Billabong Boardgamers
 

Billabong Boardgamers - 23th May, 2000

Present: Debbie, Tina, Karen, Craig, Doug, Janet, Steve, David, Alan, Julian W.

Previous session report

Doug Adams writes:

Bumper night with seemingly lots played.

DURCH DIE WUESTE

Steve, Doug, Tina, Janet, Julian W.

Steve, having recently joined the group, was pretty keen to assimilate as many Reiner Knizia games as he could as quickly as possible. Next on the list was Durch die Wueste, Knizia's fabulous luck-free placement game.

I cannot remember playing too many five player games of this, but it seemed to work well. In the five player game, each player discards one of their camel trains to help reduce clutter on the board. Steve and Julian, both new to the game, seemed to pick up the rules very quickly, and both played solid games.

Durch die Wueste is a game I struggle to report on, as I'm usually so absorbed in what I need to do with my meagre two camel placements that I miss a bit of the big picture. I was cut off early from a couple of oases, so concentrated on taking lucrative waterholes and the longest camel train in two colours. Unfortunately, both Julian and Tina saw what I was up to, and Julian ensured I didn't take longest yellow off him! The other players seem to be earning nice points walling off outside areas of the board.

Julian: 69
Janet: 55
Tina: 50
Doug: 46
Steve: 42

Doug's rating: still the king of the "tile placement" games - 9.

WEB OF POWER

Tina, Janet, David, Doug

A new arrival from Rio Grande. This is a very fast playing placement game where you are trying to build up a network of cloisters/advisors on a medieval map of Europe. Cloisters are positioned on the "road network" which snakes across several countries/provinces of Europe. Advisors are placed in "court" in each of the countries/provinces. These pieces can only be placed into a province by playing a card that matches the provincial name, or playing any pair of province cards. As players are holding a tiny hand of three cards, the "think time" factor is vastly reduced and the game really hurtles along.

Points are scored in three areas. At the end of the first deck, each province is scored for majorities. At the end of the second deck (where there are now a lot more pieces on the board), points are again scored for majorities, as well as road networks of greater than four cloisters, and alliances between countries. The alliances are where the game is won or lost - there are 16 potential alliances that can exist between the two provinces and to earn points for an alliance you must hold equal or more advisors than any other player in EACH of the provinces in question. Debbie seems to think the German rules are slightly different here (I'm not sure, I haven't checked) but we played it the Rio Grande way.

This game really flies - it took us 30-40 minutes to play the entire game. The early game was dictated by a lot of "double plays" - playing a piece in a country as soon as it had been unlocked and following it immediately with an advisor to fill up the court. Doug went for Germany and played a lot of advisors/cloisters there, then began looking at Bayern. Tina had locked Bayern out, and Janet followed suit with Lothingen, rendering Doug's advisors essentially useless. From then on Doug concentrated on trying to pick up networks of at least four cloisters, and lucrative minor placings in countries.

David had invested a lot of effort in Western Europe, particularly in France and England. Janet took Lothingen, but suffered from Doug's malady and couldn't ally with a neighbouring province. Tina took the Italy/Bayern alliance - the 16th to be scored. This proved crucial as it gave her the win!

Tina: 44
Doug: 43
David: 35
Janet: 27

Doug's rating: I like this one - an initial 8. I have a slight doubt or two over the luck of the card draw mechanism, but still, I had rotten draws and managed second place.

Debbie writes about Web of Power: I just wanted to add a couple of comments about Web of Power, since I've now played it twice. This looks like a very fun game, and as everyone has been saying, quite deep for a game that seems to take no more than about 40 minutes to finish. Certainly a better game than Michael Schacht's last effort of Kontor (though I don't mind that game for what it is). I haven't tried the apparently different German rule for scoring alliances, but would love to see what effect it has. I suspect that it will reduce the overall effect of advisors on the final score. I am having no doubts about the game's replay value yet, so I'm keen to try it again.

DEMOCRAZY

Karen, Janet, Doug, David, Steve, Craig

Another new game that I found on our game store shelves, from Bruno! Not knowing a lot about it, I picked it up purely because it claimed to be based on a Karl-Heinz Schmiel game. KHS is probably my favourite game designer, so what did I have to lose?

The game it was based upon is Das Regeln Wir Schon, a game I own but have never played it before. After playing Democrazy, I certainly intend on giving it a go. Democrazy was a hoot - a really enjoyable closer to the evening.

Each player begins the game with six coloured pawns worth 1 point each, a hand of 6 law cards, a YES vote, a NO vote, and a secret wild vote (definite YES!, definite NO! or SCAM!). The idea of the game is to introduce laws to remove/depreciate your opponents chips, while adding/appreciating your own chips. Each turn a player selects a law from their hand, reads it aloud, and every player simultaneously votes on it. Majority YES or NO votes will either introduce the law as a rule of the game, or remove it from the game. A tie breaker symbol will either keep it or remove it in case of ties - a nice touch. If a player plays their definite YES or NO votes, that will force the law that way, but two of such votes played in the same vote will cancel all definite vote cards out with no effect. Definite vote cards are a once only shot, once you play it, you lose it! Finally, if a SCAM card is played to the vote, the outcome of the vote is reversed - nasty!

The laws are very amusing - a sample being:

  1. yellow chips are worth zero points
  2. green chips are worth two points
  3. players with blue eyes earn five bonus points
  4. female players earn five bonus points
  5. if a player successfully introduces a law, earn a chip, otherwise lose a chip
  6. the player who draws the END card loses five points

...and so on. Some laws take effect immediately, while others go onto the table in a permanent status (however, only six laws can exist on the table, so they can eventually be replaced).

The game ends when the END card is drawn from the deck. This is a special card that is randomly shuffled into the last 10 cards of the 25 card deck.

I found this game similar to Fluxx, but at least here you get a say in things, and that's a good thing. Game play is fast, there is no downtime as you have to vote during each turn, and the mix of laws is very good - light, funny, but does require some careful thought before committing your vote.

In our game Karen introduced law 5 above, which ensured chips would be changing hands frequently for the rest of the game. David seemed to benefit most from this, and he didn't seem to not get a law up and amassed a lot of chips by the end of the game. Doug tried to nobble David's score by trying to introduce a law that subtracted the score of the player on you right from your score to get your final tally - that failed - lose a chip!

Other highlights: David put a nice SCAM through to tweak a vote in his direction during another vote. Doug became an honorary woman, successfully introducing the female players earn five points law, and gaining a chip in the process (unfortunately Doug couldn't remove that law before the end of the game!). The 'have blue eyes/gain 5 points' law was voted in, via four players having blue eyes! In short, a crazy game but a lot of fun - six felt like a good number to play it with.

David: 18
Craig: 15
Doug: 14
Karen: 13
Janet: 13
Steve: 12

Doug's rating: fun closer - a 7.

Steve Gardner writes:

MODERN ART

Craig, David, Doug, Karen, Steve

In an all too characteristic fit of impulsiveness, I asked Karen Babcock to bring this 1996 Reiner Knizia game back from the US for me. It was well-reviewed on the net, and Doug had said he liked it. Last night was delivery night - thanks to Karen for lugging it half-way around the world for me.

On opening the box, I was slightly irritated to find that many dozens of fiddly little stickers need to be attached to many dozens of fiddly little plastic counters which serve as money. In the first place, the cheap little plastic counters are dinky and detract from the visual enjoyment of the game. I'm certain Rio Grande would have come up with something more pleasing. In the second place, would it have been too much to ask to have the game come with the dozens of little stickers already stuck? Why can't Mayfair get little details like this right?

Such minor quibbles aside, the game itself is another splendidly twisted variant on the auction theme which appears is so many of Mr. Knizia's games. Each player is an art dealer, selling the paintings in her hand and buying the paintings in the hands of others (or her should she see fit). At the end of each of four rounds, the dealers sell the paintings they have acquired during the round, with the most popular artists (those with the most paintings sold) being worth the most. A consistently popular artist will increase in value through the game. As in the real art market, the idea is to make the most money.

The central mechanical idea of the game is the four different styles of auctions which may be used. Each has it pros and cons, depending on the situation. My feeling is that experienced players would find a lot of scope for tactical nuance: if you pick your moment, you can make a killing selling in an open auction, but you don't have much control over who wins. A once-around auction may not rake in the dough, but it sure makes life hard for the player bidding first!

As the scores below will attest, this was a very close game. It does worry me a little that none of us had much sense of this during the game (money is kept secret). A close game should *feel* close - but none of us had any idea. Perhaps more experience would give you a feel for this. Or perhaps playing with money out in the open might be a good variant. And though I won the game, I don't really know how or why. David pointed out to me afterward that I'd sold more paintings than any other player - in other words, I had the luck of the cards. Karen and Craig were also crucially disadvantaged by a misunderstanding about a subtle point in the rules.

Overall, I liked it enough not to regret having asked Karen to pick it up for me. And I'd like to learn more about auction tactics. It could have wider applications!

My rating: 7. Not enough to deflect the course of my growing love affair with Taj Mahal - but how many games are that good? Definitely one to play again.

Scores:
Steve $393,000
Craig $385,000
David $373,000
Doug $368,000
Karen $353,000

Doug writes: The game definitely improves on repeat playings. My gut feeling going into the final round was that Craig and David were the leaders, and Karen wasn't doing so well. I thought I was doing okay, but not well enough to win. Steve, I had no idea about! I thoroughly enjoyed Modern Art last night. I've always been a bit of a Medici fan, and rated Modern Art a 7 - now I think I'll bump it a notch up to 8.

Craig writes: As already pointed out, Steve managed to sell more paintings. Partly, this could be luck of the draw. However, he also got one extra turn over everyone else, due to the way the double-person auction works and the fact that Doug, sitting immediately after him, ended the game off. If any (let alone all) of the other players had had another turn, the finishing order could have been totally different.

Debbie Pickett writes:

RA

Janet, Debbie, Tina

This game is rapidly trying to catch up with Mü for the title of "most frequently played game at Billabong". It was one of the first games I ever played at Billabong and has been popular ever since.

This three-player game was made interesting by an extremely short second epoch. Eight Ra tiles came up in the time it took about five other kinds of tiles to come up, in total. I spent practically all my sun tiles on the civilization tiles that came up, and squeaked in with the only positive score of the epoch (3 points).

This did leave me in trouble for the third epoch, however, and meanwhile Janet and Tina were collecting monuments heavily. Tina bombed out on the sun bonus in the end, which elevated me to second at her expense. Janet ended up in the winning position by playing safe for most of the game.

Final scores
Janet 47
Debbie 42
Tina 35

My rating: Still a 7, which indicates a game that I will often suggest as one to play, though it doesn't fill me with huge quantities of awe.

TAJ MAHAL

Debbie, Janet, Tina

My first two games of Taj Majal - both five-player affairs - gave me an absolute drubbing, although I still knew there was a great game in there somewhere. I was determined to do better on my third game.

The game has certainly got a different flavour with three players, and it went much faster - especially since all three of us were experienced and knew the rules. I believe that three is a better player count than five for this game; now I want to try it with four.

I pursued the strategy of "No strategy" this game, and only chose to chase a chain of palaces after about three rounds. Before that, I'd cheaply acquired a couple of elephant octagons, which held me in good stead later.

Janet lost a couple of expensive battles and was down to very few cards for much of the game. While this probably didn't help her cause, it didn't hinder her as much as I'd anticipated, with most rounds going to just two cards each player.

I'd collected a nice string of orange cards by about halfway through the game, using them sparingly and collecting as many as I could off the face-up withdrawal deck. As it turned out I barely needed any of them.

By the end of the game, the elephant discs were roughly evenly spread, with Tina having slightly more, Janet having slightly less, and all of us had spread out some impressive chains of palaces. Janet and Tina each had a chain of about size five, and I scored a monster eight-region swathe, actually running out of palace pieces in round 12. In one region, I scored all six prizes, which soon led to me holding all four of the special white cards.

Tina was in the lead early with major elephants, and it wasn't until about round 9 that Janet and I caught up with palace chains. The final scores really don't reflect the excitement of the game.

Final scores
Debbie 65
Janet 55
Tina 34

My rating: Also a 7, but maybe only a 6 with five players. I think the palace chain strategy is more viable with fewer players, but then, so too would the elephant strategy be. I guess I'll just have to play it some more to find out.

SAMURAI

Debbie, Karen, Steve

With Steve making a vow to play every Reiner Knizia game in existence in the space of three weeks, it was out with this little tile-laying gem. I hopefully explained the rules coherently and we were underway.

Karen started her empire unchallenged in Kyushu, though with the large-numbered pieces she was getting she would perhaps have done better to spread herself around a bit more. Steve and I fought for central Honshu, with me being quite vicious in my use of the piece-exchange tile followed by Steve doing the exact same thing back to me. Touche. The game ended when the last high helmet was gone.

Final scores (Buddhas, Rice Paddies and High Helmets; majorities are marked):
Debbie (1, *3*, 4)
Karen (2, 2, *5*)
Steve (*5*, 1, 1)

I won on the secondary criterion of Most Pieces Not In A Majority.

My rating: I don't play it much, but it still earns a 6 for me (despite the ridiculous scoring mechanisms).

Alan Stewart writes:

SCHOTTEN-TOTTEN

Julian Warner, Alan p> (A two player filler while waiting for the other games to finish. Julian and I arrived late, after visiting a friend in hospital, and playing a game of the card game Joe with him).

Scores:
Julian 5 4
Alan 4 5

In both games the player who played the first card won. In both games some rows were decided by simply the highest total of cards played in that row as possible threes-of-a-kind and all-one-suit didn't eventuate.

>From memory only 1 or 2 highest possible ranking straight flushes were played in each game. Usually there's 4 or 5. At least in the games I've played.

WEB OF POWER

Players (turn order): David, Alan, Craig, Karen, Debbie

Turn 1 ended with Debbie's play. Turn 2 card draw finished with Karen, so Debbie played without replenishing, and the game was over.

Karen invested heavily in cloisters, and was leading handily at the end of turn 1. David and Alan tied with her in a couple of regions, while Craig and Debbie dominated other regions with cloisters. I'm not sure if England was used at all in the game, and the area south west of France was only populated in the last round of card play.

I was looking for a double of cards for a particular region, but David, playing to my right, kept taking them as they were for Italy as well as the region I wanted. (2 advisers placed in the region would have gone nicely with by 2 advisers in nearby Franken).

I had thought my single Franken card was useless, until I realised I could play it and put a third adviser in that region, and score it twice through alliances, but the game was over before I implemented that move.

In the end the alliances decided the game.

Alan 45
Karen 36
Debbie 35
Craig 31
David 28

RA

Players: Craig, Alan Julian

A new game for Julian, which perhaps explains why he wasn't too happy throughout the game.

At the end of Epoch 1 Craig already had 6 different types of monuments, but was lacking in lots of other tile types. He actually went -6 in epoch 2. His final 30 points for monuments at the end was too late. He also had to pay the sun bonus to Julian at the end.

Alan picked up at least 10-15 points per Epoch and ran away with the game.

Alan 61
Craig 41
Julian 39

CROSS CRIB

Julian, Alan

Play was the first to 100, though scoring was at the end of each round. This turned out to be 4 hands, which meant 2 cribs each. Julian scored the highest rows in the game, but also got more zeros.

Julian 102
Alan 111

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