SR: 22nd February 2008 (part 2) – Liar’s Dice

With a bit of time left, we opted for a quick game of Liar’s Dice. Very quick in Steve’s case as, even though we all started with six dice, he still managed to lose them all in two turns. Mark K also succumbed pretty quickly but did suffer from an unlikely dice combination. Nige, on the other hand, was uncharacteristically managing to hold onto his and got down to the final two in a face off with me. Although he started out by gaining a dice advantage over me, quality eventually came through and I was able to claim the win. Fantastic game, as always.

SR: 22nd February 2008 (part 1) – Owner’s Choice, Pandemic

This week, I had just picked up two new Z-Man games and so was keen to give them a try. The first, Owner’s Choice designed by Yasutaka Ikeda, is a stock market game of buying low and selling high with prices driven by a series of dice.

Each turn, a player does two things. He must move the game pawn 1 – 3 spaces along the track and implement the action of the space landed upon. He also has the option of buying and/or selling stock at the stock’s current price and this may be done either before or after moving the pawn. After trading stock, a check is made to see who then owns the most shares in each of the four stocks and that person controls the president’s die in that company. The track spaces mainly result in an action to a specific company. The president chooses either to pay money into the “slush fund” and roll the company die, with the aim of winning a dividend or increased stock price, or roll the fund die, hoping to win all the money in the slush fund. Other spaces award money to company presidents, pay out a dividend from the company with the highest stock value, or allow the player to roll the event die. Once the pawn reaches the end of the game track, all players sell their stock and whoever has the most money wins.

I liked Owner’s Choice as a straightforward but not trivial stock market game. It’s not in the same league as Acquire but it’s quick and packs in quite a bit of fun, especially if you manage to force an opponent’s company into bankruptcy. In our game, the red company finally succumbed to this fate at the end of the game. I had started out as President but every time I rolled the dice, it put up the price of another company rather than benefiting my own. Nige started to force the price down and Steve decided the cheapness of stock merited a change of president. New face but same result on the die meant that I soon after bailed out to recoup at least some cash. Nige then took a late punt on red, failed on the die roll and watched as the final event moved all stock prices down and red was doomed. Meanwhile, Mark G was more sensible in rolling for his companies, sold at the right time and took the win quite comfortably. Nige and Mark K, however, ended up with less money than they had started the game with. Good fun.

Pandemic is designed by Matt Leacock and published by Z-Man Games. It is about the spread of diseases around the globe and the efforts of a disease control team to find a cure and save the world. It is another addition to the small group of interesting co-operative games released in recent years.

Each player takes on a different role, which gives them specific advantages in the choice of actions they take and the group as a whole needs to use these advantages to best effect in tackling the four diseases. On a player’s turn, he has four actions which will involve moving from city to city, treating a disease, building a research station or discovering a cure. He then draws two new cards, which will either aid the discovery of a cure or set off an epidemic in a new city. Finally, city cards are drawn which add to the spread of infection in the cities drawn. If a city ever reaches a fourth infection, an outbreak occurs and the disease spills over to each neighbouring city. Bad news especially as the players lose as soon as an eighth outbreak occurs. Each disease also has a finite number of infection cubes and, if ever these run out, the players are also deemed to have lost. The final way the players fail to beat the game is if the deck of player cards runs out. However, the players collectively win if they discover the cure to all four diseases before any of the losing conditions are met.

Pandemic will not be to everyone’s taste, like Nige who simply does not like co-operative games, but the theme is strong and there is certainly a large amount of tension when you see the infection cubes spilling out across the map. The game is also hard, even though there are three difficulty levels built in, and the combination of different roles adds to the replayability. We played with five players and all the roles were in use  and selected the Normal (middle) level of difficulty. Being our first attempt, we didn’t play as efficiently as we might have done but still managed to find three cures before running out of player cards. However, we played the researcher slightly wrong, judging that the researcher’s ability could only be used as one of his actions, whereas it can be used when anyone chooses the Share Knowledge action. I did like Pandemic quite a bit once I had got into it and I think it would be a really good family game. I’d like to try this again soon with fewer players.

SR: 8th February 2008 – League of Six, R-Eco

This week, we played League of Six, designed by Vladimir Suchy and published by Czech Games Edition. The game is about tax collecting in a 15th century European kingdom. Players aim to impress the king by being the most successful tax collector over six years (rounds).

Each round is played over a number of phases. Players take turns choosing towns at which to collect taxes. If an opponent wishes to choose the same town as you, a bidding process takes place, with the high bidder remaining in place and paying his bid to the loser, who has then to move to a different town. This bidding and moving process continues until each player stands in a separate town. After rearranging the player order based on the bidding results, players then take turns taxing the cities in which they stand. This can generate a variety of goods (to place in the royal or civic leaders’ stores), guards (for bidding) or horses (to determine the player order for the last part of the round). Once everyone has levied taxes, the player with the most horses chooses one of eight rows in the royal or civic stores and starts to fill that row; each row depicts 2-5 goods in some combination of colors. Each good placed generates VPs and other players are obliged to fill the row if you can’t complete it. If filled, the row gives the person choosing the row a bonus of VPs or civic leader votes. The row-filling process continues until all players have stored their goods. After six rounds, civic leader votes are tallied and generate bonus VPs and whoever then has the most VPs is declared the winner.

In our game, Mark G and Steve concentrated on getting VPs from the royal stores whereas the other three competed over the civic leaders. It turned out pretty close but with the civic leader points being split between three, this reduced the effectiveness of this. Mark G made a good choice of store pretty near the end to deny Steve some extra VPs and this proved decisive and gave Mark his first win of 2008.

We all thought League of Six was quite a clever game and the competition for towns was interesting. Horses appeared quite important to ensure you were able to place in the stores early and secure a decent row completion bonus. All in all, another good game from the Czechs.

We finished of with R-Eco, a quick card game by Susumu Kawasaki and published by Z-Man Games. The game is about the virtues of recycling and the evils of dumping waste.

The cards represent four types of waste and each type has a disposal facility. On their turn, players get to add cards of one type to the corresponding disposal facility and if the total equals or exceeds four, these get removed and the player gets a reward. However, each facility also has a dump site and the player also has to take all the cards from the dump site into their hand. However, a player can only have a maximum of five cards in hand and any excess has to be illegally dumped (for negative points). More cards then get added to the dump site for future turns. Once all eight rewards from one of the dump sites has been claimed, the game ends and the rewards are counted, but they must have at least two reward counters of a particular waste type for them to count. Illegal dumping penalties are deducted and a bonus is given for someone who does not illegally dump at all. Most points wins.

This was a nice light filler, although some felt the choices to be obvious and turns were driven purely by what cards turned up in the dump sites. To me, there was some angst in getting your timing right and although the decisions were not too brain taxing, weighing up whether or not to illegally dump to get the cards you really needed was an interesting dilemma. Mark G made it two wins for the night by getting several reward tokens without the need to illegally dump. Although I did manage to get more rewards, the three cards I dumped tipped the balance in Mark’s favour.

SR: 1 February 2008 – Hamburgum

HamburgumThis week, five of us tried out Hamburgum, the latest game by Mac Gerdts and published by eggert spiele / Rio Grande. The game uses the now familiar rondel device (Antike / Imperial) for players to select their turn actions but, unlike the previous games, there is no real conflict – rather it is the economic aspects of play that are important.

The game is about the development of the city of Hamburg in the 17th century and centres on the city as a trading centre and the building of its mighty cathedrals. Using the rondel, players choose ontheir turn between several actions: Producing one of the goods for which the area was renowned: sugar, cloth or beer (we are in Germany, after all); building ships which can then be used for selling your goods; trading – either selling goods that you have acquired via your ships (or, for less income, the local market) or buying raw materials (stone or timber or occasionally a church bell); using your raw materials to construct buildings around the city (each of which will convey a benefit either immediately or later in the game); or finally making a donation to the church. Each donation contributes to building one fifth of a cathedral and in return the player receives a token which can be cashed in during the game or at the end for prestige points. Once the six cathedrals have been completed, the game ends and whoever has accumulated the most VPs wins.

In our game, I was the start player so, with a lack of cash, chose to produce a good and ship two to gain the cash to afford 6 materials which, in turn, enabled me to construct three buildings. John followed a similar route but was not as bold in terms of spending his cash. This seemed to set him back a bit. Later in the game, Nige made a big play for ships and, having obtained the 2VP per ship donation tokens started to rake in the points. He made a slight mistake by not cashing all his tokens in when he had all five ships in harbour and missed out slightly when Mark K followed the same route through the dockyard to reduce Nige’s fleet. Mark  did build himself for lots of points at the end through lots of donations to the church but he had, in the meantime, fallen a bit too far behind with the in-game point scoring. My good start faltered towards the end and recognising that others were going to beat me to the richer spoils, chose to just keep accumulating goods. Fortunately, I just had enough to keep ahead of the others and was happy to see my first victory of 2008.

Hamburgum is another game that makes good use of the rondel and I think I prefer the economic emphasis in this game slightly more than the other games. There look to be a number of different strategies to try out and it will be good to experiment with another path next time.