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Billabong Boardgamers - 18th July, 2000

Present: Alan, Doug, David, Craig, Tina, Debbie, Steve, Janet, Donna, Jenny

Previous session report

Doug Adams writes:

Billabong welcomed a new player, Jenny Hajncl, into the fold tonight. Hopefully she wasn't too bewildered by cries of "Poo for Drunk" during Bohnanza, and will return :)

BATTLE CRY

Campaign Game: Gettysburg
URL: Gettysburg Campaign Game Page
Day 2: Devil's Den, July 2nd, 1863
Union: Doug Adams
Condeferates: David Coutts

David and I began a 6 match campaign game of Battle Cry/Gettysburg last week, and the initial clash on McPherson's Ridge saw the Union whipped and forced back through Gettysburg (see URL above for replay). David is currently holding a 6-2 lead in flags as we enter day two of the battle.

This battle covers the action from the Peach Orchard through to Devil's Den. The Union set up with an extremely weak left - just two or three units - but have handy terrain in the Devil's Den hex to defend in. The Union strength is on the right and it is here they have their best chance. An advance in the centre would be suicide, given the strong batteries of rebel artillery sitting with a clear field of fire.

General Coutts began very strongly on his right, playing an early Forced March card to move right into the Devil's Den before the Union had a chance to occupy it. With Rebels swarming up on his left, General Adams had to counter and advance his meagre supply of men forwards, lest a stray flag result on a die would force him to retreat off the board.

General Coutts pressed his advantage in numbers by continuing to advance on his right. The Union simply could not stand against that withering fire poured on them and wilted away. The Rebels were up two flags to nil early and there was no Union troops on their left flank.

General Adams began to draw some nice Centre/Right cards himself, where his main strength lay. An early Sharpshooter card missed its Rebel target, but the rewards were great as the much cherished "Counter Attack" card was drawn. "Aha", thinks General Adams - just let that Reb play his "All Out Offensive" THIS week! :)

The Union had to do something, effectively down 8-2 in flags in the campaign, so it was time to act. An advance on the centre and right, with those strong cards and using the divider line to "leapfrog" units along with either sector card, saw the Union close with the Rebels. The advance was rapid as that Rebel artillery looked very daunting. Before the Rebel commander realised there were Union troops in his face and rolling flag results on the battle dice. This was a particularly deadly result as David was only a hex or two away from his board edge. For the first time in three games of Battle Cry, I had the Rebel commander looking rather concerned!

General Coutts stiffened the upper lip, preened his flowing beard and ordered fieldworks dug. The Rebels were immediately thrown out of them, and the Union boys were amongst the Rebels on the right. A misinterpretation of the retreat rules saw a Union regiment eliminated and the battle had closed up again to around 4 flags each.

The Rebels were threatening to take this game, after the Union had them on the ropes. General Coutts had bought his men who had performed so well on the right through Devil's Den and into the centre, turning a flank. General Adams had at most a turn or two to take this battle out and managed it via forcing a General to retreat off the board, and firing his artillery batteries at an exposed Rebel. As fate would have it, no flags were rolled, it remained exposed to further fire, and was eliminated.

Battle result: Union 6, Confederates 4
Net result of campaign so far: Confederates 10, Union 8

David writes: Once again a very enjoyable game of Battle Cry. The set-up took 15 minutes and the game took 25 minutes. It was a closer result than last week, and - for such a short game - nice and tense. From my perspective I only drew limited cards on my left flank (where Doug threatened), almost nothing for the centre, and held a useless Cavalry card the whole game (in a hand of 4 cards - effectively reducing my hand to 3 cards!). I noticed Doug ditched one or two similarly useless cards early in the game, and I think I should have done the same...

As Doug began to threaten in the centre, I played my recently drawn Fieldworks card which effectively stopped his progress in the centre by strengthening my defence there. I was also able to manoeuvre my artillery into position (with a Bombard card, allowing double movement, or double fire) just as my right flank began to swing into Doug's position in the centre with yet another Attack (3 units , right flank) card. It was looking sweet for another Confederate victory...and the next card that I drew was an Assault card for the centre (all units in the centre can attack). Considering my entire army was by now in the centre (Doug has destroyed most of the left, and my right had moved into the centre), I actually breathed a sigh of relief when I drew this card! It was the only card I drew for the whole game specifically for the centre (my other actions in the centre being non-region specific - Fieldworks, Bombard & Leadership).

Doug managed to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat with his carefully husbanded Counter Attack card. This card replicates whatever the opponent has just played. I'd just used an Attack to manoeuvre 3 units on my right (Doug's left) so he could now Attack with 3 units on his right (my left). This was sufficient for him to destroy a General (sitting all alone, sadly) and an already weakened unit on the left part of my centre.

It was game over. Now I face Pickett's Charge... What was the quote? "No 15,000 men ever made can take those heights..."

RA

David, Donna, Doug

A very strange game of Ra with extremely long first and second epochs, where Doug pulled out a handy lead (picking up 18 and 9) while Donna and David didn't move far at all. However, both Donna and David were in on the monuments (Donna with lots of different types, David with strong sets of them) and Doug was very weak sun-wise going into round three.

With the length of the opening two epochs, round three was always going to be short. Doug made gaff of the year by purchasing a much needed Civilization tile, not seeing the Civilization "killer" tile right along side it. That was his only purchase, as Donna and David closed right up with their buying power - Donna via weight of sun tiles, David via cunning purchases. The third epoch ended very quickly, with Doug paying David the sun bonus.

Donna: 53 (holding the 13 tile)
David: 53!!!
Doug: 30

First tie I have seen in this game - we didn't even realise there was a tie breaker rule until we checked. Doug's rating: 9

BOHNANZA

Jenny, Janet, Doug, Debbie, Donna, Tina

First game for Jenny, who adopted Janet as her "bean counsellor". Total bean mayhem and I really cannot give a coherent report on specifics. I think I've burnt myself out on this game... :)

Tina/Donna: 13
Janet: 11
Debbie/Jenny: 10 (Debbie with a third bean field)
Doug: 9

ZIRKUS FLOHCATI

Janet, Doug, Jenny

A three player closer of this neglected game. I can only recall playing this once and not remembering a thing about it. Having read several reports singing its praises as a filler, it was time to give it another go.

It was fast and fun, but probably not at its best with three players. Janet quickly adopted the strategy of collecting the "gala" set of ten fleas as fast as possible and closing the game for a 10 point bonus. We played again, and Janet repeated the performance. And again, and again, and again. However, on the sixth game both Jenny and Doug knocked her off!

Game by game:

Janet: 53 / 60 / 49 / 69 / 45 / 49
Jenny: 30 / 36 / 46 / 44 / 40 / 75
Doug : 35 / 53 / 38 / 59 / 22 / 61

I can see the appeal - like to try it with five players. Certainly at the "fluffy" end of the Knizia spectrum, even lighter than Katzenjammer Blues and Money, closing in on Vampire.

Steve Gardner writes:

TAJ MAHAL

Craig, Alan, Steve (in playing order)

This was a tough, uncompromising, and controversial game of Taj Mahal, one that confirmed my suspicion that the game actually plays best with three players. Certainly the two occasions I've played this with three have provided the closest and most interesting battles.

The game was unusual in that the first province to be contested was one of the central provinces that are crucial for linking up networks. There are only three central provinces (the rest being on the edges), and one of these is always contested last, so usually you start on an edge. Starting in the centre meant that commitment to a network strategy would have to come as the first move of the game, and it would mean violating my rule-of-thumb not to play many cards early in the game. But the opportunity was there for me, and the visit-order appeared well set-up for a network strategy, so I played an extra card before withdrawing last and took three palaces and the octagon.

Weakened by this early commitment and late withdrawal, I was only able to secure a single palace in the second province, while Alan commenced a period of utter domination that would last the next six rounds. In this period, he collected octagons and commodity chips, as well as the special cards, apparently at will. I withdrew without contesting in round 3, keeping my powder dry for round 4 - but then got disastrously blown out of the water anyway by Alan in round 4, playing 4 cards for only a single palace. By the end of round 5, the scores were Alan (36), Steve/Craig (16) - Alan had outscored Craig and I put together!

Round 6 saw a key play. Alan played first, but I didn't have the cards to match him. This left it up to Craig to match Alan to prevent him from scoring, which he duly did - only to see me come over the top and snatch the octagon with a double elephant card once Alan had withdrawn. Craig had cause to feel hard done by: in a just world, his hard work blocking Alan would have been rewarded. But the double-elephant card was my last in that colour; playing it then seemed clearly the correct play. So it goes, but it was hard luck for Craig. He did, however, manage to pick up the yellow special card (+2 points), which had, quite remarkably, lain unclaimed on the table for the first five rounds.

In rounds 7 and 8, I made some headway, extending my network to 7 and in the process reducing Alan's lead to about 10 points, which still looked a big gap. In round 7, Alan played with all four special cards in his hand, an unusual occurrence!

Round 9 saw the next turning point in the game. In a province in a corner of the board away from my network, I withdrew early-ish after playing the yellow special (which I'd secured the previous round) and took a single palace, leaving Alan and Craig to fight it out. The octagon was worth 8 points to Alan, and Craig - who had the stronger hand - was determined not to let him have it. Alan looked on in disbelief as Craig matched him in every category, eventually forcing him to withdraw, having played 4 cards for nothing, and with his hand decimated. Alan protested bitterly that Craig was handing the game to me on a platter, but it seemed to Craig and I that Alan had simply picked a fight he should have known - or at least suspected, given the relative hand strengths - he couldn't win.

In round 10, the shoe was on the other foot as Alan and Craig worked together to prevent me from extending my network to 8, but I was able to achieve this in round 11. Going into the last round, the game had tightened up considerably, the scores being Alan (49), Steve (41), Craig (37). I needed to secure only a single palace to guarantee 9 points, since my network could be extended at any of 4 points. After one round of cards, I could withdraw for yellow, and a final score of 56 points (counting my hand) - but I didn't think that would be enough. If Alan made the right connections, his final scored looked to be about 59. How could I find those few extra points I needed? My only chance was to play on for the octagon, worth 5 points to me. Craig had opened strongly in elephants, but I was able to catch him in time to prevent him withdrawing, and eventually my stronger hand prevailed.

Final scores:

Steve 59
Alan 55
Craig 47

Rating: 9. A hard-fought game with plenty of cut-and-thrust. Alan swears blind that I won by deviously pitting Craig and he against each other, but I think it was the distribution of cards more than any Machiavellian plotting on my part. At the two critical junctures in rounds 6 and 9, I simply didn't have the cards to match Alan, and so the burden of reeling in his runaway lead fell disproportionately on Craig. Even so, had Alan decided to cut his losses early in round 9, who knows what might have happened...?

EUPHRAT & TIGRIS

Alan, David, Craig, Steve (in playing order)

Drained by our fierce encounter in India, Alan, Craig and I took a few deep breaths, shook ourselves down, and backed up for a jaunt even further back in time, to ancient Mesopotamia. We were joined on our journey by David. This was Craig's first game of Euphrat, and only my second - my first having been way back on my very first night at BBG. I've no idea why it's taken me so long to get back to this game, which intrigued me so greatly that one time I played it.

Alan repeated his performance from the early rounds of our game of Taj Mahal by battering me about the head early in the game. In my vague and clueless fashion, I had pursued a strategy that placed us in direct competition, and Alan had no difficulty in exploiting my mistakes. Alan soon had three treasures, and access to the blue/green monument I had built but neglected to defend in any serious way, in the process kicking two of my leaders off the board. David intervened, playing a catastrophe tile to break Alan's connection to the monument. This allowed Craig and I to re-establish contact with the monument, solving for me what had threatened to become a long-term weakness in blue (at the time my score was something like 1/2/2/5, with the one in blue).

Craig was playing a cautious, solid and largely untroubled game in his own corner, quietly and steadily accumulating points. The fireworks were happening on the other side of the board, where David and Alan conducted a series of external conflicts, vying for control of the largest kingdom. Craig and I pottered, feeling powerless to exert any real influence on a game which it seemed certain either David or Alan would win.

But appearances can be deceptive. Euphrat's unique scoring rule, in which your score is determined by your weakest area, means that a series of impressive victories in three colours means nothing if they leave you behind in the fourth. And as it happened, both David and Alan did have a serious weakness in one colour: David in red and Alan in black. Even so, Alan missed an opportunity to pick up a black victory point on his last turn that would have given him the game. David tried a desperate attack against me in red, but was out of luck as I happened to be well fortified in that colour at the time. The three red victory points I gained from this conflict were crucial in the final analysis. On my last turn, I ended the game by finally grabbing a treasure. As I perused the board looking to make maximum use of my last action for the game, I saw that I could build the green/red monument in a kingdom where I just happened to have the red and green leaders. But I had no thought of winning as I played this move. I was totally surprised by the final scores:

Steve: 5/6/9/9 - winning on tie break in the third colour!
Craig: 5/6/7/13
Alan: 5/5/6/11
David: 5/5/5/5

Rating: 8. Let's not wait 3 months before I play this again.

RAGE

David, Steve, Craig, Alan

A quick, light closer after two exhausting Knizia's. Rage is a variant of Diminishing Whist (also known as Oh, Hell! or Up and Down the River), played with a deck of 5 suits of 15 cards, as well 5 types of special cards. Players bid the number of tricks they think they'll make, and points are awarded for taking tricks. +10 if you make your bid, -5 if you miss, and there are +5 and -5 cards among the specials. In the first round, there are ten tricks, in the last round, one.

Needless to say there's a fair bit of luck involved. Bidding last in the four card round, for example, my hand consisted of two Jokers, a high trump, and a zero: virtually a guaranteed 3 tricks, and bidding last made it impossible for the others to take into account my strong bid. I seemed to have this kind of luck for most of the game, making my bid 7 times in 10 rounds for a comfortable victory.

Final scores:
Steve: 92
David: 70
Alan: 34
Craig: 11

Rating: 5. The game itself is fine, but it's no great improvement on the original played with a regular deck of cards. If you want someone to purchase a special, essentially one-use-only deck, I think you need to offer them more and better ideas than than do the makers of Rage.

An interesting side note: I chatted to David briefly after the game about his approach to bidding. He said he estimated how many tricks he thought he could win, then halved it to account for uncertainty (since not all cards are in play, and the trump can change mid-hand courtesy of special cards). David says he's had good results with this strategy: although he hasn't won, his scores have been solid as they were this game. My own approach is more aggressive: instead of halving, I subtract one or two. The score sheet reflects the difference in our approaches. David and I actually made the same number of successful bids during the game (7 each), but during the whole game, David bid only 5 tricks, while I bid 20! Of course it's also true that my hands just happened to be stronger than his...

Debbie Pickett writes:

(ANOTHER) RA

Debbie, Tina, Janet

We were playing strange numbers all evening, as first Doug and David set up another 30-minute saga of Battle Cry, then Craig, Alan and Steve went off with Taj Mahal. Not really in the mood for a Knizia brain-burner, I sided with Tina when she suggested Ra. Yes, I recognize the irony of that statement.

Janet started with the 13 sun, and it was an auspicious start: a Ra tile right away. I took the hint, and went for broke, taking what I could, including an impressive set of monuments. I was first out as a result. Tina was going heavy on Niles, and I was collecting Pharaohs like mad. Janet had a good collection of civilizations and a bunch of gods. (What is the collective noun for deities, anyway?)

Epoch two wasn't much different, with Tina scoring a veritable mountain of Niles, and catching the few floods that were left after the flood of . . . well, floods in the first epoch. Janet was the last to go out of the round, and pulled off a magnificent coup when she was able to bid a 1 sun for a stack of useful tiles and the 13 sun in the middle. I was out already, and Tina has only one sun left and wasn't ready to sit out too. Very sneaky!

Epoch 3 was destined to be pretty short after the dearth of Ra tiles early on. Interestingly, Tina had four of the five lowest suns (the fifth was in the middle), I had the next few, and Janet had four of the five largest. Tina invoked Ra mercilessly, understanding that if either of Janet or me bid, she was out of the running. Just as mercilessly, I bid almost every time. It cost me the Pharaoh bonus, but it did cement my monuments. I also lapped up the second-last flood in the game (the last didn't come up), leaving poor Tina with a nile-high stack and no flood to activate them. Tina snatched the Pharaoh bonus and ended up getting the sun bonus from Janet. In the end, it wasn't even close.

Final scores: Debbie 77, Tina 40, Janet 37.

My rating: Still a favourite, I give this one a 7, maybe even 8.

ANDROMEDA

Debbie, Tina, Janet

We waited for the other groups to finish, so we could trade playing partners . . and ended up settling back into the same trio. Oh well. Tina picked Andromeda, that game of high skill and strategy from Alan Moon. (I still like it, even though it's random. I say that it's random mainly because I lost so badly.)

I don't recall much, except that Tina and Janet got plenty of cubes to come out the ashtray's hole, and I impressively managed to evict all colours except my own - leaving me with one planet having two free moons, the occupied moon Tina's, and the only cubes on the planet my colour. Lucky me.

One highlight was when I pushed Tina to a fourth card in the trading phase, presumably because she wanted something I was playing. Much to her horror, I could not play to her fourth card, having only things that Tina had played already, and was able to withdraw from trading. This left Tina with nothing to do but exchange her cards with the useless ones Janet was offering - cards which Janet didn't want to part with either. Despite this bit of malice, the rest of the game was certainly Tina and Janet's.

I thought I had a chance until the last round, when I couldn't land a moon to save myself. Tina finished me off, but it wasn't enough to counter Janet's eight points of bonus cards.

Final scores: Janet 87, Tina 81, Debbie 55.

My rating: I'm usually in the mood to play this game once. Afterwards I'm always complaining about my luck . . :) Probable 7, but after I play it 6.

APPLES TO APPLES

Tina, Debbie, Jenny, Janet, Donna, Doug

Jenny appeared to be sinking under the weight of her own beans in our six-player Bohnanza, so we agreed on something a bit lighter to follow up. This little party game fit the bill nicely. With the Little Mermaid and Canadians cards not to be seen, it looked like the playing field was levelled for myself and Tina, respectively. It must have helped a lot, because Tina scored her first victory.

Final scores: Tina 7, Debbie 5, Jenny 4, Janet 4, Donna 4, Doug 3.

My rating: With large groups, this one's hysterical. Still 8 after several playings.

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