Billabong Boardgamers October 20th, 1998
Present: Janet, Doug, Dey, Roger, David, Alan, JulianPrevious session report
Doug Adams writes:
A drop in numbers tonight saw seven people at Janet and Doug's, Donna was missing in action, while Julian turned up two hours into the evening. First to arrive were Dey and Roger, carrying a box of elephants.
Janet and I were twiddling our thumbs at 7pm, so we broke out Knizia's cute fencing game. I was 3 touches to zero up when the doorbell rang. The elephants (no offence!) had arrived...
When Billabong invaded Roger and Dey's a few weeks ago, there was something about the interior of their house that, well, stood out. Elephants. Lots of elephants! Dey collects lots of things of the elephant persuasion, so of course the old game Elefantenparade had to be mentioned to them. Julian was the only Billabonger to have seen and played this game, which Yucata is apparently derived from. After Yucata proved to be a hit, a copy of Elefantenparade was quickly hunted down and acquired.
With only four players on deck, we decided to try it out again (we'd played it a few nights earlier). The game involves a line of eight elephants, two per player. On a turn, a player may move three elephants one, two and three spaces respectively, or declare an elephant parade which moves every elephant one space. Movement is along a track that starts on the outside of the board and spirals inwards to the centre. Along the way there are special spaces that contain logs. The object of the game is to land your elephant on these spaces and claim the logs there. Bonus logs are paid for the first three tuskers across the finish line.
It's such a simple game, but a couple of things turn it into a brain draining experience. Firstly, there are a few blue water spaces on the track. If an elephant enters one of them, it must stay there until all elephants are passed or a parade is called. Second, movement is counted by the number of free spaces, not occupied (similar to how you score in Ursuppe). This makes plotting a move very difficult; it's just not intuitive to see how the board will look after a move.
In our game I managed to pick up the first set of logs - there are two logs each in these special spaces. Roger picked up the second set of logs, but I had a nice lead over the pack. I decided it was in my best interests to move Janet's elephant to pick up the third set of logs, evening out the load, and go for the finish line for the three bonus logs on offer there.
Somehow my lead elephant got the break on the field, so my three logs were assured (almost!). I then concentrated on trying to give Dey two logs so Roger couldn't take the win off me by claiming second place and two logs. Well, it sort of worked, as I won the game, but I'm uncertain as to just how much control I had over the win. Fun, and frustrating. Especially as the others didn't trumpet loudly to celebrate my win, as instructed by the rules!
Doug's rating: 7 (up from 6)
Hols der Geier
David and Alan had arrived part way through the previous game, and had started a two player Jumbo Grand Prix in the next room. We grabbed Hols der Geier off the shelf to demonstrate a couple of hands to Roger and Dey, to fill in time while the Grand Prix was run next door.
Not much to say....it's fast and frenetic with lots of laughs. And I'm rather proud of my score! We finished up when Alan and David reappeared.
Roger and Dey wanted to try this game, introduced to them at Alan's the week before, and it never gets vetoed. Alan took on the not insubstantial task of playing green, in Julian's absence. I decided to change my strategy and try and earn first and second place bonuses in three colours. Two colours just wasn't giving me a win, based on past history.
The first round saw David clean up, earning the 30 bonus and not paying anywhere near what he should have. Dey and Janet were looking strong in Metal, while Alan collected an assortment of cheap but valuable commodities to just miss out on the 30 bonus, but still made a handsome profit.
Round two saw me pick up four red cards that I didn't need, but hey, it gave me first place in red at the end of the round! A single green card built on my round one green gains to keep me in front there as well. Dey made her move, and reeled in David. Janet, who has trouble with her eyes with some of the graphically ambiguous games, bought three of the gold cards thinking they were metal, but accepted the mistake. After two rounds the game was very close.
Round three saw Dey, one of the game leaders, hold off buying until late in the round. David sort of self-destructed, picking up an unwanted card lot. I managed to get red into the bonus zone on the commodity log in two rounds, not having any red after round 1. Another single green saw me share first place with Roger as well. After having pathetic totals in rounds one (8) and two (12), I managed something fairly meaty in round three. The scoring was going to be very close....
Okay, so it wasn't that close, but this game felt really well contested and had a lot of tension. I feel my first win in this game, one of my firm favorites, is just around the corner. Next week, guys? :)
Roger Smith writes:
EDISON & CO. (Rio Grande)
Julian: 63 + 38 + 4 = 105
I bought this game a couple of months ago before becoming involved with the Billabongers, but hadn't got around to playing it. Doug (who has a copy waiting in Germany) and some of the others have been keen to have a go. All of us were aware of the "bad press" E&C has garnered, but tried to approach the game with some objectivity. I fumbled through the rules explanation (we played the basic, non-team version), then the race was off...or rather it wasn't. The first thing we realised is that this isn't a racing game - it is a game of positioning. So much so, that by the end of the game not a single vehicle had covered more than half the track.
The game has a lot of good things going for it, including some very clever systems. The first of these is the hidden objective. Each player has a card with the four vehicles numbered from 0-3. The player's final score is the score of the vehicle multiplied by the number on their card. Thus, if on my secret card the steam rocket is numbered three, it is in my best interest to see the steam rocket score the most during the game. The vehicles are scored once at the end of the game, and, optionally up to four times during the game. The score for each vehicle is indicated by a point value marker (usually positive) on the space it is sitting. To move a vehicle, three players play cards indicating the distance to be moved, the direction of movement, and the vehicle to be moved (the card plays gives a choice of two vehicles). The fourth player selects which of the (two) vehicles will be moved.
Despite the cleverness of these systems, I felt the game didn't really succeed holistically. Although there are no "random" events as such, the lack of control felt was similar to that in a game based mainly on luck. The others concurred with me that control was an issue. The other observation was that it was fairly easy to work out which vehicle people were favouring. The advanced rules (see below) may remedy this. We all agreed it was an OK-good game, but one that needs to be played more before committing ourselves to an opinion. In particular, we agreed that we would play again using the team rules (two teams of two players, each team sharing one hidden objective) which should give us more control. Jay, if you're reading this we'd be interested to know the exact nature of the 'fixes' you've applied.
I was also assigned the task of investigating the advanced rules and saying something about them. The first difference is that instead of using the default scoring values allocated to spaces, the players can assign a new set by mutual agreement. The second difference is that players (or teams) is dealt a favourite card which identifies the one vehicle they must designate as their favourite. Players then assign their own multipliers, between 0 and 10 to each of the vehicles. The favourite must have at least 4 points, and more than any other vehicle. I'm not sure if the first of these would make much difference, but the second certainly seems to open up new opportunities. We'll report further on the team and advanced play at a later date.
My final feedback is on the organisation of the rules. To read all the rules you need to go through two rulebooks and the back of the quick reference card. All of which overlap with each other. I found this very confusing.
Roger's rating: TBD
TAKE IT EASY
Julian: 160 + 95 + 133 = 388
A new game for me, and to my way of thinking more of a puzzle than a game, and one which could be--and has been according to David--played solitaire. Each player has a board consisting of 24 hexes in the shape of a larger hex, and a set of 24 hexagonal tiles. Each piece is crossed by three coloured and numbered lines. A random piece is chosen from a fourth set (this is done slightly differently in a four player game), players choose the identical tile from their own sets, and, without looking at each other, place it on their boards. The object is to lay your tiles so as to achieve as many unbroken lines as possible. An unbroken line can be either three, four, or five hexes long depending on its position on the board. The score is simply the total of the values of the coloured line. For example, a row of five yellow (9 point) lines scores 45 points. Three rounds are played, then a winner declared.
On first glimpse, I wasn't expecting to enjoy this game - I'm not really one for puzzles other than the jigsaw type. To my surprise, I found I did enjoy it and didn't get as flustered as I thought I would. I think the key is that you don't have to (and indeed you probably can't) get the puzzle 100% right: you just have to do the best you can with the tile available to you at the time. Occasionally the choices are difficult to make, requiring you to just take a chance. I'm not sure if the title is meant to indicate that making these choices will make you a nervous wreck? If anything it had the opposite effect on me. Julian and David both seemed fairly relaxed as well. You tend to get absorbed in your own games, often not even looking up between turns. For this reason the lack of player interaction doesn't seem an issue.
Roger's rating: 6.5
[See Doug's review for scores. I stuffed up here and thought I was writing the EP review, so rather than let it go to waste... Might be interesting to compare it to Doug's.]
Dey and I were the first to arrive at Doug and Janet's and had once again brought along our pre-loved copy of Elefanten Parade which arrived from Funagain last week. This was the second time the four of us had played the game together, and despite the cries of "too cerebral for the Billabongers" it seems to be a success. Our first play inevitably saw us comparing it with Yucata'. I think we all agree that while, superficially, Yucata' has some elements in common with EP, there are more differences than similarities. In particular they are very different to play, with EP being slower and more intense.
Each player aims to gather the most logs using their two elephants. Logs are gathered as your elephants progress to the centre of the board (which the Yucata' board DOES somewhat resemble). If you land exactly on one of the four spaces containing two logs each, you can pick them up. The first elephant home gets three extra logs, the second two, and the third one. Also along the way are four waterholes. If your elephant lands in a waterhole, you can't move it out again until all other elephants have passed. The movement system is unique and interesting. Each turn you can either a) move one elephant three spaces, another two spaces, and a third one space, or b) call an elephant parade, where every elephant is moved forward one space (this is the only way to get out of a waterhole without waiting for the other elephants to pass). Note that if you choose to use the first move option you can move any three elephants - not necessarily your own. When moving elephants you only count empty squares; consequently there is a lot of elephant leapfrog taking place.
There is a good balance of offensive and defensive strategy. The former involves trying to set your elephants up so they are in a position to take logs on your turn. The latter includes dropping your opponents' elephants in the drink and moving them past the logs they were planning to take. Often such a move must be set-up by one player and implemented by the next (because you can only move an elephant once on your turn). Opportunities seem to sneak up on you. For example, being the last elephant in the pack might seem to indicate you are coming last, however a move of as little as one space can take you to the front, and all of a sudden those logs seem to be in reach. Similarly those logs several spaces away are frustratingly just out of reach of your elephant - until you move two other elephants ahead of yours and use your third move to jump over them onto the log square.
One question arose re. the set-up. Players take it in turns to place their elephants on the first eight squares of the board. We are not sure if the intention is to place them one or two at a time, therefore we have been using a Settler-type switchback set-up. This seems to work OK. Any comments?
An enjoyable, challenging game and one that we have hardly begun to work out. The wooden elephants are cute too.
Roger's rating: 7.5
Alan Stewart writes:
JUMBO GRAND PRIX
Removed half the scoring wreaths, and set off. A lot of 4x7 cars appeared in this game.
As Alan was 56, and David 38 before the last race, which was 14-2 up for grabs, David conceded.
JUMBO GRAND PRIX
Janet, Dey, Alan
We played this to fill in time while waiting for Edison & Co to finish. In marked contrast to my earlier game I never completed a "28" car until the last race of the game, by which time it was too late.
In fact I deliberately didn't finish in the second last race (passing up 1 VP) to keep 3x4 cards in preparation for the final race. It paid off, as a 4 driver came up in my last blind pick up!
In the end it was Janet 70, Dey 68, Alan 48.
Dey had also not finished in an earlier race.
A neat quick filler game. The four drafting turns to build up your hand are real quick. This time we used the rule that you didn't have to discard, but could just draft one card. Somehow this wasn't an option the last time I had played.
Alan, Janet, Dey
This had been quite successful as a 3 player game last time, so we gave it a go. (We were going to have a 6 player game, but Julian arrived).
Janet bought quite a few 9 cards early on, and there was more "clearing the board to stop people getting a 9" than I'd seen before. I think we'd all played it enough now to know what we're doing, and it improved the game. You mightn't have liked the move of the upstream player, but you knew why they did it, and could respect them for it.
Every one borrowed at least once, getting it right each time, but all ended up with between 4-8 $ cash left at the end. More than I've seen in other games.
I had to present a dismal 29 ballet, which Dey managed to beat with a 30 which contained 2 provincials. I borrowed against it, and it ended up on 0 in New York as I expected. It was a strange game, with both my last 2 productions being Lear, and my spare card from my previous production was no use towards them. I didn't notice which letter the remaining 9 Lear in the deck was, and when I had the option to purchase it found I already had one of that letter! Sigh.
Wolf was put on in the extreme right city, and borrowed against, but it still scored 4 for Dey.
Final scores: Alan 38+40=78, Janet 58+16=74, Dey 38+31=69
Again a very close game. I couldn't call it, and was surprised to fall over the line.
Very little down time. I think I prefer it as a 3 player game, rather than 4 or 6. I still have to try it as a 5 player.
Dey, Alan, Janet, Doug
To round off the evening we played Mu. Originally planned to go to 100 points (Dey would have won), then 11 pm deadline, then finish whenever the other game does.
I think Dey is still a bit hesitant about betting to become Chief, but is getting the hang of all the trumps.
The first hand saw Janet make the running, with Doug as vice. Janet picked me as her partner, which was fair enough from the cards played. Unfortunately it was destructor Doug at his best. Cleverly using the minor trumps and draining even more trumps once Janet lost the lead. Doug also had strong off suit, three or four of the 9 cards. Janet actually lost 40 points in the end, while Doug and Dey each picked up 20.
Then there was a successful bid from Janet and Dey, but I can't recall who was chief.
The next hand saw a huge bidding war which ended up with Alan as chief (7 cards bid), choosing Dey as my partner. Doug was vice (6 cards bid). Doug called 7s minor trump. As I had 3 8s and 3 3s, one of them was going to be the major trump. As Doug had played a 3 on the table, I went with the 8s, unfortunately leaving my off suit weaker (as the 8s were trumps). But I picked the right partner in Dey, despite no favourable indications on the table from Janet or Dey that I could interpret. Unfortunately the fact that there are 10 7s and only 5 8s proved my undoing, as I thought it might when Doug called the minor trumps, as I couldn't drain all the trumps. We went down, and I lost 30 points.
At this point it was Dey 112, Alan 10, Janet 35, Doug 83
But we went for one more hand. This time I'd been dealt 4 4s. I ended up chief, with 3 cards bid, and there was no Vice as Dey and Janet had both played 1,1! I chose Doug as my partner and we won 53 of the points! Gaining a bonus of 50 each. I led my strong off suit 9,8,7 of orange, but couldn't lead my 6 as Janet still had the other 7. But Doug had a few 8s and 9s and we cleaned up.
The game was then called for the night.
Dey 119, Alan 97, Janet 35, Doug 149.
I want to play this game some more, and introduce it to some more card playing friends.