Helcon 2005 — Saturday

Saturday was games, games, games. About 50 people participated, playing lots of games. Few bigger ones were scheduled and the Memoir ’44 tournament kept on going. Here’s my games:

Indonesia. Splotter was the theme of the day, and I started with Indonesia. The game’s about development of Indonesian economy. When the game begins, there are just five cities and the first rice and spice companies are started up. Companies merge, new cities appear, old ones grow, new companies start up, until all three eras have passed and one player emerges victorious.

Mergers are what makes the game interesting. Anybody (with enough R&D) can choose to merge any two companies, which are then auctioned off and sold to the highest bidder. Original owners split the money according to the sizes of their respective companies. There’s a minimum prize (and it’s pretty heavy in the early game), so you can’t just completely rip someone off.

Even though I lost big time (final scores were 1274-1242-1120-1040-695), I had a blast. The game is deliciously complicated, and things like turn order and the order in which you operate your companies make a world of difference, as I noticed when my rice companies failed because Tommy would flood the cities with rice from his much bigger company…

There are very interesting decisions to make. Who owns the shipping? Do I want to make a city grow? Who benefits, if the city can take more resources (rule of thumb: shippers rarely do)? Where to start new companies? Should I sell my business now? Should I buy this business that’s being sold? At what price?

It’s not completely without problems, though. While the map is really pretty, it has some usability issues. The swirly writing isn’t a problem, as I think you’ll get familiar enough with it during the first game, but seeing the borders of some sea areas is tricky, particulary with the area around Western Java (Java Timur, to be exact), as the sea area surrounds the island, which can be hard to see. Or does it?

Biggest problem is still the shipping, which can get quite complicated. Companies must ship as much stuff as they can, and should do it as efficiently as possible. That’ll take most of the time in the game, especially in the end when the map is full of stuff. It’s not hard, but it takes a lot of work and concentration. Some people will be put off by that, and while I bear it, it’s one of those things you’d prefer computer would do. But, I don’t think that’s news to anybody who’s played the big Splotter games.

I guess the question is, is the game worth the 60 euros I paid for it, without thinking about it? Definitely. The game feels really good after this initial play. Of course, the three and half hours it took means that despite it’s greatness, I won’t be playing it a lot…

Fettnapf and Geschenkt. Just two quick rounds while waiting for the oven to heat and the pizza to warm up… Both are good fillers, Fettnapf has the novelty, while Geschenkt is a bit tighter and probably slightly better. Still, both are excellent games.

Antike was pretty high on my games to play -list. Now it was the time! We got four players and chose to play the Roman side, giving us Romans, Phoenicians, Greek and the Germans to fight for the glory. I got the Germans. It was a quick match, over in 70 minutes! Most of the time the turns moved really swiftly (slowing down a bit at Tommy), which was great.

Robert was playing very expansionist with his Phoenicians, scoring three kings from his 15 cities. Well, so did I — though I had to conquer one of the cities from Tommy. That was pretty much the only military action during the whole game, even though the threat was there and some temple-razing would’ve been seen had the game continued longer.

Robert ruled the game, he was in the lead all the time. I came right behind him, passing him maybe once, but most of the time I was one point behind or tied. Kim was third, despite her constant confusion with the phases of the game. Tommy had a might fine-looking empire with his Romans, but for some reason failed to score points.

Robert won — he snapped some scientists right before my eyes and got to expand on the Eastern Med without any trouble. I think the center powers should probably push towards the corners, otherwise the corner people will get to expand too freely. Now Kim moved towards Tommy’s Rome, which left lots of room for Robert. That’s definitely something I’ll keep my eye on from now on.

Everybody enjoyed the game, even Tommy. And why not? The theme is intriguing, the mechanics are super-clean and the game moves on fast. I was so close to winning… Antike will keep on the top of my hot game list, that’s for sure. Rematch at next Seurapelikerho, Robert?

Phantom Rummy. I thought I had figured out how to play the game, when I found out the English rules had some serious mistakes (in addition to being pretty badly written). Those corrections made it almost crystal-clear, so I was in good position to try the game at Helcon. I also corrected some guys, who I saw playing the game. It’s a shame, when the rules are that faulty…

Anyway, the game was good. It’s basically Mahjong: you try to form a hand of three three-card sets and a pair. However, in Phantom Rummy, you must meld one of the sets on table, and you can actually meld as many sets you want, as long as you have at least one melded set and two sets and a pair in your hand. Cards are not drawn from the deck, but from open cards on the table. You can take someone else’s discards, but only to meld; if you’ve said ready (you’re one card away from victory) you can take a discard to win the game.

Points are scored for melded sets and red-numbered cards (each card appears four times in deck, one has a red number), and only for the winner. There are advanced rules, which give more points if certain conditions are fulfilled, but we didn’t use those. Reaping in the points was easy enough: Ali won three hands, with six, four and four points, winning the game. I got the biggest score, though, as I scored seven points on one hand.

Phantom Rummy is light, fun and looks great. It’s a simplified take on Mahjong, and at least I found it fresh enough. Tommy commented that the game didn’t quite inspire him, so maybe it’s attraction isn’t universal, but if you like Rummy or Mahjong, Phantom Rummy is a solid, little game.

Antiquity. Like I said, this was a Splotter day! We kicked off a four-player Antiquity and I realised, I’m not that good in explaining the rules to this game. I don’t know, I should probably think about it a bit, how to do it, as there’s a bunch of details and explaining them in proper order is tricky. In this case, it was also a question of time: we had very little time to get the game going, so we could finish it in time (we had four hours, which can get tight — we finished in three hours, to my surprise).

Once again, it was a blast, but a very anxious blast. For some reason (hint: famine and pollution) the game causes anxiety. It’s fun to play, sure, but it’s strange kind of fun. I was quite happy, as I was able to fight the famine for a long time, even though I wasn’t playing San Christoforo. I chose San Giorgio from get-go, and was lucky to get Ali as my neighbour, as he didn’t expand too much.

Tommy had spoken with Robert, who obviously passed on the information about San Christoforo’s excellence… However, he was the only one to dedicate his cathedral to San C., and he didn’t win either! Winner was Ansi, who played San Nicolo. He had problems with the famine, as graves filled his last spots for houses, but he managed to build a third city to get room for new houses. Well done. He also built a dump in the early game to control the pollution, but then left it unmanned for a long time after building stables and inns, so he could dump the pollution to someone else. I also had a good time dumping pollution around Ali’s city.

In the end Tommy lost by one round only, and probably could’ve won the game had he not made some mistakes. Too bad. Ali hadn’t chosen a saint yet, so I don’t know about him. His game looked like a failure, but to my surprise, he built a second city, a hospital and the faculty of alchemy and got back to his feet! That was quite surprising!

What about me, then? I managed the famine and expanded my network of inns towards Ali. I was quite close from surrounding him, when the famine got out of control and I had to start building a new city to hold the graves. It was close, but not quite there… I’m still very satisfied, because I did so much better than the last time (I ended the game with, like, nine graves, not 69).

It was good fun, and the game reduced my fears of San Christoforo superiority. After all, San Nicolo won and my San Giorgio wasn’t too far. Like Indonesia, Antiquity takes a lot of patience when it comes to moving tiny bits of cardboard (and is much worse in that respect, really), but if one can take that, few games can offer similar challenge.

Jungle Speed. This one was a good game to end the evening with, as it gave my poor brains a chance to wind down a bit. A gaming event with this intensity (and especially with games as intense as Indonesia or Antiquity) can create headache and stop one from sleeping…

In general Helcon was a great success, I enjoyed it a lot. The new location was excellent, and will probably be used again. The Memoir ’44 campaign had some problems, but was still enjoyed a lot and I’m sure it’ll see a lot of development and new attempts. Perhaps we’ll see how the Germans attack Russia in KinkkuCon in January? Anyway, thanks to Tommy, Stefu and Ansi (and others, of course) for all the work they did for Helcon and to everybody I played games with, you were great!

(No need to wait for Sunday’s entry; I skipped Sunday to be home with my wife. A wise choice, let me tell you!)

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3 thoughts on “Helcon 2005 — Saturday”

  1. Tempus — Don’t have, nobody I know has it. No review coming up anytime soon. It’s on my checklist, though.
    Caylus — Definitely on my play list in November board game club (coming in three weeks or so), so you’ll hear more then.
    Hazienda — Nobody has it, so nothing more than my Essen report for now. I won’t get it myself, if that says anything.

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