Games Saturday with Tommy, Stefu and Robert

Saturday was the big games day of the weekend, when Tommy and Stefu came all the way from Vantaa/Espoo and were joined by Robert of the local gamers. We started around noon and played almost 12 hours straight. It was pleasant, efficient and very entertaining. Here’s what we played:

Flix Mix. I played this with Robert when Tommy and Stefu hadn’t arrived yet. It’s a great game, I like it. My rating (which I just bumped up to nine) stands out as the highest of the 18 ratings in the Geek. It’s criminally under-appreciated, as it’s definitely one of the better speed games, basically because it has a very nice and almost slow rhythm to it.

Ubongo was my only wish, and Tommy was happy to fulfil it, as he really likes the game. He’s also quite an evangelist: Geek has nine Finns giving the game an average rating of 8.11, and all of them were introduced to the game by Tommy.

I enjoyed it. It’s basically a tile puzzle, where you have to form a certain shape with three or four different pieces. You can flip the pieces, that’s what caused me some trouble at times. Faster players get gems, and the highest amount of same-coloured gems wins the game. The scoring is kind of arbitrary, and the fastest player isn’t a certain winner. Not bad at all, though the box is way too big.

Timbuktu was the first big game we played. It seemed confusing and even a bit stupid at first, but during the game’s few rounds, it got better on each round. Players are moving their caravans to Timbuktu, and every now and then the robbers will strike the caravans. Everybody gets some information, in sets of three cards: which spots the robbers strike, which line they choose and which goods they steal. There are five combinations each turn. Everybody starts with one and they’ll get rotated twice so you eventually end up seeing three.

So, you can guess a bit, gamble on odds, deduce stuff from other players’ actions… I had luck with my pepper camels, until in the final round I couldn’t get any information on pepper thieves and I had to guess and I guessed wrong. Timbuktu is a good game, because I didn’t mind that. It was an exciting finish and that’s all good and well.

I’m thinking about getting Timbuktu. If it makes it to the selections of the local store, I might go for it. It’s deduction game, but not too heavy on brains (unlesss you want to really think about it), the whole gambling aspect of it makes it fun and exciting.

Antike. Wonderful game! It’s a good game, and I played a good game. Once again I was the Germans on the Western Med map, once again Tommy was the Romans. I started with some iron cities, then moved to gold and started getting scientists after picking up two kings. Four scientists later I built five fleets on my cities to score a navigator and then produced marble to build six temples for the last missing victory points.

I finished the game two points ahead of Robert and four points ahead of Tommy and Stefu. Stefu got stuck in the corner as Phoeniceans. He was completely surrounded by Robert’s Greece. At one point he built a huge army and did one 10-minute turn when he attacked out. However, that was as pointless as it was long, as it only gave him one point from the navigator he got. Lesson to learn: if you get stuck, start getting that knowledge fast.

Himalaya. This strange game was a candidate for Spiel des Jahres. I finally got a chance to try it. It’s basically a mix of pick-up and delivery, programmed movement game (like RoboRally) and a majority game, with a clever Samurai-like scoring.

Players are moving between villages. Movements are programmed by laying out tiles: you choose if you want to move on ice road, dirt road or paved road. You can also perform an action in the villages. Action is either picking up stuff or fulfilling a contract. Contract involves paying stuff cubes, so collecting the cubes is pretty important.

There are few catches. The cubes have different values. When you pick something, you take the cube with the lowest value of those that are present. You can also take just one cube from a village each turn. It is also possible to wait on your turn, not doing anything — that might be a good idea sometimes.

When you do a transaction and fulfill a contract, you get two out of three options. First is economical: you get yaks. Each contract is worth three to nine yaks. Second is religious: you can build a stupa. Stupas are worth one to three religious points, depending on the size of the village. Third is political: you can send out a delegation. Delegations (again one to three members) are played on the spaces between the villages.

In the end the winner is decided by an elimination process. First you eliminate the player with the least religious power. His or her delegations are removed from the board. Then you see, who has the least majorities of delegations on the areas — he or she is eliminated. Of the two players remaining, the winner is the one with most economical power (three-player game works pretty much like Samurai).

It’s an interesting system, but it has some potential for kingmaking. I’m not sure if that’s a big problem or not. I do know we played the game wrong: we only chose one option, which meant the board was a lot emptier than it should be and there was little fighting for the majorities. Oops.

Anyway, I found Himalaya to be interesting. It’s pretty good — I wouldn’t probably buy it myself, but I’ll definitely play it again. It was pretty fast, too: we used a one-minute timer on the programming phase and played the game in 70 minutes. Lack of time wasn’t a problem in the programming, but it’s more fun, if you have to rush it a bit.

Hazienda. I was eager to give Hazienda another go. It’s definitely not a bad game, even if it’s a bit — well, safe might be a good word. Ours was an interesting match, as Stefu took a quite extreme tactic. He built a huge land mass on one side of the board. In the end it was something like 14-15 land pieces. Of course it had several animal chains to it, but he touched only few markets.

It didn’t matter, as he won the game. And why not? With a hacienda, that chain was worth many points. Me and Tommy tied just six points behind him with more markets. Tommy had the most, but I had other sources of points. Tommy could’ve been one point ahead of me, but he made a wrong move on the last turn and I didn’t feel like mentioning it to him…

Well, anyway, Hacienda is a pretty good game. I mean, it’s timed just right, there’s plenty of good tension as you feel the pull to several different directions but it’s not too anxiety-inducing… It’s all really well done, yet it feels a lot like any other game. A very solid eight, but by no means a must-buy for me.

Domaine — a really vicious game. Our game saw a bad start for me (not a single border card), lots of idiot moves from me and total domination by Stefu and Robert. They both got four income pretty fast, while me and Tommy had to do with just one. It all ended pretty ugly, when I missed a possibility to build a 16-point kingdom, which Stefu did after me, winning the game hands down.

I mean, I know Domaine is a cruel game, but this match… It just wasn’t any fun. I don’t think anybody really enjoyed the game. I know I’ll let the game gather a dust for a while, and I also bumped down it’s rating. It can be fun, but it can be misery, and that’s not good — kicking someone when he’s already down is just ugly.

Fettnapf. Stefu wanted to try it, so we played a round. Robert was the Fettnapf-magnet this time. A bit of trivia: I’ve got the second most games of Fettnapf on Geek.

Victory & Honor has been on Tommy’s list of my games to try for a while, and finally it happened. I paired up with Tommy, while Robert and Stefu formed the other team.

And boy, did we crush them! After a less-impressive first round, all the good cards seemed to flow to Tommy, and we ended up winning the game 162 to 82 (and we had 83 points after the second round out of four), mostly thanks to Tommy.

I like the game, but after this match it did move to my sale list. It’s not a bad game — I still rate it 7 — but it has problems. First of all — it’s got awful lot to do with the cards you get. If you have good cards, you are very likely to win. Second, it’s a difficult game to play. If I play with less experienced players, I want something easier. If I play with experienced gamers, I want… well, something else. Victory & Honor lacks a spot in my ludological system. Not to mention the rulebook, which is horrible and the cards, which look boring.

Urland was a Robert’s game Tommy had requested. Urland is an area majority game, basically, where players control prehistorical beings that live in the seas and begin the evolutionary process that leads to walking on land.

The game has an interesting structure. First player gets three numbers, that correspond to islands on the map. He or she chooses one island to score. Second player takes the remaining two, but does nothing else. Third and fourth player play their turns. The island is scored. Then the original second player draws a new number and starts a new round as the first player.

That’s interesting, but also annoying, when you have to spend two turns doing nothing every once in a while. It does make the game a lot faster, which I understand was the goal. And hey, at least it’s something different.

I had the worst early game, I was left without any victory points for a long time. I managed to climb up to compete for the second place, but Tommy was already far away from the rest of us and eventually won the game.

Obviously these area majority games aren’t quite our cup of tea. I suppose me, Tommy and Stefu are more into these optimization games where other players can’t foil your plans with unnecessary hassle, but Urland was definitely too chaotic. It reminded me of Mammoth Hunters: both have good ideas, but aren’t that interesting games. At least Urland has super cute Doris Matthäus art. That saves a lot!

Industrial Waste. Sauna was supposed to be warm at this point, but I had screwed up and put it on timer (so instead of “stay warm for three hours” I had chosen “start warming up in four hours”). So, another game while we waited for the sauna to warm up for real. Stefu was new to the game and indeed had some accidents. Otherwise it was a tight match.

Puerto Rico. Robert left at this point — strange guy, he’s been in Finland for years now and still doesn’t like sauna — and we continued with just the three of us. Stefu wanted to play good old Puerto Rico, and so we did. I played a perfect game: start with sugar, get coffee, build Guild Hall and collect the full set. Stefu shipped some, and lost just a point for me. Tommy was out of tempo and lost badly. It was a seriously good match.

Big Kini is one of the hyped games of Essen this year. I wonder why, because it wasn’t too special. The process of playing is fun, sort of, but somehow the game felt a bit broken. Like something important was missing… The game also ended prematurely — the length is good, but the game “arc” doesn’t work.

Big Kini is about populating islands and voting oneself to high political positions. Items can be collected and islands discovered to gather points. The different strategies didn’t feel too balanced. The shortness is probably the worst problem. Tommy also had a huge advantage as he had a two-spot breeding ground on his starting islands. I have no big interest to play Big Kini again.

We finished the weekend on Sunday morning with a final game of Industrial Waste. It was epic. Tommy was well ahead, but couldn’t finish the game, so me and Stefu caught him. The final scores were 74-74-73, and Tommy won the game with a tiebreaker. Amazing game, really great entertainment.

All in all, it was a very good weekend. We played lots of games, very fast and efficient. I played several good new games, particularly Timbuktu stroke a chord with me. Domaine was a big disappointment, but otherwise even the weaker games like Urland were interesting experiences. Thanks to Robert, Tommy and Stefu for good game session!

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