Games day with Tommy and Stefu: Trains and stuff

Tommy and Stefu came over to spend a day playing games. Johanna was very kind to take Nooa to her parents so we could have our place for us. A chance to play longer, meatier games in such a great company is rare and something to cherish.

We did start with some actual meat, though. In order to save precious gaming time, I had prepared us a meal so the time spent cooking wouldn’t be out of game time. I’d rate my sour cream chicken fillet in feta cream sauce with mashed potatoes at least a nine… Very good, very good. Of course it’s best to start heavy intellectual exercise with a heavy meal, right?

Wabash Cannonball box

Our first game was Wabash Cannonball. It was the first time for Tommy and Stefu — and Stefu had even missed the hype altogether — as well as my first game with three. I’m glad to report the game works really well with three. Some of the alliance structures are lost, but otherwise it’s just fine.

I was able to give the boys a beating. Tommy showed good eye for the game when he fenced Stefu’s B&O in, stumping its expansion. I lead NYC to Chicago, continued by running the Wabash to Chicago as well (well, Tommy and Stefu thought only one company could run to Chicago, but at least I had to pay 12 to buy both Wabash shares as Tommy was ending the game as fast as he could). All in all they both played well for newbies, but at the same time I’m glad my experience paid off.

Wabash will be Tommy’s 500th rated game in Geek, by the way — a good game for a nice achievement. I’m at 498 after the weekend.

Agricola box

Advanced game of Agricola was on my wishlist, so that’s what we played next. This was my second game with cards, this time using all three decks at once. And guess what? This game reinforced my view that playing family game is a good idea.

I suppose it’s a question of practise, but my game was pretty bad. I was missing all the basics, while focusing too much on the cards. I had cards that supported wheat strategy, but I failed to take care of my fields. I want to play the game more with cards and learn to play it well, but in order to give newbies a better game experience, I really think the cards should wait until all players are experienced. At least so far I’ve had better time with the family game, as I’ve been able to do much better without the cards.

Tommy ruled our game: he played an excellent game, scoring 51 points. Stefu went begging and ended up with just 11 points, while I had 24. Shameful, shameful…

1825 unit 2 box

We wanted some 18xx on the schedule as well. Our game of choice was 1825 Unit 2, armed with the minor companies. Because of the added companies, we adjusted the bank to £6000. That was a good amount, the game was starting to become stale in the end.

1825 is pretty mellow for an 18xx game. The stock market is two-dimensional and only affected by the performance of the companies: no dividends and the share value falls, dividends paid and the share value goes up, the amount of steps depending on how good dividends were paid. The train rush is really slow, as only the 5 trains make the 2s obsolete. Even then, the company director never has to buy new trains, he can just dump the company and put it in receivership.

The first stock round was hectic, we bought bunch of shares. Both LNWR and MR started and other shares were sold as well. LNWR — that would be me — made some track-building mistakes and lost growth potential for a long time. The share value got to 180, at which point I decided I was cashing out. That was nice, except it allowed Tommy to take hold of the company, steal its money and only 3 train to MR and then dump it. That was the very point where the winner of the game was decided. My inexperience shows, I suppose. Lesson learnt.

Tommy run MR well, in the end it had runs of 320 so it just kept making money and gaining value. No reason to abandon ship, really. Both GCR and GNR started and ran pretty well… At least GNR did, as Tommy was able to work it together with MR to help them both. Stefu ran GCR with slightly less success, it was a tad stuck for a while.

Everybody avoided NER as its position seemed bad. It got started later when the situation got better, but it’s certainly one of the least attractive companies in the game. The North Staffordshire minor wasn’t very attractive either, and it was never opened. I got L&Y, since it had pretty good prospects and I was able to buy most of the shares myself. I also started Furness, since it seemed like there was some good potential for cooperation with those companies. I screwed up L&Y, though — but it was fun. You see, I was able to buy a 5 train with the starting money. I decided I would buy a 6 train for the company. So I kept running the train, keeping the money while the share value plunged down.

In the end I was able to buy the 6 train, but at that point the game was already hopelessly over. In the last OR I was able to make a run for 360. The share value was pretty low at that point, so it jumped up the maximum of four steps easily (and would’ve jumped another 3-4 steps next time, I think). Unfortunately the large dividend payment emptied the bank. In most 18xx games it wouldn’t have been that bad, since it was the first OR of three, but in 1825 the game is over immediately after the OR when bank ends, period.

Too bad, and I would’ve been much better off just running the 5 train and collecting dividends, but I had a dream and I wanted to pursue it, no matter the cost. Silly me, but it was fun, making that huge run in the end, so I suppose it was worth it.

In the end the final scores were Tommy £5373, Stefu £5077 and me £4448. Share portfolios were worth £3184 for Tommy, £2941 for Stefu and £2575 for me, rest of it was cash in hand. Our game took three hours to play, and quite a bit to setup, explain and clean away.

In the middle of 1825 Unit 2 game

I paid a rather hefty sum of money for my 1825 set and I’m glad to say I enjoyed it. I think this is what I want from an 18xx game, really: route building and some financial planning. I don’t miss stock manipulation or other complicated trickery. 1825 has quite enough meat for a three-hour game, and since it’s so short, it’s much easier to play than the six-hour behemoths.

Unit 2 is a good three-player game. The map is small and tight and seems to offer interesting challenges and possibilities for cooperation. The supplementary tiles were a small help. Not absolutely necessary, I’d say based on this one game, but nice to have. I liked the minors, or at least Furness, and maybe the North Staffordshire works too if the tracks are laid some other way. I will probably include them in future as well.

After the game it was a food break. I made some pizza. Once again, to optimize the use of time, I had made the dough earlier, before Tommy and Stefu arrived, and now I just had to turn it to a pizza. I’ve been doing pizza about once a week for a long time and I’ve got a method. The secrets of a good pizza are simple: not too much fillings (just few slices of good peppered ham and two small tomatoes), way too much mozzarella on top and a sprinkle of basil-flavoured olive oil as a final touch.

Jungle Speed box

While waiting for the pizza, we played a quick game of Jungle Speed with the expansion. The expansion is particularly nasty: many of the cards are nearly identical — but not quite enough. I’m fairly sure we had more mistakes than successful duels.

Anyway, the expansion makes the game rather evil. That’s always nice. There’s particularly nice card to give the poor little brains a final twist. Usually in Jungle Speed, you must grab the totem pole on the middle of the table if the card in front of you matches the card in front of someone else. Well, after that one card is played, you must grab the totem if the card in front of your left-hand neighbour matches. That’s surprisingly difficult.

Jungle Speed isn’t a very good three-player game, though, and the new cards made the problem worse. There were rather few matches during the game, which was another reason for few successful duels. I won the game in the end, fortunately. I’d rather eat pizza.

Through the Ages box

After pizza it was time for another game we had decided to play in advance: Through the Ages, full game of course. This is a favourite for all three of us. Going in, my goal was not to win, but to play better than before. I knew I wasn’t a likely winner, considering both Tommy and Stefu had previous experience of full game, while I had only played two games of advanced game, and both of them rather weakly as well.

I made it! I was last, no doubt about that, but I was really satisfied in my game. Instead of putting too much energy to building up my basic production, I focused on things that actually helped my game. I had the most light bulbs and a decent culture production early in the game. Of course, in the end things got too expensive for my production, but I was doing pretty well to the early era III or so.

Stefu got a huge lead with Michelangelo, so Tommy focused on throwing wars and aggressions at Stefu. Our game was fairly low on military otherwise, just one territory and few confrontations between Tommy and Stefu. Tommy did win the game, as even though he was badly behind early in the game, he worked his culture production to over 20 per turn and in the end passed Stefu: 230-204-182.

This really shows the meaning of full game. In advanced game, Stefu’s Michelangelo would’ve been an unstoppable monster. In the full game, Tommy’s stronger but slower engine had enough time to churn enough culture to win. So full game is the way to go. On the positive side: we played the full game in three hours! Not bad, not bad at all! The downtime was rather tolerable, except at times in the end.

Through the Ages is an excellent game in the right circumstances, but in the wrong situation it’s a disaster. Throw in just one slow player and the game experience becomes a lot worse. Playing two-player games is probably the safest way to go, if time is an issue, or at least one needs to pick the players well.

Race for the Galaxy box

After a long game like that one needs some relaxation. Besides, it was already quite late. So, Race for the Galaxy it was. We played two swift rounds, with close scores. Good way to relax!

In the Year of the Dragon box

Final game of the evening was In the Year of the Dragon, the new and popular Alea title from Stefan Feld. This is not a feel-good game: players are Chinese whatevers trying to survive a year filled with disasters. Mongols attack, plague hits, drought comes, emperor wants taxes, all sorts of unpleasant activities.

Players build houses and fill them with all sorts of professionals. The people you hire help with the resource collection. Every turn you take an action and hire a person, then event happens. You can avoid the bad stuff by taking the right precautions, but the catch is that you simply don’t have the time or the resources to do that every time (especially since everybody else will be wanting to do the same things), so you have to bite the bullett few times.

The bad events (not all of them are evil, and some are more evil than others) kill off your people you so painstakingly collect. If you make mistakes, you might end up losing most of your helpful little people (that happened to me). There are quite a few ways to score points, either during the game or in the end.

It’s fairly interesting and the whole theme of living in interesting times is kind of fun. Still, I found the game lacking, in some respect. It’s hard to say exactly what’s wrong, but some way this game just didn’t do it for me. Sure, I got hit pretty badly by the events, but I’m not just whining because I lost… It’s just that I didn’t have much fun playing the game.

I suppose I should give the game another chance, but it’s certainly not high on my list of games to play.

At this point we went to bed, satisfied of a good day of gaming. We didn’t expect to play any more games in the morning, but there was a change of plans and the boys didn’t have to leave right after breakfast. I knew what I wanted to play!

Age of Steam

I had recently read The Design and Development of Age of Steam Expansion: Montréal Métro. So, I took my collection of AoS stuff and dug until I found the Montréal Métro expansion.

It’s a three-player map, with some very interesting rules. All track must form a single network. Government builds a neutral link each turn, and special engines may run extra neutral links. The auction is slightly tighter and the actions are more balanced than usual.

It was fun. We soon made quite a maze of tracks in Montréal, as me and Stefu focused on the middle part of the map. I made the best use of neutral tracks, while Tommy used them least. I found them highly useful. With my 3+2 and 4+2 engines I was able to run 5-link and 6-link runs (using a maximum of 3 and 4 player links, respectively) for 3 or 4 profit, collecting cubes from a large area. Using neutral links doesn’t increase income, but it sure gives lots of flexibility.

End of Age of Steam Montréal Métro game

Our game was close until the end. During the last three or so rounds I was able to do constant 4-link runs. I could’ve updated my engines to 5+2, but I found it more effective to run several 4-link runs instead of one or two fives… This because you can only upgrade the critical first number of your engines by skipping goods movement, using Locomotive only gives you extra government links power.

In the end I won clearly 69-55-42. Funny enough, the order me-Stefu-Tommy was the same as our use of government links: I had +2 engines, Stefu had +1 engines and Tommy used the basic +0 engines. Everybody enjoyed the expansion, and why not? It’s well-balanced, offers very interesting challenges and some pretty tight money management. Highly recommended, if you’re looking for a great three-player Age of Steam experience.

And that’s it! Hours of excellent games in excellent company, what more can you expect?

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