December 5, 2006

Game Day Report for November 24, 2006

by Susan Rozmiarek

Rats. It's been well over a month since my last post. I look like one of those people who start a blog and abandon it when they get bored. I can assure you that this is not the case with me. I actually have a pretty good excuse this time. A sad but expected death in my extended family has taken me out-of-town several times in the past month. My time at home has been spent playing catch-up. Gaming and blogging have been unlucky casualties of a hectic schedule. I've squeezed a few games in here and there, but I haven't had time to post any thoughts. Things have settled down now, and with our weekends back due to the end of the kids' soccer season, Ed and I plan to cram as much gaming into December as we possibly can.

Just about anyone who lives in the USA is familiar with Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when throngs of crazed American shoppers line up to get the best deals in the cold, dark, wee hours of the morning outside of stores and malls that open as early as 5am. Heck, we had stores here opening as early as midnight. Insane! We chose not to partake in this consumer-driven madness and spent the day playing games instead as part of National Games Week. With the holidays, turnout was light but we had seven gamers which was enough for two tables.

Right away, the carnivores went off to play their meaty game, Reef Encounter, with Mike's new, pricey expansion. Reef Encounter is a design that I admire for all those important things in a game - unique theme, unique and clever mechanisms, pretty art, etc, but I have to knock off points for lack of fun. I've played the game several times now and still haven't quite wrapped my head around it and haven't really enjoyed the process of trying. So, I opted to play at the other table and boy, am I ever glad I did. We completed three games to their one. Heck, we finished our first game before they were even done explaining the rules. And oh, what bickering ensued over those expansion rules! At one point, I shouted over there to see if they needed to check BGG about a rule and John, without pause, shouted back in an utterly disgusted voice, "No, we'll just continue to play it wrong." Priceless. :-)

Great Wall of China

Here is yet another new game that reminds me of older games but is put together and packaged differently enough to please me. I've been saying that a lot lately and will no doubt continue repeating myself like a broken record because this seems to be either a designing trend and/or an indication that I've played too many different games over the years. Like Knizia's earlier game Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China has players battling over something (points tokens in this case) with cards of various values and special powers. Whether you win a token or not, you eventually lose all the cards you played in trying. This is a rather painful aspect that I do not enjoy in Taj Mahal, but in this game players fight several different battles at the same time, making it more likely that you'll win something. Also, players each have the exact same set of cards to play during the game. They draw from their personal deck randomly, but at least they aren't at the mercy of random draws from a common deck. The identical sets of cards, the special card actions, and the effects of obtaining tokens create intriguing nuances to the game. Ed and I both liked the game enough to purchase it.

Jon, Susan, Paul and Ed start off National Games Week gaming with Great Wall of China.


Ed has been trying to dust off this oldie and get it to the table but he has been met with resistance, no doubt because it is neither meaty nor new. Since most of the resistance was still engaged in Reef Encounter, this time he was successful. Palermo is an older style game that is not going to "wow" today's experienced eurogamer but it represents a sort of "comfort food" of games for me. These are the sort of games that I played and enjoyed the most when I first discovered German games around 1999. These older comfort games usually involve some sort of tile-laying and a clever way of moving pieces. The decisions during the game are often fairly easy and tactical, but back when my gaming experience consisted of games like Monopoly and Life, these simple decisions seemed quite clever. Besides Palermo, other games filed away in my mind under this category are Café International, Viva Pamplona!, Volle Hütte!, and Marracash. Two recent games that fall into this category are California and The Downfall of Pompeii. (The latter I've been playing and enjoying quite a bit. I plan to write a review soon.) Anyway, despite the fact that most of these games feel a bit dated and only get around a 6/10 rating on BGG, I find that I still enjoy them as long fillers or family games. They may even qualify as Super Fillers, as defined by Mike Siggins.

Anyhow, back to Palermo in particular. Each player is the head of a Sicilian family whose goal is to collect the most income from the family's businesses. The game is played in two distinct parts (very similar to Pompeii mentioned above). In the first part, players take turns choosing and laying down tiles representing businesses onto the board. When a player places a tile, which must follow certain placement rules, he places a marker on it to indicate his ownership. After the tiles and all the player markers have been placed, the second part of the game begins. Players now take turns moving their pawn in a race to visit each of their businesses to collect income and return to the starting area. Players all start with a fixed number of spaces they can move their pawn each turn, but it increases with each business visited. The clever bit is that movement stops when the pawn reaches one of its businesses and the income collected is equal to the unused movement points. You'll want to dawdle at times to get more income. However, once a player has finished and reached the starting area, other players incur penalties each round until they finish as well. So, there is pressure to hurry and plan efficiently. There are also police tokens that can be used to slow down other players or protect you from the same. All-in-all, this is a fun little game although the components and art aren't quite up to today's lofty standards.

Palermo Up close. Paul's yellow meeple is hemmed in by the police.

Blue Moon City

I've already written some thoughts on this game in a previous post. I'm starting to suspect that it isn't going to have a whole lot of longevity but I'll enjoy it while it lasts. This was another close race with us all within striking distance of the win.

Paul, Jon, Ed and Susan stay with the city building theme and move on to Blue Moon City.


After playing three light games, I was ready for something a bit more think-y. Himalaya is a pick-up and deliver game in which players move their yaks around the board, picking up goods at different locations and fulfilling various orders at other locations. The goal of the game is to have the majority in the three different types of influence - religious, political and economic - although the victory condition differs for different numbers of players. At the start of each round, players program their moves and actions for the round, RoboRally-style, which are then revealed and executed one-by-one in turn order. Goods at a location are taken in order from least valuable to most and player turn order is strictly observed when picking up goods or fulfilling an order at a location. Therefore, it is possible to get hosed. When you fulfill an order, you get to do two out of three possible actions (one affecting each type of influence) at that location. The particular order, type of village, and location on the board will affect which of the actions is most valuable to you.

I found playing with just three players to be a bit easier than and not quite as tense as playing with four. In a four-player game, the players with the lowest influence in religion and politics are automatically eliminated and the winner is the player remaining with the most economical influence. So, you have to worry about all the influences. The winner of the three-player game is simply the player with a majority in two of the influences. So, you can ignore one influence which makes the game a bit easier. The board is less crowded as well. Still, I enjoy the game with both numbers of players. While simultaneous action selection games such as this make some gamers cringe, there is enough information in Himalaya to make the choices tough and meaningful.

Settlers of Catan with Event Cards

I prefer playing Settlers with fewer than six players, but I was willing to suffer this time as it gave me a chance to try the new Catan Event Cards. This is essentially a "deck of dice" with some of the cards also having an event that takes place when the card is drawn. Mark has always pushed for trying the game with a dice deck to ensure that the numbers come up in a statistically correct fashion. While this would in theory squelch the inevitable whining over bad dice rolls, this particular deck did not due to the New Year card. The deck is shuffled and then this card is placed on top of the bottom five cards. The deck is reshuffled when the New Year is drawn. During the first time through the deck, guess where most of the eights were located? Yep, at the bottom under the New Year card! So there was plenty of whining anyways. I'll take my dice back, thank you very much. I like the fact that with a dice rolls, anything can happen in the game, including strings of twos and twelves which almost always help me with my inevitable poor choice of settlement locations. But, we do need to be generous to the less fortunate. Since we were playing with a new element, the Event Cards, we chose not to play with the food stamp variant. What a dumb, dumb decision. Every time I play Settlers without this variant I regret it. Bring back the welfare! Jon steamrolled over us with Mark finally getting close enough to be a threat before Jon won. Without charity, I was stuck, often going three turns without new resources. Also, I had hoped that the events would spice up the game but they were not very frequent. I was glad to get to try this deck but I'll take my chances with the dice in the future.

We finished off the night with a six-player game of basic Settlers of Catan with the new Event Cards.

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

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at December 5, 2006 8:32 AM


I'm glad to have you back but sad to hear the reason for your absence.

I've never heard of Palermo but it sounds like the kind of game my family would enjoy. Thank you for the quick overview of it. Now I'm off to the Geek. :)

Posted by: Mary (Sodaklady) on December 5, 2006 7:12 PM
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