December 03, 2008

Participants: Gili, Jon, Nadine, David K

Game night was at Gili’s, who had to stay home and watch the kids. Game night was interrupted by a small accident with the sink in the bathroom. It broke and spewed hundreds of gallons of water over the floor before we managed to turn it off from outside the apt. Then we did a little mopping. Exciting.

Hacienda

Jon 113, David 98, Gili, Nadine

First play for all of us.

Hacienda is a deluxe version of Through the Desert. Each round, you place tiles on the board trying to balance reaching as many markets as possible (instead of oases) and securing long routes. The added feature to Hacienda is that you have to buy your tiles: slightly cheaper if you pick them randomly, but in any case the ones you really need might not be available, which adds some luck to the game. You have to balance placing tiles to earn money vs placing to earn points; but often these were the same action.

In our game, money was not that tight, so the latter is not much an issue. A tighter money game might have made that part more interesting.

The seemingly main path to victory, which is the one I chose, is to connect to as many markets as possible; you earn a triangular bonus for each connection, so 10 markets is 55 points. It’s also the main way to get money. You get a lot more money if you invest more tiles at each market, but you get far less points. And you don’t really need that much money.

The second problem is that a route length of 3 or more is worth 2 x the length of the route. Only one type of route is counted, and there’s no bonus for having a single route of length 6 versus 2 routes of length 3. That made the large route strategy slightly less effective than the one of getting to every market. Of course, if everyone simply tries to get to every market, the game is balanced; but it is a little less interesting.

The third problem, and it’s now the second game where we’ve hit this problem, is that the game end triggers after someone does something, and then the last player gets the last move. This is simply a bad game mechanism. The idea is to give all players an equal number of turns, which is a decent idea. But when some turns are spent planning and others placing, the person who triggers the end game has the power to end it right after you planned. That makes planning for players earlier in the starting order very difficult. The advantage they got for going first doesn’t make up for it.

Games should avoid this mechanic, and instead go for a) ending after a set number of turns, or b) ending on the turn after the end condition is triggered, or c) the game goes around until it gets back to right before the person who triggered the end game.

Despite these problems, the game is slightly less dry than Through the Desert, and quite enjoyable if you like route-planning and light mathematical games. We’ll definitely play again.

In our game, as I mentioned, I promiscuously hit every market. I was light on cash, but I still had two land routes with four tiles, which gave me emergency cash when I needed it. I didn’t buy any haciendas, but they were not worth enough points overall.

Tichu

Jon/David 300, Nadine/Gili 0

We played one hand of Tichu while we were also playing Hacienda, which annoyed me to no end. David bid Tichu, and both of us went out first.

Agricola

David 38, Jon 36, Gili 30, Nadine 29

We played this one, even though it takes a tad too long for a game group such as ours: close to three hours. We started by drafting occupations and then minor improvements. We used all the cards.

Nadine had a nice card that allowed her to add a family member whenever she added a room, which she used to add two family members at once. She was unprepared to support them, however, and spent a lot of the rest of the game struggling for food. She ended up getting two begging cards as a result.

David complained about his occupations and minor improvements, and then ended up playing 5 occupations and 3 minor improvements, nearly all of them in the first half of the game. They gave him so much wheat and vegetables, that we actually ran out of wheat coins. [DK: Actually Jon missed a few. I played two minor improvements in the last round, and 1 occupation in the round before. In toto I played 12 out of my 14 cards!] 

Gili played a balanced strategy with a lot of sheep. She also played an annoying card that required anyone who wanted wheat to pay her a food when they took it, which made gaining wheat no immediate benefit food-wise for the other players. She only got to three family members, which hurts.

I wanted to do farming, but I only ended up farming vegetables, playing a single occupation and a single minor improvement, both of which boosted vegetable acquisition and production. Otherwise, I focused on building a stone house, expanding my family, and acquiring major improvements for the points. I almost had to beg in the last round, but I ended up selling my cow instead (for a loss of 2 points, instead of 3). I had 10 bonus points, but still lost to David’s fields, veggies, grains, and family members.

So far in all the games we’ve played, an active farmland beats the stone house route by just a few points each time. Unfortunately, to get an active farmland requires the right minor improvements and occupations, which makes that avenue only available to those that get them. If only one person gets the right card comboes, the game is going to be a lot easier for them.

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