Game Night

I played a couple games of San Juan at Tandem tonight. I had heard a tip on how the Crane, a building I’ve dismissed in the past, could be used to good effect, so when I got one in my initial draw I figured I give it a try; and it worked out very well, cruising me to an easy victory. I love it when stuff like that happens, a previously unexplored approach to a game is a smashing success (this last happened in Goa, when I won by running up the money track). San Juan has been running behind in the poll, which surprises me a little bit – I like San Juan a lot, and while Goa and Fifth Avenue might be a bit ahead for me just on my basic preference for more substantial games, I think the 2nd place it got in the DSP isn’t too far off. Saint Petersburg is a game in the same weight class that made a larger first impression (not being quite as derivative a game), but it has recently really hit a wall when it became increasingly clear just how unbalancing a first-turn Judge or Mistress of Ceremonies is. San Juan, on the other hand, has had a lot of endurance. It’s short, it’s fun, it’s got turn angst, but it’s chaotic so it both rewards flexibility (I like that kind of game) and isn’t the undertaking that Goa and Puerto Rico can be, which is good sometimes.

The second game I was again dealt a great starting hand if I wanted to play my game centered around the Crane again. But I wanted to try something different this time, so I did, and didn’t win (I was in second, but only by a point, on a Guild Hall/Production Buildings approach). Maybe I should listen when I say it’s important to stay flexible.

Last was a quick game of Carcassone: Hunters and Gatherers with 3. The game is a little slow, but it’s a workmanlike and solid game with some interesting stuff. A little too long, but fun for a light game.

I think we got all this in, plus a game of Can’t Stop, while the other guys were playing Giganten. My impression from the whining going on was that it was not very well received. One player commented that he could leave his copy in the shrinkwrap now. My impression of the game when I played it was not that poor; I enjoyed it for a few games, but it crashed really, really hard after that. After playing for the 5th time, I never wanted to see the bloody thing again. Not sure what makes a game that is interesting the first time or two crash quite so hard without being broken or horribly unbalanced (neither of which was the case with Giganten); maybe it was just inexperience with eurogames in general.

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Game Night

Just a few quick notes on tonight’s session.

The “big” game we played was a 5-player Carcassone H&G with the King & Scout expansion. It’s odd that I am actually quite fond of the H&G version while being decidedly lukewarm on most other editions. Anyway, I remain somewhat undecided on the King & Scout expansion. While the player tile effects are generally minor, they don’t seem terribly well balanced. The Scout himself (reject a draw for a new one) seems quite useful, while the Shaman (reclaim a pawn from the board) is much harder to use – in fact in the two games I’ve played, I’m not sure I recall that ability ever being activated. The flat-bottomed canoe is also good for a bunch of points, while the other playable tiles can be marginal. Fortunately, the effect of even the strong tiles is quite minor but are nice for flavor, so the expansion is still OK … but doesn’t quite feel “tight”, as it were.

The other games we played were Ra and San Juan, an old and new classic from alea. San Juan is now definitively a winner. In Ra, I suffered a humiliating defeat for the first time in a long time – I had been on a strong winning run for the last year or so after spending a couple years figuring the game out, but I just wasn’t in the zone this time. A great game, though, one of the best.

Game Night

We had 7 people for our New Year’s Tandem Gaming session, so lots of 3 and 4 player stuff except for a giant 7-player Bohnanza at the end.

Kim went off and played some 4-player Flaschenteufel while Jeff, Scott, and I broke out Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers and tried out the new King & Scout expansion. It had a surprisingly negligible effect on the game. Jeff got the Scout, which allows you to bring people back to your supply, but he never had a chance to use it as he never got all his people onto the board at once. I got the flat-bottomed canoe which gives you bonuses when rivers close as part of a big river system, but my system got shut down early and the tile scored 1 or 2 points at the cost of losing a person for the whole game. Scott never played his bonus tile. All this being said, I can see that if we played again the bonus tiles would be used a little better, but they are quite a subtle effect on the game – which is good, I think. A nice twist, a few little player-specific options without upsetting the game. Hunters & Gatherers remains by far my favorite multi-player version of Carcassonne, and I’ll definitely keep throwing in the King & Scout expansion until a problem occurs.

Then Kim & Jeff swapped, with Milton and Jeff teaming up to play Chris & Linda in Tichu (I hear Mitlon & Jeff didn’t do so well, losing by over 1000 points … in a game that is only played to 1000 points). Scott, Kim, and I played the new Die Fugger from Adlung (by the same designer as Carcassonne, interestingly). The basic idea is that you have a deck of commodities, and each turn you alternate playing a commodity card until 5 are out. Then commodities that are more numerous go up in value (with a wraparound, so you go from being worth 9 to worth 1 if you go up too far), and the losers go down. You then cash out the commodities you’ve played, and play another round. Vaguely reminiscent of Modern Art without the bidding, although definitely more entertaining than that sounds. Some neat choices although you will often be hamstrung by the cards you draw, some definite skill but not hugely challenging … a neat game, I thought, definitely solid filler, if not hugely inspiring. Adlung’s games are still too expensive in the US, though.

Kim, Scott, and I then went on to Domaine, one of the best games of 2003. One of these days I’d like to play Domaine and Löwenhertz back-to-back, just for comparison’s sake. I do like Domaine a lot better, but I am sensitive to people’s concerns that there isn’t as much long-run strategy; if, say, you buy heavily into Knights early, you can’t know whether or not you will draw enough expansion cards to make it worthwhile; in the original you know what the deck looks like and can always bid for what you want. Of course, in the original you’re still hosed if someone else is going after Knights also and you bleed each other to death while the other two players go on to crush you.

Last was a big game of Bohnanza with everyone. This game works surprisingly well with bigger numbers all the way up to 7. The 7-player game is always a bit shorter than I expect too, which is good. I own La Isla Bohnita, which doesn’t ever get played because it’s lousy, but every time I play Bohnanza with 7 I always remember midway through that I’d like to use the 26s (and maybe even the 28s) from that expansion sometime in a big game, just to see how it would affect things, never mind so that I could actually get some use out of them. The default 7-player game works awfully well as is, though.