Unplayed Games

Reading Eric's list of unplayed Euros got me thinking:

  1. There are some games on his list that I definitely should play with him
  2. It is time for me to update my list - the backlog has grown too long

Eric, let's schedule the following:

Ticket to Ride, Einfach Genial

After baseball practices from 4-8pm on Friday, we drove out to the coast with Julie's brother Mike to spend the weekend at Salishan with Jan (Julie's mom) and David. This morning I offered to teach David and Mike Ticket to Ride, the fantastic game from Days of Wonder. Friday at work during lunch I had a chance to play Ticket to Ride: Europe, which I think might be even better than the original. I'll save that discussion for another day...

Jacob and Matthew joined us so we played with 5 in all. This is an easy game to teach so we were off and running quickly. I had some solid early card draws (LA to New York and Santa Fe to Chicago), allowing me to focus on a contiguous long route that overlapped with a medium sized route. Matthew lagged behind everyone, having built only LA to San Francisco, and I started giving him a hard time about drawing random cards on every turn. He tends to get too focused on a single route and won't want to draw face-up cards if they don't help his immediate need.

Matthew, Jacob, Mike, David, and I play Ticket to Ride.

As usual, Matthew had a master plan that was beyond the cognitive abilities of the rest of us. He built a long route (it would turn out to be the longest), looping around the west coast and through the upper half of Canada (of course scoring tons of points along the way as most of those are 5-6 train segments). As we approached the end of the game, Matthew had a substantial lead over the rest of us. I held out hope, holding 5 completed tickets with 4 of them being 15 points or higher. It would turn out to be not enough though as the longest route bonus for Matthew pushed him over the top.

Mike, Jacob, Matthew and I played 18 holes of golf during the day, and after dinner we decided to try a four player game of Einfach Genial. While I was hoping to play a partnership game, I thought it made more sense to start with the basic individual game so that everyone could see the core mechanic without being confused by team play.

I did need to consult the rules again, but we were playing within 5 minutes of setup. This was a very open game with very little blocking happening in the first 2/3 of the game. Mike and I competed for the lead, with each of us moving four of our colors to the maximum of 18 points. For all of us yellow was the weakest color, and I made a play late in the game that pushed my yellow count up to 13; I thought this would be enough for the victory. Mike managed to score 5 on his yellow, pushing him to 14 and blocking out any further yellow scoring for me. This turned out to be the decisive play as he ended up winning with 14 points.

Jacob, Mike, David, and I play Einfach Genial.

Both of these games are great choices for introducing non-gamers to this hobby. Ticket to Ride has a great theme and lasts longer, while Einfach Genial is an easy to learn and enjoyable abstract. I suspect one or both of these might come out again tomorrow.

Australia, Carcassonne Princess and Dragon

I was in the Phoenix area this week on business travel and managed to join some old friends in Tempe for an evening of gaming. I last met these guys back in September of 2003 on a business trip.

Scott Bailey was kind enough to host; this was especially convenient as his house was only about 8 miles from my hotel near the airport. Jason Sato arrived seconds before I and shortly thereafter we broke out the basic Carcassonne game with the Princess and Dragon expansion. This is a good choice to set up as folks arrive as it scales easily. As it turned out, three more people showed up over the next 10 minutes: Matthew Frederick, Kirk Bauer, and Shawn Asmussen.

Jason, Kirk, Matthew, Shawn, and Scott join me in a game of Carcassonne: Princess and Dragon.

I'm not a big fan of Carcassonne with more than 3 players: it is almost impossible to plan ahead and a bit too chaotic for my tastes. Princess and Dragon makes it a bit more bearable, surprisingly enough because it increases the chaos in the game. The meeple-eating-Dragon also can serve as a bit of an equalizer and gives players the opportunity to go after the leader, something that is more difficult in the base game where there is very little direct confrontation. There are also some nice tactical plays to employee with the princess that can cause rapid changes of control in large cities. I give this expansion a thumbs up, though I'm unlikely to purchase it as Carcassonne isn't very popular at home. I believe Matthew captured the victory with me a not-so-close second place. No farmers in the fields for me sure didn't help.

Rather than try another game with six players, we opted to break into two groups of three. Jason had brought along his newly purchased copy of Australia, and Matthew and I eagerly approved of this as a choice for the three of us.

Jason, Matthew, and I about midway through our playing of Australia.

The theme in Australia is pretty nifty: players control a cadre of rangers (they look sort of like boy scouts) working on construction and conservation projects in Australia in 1920s. The mechanics are a bit difficult to explain here, but the basic idea is you want to fly in and drop your rangers into regions where they will be able to complete projects. There's a majority element here as players share in the rewards from the projects based on the rangers they have adjacent to the area where the project is, with the player that causes the project to complete through an action getting an extra three points. Rangers are placed by flying your airplane to a region (1 action) and playing a card that indicates a number of rangers that can be placed in that colored region. Cards provide a mix of income and ranger placements (the fewer rangers you are allowed to place, the more income you will receive).

We played with the advanced rules that incorporates a windmill and an additional mechanic for scoring points. When placing rangers in a region adjacent to the current location of the windmill (it moves around based on certain value construction projects being revealed), you have the option of placing one or more rangers on the windmill scoring track. Scoring on this track happens everytime a certain number of projects are completed. The scoring value on the windmill bumps up each time it is moved.

The game board in Australia.

I enjoyed this game more than I expected based on the lukewarm reviews that I've read, though this could just be another manifestation of Cooley's Law as I won by a decent margin. I would gladly play this one again and will consider adding it to my collection.

Europe Engulfed

I purchased Europe Engulfed (GMT Games) about a year ago but had never made it past putting the stickers on the blocks and setting up a scenario to see how it went together. This is a big game with over 280 wooden blocks but seemed approachable given my affinity towards the Columbia block wargames. I attemped to play via email / Cyberboard last year with my friend Doug Walker, but I think that's a miserable way to learn a new game plus I had a hard time visualizing the entire gameboard on my small screen.

Doug Cooley had the same dilemma so we decided to schedule some time to get together and give it a go. Doug graciously offered to host; I had yet to make it to his place so that was an added bonus. We decided to start a full campaign game knowing we wouldn't finish. 1941 was a decent starting point as it would allow us (hopefully) to get all the way to American entry into the war.

We started in 1941. Russia / Germany are at war, France is already toast, and the Germans have rolled through Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe. Next stop, USSR. See those red blocks in the upper left of the screen? Those are about to leave the board.

First, a warning for you casual Euro-gamers out there that might have enjoyed Hammer of the Scots or Liberty: this is not a light wargame. Doug says it better than I can:

What is complicated is that every single country has special rules.
Finland, for example: Can't leave Finland until the Germans are in
Novgorod (encircle Leningrad), and then can only go into one area.
Can't be in a space with, say, Hungarians. You can get a free step, but
not if you got one for them the previous turn. And that's just the
Finns, you should see the French, Vichy or otherwise.

So while the game uses a very straightforward combat and movement system, the political rules are killer and were cause for much checking and re-checking of the rules. That's OK - it really is needed to create a reasonable theater-wide simulation. The mechanic that makes this game especially interesting is the Special Action. Special Actions can be purchased during the production phase (each major power has hard limits on special actions, c.f. the political rules :-) and represent the abilities of the major powers to focus political and military resources to achieve specific strategic objectives. Examples would include the blitzkrieg actions by Germany early in the war and the invasion of Normandy. In the game Special Actions allow players to conduct breakthrough movement and combat, retreat, reinforce from adjacent areas, etc. I like it because it keeps players guessing and adds a bit to the "fog of war" as well as the economic simulation.

I played the Allies, so that meant managing the Russian devastation, retreat, conscription, reinforcement, repeat and rinse. Oh, and I got to attack once in North Africa. 5.5 hours into the game and 4 turns later (there are 6 turns in a year) we called it quits.

The final board layout in 1942 before we cleaned up. See all those grey blocks in Russia? Hey, at least I kept him out of Moscow and Baku.

I had a lot fun, and we were really building momentum by the third turn. I think our first 2 turns took three hours and the last 2 about 1.5 hours (we broke for lunch over at the Lucky Lab). I suspect we could play a full turn in 30 minutes at this point, so theoretically we could play an entire campaign in a single long day. I'm hopeful for another play within the next few months - maybe I can talk Jacob into a go.

Oh, and George was looking for proof that his homeland The Netherlands were represented in the game. Here it is George!