May 20, 2015

Participants: Jon, Tal, Nadine, Aaron

Small crowd.

Tichu

Aaron/Nadine 1035, Jon/Tal 965

First play for Aaron. Nadine enjoyed this session of Tichu more than some of her previous sessions, owing I think to many surprising bids, plays, and turnarounds. I started with Tichu and Tal and I both went out first, the next hand we both went out first, putting us ahead 500 to 0. Aaron understood the rules but struggled with the strategy, although he was doing quite well by mid-game already. Aaron called Tichu a few times, and at least twice Tal called it on the same hand right after him. Nadine called (and made) her first grand Tichu.

Macau

Nadine 80ish, Jon and Aaron 50ish.

This is a Stefan Feld cube pushing game with a host of mechanics with little connection to the theme:

  • It has a village with markets in a grid. Each market costs a certain combination of cubes to permanently occupy and it gives you a resource once when you occupy it. At the end of the game, you score 2 points for each market, but only in your largest contiguous area.
  • It has a shipping area where you have to expend cubes moving around to sell the above resources for points, where early sellers of each resource type gets more points.
  • It’s got special buildings you are forced to acquire once per round, each of which gives you a special ability once per round but only after you activate it, and each one takes a different combination of cubes to activate. The buildings aren’t worth any points on their own, but they are the only way to get money (from some of the buildings; others give you cubes, a victory point each round if you are in some state, or end-game victory points). And oh yeah: you can only hold 5 not activated buildings at a time; whenever you discard one, you lose 3 points. Any not activated buildings are discarded at the end of the game, at a loss of 3 points each.
  • It has a “pay money for victory point” area that you can use once per turn, but the amount you pay and the amount you get changes randomly from round to round, so you don’t know whether to hang on to money or not. If you have a lot of money, this choice doesn’t matter.
  • It has a turn order track, where you pay cubes to advance on the track.

But the main mechanic, and the one that pretty much determines the game, is how you get cubes: by dice roll and a very weird plan-ahead system. Each six dice of different colors are rolled. Then you choose two of the dice. For these two dice, you take cubes of that color, of the amount equal to the face value of the die, and you get to use them that many rounds from now (minus 1). So if I choose the red die, which rolled 4, I get 4 red cubes that I get to use 3 rounds from now. Each round you can ONLY use the cubes that are active this round; any unused cubes are discarded. So if you want to activate a building that requires 4 different colored cubes, you have to hope that the right color combinations roll up sometime in a way that you will have them all in one round (or that your buildings provide the missing cubes). It’s weird. If for some reason you find yourself without cubes to use in some round, you lose 3 points.

The right building combinations go a long way to success. But just as important is getting the dice to roll the right numbers/colors for the buildings that you need to activate. They dice may be working perfectly for someone else and not for you, or vice versa.

You can pick up the buildings that require certain color combinations, but they won’t help you if you can’t activate them until the last round (unless they are the game-end variety). I would say it requires lots of planning, but the buildings flip up randomly each round, and you constantly have to get them activated; also only the buildings and the markets requires specific colors.

This was our first game, so I simply may not understand the idea, but, while I find the dice/action mechanic clever, I don’t really like it. I don’t want to plan dozens of cubes each round for future rounds, but I also don’t want my results to be entirely determined by getting lucky based on the buildings I happen to have acquired. I think, perhaps, I overvalued the negative effect of losing three points. Like the Stone Age starvation strategy, I suspect that a few -3s are not going to hurt you in the long run and it might be better to just ignore them and take lots of cubes all the time. That’s what Nadine did, and she won by a mile. However, she also won because she picked a plan and followed through with it from the beginning of the game: she got a building at the beginning of the game that doubles her score for delivering certain resources, picked up all of those resources, and delivered them all near the end of the game. It was a basic play for someone who had played the game before, but a real coup for a new player.

I guess I want to play it again to see if experience greatly – or only slightly – mitigates the luck.

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