Games weekend at Tommy’s

Last weekend was the traditional annual games weekend at Tommy’s. Third time already! Unfortunately the weekend wasn’t quite the success it set out to be, as I fell sick and had to leave. We did get an evening of games on Friday and some games on Saturday and the guys continued until evening, but from what I heard, it wasn’t quite the excellent session it has been earlier. Bad luck happens, I guess, but the weekend wasn’t a total disaster.

I was the first to arrive on Friday (even before Tommy), so we kicked up the games with some two-player action. Tommy suggested Africa, which was a brilliant suggestion. It was also a rather exciting and close game, which ended in a close victory for Tommy. It was fun to play Africa, it’s been a while since I last played it.

Tommy’s next suggestion was one of his all-time favourites, Einfach Genial. I like it, too, even though I’m less enthusiastic about it. It was fun to play, even though I lost (though the margin wasn’t wide). I’m not good enough in thinking defensively, it seems, I don’t know how to prevent opponents from scoring high. Tommy has a better vision about the game so it wasn’t a surprise he won.

Neuland box frontStefu joined us, so it was time for serious gaming. Neuland was the first game to hit the table. Tommy had skipped Neuland at Essen but then later regretted that decision and bought the game. I’m glad he did, because the game is great and it would be pity if nobody I knew had it. Since it’s a very limited 300-copy print run, it’s never going to be very popular.

It’s about civilization-building and logistics (not quite unlike Roads and Boats). Players build production facilities, which are then used to product stuff to build civilization advances, which bring in victory points. First player to reach 12 victory points (about four or five advances) wins. The production trees are fairly simple. It all begins at food, which is used to get wood, stone or ore. Ore is made into metal, which can be made into tools or weapons. Wood is needed for building, making paper or coal. It’s all fairly simple, but still rather complex when everything is put together.

The game has clever mechanics. I especially enjoyed the action point system. Instead of fixed amount of points, players can spend up to ten points each turn. Each used point moves players pawn forward on a turn track. After player is finished, the turn marker moves on the same track, stopping at the next player pawn it meets. That player gets to move. Players can juggle the turn order to some extent, taking smaller and larger turns when necessary. The system is brilliant, original as far as I know and works really well.

The game was close and exciting. Ugly tactics were seen, mostly blocking the food production and thus preventing other players from using useful infrastructure (players can use all buildings, no matter who built them, but moving raw materials around the board is very expensive). I did do a nice maneuver of stealing silver from Stefu’s mines, foiling his plans. In the end we all were within the reach of building the critical advance, but Tommy was basically one turn ahead and that was enough.

Our game took two hours, but the time flew past. It was very involving. The game is probably sweetest with three, at least four players might introduce too much chaos. Don’t know, but three seemed nice. It’s a heavy game, but at the same time quite logical and easy to figure out. Getting used to the production trees should make the play time go down a bit. I’d like to have the game, but even though PlayMe has it, ordering it doesn’t come into question — it’s quite expensive (48 euros + shipping is too much), I’m trying to avoid buying games this year (doing all my purchases at Essen, basically) and I’m not quite sure if I playing Neuland would be fun since I’m often playing with the different people and it’s a game that benefits a lot from repeated plays. So I guess I’ll be happy play it whenever I’m in touch with Tommy’s collection, which should happen few times a year and I’ll buy it if I come across it.

After a game of DaVinci Code (Stefu hadn’t tried it), we dug in to Feudo. The game’s owned by our fabulous Boardgame Society, ZuGames was friendly enough to send us a copy to try and introduce to the members. Stefu had arranged it and wanted to try the game, so we gave it a try.

Feudo is a light euro war game, set in 13th century England, where barons fight for territory. Players move their units (infantry, mercenaries and knights), trying to destroy enemy units and occupy towns. Fighting is no-luck (each unit has value, several units can gang up on one, higher value beats the lower value) and thus rather cruel. Each player has ten units, which are out of the game once they are destroyed. That and a ten-turn limit make the game end sooner or later.

There are some clever ideas. Loser gets to choose the turn order. Going first is not that good in movement but very good in battle. Each turn, players choose three units they move using cards and then move them one by one. The semi-simultaneous action is a good idea. Knights are generally the best fighters, but they are useless at occupying towns, so infantrymen and mercenaries are needed. There’s also a special piece called Milady, who can charm enemy barons, preventing that player from moving at all. Strategy lesson number one: never leave your baron within Milady striking distance (ie. two areas) from an enemy castle.

Despite these good ideas, I didn’t like the game. I felt it was too slow — making progress was too hard. Units move very slowly to the fronts and one mistake may cause them to die very quickly, making all the effort of bringing them out useless. Defending against attacks is impossible, because stacking units is impossible. Large groups of units are only useful in attacking. The rules of the game were also quite a mess, full of exceptions.

All in all, I didn’t enjoy the game and won’t probably play it again. It was too long (95 minutes) and not fun. If I want a game of battling medieval lords, I’ll play Domaine.

Last game on Friday was Old Town, a strange game of historical study. Players try to reconstruct the layout of an old wild west town by adding more and more information to the system until the layout comes through. It’s kind of a deduction game, but not really. It’s unique and intriguing system and it works quite well.

Players play different kind of cards which restrict the possible location of the different buildings in the town. There might be a card that says the casino was in one of these four positions. Casino tokens are placed on those positions. One casino token is removed from the game as it’s useless (the casino is on one of the four position, so the fifth marker is simply not needed anymore) and player scores one point. On a later turn, the same player might play a card pinpointing eight possible positions for the casino — if these two cards intersect on only few positions, player gets to remove casino tokens from the board, scoring one point per token. Thus, points are scored by reducing the uncertainty of the board.

Hopefully my explanation makes sense. The game is hard to explain, but fun to play. There can be nasty lucky swings when someone gets good cards, but that’s balanced by the swift play time (just 30 minutes). A re-match is often a good idea, especially as the game’s setup takes some time. The outside of the new edition game looks bad, but the components are actually pretty good.

Saturday began with yours truly being sick. At least I can now confirm that Paris Paris is so bad it makes you want to throw up. At least that’s happened to me… Well, to be honest, it’s not that bad, but my two-player game with Tommy confirmed that I don’t like it, either. An late-coming observer might have thought we had a close match, which I won, but no — Tommy was just one lap ahead of me on the scoring track.

For Sale boxIt was our second game of For Sale when the impossible happened: I won my first game during the weekend. Yea! With a tie-breaker, even. Great! For Sale, which was new to me, was a rather pleasant experience. I’ll be getting the Überplay edition, whenever they may publish it. Meanwhile, I’ll stick to my trusty Sticheln deck and some random chips.

After that Tommy suggested Flix Mix and I jumped for the opportunity. Now there’s a game I should excel in! The Flix Mix cards have six dots each in six different colours. Players play their cards on table, simultaneously without taking turns, so that each new card played covers and matches at least two dots from an earlier card.

It’s pure pattern recognition and quick thinking and I dare to say I’m pretty good at those games. You can imagine my surprise when Stefu beat me pretty badly. In the second round we figured out the key to Stefu’s success: cheating… He didn’t match dots completely, he thought that only matching the colours was important. So he would play green and blue dot where blue and green dot was needed. No wonder it was so easy. When we restarted our game with all players using the same rules, the situation corrected itself: I won, losing only one round. Stefu wasn’t bad, either, he finished both rounds I won with just one card left and won the third round (where I was left with a single card). Tommy, in the other hand, lost sorely.

I knew I’d like Flix Mix and I did. It made it’s way on my shopping list. It’s an Adlung game, too, so it isn’t that expensive. If someone wonders why Flix Mix, when there are other real-time games available, the answer is fairly easy: Flix Mix has a slower pace than many other speed games. It’s not as hectic or stressful as, say, Top Speed. Anyway, it’s still one of those games were you either have the skill or don’t have the skill, but it’s not quite as brutal as some other games.

Age of Steam logoPhil arrived at that point and we started the game that would be my last game before I left. I had done fairly well in the other games and hadn’t been too much disturbed by my illness, but now it got worse. I was becoming a bit feverish and let me tell you that is no state to be in when playing Age of Steam! We played the Western USA map, which was interesting. Stefu would’ve wanted to play Korea, but that would’ve been bit harsh for Phil, who was a newbie.

I was the only one to start on the rocky west coast, which might’ve spelled my doom — I lost the game. I did catch up on the other guys, but while I had the income level Phil had, it had come with a higher cost so I wasn’t making as much profit. I didn’t invest enough in the turn order auction, losing valuable Locomotive actions once or twice. Tommy and Stefu ruled the game, despite Phil’s four income on the first turn (he didn’t get much income for a while after that). Eventually, Tommy won, while I was dead last. Too bad. The map was ok, but right now I’d probably prefer the original map. The Irish map is superior, of course. I don’t have much need to get new maps, as I don’t play the game that often, but if there’s an interesting map for sale in Essen this year, I’ll probably pick it up. The new maps do spice up the game, if the special rules are interesting.

And that’s it for the weekend. I had to suffer a bit, as the train I was going to board was 30 minutes late. It wasn’t fun, standing in the freezing cold being sick and all that, but I did manage to make it home where my lovely wife nursed me well. I slept some and got better by Sunday. Too bad the weekend was interrupted, but things happen and fortunately there’ll be more chances to play good games and hang out with friends. I’ll meet Tommy at Lahti in April (hopefully getting a chance to play Neuland again) and play some games already this Saturday.

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