Billabong Boardgamers - 14th September 1998
In the past 12 months Julian has often mentioned that Railway Rivals/Dampfross is one of his favorite games, and has often asked for a game. For one reason or another, that never eventuated, while weekend games of Elfenroads, Twilight Imperium, Die Macher, etc, all regularly took place.
Last week at Billabong, the cry went out again. Roger had asked us about the merits of the different railway game systems, so we decided to get together to play Railway Rivals, if we could just climb up to the lofty pedestal on which Julian had set it!
Happily, it was worth the effort, this is a fine game. I own an unplayed version of Dampfross, by Laurin, while Julian owned what looked like 8 maps released by the designer, David Watts. We had four players, Janet being busy during the afternoon, so Julian decided the USA map would be the best given our numbers.
This map depicts the USA from Boston down to Atlantic City, and west to Lake Erie and the Canadian border. Off map routes are available to the "South", "West", New England and Canada.
Alan and I had devoured the Dampfross rules by the time Julian had arrived, which are very easy and straightforward. Julian explained his version of the rules, which were almost identical and straight out of his head! The only rule I couldn't find in the Laurin edition was the tunnel rule, which can be built on a roll of 6.
I thought the game was excellent, helped no end by a good map.T he game is broken into two phases. Phase one is where everyone constructs track by simply using a water based felt pen and drawing on the laminated map. The amount to construct on any round being determined by the roll of a dice. I like this, as the builds are kept small, and the game seems to rattle along. In our game, Roger and I started from Baltimore, while Alan and Julian started from New York (which actually comprises four cities in this game).
The idea is to connect up to as many other cities as possible, as economically as possible - straight lines are the order of the day here. Trouble is, these bumpy things called mountains get in the way, and they are expensive to traverse, and slow you down when you get to the second phase of the game.
Julian, Roger and I were all building west at a great rate of knots, along three separate axis. I basically took Julian's planned route which cheered me no end as I considered him the expert. Alan was building north to Boston. The build costs are very straight forward, but get tricky and expensive when you connect and use hexes already built in by other players. To build into these hexes you must pay the other players already in the hex - ugh. It really forces you o set priorities on which track builds you want to do when your turn comes to build.
Once each city bar one is connected, the transport runs start. These are essentially races between two randomly generated cities. Once the race is determined, players must choose whether they are running the race or not, and by which route they run. Agreements can be reached to use other players tracks, and choosing the exact nature of the agreement is one part of the game I failed to master.
The race is run by roll of a dice, and move your piece, along your designated route. First to the end gets 20 credits, second gets 10credits. Julian uses an average dice, with the 1 and 6 becoming3 and 4 respectively. It made the races fairly predictable, but is probably a good thing.
The races ran out fairly strongly in Julian's favour, with Alan and myself having moments in the sun. Alan and Julian fought out the early lead, but then my time came and I took several of the middle races and got to second place. Roger had a tough time of it, with no decent track through the north to middle sections of the map, but still took out a couple of races. I spent foolishly on the second last race to try and confirm second place, but Alan surprisingly (to me) ran that race also and beat me. Alan took the last race, but couldn't catch Julian, who won handsomely.
Doug's rating: 8 (Julian was correct, it's an excellent game).
Janet was interested in a game of something by this stage was suggesting "Camels" in a hopeful voice. Roger was very interested to try Modern Art, and as we had five players, we pulled that off the shelf.
Roger had a ball, he bought heavily, he got huge payoffs, and thoroughly explored the system. A couple of times we tried to explain the merits of a purchase, or not, but he did his own thing with the emphasis on "buy"! Nothing wrong with that.
On the other side, I played my usual conservative game of buying very little, sniffing the air and offering up juicy titbits. Sitting to the left of Roger helped with that strategy, as I usually had no chance with the fixed price sales!
Janet, Julian and Alan a fair amount of purchasing, with Alan generating some nice income by selling fixed price paintings to Roger, as well as using the Double cards to nice effect.
This was the first time we'd seen Double cards played, without the player using a second card and giving someone else around the table an opportunity to cover the card. I started to see the reasoning as if the painting goes a few players around the table, then the Double card player has a great chance of getting another turn very soon, as play leads off from the person to the left of the player who played the second card. It's a clever mechanic and does give the initial Double player some income, a win-win situation.
Also, the little screens are a great idea. Julian was firmly convinced that Roger was killing us due to all the income he was receiving at the end of a round. I wasn't so sure, because he had paid a lot of money for those paintings he was getting the payoffs for. I thought Janet was doing poorly due to a couple of rash purchases, and I was really worried about Alan. I didn't discount myself from a chance to win, even if I did only purchase three paintings for the game. Here's how it panned out!
Amazing, Janet was breathing down my neck, Roger didn't do anywhere near as well as Julian thought, and Alan flogged us!
Doug's rating: 9
Durch die Wueste
Janet's camels finally appeared, in our favourite game (so far) of '98. In the five player game we each toss in a unique camel caravan, thus we were playing four caravans each - which helps no end!
I decided on a "points strategy" this game, by which I mean I was after just waterholes and oasis points. There were too many caravans out there to try and wall off an area and I couldn't be bothered trying to build a long caravan (I had been up since 2am, and it was now around 6pm). Julian tried to just build in one colour (no idea why!), while Alan made an early rules error in thinking he could use two of his caravans combined to wall off a huge area of the board - this essentially blew his game.
Julian and Alan played a lot of the pink camels when I suddenly realised my pink caravan was alone in a juicy area of the board. I walled off a seven space area with pink camels, and this combined with Alan and Julian placing lots of pink gave me the opportunity to end the game on my next turn. Quickly weighing up the respective stacks of chips (face down of course) I decided that without a longest camel train, I better end the game right away, as Janet was about to enclose a largish area. A nice surprise was I had longest blue with five camels, which I hadn't spotted!
Doug's rating: 9 - my fave of 1998
On to Monday at the regular Billabong meeting, present on the 14thwere Alan, Julian, Janet, Doug, David, Dey, Roger.
While we were waiting for Dey and Roger to arrive, we played a quick hand of Fluxx. David sat it out while he perused his new copy of Battle Mist. The win went to Julian when Janet played a goal which he had on the table! This was a the precise moment Dey and Roger arrived, so we gave Janet the benefit of the doubt!
In anticipation of playing some oft neglected four player games, I packed this into the games bag determined to try it as nature intended - with four players on a full circuit! My only other game was played on a short course with the full hand of energy cards and was rather silly as we'd missed the rule reducing the starting hand of energy cards.
Janet and I scurried into another room to set it up, but unfortunately it was up against Roger's brand new copy of Modern Art, which David had bought along for him. So it was just David who came stumping down the hall to make up a three player game, which I gather is not ideal, but we decided to try it anyway.
We played the full rules, including the Advanced and Professional rules, which don't seem that complex. The game plays very well, with a nice fluid feel that feels remarkably like cycling - a theme that does fit into a European game! We lined up our 12 riders and decided to run the Tour de France, which involves 3 sprints, two mountain legs, and a run on the cobblestones.
At the start of the game David and Janet went away from the peloton, in a three bike breakaway. Janet had two riders in the group, but it was David who crossed the sprint finish on top of the first mountain climb, and he took the famed yellow jersey.
At this point I noticed the point spread for sprints and felt uneasy. David's rider earned 11 points for the first sprint, while the other sprint wins were only worth 7 and 5 points each. It seemed as if it was going to be difficult to get that jersey off David. It was this reasoning that I decided to send my hill climber up the mountain ahead of the rest of my team to try and get on the back of the lead group.
It didn't work, David took the second sprint narrowly from my rider, who had passed Janet's two cyclists (exhaustion had set in, ie. no energy cards). David's second sprint finish ensured he'd keep the yellow jersey for the game, racking up two points per turn. Hmmm, this troubled me, but maybe I shouldn't have let him get away to start with - any thoughts from the experts out there?
David's lead rider had hit the wall by this stage and had just about stopped on the second mountain climb. In the peloton behind, a mass fall had put them all a turn down, but I got two of my riders working together to trying and bridge the gap to the lead group, leaving my best rider languishing in the tail group.
Coming up to the third sprint finish, I thought my lead rider was going to take it, but one of Janet's riders got a wonderful roll to cross the top of the hill, leaving me a space off the finish line. This was a worry, as Janet's rider was moving first with a generous downhill bonus that would carry her close to the finish line. A faint beacon in the night was this rider had cheated early in the race and had two photo cards recorded against him - disqualification was a possibility.
An event card saw some busybody spectator accuse me of cheating, and I had to draw a photo card, which didn't help as my position was looking quite poor. My two riders who broke away from the tail group nearly caught the leaders, but that final mountain is a killer, as David will testify to, he had to dismount three times, rolling the dreaded snake-eyes each time.
In the end it was David and Janet's breakaways at the start that crossed the line first, with three of my riders taking positions3-5. Here's the details, rider by rider with sprint/finish line results:
David: 20 (F10) + 80 (S1,S1,S3,F2) + 28 (F6) + 18 (F11) = 146
But....Janet was caught cheating with her third rider, so the 63 points that rider earned were removed, and final scores were:
Doug's rating: 8 ... the tactics started to reveal themselves, and the event cards are quite amusing - funniest moment when an event card for Janet told her that her legs felt like pudding!
It was new games night for Janet and I, following up Um Reifenbreitewith this new game that Stefanie and Jorg bought out for us a few weeks ago. It's an interesting game of placement and resource management that seemed to work quite well.
The theme is pirates, always a good start with me, where you play coordinate cards to position your ships into squares on a grid. On each point where grid lines intersect are ship counters (lots of these valued 5, 10, 15 and 20), pirate havens (3 of these) and doubling tiles (one of these each for the 5/10/15/20) above.
As ships pile onto the board, these counters get surrounded and removed. If a ship counter has been boarded, then the boarder gets the ship but has to pay anyone who helped surround the ship. Payment is from a rather meagre supply of money, in the form of treasure chests. Pirate havens pay 2 per ship which encircled the counter, from the bank. Doublers that get encircled will double the value of all ships of that specific value taken, irrespective of which player claimed them.
I have to admit, although I enjoyed the game, it felt quite dry, and doesn't make for great report writing! Looking at my initial hand of five cards, it seemed best to try and claim as many '15' ships as I could and try and get the '15' double counter off the board. About half way through the game I realised that I was going to runout of cash as I had to keep paying these people who were helping me remove these ships. If you run out of cash, you must take out a loan, which must be repaid at double rate at the game end.
In the end, every double counter had been removed before the game finished with the final pirate haven being encircled. David appeared to be working on a strategy of claiming easy ships counters and getting his own ships down next to the pirate havens, which worked for him. Roger had been reduced to a loan, while Janet and I were still struggling to grasp what exactly was good play and what was bad.
Doug's rating: ....difficult, this one. Maybe a 6, with potential.
Alan Stewart writes:
Player order - Alan, Roger, Julian, Dey
A very different game for me compared to the Sunday game. Then I got 6 of the double auction cards, this time 1. Julian seemed to be on control the whole game, and closed off 3 of the 4 rounds, with Dey closing the other (the 3rd).
With 4 players it was much more controlled. There were only 3 artists exhibited in each round. The fact that my replenishment cards were 3 x Christine F and then 3 x Krypto meant I had a skewed hand of art no one else was interested in, so I'd given up any chance of winning after round 2.
For me it was a game of only 1 or 2 purchases per round, and making small profits, which explains the final results.
After a chaotic round of lots of discarding, Roger won about half way through the second pack with War & Death. I played "Draw 2 and Use 'em", and one of them was this goal which matched 2 of Roger's keepers.
Player order - Julian, Alan, Dey
Interesting with 3 players, and 2 shows each. There was a lot more money spent clearing the board than in previous games. Each player borrowed twice. I thought my initial production of Queenie for 28 was poor, but put it in New York anyway, and it stayed top!
By contrast my 18 Lear (made with 5 Lear cards too) was always going to below, so I borrowed it down to 8. My final production was Lear, again with 5correct cards, but it just beat the other one with 24, giving me a total of1+3=4 points for Lear.
With Dey taking the top 2 spots for Lear that was a 30 point gap which was unsurmountable.
The productions of Wolf (in the right hand city) were plundered and ended up on 22, 17, 16, 5, 4, 4 (from memory).
It wasn't beginners luck, because I don't think anyone did anything really wrong during the game. The borrowing seemed to be done right. We all only had 2-5 $ left at the end. We'd told Dey to take any "9" cards if she could, but Julian and I were doing the same thing. We were also clearing them away for later use.
With a point spread of less than the top show value in any city, it was a pretty close game, and one you can't really call as it progresses.