February 15, 2006

Game Day Report for February 11, 2006

by Susan Rozmiarek

Wow! We had 16 gamers playing 16 games today, including three folks who found us via the internet and drove all the way from College Station. Also visiting the Game Ranch for the first time was Clark, a past regular of our old Round Rock group, and his friend Weldon. Hopefully they all enjoyed themselves enough to come again.

Even though I wasnít able to get any of my ďgold starĒ games played (after wading through the Mare Nostrum rules beforehand to be ready), I did manage to play three different games that are review copies which was nice. I am now ready to write reviews on two of them.

Ostia

This game was newly arrived from Mayfair Games shrouded in a cloak of good buzz from Essen. I was eager to play it although I was disappointed to see that the major mechanisms were auctions and blind simultaneous card selection. Sheesh, how many of these types of games do we need? Fortunately, this seems to be another Frankenstein game of older, familiar game parts coming together to make something new and nice but a little bit different.

Players are randomly dealt five resource cards, keep one, and auction the rest in sets of two. After the auctions, players divvy up their cards into three categories Ė cards they are going to sell in the Forum, cards they are going to keep, and cards they are going to offer to the Senate for victory points. After choosing where to allocate their cards, the cards in the Forum and Senate are revealed. Players get money for the resource cards that they placed in the Forum based on a chart. The amount given for each resource depends on how many total of that type were offered up for sale by all players. The fewer of a type offered, the more they are worth. Cards offered in the Senate are valued based on a chart depicted on the Senate cards. The type of resources desired by the Senate varies from round to round and players will always be able to see the current Senate card as well as the one for the next round. The person who made the most valuable offer gets three victory points, second place two, and the third place one. The twist here is that only three out of the five resource types may be offered in the Forum and Senate combined. So, this makes the allocation a little trickier. You canít just put all your most valuable Senate cards there and your trash in the Forum to sell. You buy storehouses to carry cards over to the next round which can be nice since you know what resources the Senate will want ahead of time. At the end of the game (five rounds) there are some additional victory points awarded for most money and for having unique resources stored in storehouses.

It took us all a bit to figure out how the game worked. We seemed to have hard time remembering the three resource type limit in the Forum and Senate. There is a heavy penalty for forgetting and Kevin got burned badly by it one round after we ended a grace period for forgetting. Nevertheless, he was able to pip me for the win, much to his delight. The scores were all very close.

I thought the game felt a little long but perhaps that was because we were all learning it. Overall, I enjoyed it a lot and it worked smoothly even though most of it didnít feel all that original. I do have some issues with some of components, in particular the flimsy money and cards.


Clark, Weldon, Susan and Kevin puzzle over the rules of Ostia.

Hacienda

This game keeps getting played but never with me so I was kind of pushy getting it to the table. Iíd wanted it based on designer and description alone because it sounded like something Iíd like. I was right. It has a lot of the tension that I love so much in Ticket to Ride with trying to collect the right cards and use them to grab spots on the board before somebody beats you to it. Hacienda provides you with more choices and paths to victory however, making it a bit (but not much) more complicated. You also have some money management but money didnít seem particularly tight to me.

Mark was obviously trying to connect as many markets as possible while also creating a long animal chain. Weldon played much of the game uncontested at one end of the board until we realized his threat. Roxana got cruelly cut off by both Mark and me although I had to do it in order to be able to reach a market. I ended up being able to place two water tiles that netted me about 20 points. That and a seven-tile land chain with a hacienda was enough to catapult me to the top for the win.

Nice game and a Spiel des Jahres contender this year, Iíll bet. Iím looking forward to trying some other maps. I do dislike some of the art. The animal faces are too angular or something and I thought the landscape tiles could have been a little prettier. Obviously, Iíve gotten spoiled and picky about this sort of thing!


Roxana, Mark, Weldon and Susan take their livestock to market in Hacienda..

Hacienda towards the end of the game.

Hey! Thatís My Fish!

I got to play this twice tonight and it continues to rise in my esteem. I was horrified in my second game to find out that Iíd been teaching it incorrectly. I thought that players could place their penguins on any tile at the beginning of the game but the rules clearly state that they must be placed on a tile with one fish. I donít know how I missed that but it doesnít seem to affect the game much. Everyone that I teach this to seems to like it.

Ark

I was planning on getting this one just on the basis of adorable animal art alone. Has Doris Matthšus ever outdone herself this time! If you thought her famous hedgehogs were cute, wait until you see her mercat and rabbit! And yes, the hedgehog is in the deck as well. Fortunately, there seems to be a decent game to go with the irresistible art. The rules on animal placements seem a little daunting as they are explained, but once the game gets going and you think about them from a logical standpoint, they really do make sense. I love the balance mechanism of keeping the ark from tipping. Between having to consider that, the climate of each cabin, and the restriction of which animals can share space, itís a nice puzzle figuring out how to place your cards. Meanwhile, the struggle for majorities in the different animal types drives your card selection. The ďsecret petĒ is a fun addition that adds a little uncertainty and surprises to endgame scoring. The theme really works great with this game and I can hardly wait to get a copy. Iím betting my kids will like it a lot.


Paul, Marty, Jon and Susan load the animals on the boat before the big flood in Ark.

Palatinus

When I first played this game I was hopelessly confused but I thought that it was probably really clever once you figured it out. After about four plays Iím about done with it. Yes, you can make some good guesses about your opponentsí blind placements, but youíll find yourself locked in a brain freeze trying to figure out the ramifications to the endgame scoring. Perhaps it is just too clever. My puny human brain is not up to the task. Luckily, the game is so short (if it hasnít fallen victim to analysis paralysis, a distinct possibility) that the pain is soon over. As a matter-of-fact, the closest thing to a positive comment thatís been uttered by others in my games so far is ďat least itís short.Ē Yet, I still keep thinking there is a good game in there that I just canít grasp. But, with so many games vying for my time, I think Iíve about given up trying.

Hornochsen!

This game is the more strategic cousin of 6 Nimmt! Now you are not only trying to avoid the red horns; you are also trying to collect green horns so itís not just a simple matter of trying to avoid taking any row. Not only that, you can play from 1 to 3 cards on your turn instead of simply one. Plus, player turns are taken sequentially instead of in a simultaneously choose and reveal guessing manner so there are many more decisions required. I donít particularly favor one game over another; it just depends on my mood at the time. This turned out to be a nice closer for the evening even though I came in dead last. I had poisoned an already nasty row thinking that there was no chance that Iíd have to take it. Guess what happened.

Long game days mean long games. Jeff, Mike A, Marty and Adam (not shown) play Age of Renaissance.

A very colorful game of Antike in progess.

Several hardy gamers brave a very chilly wind to play a Viking lawn game called Kubb. They didn't last long in the cold.

Ed tries to convince Roxana, Mark, Mike A, and Kevin that his deal is the best one in Intrigue. I don't think they were buying it.

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

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at February 15, 2006 1:03 PM

Comments

That Antike game looks fun!

Posted by: Jim on February 20, 2006 11:54 PM
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