The most exciting thing about this week’s session of the Hypermind BoardGamers was the arrival of Small World, which we immediately voted to be our Game of the Month! for May. But I’ll get back to that in a minute, because the first activity of the evening (for me, at least) was to put to bed our current GotM!, Age of Empires III.
Due to my experiences earlier in the month with being left behind (or nearly so), I made sure to let people know ahead of time how strongly I wanted to play AoEIII this week. When I arrived, the game was set up and we began almost immediately. Over the last two weeks, I thought a lot about how I wanted to approach my next game, and decided to try out a Discovery/Colonization strategy, so on turn one (and despite being last in the random turn order), I was happy to be able to pick up the Navigator capital building (free Captain in the Discovery Box each turn). Using that (and the Conquistador I picked up shortly thereafter to get a Soldier in the discovery box each turn as well), I managed to make successful Discoveries on each of the other 7 turns in the game.
Since I was making so many discoveries, I consistently reinforced the one colonist placed in each of the regions to pick up the trade good there and to have a strong presence for scoring after each age. Going against the lessons from my previous experience, I decided to bypass picking up early Merchants to make money. Instead, I grabbed up additional Captains and Soldiers, hoping that I could make some good money from pillaging helpless indigenous peoples as I was displacing from their ancestral homes. My plan didn’t work too well, however, because fate led me to take advantage of only small and impoverished tribes of natives in the first few turns.
Adam was very focused in his efforts, consistently colonizing and sending soldiers to terrorize the rest of us in the New World. In fact, he was a little too focused at times, and ended up scoring very well in the colonies but not much otherwise. Chris went hard after Merchant ships and positioned colonists to get second place in almost every region. He also used trade goods, Merchants, and capital buildings to get lots of money and buy more buildings. Unfortunately for him, he got screwed out of some of the most important capital buildings that he needed, and was pushed out of the running because of it.
Alton, however, was a money-making, point-scoring machine. He definitely played the “jack of all trades” strategy, financed by his 5 sugar plantations and the Rum Distillery that he constructed. Yeah, I don’t know exactly how we let that happen, but Alton knows the game better than anyone and is definitely able to make the best decisions related to turn order and timing, which puts him in the position to have better choices than the rest of us. When a capital building came out that he needed, he seemed to always be going first and to have plenty of money to pick it up. His flexible strategy also allowed him to be opportunistic, working in areas where the rest of us were ignoring for the turn. All together, he had tons of trade goods, a strong representation in the New World, lots of capital buildings (including Prosperity and Population), and plenty of money.
As it came to the end, however, it was still really close. I played a strong game, but in the last two turns a few things happened that cost me the game. I had ignored turn order, and on turn 7 I was in last place and didn’t get any useful buildings. On the last turn, I grabbed Mercantilism (which only scored me 10 points but would have been far more useful to Alton or Chris), but was mercilessly attacked by Alton and Adam, costing me control in a couple of regions. As we tallied the score, I still thought that I might have had a chance… until Alton revealed the three discoveries that he had discreetly made, which pushed him past me for the win.
Time: 90 minutes
Score: Alton 106, Me 97, Chris 79, Adam 73
Ratings: Alton 9.5, Me 7.5, Chris 7.5, Adam 7.5
Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery was a good Game of the Month! I’m looking forward to writing my review for it, and hope that it will continue to get some regular play in the future. For me, however, its definite sweet spot was with 3 players, and I’ll have a tough time playing it with 4 or 5 players at game night.
And then it was time for Small World! There were 7 of us who wanted to play, so we split up to play two of the three copies of the game present. My group had four players, and I was randomly picked to go first. I went with Beserk Ratmen as my first race, hoping that I could spread out quickly and get an early lead. I also decided that I would try to conquer as many mountains as I could, which would help me later to hold on to them. Chip chose the Pillaging Halflings, Denise picked Mounted Orcs, and Alton chose the Spirit Giants. Lots of carnage ensued.
My Rats petered out on turn two, so I sent them into decline on the next turn, then picking up the Fortified Humans. I actually held on to the humans for the rest of the game, mostly because with the fortifications and in holding 3 field regions, I was scoring a dozen or more points each turn. Plus, if I had sent them into decline, I would have lost all of those bonus points and would have only scored the basic 5 or 6 points for holding regions. It kinda sucked, and while I finished in second place, getting put in that difficult situation was not very fun, and I’ll try my best to not take “bonus point” races/powers early in the game again soon.
My Fortified Human Empire!
Around me, Alton moved through the Wealthy Sorcerers and eventually picked up the Flying Fairies… oops, I meant “Elves”. With having two declined races still on the board, he was racking up lots of points each turn. Meanwhile, Chip grabbed the Dragon Master Wizards, finding himself in a situation similar to me and holding them through the end of the game. Denise wound up with Underworld Skeletons, who multiplied each turn and plagued everybody as they poured out of holes in the ground all over the map.
In the end, Altons three scoring races were just too much, and he took the win.
Time: 72 minutes
Score: Alton 111, Me 99, Chip 90, Denise 79
Ratings: Alton 8.5, Me 8, Chip 8, Denise 8.5
I don’t how the other table’s game played out, but Brad took the win.
Time: 61 minutes
Score: Brad 107, Chris I 98, Adam 78
Ratings: Brad 8, Chris I 9, Adam 7
Small World was good, but I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with my first real play. I don’t want to get too much into why after just one experience with it, but I’m hoping that it’s just due to ridiculous hype and overblown expectations. Another interesting topic for discussion another time is a comparison of Small World with Age of Gods, a very similarly themed game and another former Game of the Month!
Anyway, that’s where the evening took a turn for the worse. It wa already 10 o’clock, but Chip had picked up Canal Mania in a trade and we decided to give it a try. I had heard generally good things about the game, and with comparisons to Ticket to Ride and Thurn and Taxis, we were expecting a relatively quick-playing, medium-weight game. The weight may have been right, but quick-playing it was not.
I’m not going to go into all the gory details, but the game lasted until 11:30 and wore out its welcome about an hour or so before that. It didn’t help that James had joined us but had apparently left his brain at home. My favorite part of the game was when he was starting his turn and wanted to get “that Surveyor dude” (one of the engineers) to use (which is one of the things that you can legitimately do in the game, by the way). He was fumbling around, all animated and excited, loudly demanding that somebody give him the card he wanted, at least until Chip happened to lean over and look at the engineer card he already had and saw that it was, in fact, the “Surveyor dude”. The table erupted in laughter, because this was probably the most exciting thing that occurred all game long.
Chip won, by the way, after I led for most of the game, only to blow my wad on the second-to-last freaking turn and then watch him pull past me as the game ended. Freaking Chip and his freaking games! Freak!
As I look back on that freaking Canal Mania game (which I can’t help but say as “Anal Mania” in my mind ever since I saw it that way on a geeklist once), though, most of my thoughts about it are pretty decent. By the end of the game, I had a good overall handle of how it was supposed to be played, and could probably do even better the second time around with developing a fair strategy. The mechanics were all solid, but maybe a bit mish-mashed all together with some odd little limiting choices (why can’t you “flush” the contracts or reveal another one when one gets drawn, for instance,,, that just seemed random and silly). But good or bad design, I still just can’t get over how “not-fun” it was to actually play. So Chip might need to do some convincing to get it to the table again anytime soon.
Time: 84 minutes
Score: Chip 69, Me 66, Chris I 52, James 50, Brad 46
Ratings: Chip 7.5, Me 6, Chris I 6.5, James 6, Brad 6
I did get some decent pictures of it, though…
And I guess that wraps up another week with my game group. I’d hoped to be able to get in some gaming Saturday, but it looks like some freaking Yu-gi-oh somethin’-or-other event will be filling Hypermind up with… let me just say “that it will be really busy” so that I don’t get all ugly. So I may just have to wait until next week.