GCL Amoeba 109 -- Gap (2013-03-06)
Mikko Saari
Finland
Tampere
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Microbadge: GameChat League - Amoeba Division: "Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!" ABOUT GCL Microbadge: GameChat League - Amoeba Division: "Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!" ABOUT THE AMOEBAE Microbadge: GameChat League - Amoeba Division: "Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!" SUBSCRIBE Microbadge: GameChat League - Amoeba Division: "Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!"

Welcome to this week's Game Chat League Amoeba discussion group!

If you found us randomly (via subscription, perhaps), you're welcome to join in with constructive conversation -- we're friendly symbiotes in real life, though vicious competitors at the game table. (Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most dangerous predator on earth!) Read the links above for more info. (If you're shy, just thumb the list so we can see who's stalking us :-) )

Current host rotation::
Jevon (cadavaca)
Eric Brosius (March 10 requested) Microbadge: GameChat League - Amoeba Division: "Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious predator on Earth!"
Jens (fizzle)
Joshua (Joshuaaaaaa)
Mikko (msaari)
Doug Faust (phrim)
Carlos Moreno Serrano (Sprocket314) (March 17 requested)
John (verandi)

Everyone should feel free to switch off as life requires. (Our valued regular visitors and former members might also want to speak up here...)

Since it's already Wednesday without a list, I grabbed up the spot with this small list. Next up Eric, then Carlos, then back to John or Jevon.
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1. Board Game: Mind the Gap [Average Rating:3.50 Unranked]
Board Game: Mind the Gap
Mikko Saari
Finland
Tampere
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Are there any gaps in your collection or in the games you play? What is missing?
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2. Board Game: Robber Barons [Average Rating:6.21 Overall Rank:13195]
Board Game: Robber Barons
Mikko Saari
Finland
Tampere
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6 x _7_Loopin' Louie
1 x _7_Das Kleine Gespenst
1 x _7_Memory
1 x _9_Carcassonne Junior
1 x _7_Fleeting Foxes
1 x _7_The Kids of Catan
1 x _7_Richard Scarry's Busytown: Eye found it! Game
1 x _8_Erzähl doch mal...
1 x _3_Trouble
5 x _7_Ghost Blitz

1 x _5_Zooloretto: The Dice Game (new)

1 x _7_Kings of Air and Steam (new)
3 x _7_Coup
1 x .10!Samarkand: Routes to Riches
1 x _7_Race for the Galaxy

1 x _7_Robber Barons (new)
1 x _7_Texas & Pacific
1 x _7_New York Central (new)
1 x _7_Australian Railways (new)
1 x _7_Mü & More (Last Panther)
1 x _8_South African Railroads
1 x _7_Rolling Freight (new)

(Lots of sevens, but it seems to be my default rating for new games in particular.)

Quite the week. First of all, games with kids. It was the Spring vacation week, so we played lots of games with kids. We basically started every morning with board games. Kids love Ghost Blitz and my son is already pretty good in it. My daughter is pretty fast with the easier cards (which show the correct item), but slower with the harder cards (where you must pick the item that is not depicted in the card). Erzähl doch mal... was quite fun, my daughter is already old enough to play it and we did come up with a rather hilarious storyline.

Since it was the vacation week, my son's swimming school had a break, too, so I could play on our Thursday meetup. Of course we had to try Kings of Air and Steam, now that it arrived. It's nice. Not mind-blowing, but then again I'm not a huge fan of programming your moves, especially in a game this involved. Anyway, it does seem nice, and I'm definitely interested in playing this more.

Coup with three is just silly.

Then, during the weekend, I visited Turku for JunaCon (TrainCon), a con dedicated completely to train games (ok, I saw folks playing Tzolk'in and Terra Mystica and whatnot, so it's not that tight). I, once again, skipped the 18xx (there was an interesting dual game where a group played both 1853 and 18EU at the same time; took quite a while, but probably less than playing those games back-to-back), and instead prebooked a group that would be interested in slugging through bunch of Winsome titles.

That worked well - it eliminated all dithering about games, all downtime trying to find players and all that nonsense. Instead we played a game, then took the next game from the pile and so on. We managed five of my Winsome titles and then wrapped it up with a game of Rolling Freight.

I picked Robber Barons as the title game of my entry, because in the end I think I liked that one the best (despite ranking SAR higher). All of them were good, though, but after this second game Texas & Pacific heads to the trade pile. Good as it is, I think I can live without it, and I'll instead focus my hex-and-cube plays to Wabash, Ostbahn and GMO.

But it was a very good con, in all respects. Since we talked about travel costs and whatnot just last week, I'll tell you that I drove to Turku alone (so many games that train wasn't an option, besides when you ride a train, you can't go GeoCaching during the journey). It's about 350 km trip, my car used about 7 liters / 100 km, so the gas cost ~40 €. Hotel was 80 €, food about 20 € and con entry fee 5 €. That comes to ~150 €, which is kind of expensive when you think of it this way, but I don't know, I'm happy I did the trip (also, I don't pay the gasoline costs or the food from my personal money, so that doesn't actually count as much). On the positive side I must count the possibility to trade away several games (and I did get 87 € for those games) and finding 10 GeoCaches during the weekend.
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3. Board Game: Chicago Express [Average Rating:7.24 Overall Rank:438]
Board Game: Chicago Express

Eugene
Oregon
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Played this week

Kingdom Builder x 4
For Sale x 3
Trains x 2
Slither x 2
Ra x 2
Wabash Cannonball
Tigris & Euphrates
Age of Steam Expansion: Montréal Métro
Ticket to Ride: India
Innovation

Details to follow
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4. Board Game: Merkator [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:1034]
Board Game: Merkator
Doug Faust
United States
Malverne
New York
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This wasn't a particularly gamey week for me, as I didn't have any group meetings or family get-togethers, and, for the first time all year, the weather was actually nice enough to get done some yardwork. While I spent a large part of the weekend installing a new mailbox and fertilizing the lawn, I did manage to get one game in with Anni:

_7_ Merkator - A lot of people pan this game for not living up to Uwe's big-box standards. While I don't like it as much as Agricola or Le Havre, I do enjoy it and think that it's a nice, relaxing activity, particularly with two. We use a variant that disregards the random goods loss on the back of the time tokens. I got off to a fairly nice start, having a nice chain of deliveries that got me a bunch of extra goods from my starting bonus cards (I didn't otherwise have use for the citrus fruit, but I did eventually trade a bunch of it in 4:1). Anni was focusing more on doing some 3 and 4 contracts over and over, so while she wasn't getting bigger contracts, she did accumulate a lot of cubes. I tried to save up for the "12 point" building, but Anni snagged it before I could get there. I ended up getting the "2 points per building" building, along with some other nice stuff like the "1 point per shirt cube" building. As the game moved along, I tried to focus on buildings, while Anni bought a lot of bonus cards and got on a good roll with the contracts. She picked up the "5 points for having the most bonus cards" and the "8 points for having 20 cubes" buildings. I ended the game by picking up the last time token, having gotten my contracts up to 10 (with no hope of advancing from there), and a ton of points from buildings, due to two somewhat overlapping "point-per-cube" type bonuses. However, on the very last turn, Anni managed to snag the Peace of Westphalia. While my building bonuses were superior, the Peace allowed her to eek out a victory over me, 79-78.
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5. Board Game: 1846: The Race for the Midwest [Average Rating:7.95 Overall Rank:459]
Board Game: 1846: The Race for the Midwest
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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I played just two games in the past week. February was a light gaming month for me---I played only 13 games, the fewest since October, 2007. One reason for this is that I attended two Western square dancing weekends, one in Mountain View, California and the other in Troy, New Hampshire. (By the way, I encourage people to at least investigate Western square dancing, which is essentially a cooperative real-time puzzle solving game you do with your body. There's a big overlap between gamers and square dancers. If you live near Cambridge MA, the MIT group, Tech Squares is IMHO the best club in the world.)

.10! 1846: The Race for the Midwest -- When we arrived for gaming, there were 7 people on hand. Last week's TGIF poll asked what the ideal number of people for a gaming group is, and I said "at least 7". Well, with 7 people, we decided that the ideal thing to play was---wait for it---TWO games of 1846: The Race for the Midwest! (I could be accused of thinking 1846: The Race for the Midwest works for any number great than 2, as long as you have enough copies of the game.)

Of course, we needed to divide the group into a 3 and a 4, and of course we did it randomly. I was assigned to the table of 3 together with Joe and Brett, who are both experienced players. Joe got the Priority, with Brett second and me last. The optional corporation was the C&O and the optional privates were Steamboat and Lake Shore.

My first set of choices was rich. It included MS, Lake Shore, and Steamboat. Steamboat is quite powerful with 3 players, so I selected it. Brett took C&WI and Joe took the MS, setting himself up for an IC start with a guaranteed connection to the east. The second time around I took Lake Shore to preserve cash and put a bit of a squeeze on my opponents, who were presumably outspending me. This left the Big 4 and the Mail Contract, neither of which is highly favored in our group, and we now took the three blanks, forcing Brett to take something with a price. He decided that the Mail Contract was better than the Big 4 and took it, and Joe turned the Big 4 face up.

With the MS already in his possession, Joe knew that taking the Big 4 would give him both minor railroads, two extra tokens, but only $160 in cash. He thought for a while about what Brett and I might be holding (we commented on the idea of mashing together 1846: The Race for the Midwest and Citadels) and finally declined to buy it for $100. I had plenty of cash and decided to buy the Big 4 for $90. This left us with the following holdings:

Joe: MS, $260, Priority
Brett: C&WI, Mail Contract, $260
Eric: Steamboat, Lake Shore, Big 4, $230

As expected, Joe started the IC, setting the price at $80. Brett started the NYC, also setting the price at $80, and I started the B&O, setting the price at $70. From a capitalization standpoint, I might even have started the B&O at $112, but I needed to be able to buy multiple 2-trains and wanted first shot at the supply. Joe and Brett both decided to buy B&O shares, judging that they'd pay better (and perhaps trying to drain the long-term capital from the B&O) and I bought a 3rd one as well. This left the B&O with $350 in cash and the other companies with $160 each.

In OR1.1, the MS and Big 4 did the usual things. I declined to build with the B&O and bought a pair of 2-trains. Joe bought in the MS and continued west toward Chicago, and bought a pair of 2-trains, leaving just one in the supply. Brett built to Cleveland, thought for a while, and bought only the one remaining 2-train, judging that the $240 he would have needed in order to buy a 2-train and a 3/5 was more than he could afford, even by splashing 2 shares. This was a problem for him, because the NYC loves 2-trains, but it would have been a challenge to run both trains profitably. This was one consequence of buying a B&O share instead of a third NYC share.

In OR1.2, I built the Big 4 toward Cincinnati. The IC made it to Chicago and ran his three 2Ts for $14 a share, double-jumping. The NYC run was only $7 a share, even with the Mail, but he did buy in the C&WI. One reason I had built toward Cincinnati was to give me more income if green track was unavailable on my turn. The NYC thought about holding off on a train, hurting the B&O, but he simply couldn't afford to go another turn with only one train, so he broke the green trains. I was now able to upgrade Wheeling and run for the usual $19 a share after buying in the Steamboat. I bought a 4-train and deferred buying in my other privates, since I couldn't get good value for them and I had good cash anyway. I connected Cincinnati as well to set the Big 4 up for a good OR2.1.

In SR 2, we each bought 2 shares of our own companies, but in the next set of ORs I set up a 3rd and then a 4th run out of Wheeling, which was worth $70 with Steamboat. I was earning $46 a share, and this allowed me to get two shares up on both opponents, and that (essentially) was the game. I had to hold dividends with the B&O later in the game to fund trains, but not until I was almost paper tight and it was not as much of a sacrifice.

_6_ The Great Heartland Hauling Co. -- I was tired after an active weekend, but I stuck around to play this game, which Joe had just received through Kickstarter. It's a pick up and deliver game, a genre Joe and I both enjoy (we're huge crayon rails fans.) It attempts to strip the genre down to its fundamentals, and it does so reasonably successfully, though the rule book does not cover the situations that might come up very well and requires the players to fill in the gaps using their general gaming knowledge.

We read and fabricated our way through the rules and started the game. We soon found that many of your decisions are forced on you by the card draws. This could be good or bad, but we did feel the options were more limited than we would have preferred. For example, I played an entirely vegetarian game (picking up corn and beans but eschewing cattle and pigs entirely) not for health reasons but because those were the cards that were available to me. Animal products are more lucrative, but they're also harder to get, and the deck pretty much grabbed my by the shoulders and said "meat is bad for you." Fortunately, the game is quick, and there certainly are some decisions to make. Our game finished with a pretty tight spread among the scores. I don't think I'd seek it out, but I wouldn't run in the other direction of someone wanted to play it.

I should note that we did not play with the optional cards that let you purchase upgrades to your trucks. I think it's best to play your first game without them so you know what they're good for. On the other hand, as we looked through them all after the game, I didn't think they would raise my rating to a level that would incline me to ask for it.
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6. Board Game: Volle Scholle [Average Rating:6.16 Overall Rank:9801]
Board Game: Volle Scholle
Larry Rice
United States
North Newton
Kansas
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Volle Scholle

Three player game with K new to the game. I won with 26 having a capacity for over 45! The other two were around 20. This is a pleasant and quick enough card game from Martin Wallace and Kosmos.

The Hanging Gardens

Three player game where I came out slightly ahead at the end with 64 points. I focused on walls.

Dungeon Fighter

We might be getting too good at this! Three were new to the game but we taught them well and we dove in playing the hard level. A couple of us got knocked down to a couple life points once or twice, but in the third dungeon level we were able to acquire a ton of gold and purchase all the remaining white dice. We fought the goblin horde - 10 goblins and a sword and won with 3-4 white dice remaining and everyone alive. The monster where you had to use someone else's hand to roll/bounce the die was hilarious/tricky but we succeeded.

7 Wonders

Played with all the expansions. I came in third with 79 points. The winner had 90. I mixed and matched while avoiding science cards. Played with Rhodes. This has become a staple finisher at my friend's Saturday night game night, particularly when we have 6-7 people.

Ground Floor

Three player learning game. I won with 48 points, second place had 46, and third had 41. I pushed building the floors and ended the game one round early or I probably would have lost. Hired one extra worker but no more. Did have an intern for part of the game. Not sure of fun factor considering it feels like work... There's also part of me that would just as much prefer Agricola in the same time frame or less.

China

I got hammered by several people in this game early and couldn't recover...plus, I forgot how to play this well since it has been so long. I came in dead last about 17 points behind the winner. Played with the Embassies expansion.

Keltis: Neue Wege, Neue Ziele

Played with four with two people new. The newest player won with 52 points, beating me out by 4 points (I made a crucial mistake thinking I had three yellow gems and thus pursued that track when I should not have). I enjoy this expansion much more than the base game where each track is monocolor.

The Hanging Gardens

Played three player with all veterans. I won with 55, just a few points ahead of second place. Built a complete set of city walls and also a complete set of the white tiles and denied Jim both cards and tiles he desired. Sometimes, denial is a good strategy! I've enjoyed revisiting this puzzly card game that combines set collection and puzzling how to effectively build your garden to gain those tiles for sets. Still prefer with 2 or 3 players. Refuse to play with four.

Dahschur: Die Rote Pyramide

Verdict is still out on this one after one play. I won with 46 points, one ahead of second place and just 3-4 ahead of last place so we were all bunched together at the end. There is definitely potential for nastiness in this one but there might be a bit too much luck of the die roll in this one too. Rolling off on a tie just isn't very fulfilling as the loser gets what is usually a much lesser action. This game has some odd stuff going on inside - which can be potentially quite nasty if players decide to play mean.

Volle Scholle

A second play of this game with four felt like I had more control and could play a bit more thoughtfully. There is some fun tension in here about when to go for penguins (lose a trick) and win to go for floes (winning a trick). I won this one with 28 points, about 6 in front of second place. The lowest score was 15.

Terra Mystica

Four player game with one new to the game, two of us vets, and one playing for the third time. New guy played as the Halflings, I played the Auren, the other vet played the Swarmlings, and the Darklings were the other race. Considering we had quite the potential of getting up in each other's faces with the terraforming, I was surprised to see very little land conflict. I built my stronghold in the second round to take advantage of the 5 points and 4 point tile with 2 workers and I was off and running on the cult tracks. In the end, the Darklings won two cult tracks and I won two cult tracks and we each took second on the others. This is the first game I've seen where there were almost no priests on the cult tracks. I think there were 4-5 Darkling priests and perhaps 1 of mine and 1 of someone else's. Most of my increases came via my special ability and favor tiles. I won with 113 points, the other two who had played before had 102 and 100, and the new person had around 70. I also won largest clump and all three of the others tied for second largest clump!

The Castles of Burgundy

Twas fun to play this one again after a bit of a layoff playing so many of the new Essen releases. Played this one three player and after R ran out to a 90 point lead in the first round, we reeled him in by the end. I had my buildings finished in the fourth round and focused on getting the knowledge tiles granting 4 points per type of building in the final round scoring 28 points from those in end game scoring. I think this was the first time too where I didn't have anything to spend my money on in the middle (too many blasted buildings in the fifth round) and had 12 silverlings at the end as well as 8 workers for another 16 points. I also was the first to complete the castles, mines, buildings, and ships. I won with 237, R was second with 220ish, and W had third with 205. W had the chance to deny me or beat me to the punch on both ships and mines and chose not to do so which I think was a mistake.

Galaxy Trucker

Five of us played and we used much of the Big Expansion except for the tiles. Two of us also tried the Amoeba ship from Another Big Expansion but that was the extent of that expansion. I won with $51, second place had $40 and I'm uncertain where everyone else finished. Some of the sabotage cards were nasty. The Amoeba ship is really tricky to build, even more so in this game as it was paired with the rough road card of giving each person 24 tiles that must be used (which left only a few others for anyone to grab)! I was shocked to survive the third round with my Amoeba ship all but unscathed!

Lifeboats

Five player game where the other four were new to the game. Most of us used our captains early and then paid the price late. I made a late push but made a poor decision to move my officer instead of a sailor and lost as a result on the tiebreaker. Brad won with the tiebreaker as his ship came in before mine as we tied at 19. Not sure what everyone else's scores were.

Volle Scholle

We all were new to the game and didn't figure out how to play well until too late. Brad won with 15, I had 14, and the other two had 10 and 9. Interesting twist on a card game of trying to take some tricks and intentionally lose others in order to save your penguins for end game scoring to keep on the ice floes which is won when you win a trick. No one got hit with the penalty for taking more penguins than ice floes.

Clippers

Taught to three others, but I didn't remember much about the game so we made two mistakes we quickly remedied. One, I missed in setup that in a four player game one of the 2x tiles gets removed so three players in the first round used a 2x tile. Secondly, I forgot to use a blue boat I purchased so the penalty was I spent another $3 to buy it next round. Guess by how much I lost the game? - Yep, lost by 2 points 186-184. The other two were in upper 170s and upper 150s. We blocked to some degree, but not as much as I hoped.

Keyflower

Taught two others the game and refreshed the rules for me and one other player. Most of us threw away all but one winter tile as we went a different direction and the winter tiles gave few points to most. I focused on transportation and acquired both the 2x summer boat and the winter boat that grants 1 point per transport value to score 26 points off of transport. As well, I upgraded a fair bit of tiles for points and had around 8 gold. I won with 60 points, Bruce had around 52, and the other two had mid 30s and 28 or so. Bruce was meeple poor entering the winter season although I did not realize that as he only had five meeples. Bruce scored a ton of points off of wood.
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7. Board Game: Merchant of Venus [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:930]
Board Game: Merchant of Venus
Joshua Gottesman
United States
Las Vegas
Nevada
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My Saturday morning group didn't meet, so it was just Saturday night at the FLGS. We started off with Container, which I played 4 or 5 years ago as one of my 1st Euros. I was intrigued by it, however it wasn't up the alley of the owner of the game, so its never hit the table again, even though I've heard good things about it. We have a new guy in the game group, and he likes it and says he's bringing it every week, so I should get some plays in. I went with a warehousing strategy that netted me 3rd place (of 4). Had I not been outbid by $1 on 2 auctions it might have been different. I definitely want to explore strategies here.

Then we played the good version classic Merchant of Venus, one of my all time favorite games. It was on a friend's copy, and this was literally the 2nd time this copy has been used. It was gorgeous! There were 2 of us who have played a lot (I know I've played this game at least 25 times, probably closer to 50 or more, the other guy at least a dozen times, probably more) and one new player. I found the relic shield in the cloud on turn 1. It turns out the relic yellow drive was 2 spaces away and I didn't find it for probably 10-15 turns. My route took me away from the cloud and I stumbled into a good trade route. 5 of the 6 telegates came out. I won handily, with about $2,300 to 2nd place's $1,850 (the new player). The new player liked it, and it wasn't her favorite. And I used to like this woman!

Sunday I invited people over to my place for gaming. We had 7 show up when all was said and done. While we waited, I taught a friend Omen: A Reign of War, one of my favorite quick 2 player games. He looked to have a big lead on me (he got some disgusting combos) but I tied it up on the last turn with a big rush. Unfortunately, he won on the tie breaker. He liked the game.

Next up was a 4 player game of The Castles of Burgundy. 2 new players and 2 more experienced players, including me. I got a ton of end game points, however I wasn't sure it was going to be enough, and when the dust settled, I had a 1 point victory.

The 3rd game of the day was Macao. The friend who taught me said "I suspect you're going to respect the design, but not like it." He was pretty much on target. I'd never say Macao is a bad game. I thought it was decent. I'd play it again. And it didn't hit my sweet spot. While you can plan for the future, if you draft the wrong cards and the dice refuse to cooperate, you're pretty much screwed. Yeah, I realize you can mitigate it some with jokers, and diverting cubes to take them can derail other strategies. For me, it ranks behind CoB and Trajan in the Feld stable. There are plenty who disagree, and I hope they enjoy the game to their heart's delight.

I had a Skype/VASSAL game of Combat Commander: Europe Tuesday night (Scenario 8) where I got my butt kicked by a much more experienced player. It was still a lot of fun.
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8. Board Game: Container [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:676]
Board Game: Container
Jens KH
Germany
Karben
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Games played

_9_ Container
_7_ Odin's Ravens
_7_ Samurai
_7_ Tinners' Trail
_6_ Polis: Fight for the Hegemony (new!)
_6_ Stick 'Em
_6_ Trains
_5_ Giants (new!)
_4_ Tasso

We had one "gold rush" turn in Tinners' Trail with the copper price at 10, but the rest of the game was dominated by the tin reserves. I had hoped for low prices from the beginning, and the copper bonanza on turn 3 cost me much of my previously acquired advantage, but very low copper demand on the last turn prevented the others from closing the gap entirely, even if it was only 1 VP in the end...

Odin's Ravens went into the final race with a score of 9 - 8. It was a very tight race and the winds changed a couple of times, but when we had three cards left to the finish I decided not to add another one to the end, and Hugin (or was it Munin?) had the three cards he needed to make it through.

Even though Giants looks like an FFG-style pile of plastic its gameplay is actually much closer to the Winsome end of the spectrum. You build (temporary) routes to transport Moais from one end of Easter Island to the other, using your fellow players' work force where opportune and forcing your own workers on them where not. Unfortunately, it's also a rather single-minded pursuit with little in the way of alternatives or tradeoffs, something that is mirrored by the close scores at the end, all between 104 and 95 for the four of us. I'm happy to have played but I doubt there is much replayability to be found here.

Our last (and first) game of Trains ended with a winning score of 33. This time we more than doubled that with 67. I guess we knew a little better what was important and what wasn't, and deck synergies made themselves felt a little better. We even almost ended the game by emptying four of the card stacks (last time we had wondered if that was even possible). On the other hand, this play put a lot less importance on the board than the last one, shifting my perception of it much closer to Dominion. It still avoids the most annoying traits of that one, so still happy to play. I don't see this changing much in the future.

Lakota, on the other hand, went for a nosedive as the FUD from last time pretty much proved itself in the second game. A building/dexterity game that actively discourages building and forces you to make the most boring moves possible needs to have its head examined. Pretty much decided by seating order and not much else.

In Container we only had a single big producer with four factories this time. Everyone else was doing a mix of warehousing and shipping with no more than 3 warehouses. Happily for me, both my least- and most-valued containers were produced in abundance (I thought; after the game one of the other players complained I had monopolized one colour) and things came together very well. First game I've played that had a winning score of over 200, in fact.

One of our players in Sticheln didn't quite get the game sorted out even though it wasn't new to her. She ended it with a score of -99 (and we were merciful), and I think that didn't exactly improve the game for everyone else.

Samurai was obviously an instance of "the game owner is the default winner so let's all conspire against him." All of the exchange tiles were played against me. I guess it worked very well...

Polis is an interesting weuro. I particularly liked how it constrains actions that are potentially harmful to your environment (moving troops, imposing taxes...) by requiring you to pay them in victory points which is a currency that's hard to come by before the final scoring. It really only has one feature that bothers me, but it's unfortunately quite central to the game. You can besiege cities, and a die roll decides whether your siege is successful. If it is that's pretty huge. You gain prestige, so more actions, more people for turning into troops, and potentially a new province to collect taxes from. If you fail, you're doubly punished by losing some of your siege troops. It feels particularly bad when someone gets lucky. In our game I was doing quite well until my opponent, with what we both expected to be his last action of the turn, besieged Syracuse, one of the two hardest cities in the game because he didn't have anything better to do... and rolled the one result that got him the city, four more actions, and another instant army. I never quite recovered from that.
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