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Billabong Boardgamers - 26th September, 2000

Present: Donna, Doug, Janet, Julian W., Craig Steve, Alan, Ashley Roger

Previous session report

Doug Adams writes:

ELFENLAND

Roger, Janet, Ashley, Steve, Doug

Steve request this game, which he had heard about but hadn't played before. It was new to Ashley as well. We played one sample turn before setting up again and playing for real!

A fairly pleasant, log-less, two turns saw Doug and Steve jump out the early lead having visited twelve towns each. Janet, Roger and Ashley weren't far behind, although Janet seemed to be struggling slightly having struck out on her own and having to do all her own chit work. Steve, Ashley and Doug seemed to be following the same path, with Roger a city or two back.

After turn three, Doug had broken away to 17 cities, with Janet on 16, and I think Roger, Steve and Ashley on 15 each. There still hadn't been any logs played, but after looking at my hand for turn four, I decided to sharpen my axe ;-)

Basically, I was two moves away from my finishing town of Jaax'ha (sp?) and could do it easily in three cards, even if I was logged. It would give me a score of 19, with five cards left - probably enough to win. But... that one-way path city just south of the desert was within my reach providing I could lay the chits in the right order, which I thought I may be able to do.

Wrong! Ashley was start elf and her first chit placement was to put a ruddy great pig on that path, instead of my sleek carbon-fibre elfcycle I had planned! All my plans of a glorious 20 city tour were crushed.

I hastily plonked my magic cloud on the mountains (I had three of those cards) to ensure I could get home with five cards spare (rafting the last leg). That done, I bent my will on stopping Janet who was the only other player who was threatening to pick up 19 chits (apologies if someone else was).

Janet had to traverse the desert to pick up her remaining city tokens. After Janet's dragon went down on a desert path, a variety of trollwagons, logs and unicorns followed on all the other desert paths, making the crossing rather expensive in terms of cards. This affected Ashley as well, which I wasn't intending to do, but what the heck - she did place a ruddy great pig on my 20 city route!

Once that first log fell, the other players got in on the action, and the sounds of chopping could be heard all over the elf kingdom. Amazingly, I wasn't logged, but I'm sure I would have been if Steve wasn't sharing my route.

After the wood-chips had cleared, scores were:

Doug: 19 cities - Home - 6 cards = 19
Steve: 19 cities - 1 away - 2 cards = 18
Janet: 19 cities - 1 away - 0 cards = 18
Roger: 18 cities - 1 away - 1 card = 17
Ashley: 18 cities - 2 away - 3 cards = 16

Good fun - would have loved those 20 cities though! I've only heard of it happening once - David Coutts achieved it, I believe. Rating: 7+

IT'S MINE

A closer to end the evening. Roger, Ashley, Steve and Doug played, and once again Roger demonstrated superb table thumping skills to clean us up in two straight hands. He scored (from memory) 28 and 40 respectively. Steve, having not played this before, immediately spotted the Ra similarities. My personal highlight was a lovely fake to cause the Steve to reflex-thump the table - not sure who got the better deal there, but it was nice to do ;-)

Julian Warner writes:

SCHNAEPPCHEN JAGD

Just Alan, Craig and Julian. A trick-taking game with a particularly odd scoring mechanism which means that you try to take tricks containing cards of a specific value and the others try to stop you. However, the large number of suits (6) in comparison to the small number of cards in your hand (8) means that a lot of trumping goes on - particularly given that the trump suit changes at whim from trick to trick. Accordingly, it is difficult to exercise any control over play and I felt that the scores were little better than utterly random.

This game for me again brings up the idea that "if there is a strategy for this game, then it is so complex that it is not worth even trying - or alternatively - there is no logical good strategy and you may as well just play cards randomly". [who said that?]

Scores:
Alan +16-5= 11
Craig +18-13=5
Julian +16-20=-4

WEB OF POWER

Final scores: Alan 24, Janet 35, Craig 36, Julian 42

I had seen this game played before but had not played it myself until this evening. It looked more complicated that it actually is and it plays quite quickly. I suspect that we were less than the usual (?) three-quarters of an hour in our game. There is a lot of strategy in this game - which I like - but I can see how an unfortunate combination of cards could very much restrict your ability to get an effective score. Although you can exchange cards to improve your hand, I would suggest that any move other than placing cloisters or advisors on the board is losing you points.

The winning strategy seems to be to place two pieces on every turn if at all possible. This means you need the cards to achieve this - being either two cards of the right colour or one card of the right colour and a pair of any two other cards. Obviously from the way that our game played, this was not always easy to achieve. I would say that I won simply because I was able to maintain a hand which contained one card of one colour and a pair of another colour at all times. There is some luck involved in preceding players being forced to open up new territories for you to plunder but we all played pretty conservatively. (Janet considered that our scores were lower than for previous games.)

The luck of the cards seemed to dictate that the game should be centred around Alan and Craig fighting for Bavaria and Janet and I fighting for France. I managed to slip into a couple of nearby provinces and gain a minor ascendancy with advisors to get lots of points for "connections".

I think that the final scores were strongly linked to each players ability to place the maximum number of pieces per turn. Alan had the least number of pieces on the board and had the lowest score. Alan also appeared to be the person who most commonly had a hand of three singleton cards which meant that he could only ever place one piece in that turn.

I'd be interested to see whether anyone has tinkered around with tweaking the luck element in the game. It's a fairly good game but I could change my mind if I played a few successive games where I got poor card combinations! Worth some more plays I think.

Craig Macbride writes:

MU

This was a nice, short game. In the first and third hands, single card bids were made, by Alan and Julian respectively, which nobody else wanted to bid on and which they won easily with Julian and Donna respectively as partners.

In the second hand, Donna won a bidding war against Alan. Alan as vice picked a minor trump of a suit I had bid. Donna picked the major as the other suit I'd bid and picked me as partner. As I had some good off-suit cards and most of the major trump cards than Donna didn't have, we won easily.

In the last hand, I had a couple of short suits with nines in them and a singleton one in one suit, as well as a smattering of cards in the two suits than Alan put down on his first chance. Alan looked like he was going to make a very serious bid, so I made bids in the same two suits at the start, and then let Alan and Julian bid each other up. Alan won the bid, picked me as partner, and we won easily, as I picked up 10 more triangles than Alan did.

Scores:
Craig: 3/14+80/17/29+60 = 203
Donna: 16/39+80/16+10/6 = 167
Alan: 12+10/0/12/19+60 = 113
Julian 29+10/7/15+10/6 = 77

Julian comments: I am becoming convinced that once you get used to the mechanism and the bidding in Mu, it simply comes down to getting dealt a good distribution of cards - i.e. lots of one suit, some voids and some off-suit high cards (or some combination thereof). If you get either very even distributions of suits/numbers or just low cards you simply cannot win - either as bidder or partner. You might just get lucky being able to piggy-back on someone else's victory occasionally but that's about it.

TIGRIS AND EUPHRATES

I have long believed that the way to win this game is to pick up lots of red tiles, and it worked that way yet again. In the first couple of turns I picked up one or two green tiles and the rest were blue and red. I decided that, as getting black would be really hard, I'd work on building a blue and black monument in order to get black. Well, Alan was nice enough to finish my group of 4 blue squares off for me, as well as choosing the monument I wanted. He then tried to oust my blue leader and failed totally, as I matched his internal conflict strength with my red tiles.

I placed my red leader in a good position and it was pretty much left alone for the game, while my green leader got a nice set of about 8 green tiles in its kingdom and the monument was churning out blue and green for me each turn. Most of the other players were trying to make a little here and there, while I was picking up up to 4 cubes per turn. The external conflicts they attempted mainly backfired or hurt each other and my supply of red tiles continued to ensure that I won almost every internal conflict too.

I was ousted from the blue/black monument for a while, but continued to grab a few treasures and other colours along the way. While the others thought that I was going to win easily, the game was getting towards the end and the three black cubes I had collected in three turns from the monument were the only ones I'd ever collected! However, I finally managed to pick up some black tiles. I managed to play a destruction tile to cut off Alan's black leader from the blue/black monument and a couple of turns of picking up 3 black per turn fixed the problem. While I'd been working on that, two more monuments had been built.

Scores:
Craig 11/11/12/16
Alan 6/ 6/ 8/17
Donna 5/ 5/ 7/ 7
Julian 5/ 5/ 6/ 8

Julian comments: Sadly, I think I have to agree. Having lost quite loudly and indignantly, I was most frustrated at having to play against someone who was simply very lucky in the combinations of tiles he had. Given that you have to have all of the colours to win in T&E, then it is essential to have red cubes - and the only way to get red cubes is to get red tiles. Therefore, if you don't get red tiles in sufficient numbers, you simply cannot win. If you don't get many, you can try your best to conserve your red tiles, but you still need them to defend your other coloured leaders. No-one is going to leave you a good place to put your leaders for free!

My other source of complaint was in Alan using Donna and I to fight Craig against our will in a situation where - because he had no idea of the odds involved - we both lost devastatingly, setting up a situation very early on where Craig was unbeatable. Donna probably had just as much cause to make loud noises as me (witness the scores) but to her credit kept quiet. Once someone has obtained large numbers of cubes in T&E, there is no way to stop them other than by earning large numbers of cubes yourself. You could try to gang up on the leader and co-operate towards spreading the points but the tendency toward "conurbation" in the game largely militates against this.

I like the strategic manoeuvring in T&E but the primacy of red tiles in deciding the winner hobbles the game for me.

Steve Gardner writes:

DURCH DIE WUESTE

Steve, Ashley, Janet, Doug, Roger (in playing order)

This was a textbook example of a game of Through the Desert. By this I mean that it was a good illustration of game's themes, with a logical outcome, but also that nothing spectacular or unusual happened.

The initial involved a concentration of riders around the oasis nearest Janet, in the top right corner of the board (as I was looking at it). I used two of my first three placements to make sure I reached that oasis with my orange train, and soon there was a dense cluster of camels all around it. Cramped for room, I ignored that train for the rest of the game.

Once that situation had been resolved, we moved into the middle game. Doug enclosed about 10 hexes with a blue train on the lower right, and I felt compelled to expand my green train to halt any further expansion one one side. It suited me to do so anyway, since the manoeuvre took me past an oasis. I used my yellow train to restrain Doug's other flank, and then extended it to enclose 7 hexes on the centre right.

Meanwhile, Janet's blue train had enclosed a generous area of 11 hexes in the top right. Roger and Ashley (playing for the first time) conducted a tight contest in the top left in blue and purple respectively, eventually splitting about 13 hexes between them, and locking me out of the oasis in that corner. Ashley also managed a small enclosure in blue of four hexes at the lower left.

With Roger, Janet, Doug and Ashley all playing in blue, that colour was clearly going to be exhausted first and end the game in short order. My yellow and green trains, though not very long, were longest in their colours, and so I was keen to end it. But this being a five player game, we had all discarded one rider before commencing play, and as luck would have, I'd discarded the blue rider, so I was powerless!

Sensing my predicament, Doug commenced an attack on me with his green train, attempting to wrest from me the bonus points for that train. But I was alert to his manoeuvrings and responded in kind to stay ahead of him, abandoning my plans to reach one more oasis with my purple train. Fortunately for me, Roger ended it before Doug could catch me, leaving me with longest train in yellow and green, a fact I don't think Roger appreciated at the time. In a five player game, when points for enclosures and oases are always going to be restricted, 20 bonus points for longest trains was bound to be decisive, and so it proved.

Scores (next time, I'll get the breakdown of all scores):
Steve 66 (longest trains 20, oases 20, waterholes 19, enclosures 7)
Roger 51
Doug 49
Janet 48
Ashley 41 (a commendable effort in a game that is notoriously tough on first encounter. I think my first game score was about 25.)

Rating: still an 8. A double relief for me: my first ever win at this game, in about 6 attempts, and my first win in any game at BBG for a month. Am I finally getting the hang of this oh-so-deep positional game? Nah, I reckon I was just lucky to build in two colours no-one else was using...

Roger Smith writes:

MODERN ART

Roger 528
Doug 454
Ashley 448
Steve 438

A new game for Ashley. I think Steve may have played once before.

I think this was Steve's request, although it is a game I am always happy to play. A classic release from Reiner's early period. This is a game that is worth at least 30,000, possibly 50,000. It's constantly outperformed Kramer in the marketplace...do I hear a minimum bid of 25,000? Anyone? Anyone?

Sorry about that!

I find this is a game that some people just "get". A friend of mine is hopeless at all other games, but frequently manages to win in this. One way to win, is to be very active. This game saw Ashley taking a very active role, but spending too much on the final round of the game (particularly at my auctions). Doug usually doesn't buy, but this time he was keen to assert himself. I'm not sure how I won. Partly brilliant play, but partly Ashley paying me a bit too much in the auctions on the last turn (when I didn't buy at all).

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