Sunday, October 29, 2006


Antiquity is one of those games that I didn't think I would ever play, or even read about. Games with a billion tiny cardboard bits just turn me off, even if they might be good. I had to opportunity to play someone else's copy and be taught to play without having to read the rules myself. In this case, it was a good thing.

This was the first play for 3 of us, and the second play for the teacher. We stopped after about 3.5 hours. At least 1 player (myself) was surely dying. At the end of each game when you are supposed to check victory conditions, the mantra, "Did anyone win yet?" was always a huge laugh since, "Did anyone die yet?" was always more appropriate.

Antiquity starts off as multi-player solitaire. Each player gets a city and some wood, and tries to build up the internals of his city as well as exploit the land around it. The city-building part requires resources to purchase buildings (shaped like various Tetris pieces), and working to occupy them (if you want their power active this turn). The resource gathering part requires you to use certain buildings in your city to initiate the actions of gathering wood, fishing, farming, and mining.

As your "zone of control" grows, you eventually run into the other players' areas and begin to compete for space. If a player has a Market, he can trade with others or with the game itself.

To win the game, you need to set your own victory conditions by building a Cathedral and choosing your patron saint. Each saint grants you some extra power and determines what you need to do to win.

The nasty part of the game is famine and pollution.

A famine track determines the amount of food you need to have each turn. For each food you are short, you must add a Grave "building" to your city. This can quickly use up space, preventing you from building other things. You can mitigate the effects of famine with some buildings, or simply by creating lots of food resource types. When we stopped playing, my city had all but 3 spaces covered with Graves. I even had to cover most of the buildings I had already built.

Each city creates 3 Pollution each turn. These markers must be placed somewhere in your own zone of control. This means you are not only draining the land of resources by harvesting them, but are also making some areas of land unharvestable. Pollution can also be mitigated a bit.

We all felt that we were trying to solve the puzzle of survival. On turn 2, I sat there thinking, "What possible sequence of building can I execute in order to survive at all?" In Puerto Rico or Caylus, you can basically play randomly; you will never die; you just won't win. In Antiquity, if you aren't extremely careful at every step of the way, you fall into a downward spiral of attrition and lack of space.

Despite the unforgiving design, I found myself trying to figure out how to live at all. I assume it's possible. I don't think it will ever be a top game for me, but I'm keen to try to survive next time.

Physically, the game is a huge pain in the ass. The smaller counters are maybe 8mm square. If you create a woodcutter in an area of solid forest hexes, you place 7 tiny field hexes over the woods hexes, then 7 wood resources counters on them, then your cube. If you farm in a similar area, you place 7 pollution counters, then 7 food counters, then your cube. Then when you harvest, you have to pick up 1 of these counters without messing up the board.

The other physical issue is that the colors of the cardboard Cities and Inns are so hard to see amongst all the clutter that you can't easily tell what's what.

If I loved this game, I think I'd replace a lot of the tiny counters with colored wooden discs. Fortunately, I do not love it. At this point, I am just curious.

Antiquity image by xtrixsterx

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Game Night at the Condo

Inkognito: This was the first play of this game for all of us. After 15 minutes of assembly (there's 16 figures each with two halves, a base, a hat, and a mask) and 10 minutes of rules explanation, we started our tenuous task. The goal of this game is to deduce who of the other three players is your partner, secretly exchange your respective halves of your secret mission, and complete it before the other team does the same.

On top of the deduction part of the game is a spatial aspect. In order to question each other, players must navigate the roads and canals of Venice. Each player has control of four like-colored pawns (tall, short, skinny, fat), but only one of them is actually the player. Once your mission is known, it must be completed using the proper pawn(s) of the players described by the mission. For example, if you (Agent X) are the tall pawn and the mission is "move agent X to space 2", then you must move your tall pawn to space 2.

After 6-8 rounds, I was only able to make one deduction: Mike was either Col. Bubble (skinny) or Lord Fiddlebottom (fat). Either way, since I was Mme. Zsa Zsa, Mike was not my partner. At this point I was wondering how many queries would be necessary to make a complete deduction of the roles. Two rounds later, Mike and Sheri were acting strange, but they also didn't seem to be helping each other out as much I thought they might if they were known partners.

In my next query, I was able to deduce that Bean was Agent X, my partner. But I didn't know her appearance yet. Since I had a second query this turn, I asked her. She handed me her mission card! So she had figured things out in the same turn. A furtive glance at my mission card yielded our mission: Land any piece on the Ambassador. Piece of cake.

Mike's turn next. He shook the eerie Harbinger. Black black red! He grabbed the Ambassador. Plonk! Plonk! He and Sheri laid their hands on the table in triumph. It turns out Sheri's first query of Mike was for identity. Mike's reply matched Sheri's identity and her appearance, so she knew the only other card--his identity--was the true one. It turns out, Mike was also her partner. What a stroke of luck! On Mike's next query of her, she handed him her mission. From round 2 onward, all they were doing was trying to complete their mission: move the ambassador to location 8. Bean and I had been moving the Ambassador so much, we were confounding their plans. In the end to was one turn to little.

We all really enjoyed the game.

The End of the Triumvirate: I had only played this once before. I needed to do a lot of rules consulting in order to teach it. I got a few minor things wrong, but we corrected things as we played.

Mike (Caesar) won the first election. Everything else was about even. Sheri (Crassus) won the second election. At this point I (Pompeius) started to get worried. I was slightly behind on the competence track. Mike had all 8 of his cubes in the bag.

As we neared the middle of the third year, my opponents realized that I could win (competence) on my next move. I hadn't seen this at all, but since it was a learning game, we were being nice and pointing out all sorts of tactical options. Mike's only option was to attack my source of income to prevent my using 3 actions, which he did easily.

On my turn, we noticed that Sheri could win (Forum: 1 Election + 6 citizens) on her turn. Now it was my turn to thwart her. As I was planning how I was going to grab enough legions to be able to attack Crassus directly (resulting in loss of competence), Sheri noticed that I could attack Mike, take his gold, and still pay for enough actions for a competence win.

All I needed to do was take 2 legions from Rome... Wait a minute! There's only one legion cube left! In this game, the resources are limited to those in the box. So I settled for taking a chance rather than a sure thing. I took a gold, placed a legion on Sicily, and brought 8 legions to Egypt. Caesar had himself and 4 legions.

At this point in the game, the battle bag contained 8 red, 3 blue, and 1 black cube. I reached into the bag for 3 cubes. If I draw red-red-red or red-red-black, then I lose the battle and Sheri wins the game. I drew blue-blue-black! I placed my 2 remaining legions on Egypt, replace the governor, grab Caesar's gold, move back to Macedonia, and pay 6 gold to increase my competences to VII on both military and political tracks. Victory!

Another hit.

Inkognito image by juan-agustin
End of the Triumvirates image by Stas

Friday, October 20, 2006


These are my picks and kicks of the games at Essen as displayed on BoardGameNews A-M and N-Z pages. In some cases I already know the games, and in others I only know as much about the games as their BGN blurbs and images convey. As far as I'm concerned, 2006 was a great year for games. My interest rankings are as follows:

3 - Want it or already bought it.
2 - High interest. Perhaps waiting for rules.
1 - Some interest. Need more info and feedback.
0 - No interest.

Obviously, I'm not going to mention every game. I will only mention low interest games if they have lots of buzz or are likely to be the hits.

Anasazi: Interest 0
No rules. I can't tell if this game has any miniatures mechanics. Do distances affect the ability to place "connections"?
Architects of Arcadia: Interest 1
No rules. The cynic in me says this game was an attempt to use up leftover Torres parts. Still, there could be something here. Some of my Geek Buddies are hot for it. I'll wait to see what they think.
Battlelore: Interest 0
Yawn. You can play all the semantic games you want; Battlelore is collectible. It's a fantasy version of Memoir '44, which I was completely tired with by the time I finished the basic game. Forget the expansions. And forget Battlelore.
Columns of Venice: Interest 2
Pretty game. Looks like you vie for control of the columns, then build variously-shaped structures on top of them. There are also various roles to choose from, although it's unclear how this mechanism works.
Die Macher: Interest 0.5
My interest in playing this game is 3. However, the graphic design of the new version is poor. The choice of pink, the blurred voting track, the non-delineated party meeting boxes, the multi-styled card icons, and the rules font add up to one ugly game. Leave the art to the artists. Someone I know will buy this, so I'll get to play it some day.
Emira: Interest 1
No rules. It's almost impossible to offend me (except by being incompetent or stupid), and Emira is no exception. The theme doesn't particularly appeal, but it won't keep me from buying it if my interest increases.
End of the Triumvirate: Interest 3
Excellent and unique game. I already ordered it.
Genesis: Interest 0
Played twice. I got the same internal response as Hacienda and Ticket to Ride. There's nothing to see here. It's unusual for me to find nothing redeeming in a Knizia game.
Gheos: Interest 3
This game will likely get my Rules of the Year award. Best written, formatted, and organized rules I've ever read. The game sounds fantastic.
Gloria Mundi: Interest 2
I was attracted to this game initially because it didn't look like it even needed a board or map. The main mechanism is one where you might initially ask, "Does this work? Is there a game here?" I'm pretty sure there is, although building and running away might not be up everyone's alley.
Hermagor: Interest 2
No rules. All I know is the board is huge (but not Railroad Tycoon huge), and it looks rather nice. It seems there's a market where you position yourself to buy goods and information (interesting twist), and perhaps a scale showing the values of resources. Can players affect the values of resources, or do they simply react to changing values? Is there any overlap with this game and Himalaya?
Imperial: Interest 1
No rules. I just ordered Antike. So I'm just keeping my eyes on this one.
Justinian: Interest 1
No rules. Could be interesting. Could be a flop. It appears all you are doing is positioning people left to right in order to control their "worth", and positioning yourself on those people to be able to take advantage of them. Shrug.
Khronos: Interest 3
I must have this game. Most original idea I've seen in a long time. I'm hoping the time dimension is as relevant and interesting as the two spatial dimensions. The 3 colors and 3 sizes of buildings seem to make the spatial play richer than E&T.
Leonardo da Vinci: Interest 1.5
Like the idea, but it seems a little overdone and strange at the same time. I'll wait for more feedback on the Geek before biting.
Midgard: Interest 1
Another game that I was hot on at first, but cooled some when I realized there was no spatial element. I'm just going to wait.
Medici vs Strozzi: Interest 2.5
I've had original Medici on my want list forever, but was a little bummed that it did not play with 2. If this has any of the feel of the original but plays really well with 2, it'll be a no-brainer.
Perikles: Interest 2.5
This would be an automatic buy if the rules had been written by any other person on the planet than Martin Wallace. Even the people who already own it and love it are finding ambiguities. The good news is the game sounds typically Wallace: multi-dimensional interactions, multiple end game conditions, and multiple forces.
Pillars of the Earth: Interest 0
Thank you BSW for implementing this game. It's just ok, but I will never buy it. The mechanics call for strategy (like choosing power plants in Power Grid), but the randomness thwarts it. The fact that only 1 metal (usually) is available per round, that a player may have committed a large chunk of their resources to needing it, and that the player may never get a metal for the rest of the game is yucky. I would equate this with paying 100 Elektro's for a nuke plant only to draw a card that says "remove all Uranium".
Section X: Interest 1
No real idea what the mechanics are. I'm just interested from the image of the blurb.
Shogun: Interest 0.5
Sweet-looking. I already own Wallenstein, but it's not in my top 10. Even of Shogun is heavily tweaked, I don't think I'd get too interested.
Silk Road: Interest 1
I want to like it, but nothing really grabs me. Waiting for more feedback.
Space Dealer: Interest 1
I'm more rubbernecking here than anything else. The images are certainly striking. A real-time game about trading goods and combat in space?
Taj Mahal: Interest 3
Did I tell you I got to touch a copy last week? I still haven't washed my hands.
Taluva: Interest 1
While many think the game looks great, I find it way too busy. I have no idea how it plays, but it's hard to play a game if looking at it gives you a headache.
Tempus: Interest 0
Despite the lack of rules, I was initially watching this game with interest. There's been enough feedback now that I know I won't like it. Does anyone?
Terra Nova: Interest 3
I just ordered this one. I really like the simple mechanics of Hey! That's My Fish! This one adds another level of depth. Still, it's going to be a light game.
Thief of Bagdad: Interest 1.5
Maybe it's just the title that grabs me. The images don't tell much. The game has bribing. Is this an auction mechanic, or can you simply place a bribe on your own turn?
Through the Ages: Interest 2.5
A 3-hour civilization card game? Are you insane!? Actually, from the images and the blurb, I am very interested in this. You have to build up your culture, economy, population, military, etc., but there's no attacking each other on a map.
Yspahan: Interest 3
Ystari is on a roll with me. Ys, Caylus, and Mykerinos are all excellent. If Yspahan is as good, the Ystari brand might be an automatic buy for me in the future.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Game Nights

I'm getting so spoiled by my incredible access to gaming opportunities; seven games in two days, and I'm still raring to go. I definitely enjoy a nice mix of pace and mechanics.

Two very different games described here have a tactic in common. Can you guess?

Wednesday night at the Condo:

Nexus Ops: First time for me. Just ok. I'm not a fan of the physical design. What makes the game work is the six unique creatures and the Mission/Energize cards.

Timbuktu: First time for all of us. Good game, but I'm not sure how good yet. I was able to remember which pens I'd seen, and which should be avoided that I hadn't seen. I was not able to factor in making deductions from what the opponents did. It wasn't until the scoring phase that we all realized we'd forgotten to account for goods value in our decisions.

Colossal Arena: First time for me. This was the hit of the night. I knew that my Geek Buddies ranked this game very highly. I had loosely skimmed the rules a while back, but was not prepared for the experience. This game is incredible. A little luck, a little guess-work, a little bluffing, a little risk, yet every decision you make is important. There can be a high screwage factor, but it makes this game fun. It's already on my want list.

Exxtra: First time for me. Another Knizia instant hit. How much fun can you have with 2 dice? A lot.

Thursday night at home:

Clans: This game is an excellent 2p abstract. I managed to convince my opponent that I did not have red, even though red led the pack for the entire game. The final brilliant move made it impossible for red not to score equal points to any village completed.

Meridian: First time for both of us. Another great Colovini game, but under-appreciated on the Geek. Players compete for control of islands--worth 3-5 points each--by placing stacks of towers. The catch is that the islands are mostly horizontal, while the playing opportunities are vertical. That is, you play towers by column based on cards you have. Towers must always be arranged in height order. If you place a tower stack onto an existing tower stack, it shifts up or down the column based on the relative heights (if there's room to shift). For example, if the 4 column has towers of heights -124- (dashes represent empty locations), then if you place a tower stack of height 3 on top of the 2, the result will be 1234-. If you place a stack of 5 on top of the 4, the result will be 1245-. Shifted towers usually change islands, which can drastically affect the control.

DVONN: Setup tactics still elude us. It's mostly random other than making sure we have pieces in all sections of the board, split between edge and center, and near the 3 DVONN pieces. Things were pretty even looking at the half-way point. I made an unexpected crushing move that cleared more than half the board. After this, I thought a sequence of forced moves was going to lose the game for me, but I found a play that dumped a tall enemy stack.

Did you figure out the two games with a common tactic?

Colossal Arena and Meridian. In both games, committing to an important play too early simply wastes the card. Later plays can virtually undo any position. You have to wait until the last possible moment, but this can cause you to miss out when unexpected things happen.

Colossal Arena image by myludien.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Unexpected Game Order

Three of the "hazards" of being in a game group are that 1) you are exposed to more games, 2) you are exposed to more gamers with different tastes, and 3) you get more opportunities to combine orders to save on shipping. All of these will tempt me to buy more games more often...which I just did. Ok, maybe "hazards" was too harsh a word. I should have said "perks".

Inkognito: One of those on-and-off-my-want-list games. Even if I dislike it after a couple of plays, I can still set it up to make people freak out.

Terra Nova: Simple and pretty game with a Hey! That's My Fish kind of feel, but a little more going on. I like the scoring system: 1/2/3 different kinds of terrain in an enclosed area scores 3/2/1 points per space. Opposing forces rule!

Antike: Now that I have a game group to play with, this game is sure to hit the table. I could take or leave the new bits. Pretty much a wash.

The End of the Triumvirate: This unusual 3p-only game (variant for 2p) is really neat. Three different game ending conditions, and three asymmetric starting positions for the players. I made a VASSAL module for it, but have been unable to get a reply from Lookout Games asking for permission. If you know Hanno, point him my way.

King Me!: A fun-sounding filler with moderate luck. I think it's the promotion mechanic that grabs me, just like in Kremlin, and In the Shadow of the Emperor.

Inkognito image by juan-agustin.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Game Nights

Thursday night is starting to be a regular 2p game night at home. Our choices this time were Elasund and Kreta.

This game of Elasund was the most interactive yet. We actively blocked building permits, destroyed buildings, were vicious with the pirate, and were generous with the church tiles. It's one of those good but not great games. The only thing left to do is to try it with 3 or 4 players.

This was only our 2nd play of Kreta. I decided to play conservatively and fight the urge to pile up on every territory. This put me behind for almost the entire game. As we came upon the final 3 cards, I still had a fort and 2 villages left. I managed to score a 6 territory twice in a row with a quick score and the win.

A last minute email late Thursday night brought me to another fantastic game night at "The Condo" on Friday.

We warmed up with Top Race. I had played Formula De before, but this was nothing like it. It's more like Winner's Circle (Royal Turf) with cards instead of dice. Players own the cars (by auction), but can also "bid" on which car they think will win at 3 different points during the race. Much more interesting than I expected, but still light and random.

While waiting for pizza, we played Bucket King. My experience on BSW paid off. Half way through the game, I had the least buckets left, but managed to hold on while knocking down everyone else. When the bucket counts were down to 4-1-3-1 (I was 4), I took a chance and played 3 cards of a color to knock a player out.

Next up was Basari. I think I incorrectly assumed that this was the same game as Bazaar from BSW, which I don't like that much. Basari is a clever, elegant, and balanced game. You really need to watch everyone's gem counts at every step. Still, the AP wasn't prominent except for a few critical moments.

And last but not least, Black Vienna. I never thought I'd get to play this in my lifetime. The rules description sounded very simple. As soon as a few cards start coming down and the chips start distributing, the weight of the deductive system starts to hit you. I started marking information on my sheet, decided I didn't like my marking system, changed it, and changed it again. I was the first to think I had the answer, so I called, "Black Vienna!" I guessed AHQ, but the right answer was AHJ. Somewhere between changing systems and understanding the game, I marked an incorrect deduction and that rippled into the wrong answer. The 2nd player also guessed wrong. The third player, only 1 turn later, guessed right. This is a fantastic pure deduction game, with subtle randomness, good player control, and some tension. Looking forward to trying this again, if only to see if I can get through it without making any errors.

One of the players brought a copy of Taj Mahal. I actually touched a copy of Taj Mahal! Sadly, at our only chance to play it, we only had 3 players.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Probability For Dummies

Every so often someone asks a question like, "What's the probability of getting at least one 6 rolling two dice?" A common answer is 1/3, but this is not correct. The thinking here is that there's a 1/6 probability of rolling a 6 on each die, and 1/6 + 1/6 = 1/3. So I thought I'd talk about it.

Let's start with the basics.

The probability of any event occurring ranges from 0 (will not occur) to 1 (will occur). Probabilities can be expressed as a fraction, a decimal value, or a percent (which really just a decimal times 100).

The most common kinds of randomness in games are rolling dice and drawing cards from a shuffled deck. In both of these cases, the results are independent. This is a very important concept.

An independent event occurs without relation to any other event. For example, the results of any die roll are not affected by any past die rolls. This means that if you roll ten 6's in a row, the probability of rolling another 6 is still 1/6.

The other basic assumption is that the randomizing mechanism is fair. In the case of a 6-sided die, it is assumed to be balanced in such a way that the probability of each result is equal. This does not mean that if you roll 1,2,3,4,5 that the next roll will be a 6. It means that over a very large number of rolls, the number of each will be very close. The assumption also holds for cards. A well-shuffled deck implies that each card has an equal chance to be on the top.

To calculate the probability of a single fair event, divide the number of desired outcomes by the number of possible outcomes.

For example, the probability of rolling exactly a 3 on a d6 is 1 (one outcome in question) divided by 6 (six possible outcomes) making 1/6. This is probably intuitive for most people.

The probability of rolling an odd number is 3 (1, 3, 5) divided by 6, which is 3/6 or 1/2. This true of any 3 possible outcomes (rolling an even number, rolling 3 or less, rolling 2 3 or 5, etc.)

Now for more complex stuff.

The probability of multiple independent events ALL occurring is the product of their individual probabilities. However, you must be careful with the exact meaning of what you are looking for.

What is the probability of rolling two 6's on 2d6? The probabilities for each are 1/6. 1/6 * 1/6 = 1/36 (or 2.77%). Easy!

What is the probability of rolling 3 or more (both times) on 2d6? The probabilities for each are 4/6 (or 2/3). 2/3 * 2/3 = 4/9 (or 44.44%).

What is the probability of rolling a 6, then rolling an even number? 1/6 * 1/2 = 1/12 (or 8.33%).

What is the probability of rolling a 1 and a 5? This is the kind of question where you can easily go wrong. Do you mean rolling a 1 first, and rolling a 5 second? If so, it's 1/6 * 1/6 = 1/36 (or 2.77%). If you mean rolling two dice and having a 1-5 appear then what you really mean is rolling a 1 then a 5, or rolling a 5 then a 1. This leads us to:

The probability of one of several independent events occurring is the sum of their individual probabilities.

In the previous example, the probabilities of both 1-5 and 5-1 rolls are 1/36, so the probability of either of them occurring is 1/36 + 1/36 = 2/36 or 1/18 (or 5.55%).

What is the probability of rolling an odd/even pair on 2d6? This is a similar question. The probability of rolling odd then even is 1/2 * 1/2 = 1/4. The same for even-odd. So the total is 1/4 + 1/4 = 1/2 (or 50%).

Now let's kick it up a notch.

What is the probability of rolling 9 or more on 2d6? Rather than iterating all the probabilities for 9's, 10's 11's and 12's, you can do this by making a table:


You can see that 10 of the 36 results are 9 or more. And, as you guessed, the probability is 10/36 or 5/18 (or 27.77%).

What is the probability of rolling doubles (not triples) on 3d6? This one is tricky. Let's break it down by first examining case one: the first two rolls match and third does not. The first roll can be anything (probability 1). The second roll must match the first (probability 1/6). The third roll must not match (probability 5/6, do you see this?). So to total probability for case one is 1 * 1/6 * 5/6 = 5/36.

The second case is the same as the first one, but rearranged: any roll, no match, match first roll. Again we have 1 * 5/6 * 1/6 = 5/36. Likewise with the third case: anything, no match, match second roll = 1 * 5/6 * 1/6 = 5/36.

The final answer is the sum of the three separate cases: 5/36 + 5/36 + 5/36 = 15/36 (41.66%).

What is the probability of rolling three completely different numbers on 3d6? This one should be easy by now. The first number can be anything (1), the second must be anything but the first (5/6), and the third must be anything but the first two (4/6 or 2/3), resulting in 1 * 5/6 * 2/3 = 10/18 or 5/9 (or 55.55%).

Interesting note. Look at the previous two examples. One is for none of the three rolls to match, and other is for two of the rolls to match. The only other possibility is 3-of-a-kind. 1 (36/36) - 5/9 (20/36) - 15/36 = 1/36, which is the answer! The sum of the probabilities of all possible outcomes is 1.

What is the probability of drawing 2 aces from the top of a shuffled standard deck of cards? In this case, the second drawn card is going to be affected by the first drawn card, because the number of cards remaining in the draw pile has been changed. There are 4 aces in the deck and 52 cards. The probability of the first card drawn being an ace is therefore 4/52 or 1/13. Now what's left? There are 3 possible aces out of 51 cards: 3/51 or 1/17. So the answer is 1/13 * 1/17 = 1/221 (or 0.45%).

Now back to the original question. What's the probability of getting at least one 6 rolling two dice? Can you do it? There are two cases: 6-anything, and anything-6. However, notice that these two cases overlap. To make them distinct, we need to change the wording a bit: 6-anything, and not6-6. Case one is 1/6 * 1 = 1/6. Case two is 5/6 * 1/6 = 5/36. The final answer is 1/6 (6/36) + 5/36 = 11/36 (or 30.55%)!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Gaming With "Strangers"

As much as I "hang out" online, it wasn't until tonight that I first met someone who I had only known from the Internet. A fellow BGG'er contacted me because my profile shows me in Maine. It turned out that we live very close. I was invited to his regular game night. And what a night it was.

A quick game of Can't Stop on his custom board filled the time until everyone showed up. I've played this hundreds of time on BSW, but it still felt weird to have to move the pieces myself. Also, when my guys fell, there was no scream. I think his game was broken.

There were a couple of newer gamers, so we ramped up to For Sale. This was a new one for me. I could play a new game every night. One minute's rules explanation and we were off. Another minute's rules explanation for the second phase. Simple and elegant filler. It compares well to High Society for me. Different systems, but equal kinds of thinking. And what a nice box!

We had a tough timing deciding on the next heavier 6-player game. We chose Shadows Over Camelot. As we were setting up, the pizza came. After the pizza break, we lost one player, packed up SoC and pulled out Railroad Tycoon. This was fine with me since I had never played it before. Another new game!

The overall experience was fantastic. My host was blessed with a virtually non-warping board. Four binder clips kept it in place and flat. I had anticipated this game, so had read the rules just before. Still, I was completely new to the tactics and strategies. I drew the Pullman tycoon card (6 points if first to Level 6 Locomotive). To accommodate this, I decided to build many short links (if possible)--something that would benefit from my rush to an expensive train. Overall, I got caught up in the tactics of the turn, trying to squeeze as many points out each round rather than looking at the long-term picture. I ended up with a 6-7 link track along the southeastern coast. I was the first to Level 6, but this bonus was not enough. I ended up in 3rd place, having issued 4 shares.

The balance is very nice in Railroad Tycoon. One player went for New England, I went for the southeast, and the other three fought a vicious battle for the midwest. The game was close for a long time. Some turns there was heavy bidding for first (mostly because of the card drawn), and some turns there was none. Despite the over-production and the size of the game, playing it was not at all physically cumbersome. My brain, however, was focused on the board for 3 solid hours, and it seemed like 1. I'd play this again any time.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Unless you subscribe to my posts (which you really should *g*), this game is probably hovering well under your radar, as it did for me until I stumbled on it in a GeekList. The very concept of this game set my heart racing in anticipation. Fortunately for my heart, they completed their translations and posted the rules a few days later.

If I had to compare Khronos to other games--from simply reading the rules--I would probably list Euphrates & Tigris, Elasund, and Tikal. But it really doesn't play much like any of them.

There is a board consisting of a 20x16 grid. Upon this grid, the players build 9 different types of building. There are Military (orange), Religious (purple), and Civil (blue) buildings. Each comes in 3 sizes (1x1, 2x2, 3x3), and has its own building cost.

Buildings are built using cards from your hand. Small buildings can be destroyed as well. You can also upgrade a building to a larger size if there is space for it by paying the difference in cards. When you build any 2x2 or 3x3 building, you earn income. There are 3 special rules governing the locations of buildings.

The Rule of Geography: Depending on the number of players, forest/mountain spaces cost extra. Rather than simply restrict the playing area for fewer players like so many games do, Khronos allows you to use the entire board...for a price. This is very clever. There's also a river running through the center of the board. Only Civil buildings can be built over these spaces.

The Rule of Dominion: Only a Civil building is allowed to be built in such a way that it connects previously disconnected buildings.

The Rule of Hierarchy: In a given group of buildings, the largest sized Military and Religious buildings must be unique. For example, there cannot be two 3x3 Military or two 2x2 Religious buildings. When a player causes this rule to be broken, one or more buildings in violation must be destroyed or downsized. This can cause local ripple effects.

Players place cubes when they build Military and Religious buildings to indicate ownership. At the end of each player's turn in the 4th and 7th turns, each player collects income from groups of buildings in which he holds certain types of control.

Now hold on. At this point you are saying to yourself, "Big freakin' deal." Right?

Of course, there's a catch. There are actually 3 boards, each as I described above, each identical. Except for one really important thing: each board exists in a different time period.

The 1st board is the Age of Might where Military control earns income. The 2nd board is the Age of Faith where Religious control earns income. The 3rd board is the Age of Reason where Civilian control earns income.

The 3 boards are linked in time. Changes in the past affect the future. For example, a Keep (2x2 Military building) built in the Age of Might immediately creates an identical building in the Age of Faith and a ruin of it (flipped tile) in the Age of Reason.

Each player controls 2 adventurers who can travel between the time periods to build, upgrade, destroy, renovate, and populate buildings.

But wait, there's more...

There are even paradoxes. If you build a building on an empty location "now", and it ripples into the future into a building (sharing at least one space), the future building is removed (forgotten)!

Because the layout can be different across the 3 boards, violations of the Rule of Hierarchy can get fairly complex.

The rules are available, but are not in the best shape. Unfortunately, they have already been printed. I'm sure they will make updates available once the game is released. There are going to be lots of rules questions.

I'm kicking myself for not thinking of this idea myself. I know there have been other games dealing with time and time travel, but Khronos just seems to really click for me.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Shades of Fun

I like Puerto Rico, giving it 7.5 on BGG. But I've always wondered why I don't like it more. This has nothing to do with it being ranked #1. PR seems to be the kind of game that I would rate higher. Today I finally stumbled onto the answer, and it has led me to this topic.

I like all kinds of games. For me, "fun" is not a single definition, but an entire spectrum: serious fun to silly fun. I enjoy games where I have to stare at the board and think ahead 10 moves, and I also enjoy games where the "goal" is to laugh at each other. I'll illustrate the extremes using Go and Apples to Apples.

Go is luckless, cold, calculating, deep, rich, yet intuitive. You would rarely find players laughing during a game, or even smiling. I find it intensely fun: the challenge, the experimentation, the review, the study.

Apples to Apples is full of luck, warm and fuzzy, shallow, yet you can have a blast by picking cards almost at random.

Here's the catch: the game mechanics must match the type of fun the game inspires. Complex games should be serious fun, and simple games should be silly fun.

For me, Puerto Rico seems like a lighter game. There are only 7 roles, and on your turn there are usually fewer to choose from. When you get to take your action based on the current role, there are few choices, and sometimes none. Add to this the volatility of the game, and you get something that deserves a much lighter treatment. I would never spend more than 5 seconds deciding which card to choose in Apples to Apples.

I'm not saying PR feels like a party game, but the mechanics are not on the serious end of the spectrum either. Yet it doesn't feel that serious of a game to me. A mismatch.

Pirate's Cove is the opposite. It has a light theme, but the mechanics are too heavy, despite the game being too random.

In what games does this phenomenon occur for you?