Billabong Boardgamers
 

Billabong Boardgamers - November 16th, 1999

Present: Alan, Debbie, Tina, Doug, Janet, Roger, David, Bernie

Previous session report

Doug Adams writes:

After a quick hand of It's Mine between Roger, Janet and Doug, others flooded in and we broke into two groups of four.

DIE HAENDLER

Bernie, Janet, Alan, Doug

A game that has received very mixed reactions this year finally gets onto the game table at Billabong. Players are traders who are trying to climb up the social status ladder via a purchase system. Starting with a meagre 4000 gulden, players have to become purveyors of fine goods, buying low, transporting quickly, and selling high in order to keep some semblance of cash flow. Cash is needed to purchase more goods, wagon transportation, status maintenance, and finally advancement in status!

The game is very attractive. A large board shows six cities connected by a simple road network. Three large wagons are placed in the three starting cities, and these do look good (large hunks of wood that have grooves machined out of them to hold player's goods as they are in transit to another town). Various information tracks are also dotted around the board, keeping a record of current purchase and selling prices, bonuses in cities, player status, and status purchase price.

The game is played in turns, with each turn having six phases:

  • 0-3 goods are purchased and placed in player warehouses, in a town that produces that type of good.
  • any wagons in cities are auctioned off for the right to become wagon master (we played minimum bids of 1000 gulden). The wagon master can load three goods of one type onto the wagon, other players must negotiate with the wagon master to load up to 2 goods of any other types.
  • wagons are moved via a simple chit mechanism, the object being to get wagons to another city, specifically a city that doesn't produce the goods you're carrying so you will earn a nice bonus. The bonus climbs by one level for each turn a wagon fails to arrive in a city.
  • the players secretly select 0-2 goods (on their El Grande like wheels). Each vote a good receives bumps it's buy/sell price by one level, possibly collapsing the market and moving that good off the top price and back to the bottom rung (ouch).
  • players then sell their goods off any wagons that arrived in cities that turn.
  • players pay to maintain their current status level, then decide whether to pay more to boost their social status by 0-2 levels. The trouble is, the later the game runs, the more expensive it gets, and it gets VERY expensive!

That's essentially the turn structure, which is essentially very straightforward. However, I found there was a lot of information to track, with a very busy board once the game got into full swing. I was reminded of Die Macher (surprisingly) with the various mechanisms all pointed towards the goal of the game - making money.

A couple of decks of cards are present in the game. One deck consists of 8 special abilities which we paired off and randomly distributed to each player at the beginning of the game. This allows the rules to be broken, and in future games we will bid on these, as some were very powerful. Abilities include:

  • moving wagons extra spaces.
  • moving the courier piece (see below).
  • having an extra say in the price index table.
  • selling goods out of a warehouse without having to transport them to another city.
  • purchasing goods for $100 each, no matter what the current purchase price is.

The courier was the only mechanic in the game I had a problem with. Each time the courier (another hunk of wood) meets a wagon, the mover can draw an influence card. Influence cards are further rule breakers that allow very nice things like instant sales, cheap status advancement, stopping a wagon from moving, and so on. The players with the Courier abilities received a lot of these cards, while the others had to sit back and watch (to be fair, the game still seemed pretty balanced).

Our game took THREE hours to teach and play, which was a shock to me. We had Bernie with us, which was a boon, as he dragged several important subtleties out of the German FAQ booklet that missed ASF's excellent translation. Bernie also explained that the bottom status rank of "Kraemer" is not a pun on the designer's name, and in fact did have some sort of "low class" connection in Germany.

I can't really describe what happened, as it will make a (more?) boring report. Basically, get on the wagon out of town, otherwise you will not be making money. The ideal move appears to be getting the lucrative wagon master spot, allowing you to load three goods and get first dibs on what you want in the wagon. Saving your four wagon move chit was important, to get the wagon you want with the big load to the right city for you (i.e.. the one that's paying the 500 gulden bonus!).

The ability cards seemed nicely balanced - Bernie and Janet had fun with the courier and Influence cards (although Bernie had a nagging suspicion we didn't have the courier rules correct, but he couldn't see anything wrong by the German rules). Alan and Doug had fun with the price index table. Janet's lowly salesman ability proved very handy towards the end of the game, allowing her to recoup cash by selling off warehouse goods that weren't going to be transported, while the other players had to sit by and watch with goods sitting in warehouses earning no income.

There was a perception during the game that Doug was winning, as there appeared to be a steady supply of gulden disappearing into his money purse (a great touch, these!). However, both Bernie and Alan were matching Doug stride for stride on the status table, so I don't think there was much in it.

Late in the game Janet started leaping up the status table, while Bernie didn't appear troubled having to spend 3000 gulden on a couple of wagons and not get any wagon master fees back for them (uh oh, Bernie's rich!). With the last wagon sitting just outside of town, Bernie made a desperate bid to get an extra wagon across the board, but Alan didn't play dice and it stopped one space short of an additional payout for Bernie. Doug ended the game by moving a heavily laden wagon into a city for the 8th (and final in a four player game) turn.

Both Bernie and Alan could purchase their way to the top rung on the social ladder...

Bernie: Ratsherr (1st rung), $2800 Gulden
Alan: Ratsherr, $1300 Gulden
Doug: Oldermann (2nd rung), $2800
Janet: Patrizie (3rd rung), $2300

Phew, a three hour game that was advertised as 90 minutes. We didn't seem to tarry, apart from breaking for a coffee half way through. I cannot see how we could trim 90 minutes off the game, perhaps 30 minutes now that we've played, but not 90!

The reaction was very positive from Janet, Alan and Bernie, while I thought it was simply a good game. Again, I saw a bit of Die Macher in it with the intertwining systems, and I felt 90% of the game worked. The only thing that left me a bit jaded was the "wagon shadowing" with the courier to pick up Influence cards, but the game ended up pretty even in the end, so the courier ability appears to be balanced against the other powers.

In summary, a fine game with some subtle plays hidden in there. It appears that the FAQ booklet needs to be translated as there are some important rules in there. Doug's rating: 7

APPLES TO APPLES

Everybody played.

With only 30 minutes to go, the Die Haendler players staggered over to the other table to veg out and play something light for the last 30 minutes.

This is a funny game of matching nouns with verbs. We played to four apples, which David won quickly. We decided to play on until 11pm....

David: 6
Doug: 5
Debbie/Alan/Tina: 4
Bernie: 3
Roger: 2
Janet: 1

Debbie Pickett writes:

LORDS OF CREATION

Tina, David, Roger, Debbie

This new game from Warfrog had turned up last week in the Great Essen Delivery, and I insisted that David bring it back this week. The game claimed a playing time of at least two hours, so we decided to play until the other table had finished Die Händler. What follows is our interpretation of the rules, which may or may not be completely correct!

David read out the rules as we set up the world with its terrain tiles (incongruously they are squares while the spots they go on are hexes, but I imagine squares were simpler to manufacture). We really didn't have any idea about what was a good layout, so we essentially just stuck them down at random. (We all agreed that it would have been good to get a "recommended first-game world" layout in the rules.) It turned out that there were very few adjacent hexes with the same terrain type, so it seriously restricted the movement of our people, who are only allowed to stay in the same terrain type as they start in.

We then started the game - each player took a card featuring a number and terrain type from their hand, and all were revealed simultaneously. Then from smallest-to-largest we placed that many barbarians onto a terrain of that kind, as dictated by the card played. (Then the card is replaced with one from the draw deck.) Things went fine for a few turns, then civilization happened.

Each player is allowed to civilize one hex - anywhere on the board at first, but then only next to already-civilized hexes. To mark the hex as civilized the tokens marking barbarian units are flipped over to reveal civilized fellows in togas. Civilization increases the value of the hex, but it also means that the hex can no longer attack. This mechanism meant that there was often a dilemma - do I civilize myself, thus improving my score, or do I civilize an opponent who will otherwise beat me to a pulp next turn? This delicious problem faced us all throughout the game.

Once a hex has become civilized you can replace one of its tokens with an altar token, which increases the hex's value yet again. This of course makes it a prime target for your opponents, so it is useful to put your temples out of the line of fire of barbarians.

Combat - well, raids, really - occur between adjacent hexes - with a water hex allowed to intervene if the attackers are island-dwellers. The attacker rolls two dice and hits on a total of six or more (eight or more if the terrain type differs); the defender rolls one die and hits if its number is greater than each attacking die roll. This interesting mechanic makes combat more believable than something like Risk, which is still a dice-fest but a less interesting one. Also, it isn't clear whether combat favours the attacker or the defender - I'll have to figure it out. As additional food for thought, if the attacker rolls a double number, the attacking player's turn is over right then and there.

The game is over when the draw deck of terrain-number cards is empty and two players play identical cards at the start of a round. Now barbarian hexes score one, civilized hexes two, and civilized hexes with altars three.

In our game, because of our small contiguous land areas, growth was slow. David and Tina fought over the "mainland", while Roger and I managed to dig in around the perimeter of the board, with me getting a pretty impregnable position from which I could attack at will about halfway through. I then spent the next several turns civilizing the hinterland and putting up altars all over the place. The others caught on and tried the same tactic - Tina at first, then Roger - but because they were needing to civilize their own hexes they couldn't also civilize my barbarians that were beating up on the other end of their territories (there is a limit of one civilization per turn). With help from David, who was also on two fronts against Tina and Roger, I managed to keep my lead.

Final scores (Barbarians, Civilized, Altars = total):
Debbie 1 8 10 = 47
Roger 1 6 10 = 43
David 2 3 9 = 35
Tina 1 1 10 = 33

My rating: right after I finished, I was giving it a 5, which in my scoring system is a fair game that I'd happily play again if I was in the mood. But this morning I'm wanting to try it again, so that would warrant a 6. Quite entertaining, I'd call it a relative of Populous (the computer game). This game has some interesting and unique mechanisms, and is well worth trying.

DOLCE VITA

Tina, David, Roger, Debbie

A first time for David and Roger, who got the hang of it pretty quickly. A few silly mistakes put me out of the running, and I beat up on Roger in the final round because we both needed the same things. David proved too strong for us this time.

Final scores: David $3.5M, Tina $3.2M, Debbie $2.9M, Roger $2.5M

HALUNKEN & SPELUNKEN

Tina, David, Roger, Debbie

Since the other table was still going strong with Die Händler, we gave this little filler a go. Essentially it is a card-collecting game where you move your pawn around a track, while everyone else is doing the same thing. Problems come up when two players try to move the same number of spaces around the track, or when two players end up on the same space. In the case of the latter, the player who moved onto the space can steal a card from the other player. We played one hand of this "basic game" to get the feel of it.

Final scores: David 106, Roger 105, Tina 105, Debbie 76

We then tried the "standard game", which introduces a sort of "pirate" pawn that can be controlled by players and be used to steal cards from other players. We actually found this version to be less enjoyable as it was just too random.

Final scores: Roger 94, David 74, Tina 64, Debbie 54

My rating: 5 for the standard game, 6 for the much cleaner basic game.

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