Billabong Boardgamers - June 1st, 1999
Present: Dey, Roger, Craig, Janet, Doug, Alan, Bernie, Julian
Doug Adams writes:
On the table: Tikal, For Sale, Rheinlander, Mu, Lost Cities, Chinatown
Roger and Alan joined Janet and Doug to try out Tikal. Doug and Janet had played an experimental two player game a few days earlier and enjoyed it immensely. The idea is you lead a team of 19 explorers who are unearthing the ancient Aztec city of Tikal. At the start of the game all that lies before you is impenetrable jungle, but turn by turn this is cleared away to reveal clearings, temples, treasure sites and ... volcanoes!
The game system is very clean, on your turn you draw and place a volcano hex onto the board. You then get to spend 10 'action points' on your team to explore Tikal. Action points are used to perform such things as move from hex to hex, excavate temples, recover treasures, build camps, and place guards on temples. One of the more interesting things you can do with action points is swap treasures with another player to builds sets and score more points.
Points! That's what it's all about. Points are scored for control of temples (simple majority of workers earns points for a temple) and sets of treasures (1 for a single, 3 for a pair, 6 points for a complete set of three treasures). Points are scored as soon as a volcano is drawn BUT each player gets to use another set of 10 action points before scoring themselves, then on to the next player, etc. I found this a nice feature, and it was noted a game like Airlines with the dreaded Wertung cards may possibly be improved with something similar.
As I explained the rules I stressed that the game could bog down if players overanalysed, and overall I think we did pretty well, playing to completion in 100 minutes (including rules). The play styles were basically Doug going for temples and ignoring treasures, Janet doing a combined treasure/temple strategy, while Julian and Roger were concentrating more on treasures than temples. Doug had a rule drastically wrong, assuming you could still excavate temples after a guard was placed, but when this was discovered to be incorrect, his opponents graciously allowed him to recover the five action points wasted.
Janet was the leader pretty much throughout the game, and Roger, along with Julian, did their best to bottle her camp up on one side of the board with volcanoes and thick jungle. Julian played two or three jungle tiles near Janet's single camp to ensure she had nothing juicy to plunder all by herself.
The other three players had build camps along a line pretty much through the centre of the board. Doug came out best with several temples very close to his camp, and even though he'd committed his two temple guards already, decided to take control of another rich temple and build it up to the maximum 10 points. Julian was very excited about this but Doug had noted it would cost Julian 6 points to get a worker from his camp into that hex, while for Doug it was three - Julian soon realised this and gave that temple away. Several more temples appeared near Doug which allowed him to commit some of the workers guarding the 10 temple to these other useful temples.
The game petered out a bit towards the end, with the final two treasures in a remote corner of the board, and even if recovered, they couldn't be swapped around due to the way they were distributed between the players.
I should have noted scores by volcano - I cannot remember too many position changes in this game, apart from Doug overtaking Roger on the scoring round at the end of the game. Even so, after only two games I can see myself really liking this one as an intense 90-120 minute game. The downtime problem I'd heard so much about was there but only in small doses, and typically only during the scoring rounds. It's very much a factor of playing style, rather than any fault in the game. On top of everything else, the game is truly stunning to look at.
Doug's rating: 8
The fourth game in Reiner Knizia's tile laying trilogy. ;-)
Julian, Bernie, Alan and Doug tried out another game or Rheinlander this week. Last week we ruthlessly (Ruth wasn't there) made Bernie read the German rulebook and speak English simultaneously so we could try out the game. For any other game it would have been adequate, however this is quite a complex Reiner Knizia beast, very reminiscent of Euphrat & Tigris in depth and complexity, that I'm only just beginning to appreciate after translating the rulebook last week (see the Game Dumpster for the translation).
In this game players are trying to take control of duchies along the Rhine river, which earn them valuable points at the end of the game. The playing area is simply a grid of 3x54 squares, bent quite a bit! in the style of a very windy river. The bends is so sharp in one area that three spaces (numbers 3/4/5) are directly adjacent to three other spaces (16/17/18), which can have a pronounced effect on the game.
Players are given a set of knight counters (20 in a four player game) and are dealt a hand of five cards (from a deck of cards numbered 1 to 54, for each area on the board). The basic turn is play a card and place a knight on a space in that area number. Each area is split into three spaces, one space for either bank, and one space for the river in the middle. Rivers can only ever be filled if both banks are filled. Two knights side by side along a river (or back to back in the 3/18 case) form a duchy, with simply majority of knights determining who gets to place the duke figure on the board.
Once the duke is placed you are guaranteed to earn points. Each duke is worth one point during the game and five at the end of the game. When duchies collide, or when the majority of knights changes within a duchy, then there is a change of ownership - the duke figure is replaced by one of the new controlling players dukes. However, and this is important, the player whose duke was removed is compensated for his loss - 1 point for the duke, plus bonus points for realms. Ah...realms! :)
Realms come in three flavours - castles (1 point), churches (1 point) and towns (2 to 4 points). These are represented by counters that are randomly dealt onto the spaces along the Rhine before the game begins, thus giving each game a different flavour. The duke of a duchy that includes a realm by definition controls the realm as well. Each different type of realm has a different 'ability':
There are a few other rules such as playing junk cards as reinforcements (a simple, but clever rule with vital quinciquonces on the game), as well as bastions, which are city walls that stop duchy expansion along a particular direction.
Our game saw some initial confusion on the part of Alan and Julian which was understandable as this is a tricky game. Bernie latched onto the winning strategy early (unfortunately Doug didn't notice it until after the game was over!) by creating duchies that included the '3' and '4' value towns. That meant that even if Bernie was kicked off the board due to a change in duke, he was guaranteed four or five points compensation (duke (1) plus town value). Doug's strategy was to get lots of dukes down on the board in the hope that most of them would survive to the end of the game (when the rise from 1 to 5 points each). By chance of hand, most of Doug's cards allowed him to take churches and three churches later we saw Archbishop Doug. Doug had had the archbishop last week but didn't see much use for it as you need the specific card number to convert a knight to your allegiance. However this week possibilities opened up and Doug was able to convert a number of knights of the other players to protect his duchies, and threaten duchies he didn't own, until late into the game. Alan saw this coming and tried desperately to take the archbishop of Doug, but didn't succeed, to Doug's relief (the archbishop card earns the holder five points at the game end).
Late into the game it appeared that Alan was going to run out of knights and thus end the game, however some returned knights to Alan via the archbishop saw Julian end the game with Bernie in a powerful position, controlling high value towns.
Scores (points earned in compensation + on board at game end):
Bernie: 7 + 35 = 42
It appears that the experience of one game showed up here as Doug and Bernie took the top two positions. I must admit, I really like this game. The fact that you could only play one card per turn creates absolute agony as you cannot cover all your danger spots at once. The game was well received by all players, with the fast playing time, little downtime, and tough decision making all plusses. I've heard that even though the game is 3-5 players, with five players the game falls down slightly as there is a loss of control. I've been informed that four players is the best for this, but I've yet to test this.
The game has come in for a bit of hammering for it's artwork. While the artwork is rather colourful, dominated by a vivid green map with a curling river, it doesn't detract from the game at all. I found the first game rather confusing, but the second game pulled me in so much I didn't notice the art at all. The other components, counters, plastic duke figures, are all first class.
Doug's rating: 9
Alan writes: A new game to Julian and me, and Bernie and Doug's previous week's experience showed in the scores. Next time I'll try and get more `point' villages. Doug kept the archbishop for most of the game, despite my efforts to deprive him of this power. Unfortunately I never managed it because Julian and Bernie kept sending my Dukes off the board! I missed placing a bastion early which would have delayed Doug getting the archbishop power. This game took us about 85 minutes including rules explanations. I want to play this one again.
Alan Stewart writes:
A quick fill in game while we waited to see what the final number of players would be for the evening.
Not very many taking the free property early. Each round usually went around at least once with the bidding. I think 8 or 9 was the highest price paid. No real `strange' auctions. A straight forward game, and everyone had 2-4 chits left at the end.
Doug, Roger, Craig, Alan
Alan, Craig, Dey, Bernie
The first playing of this game by Craig. No-one was prepared to let him get away with a big bid! We haven't played Mu much 4 handed, and people weren't sure what a good bidding hand was for four. Hence the cautious under-bidding in the early hands. A mixed fortune game with a 7 bid missing by 1 point, and then a successful one later.
Doug writes: I hope I have reassembled the scores correctly....
(Played until Tikal finished).
Not so much cautious bidding this time. A losing 8 bid, which was shot down by the minor trump choice. I think Craig enjoyed his first games.
Roger Smith writes:
The consensus seems to be that four is the optimum number of players for this game. Following in the footsteps of our enormously successful five-player outing of the previous week, we settled down with great expectations. But something went wrong. For some reason the game didn't quite work. In the first couple of turns there was hardly any trading going on -- because there were very few useful trades to be made. In the rest of the game things picked up somewhat, but my overall feeling was of a somewhat hollow and uninteresting game. I'm loath to blame it on the players. Craig and myself had played the previous week, and Dey and Janet get into the Bohnanza trading as much as the next person. I really think it was the luck of the draw. The cards and tiles we picked up didn't allow for as interesting a game. Of course we're going to have to try this again soon. I'm hoping we just had a one-off bad run. Despite winning, Dey's comment was that the game was "a bit boring" and she prefers a tighter mechanism.
Roger's rating: 6 (but will rise again I'm sure)
Janet took Dey through a hand of this to explain the game. They were "encouraged" to stop after one hand so as to allow Chinatown and Rheinlander to start. (Dey slaughtered me twice at this after we got home: serves me right for borrowing Doug's copy...