November 03, 2010

Participants: Jon, Mace, Binyamin, Gili, Nechama, Nadine

Still low attendance, though at least we have two simul games running

Dominion/Intrigue/Seaside

Binyamin 63, Jon 44, Mace 42

Kingdoms: Council Room, Coppersmith, Torturer, Trading Post, Duke, Harem, Embargo, Salvager, Ghost Ship, Envoy

A game without a single extra action, and nothing to buy for 3 coins except Silver, yet we were hitting 8 or more coins already at round 3. Binyamin’s third turn was Coppersmith and four copper.

When I saw Duke during the setup, I almost tossed it out; I had a bad experience with it last time and was pretty sure that I don’t like the card. Sure, everyone can buy them; but everyone HAS to buy them, which kind of ruins the fun of the game. The fun is to try to find the good combinations, not to force all players to go for the only one that dominates.

I left it in to give it one more try. However, the results were just as bad as last time. Binyamin ended the game with five Duchys and five Dukes and as you can see, that was enough to slaughter us.

We were skeptical about the worth of Embargo. However, with not much else to do with 2 coins, both Binyamin and Mace picked up one or two. All three were used on the Province deck, which made the Duke strategy that much stronger. If they were used on the Dukes, maybe the game would have been more interesting. Now that I think about it, that was really my main option for fighting Dukes.

I chose kingdoms based on my love of trashing cards. I took curses from Embargo and Torturer because I could trash them. I trashed golds to buy Provinces (when they only had two embargo chips on them). But it wasn’t enough

There were several attacks, but Mace’s single Torturer was the only one bought.

R-Eco

Nadine 40, Gili, Nechama

First play for Nechama. Nadine slaughtered them both.

Settlers of Catan

Jon 11, Gili 7, Nechama 7

First play for Nechama. I played this at the same time as Tigris and Euphrates.

I placed my settlements last (3 and 4), which is generally good, but the two of them took the only good wheat and brick locations. With a strong city strategy, I dominated some middle numbers. The 6 rolled far more often than the 8, which was good for me: I was on one 6 hex, and the robber spent most of the game on their 6 hex.

I had a setback when, without any access to brick, I traded four ore for a brick in order to fall under 7 cards. Gili rolled, putting me over 7 cards, and then Nechama rolled a 7. I lost half of my cards and then Nechama stole my brick.

I got Nechama to take longest road right before Gili could take it and win. Then I stole longest army from Gili to win.

Tigris and Euphrates

Jon 8/8/11/12, Binyamin 8/8/9/11, Mace 7/7/9/12, Nadine 5/5/6/6

First play for Mace. I played this at the same time as Settlers of Catan. It seemed to end up as my turn in both games quite often.

I played first and gave Binyamin a nice location for his first Trader. After that it was the usual game play. I built both monuments, taking only one point from each of them each round (and letting others take the other points). Ultimately, Binyamin lost because he had a shortage of red tiles during the game and didn’t try to fetch any.

Mace was also close to winning, as happens in this game. But we make the wrong decisions when we don’t know exactly when the game will end.

Mr Jack

Gili, Nechama

First play for Nechama, but I don’t know the results.

San Fransisco

Jon 34, Nadine 20, Mace 15, Binyamin 11

First play for everyone but Binyamin.

As I heard the explanation, my heart sank. The game appeared to be a straightforward version of “pick the highest number between 1 and 10; duplicate guesses are eliminated; highest remaining guess wins”. Which, as game theorists will tell you, means that the optimal solution is to play randomly.

To elaborate: The game board is a series of boxes (city blocks), and you bid to place your “roads” on the board. Whenever you have an indisputable majority of roads around a block, you win the points for the block: generally 4-6 points, but in two cases 10 points.

Each round you you blind bid some amount of “money 1” (cash) or “money 2” (influence), both of which run out but will be resupplied occasionally after a block is built. You bid to acquire the privilege of placing a road next to a 4, 5, or 6 point block. As is the nature of roads, by placing a road between two blocks (at least one of which matches the required type) you are staking claim to both of them.

Depending on the round, either the first highest bidder, or the first and second highest bidders, or all bidders, will be able to place a road. By highest bidder, I mean highest among those players who don’t duplicate their blind bid numbers. In some auctions, the auction is not blind bidding, but a standard circle auction where the eventual highest bidder takes the privilege.

Play until 12 blocks have been captured.

My fears were not only about the random nature of blind bidding (whose bluffing aspect is supposed to be strategic, but that’s really nonsense), but that there didn’t seem to be any sort of story arc to the game. Every round you flip, bid, place a road. I could see that as roads got placed on the board, more blocks would be likely to be captured in a round. Still, I was game to try once, to see if I was wrong.

I wasn’t entirely wrong, but I was a little wrong. There is a certain enjoyment – and frustration – out of being eliminated for bidding the same amount as someone else. Meh. As you get ready to close off certain blocks, the particular block type you need (4, 5, or 6) becomes relevant, and so slightly changes the stake you have in certain auctions.

But not really. In the game I played, on not one round was one particular auction worth more than another for me. If I needed to close a 4 block here, you could be sure that adjacent to it was the 5 or 6 block that would let me place the road, so that it didn’t matter one whit if I won a 4, 5, or 6 auction. Such situations did come up occasionally during the game for the other players, but rarely.

Furthermore, even if you don’t need the road this turn, placing it is sure to get you one road away from capturing some other block on the next turn, and also prevent someone else from placing it and scoring. Both money types were returned to you a sufficient number of times during the game that – aside from Binyamin who went broke – the fear of spending wasn’t a great obstacle.

So how did it all come together? It wasn’t as bad as I feared. I wasn’t bored due to repetition and a lack of story arc, since the game went pretty quickly and the auction variations added some interest. There was some light money management, and some light spacial considerations (generally there was a best place to play, but finding it could take a moment or two). I’d play again.

However, I won handily by playing every blind selection event during the game (except the last turn) randomly. I chose my influence cards randomly, I chose the block type bids randomly. I only played the standard auction straight. And I was never the worse for wear. Which proves my point: there is no strategy in “bluffing” games (not to say that some people can’t master the tactic of out-bluffing their opponent, but I don’t call that strategy).

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