November 3, 2005

Susan's October Gaming

by Susan Rozmiarek

This report was written independently from Edís below and so is going to overlap a bit, Iím afraid. Most of the games are different, as we were at different tables much of the time. We had planned to start pulling out and reacquainting ourselves with our two player collection of games but real life duties kept getting in the way. Perhaps the upcoming months with time off for the holidays will be better.

October was a horribly sparse month for gaming for me, but we did host one really fun Sunday of games at our house. Brian Bankler, who has an excellent blog, The Tao of Gaming, drove up from San Antonio to game with us. We also had a new guy Paul, who found us via the internet, join us for the first time. Iíd love to see both Brian and Paul come back again. We lost several regulars when we moved, and weíd like to grow the group a bit more. More people means more tables of games going at one time to choose from, accommodating a variety of gaming tastes. Weíve had several new people contact us recently and Iím hoping they make the plunge and try our group out.

Ubongo

We opened our October game day with Ubongo to fill the time until the latecomers arrived. I was doing just fine on my own I thought, but my puzzle-loving son Shea was drawn to my side like a moth to the flame. He proceeded to ďhelpĒ me to the point that I finally just conceded my spot at the table to him in deference to his superior skill. He went on to win several rounds. Unfortunately, we could not snag the proper jewels for the win which left me a little dissatisfied with the scoring system. I must admit though, itís fun just racing to solve the puzzles first without really caring about the endgame scoring. This game immediately rose to the top of our want list although I definitely plan to try the scoring variants Iíve seen floating around on the internet.

Pig Pile

With more people trickling in but a few more still due to arrive, we needed another filler but one that could accommodate six players. Out came Pig Pile, the game of hog washing and ewe-turning. Despite the silliness and randomness of this game, our group always has a hoot when playing it, even if nobody will admit it. Everyone managed to get some piggies this game, but Kevin scored the most pork with seven to win.

Conquest of the Empire

With everyone now present and accounted for, it was time to dive into the meatier course for the day. Mike has been in a Roman mood lately and proposed playing his shiny new copy of the Eagle game, Conquest of the Empire which has rules that are supposed to be a lighter version of Struggle of Empires. Mark thought we should play Struggles instead as apparently he and Mike had played a few turns of it at another session, but the game had to be aborted due to time. An amusing argument ensued. I really didnít care that much, but I threw my modest support to Conquest since I didnít have it and it might be a possible purchase. Besides, my 12 yr. old son wanted to play and I thought simpler rules might be best. Mark reluctantly conceded and out came Conquest.

Okay, the board is freaking big. I mean really HUGE. My dining room table is very wide and it almost didnít fit. There wasnít enough space in front of me for my cards and units which was rather annoying. The plastic bits were fabulous and nicely detailed and they too were pretty big. While the whole package was beautiful and impressive set up, I wish it was all scaled down a bit. Hard to believe that a statement like that is coming out of a diehard bits parakeet like me, but there you go. It really was too awkward.

The game itself though, was FANTASTIC. I was a little worried by the ďmeaty gamerís gameĒ reputation of Struggle of Empires and I was concerned that it might be a little too wargame-y for me as well. I neednít have worried. Like most euro-style ďgamerís games,Ē the rules werenít all that complicated (which would be a turn off for me) and it played smoothly. There was a lot to think about and manage but the challenge was fun. The wargame elements were there, but they didnít overwhelm the game for me. This is kind of similar to Wallenstein, another game I enjoy. Both are really majority games, and you do have to wage war sometimes to achieve your goals, but there are many other aspects to the game that you have to think about and manage. Itís these other aspects that draw me into both games.

Iím not going to go into many details about our game, as MikeC has down already done a bang-up job of it on his blog. However, I will mention that I rarely started a battle and yet still managed to narrowly win the game. Warmongering did not seem to be a viable strategy. Rome was in fierce contention with the others, but I was boxed in at Sicily so I chose to stay out of that conflict. Basically, I expanded out the back door into Africa and Egypt, which were left alone by the others for most of the game. I also tried to grab some second place majorities where I could. The game is hinged around the auctions for alliances and player order and this is quite a fascinating mechanism. The alliances completely drive the game play and it was an enjoyable challenge speculating on the consequences of them during the bidding. Also, the fact that you only got to take two actions per turn out of a list of several desirable ones made for some hard decisions and angst. Although, the game took something like 5.5 hours, it didnít seem that long. It only dragged for me when I went from being first in the turn order one season to last in the next. The scores were pretty close at the end, from 200 down to 140.

I guess I should feel cheated because the other table of gamers managed to play six games to our one. But I donít, as this was definitely quality time for me. The game was superb and just the type to pull out on these long game days.


Susan, John, Mark, Kevin and Mike tackle Conquest of the Empire.

A crowd gathers round Rome.

Gaming at Markís: We havenít been making many of Markís Thursday night games because itís a little too late for the kids on a school night. Plus, they can get a bit loud playing video games which can be rather distracting. But, we hadnít been in awhile so we decided to be bad parents and just go. Fortunately, they didnít seem too tired and grumpy the next day, although I was! Still, itís is definitely worth it to go every now and then.

Anno 1503 Ė Aristokraten und Piraten

I have been hoping that Mayfair would publish this expansion for Anno 1503 in English. Alas, itís been out for a while now in German with no hints of a forthcoming English edition, so I guess itís not going to happen. Bummer. It really added a lot to an already decent game, I thought. Unfortunately that ďa lotĒ includes playing time, but to tell the truth I was so engrossed that I really didnít notice or care. Besides, any expansion that adds pirates to the game has got to be good, right?

Players now have not only their home island from the base game but also an aristocrat island where they may build their manor house in steps costing varying things, including the three new luxury commodities. The outposts that produce these luxury goods can only be found in a new section of the sea where you will also findÖpirates! To successfully fight them, you have to pay to build cannons. There are now action cards as well that you draw as you build your manor.

You still need to fulfill three different victory conditions to win the game, but two of them must now come from actions on your aristocrat island and gone are some of the originals. This pretty much forces you to fight pirates at some point in the game.

Our game started as usual, with the race to grab the choice buildings for our home islands. Once this was accomplished and the coveted protection from pirates and fire was no longer available, our eyes turned toward the new and dangerous waters. Doug was the earliest and bravest explorer, taking on a den of pirates long before he was ready. I concentrated on building and promoting settlers first, and was able to snag both the Fire Brigade and the Shipyard. With my double ship movement combined with the new harbor in the expansion, I was able to quickly explore the seas and get some choice tiles. One of these was an outpost that produces tobacco, which set me up for some nice income. With the extra income I was able to buy cannons and luxury goods. I was able to win the game by getting four public buildings (old victory condition), defeating two pirate dens and completing my manor house (new victory conditions). However, throughout most of the game the race seemed pretty tight, although Mark was getting burned on production rolls early on.

The expansion was great fun, if a little long at about 2 hours (with 3 players), but it added a lot of flavor to the game.


Susan, Mark and Doug play Anno 1503 with the pirate expansion.

Metro

As my last game of the evening I played Metro with my fellow Anno explorers, Mark and Doug. This is a pretty good game with three players. Five or six makes the game way too chaotic. Mark whined a lot early on about how poorly he was doing and thus managed to fly under the radar. He set himself up for some really long routes and by the time Doug and I realized it, it was too late. He came from behind on the score track near the end to gallop past us for the win.

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

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at November 3, 2005 1:33 PM

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