I posted a note to spielfrieks several weeks ago about a liquidation sale at my local Wizards of the Coast store, particularly the discount on Tigris & Euphrates ($25). Mikael Sheikh pinged back asking if I would pick up a couple of copies to ship to New York City for him and his friend Jonathan. I gladly obliged and told him I'd give him a heads up if I was going to be in NYC so we could get together for some gaming. On my way to Keuka Lake in western NY, I needed to spend some time visiting a potential partner in Manhattan. Never one to miss out on a potential game night, I let Mikael know I would be in town. He and Jonathan were kind enough to reschedule their weekly game night in Brooklyn from Tuesday to Monday, and Mikael offered to meet me after work for dinner in lower Manhattan. We thought we'd have some time to play a two-player game, but we got very wrapped up in conversation over some great Thai food and before we knew it we needed to head to the F train to cruise over to Brooklyn. Mikael happens to work in technology planning for the transit authority so is an expert on how the subways are controlled and operated. He also loves games with a public transportation theme.
Jonathan was waiting for us and we got started at 8:45pm. He expected one more to arrive around 10pm, so we quickly settled into a 3 player game of Puerto Rico.
This was about my 6th play of Puerto Rico, and I need to move beyond the discovery stage and learn how to play this game well. I'm certainly getting the hang of the flow and I do find it easier to make most decisions, but I'm certainly without a clear strategy when I play. Time to read up on strategy again on spielfrieks and work on improving my game. Strangely enough the last two games I've played have ended up in a dead heat - this time Jonathan and Mikael each tied with 51 points, 2 gold, zero barrels. Still a 9 in my book.
I requested ahead of time that we play this game. I've been in the mood for richer games lately - probably a bit of nostalgia for my early days playing the big Avalon Hill war games. Jonathan's neighbor Lev joined us and we proceeded to start a 4 player game of this war game set in Germany / Austro- Hungary in the 30 years war.
The simple comparison for this game is to say that it is Risk-like. Colored cubes represent forces in provinces, and the basic goal is to expand to as many provinces as possible while accumulating economic strength by building palaces, churches, and trading houses. We used the basic canned setup and I was yellow, meaning the bulk of my forces started the game in the south- central portion of the board.
There are some very interesting mechanics in this game that I'll discuss individually:
- The Turn Sequence involves the play of 4 seasons in two consecutive years. Actions are taken in spring, summer, and fall, while winter is where the wheat harvest is consumed, peasants go hungry and (possibly) revolt, and points are scored. So there are two scoring rounds in the game. Very similar to Amun Re.
- Player Actions are programmed ahead of time. In each season a random sequence of the same 10 actions will occur, including wheat production, gold production, force deployment, force transfer, combat, and building construction. At the start of a season, the first 5 actions that will occur are revealed - the remaining 5 are revealed sequentially as play progresses so that there are always 5 actions in the queue (until the last 5 are reached of course). Actions are programmed by players by linking them to specific provinces controlled by that player. For example, if I plan to initiate combat from Bremen, I would lay the Bremen province card face-down on one of the two combat actions. There are also blank action cards that can be laid down if the player has no plans to take that action. In some cases, an action might be nullified (e.g., if the player loses a province to another player or peasants before it shows up, or if the player doesn't have enough gold to perform the action). Otherwise, when a province/action comes up the player must take that action.
- Random Global Events occur in each season that change the global context for the game. At the start of each year, players know what 4 events might happen, but not in what order. Only the first three events will be used, since the fourth card will be used to determine how harsh the winter is and how much wheat will be required to satisfy the peasants. If a player under produces wheat that year, he may feel the brunt of a massive peasant revolt and lose one or more provinces.
- Player Turn Order is determined randomly each season. Like most games, sometimes it is great to be first, sometimes it is best to be last.
- Victory Point Scoring is calculated using a number of factors. Players score points for the number of provinces and buildings under their control at the end of the year and by having the majority of a particular building type in a region.
- Combat Resolution is clearly the coolest part about this game. Rather than rolling hordes of dice, an amazing sieve-like contraption is used to randomly filter and pass through player force cubes. Since some pieces get trapped in the device, they can come back later to help in successive combat rounds. So if you get screwed in a particular combat (e.g., I once went into a combat with a 7 to 3 advantage but still lost), there's hope that it will balance out later in the game as your pieces are dislodged from the bowels of the tower. I like this system so much more than dice rolling - resolution happens immediately and it balances out combat in the long run.
You may have guessed that I love this game, even though I finished last. Mikael pulled out a strong victory, followed by Jonathan, Lev, and me. I'll rate this an 8 after my first play.
I'll post some pictures of this session once I'm back to a broadband connection. Right now I'm dealing with slow dialup from western NY.