March 16, 2016

Participants: Jon, David, Nadine, Nisan, Gili, Binyamin, Aaron

Light game night, prefaced by discussions in the Whatsapp group as to what we were going to play.

Magic: The Gathering

David++, Jon

We drafted and I pulled in strong R and decent B, G, and U, with ok W. I had a few gold cards BGW that I really wanted to play, and I had to play R, so I ended up playing four colors, which I did because I also had two artifacts that gave me any color mana and another that gave me R and B. And none of my spells were double color.

This worked ok the first game; I got out all of my colors and cast one of my golds early. David had more utility spells, however. He was able to knock us both down, and then I stalled while his flyer and other stuff finished me. In the second game, I had G cards and no G mana. I did a little damage and put out a 6/6 blocker, but he had a sorcery to steal my blocker and attack for 15 points in one round (I was at 15 life).

Libertalia

Binyamin 83, Aaron 66, Nisan 59

I was interested in playing this, but Nadine had me roped into another game. First play for all of them.

Race for the Galaxy

Binyamin 37, Aaron 31

First play for Aaron. Binyamin hadn’t played in a while, too, so they had some rules questions.

Signorie

David 185, Nadine 139, Jon 134, Gili 134

Second play for Nadine, first play for the rest of us. Nadine taught us some basic parts of the game and then I read the rules and retaught the game, my style.

This is a game with a ridiculous Renaissance theme of manipulating men and women in your family for money, babies, and prestige. The men are assigned into business tracks, the women are given dowries to marry well. Whatever. The basic idea is to take dice from a common pool: the higher valued ones are free and infrequently give you a bit more benefit, while the smaller ones sometimes cost more. However, if all of the dice (3 or 4) you take total to less than 14 in a round, you gain a very good benefit: so good, that it is pretty insane not to take it

You need the bonuses to get more men and women (as well as a special free action). You need the men and women to get points and tiles: tiles must be in certain sequences to give you bonus points for sets, and this is one of the bad parts of the game (see below). However, you also need money: money not only pays for the lower valued dice, it pays for bonus actions. You buy a bonus action, and then every time you take a die of that color, you get the bonus action for free. As any player of infrastructure games knows, it is crucial to concentrate on the infrastructure early in order to get more actions than your opponents (or keep parity with them). The dissuasion against that here is that some of the better valued (or correctly matching) tiles might be gone by those who take them earlier, but this doesn’t offset the positive benefit of building the infrastructure enough.

The other thing to note is that certain actions put you up in turn order, and high up in turn order can give you a lot of points. Although you have to do it again each round, your free actions basically take care of that for you.

It is Well Known that the game was shipped before it was fully baked, so the game comes with an insert that contains official variants, and we played with two of them (we left off the one that made each message only usable by one person each round, although I think we should play with that next time).

We all did fairly well, but David did very well, as you can see. I pretty much understood the game by the first round, and I actually thought that David made a small mistake in round one, but it didn’t offset the fact that he and Gili were able to start the game off by activating the “free money every round” action and Nadine and I couldn’t do that without paying so much that we would be sacrificing too many other things. And the free money, of course, let them activate many other free actions. Still, David made better use of that than Gili did, and I could see that.

Part of it was quickly shooting to the top of the turn order track each round, which gave him some 50 points over the course of the game. I admit that I completely undervalued that track until mid game; between that, the round that I didn’t have money and the ability to activate free actions, and the tile problem (see below), it explains the score differential between David and me. I think both of us play these games pretty well, usually.

The tile problem: the game has random tiles coming up each round, of different values and different types. Each player’s board needs specific types, and there are often not enough of that type, or none at all for many rounds. And you need at least three in each row to score the row. If they don’t happen to be the types that you need, then you are at a severe disadvantage unless you planned specifically for that from the beginning of the game. Of course, they weren’t the right ones for me, and I hadn’t planned for it, so I lost another 8-10 points from not scoring a set. There are actions you can take to fix this – giving you 1 point tiles that help complete any row, but again I didn’t realize the importance of this, or how badly the tile draw would screw me, until late in the game. I though of a rule change that would make this mechanic less bothersome, but I would like to try the game again to see if better planning helps. I’m really not a fan of this kind of random draw that significantly helps some players and not others. But 8-10 points wasn’t a brutal loss, just an annoyance. Meanwhile, Gili was annoyed that the 10 special ability actions that are available each round – assigned randomly to different colored dice and that duplicate abilities that are already given by those dice, and therefore may be totally useless when assigned to the exact wrong colors – were too often assigned to the exact wrong colors. I agreed with her about this, too.

I liked the game, and I think we all did, but even playing one round shorter than the original game called for it still took a good 45 minutes to understand the rules and 3 hours to play. There may be a few too many things to do each round; perhaps too much felt like calculating among the various actions than actual strategizing and playing.

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