January 8, 2008

Lone Star Fest

by Susan Rozmiarek

Well, I had time to write a long post today so here we go.

Ed and I got a rare treat over the holidays. We escaped for a weekend without kids to attend Lone Star Fest, a small (57 people), private gaming convention in Houston. This crowd of gamers seemed to more of a serious nature, with longer, meatier games being the norm although some fluff was floating around as well.

I totally fried my brain on Saturday playing:


There's nothing like learning a new game with a steep learning curve first thing in the morning after staying up too late the night before. This game always sounded like my type of game but the scarcity and high price had always kept me away. It's to be republished this year so I wanted to give a go.

Verdict- I liked it, even as I struggled to learn it. It's one of those efficiency races with a building tree like Roads & Boats. There's a lot of competition with a small board and the fact that anything built or produced is up for grabs by everyone. People claim that it scratches the Roads & Boats itch but in a much shorter time. Heresy! The only thing that scratches that itch is Roads & Boats, which is a much more detailed simulation and very close to total gaming nirvana. But, there was a lot to like in Neuland and we definitely now plan to purchase the new edition. The guy seemingly in last place made a spectacular gain at the end for the win which was exciting.

After fortifying myself with lunch, it was time for:

Through the Ages

This was the hard-to-get game that was generating more buzz than a hive of bees before it got shoved off its pedestal by Agricola. Since I had the time, it was the perfect chance to finally try it and see if it's worth the whopping price of the new edition coming out soon.

Verdict - Well, it took about 7 hours so that wasn't good. Ouch! With a newbie (me) and a semi-newbie, it took a bit to get through the rules and some of the turns. We played the full, advanced, super-duper version of the game so there was a lot to figure out. Mark and Marty had to take a break to play in the Texas 42 tournament and that took some time as well. I have to admit, I was happily absorbed the whole game with feeding my people, making them happy with cultural advancement and making scientific progress. About halfway through the game, I realized that revving up the victory point engine was the actual goal and with the help of William Shakespeare and some libraries and theaters, I did just that. This was all a very enjoyable process. So far, so good.

My aggravation with the game was with the military aspect. I took care of it nicely in the beginning of the game. Joan of Arc was my leader and with some temples for bonus strength and the fact that she gave me VP's whenever anyone messed with me pretty much meant everyone left me alone. Alas, she got booted when the Era I leaders had to go. My military strength plummeted. Since I had some nice libraries, William Shakespeare was a juicy leader to pluck out of the lineup. After snagging a few theaters, I was quickly up to generating a hefty 18 or 20 points per turn. This is where it all started to unravel. I was getting a huge lead on everyone so Marty and Mark started pounding me with wars. I didn't have time to build my military back up and was pummeled from a huge lead all the way down to a last place finish. I guess I learned my lesson! I had no idea how punishing those war cards could be to my final score. Now I know. I realize the war aspect is thematic and probably needed for game balance but it seemed like one thing too many to have to worry about. Still, what an engrossing and clever game! I can see why many are singing its praises.

Now the question is whether we should fork over $70 and buy it when it comes out. Ed is totally not into long games right now, especially if they require heavy concentration the whole time. The smackdown part would have totally ruined the game for him if he had been in my place. So, I'm undecided at this point as there may be better games to spend our gaming budget on that we both enjoy. I always think if I let a great game go by I'll forever lose a chance to own it, but these days even if it doesn't get republished there is a continuous stream of other games coming out to take its place.

Posted by Susan Rozmiarek at January 8, 2008 5:51 PM


Well, since Through the Ages is one of my all-time favorite games, you know what MY advice is going to be! First of all, you didn't do yourself any favors by starting out with the Full game. That's a whooole lot to absorb first time out. It looks as if you limited yourself to three players, which was wise. The game just has too much downtime with four. But with experience, you should be able to play 3er Full game in 4 hours, or maybe even less.

Battles don't always dominate, but they are usually at least something of a factor. Sounds like you were setting up a Perfect Storm--a leader bringing in buckets of VPs with a weak army. Attack! The key to TtA is you don't have to have a strong army, but you can't afford to have a weak one. So you usually have to devote at least some of your energies to keep up with the other warmongers. But there's usually not a huge "take that" factor as long as you take proper precautions.

If you need a selling point for Ed, TtA is supposed to be excellent for two. I haven't seen too many notices of you two playing longer or meatier 2ers, but it's such an involving game that this might tempt him. I'm sure Kevin could pick it up as well (last Gulf Games I taught it to Tim McCarthy and he played very well); whether he'd have the patience for something this long is another thing. But an occasional family game of TtA would be my idea of quality time.

Hope you're able to sell it. It's such an amazing game and a wonderful sandbox to be able to play in. And the more you play, the more you discover. If you have any Civ PC game fans in the family, just tell them this is the boardgame version of it. Good luck!

Posted by: Larry Levy on January 8, 2008 8:13 PM


We actually played with four and one of the other guys had only played once a while ago. The two experienced guys didn't even consider not playing the full version and didn't mind our AP too much (they said) because they want to get more people playing it. (These are guys I play with semi-regularly).

Losing my military strength like that midgame was a real bummer. I knew early Era cards would eventually have to be discarded from my hand but I didn't realize a played leader would as well. I thought I could keep Joan as long as I wanted. Too many rules to digest. I wish I had started with the basic game as you suggested or had a least read the rules ahead of time.

Good with two players, eh? That is music to my ears! I haven't heard much talk of the game with two. Ed and I don't shy away from longer games because we can just leave them set up to finish later. I don't think I'll have to work too hard at selling him on at least buying the game. Not after he just ordered a bunch of overpriced Wings of War minis ;-)

I think Kevin would enjoy it but I'd have to pry him away from World of Warcraft (the computer version)where he spends all his free time.

Maybe we can get in a game of it at Gulf Games this summer. Hopefully, I'll have played it a few more times and actually be competitive!

Posted by: Susan on January 9, 2008 1:59 PM

You're on for Gulf Games! You never have to twist my arm too much to get in a game of Through the Ages!

Posted by: Larry Levy on January 9, 2008 8:48 PM
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