Another Play of Lord of the Rings Risk: Trilogy Edition

Jacob, Matthew, and I sat down over a week ago to play another round of this
Risk variant. This was our first
attempt at a three player version and we made some tweaks that ended up being
quite painful for me. The rules specify that in a three player game, two
should play the evil side and one the good side. I took on the good side. What
the rules don’t say is that the two evil players should unite against the good
player (i.e., it is supposed to be a free-for-all). Well, I let Matthew and
Jacob team up against me and it wasn’t pretty.

Risk has enough issues with runaway leaders (the more territories you control,
the more troops you get, so it is very hard to catch up once you fall behind)
in a regular free-for-all, but this was out of hand. I was lucky to conquer
any territories at all during my turns, and that only left me more exposed to
their attacks on subsequent turns. In short order Sauron’s and Saruman’s
forces swept over Middle Earth, dooming mankind and the other good races to an
eternity of servitude and just plain bad times. And its all my fault.

The last stand of the good guys. Those green battalions that you see are all
that I have left.

Jacob’s Grand Scientific Experiment

Jacob has the opportunity at school to do some extra projects (reading
assignments, math, and now science). He designed an experiment around plant
growth with different watering conditions. The question he wanted to answer
was “how does the temperature of the air and water affect the growth of pea
and bean plants.” His hypothesis was that the plants would only grow with warm
air and cool (not hot) water. So he planted four seeds outside and four inside
(two each of bean and pea).

He did some great work on this project, taking digital photos and tracking
progress along the way. He also did most of the computer work for his final
report poster, including some nice work in Microsoft Publisher. Here he is
finishing the final report.

Oh yeah – the results. As you might suspect, hot water doesn’t help seeds
grow, and the cold air outside didn’t help much either. The seeds he planted
inside and watered with cool water grew very well.

First Play of Serenissima

This game sat on my shelf too long – in fact, it was the only “big box” game
remaining in my game closet that I had yet to play. I know, compared to many
that isn’t a bad track record – I’ve seen a number of game collections with 10
or more games still in shrink wrap. Still, I’m a gamer not a collector and I
want to play what I have. Ken Rude and I arranged a late evening during the
week where we could get together to try this one out. Brandon, Ken’s son,
joined us for a three player game.

Serenissima is not a new game – it
was released in 1996. I picked up because, well, I’m still a wargamer at heart
and I find it hard to resist games that can be played in a single sitting but
still harken back to the days of youth playing Avalon Hill war games. That’s
why Wallenstein is at the top of my
list of games right now.

This is not exactly a wargame though – economy is at least as important, and
it is through the trading and shipping of goods that money and ultimately
victory points are earned. Each player takes on the role of one of the great
nation-states on the Mediterranean – Venice, Genoa, Turkey, or Spain. In a
three-player game, Turkey is not played. Each player starts with 2000 ducats,
10 sailors, and two galleys. Each turn starts with bids to determine player
order. This turn order is used within each of the turn phases, which are:

  1. Buy trade goods, build ships and fortresses, hire sailors
  2. Movement
  3. Combat
  4. Capture and control ports
  5. Sell goods and generate income

The goal is to control shipping ports and to fully populate their warehouses
with a diversity of trade goods (there are 7 in all). There are three kinds of
ports – large (6 goods in the warehouse), medium (4), and small (2). Players
score 10 points for each large town with a filled warehouse, 5 points for each
medium town with a filled warehouse, and 2 points for each small town with a
filled warehouse. Towns with unfilled warehouses score 1 point each, and if
you control your main city you score 10 points.

Combat between ships or from ship to port is a function of the number of
sailors on each side. In ship to ship combat, each player attacks
simultaneously and rolls a d6, adding the number of sailors on the galley to
the roll. Divide the result by 3 and round down, and that is the number of
sailors on the opposing galley that are sunk. It is possible to capture
opponents’ galleys if you eliminate their sailors and have enough of your own
to move over and capture (each galley must have at least 1 sailor).

Within each galley there are five holding slots, and these can be filled with
any combination of sailors or trade goods as long as there is at least 1
sailor and no more than five total items on the galley. A ship’s movement
range is equivalent to the number of sailors. So it is clearly an advantage in
both movement and combat to have more sailors on board; however, this will
limit the number of trade goods that you can carry around. You can check out
the complete rules right here.

Ken played Genoa, Brandon was Spain, and I played Venice. Things started off
nice a peaceful – I expanded east into Turkey and was getting a decent
diversity of goods. Ken capitalized on some goods that Brandon had not yet
traded yet in any of his ports by trading that good to his major town. Twice
he earned a 1000 ducat bonus for these trades! While it helped brandon
populate his major town with goods, this was clearly a good move for Ken since
it allowed him to quickly get an advantage in both ships and sailors.

As so often happens in three player games, the first to get aggressive often
pays dearly. I decided to attack an ill-defended port of Ken’s (I believe it
was one of his gold ports) and successfully capture it. Unfortunately it
brought on his wrath and not only did I lose that port back to him the next
turn, I also lost two ships in the vicinity.

Ken played very well – he intuitively figured out (I suspect now that this is
a common game strategy) to diversify his fleet by keeping some trade ships
around with few sailors (usually 2) while building a separate fleet of combat
ships with 5 sailors each. These ships, with their extensive range, were able
to wreak havoc on my ships and ports. We decided to cut the game a bit short
(I think we played only 8 turns instead of 10), and though I did a pretty good
job of holding off his final attack, he did manage to take a port away from me
at the end. It didn’t matter much though – Ken had filled a good portion of
his medium ports (because of the shortened game, nobody got a completed large
port) and beat us handily. I don’t have the final scores in front of me, but
Ken beat me by at least 10 points, with Brandon finishing behind me by about
10 points.

Fun game – I suspect it can be played in 2-3 hours and I look forward to
playing it again. One criticism of the game is that it often follows the same
pattern – trade or the first 2/3 of the game, then just start hammering the
opponents by attacking. Ours certainly played out the same way.

Eric Arneson’s Top 10 Games of 2003

Eric Arneson just published his
Top 10 Games of 2003 list. I
agree with many of his choices, though I haven’t played all of the games he
mentioned. I especially appreciate his nods to I’m the Boss, New England, Mystery of the Abbey, Balloon Cup, and Battle Ball. I don’t think Battle Ball would
have made my top 10 list, but it is a fun game, especially for one that has a
mass market presence. I’ll have to publish my top 10 list shortly…

Operation Hero Miles

If you know me or read this site very often, then you know that I travel quite
a bit. So much so that I have a hard time using all of my frequent flier
miles, particularly those I accumulate on airlines I use less like Delta and
Alaska. Operation Hero Miles is a great way to
support our troops with almost no bureaucracy standing in the way. Here’s some
information from their website:

In September 2003, the Pentagon started giving soldiers stationed in Iraq
two-week leaves in the largest R & R program since the Vietnam War. Soldiers
on R & R or Emergency Leave are flown by the military to Germany or three
airports in the United States, Baltimore/Washington, (BWI), Dallas/FortWorth,
(DFW), or Atlanta, (ATL ) for free.

The soldiers have been responsible for flights the rest of the way in the
U.S. to their destinations, until Congress provided funding for this purpose
on November 3, 2003. However, this funding is not yet available and may not be
sufficient for all the troops or troops on “Emergency Leave”.

More than 470 soldiers a day are arriving in the U.S.

Many soldiers on R&R leave must purchase high-priced last minute airfares
to connect to their hometowns once their military flights land at the airports
in Baltimore, Dallas or Atlanta. Soldiers on “Emergency Leave” must still pay
the full cost of their domestic travel when they are rushed home for the
family death, birth, illness or other emergency. The military does not pay the
cost of their travel in the United States, so your frequent flyer miles are a
huge help.

Americans have donated their unused frequent flyer miles to the Department
of Defense to help troops travel home and spend quality time with their loved
ones, without worrying about how much it will cost.

I just found a place to use my Alaska and Delta miles!