Billabong Boardgamers November 24th, 1998
Present: Donna, Dey, Janet, Roger, Alan, Doug, David, Julian, NeilPrevious session report
Doug Adams writes:
The Billabong hordes descended upon Donna's tonight in the Melbourne outer suburb of Bayswater. A solid turnout saw lots of games being played on two tables. Dey, Roger, Julian and myself spent the evening together on one table, never quite finishing a game in phase with the others to mix around. Here's what happened.
With Greg safely offline I felt it was safe to bring El Caballero along and report on it. This is the new game set in the 'El Grande' world, but appears to be a split between it's ancestor and Entdecker. In fact, "Entdecker with Attitude" may be a good way to describe it.
This is a deep game, and I suspect the four of us were fooled into thinking we were playing something lighter. Half way through our game comparisons to Euphrat were starting to be muttered as ideal moves were searched for. But what is it all about?
Power cards are played, exactly the same way as in El Grande, to determine player order for a turn, and also to determine how many caballeros are bought from stock to court. Caballeros are not represented by blocks here, but by tile cards with the values 1 to 4 on one side, and 5 to 8 on the other. These cards are rotated, similar to Die Siedler Kartenspiel, to indicate what values these cards currently represent in court or on the 'board'.
The game is played in rounds. At the beginning of a round, five land/sea tiles are revealed. Players select their power cards to determine turn order. On their turn, players MUST expand the board, Entdecker like, by using one of the five land tiles (two land tiles if they played a 9 power card), then have various options. These include moving caballeros onto (and off) the board to influence regions, adding ships to score for waterways, and adding Castillos (vital, this) for protection.
The options are what makes the game so deep. We played the basic game, which is seven turns long yet still took 90 minutes of intense play. Scoring occurs after rounds 4 and 7, with points awarded for control of land regions (one point per tile + mines, double value for first, face value for second) as well as points for sea areas (again, one point per sea tile + fish) if a player has ships there. To take control you must move caballeros from court and play them adjacent to land and/or sea areas, paying a cost from your caballeros in court. Caballeros are also spent to place ships, Castillos, etc. In short, they are the game currency.
In the basic game, caballero tiles may only be played adjacent to one land tile, with the value touching the land tile equalling the influence exerted on that region, which in turn determines control. If at some later stage another land tile is placed adjacent to a caballero card, then the world implodes and it is "lost". By lost, we assume it is removed from the board and placed back into your stock - but it may have been removed from the game - I am not entirely sure. So care is needed. This is where castillos come in, as if a caballero card is protected by a Castillo, then the caballeros lost are returned to court, not supply, thus being available to be spent again without requiring a power card to restock your court.
So, the game becomes cat and mouse, as you try to position against the juicy land segments while not being vulnerable to being booted out. The chief "booting out" tactic appeared to be building land next to another player's caballero card thus removing it, which appeared to be valid as long as the land tile touched the map along another face. This led to some bizarre play as a narrow strip of ocean and land formed with two caballero cards being played adjacent to each other to protect the 'flank' of the card that mattered. Hmmm...
In our game Dey jumped out to a massive lead, committing 5 of her 8 caballero cards onto the board for the first scoring round. I thought I had performed pathetically, but was amazed at being in touch for second place, tied with Roger. Julian had put a strong force down against a large land area, but was 'flanked' by a second land card, forcing his removal from the board.
In the second round Julian and I were in a battle for control of a 13 point area, which fluctuated a bit as caballero cards were added and removed as the area grew. Dey timed her game nicely, running her caballero cards down to nothing by the end of the game, which I suspect is exactly the right thing to do, while Roger was a victim of 'ousting' right through the game and was forced to spend his last turn earning cheap unopposed points.
Thoughts? Well, this is a game that feels strange to me. I don't think it is a bad game, it is just that the mechanics aren't intuitive. It's not one of those games that you understand until you've played a few turns. A bit hard to explain why, perhaps because the way the caballero cards are positioned as part of the board, and how they can be removed, is a large part of the 'strangeness'. I even thought it may be simply me, as Mike Siggins and Jay have been praising this one, but the others at the table were giving strange looks as I explained the game.
I asked the others about it. Roger was definitely in the "I like it" camp, Julian wasn't too impressed, while Dey simply groaned and said "I don't like this" which I am starting to learn means the game has merit! Myself, half way through the game Lincoln's words "I begin to see it" came back to me as I started to perceive the good moves, bad moves, etc. Simply put, it's a game that requires a couple of playings, and then it may reveal itself to be a minor masterpiece. Well worth a look, and the advanced game rules look great.
Doug's rating: 6 and very likely to rise, not drop.
Auf Heller Und Pfennig
Roger and Dey, continuing their quest to play through the Billabong collection before handing over their top 10 lists, requested a play of this.
Not much to report, Dey and I had a great turn one which stole the march on the others. I believe in taking an early risk or two with markets here and got lucky again on round two to break away. Dey only committed one market during this round which enabled me earn a clear lead. Roger was groaning and looking agitated, and I secretly suspect it was because the other table had just finished a game of Honeybears with David reinforcing his claim for the Honeybear King throne, nastily usurpped from Roger a week or so ago. I was holding a nice 30 point lead going into round three so it was in my interests to sprinkle red tiles around the board to lessen the impact of net increases. This was more or less done for me, so I grabbed the potentially juicy spots with market stalls to claim the win.
Doug's rating: 8
With Roger muttering "let's run the bears", we decided we had time for both a Honeybears and this before the evening closed. It's only taken me 12 months (yes, I am being sarcastic) to locate a copy of this marvellous Knizia gem. For a 1995 game, this is surprising scarce - I suspect not many were made but I'm not sure here.
I'd only played half a game of David's copy, many months back, so it was essentially a new game for all of us. Clever mechanics abound here, with a hand of cash of set denominations which you use to bid on items. However, no change is allowed, so you must be so careful with what denominations you bid. There is a clever 'anti-bid' mechanic for the nasty possession cards, where you bid NOT to take them. To top it all off, least cash held (which you are using to buy these possessions) can't win the game! One you've eliminated the player with the least cash, highest total possessions wins.
Again, I suspect we played badly as we rattled through this. Dey was bidding and buying aggressively, looking a likely candidate for least cash. I only picked up two cards - a '5' and a '2x' to double that. I was more concerned with keeping a cash balance and watching the cash supplies of the others, and perhaps chipping in near the end for another possession or two. However, the game ended when the four 'trigger' cards appeared.
Doug's rating: 8 .. very nice game.
The highlight of the night ;-) This game has been an unexpected hit at Billabong. No idea why, perhaps quick playing time combined with high 'cute' factor. As David will be posting the other report, I am sure some insight into this nice game will be provided. Hence I'll keep it brief here, needless to say, Roger is staking a claim to oust Pretender David from the throne of Honeybear King. We others, mere vassals, simply make up the numbers. In either case, I've added a short review of this cute game to our Games Cupboard.
Scores over the four rounds:
Hmmm, only 6 off Roger. Perhaps that earns me a Dukedom?
Doug's Rating: 8
David Coutts writes:
My second report in 2 weeks!
Doug broke out his copy of El Cabellero and, in a blur of action, willing players followed him to one table. In the group remaining we had:- Donna (our host for the evening), myself, Alan & Janet.
Wettsreit Der Baumeister
I think Janet & I were the only ones to have played this, and we chose to use the Saboteur variant at the back of the rules (you can sabotage anyone, but you have to roll higher than the number of shields in the target city to destroy a city piece. A black dot result always destroys a piece.)
In the end this didn't make much difference. Janet rolled the only Black Dot of the game sometime in the first few turns. Janet chose not to use it until the end of the game, in case she needed to retaliate to someone else's saboteur, but that didn't prove necessary. Alan did well with the income die-rolls in the early in the game, and I seemed to only roll 1's & 2's. Donna's & Janet's rolls were average throughout. I got my city down first, which included 2 gates. Just after that my die-rolls maximised and I gained a few turns at 8 income. This made me the target of Janet's saboteur which destroyed my only Church. By this time there were only 3 tiles left in the face-down pile (including my recycled Church). Lucky for me there was a second Church in there, and my income allowed me gain both Churches.
I'm afraid to say I don't know how Donna did it, but the 2 end-towers in my hand proved decisive in reducing my score and securing Donna's win. Interestingly, nobody scored the bonus for a "balanced" city:-
Donna: 42 (matching end-towers, equal number of churches)
David's Rating:- 7
After last week's report the pressure was on to prove myself as The Honey Bear King. Roger.... it's time for a showdown! Donna, who hadn't played before, concluded that this "was a silly game". Ah, Donna, the subtleties, the nuances....
David - 21 + 24 + 39 + 22 = 106
David's Rating:- 8 (for a filler)
Schnappchen Jagd (Bargain Hunter)
This was my second go at this game, and Donna's first. I like the game, 3 or 4 player. How many variants on trick-taking could there be? This one's different again. There are 4 rounds of trick-taking (in a 4 player game). You have to follow suit if you can, but if you can't then you can choose to trump. If you don't choose to trump then the next player not to follow suit can trump. Of course, a player can play a higher trump. And there are are the 2 super-trumps that win anything. Then, cards of the same value as a card already played can be declared higher or lower when played.
Apart from the trick-taking aspect of the game, each player identifies the bargain card (1's, or 2's, or 3's etc etc) they wish to collect this round. Bargain cards count towards your positive score. Non-bargain cards (trash) count as negative at the end of the game. So, if you win a trick of 4 cards with only 1 bargain card in it then you seem to score 1 minus 3 (total minus 2). However, between rounds you can throw out all cards of 1 value from your trash (1's, or 2's etc etc). In a 4 player game, when throwing out these trashy cards, all cards in excess of 2 can be added to your positive score. So, trash is turned into gold! Hence, Bargain Hunter! In the last round you get a bonus "trash into gold" round.
The first game was close:-
Donna : 21 -20 = 1
We liked it, and played another. Janet romped home:-
David : 6-7 = -1 (it all went horribly wrong!)
David's Rating:- 7
Neil joined us at this point.
It's been a while since we've played this classic, and it was a closely fought little contest:-
Donna - 11
David's Rating:- 8 (Still, after all this time)
Bluff - 3 games
"Yeh, Okay, but I always lose." These were my "famous last words" as the night's closing game was selected. I believe Donna is psychic, by the way.
Listed are positions. For the first player I listed how many dice they had left. An Asterix means that this person challenged (called bluff) with the exact number of dice, causing all players except the last player to lose 1 dice. As such a victim I say "we did nothing wrong, why should we lose a die?" I call these people ... names.
Donna 1(3) 1(5) 2*
David's Rating:- 5 (or was that my position?)
It was a very pleasant night's gaming. No outstanding games, nothing too long, enjoyable company.