. It was a tense moment. In one of the battles where he had 4 dice to roll, none of them scored hits (4 to 6). We all cheered aloud, without remembering (or caring) that we were fully-grown not-exactly-young men in a public venue. Sometimes you just have to love dice. But still, the dice gods were fair. Miracles don't happen all the time, else they wouldn't be called miracles. George scored more kills than any of us corrupted the right regions, and double advanced on the Threat dial to win.

This was late in the game. Allen (blue, Tzeentch) and Han (purple, Slaanesh) had started on the left. By now Allen was still strong there, but Han's units and corruption tokens were scattered everywhere. I (green, Nurgle) started in the centre and my presence was still mostly in the centre. George (red, Khorne) started near the centre too, and by now his units were everywhere hunting for prey.

This was the last round. Four regions (on the left of this photo) had been ruined, marked by the face-down ruination cards.

We realised that we had played a rule wrong. In a round where a region is going to get corrupted, it should still be scored for dominance. Dominance scoring is skipped only after the region is ruined. In our game we had skipped the dominance scoring during the last round before a region was ruined. I might have won if we had done it right. Aaarrgghh... okay, sorry, I'm a sore loser.

The Thoughts

The most praised aspect about Chaos in the Old World is how unique the four factions are and how well these combinations of strengths and weaknesses work together to make an interesting game. I fully agree with that. The game will get better with more plays because familiarity with the factions will allow players to cooperate and compete more effectively. Oh yes, sometimes you do need some form of cooperation to hold back the leader. The game is best with four players, so that all factions are in play. Although I have not played with three, I think it will be much less interesting than with four.

I had thought our game would take about 1.5 hours. It took more than 2 hours. But with experience 1.5 hours is very achieveable. With 4 players there are only 7 rounds, and you don't really get to do that many actions every round. The first game took longer mainly because we needed to get familiar with not just our own factions, but also others' factions.

The possibility of all players losing is interesting. If the game ends without anyone managing to achieve a victory condition, that means the Old World survives the corruption of these four nasty gods. So sometimes if you find that winning is not likely, you can still work towards denying everyone else the victory. That is interesting dynamics. The event cards that are revealed every round also create some uncertainty and variety. Their effects vary, some drastic but mostly not too much so.

One other interesting thing is sometimes it's just fun to play the bad guy, to take a break from being goody-goody. In this game every player is super bad. Evil Mwahahahaaa laughs are highly recommended.

Class photo of the four Greater Daemons of the four factions. They look like contestants of a Who's Ugly competition.