Billabong Boardgamers - 1st December 1998
Present: Julian C., Alan, Dey, Roger, Moray, Doug, David, Julian W., Janet
Doug Adams writes:
The Billabongers all moved in on Julian C.'s tonight, arriving at various stages throughout the evening. We had seven gamers to start with, so I seized Alan for a two player game of ...
This is the Kosmos reprint of Arabana-Ikibiti, and it is a marvellous looking game. The idea here is to play cards, drawn from a deck of 24, in order to place your bridges on pathways that connect two islands. If you obtain an absolute majority of bridges, then you take control of that island, placing a control marker and removing your opponents bridges. In addition, two cards can remove an opponent's bridge.
The game is played over three rounds, a round ending when the deck is exhausted. The number of control markers for each player is compared and points are awarded to the player with the most. Total these points over three rounds to determine the winner.
I am usually fairly awful at this game, and Alan's a bit of a shark at the two player abstracts, so what did I have to lose? He hadn't played before but picked up nuances pretty quickly. After round one I earned 1 point with a5:4 majority in control markers. The unusual thing was we each were controlling one side of the board, something I rarely see.
Round two saw us start to mix it up a little, with probing attacks at controlled islands and a few islands did indeed change hands. Control markers were even after round two, so I still held a slim lead.
Round three saw several changes of control, and I played the hands badly by not putting enough thought into my card selections (you replenish your hand of cards from either a selection of three face up cards, or a random draw off the face down deck). Alan booted me off two of my islands, and I could only take one back before the game ended. Alan earned 1 point in the last round for a draw!
I have posted a review of this nice game in our Games Cupboard.
Doug's rating: 7
The other group were tackling a game of Modern Art, as well as The Great Balloon Race. Janet and Julian Warner were here at this stage, so a quick game of Tonga Bonga should see us finish at roughly the same time as the other table.
This game was new to Alan and Julian W., but it's simple to play yet quite subtle when you play your first game. Alan and I benefited early from some nice dice, but the difference was I was paying heavy salaries and Alan wasn't! Julian W suffered from some poor early luck with both die rolls. One memorable moment was Alan asking if we'd seen three drunken sailors rolled, which Julian promptly managed for us!
By the mid game I had progressed nicely but had paid for it, whereas Alan had about 25 coins on me and was at about as far from finishing as I was. Hmmm, not good! The only way to bridge this game was to finish first, and keep Alan from finishing on the same turn. Some nice income from my dice wouldn't hurt either!
It worked out. Alan received some lousy dice late in the game, while I was close enough to finish, earning the 10 bonus, lousy dice or not. Even so, every ship finished very close to Tonga Bonga, so I suspect I was lucky there. But surprise surprise, the only player who hadn't said a word for the whole game was Janet, who perhaps not so surprisingly, was just rolling in wealth!
Doug's rating: 7
Roger bought along his copy of this great looking game, limited to 300 copies, and had no trouble getting four volunteers to play it with him. David, Alan, Dey and myself joined Roger as we spent 30 minutes going through the rules. I was hoping this wasn't going to be too good a game, alas it's an excellent game and I now want one! Sigh...pity they're gone.
So what's it all about? Well, I may have this slightly incorrect, but what I understood was each player represents a family, or clan, of villagers with a speciality in one of five areas of labour - farming, lumber, stonework, fishing or brewing. Your clan is represented by 8 tokens numbered 2 to 9,with a '1' token set aside waiting to be born (yes, really).
The game is played in two phases, as far as I could tell:
- Place clan members on the board - Resolve placement
Members are placed on the beautiful board, one at a time, face down. The board is divided into three sections - the farmlands, the town, and the castle. Clan members on the farm earn you those good old wooden cubes in any of five colours, depending on which type of farming you did. If, like me last night, you placed them on your own colour, lumber, you earn bonus cubes in that colour as you're a specialist in that area.
Clan members in the town can perform a variety of functions, such as arrest members from other clans, trade cubes for other cubes, purchase spells, turn wolf's head and rob people, or go in for midwifery!
Clan members in the castle can attempt to pick up tokens, and it is these tokens that are used to claim victory. You need one each of four distinct types of tokens from the castle in order to win. I think there was a 'rightful heir' to the throne of Keydom thing going here and you need the four tokens to prove your worth. Pulling swords out of stones, that kind of thing.
I may have made things sound easy, I'm not sure, but the game IS easy to play, but not easy to play well. First off, you need the wooden resource cubes from the farmlands in order to pay for the costs of services and tokens in the town and castle, usually in specific combinations in order to gain the services (the board lists these requirements very clearly). However, you are not even guaranteed to pick up the resources you need, as fun and games occur down on the farm! You need a pair of clan members to produce two cubes, four cubes if it's your speciality. You may pair up with another clan and split the cubes. But....if a clan member may decide to become supervisor for that turn which means they determine how split cubes are divided up. Ugly, but clever. It's almost a game in itself trying to work out whether it benefits you to become supervisor of ale production this turn!
Another twist is the second phase is resolved in a specific order, beginning down at the fishing docks and winding it's way along the farmlands, up into the town, into the castle and finally into the throne room. You flip up all clan members in a region and resolve them before progressing to the next region. It sounds as if it should take ages, but we found it quite snappy. Not a lot of down time in this game. As these regions are resolved, you earn your cubes, or not, and this affects what you had planned up in the town and castle. So, planning a turn is vital - you have to take care where your clan members are placed, otherwise you may totally wreck your turn.
The main reason care is needed is because of the numbers on the clan members. The numbers decide who places first on the farms, or gets sole use of the actions further into the town and castle. Choose too low and members do nothing for the turn. Ties are resolved in start player order, so knowing your position in the turn order tends to drive your strategy also.
Well, enough waffle. We really had no idea what we were doing for the first couple of turns as we tended to mingle down on the farms, accumulating cubes. About 30 minutes in we were starting to use the town services and I had my first doubts about the power of spells, available to the leading three clan members at the tower. Spells break rules in the game, and some of them are pretty horrible, such as DECAY which set my plans back a turn when Dey decided a little decay would be a good thing! :)
It was at about the 30 minute mark when the penny dropped for me as I farmed my way into a small fortune of cubes, began to sire an offspring at the midwife's (recommended this, as it gives you an extra token to place) andwas working on the tome token in the castle (which takes only 6 cubes, but three turns to earn).
Dey was having fun, rolling in wheat as well as spells, casting them at will at the other players. David was having his plans in the castle thwarted by either Dey's Decay, higher tokens or the turn order catching him on ties. Roger appeared to be having an awful time in the farmlands, being a victim of vicious supervisors.
We happily slogged away for 100 minutes, with me burbling happily "I like this....I really like this". I suspect the primary reason for this was nobody had really done anything nasty to me, and due mainly to that fact I had three of the tokens. We played one more turn as it was past our curfew and revealed all.
Doug/David: 3 tokens
Thoughts? I LIKE IT! It means I am staying friends with Roger and Dey for a while yet ;) Seriously, it's a clever game, very clean to play. Simply place your clan members and then resolve what happens. Keep doing it until somebody wins. Spells look really powerful and I guess the only thing to do about it is buy them! There are only three available per turn, so the are valuable. We didn't get to the endgame, but it may be a bit of struggle, as if someone places a member in the throne room, they are sure to be arrested (expensive though that arrest may be!). How do you counter this? Place a high ranking clan member in the soldier's box for protection? Place more than one member in the throne room, as I understand only one clan member can be arrested there?
Another minor issue that concerned me was you bid to become start player on the first round, then the start player rotates around the table from turn to turn. As it happened, I was playing 5th on turn 1, and by the time I was approaching a win, I was 5th again! This meant, even if I'd placed my '9' clan member in the throne room to attempt the win, any other 9 would have rendered it useless. I may have my assumptions slightly incorrect here, and there may be something I could do about it that I didn't realise. Not sure.
This appears to be a 2 hour game for five players. We didn't play that slowly, and I feel we were probably 2-3 turns off finishing, with a turn lasting around 20 minutes. Not sure how it would go with less than five, also - I suspect 4-5 players would be the best number.
All in all, clever, clean, fast play (not fast to play, though), I want one! If anyone is considering letting a copy go (hah!), I'd be most obliged :)
Doug's rating: 8+
Other games were played (Modern Art, Manhattan, Medici), but no reports were provided...until next week then!