Billabong Boardgamers

Billabong Boardgamers - August 1st, 1999

Present: Alan Stewart (red) , David Coutts (blue), Nick Price (orange), Roger Smith (green)

Previous session report

David Coutts writes:


Click here to visit the 6 Billion webpage!

All players were familiar with playtest versions of the game, having been amongst the playtesters. This, however, was the first time I (or anyone) had ever played "6 Billion" using the finished product - Needless to say I was a bit excited by the prospect! For a quick overview, see:-

Set up was quick and simple, and we decided to use the optional rules for the Discovery Track (which allows for happy, wealthy, and generally pro-life populations, and allows players to manipulate the otherwise random turn order). With 4 players there are 2 Neutral factions, which were Black and Pink.

The early play saw Alan focusing on The Asteroid Belt, Roger and Nick on Mars, and myself the Earth. For myself, I cancelled Roger's Double card on Earth with Death. Later, I used a Pestilence to stop the free doubling of one Neutral, and a Famine to stop the other Neutral's free doubling on the same turn. I did score 2 points for doubling a Neutral on Earth - the first to score any points!

Alan kept opposing populations low on the Asteroid Belt by shipping them elsewhere. My Asteroid Belt colony was halved when I got sent to Mars as migrants, and both the Neutrals were sent off to Jupiter or Saturn. Roger and Alan started things on the Discovery chart by playing Smileys. Then I got ahead on the Dollar row (but had no victory points to spend!), with Alan joining soon after. Nick, meantime, had a field day with Recycle cards. There are only 2 in the deck, but during the game he used Recycle 4 times and none of the rest of us saw one! Recycle got Nick onto the 2 position of the Leaf row of the Discovery Track, and the other 2 times he used it as a normal action to double his lowest token (and reshuffle the deck - one time he got it straight back after the reshuffle!).

Having been dealt Earth as my Hidden Agenda (there are 2 Hidden Agenda cards each for Earth, Mars and The Asteroid Belt - so in a 4 player game 2 are out), I decided I had to get hold of Double cards as soon as possible. This is because, thanks to the Opening Treaty rule, cards cannot be played against your solitary token (unless you give your permission) whilst you only have one colony (Earth). I wanted to get my token there to "8" before I sent out a colony, as once a token is at "8" it is not halved if it generates a New Colony (normally, tokens are halved to generate New Colonies and Migrants). So, to maximise my chances of a Double card I had to discard something (you are allowed to discard 1 card per turn, prior to drawing back up to 6 cards). I discarded a "Make A Discovery" Card on the first turn as they are not playable until turn 3, and 2 more were showing in the 3 face-up cards next to the deck (when you draw you can always draw from the 3 face-up cards, or draw blind).

This proved an unfortunate decision as I didn't see another "Make A Discovery" card for the rest of the game (except when the others took one from the face-up cards). You need a "Make A Discovery" card to draw from the Discovery deck. The Discovery deck contains cards that allow you to double your points at game end for one of Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. Using the Optional rules, it also contains 2 cards each of Smiley, Dollar and Leaf (which double your points at game end on the Discovery Track). Hence, this meant that at game end I had no Discovery cards and so got basic value for my positions on the Discovery Track. During the game, Roger obtained 2 (Smiley and can't remember the other one), Alan got one (Neptune) and Nick got one (Pluto).

The only way to score points during the game is to play cards which affect tokens belonging to another player (get 3 points) or a Neutral (get 2 points). I went ahead there (about 8 points) before Alan passed me by a couple. Nick stayed firmly on zero, with Roger getting only a few points in his last turn. The cards that let you help another player, or the Neutral, can be a double-edged sword. Yes, you get immediate points (even if the action is cancelled), but the other player gains a colony or migrant (either of which may well score points for another player at game end). However, apart from your points you also get to halve one of their lower value (4 or 2) tokens. So, take them away from where they compete with you and give them third place (or worse, if you can) elsewhere.

One area where I did well was in getting Double cards. In the end I got three, 2 of which I used to secure first place on Earth and the other I used on Mars for equal first place with Nick and Roger (Alan never made it to Mars). Earth, Mars and The Asteroid Belt are the big scorers in "6 Billion". Each player gets one Hidden Agenda which doubles these big points for one of Earth, Mars of The Asteroid Belt - but you don't know who you're competing with (if anyone at all!).

One of the other features of the Discovery cards (normally kept face-down with your Hidden Agenda, and not part of your hand) is that the planets ones can be used to generate a free colony by revealing the card. For Pluto and Mercury this counts as 2 actions and the rest count as 1 action. During the game Nick did this for Pluto, Alan for Neptune and I don't recall Roger using his. Both Alan's and Nick's made it unopposed.

I managed to colonise Venus later in the game, Roger colonised Uranus, and Roger/Alan colonised Saturn and Jupiter (joined by later colonies and migrants). The typical way a colony works is to play a New Colony card to put your token in the holding box for that population track and, if it survives until your next turn, it becomes established a a colony on the corresponding population track. Migrants can only migrate to established colonies. They too must survive a turn in the holding box for that population track before becoming colonists themselves.

The end game came suddenly. I had helped Nick early on by sending off some colonists to Mercury. I say "helped", but I scored 3 points, one of his population was halved (The Asteroid Belt, I think), and both Mercury and Pluto require 2 tokens to get on the "1" position of that planet. Hence, I had stranded 1 billion of his colonists in limbo in the holding box. This proved crucial in this game, as it turned out.

In "6 Billion" the game can end in 2 ways. Either all the planets and the Asteroid Belt are colonised, or a faction (player or Neutral) gets a token to the 1024 space of the Asteroid Belt or Earth. Many of our playtest sessions ended with a token on a 1024 space, which results in a longer game (2-3 hours quoted on the box). In this game, Nick had sent his second token to the Mercury holding box the turn after I sent a token off to Venus. As it happened these 2 were the last 2 not colonised. Often it is Pluto or Mercury that get colonised last, if at all. But Nick had already colonised Pluto, quite easily as it turned out.

Roger tried to kill off my Venus colonists, but my "Save Our Souls" stopped him. Alan used Power Politics to try to cancel my "Save Our Souls", but my Power Politics stopped his. They landed later on what was to be the penultimate turn. I tried to kill off one of Nick's tokens at Mercury, but he had protection, too, and nobody could stop his protection.

When "6 Billion" ends, it ends immediately. The turn sequence is such that a free doubling or a Migrant or New Colony leaving its holding box for a population track will end the game before the player whose turn it is can play a card. The only other way is for a Double card to push someone up to a 1024 space. Sadly for me, I was no longer in front on any of the rows of the Discovery Track. Hence, I was at the whim of fate. Alan had been careful to sneak ahead of me on the Dollar row, and so could buy positions in the turn order. Roger was Mr Smiley, looked quite happy about it, and could swap positions with one of the Neutrals. Third, and last to be able to manipulate the turn order was Nick (on the Leaf row) who could freely go up or down 1 or 2 postions.

As it happened, Alan spent 2 to go from third to first. Then Roger swapped with Black to go from fifth to second, and finally Nick moved up 2 positions to get third. I was in last place and stayed there. On Roger's turn we exchanged War cards (we each had to halve one of our own tokens of our own choosing) after I stopped him doubling one of his tokens. Then it was Nick's turn, and his Mercury colonists made it! Game Over!

One aspect of the game that I haven't mentioned is control of the Neutrals. Each Neutral faction turn it is necessary to determine who controls that Neutral for this turn. Roughly speaking that is whoever is losing. Throughout our game control was fairly evenly spread, with me having most control in the later game. This allows you to send out a Neutral migrant from where you please to wherever you please (so long as there's a colony there, and the Neutral is not already there).

Another aspect I haven't mentioned is the free population doubling limits. The Asteroid Belt does not have one. We reached the limit on Mars, to Roger's disadvantage, and on Earth too (to my advantage).

The game was over in an hour and twenty minutes. In all my playtesting, 90% of games were around the 2 to 2 1/2 hour mark. There was one game that took an hour, and one game that took 3 hours! Still, I don't mind, it was a fun hour and twenty minutes, even if I did come last!

Alan - 44
Roger - 42
Nick - 40
David - 38

Well played Alan!

Alan, Nick and Roger seemed happy with the game - I look forward to their reports. And I have to say that I am delighted with the final product (but, of course, I would say that), my only concern being lack of space (in the end) for more examples in the rules. Hence the example of play on the Board Not Bored Games web page:

Hmmm! "6 Billion" DOES look nice on my games shelf!

Roger Smith writes:

Despite having helped proofread the rules and components a couple of times, I had only played once before. After a couple of turns the rules were coming back to me. This is really a very simple game, with some interesting mechanisms that require you to play once to see just how they work. An example being the difference between migrants and colonies. I also hadn't played with the optional tracks before. These allow you to influence turn order, and add to your final score. I thought they worked really well - in fact I would probably not bother playing without them, except maybe to simplify the game for new players.

Early in the game I noticed David going for all the "nasty" cards (Pestilence, Famine etc.) so my strategy was to collect a reserve of responses/remedies to these and go for an expansionist strategy. I was also lucky to pick up the score doubler for the smiley track on the optional board (where I already had a presence). I was easily able to push myself to the lead on that track. Where I came unstuck was thinking I had a doubler that would give me supremacy on Mars (my hidden agenda) at the end. In fact, it was a doubler for a neutral player, so I ended up sharing the lead with two others - aarrgghh! This would have won me the game; as it turns out, I came second. One interesting aspect of 6 Billion is that you are never quite sure who is winning. In this way it reminds me of games like Civilization and Die Macher. You really have to pay attention and make the most of your two actions. I probably wasn't paying enough attention to the hidden agendas of other players, but I think that was because I was relearning the game. Next time I certainly will.

Finally a word on the components. The game has come up looking 100% professional, easily on a par with the majors. The graphics on the board and cards are well executed and appropriate to the theme. I think David has priced the game well for the Australian market and wish him all the success he deserves

Alan Stewart writes:

The production on the boxes came up well. Colourful, and interesting.

(Maybe there should be a . after THE ASTEROID BELT in the list of ACTIONS on the back).

Heft factor - 8/10
Fart factor (on closing) - moderate

The colours on the board came up well, and there were no problems reading instructions or place names.

The colours chosen for the tokens were easily distinguishable.

The cards were very readable. (The blue strip on `must play on a neutral faction' perhaps a bit dark, but you knew what it meant anyway, and the blue matched the reaction card colour).

It was a fairly `friendly' game with only 1 migrants (neutral) sent home. All colonies landed safely, though a few had to fight for the privilege. All discovered planets (Pluto, Neptune) landed safely. Even colonies and migrants sent out by other players landed safely, there was none of the `send out/kill off' double action plays.

Quirks of this game.
Nick saw all the Recycle cards (4).
Alan never saw a Double card.
David only saw 1 Discovery card.

The game ended with all population tracks filled in about 80 minutes. As we all `knew' the game, not much time was spent reading the rules. A bit of backtracking as we forgot the Discovery Track options on the turn order a couple of times.

Working out who controlled the neutrals slowed the game slightly. Perhaps you could give a marker to the person who controls them, and if someone else thinks it should now be them, it's up to them to prove it when the next neutral player's turn arrives, or the current controller keeps on controlling.

Thoughts on this particular game: As the only card I could legally play on my first turn was the free Colony 2 card, I had to send out a colony then. Getting onto one of the Discovery Tracks with a discard was another worthwhile option at this point. I kept a `save our souls' card, but never needed it in the end and should have discarded it. After setting off on the colonisation and Discover scoring tracks, I just needed to pick up some points by playing scoring cards. This developed into a 'score a bit in all three areas' strategy.

Two mistakes: I should have sent a colonist (from David) to Mercury, instead of Saturn, as it probably wouldn't have earned him any points.

On my last turn, I played 1 discovery card (drew Saturn - useless). I could play another discovery, hoping to double Jupiter or the $ track (possible extra 4 points), but instead I played `send out a colony' on Nick for 3 points. Mistake! I should have sent out a colonist from David which would not be able to land before the game ended. Instead Nick's colonist landed on Uranus, earned him 3 points, and then he ended the game by landing on Mercury.

Overall a close game, and I wasn't sure who was winning. Nick seemed to have the best colonising spread but no points on the board, while I had points in all three areas.

Rules problems and queries?
If a `discard when played' card is discarded to advance on one of the optional Discovery Track, is it removed from the game or just remains in the discard pile?

Not stated specifically in the rules: If you have more than 1 population token to move from the holding boxes to a planet, is it up to the controlling player in what order this happens?

At the end of the game Nick had a token to land on Uranus (and earn 3 points) and tokens to land on Mercury (earn 4 points and immediately end the game!). We played that it was up to Nick what order they landed in, and of course the one on Uranus landed first!

Nick Price writes:

6 Billion - First Game with a Production Copy

First up is one of the most interesting part of any board game with counters; picking the colours. There must be papers on the psychology analysis of colour counter selection. This must be the first game where no one has bid for the black at all and I have it as a choice! So I select orange. Never a popular choice that I know of unless you are a Dutchman. As I am not Dutch I'm still not sure what drew me to it. Pity maybe.

I've played the game a couple of times before but with long gaps in between and so hope to play late in the turn so I can pick up the moves again. This falls good for me. The game has an almost in built mechanism to teach the reticent the game as the player trailing has to move the neutral players and thus gets extra practice. So the early days of the game see me at the back but I get to shift the neutrals around at least once which gets the gears oiled again.

The optional rules board throws me a bit but fate, and an ill shuffled deck maybe, puts recycle cards into my hands with abandon. This allows me to establish myself on the hard/expensive Leaf row of the Discovery Track while the others fight it out on the cheapies. I have to admit I didn't quite know why it was good to be there but as every one else was using the options I thought I had better be in it. This turned out to mean I had an ability to move around the playing order a bit after the counters were drawn. Whoopee ! Now if I only I had that long term strategic thinking to actually use it to great advantage. At best this was more of a psychological advantage for me over the others (I rationalised) which I 'exploited' by some meandering of my counters around with some vague abandon in the guise of 'a plan'.

My strategy this time was to colonise and focus on my Hidden agenda 'Mars'. How sophisticated can you get. I had been ill served with cards that generated points this time so I had to procreate or fail! (I kept getting all these bloody recycle cards in my hand - ho ho). Being the cunning and subtle person I am I immediately hooned off for Mars without pretence or feint elsewhere. As the game progressed there was quite a bit of competition for Mars but I guess its one of those 'name' planets that every has to have. A bit like Bali I suppose but without the fake watch sellers. Plaster of Paris canals but no watches.

Everyone strikes for the Asteroid Belt and of course I was no exception. It was the usual shuffling up and down there with people pumping out, literally it strikes me, colonies for themselves and each other. Not a pretty or scenic place but always a good battle ground. The rest of my colonisation was pretty much driven by other people on my behalf although I burst out for Pluto (as I remember it) because I had drawn an agenda card for it. I think by this time you can see my multi-textured and dimensional approach to winning the game. 'Knee jerk' some might call it.

So by luck and design I had a 'shotgun' attempt at colonising the solar system from the inners of Mercury to the outers of Pluto, the obligatory Earth and the hop on to Mars and of course the Asteroid belt. My 'strategy' lead to the end of the game as by chance I ended up colonising the final planet. I would have had an interesting and hardy race of people at the end given the harsh environments they had to live in. At this point it strikes me that perhaps that the race/people that time has forgot and leap-frogged may have a resurgence in the future where their stalwart genes made for living in unwelcoming and dreary places may come to the fore. Like the American Red Indian and the Australian aborigine the Welsh may well be an untapped resource for the future. 'Look you boyo, I'm off to Pluto'

My final position, third, reflected my poor points cards, or I should admit my lack of play of them. My observations of these cards are that as well as earning points they lead to the more subtle strategies for knocking your opponents back by forcing them to generate colonies/migrants from their progress on different tracks. By now you know that where you see me use the word 'subtle' you know this means 'something powerful and/or complex happens there but I don't understand what'. The session was quick and fun as we had all played the game before. The players all had different styles and dealt with their 'hand' in different ways and used different approaches. Very interesting.

I enjoy playing the game as there are different strategies to try depending on how the cards fall out for you or how you want to play. The simplicity for a racing colonisation game versus a points fever game is there plus, as you develop, more deeper mechanisms to play with. Strategies using cards to force others to send out migrants/colonies, using the discovery track, using your agendas and the use of the neutrals gives you a lot of things to explore. Also the elements of the game offer opportunities to play with the rules such as control of the neutral players.

The quality of the games production is very good and visually interesting in presentation. The form and movement of the game with the variety of possibilities without having the use a dice, sometimes a playing bottleneck, is good. The opportunity for strategising while awaiting your turn in a round is very useful and can lead to quick play. I'd recommend the game for competitive play, even learning the game is interesting as you see natural strategies emerge for players and get to look at its backdrop too.

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