Date: September 11, 2003

Games: Dice Run, Café International, Quandary, Pass the Pigs, Age of Steam

Attendees: Ed, Jeff F., Jon, Mark, Rick, Robert, Roxana, Susan

Reporter: Susan Rozmiarek

Dicerun Mark introduces Rick, Susan, Jon, Jeff and Robert to Dice run.
Dice Run: Jeff F., Jon, Mark, Rick, Robert, Susan

We needed to play something reasonably short while waiting for Ed to come home, so Mark taught us this game from KidAdult Games. It comes with a deck of cards, some cardboard chits and 30 lovely, lovely dice in five colors, including a girlie pink and purple, all in a big box about four times too big. The game itself is a race game that reminded me somewhat of Formula Motor Racing. The dice are rolled in a big blob on the table. Players pick a chit that depicts their goal for the "lap," which they keep hidden. It shows a die color and number. The player will get points for every die of that color or number that is in the front group at the end of a lap. Players are dealt a hand of three cards. On his turn, a player plays a card and then draws a card. The cards depict various actions that cause dice to move forward, either into the next group or forming a new front group. For example, a card may cause all green dice to move forward or all "ones." There are cards that move entire groups. Another option is to play any card face down and re-roll an entire group. There are four lap cards in the deck and when one is drawn, a scoring takes place. Chits are handed out based on the number of points players have in the front group as determined by each player's goal. The player with the most points gets three chits, the second place player gets two, and the third place player gets one. Then players draw new goals and continue playing. At the end of four laps, the player with the most chits wins.

Dicerun Dice run close up. Look! Dice!.

Ugh. This was a totally random luckfest. You merely play your best card on your turn and then watch five other people totally screw up what you just did and rearrange everything until it comes back to you to try again. Then you just hope you get lucky when a lap card is turned over. To make matters worse, a few of the cards are much more powerful than the others. Of course, I couldn't manage to draw any of those. I felt like I had no control whatsoever and managed to not earn a single chit the entire game. On the other hand, I really like the clever and unique way that the dice were used in the game. The idea is pretty neat but it just didn't seem to work. I'd like to try it again with fewer players. I have a hunch it will be a little less chaotic. A very little. I can see some potential for a decent light filler game if my hunch proves correct.

Results: Jon in 1st, followed by Jeff F./Mark, Rick, Robert, Susan

With Ed finally here it was time to beak up into two tables. Jeff proposed Age of Steam as one of the choices. I guess he didn't trounce us thoroughly enough the first time we played it. Roxana needed to leave early but wanted to play one more game, so I suggested an old favorite, Café International, for the other table.

Café International Rick, Robert, Roxana and Susan play Café International.
Café International: Rick, Robert, Roxana, Susan

Back when we first discovered German games, I couldn't get enough of tile-laying games and this one was one of my favorites. Now, a few years later, the decisions seem pretty obvious, although it is still enjoyable as a filler and is an excellent games for newbies. The game does show its age somewhat. One thing everyone commented on was the fiddliness of using the small poker chips for keeping track of points. A scoring track, which seems to be the norm in many newer games, would be most helpful instead.

There were numerous placement questions at the start and Roxana also realized she had always played with the players' tiles face down instead of face up. Once everyone got the hang of it, the game played very quickly. I think everyone was able to finish a single nationality table and get the bonus points for doing so. I was able to finish three with the help of jokers and this helped give me enough points for the win.

Results: Susan 75, Robert 69, Rick 54, Roxana 53

Quandary Robert is in a Quandary about his best play.
Quandary: Rick, Robert, Susan

With Age of Steam still chugging along at the other table, I wanted to play something with a little bit of bite to it. However, the three of us were pretty tired, so a long rules explanation was out. With that in mind, I pulled from the shelf the very aptly named Quandary, a game packing plenty of tough decisions, but with extremely short and simple rules. Despite the lack of alert brain cells around the table, Rick and Robert picked up the nuances of the game very quickly and the scores were very tight.

Results: Rick 90, Robert 89, Susan 88

Pass the Pigs: Rick, Robert, Susan

Now the three of us really needed something mindless, so I got out Pass the Pigs, an extremely simple push-your-luck game with a pair of plastic pigs that are rolled as dice. You get points for the different positions in which they land, unless of course they land in the position that causes you to end your turn, losing all the points that you have earned that turn. There is also the possibility that they land such that you lose all the points you have earned the entire game. So each turn, you get to decide whether to stop rolling and keep your points or keep rolling and risk losing them. Easy stuff, and the different rolls have cute names like Snouter and Oinker.

Rick was on a pig roll this time, leaving Robert and me in a the dust the entire game. With several 20 point rolls like the Double Trotter, he was able to play a conservative game. I managed to close the gap toward the end, but then kept rolling Pig Outs. I narrowly missed rolling an Oinker which is when the pigs end up touching and you lose all your points. My pigs landed with only a hair's breadth between them. Whew!

Results: Rick 100, Susan 76, Robert 26

Age of Steam Ed, Jon, Mark and Jeff build train tracks in Age of Steam.

Age of Steam: Ed, Jeff F., Jon, Mark
Reported by: Ed

After owning the game for several months and not playing it, this is my third playing of Age of Steam in about 6 weeks. That's not much for some people, but that's pretty repetitive for our group, especially for a "big" game. After a quick review of the rules, Jeff Ford, Jon and Mark joined me in building tracks, delivering goods and fighting off bankruptcy.

The initial goods cube distribution did not leave many obvious good starting spots so I decided to go for the "control the middle" strategy. After winning the first player order auction Jon immediately went for his favorite action, urbanization. I passed up on the free locomotive upgrade and picked first build, wanting to secure my first link in the middle. Mark, who I don't think had played before, didn't really know what to do so picked "free bidding pass" action (I forget the real title). This left Jeff able to pick up the locomotive upgrade as the fourth pick. Ouch. This allowed Jeff to get two, two-segment deliveries in the first round and jump to a quick income lead. A couple rounds later it was pretty obvious (at to me) that Jeff and Jon would be fighting for first while Mark and I would be fighting for third.

At the end, Jeff pulled away in the last two turns by getting several 5 and 6 segment deliveries. Although Jon had higher expenses than me late, he was able finish just ahead of me by getting some long routes while my train maxed out at 4. I was able to deliver goods over 4 routes for the last three or so turns, I could not catch the leaders.

A couple of observations after this game: People on the newsgroups have mentioned a catch the leader problem and others have pointed out that it is possible to catch the leader. However in the three games I have played, by midway through the game, you needed to be close to the top if you wanted to have a chance. This is a game in which you really need to make every turn count. Have an unproductive turn and you fall off the pace. Another thing, starting on the left (west) side of the map has been the kiss of death. Each game has had someone concentrating on the cities on the left hand side and building those north/south routes. The person who did that did not fare well in the final standings.

Still, a very nice and challenging game and one of the best new games from the past year. I am really looking forward to the expansion maps coming out this fall.

Results: Jeff 104, Jon 83, Ed 75, Mark 54

Café International
Seating patrons at the Café International.
Quandary, still the best version of this Knizia game, also published as Flinke Pinke, Thor and Loco!.
Age of Steam
Midway through the Age of Steam game.

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

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