Billabong Boardgamers
 

Billabong Boardgamers - 21st December, 1999

Present: Doug, Debbie, Tina, Donna, Craig, David, Alan, Bernie, Julian C., Roger, Greg

Previous session report

David Coutts write:

6 Billion

Players: David, Alan, Bernie, Julian and Greg

Greg was the only player who was new to the game, and I think it was the first time Julian had played the finished product (Julian was a regular 6 billion playtester, though). We played with the Optional Discovery Track rules, allowing for 2 Discoveries each and a means to manipulate the turn order.

Alan (Hidden Agenda - Asteroid Belt) adopted the Earth-first strategy, resulting in him controlling the Neutrals for most of the game whilst being protected (for the early part of the game) by the Opening Treaty. Alan was also first on the score track during most of the game, having played various cards on the Neutrals and other players. Greg (Hidden Agenda Mars) looked to be having a pretty reasonable first game, and seemed to be the best coloniser. Bernie (Hidden Agenda Earth) spent much of his time competing with Alan over Earth, with Julian's green moving between second and third on Earth for most of the game.

Alan and I had an epic struggle over the Asteroid Belt, whilst Greg was forced (by me) to compete with the Neutral for first place on Mars. I don't recall all the Discovery cards that people had, though Julian got first place on Venus and Bernie had Neptune (I think). There was stiff competition on the Discovery Track, with the various track leaders changing constantly.

I felt like I was having my worst ever game of 6 Billion as I also had Mars as a Hidden Agenda, but my early colonising attempt was thwarted. I wasn't doing that well with Discovery cards, or on the score track, either. Then Alan kept dragging me down on The Asteroid Belt. I saved my War for him...

In the late game Alan finally sent colonists from Earth (and was no longer protected by the Opening Treaty). For me, the last 2 to 3 turns were fantastic. I drew sufficient Make A Discovery cards to finally get something decent, including the Leaf track so I quickly tied there with Julian. Then I finally migrated to Mars (where I'd forced Greg and the Neutral into a tied first place), and used a Double card to advance myself into second place (worth 8 points to me!). Finally, I managed to get ahead of Alan on the Asteroid Belt to end the game! At one point I got to play my War on Alan, who halved his Earth population giving Julian the opportunity to tie first place with Bernie. Julian's Hidden Agenda, to everyone's surprise, was Earth!

Greg's downfall turned out to be holding, despite working through the Discovery deck, a Discovery card (Recycle?) for which he got no points from a potential eight.

In the end a very tight game. If it had gone on longer I don't think my position would have improved, and I was happy with my late game recovery.

6 Billion Scores
Bernie 42
Julian 42
David 40
Alan 38
Greg 33

Greg Hallam adds: It struck me that it would be interesting to compare 6 Billion with Andromeda - even though Andromeda is a shorter lighter game, both games have the same theme and some common factors, but 6 Billion achieves its goal of a colonisation game far more elegantly than Andromeda, despite being longer and more in-depth.

Debbie Pickett writes:

CLASH OF THE LIGHTSABERS

Debbie, Tina

Roger found this two-player Milton Bradley Phantom-Menace-movie-tie-in recently and brought it along for this session. Tina and I grabbed it and gave it a go. The rules were quite simple to follow (with one exception, which I'll cover shortly).

Players are dealt seven cards from one of two identical decks. Three are chosen and laid face-down opposite the opponent's three to form the first attack of each of the three battles that make up a round. Then the first battle's cards are turned over.

Cards can be either numeric attack cards from 1 to 5, or special cards, which allow the players to do things such as draw new cards, double the attack value of their cards, retreat and take played cards back into the hand, etc. The balance of these cards is pretty good.

After the first two cards are revealed, one player will likely have a higher total than the opponent. The one that is losing has a choice: play another card, or concede the battle. Because cards are a limited commodity, sometimes is is wise to concede a battle in order to win the round. Once the losing player has outscored the opponent, the roles switch, and the new trailing player has to play a card or concede. If the scores are equal, both players play simultaneously. Once a player is out of cards, concession is the only choice. One last twist is that if both players play a special card simultaneously, both are discarded without effect. This makes for a bit of a bluffing element as you try to figure out if you can play your special card or had better play it safe with a number.

After the three battles are played, the player who earned the majority of them moves forward one space (or if the player won all three battles, two spaces). Cards left over are retained and another seven are dealt out for the next round.

Neither of us really appreciated the value of conceding a battle early until late in the first game, after which the outcome was already obvious. The second match produced some close battles which, through luck, I was able to win the majority of. Indeed, luck is a big element in this game. You have to learn to adapt to the cards you are dealt in order to use them to your advantage. Flexibility is rewarded well in this game.

All in all, I felt this game was pretty good - light fluff, with no need for the Star Wars theme, and a good filler. To have come from the North American Hasbro machine, it is all the more amazing. It has a lot of the feel of Caesar & Cleopatra and probably the same balance of luck and skill (though C&C has more bluffing).

Final scores, game 1: Tina 4, Debbie 2.
Final scores, game 2: Tina 2, Debbie 4.

My rating: I give this game a 6 for its game play. Certainly worth playing again.

TABULA RASA

Debbie, Tina

The other tables were both on longish games, so Tina and I picked up another short two-player to try. This one is clearly of the Schotten-Totten/Lost Cities school, though perhaps without quite the skill factor of the first.

Having played this with four players - as a partnership game - I was eager to try it with two, and indeed it is a better game with two. The scores at the end do not really reflect the closeness of the game.

Final scores: Tina 14, Debbie 19

My rating: Probably a 6, though it doesn't feel quite as good to me as Clash of the Lightsabers does. A little bit of thinking required, but a lot of the time moves are obvious.

TWINS

Doug, Roger, Craig, Debbie, Donna, Tina

No, not the Schwarzenegger/De Vito Game of the Movie, but a 1996 card game from Reiner Knizia. Doug had just got a copy after rave reviews from an acquaintance in Japan.

There are six suits of cards, numbered 1 through 10. Some cards have white numerals, some have black ones. Each player is dealt eight cards (and may buy more from their pool of 12 money chips) from this deck. Players now simultaneously take two cards from their hands and play them to the table. A poker-like ranking of the hands now occurs: cards with the same numeral and same numeral colour ("twins") outrank cards of the same numeral but different numeral colours ("pairs"), which outrank two cards of the same background-colour suit ("colours"), finally outranking anything else. Sums of values act as tie-breakers.

This happens four times in a round; after the first time, the three players with the lowest-scoring two cards have to pay two chips to the kitty in the middle; of the second two cards played, the two players with the highest combination get to take three; with the third couple of cards, the two players with the lowest valued sets pay one and drop out of the round; finally, the last two cards played determine who takes the entire kitty left in the middle of the table (highest wins). Leftover cards (which you will have if you purchased extra cards at the start of the round) are not used. Quantities of players required to pay vary with the number of players participating in the game. Rounds continue in this manner until someone runs out of money.

In theory, because you need to make combinations of cards from the ones you have been dealt, there is some strategy in choosing the right pairings to play, and when to play them. In practice, I found, there is absolutely no choice in what cards to play, and you are entirely at the mercy of the deal. Because winning the pot at the end is all-important, everyone hangs on to their highest-valued twins, and whether you have the highest or not depends only on what other players have. I imagine this may happen less in a four-player game than with the six we were playing with.

As it happened, Donna and Doug were the lucky ones, taking all the money from Roger, Craig and me. Tina made a slight profit overall.

Final scores: Doug 31, Donna 22, Tina 16, Craig 2, Debbie 1, Roger 0.

My rating: I haven't invented the scoring scale for games such as this yet. I guess that I ought to give it a 3, meaning that it could have been worse, but that still doesn't make me want to play it again. Funny, because Tina and Doug had mostly positive things to say about it.

Doug Adams adds: Boy, one tough nut :-) I liked it because I thought the game worked against what it was trying to do. It's fluff, nothing more. A hand of eight cards, you have to use those 8 to get through and try and win the final pot. You can augment the hand with the purchase of one or two extra cards.

Okay, you get dealt a Twins 10 hand, but you still had to get to the end to play it. Another strategy for weak hands is play to round 2 and try for the three chips, and ignore round's three and four. I found a couple of times I could have played my hand one way or another and just got a hint of that Knizia squeeze (that itchy teeth feeling ;), just a hint.

As a fluffy opener or closer where bluff/luck go hand in hand, I give it a 5 or a 6.

DIE SIEDLER VON NÜRNBERG

Donna, Debbie, Tina

After playing this last week, I wanted to try it again and show it to Tina. We rustled together a group of three and got underway. This game went considerably faster, running to about 90 minutes including explaining rules on the fly to Tina.

I have to admit, the game is not as good with three players than with four. This is true of most forms of Settlers, so it came as no surprise. With three players there are fewer resources floating around, and less of an opportunity to catch the leader, which in this game ended up being Donna. There is also less crowding, which means players are freer to get victory points from settlements and such. (When I play three-player regular Settlers, I always play to twelve victory points, not ten. Perhaps something similar might be wise here.)

The deck of cards can produce dry runs just about as bad as with dice, I found, with a patch of no cards for about eight turns in the middle seriously hurting me. I had a nice mitful of gold too, but because I could not built toll stations, Donna took a right-of-way off me and then proceeded to take six gold in tolls for the road in three successive event cards. Ouch! I made a late run for it, but by then it was too late; we discovered Donna had been on 13 victory points for a good two rounds without noticing.

As the trailing player in this game, I noticed something which detracts somewhat from the game: if you are behind in prestige points, with no chance of catching up, there is no point trying to earn more gold, since prestige is all you can usefully get with gold. I suppose in this situation you are supposed to build toll stations to get some rights-of-way back, but it didn't work out that way for me this time. I also agree that grain is a notoriously under utilized resource which can often just sit in the hand taking up valuable space, since it can't be used for making commodities (nor can brick, but at least it is used to make city walls). Worse still, the 2:1 grain trading place in the Hauptmarkt is horribly placed.

I'm tempted to try the game putting back the development cards from the basic game, with its soldiers and sundry cards. I don't know if this would improve the game or not. I guess there's only one way to find out.

Final scores:
Donna 13 (5 settlements, 2 workshops, 2 rights-of-way, 4 VP card)
Tina 9 (5 settlements, 1 workshop, 1 right-of-way, 2 VP card)
Debbie 9 (5 settlements, 2 workshops, 2 rights-of-way)

Alan Stewart writes:

MEMBERS ONLY

Julian, Bernie, Alan, David (turn order)

The game lasted 4 turns.

Alan 18 (10+8)
Julian 17 (10+7) = Bernie 17 (6+6+5)
David 7

Alan picked up a single extra point in the last round. If either of Julian or Alan's last turn initial bids had failed, the game would have gone another round.

(By coincidence, Bernie and Julian had just finished on the same score in the earlier game of 6 BILLION).

Doug Adams writes:

T-REX

Donna, Roger, Craig, Doug

This is an interesting twist on the trick taking game genre. I'm not 100% sure I had the rules understood, but from what I gather there are five suits, with only a few cards in each suit (eg. 5/10/15 in the red suit). Each player plays with an identical set of 17 cards, numbered 1 to 15, along with a couple of special cards. Each player draws an initial hand of 7 cards from the deck of 17, and from there on it's up to the player to maintain a balanced hand size via the card play.

On your turn you must play a card, and play cycles around the table until the end of the trick. Each card has one of two symbols - a "draw cards" symbol that allows you to add additional cards to your hand if you play such a symbol, or an "end trick" symbol which declares the trick will end on your next play unless another player subsequently plays a higher "end trick" card (in which case, the trick will end on their next turn).

The object of winning tricks is to get dinosaur eggs - totally appropriate after seeing the stunning Disney preview for "Dinosaur" the night before.

Each trick, 2 coloured dinosaur eggs are up for grabs, to be taken by the player who wins the trick (who selects one of the two eggs), and the second highest player to the trick, who takes the remaining eggs. At the end of the game (when 24 eggs have been claimed), each egg colour will score the square of the number of cards taken. Highest points wins the game.

There is a fair bit going on here. One quirk is you may trigger the end of the round with a powerful card, but you MUST play again to finish the trick and there is no guarantee you can take the trick out. Another quirk is the rule that says you must discard either the top card from your draw pile, or the top card from your discard pile, out of the game at the end of each trick. Thus a lovely draw pile of 17 cards is progressively weakened down to 5 by the end of the game.

I was just beginning to get the hang of it by the end, but by then it was too late. Donna, with the benefit of having played before, took our game. Dastardly Roger went the nobble by taking one of my precious red eggs and forsaking an egg he needed, to ensure we never got close. Curse the fiend! :)

Donna: 15
Craig: 14
Roger: 12
Doug: 7

Doug's rating: 6, more likely to climb than fall. This and Dolce Vita make two very nice card games from Hans im Glueck.

PRAIRIE RAILROADS

Craig, Roger, Doug

Time to chew some 'baccy, and head out to exotic places like "Great Bend" and "Abilene", with this interesting Winsome railroading game that Roger and Craig both played last week. Roger gave it high marks, and having enjoyed Lancashire Railroads recently, I was keen to give it a try.

This game has some nice, clean mechanics. Action chits drive the game - on your turn you can play an action chit from your pool, or draw one from the cup and playing the drawn action.

Actions come in three flavours:

  • Offer Stock: a share stock is auctioned off. There are six companies, five shares per company. In order to make money you need shares in companies, then get those companies building crayon track across the laminated board. A very nice mechanic makes the money paid for the stock go into that company's coffers. It is these funds that the company must use to build track, so while you may get a bargain share for $1, that's not much use as it costs $5 to build a track segment. Very clever, and it certainly adds a twist to the old bidding mechanic.

  • Construct Track: a company's coffers are plundered for funds to build track. More track segments built, the more the payout per share when the next action is played.

  • Pay Dividend: each company pays the dividend bonuses to all shareholders. The total dividend is based on the value of towns connected by track, with bonus $1 for towns that experience "growth". This total is divided by 5 (shares per company) then each shareholder receives this amount per share. A bit mathematical, but by keeping records as you go, it is pretty painless. As there are only 8 Pay Dividend chits in the game (well, 3 player game), it is a reasonably rare occurrence compared to the other two actions.

The game ends when the 8th Pay Dividend is played, with a slightly different tweak on the final payouts.

Roger and Craig played this game well, while Doug lagged badly. Having played before the tactics, bid amounts, etc where a lot more evident, and it was only by about the half way point that Doug began to see what he should have been doing from the beginning. However at this stage Craig had deadlocked him on his red and green shares, and had a stack of other shares to boot. This meant that Doug was always going to lag behind Craig whenever a Dividend turn came around.

Roger meanwhile had cornered the black railroad and had skilfully filled the coffers up to ensure it could traverse the board and exit the map into the special bonus box. This gives a nice bonus payout at the end of the game.

With Craig owning stock in every company and blissfully building track, Doug began a futile "Offer Stock" strategy to try and get Craig and Roger spending their money against each other. That really didn't work, so once the two Pay Dividend chips had come out of the cup, and Craig had played his two, Doug saw no point in letting this go on. Doug played his two Pay Dividend chips, and Roger played his remaining chip, and the game was over. Craig in a canter....

Craig: $467
Roger: $370
Doug: $289

Despite the drubbing, I can see an excellent game here. Very clean, turns are lightning fast, and with four or five players I anticipate it would play very well. I give it an 8.

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