May 13, 2009

Participants: Jon, Hershel, Nadine, Abraham, Bill, Max

All regulars. Nadine is off to the US for two weeks after tonight.

Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation

Jon++, Hershel

I taught this to Hershel. In the first game, he played black. Already near the beginning of the game it was fairly clear that he wasn’t doing too well. Black typically kills a number more characters than white. In my case, Gimli killed the Orcs, Boromir took out Sauron, and Gandalf killed something like 5 black pieces as he stormed into Mordor. Black had one piece left to my five, with no chance of finding Frodo.

We switched it around. Gimli still killed the Orcs (on the third move, or something), but his Gandalf only managed to kill one or two dark pieces. After half the cards were gone, the Black Riders rode from Mordor nearly all the way into the Shire and began picking off the weaker characters. Finally he came to the Shire and found Sam, Frodo, and Legolas. Sam tried to save Frodo, but the Black Rider killed them all, and that was that.

Stone Age

Jon 198, Nadine 187, Hershel 152

Hershel brought his copy. This was my first play.

Stone Age is a worker placement, resource management, and set collection game. It artistically and mechanically resembles Pillars of the Earth very closely, but it’s a bit lighter. Instead of paying taxes, you have to pay food, which requires a bit more effort.

There’s no master builder phase. Instead, the big gimmick here is that the number of workers you put onto an area determines how many dice you get to roll to see how many resources you collect from your location. There are 5 things you can collect, each numbered 2 to 6. When you try to collect the resource, you roll a number of dice equal to the number of workers you allocated to the collection area and then divide the number you rolled by the number of the area, rounded down. For instance, food is 2; if you roll a total of 11 in the food area, you’ll collect 5 food. Gold is 6; roll a total of 11 in the gold area, and you’ll collect 2 gold.

Therein lies my first and major problem with the game. Dice. Over the course of the game, dice will kind of even out, but not entirely. And the type of decisions you make seem to be full of strategy, but in the end your success is pretty random. There’s no trading resources to make up for bad rolls, as there is in Settlers of Catan.

See our final scores? Would it surprise you to learn that I rolled the best, Nadine rolled slightly less well, and Hershel rolled poorly? There you go.

The winner is the one with the most victory points. You gain points in two major ways:

1) by collecting action cards which are available each round. Each action card has a cost of a few resources, gives some immediate benefit, and also gives a point bonus at the end depending on what else you collect. For example, some give you a certain number with which to multiply against the value of your automatic food production at the end of the game. If you get three cards of that type with 2, 1, and 1, and your food production is 8, then you gain a bonus of 4 times 8 at the end of the game.

Some of the cards just have symbols, and you get the square of the number of different symbols you collected in bonus points at the end of the game.

2) by collecting bonus tiles. Each bonus tile requires a certain combination of resources, and gives a bonus in victory points equal to the number value of the resources required to buy it. For example, a bonus tile that requires a gold (6) and two bricks (4 each) to acquire gives a bonus of 14 points when you buy it.

There are ways of increasing your food production (so you pay one less food per round), tools (so you can add to your dice rolls each round), and number of workers (pay one food per worker each round or lose 10 points for each unfed). And each resource area, other than food, only allows 7 workers per area, so occasionally you may be locked out of a particular area (which rarely makes any difference).

The game ends when either the cards, or one stack of bonus tiles runs out. One player can rush the game end by buying tiles from a single stack. That’s not unfair, but I don’t really like that mechanic too much.

You basically decide to concentrate on one of the few sets to collect. If two people go for the same set, you’re both probably screwed and someone else who is trying for something uncontested will win. In our three-player game, we were all acting pretty independently, but people will probably clash more in a four player game.

The master workers drawn from the bag in Pillars of the Earth supplies a tad too much luck, but it’s not in the same category as Stone Age. Planning in PotE is more rewarding and more interesting than in this game. But this game is still a decent game with ok mechanics. If a certain strategy is known to be dominant, this will balance out because more than one player will be trying to get it.

I would be much happier to play the game without dice: with dice rolls available for purchase with workers (roll 12 dice, and let players buy the dice rolls with their workers each round) or with each player drawing a random set of how many resources are available to them or to everyone each round, or some-such. Dice. Shudder.

In our game, I estimated the value of the cards versus the tiles and decided against trying for the card collection sets. Instead I took only cards that gave bonuses for the number of tiles you had (and some for the number of people you had), and then took 8 tiles. This gave me the regular points from the tiles and additional card bonuses for the tiles. And I rolled fairly well.

Nadine and Hershel each had a complete set of the card symbols (64 points each, or 8 points/card). Nadine also farmed a lot of gold with a lot of people and took a few tiles that netted her some 40 points for each one. Not enough.

Dominion

Abraham 54*, Max 34, Bill 16

First play for both Bill and Max. Abraham taught the game using the standard introductory set of cards. But he played the Villagers incorrectly, effectively playing them without using up actions to do so, and ending up with far too many actions than he should have. Bill noticed this mid-game. So his final score doesn’t really count.

I receive the two BGG bonus kingdoms in the mail, but we haven’t played with them, yet.

Cosmic Encounter

Hershel 4, Nadine 3, Abraham 3, Bill 2

Bill hasn’t played this since 1991, and this was the first play for Hershel. I tried teaching Max, too, but his head wasn’t into it. Too late, too complicated, and too crazy.

Hershel played Anti-Matter, Bill played Bully, Abraham played Vampire, and Nadine played Vulch. I don’t usually think of Anti-Matter as very strong, but everyone else did, and he won (they played to 4 bases).

Traders of Carthage

Jon+, Max

First play for Max, first two-player play for me. Everything went along docilely for some time, and no ships were pirated after scoring until mid-game. At that point, I managed to score a 5 point ship alone, and then shortly afterward a 6 point ship alone, at which point Max resigned. He was too tired to be playing anyway.

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