The past month has been good to me. Lots of gaming, and in particular, lots of unplayed games hitting the table. There's something visceral about handling the bits, watching your opponents take their moves, and looking into their helpless eyes as you crush them. Or not.
Kahuna: This game continues to be an enjoyable abstract. You would think with a shuffled deck of cards that there would be enough randomness to prevent most AP. But even with a small number of choices, and an unknown future, the decisions can be wonderfully painful. Kahuna is also a game of chicken. That is, it is often to your advantage not to commit until after the opponent does. This is because of the basic mechanic that playing a stone removes all of the opponent's bridges. Once the stone is there, you can add any bridges you want. However, you cannot wait forever. Once you get 5 cards in your hand, they start "leaking out". My play tends to be in bursts; hold critical cards until I can play enough to affect some dramatic change on an island or two.
Jambo: Another "long filler" like Kahuna. This one is losing a little ground in my ratings. Every goods card is valuable, so you try to use them all to buy or sell. Each player seems to have their own ideas about useful people, animals, and utilities. But overall, the games are starting to feel the same. It is fun, but not top tier.
Ra: This one never gets old. As auction games go, Ra has the most interesting, yet simple, mechanism. It's not as open-ended as, say, Modern Art, so your decisions are really focused: draw a tile or invoke Ra. The new edition is very nice.
PUNCT: This satisfies my need for a 100% information abstract and is a pretty game. Lately I find that moving pieces is wasteful. Trying to move pieces just to cross the center hex is even more so. Simply having more pieces in play than your opponent is a huge factor. Make threats that help your position and force the opponent to react in a way that doesn't necessarily help themselves (called sente in Go). For example, add a new piece to the board which forces your opponent to move one of his pieces. I hope this game is never "solved".
Coloretto: Filler all the way. We only bring this out when the lowest common denominator is a non-gamer, or when our brains are tired. I find the 2p variant just as satisfying--if not more--than a multi-player game.
Geschenkt: Another true filler. Played this at two different sessions recently. Both times, everyone wanted to play again. There's too much luck to take the game seriously, but it's fun for the 10 minutes it takes to play.
Ys: Finally got this one on the table again after a long break. This time we played using my fix, which takes the game up at least a half point in my rating. I do feel, however, that the character cards create too much "chaos" in the game. Some give you fixed points. Others give you an unknown advantage which may or may not materialize, partly due to the short number of turns in the game. I really like the playing of the brokers, and the gem market.
Cartagena: A long-ish filler. It would be in my style to prefer the Tortuga variant (all players' hands face up, and the next 12 cards visible), but I do not. Using the cards you have and not knowing what others have or what's coming up is more fun. Every time I play face-to-face and move one of my pirates onto the boat, I can't help but think of the sound that plays in BSW.
Samurai: I was worried this wouldn't go over well, so it sat unplayed for a long time. It hit the table in May, and was an unexpected and instant hit. I had only played a handful of games myself online, so I'm still a strategy beginner myself. I love being a beginner--that feeling where you don't know exactly what to do, when you experiment looking forward to the learning curve.
San Juan: Another long filler. The almost non-existent setup time over its big brother Puerto Rico is reason enough to play this one. I had only played this a few time on BSW, so it is almost a new game for me. So far, my Guild Hall strategy is unstoppable. Muahaha!
Caylus: Our very first 2p game took 3 hours. This included frequent stops to check the rules, and short discussions about why various tactics were good/bad. Although this game is considered to be fairly heavy as Euros go (3.72 weight), I like to treat is as medium. The randomness of the initial setup is too minor to overshadow the AP-laden Puerto Rico aspects of this game. I play Caylus without calculating out anything more than having the right cubes to pay for the actions I am taking this turn. If it ever came down to playing a "perfect" game, I would lose interest.
Mexica: The hit of June. At the time of this posting, Tikal was ranked 53, Mexica 175, and Java 176. These 3 games are commonly referred to as the Mask Trilogy because they were designed by the same two guys (Wolfgang Kramer & Michael Kiesling) and they all feature a large scary mask on the cover. For me, Mexica has passed Tikal in enjoyment. The spatial elements are simply fantastic. You can block movement by occupying a space, building canals, building buildings, or by founding districts. You can cross canals by building bridges. In fact, from a purely spatial point of view, I enjoy this game more than Euphrates & Tigris. Perhaps it's just the newness.
Tongiaki: Chaos is fun? In this case, yes. Sometimes the chain reactions that are possible are very difficult to calculate out. I've had turns with 8 or more sailings. The tiles are unknown, the game end is unknown. Yet somehow it works for me, and it's a pretty game. I recommend this game for 2p using the Native Tribes variant.
ASL Starter Kit 1: I have now passed on my scant ASL knowledge to another new player. We played scenario 1, Retaking Vierville. I played the Axis. My northern reinforcements we broken during the first turn, so I decided that I needed to bring all of my southern reinforcements directly into the center of town. This allowed the Allies a free walk across open ground for all their reinforcements from the east--a huge flaw on my part. Turns 3 and 4 saw me fighting against overwhelming odds just to hold my pitiful ground. On turn 5, I had no Victory Condition building occupied. I had only one chance. I Prep Fired using my southern stack against the northern building. Not a great roll, but enough to break one of the 4-4-7's defending it. I had 3 other good order units to use. The first had to move through open ground to get there. I took my first step. 21 FP opened up on me, FFNAM, FFMO, 9-2 leader--a 20-4 shot, 1KIA. Two units left now, both are 2 buildings away from my target building. I assault move the first one into the adjacent building. 7 FP, point blank--a 12 even shot. Broken, and 6 residual. My best option with my final unit was to move it through the same building, since the other open ground hex would subject me to terrible DRM. I assault move them. 6 residual FP even. Broken! Game over. The Allies don't even need to take their final turn. Despite some incredibly unfortunate die rolls, I consider my loss to be a tactical failure. Everything bad that happened to me was a direct result of bad choices made in turns 1 and 2. I can't wait for the reprint!
[Kahuna image by mgoddard]
[PUNCT image by minordemon]
[Ys image by GeoMan]
[Samurai image by Aldie]
[Mexica image by garyjames]