Billabong Boardgamers - 30th May, 2000
Present: Debbie, Karen, Craig, Doug, Janet, Steve, David, Alan, Torben
Doug Adams writes:
Well, I always suspected they breed them tough in Denmark. As Janet and I arrived tonight, in the midst of a severe cold snap in Melbourne, we spied Karen and Craig huddled in their car, as well as David and Alan in another car. And then there was Torben, standing by the door holding a bicycle helmut!
Torben is from Denmark, working in Melbourne for 3 months. This hardy Copenhagener had cycled out from Melbourne to Chadstone, a distance of 20km, in the dark and wet conditions to join us at Billabong. What's more, he was cycling back again at 11pm! I now look on Mik Svellov with new found respect.
Debbie, Karen, Doug, Steve, Alan
We played Karen's special "Fully Imported from Seattle" copy of this game. This is a game that has only hit the table once or twice at Billabong, and it left lingering memories of dreaded tax die rolls, trying to run businesses on shoestring budgets, and going bankrupt with the greatest of ease.
This game was not really any different, but it was a lot of fun. We played with the now mandatory variant that only the first tax die roll of '0' hits - any subsequent die rolls are not counted. In fact this is almost too severe, as we lost a couple of players during the game.
Karen began very strongly - purchasing an early luxury, establishing a couple of businesses which hit often. Alan invested in Love Shack Videos, Debbie into the Shmoo hut. The trouble was they were on page 1, and were instantly covered when the pages got flipped over. Steve started the Stern Smith and Bubba business, Doug went into Spider Web Marketing.
Steve's and Doug's business, along with the Floating Craps gambling den pretty much decided the game. Steve built Stern Smith and Bubba up to a level five business, before losing it to Doug via a hostile takeover card. Steve had earlier lost another business to Debbie via the same card, so it wasn't a great game for Steve.
Karen was the first to go, after a really strong start, a couple of tax rolls hit her hard. Finally, on her turn she hit Doug's Spider Web Marketing business twice (meaning she had to pay $6 to Doug), as well as another $2 to Doug as he was holding the Protection Racket asset. (Tip: that is a very handy card!). Doug picked up one of Karen's luxuries in the ensuing auction.
With Karen gone (and the rest of us feeling inwardly guilty) we ploughed on. Several more tax rolls saw us all go to the brink, but fought back from bankruptcy. Alan and Doug were alternating the play of the Floating Craps card which continued to hit often, three times hitting twice and paying out $14 - a fortune in this game!
Another tax roll and Debbie disappeared. She was just heading off to fetch a two player game to play with Karen, when Doug won the game. A string of incredibly lucky rolls had hit the Craps, Stern Smith and Bubba (4 times for $20) and the Spider Web Marketing. Doug found himself with $30 in his hand and managed to hold it to pick up two luxuries over two turns. It was almost a shock!
Doug's rating: 6 .. one of those once a year games. A pity really, it just misses the mark, and a little more development would have worked wonders.
Steve writes: I basically agree with this assessment. The central mechanism of the game - four clear plastic sheets which sit on top of each other, and in which advertising hoardings are inserted, is a pretty neat idea. And the companies and their slogans are very witty (Shorty's: you don't want it, we don't got it.") But as with so many games that rely on luck, not enough attention is paid to game balance. I didn't pick up an asset card for the whole game, and no means was provided for me to correct this deficiency. On the flip side, Doug's protection racket card basically ensured that he won the game. This seems to me to indicate that some fairly common way is needed to steal the assets of others, and not just their businesses.
Torben, Debbie, Janet, Doug, Steve
We mixed and matched a bit, with a Settlers of Catan and Taj Mahal being played. Torben joined us, and as I explained the rules I was rather disturbed by the fact he was quite clearly understanding them. An educated question or two about a finer point, but that was all. Torben had marched away with the win at Stephenson's Rocket, which he'd never played before.... who was this strange gamer who'd come into our midst ;-)
Casting doubts and fears aside, we began. Debbie, the start player, opted right out of region one and thus began the construction of a massive hand of cards. Torben, I think, took the first region, but spent several cards doing so. He ended up being "card poor" for most of the game.
This game was decided by elephants, no question. Doug almost unwitting took a couple of region chits via elephants, that had tea on both of them. >From that point on, Doug decided to concentrate on the regions where tea was available. Debbie was working on a similar strategy with gems and rice, but she also had a massive hand of cards, and a potential 7 region network up her sleeve. At the midpoint, I felt the winner was sitting on my left!
Then things altered slightly - Torben and Doug were leading on the score track, but Doug picked up the +2 card and managed to hold/play it for 5 turns in a row, before losing it on turn 12. Another major play was region 10, where there was a tea chit, as well as tea/lentils on offer. Doug managed to take both of these and scored 11 points for the swag. This leapt Doug's marker out on the score track to a massive lead.
(We'd also picked up a rule we'd been playing incorrectly. We had interpreted the rules concerning special cards as you could only play one such card per visit, whereas the rules indicate per turn; ie. card play. So in essence, you could play all four in the one visit if you played four rounds. Steve had picked this up....)
With Doug leading by around 15 points, Debbie made her move on round 11, taking several of the prizes on offer, and linking up a nice network. This narrowed the lead to around 8 points. Turn 12 saw Torben take the elephant tile, and Debbie falling one palace short of linking up another region. Once our hands of cards were compared, Doug had squeaked home....
Doug's rating: 8. The golden rule is to look after your cards. If you get into a card battle, as Janet and Steve did early, you are catching up for the next few turns. The horse may have bolted in that time...
Steve writes: I played Taj Mahal again last night with. It was an instructive game, and probably the most strategically clear-headed game of TM I've yet played. I pursued a palace strategy the whole game, and ended the game without a single octagon. I finished second on 46 points, one point behind Tania, who pursued the elephants strategy relentlessly all game.
I have a feeling at the moment (but it's just a feeling), that the palaces strategy is harder than the elephants strategy, in this sense: if your aim is to win the octagon, it doesn't much matter when you withdraw. But if you're working on a palace network, two palaces might be useless to you if you have to withdraw last to win them. And since one's opportunities to withdraw early and still win palaces are very much influenced by where you are in the turn order for that visit, matters of timing can become very tricky indeed for those working on palace networks.
David Coutts writes:
Torben, David Janet & Craig
First time for newcomer Torben, visiting Australia from Denmark. Welcome to Billabong, Torben! Also a new game to Craig. Janet & I had played before, but were a bit rusty, so we read through the rules.
Craig and Torben concentrated their efforts in the North (especially the purple & grey lines), whilst Janet & I put most of our efforts into the South. Janet's Green (Bristol area) was merged with my Orange, then Craig caused an early isolation of my Orange line, putting a halt to mine & Janet's efforts there. I tried to steer the Red line in the North into Craig's Purple line, but Torben prevented me. His Grey line and the Purple line (in which Torben had 2nd place) looked set for a a merger, but it never happened thanks largely to their co-operative play.
I started up Blue (half-way up the board, on the East coast), and Janet quickly built a station to take advantage. It took some time, but she eventually got her way, only to be absorbed by the growing Red line moving South through the centre of the board. Torben put me into 2nd place in Red (in stations), and seemed to be everywhere.
Janet was the Token Queen, locking in a couple of early 1st places. However, Torben caught up in tokens in the later game, just edging Craig into 3rd once or twice. Craig and I picked up the odd 1st (mine was passengers, with only 3 tokens!).
Craig isolated my newly started Yellow line (South-East corner) in the later stages ... it barely got started, in fact. But it still had a role to play...
A key end-game tactic was when I paid 4 shares in Red to veto a move by Janet. Torben also had 4 shares, but chose (before my bid) not to veto. I then merged Red into Yellow. I thereby lost 1st & 2nd place in Red (merger bonus) to Torben & Janet. However, I had majority shares in Yellow AND the Yellow line had 2 more of my stations on it - this paid out 2 lots of 13 (end-game share and stations bonus). This was enough to put Torben back into 2nd place (in stations) the newly merged Yellow (&Red) line. Was it enough....?
Well played Torben.
SETTLERS OF CATAN
David, Alan, Craig & Karen.
This was the basic, 3rd edition version with no frills. Amazingly, Karen had not played before. Worse for her that she was randomly selected to go first, and was subjected to our in-depth and keenly biased opinions on where she should set-up.
The game was cruelly slow, largely because stone was so rare (5, 11,12) and only Craig was on the 5 (which was also frequently hit by the robber!). By about 7 points I was getting bored, and it was only the challenge of preventing Alan from wheedling his way to victory which kept me interested. Naturally, this meant that I had to wheedle my way to victory...
Highlights? Karen cleverly (Craig might say cruelly...) received 3 cards for 1 brick and used a Monopoly to get it back (she did this twice, both times to Craig!). I got the longest road, helped by Road building and lack of anything else to do. Twice I built road towards the rock tiles and was first thwarted from building a settlement first by Alan (based around the 11 and 12), then by Craig (on his 5). Alan got the Largest Army for a while, and looked a winner on 8 (possibly 9 with resource VP card). His chance of victory passed as Craig then took the Largest Army off him. However, before Craig could score his 10th point it was over...
David - 1C, 5S, LR, 1VP = 10
A bad game of Settlers can be enough to put people off it... Karen?