June 27, 2005

RR Gamers Session Report for June 16, 2005

by Susan Rozmiarek

Hooray! Mark has generously decided to host weekly game sessions at his house on Thursday nights. So for now, the Round Rock Gamers remain alive and active. We missed the first two game nights at Mark's as were busy moving, but we were finally settled in enough to make this one. With Kevin at soccer camp, we just had Shea to worry about. Keeping the kids quiet and occupied is our main concern with attending, as Mark is not set up for kids. He does have a PlayStation though, and this was enough to keep Shea and Jon’s son Dylan happy for a few hours. The only problem is that it is very close to the game tables, so the kids had to be reminded often to keep the noise down.


Ra is a favorite of mine, so I was more than happy to try this more recent version repackaged as a card game. The Egyptian theme of Ra has been changed to one of gangsters. Ra tiles are now policemen, the sun tiles used for bidding have been replaced with checks, pharaohs are now bodyguards, cars and drivers replace Niles and floods, and so on. The game plays exactly the same as Ra, but with two important differences. The disaster tiles from Ra are missing as there is no equivalent in Razzia. Also, there are fewer of each item in the Razzia deck, including the Ra/Policemen, which shortens the game length.

Right off the bat I missed the nice bits and board of the original. Yeah, I’ve always realized that this was overkill, but I like those chunky sun tiles. The cards, while perfectly functional, just don’t live up to the splendor of the original version. And I tried to get into the new theme; I really did. But, I guess that I’ve just played Ra too many times. I ended up just reverting back to the original names for things. Still, the same clever mechanisms are there and I did enjoy myself. It is an acceptable option if you want a cheap, portable version of Ra. I do think Razzia is lacking somewhat without the disaster tiles of the original, as they often make the decision about whether to take a set of cards/tiles more painful.

As usual, I called raid/Ra! often, if I didn’t get beaten to the punch, particularly if I was holding a low check. I learned this strategy from Mark and it has served me well. Ed had terrible luck collecting bodyguards and trinkets and thus incurred the penalties. Mark seemed stuck for most of the game with low checks as Adam to his right was also calling raid often. I don’t remember the scores, but I think I ended up in the middle of the pack.

In the Shadow of the Emperor

We ordered this one on faith and a few good reviews. The description of it sounded pretty decent, but you never really know until you play it and we’ve bought our share of duds in the past. Fortunately, this one seems to be a keeper, with a blend of familiar and new mechanisms, some quite clever. The games seems a bit complicated when reading the rules, as there are lots of different special actions, but as you play they are pretty easy to understand as they all mesh together in a logical way. It also helps that there are fairly clear symbols on the game components.

Basically, this is an area control game, in which players are placing barons, knights and cities in Electorates (regions) in order to have the most influence. A person who gains control becomes the Elector of that Electorate. What makes it unique though, is you get your victory points each time you gain control of a region instead of for having and keeping control of a region. Since you have a limited number of barons, you will be constantly shifting them around via action cards, losing Electorships and then trying to gain them to get VPs.

The game is driven by action cards which must be purchased. Everyone gets a base income to spend each round which is supplemented by how many cities you control on the board, either yours and other players’ in Electorates that you control. There are many action cards that do various things and they are in limited numbers. As you purchase these cards and take the actions, you keep them before you until returning them for the action phase of the next round. This is because they determine the outcome of another really cool, unique mechanism of the game. Some action cards are pink and some are blue. During the next round, you will produce a descendent based on the color of cards that you have. If the majority of your cards are blue, you have a boy and get to place a new baron on the board. If the majority are pink, you have a girl and you either send her to a convent for money or offer her up for marriage to a single baron of another player’s on the board. If the other player accepts your proposal, his baron becomes a couple, which doubles its influence, and you get a victory point. So, when you purchase an action card, you not only have to consider the action you’ll get to take, but also how it will influence the gender of your next descendent. Very neat. I love these sorts of choices in games.

Another way to get victory points is by being the Emperor each round. This can also get you additional income. The Emperor may be challenged via a particular action card. All players then vote, based on how many Electors they have on the board, for either the current Emperor or the challenger. Players who end up voting for the victor get a VP. Yes, this yet another way to get victory points! You can also build cities for VPs as well. Cities are great, as they give you VPs, income each round, and influence in an area, but they are expensive to build.

There are some other neat components of the game. Barons age each round, and unless prevented from doing so by an action card or special action, they will eventually die at the ripe old age of 45 yrs. You can also choose to age the baron of another player, causing a premature death. Besides influencing the Emperor election, being Elector of a region has another advantage. Each Electorate has a unique special action that can be taken each round by the player who has the Elector.

The resulting game is one with several ways to get victory points, giving players several strategic avenues to pursue. I liked it a lot.

Ed and I followed our mantra of “churning is good,” and focused our efforts on moving our barons around to get VPs from taking over Electorates, even if that meant losing our Elector in another. Mark was our starting Emperor, a position which he managed to hold for most of the game. I tried to challenge him a few times, but despite my eloquent pleas, I always got voted down, with Ed being the deciding vote each time. I did finally get to Emperor in the last round. Mark was also stingy with his daughters, preferring to sell them to a convent rather than marry them off. Roxana concentrated on fortifying herself in Mainz Diocese, which gave her a VP each round, and Saxony Duchy, which gave her extra income each round. She often purchased the action card that simply gives you a VP. She hardly “churned” her barons at all. Despite our different approaches, the result was a surprising close game:

Ed 23, Susan/Roxana 21, Mark 19

The In the Shadow of the Emperor board.

For more pictures from this gaming session and others, see our Gaming Picture Gallery.

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at June 27, 2005 5:56 PM

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