December 16, 2015

Participants: Jon, David, Binyamin, Aaron, Shneur, Nadine, Gili, Roman, Shalom, Nisan

Magic the Gathering

David+, Jon+

David came early and we drafted. I took a number of early blue fliers, but then David drafted about 6 green anti-flier spells. I ended up with WR and some U. David played GB, naturally.

I had great mana in the first game, but couldn’t bring up anything useful and he killed anything that came up. In the second game I did a lot of damage to him, but he killed all of my stuff, left himself with one big guy and played an enchantment that would kill the first non-black creature played by either player. I then killed his big guy and we sat at a standstill for a while (his deck had mostly green creatures) until he was willing to sacrifice a creature to get it out of the way. This let me bring in a few of my own creatures and a spell that eliminated all of his blockers for the win.

Codenames

Roman/Gili+, Nadine/Shalom

Nadine likes this new word/induction game. I like it, too, though I don’t know how many times I will enjoy playing it. It’s especially a challenge with non-native English speakers.

Nadine writes: Shalom was giving me clues, he hadn’t played before so made a few errors, including mixing up a card position. We both guessed one of the other team’s words.

Viticulture

Jon 21, Shneur, David

First play for me and Shneur, second for David. Apparently, David’s first game (played with Nadine) went very differently.

In this game, you have to be the first to get to 20 points. Points are gained by fulfilling orders for wines of specific colors and minimum quality (i.e. playing purple cards), or by taking certain actions after building certain buildings (1 point at a time), or by playing certain blue or yellow cards (0-3 points at a time).

Each round consists of four (really two) phases. You get workers for the whole round, which you can use in either phase 1 or phase 3. In phases 1 and 3, you can buy green or purple cards, play green, purple, blue, or yellow cards, produce grapes from your green cards, sell grapes for money or (far more beneficially) produce wines from your grapes, and – astoundingly – buy new workers (you can have up to 6). In a three player game, there are two spaces for each action, but a) the first player at each action essentially doubles the action (or gains +1$ or pays $1 less, which is about a 50% bonus) and b) each player has one grande worker that can take any action, even if all the places for that action were already taken.

In phase 2, everyone gets either a yellow or blue card (or two, if you have built a certain building), and in phase 4, everyone’s grapes and wines increase in value and some people get income. A grape’s initial value depends on the strength of the green cards you have played, and a wine’s initial value is a simple translation of the grape’s values. So it makes no difference when you produce wines from your grapes, since they both increase at the same rate. The only consideration is that you have to buy two buildings before you can produce/store wines of certain values.

There is a turn order chart, selected starting from the “first player” each round, which rotates clockwise. The “go first” position receives no bonus but goes first in both phases 1 and 3. The “go last” position receives an extra worker. All other positions receive essentially a specific bonus equivalent to the second worker in some spot. Going first is by far the best option, since you will get several bonuses (at least two in both phases 1 and 3).

It is possible that we played with an incredible amount of group-think, but for the life of me I can’t see how obtaining new workers as quickly as possible isn’t BY FAR the best option. Thereafter, making money and building all of the essential buildings seems to be BY FAR the next best steps. This is highly assisted by getting lucky with yellow card draws.

Perhaps someone who runs fast to planting, harvesting, producing, and fulfilling orders MAY be able to end the game quickly enough to give the above strategy a run, but it seems highly unlikely, because having more workers is easily obtained and you can then do everything that that other guy is doing starting from turn two.

This made all of the spots for obtaining money, building buildings, and training new workers filled by workers completely in the first few rounds – and then completely useless thereafter. At which point the game came down entirely to how good you were at picking good cards.

The cards in this game are insanely varying in power and usefulness, and what you pick – assuming basic game play competence – determined your end score. I picked well and won by a large amount. David picked poorly and lost. Shneur picked about average, but didn’t get all of his workers for several rounds too long. Sure, there are some interesting decisions and choices, but you can’t have cards hand out varying degrees of bonuses that swing the game by 0-3 points in a game that only goes to 20 points. If a medium length game includes luck elements that swing the game by more than 10-20% there is something wrong with the game.

Binyamin and David believe that the solution should include drawing 2 or 3 cards and keeping 1. That will certainly help. But the game would have been better if there were NO cards, and instead you had to assign workers to move up on different colored tracks to gain increasingly large benefits (some obtainable by only the players who got there first).

I could be convinced to try this again, but it doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of reward for better play.

Dicemaster

Binyamin+, Aaron

These two played this instead of joining us for Viticulture.

Mysterium

Nisan, Nadine (ghost), Gili, Roman, Shalom

Nadine writes: I had played this at bgg.con last year, where it took us four turns to guess each of our three characters, and three turns to guess the final set of three. It’s a cooperative game with some individual scoring mechanics.

I decided to be the ghost who gives clues, the others hadn’t played before. The ghost provides clues in the form of Dixit-like cards, most of which don’t match each person’s murderer, weapon and room that they need to guess. The main thing that messes people up is trying to figure things out collectively, Nisan would have guessed his cards earlier if he hadn’t listened to everyone else. On the last turn they got everything except Gili’s weapon, though she and two others had been discussing the correct one. I didn’t notice early enough that one of the rooms wasn’t out, Gili had inadvertently mismatched the card numbers initially and no one could see the cards I had, so that caused a setback. Even though we were out of rounds, we played the second part where they guess a set out of four from three cards I give. They all got that right on the first try, so overall we were close. It’s fun but giving clues is frustrating because I have limited choice of cards, and most don’t match, or match multiple options.

Viceroy

Aaron 53, Binyamin 79, Nisan 76

I don’t know how this went.

Tribune

Shalom, Nadine, Roman+, Gili   3 victory conditions

Nadine writes: Gili and I like this game a lot, and enjoyed playing again after it having been in Ra’anana for a while. New to Roman and Shalom. We played with the easiest victory conditions – three. Which means that luck, such as Roman starting with the purple leader in his hand, is almost an unbeatable advantage, because if he gets the faction, he gets one victory condition straight off. And that faction ties into getting a second victory condition – a Tribune, which Roman got quickly. He played well, taking Senators right away and paying to protect them. Then he only needed 5 more laurels, which took him two more rounds. I was close, third round I took the purples and got the favor of the gods, and Senators with a leader which gave me an additional faction card, so I had five out of six, and I got a Tribune. If yellow cards had been on the board I would have tried for those, which didn’t require much to take over, except Shalom also went for them, and I wouldn’t have beaten him. And even if I had gotten the last faction card, Roman would have won the tie with higher value laurels. Shalom ended with one win condition, Gili with none, usually she does well at the game.

Thunderstone

Jon 34, David 30, Shneur 25

First play for Shneur, who had played Dominion many times. This game is a pain to set up. However, it is a far better game to play when you DON’T know the other players’ scores. There is no tension, otherwise.

In this game, for example, David was convinced that he was far ahead, for some reason. He took a bunch of medium monsters with some very high powered attacks, but they weren’t better than the bigger monsters that I obtained just barely. I took some bosses, even though I sacrificed a few cards to do it. I also bought several Goodberries, (1 point each) – I had 4 in the end – which David dismissed as irrelevant. And yet, as you see, I ended the game 4 points ahead of him. 🙂

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