Mesopotamia

Greetings from the Oregon coast, again. I’m back here for New Years weekend so expect to see some more posts with gaming goodness.

Last night I had the opportunity to try out Mesopotamia at Mike’s annual between Christmas and New Years game day. I arrived about 3pm and joined Carey and George in this new Mayfair / Phalanx release while others played Medici. Sorry, no pics for this session.

Mesopotamia is at its heart an exploration and pick up and deliver game. The initial setup has a temple in the center of a set of six interlocking tiles that form a ring around the temple. The players start with villagers and a hut on a tile adjacent to the center. Tiles are forests, quarries (or some other stone producing land), volcanoes, and plains. The objective of the game is deliver four offerings to the temple, with each offering requiring a different “mana” level for the offering (2, 4, 6, and 7). Players start with a mana cap of 3 so must increase that cap through the game by helping to build the center temple with stones, presumably increasing their favor with the gods.

On your turn you get to move villagers a total of five spaces, divided up as you choose amongst your villagers. This is how you explore new tiles (by moving off the map), pick up wood, stone, or offerings, and deliver offerings or stone to the temple at the center. You are not allowed to carry resources through the temple, which causes some interesting movement restrictions to the game effectively dividing the board space in half. This is because the initial setup involves impassable volcanoes on opposite sides of the temple (I didn’t know there was such an abundance of volcanoes in Mesopotamia, but whatever).

After movement is complete you can choose from any of four actions:

  • Build a new hut on a plains tile with 0 or 1 huts on it. When you build a hut, you secretly choose one of your offering counters and place it under the hut. This is what you’ll need to pick up and deliver to the center temple.
  • Build a holy place – if you have two villagers on an empty plains space and one of them is carrying stone, you can build a holy place there. Holy places are one of the ways you produce mana.
  • Reproduce new villagers – if you have two villagers at a hut (presumably for the privacy), you can spawn a new villager at that hex. You can do this as many times as you want as long as you have enough villagers to reproduce. You can only do this if huts on the space have no offering counters under them.
  • Draw a card. There are a number of cards that grant special actions or opportunities to screw the other players (such as relocating a hut). You can only draw one card per turn, and then only if you do no other actions.

We played the first half of the game completely wrong – we didn’t realize you had to choose from one of these four actions, so we started off by doing a number on the same turn. This sped up the game considerably and made game decisions very straightforward. Once we realized the error, things slowed down quite a bit and decisions became quite difficult.

I managed to draw a few cards that helped me slow down George considerably, and he was my closest competitor. I managed to finish my offerings first, about 1-2 turns ahead of George, giving me the win in this initial game that we played incorrectly. Still, this is a decent game and I hope to try it again soon. It feels similar to Lost Valley, but this game is quite a bit lighter and easier to explain. It is MUCH more abstract though – the theme didn’t really do much for me. The components are first rate and the rules are quite well written despite our problems – that was operator error and not a reflection on Phalanx or Mayfair.

If you are a fan of light, fairly abstract euros and like exploration mechanics then you should try this game. It plays in about an hour and had some nice mechanics and I had fun. I’m a bit worried that the cards are too strong (and unbalanced) and that victory might just come down to who draws the better cards, but I very well could be wrong.

Antike

Tuesday night I hosted “south Tuesday”, my monthly turn with the RipCity gaming group. I was eager to try out Antike again, and as I was expecting about 4-5 people total it seemed likely if the others were willing. Joining me were Mike, Doug, and Carey Grayson, guest of the group and owner of New Classic Games. Carey is a designer in his on right and purchased New Classic earlier this year. They produce Abagio and he has a few other games in the works for publication.

We played four players on the English side of the board, which is the “zoomed in” map focusing on the eastern Mediterranean and middle-east. Teaching Antike is a breeze – the game is very streamlined, combat couldn’t be simpler, and the game board and reference cards are extremely well designed providing all of the key information for quick reference.

Antike

I focused on gold and know-how initially, advancing to Monarchy quickly to get some strong defense. Doug and Mike began to intrude on my precious territory, forcing me (!) to attack from Athens to push them back and give me some buffer. I didn’t stop there, taking advantage of some numerical superiority and my sailing improvements to wreak some more havoc near Greece. I was able to cross the 15 territory threshold, giving me a total of 8 victory points (3 five territory, 1 seven seas, 4 first know-how advancement) and one shy of victory.

Antike Board

Meanwhile, Carey kept Doug and Mike occupied in the middle east, threatening some temples and forcing them to worry about two fronts. Mike quickly advanced to Democracy giving his cities plenty of defensive strength and discouraging conquest. The game was starting to drag on a bit, approaching the three hour mark (surprising as my first game lasted on 2 hours) and I was able to do a double advance from wheel to road and win the game snagging my fifth first advancement victory point. This was not quite fair as I had mistakenly indicated to Mike earlier in the game that you couldn’t double-advance on a turn (there’s no limit to the amount of advancement you can do when selecting know-how). I corrected myself and we all agreed that we’d rather just see the game end than restrain my advancement.

Great game still in my book and one I look forward to seeing come out frequently as long as we can get it done in the 2-2.5 hours time-frame. Three hours is too long for this game in my book.

Christmas Gaming

The Christmas holiday out at Salishan vastly exceeded my gaming expectations – almost everything I brought was played! Dave/Lisa, Mike, and Geoff were particularly eager to gobble up just about everything I suggested. Now we didn’t spend all of our time indoors playing games – I’ll post soon about a fabulous hike we took and a grueling “game” of pushups that I somehow got cajoled into. I’ll do a quick rundown of the games we played.

Julie’s high school friend Karen is a firefighter for US Forest Service – she’s been a member of the hot shots crew and now works at an engine station in Mammoth, CA. She joined us up through Christmas eve but returned to Reno to join her family for the holiday. She asked for suggestions of games to purchase her 13 year-old nephew, and after some questions about his likes/dislikes I suggested Settlers of Catan. I picked up a copy at Rainy Day Games and hauled out my copy so that we could get some plays in to teach Karen. It was a big hit – the most popular game of the weekend. Turns out Geoff is the reigning champion in his lab group up at the University of Washington so he was already very familiar with the game. Settlers came out three times, and I played once. I wish I had brought out Seafarers and the Das Buch expansion as I think they would have enjoyed some other scenarios.

Settlers of Catan

Of course we had to have a session of Havoc: the Hundred Years War. I didn’t play but we had a nice crowd of 5 join in, with Jacob providing most of the instruction.

Havoc

Matthew’s big Christmas present this year was a Carabande set with the Action Set. These were long on my list of to-buy and fortunately KC came back with them from Essen. We had a team tournament over two races, including one with a figure-eight jump.

Carabande

Not gaming related per-se, but another gift for Matthew was one of those air gun blasters. Here you see the effectiveness of the weapon at close range.

Julie Gets Blasted

Having played and enjoyed Settlers, Union Pacific, and a few other heavier games, I thought Power Grid would be a good choice for this crowd. Mike took to it extremely well, challenging me for the lead throughout the game and winning on a tie-breaker with the most money (we each powered 16 cities). Power Grid is the kind of game that takes a full play to grasp the strategies, so the others were favorable but a bit confused on how to best play it. Would have been nice to give it another try.

Power Grid

This was the game of Settlers that I managed to join. I made a sub-optimal opening placement that caused trouble throughout the game, though I had a fighting chance of finishing a close second (but didn’t). Geoff played well and pulled off a relatively easy victory with Dave/Lisa finishing second.

Settlers Again

We also managed to get in some lighter games, such as Tunebaya. Tunebaya is similar to Wits and Wagers in that nobody is really all that interested in keeping score – the process of playing is the enjoyment. My obscure knowledge of music and lyrics continued to haunt me in this playing.

Tunebaya

Matthew requested and the group delivered with a fine showing of Bang!, including the Dodge City expansion. I was an outlaw and was killed first (but not after hurting sheriff Jacob) but still managed to end up on the winning side.

Bang

We also played a hand or two of 6 Nimmt

6 Nimmt

and two games of For Sale.

For Sale

One of the highlights for me was finally getting a chance to play the Knizia classic Traumfabrik, the auction game about producing movies. The game has very simple mechanics, but is a bit dry and long for what you get. I enjoyed it but the group felt it was the least of the Settlers / Power Grid / Traumfabrik triad. Mike jumped out to an early lead, grabbing one of the first genre completed awards and two quarterly best picture awards. I managed to pull out a victory in the end by grabbing the best in genre and best director awards in the end. Scores were 30-25-15-10 (I think).

Traumfabrik

All in all, a great weekend of fun, family, and lots of games. Mike has been hosting a game group at his home in KC and I turned him onto the SimplyFun scene – he already put in a request for a party at home.

Please Don’t Try This At Home

We had a special event this afternoon – a surgery session by our two resident doctors, Dave and Lisa. They removed a sebaceous cyst from Karen’s head. I’m serious… they performed surgery right on our kitchen table here. And Karen is sitting next to me as I write this so I guess she turned out ok.

Pre-Surgery Prep

I’m going to spare you all from seeing all of the photos UNLESS you want to follow the link below. I caution you – this is not for the faint of heart so you’ve been warned.

You can check out all of the surgery photos here.