October 24, 2007

Participants: Jon, Nadine, Yitzvhak, David, Gili, Orah, Hillel

This was my last games night in Israel before a trip to North America. Nadine will be hosting game nights for the next three weeks.

Gili finally returned after her vacation, and she brought her mom, Orah, with her. Hillel is a new player who found us through my blog. He enjoyed himself, so hopefully he will be back. I didn’t get to play with either of them, however.

Colossal Arena

Nadine 11, Jon 10, David 3, Yitzchak 0

The last time I played this I was not impressed. And no one has been hankering for it since then. So I was thinking of adding it to my trade list. Before I did, I wanted to give it another try.

Essentially, the game consists of selecting 8 out of the 12 available creatures to do battle. To do this, you need to separate out the 12 cards for each creature type from the pack of cards, as well as 11 spectator cards, and a few referee cards. The others are set aside.

You lay out the descriptive cards of each of the eight creatures at the top of the table. Each battle is “fought” in successive rows on the table beneath the top row. At the end of each battle, the lowest valued creature is no longer in play. The next battle is fought one row further down, with one less creature. After five battles, only three creatures remain.

Battles are fought by players placing cards corresponding to the creatures in the current battle row one by one. You can cover up a card already in place. As soon as all creatures fighting in a round have a card, the creature with the lowest number is eliminated. If there is a tie for lowest number, keep playing until there isn’t. Cards are valued 0 to 10 for each creature and must be played on that creature. A card from single set of spectator cards valued 0 to 10 may be played on any creature.

Each round, you bet, place a card, and draw back up to 8 cards. Special cards or abilities may come into play.

During the game, you place bets on these creatures. The earlier the battle, the more valuable the bet. In the first round you can also place an additional secret bet. Only one person can place a bet on one creature each round, and only after the creature already has at least one card on it from this turn.

The last rule is the one I missed the first time I played and makes all the difference. It is a critical rule that makes the game far more enjoyable. Without it, you can bet on anything you want and then play a card on that bet. Instead, you have to play a card which might enable someone else to place the bet on it before it gets back to you.

Each creature also confers a special ability for you if a) you place a card on it this round, and b) you have the highest valued total bets on this creature.

It’s actually an interesting game. The most interesting part is that you can place either low cards on creatures you don’t like or high cards on creatures you do. You can end the game with a high card on the last remaining creature without a card yet, dooming some other creature, or a low card on that creature, dooming it instead. Assuming you have the card you need.

However, the game still has a few problems, which we noticed the last time, too.

The biggest problem is the point system, Like Quo Vadis, point scores in this game are simply too low and therefore likely to tie all too often. It’s just not enough, and not enough ways to score. Furthermore, the betting system makes most of the bets fairly worthless and most of the creature special powers also fairly worthless. It’s a drag on the game. Higher valued bets, the last row being worth something, and interim scoring opportunities ala El Grande would make the game much better.

The second problem is design. The spectator cards look exactly like the creature cards and are impossible to distinguish except by reading the fine print. They should have big words saying “Spectator” on them. And many of the creature cards have nearly the same coloration or name, making them hard to distinguish, too. There is no special corner symbol; you have to hold the cards so that the entire top of each card is visible. This makes setting up the game, and figuring out what you have in your hand difficult.

One other problem was remembering which creatures were eliminated from play each round at a quick glance. This information is important since you need to know how many creatures remain this round. Flipping over their card in the top row wasn’t good enough, and in fact made it worse. Instead, we collected all the cards previously played on those creatures and made upside down piles in their column in the current row.

I think my problem last time also may have stemmed from too few players. You definitely need a full complement of betting to make the game interesting.

It’s not going to hit the table often. However, it’s also not too expensive, so not worth my effort in carrying it over to the U.S. to trade, as I doubt I would get much for it.

In our game, Yitzchak had bad luck and got eliminated often. Nadine and I seemed to overlap on most creatures, which made us allies. I had the nicer bets, but she had a secret bet which gave the final win.

San Juan

Gili 40, Hillel 34, Orah 34

Gili taught this to Orah and Hillel and they played the entire game with open hands.

Bridge

Jon/David, Yitzchak/Nadine
Played as a filler. I opened 2c on one of the hands.

Power Grid

Jon 18, David 17, Yitzchak 16

A win for me, which either means I’m getting better or that my opponents are making more mistakes. In an unusual turn of events for PG, it seemed like I was winning most of the game and then I actually did.

David took the early 8, I had the 5, and Yitzchak the 4. Yitzchak grabbed an early 20 which set the stage for too much coal usage. I seemed to lose the battles for all the best plants, but the others had to spend an extra 10 or 20 to get them. Instead, I built a lot of cities, kept the plant market cycling quickly, and ensured that I wasn’t too dependent on the fuel others needed.

They eventually bought some green plants which reduced the resource supply problem, although coal was always still in short supply. I avoided it, since I was always buying fuel last and didn’t want to be stuck without any.

Near the end, I had the least plant capacity, but I had 15 cities to their 10 each. But they still needed to buy plants because, even though they had more capacity than me, they still didn’t have 17 or 18. So they were stuck buying plants and cities, while I only had to buy plants. And there were enough big plants to go around in Stage 3. In the end, neither of them could afford to get to more than 17 plant capacity, while I raised mine to 18 and bought my last city.

Pirate’s Cove

Gili 34, Hillel 30, Orah 27, Nadine 27
Gili brought and taught this. There seemed to be an awful lot of dice rolling and combat from where I was looking. Nadine said the game was nice, but essentially a nice war game, with Eurogame chrome. Battles didn’t eliminate your ships, just your cash, so it wasn’t entirely war gamey.

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