January 09, 2007

Participants: Jon, Mace, Shachar, Nadine, Gili, Yitzchak, El-ad

El-ad is a friend of Shachar’s who showed up in the middle of games night.

Havoc

Mace 42, Shachar 25

Mace and Shachar arrived early and played this two-player while I finished organizing my life. They needed a few rule lookups during the game, but otherwise managed ok. By the time they were done, El-ad showed up.

Down Under

Gili 28, Jon 23, Nadine 23

I like this little filler game. After this play, my third play, I just started thinking about new levels of strategy and tactics for the game. I believe that a careful player should be able to count several moves ahead to determine if a path is worthwhile or not. Also, the game becomes more confrontational as it goes on.

It’s quite nice. I wish I could get the others to like it as much as I do.

Pirate’s Cove

Jon 41, Gili 36, Yitzchak 35, Nadine 31

This was my first play, and second or third for the others. As was expected, I really don’t like dice combat mechanisms, and this one was no exception. Which is a shame, because I liked every other aspect of the game.

Pirate’s Cove is a blind bidding game. Each player has four stats: initiative, two combat stats of which the lowest one determines how many combat dice you roll, and treasure capacity. Each round, five cards are revealed, one in each of five locations, and each player secretly decides which one to take or whether to cash in treasures already earned. Four of the five locations also allow you to increase one of your stats using earned gold, while the fifth allows you to buy power cards.

If two people go for the same card, they fight. Alternately roll dice; hits are subtracted from an opponent’s stat of your choosing. An any time, or if one of your stats falls to zero, you can withdraw and fix your damaged stat and draw a power card, or draw two power cards and pay two gold to fix your stat. The remaining player gets a VP and the fought-over card.

Cards give random amounts of VPs, gold, treasures which can be cashed in for VPs, and/or power cards. Power cards are worth VPs, great benefits in attacking or defense, and so on. Naturally, like the dice rolls you need, the power cards you get may or may not be the ones you need. Some are greatly better than others almost any time.

It was readily apparent to me that given a rather straightforward choice between VP’s or treasures, VP’s were a better strategy. They don’t require you to waste a turn cashing them in for treasures, can’t be stolen, and require no particular capacity to store. Naturally, if everyone has this idea, there will be lots more fighting over the cards that give better VP bonuses; and, generally speaking, the player with better stats or better power cards will win fights. Or the better roller, naturally.

Adding to the mix is a Big Pirate that travels around to areas 1-6 in order. Anyone who wants the card in that area also has to fight this guy first. He’s hard to kill, can do some nasty damage, and may be worth a nice or small amount of VPs.

In our game, the Big Pirate gave a fair chunk of VPs. Everyone else was avoiding him, so I decided early on that the best chance of leaping ahead was to save my best power cards and take him on. Not only will I get the VPs from beating him, but then I will get the card from the area uncontested.

I waited until he was in an area with a nice VP card. Took him out, gained nice points, gained even more nice points, and that was basically game, because the next Big Pirate flipped up to replace him was just as nasty but gave only half the VPs. Furthermore, it was already near the end of the game and people hadn’t been saving up just for a battle like that.

So even with my average dice rolling, my planning won the day. Which made me appreciate the game. But still: dice rolling combat. Shudder. There must be a universal way to fix all games with dice rolling combat.

Settlers of Catan

Mace 10, Shachar 7, El-ad 4

I can’t believe that Mace has never played this before. El-ad was a total stranger, so that he hadn’t played it before wasn’t a shock. Anyway, Mace won as you can see, and they continued on for second place, which ended up being Shachar.

Vegas Showdown

Jon 50, Nadine 41, Yitzchak 40, Gili 38

Nadine and Yitzchak had played this once before, while Gili and I hadn’t. They had figured out most of the confusing rules from the last play, but we still had to work out a few rules issues. I really liked it, even though I wasn’t totally happy with the card flipping mechanics, but once again my enthusiasm wasn’t shared by everyone else. Others’ opinions ranged from ok to boring to a bit long.

Vegas Showdown is an auction game with bidding similar to Amun-Re except you can rebid in the same place. You’re bidding on rooms to lay on your hotel/casino area.

Each tile has doors that must connect (a lot like Alhambra) and gives varying bonuses to your income, people count, or VPs. Unlike other games, the granted income bonuses are not great; still, it’s always better to have more than less. Your best method for income is to punt and not build anything once in a while. That starts you off the next round a building’s worth of money ahead of everyone else (unless they did the same).

Each round, buildings drop in prices. As the game goes on, the better and more expensive buildings show up. These require you to have bought earlier buildings (like Attika) and they have less doorways so they are harder to place.

At the end of the game, you get points for transitory points gained along the way, filling in certain areas of your board, highest income or people, and having arranged the more expensive buildings in certain ways (this is the hardest and least profitable strategy, from what I could tell).

In fact my victory is based on having acquired the plush transitory VP buildings around midgame, and ensuring that I got roughly the same bonuses everyone else would gain at the end of the game. I can see someone else winning by gaining one or two of the very last buildings to show up, however, which no one ended up purchasing in our game.

After special buildings are bought, new ones are replaced according to a card that flips up indicating what building stack to pick from for a replacement building as well as an “event” that affects the remainder of the round. While these “events” are cute, they don’t really add much to the game. In fact, they could easily have been dispensed with and the game would have been must better. It’s not because they are “event” per se, it’s that they’re not good ones. Too many of them randomly give out bonus points to people in a game where victory is not decided by too many points, or otherwise disrupt the game flow too much.

Still, I greatly enjoyed this game and would love to play again, if I can find more willing parties to join me.

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