The Archaeology of a Small Samurai Citadel

It was hard to get out of bed this morning…  Despite having a class to teach early this morning, I and some of my loyal boardgaming compatriots played until nearly midnight last night.  And the cool thing is that the burning eyes, frequent yawns, and nagging fatigue are all worth it to get the chance to play some of these most excellent games!

Archaeology: The Card Game

Alton is absolutely in love with Archaeology: The Card Game, so it gets played quite a bit these days.  Another group was already involved in a game of Small World, so I joined him, Mark, and Denise’s son Eliot for a quick game.  The game moves well and is easy to play, so we were done in 15 minutes or so, and Mark blew the rest of us away pretty handily.  

Time: 15 minutes
Score: Mark 73, Me 46, Alton 45, Eliot 15
Ratings: Mark 9.5, Me 7, Alton 10, Eliot 9

What is a bit strange to me is that Alton and Mark rank the game at 10 and 9.5, respectively.  Now, I like the game just fine.  It’s a solid filler with some nice opportunities to make choices and set some basic strategy, and I doubt that I’d turn down a game unless there was something else that I’d rather play about to start.  But to say that it’s, according to the BGG rating scale, “Outstanding. Always want to play and expect this will never change,” just seems like a bit much.  

I mean, of course it’s a totally subjective scale, and they’re entitled to their opinion, but I just don’t see the spark of brilliance there that would inspire them so.  Maybe I’m missing something, but I can think of a dozen or more fillers that I’d rather play.   

Small World

The incredible thing is that Small World was played 5 freaking times last night!  It is the Game of the Month!, and there are four or five copies of it floating around the group, but 5 times in one evening is still pretty impressive to me.  I’m sure that this was due, in no small part, to the ambience established by my “Small World Mix“, a collection of different versions of the Disney “It’s a Small World” song that I assembled into a playlist and blared as continually as I could throughout the evening.  I could feel the gratitude and admiration of everyone in the store, and rest assured, it will be back for the last week of the month as well. 

Obviously, with that many games (only two of which I was involved with), I can’t hope to give anything approaching a full report about them all.  And frankly, I think that I’d rather spend a little more time in thoughts and analysis this week anyway, so let me give you a quick rundown of what happened in all those itty-bitty planets. 

In my first game, I went last (which is definitely a disadvantage) and made the mistake of picking the Berserk Orcs.  In four rounds of attacking, I rolled something other than a blank die result only twice.  I again felt trapped by my race, and tried for too long to salvage some benefit from them.  I finished the game with the Merchant Ratmen, which worked pretty well (especially since I wasn’t really a threat and nobody bothered attacking me) and got me all the way up into third place (out of four).  Chris used the bonus-point benefits of the Forest Amazons and Hill Wizards as his second and third races to power his way into a lot of points over the last 4 or 5 turns and claim the win.  Eliot almost slipped up and won in his first game through never declining his Underworld Halflings while his entrenched and previously declined (and formerly FlyingTrolls racked him up points all game long.  Mark’s Mounted Skeletons went on a bit of a rampage against Eliot (our perceived leader) in the last couple of turns, though, and knocked him out of first place.

Time: 60 minutes
Score: Chris 103, Eliot 94, Me 86, Mark 70
Ratings: Chris 9, Eliot 8, Me 8, Mark 9

My other game was with just 3 players, having Jen and Adam join me on the smaller board.  This time, I went first and chose the Underworld Ghouls.  I sent them into decline the next turn and then picked up the Dragon Master Humans, who I used in combination with the ghoul for 5 turns to spread out and hold up to 4 fields at one time (shenanigans I learned from Chris Ingersoll, of course).  Adam moved through the Flying Tritons, Swamp Wizards, and Merchant Orcs for most of the game, picking up solid points but not being able to put together anything spectacular.  Jen started with the Diplomatic Giants and then moved on the the Commando Elves.  She only attacked with them for two rounds, which I thought was a bit of a mistake.  With the Elves, you’re never going to lose units, and Commando reduces the number of units you need to take over any space, so they don’t lose effectiveness quite as bad as most other factions.  Instead, she ended up moving through four races (which means 3 less effective “decline” turns), and lost the game to me on the tiebreaker (since my last race was the Mounted Skeletons who kicked butt and animated reinforcements all across the board).

Time: 60 minutes
Score: Me 89 (+ more units), Jen 89, Adam 78
Ratings: Me 8, Jen 9, Adam 5

This week definitely saw an upturn in my opinion of Small World.  Whether it’s because I finally got over my inflated expectations or because I started to see a little deeper into the strategy of the game, I was definitely more eager to play and experiment with it last night.  Frankly, I’ve been thinking a lot about it all week, especially about some theory of what kinds of race/power combinations might be best in each phase (early, mid, late) of the game.  But no matter how much reasoning I had done, I was still surprised by both the combinations I saw in these two games as well as the actions of the other players.  

And I think that’s what the real nugget of inspirition is about Small World.  Mechanically, it is such a simple game, where the virtually deterministic combat and uncomplicated turn structure get out of the way of the really important stuff.  Which wo
uld be, of course, the race/power combinations and how the players use them.  And that’s why it has so much replayability and the potential to really capture the imagination and interest of a game group.  

But on the other side of its simplicity is the fact that some people just aren’t going to be captured by all the fluffy gaming love-in.  And the trouble is that I don’t think that there’s enough mechanically to hook or satisfy those people until they get brainwashed into liking it by the rest of us.  I’m not sure, but I think that this is where Adam found himself after the second game.  But I don’t want to put words in his mouth (he’s pretty good at that himself).

In the other three games, the winning race/power combos were:

  • Wealthy Amazons, Alchemist Orcs, and Commando Halflings (Carol)
  • Alchemist Elves and Swamp Humans (Brad)
  • Wealthy Trolls, Underground Ratmen, and Swamp Orcs (Brad… again)

I don’t know if any particular “lessons” can be learned in looking at that, but as Jen found out, I think that minimizing unnecessary decliniations is one key to optimal play.  As I need to learn, however, sometimes you just have to cut your losses and start over with a new race.  I’m interested in studying the timing and efficiencies of sending races into decline, and hopefully I can figure out a little more about that next week.

Other Game #1:
 73 minutes
Score: Carol 104, Chris 96, Josh 78, Britt 59
Ratings: Carol ?, Chris 9, Josh ?, Britt ?

Other Game #2:
35 minutes
Score: Brad 110, Chris 101, Mark 88
Ratings: Brad 9, Chris 9, Mark 9

Other Game #3:

Time: 43 minutes
Score: Brad 99, Mark 95, Chris 90
Ratings: Brad 9, Mark 9, Chris 9



Building on the great game that we had last week, Adam and I decided to play another session of Samurai.  Josh and Alton joined us, so we had to do the rules teach thing.  We also decided to go with random starting hands again to even the field.  The first game was quick and intense, so we decided to have another repeat performance last night and played a second game.

In the first game, Adam and I fought tooth and nail the while time.  I was pretty sure that I had the game all stiched up, however, and ignored a couple of areas that I was sure to win.  Unfortunately, I waited too long to get back to them and ended up not picking up one of the High Helmets that I had a lock on when the game ended.  As it turned out, Adam and I tied for majority in High Helmets (4 each) and we also tied with Alton for most Buddhas (3 each).  Josh, who took the road less taken, claimed the sole majority in Rice (5 of ’em) and won the game.  Had I picked up that one last Helmet, I would have won holding that majority and 6 other tokens!  Arrrgghhhh!!!!

33 minutes
Score: Josh – 1 Majority (Rice Fields), Me – 0, Adam – 0, Alton – 0

We quickly redeployed the figurines to the board and started over.  From the very beginning, I had a terrible tile draw.  I was to Adam’s right, and it seemed like every time I played something, he would take advantage of me and steal away a figure or two.  He took the majority in High Helmets, and even though Alton and I claimed a majority ourselves, Adam had five other figures and won his first game as a Hypermind Boardgamer!!! Woo-hoo!!!  Way to go Adam!  And it only took you 6 weeks and 18 games to do it… 

Time: 38 minutes
Score: Adam – 1 majority (High Helmets) + 5 others, Alton – 1 majority (Buddhas) + 3 others, Me – 1 majority (Rice Fields) + 2 others, Josh – 0
Ratings: Adam 9, Alton 9, Me 8, Josh 8

I talked a lot about Samurai last week, and all of it still applies.  It’s a great game with an amazing balance between luck, tactics, and strategy.


By this point, it was, of course, quite late.  But I wasn’t ready to call it a night.  We had six players still up for a game, so we pulled out the old standby Citadels.  Between having one new player and the rest of us taking way too long picking our roles, the game took freaking forever!  Part of the problem was also that it was one of the most brutal games of Citadels that I’ve ever seen duet to lots of successful thievery, bewitching, and warlording!  In fact, Robert (the new guy) had both the Dragon’s Gate and the Universary blown up in the course of the game (that’s 16 points worth of districts for those of you playing at home).  Mercifully, Mark built up to 8 districts and won the game as midnight approached.  We then scattered unto our homes…

Time: 75 minutes
Score: Mark 33, Josh 27, Alton 25, Me 23, Robert 17, Denise 13
Ratings: Mark 8, Josh 7, Alton 9.5, Me 8, Robert 9, Denise 8.5

Other Games Played:

Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery
Time: 110 minutes
Score: Alton 87, Britt 84, Josh 71, Carol 62
Ratings: Alton 9, Britt 9, Josh 8, Carol 8

Castle Keep
Time: 15 minutes
Score: Mark 1st, Chris 2nd, Brad 3rd
Ratings: Mark 7, Chris 7.5, Brad ?

Race for the Galaxy
Time: 25 minutes
Score: Alton 51, Mark 45, Josh 25
Ratings: Alton 10, Mark 10, Josh 10

See! We’re either aslepp or delirious!!!



  1. Chris Ingersoll

    I accomplished a goal I’ve had all month: to play nothing but Small World one night, getting in four sessions total. (Ok, I finished off the night with Castle Keep, but hey.)

    The difference between “big board” (4-5 players) and “small board” (2-3 players) is dynamic. Mark, Brad, and I flew through those last two games — you can see that Brad only had TWO races during our entire 35-minute game, and boy howdy those Elves were annoying.

    Smaller games also make it easier to keep track of who’s in the lead; when Mark had back-to-back 15-point turns with his Pillaging Wizards, Brad and I put a stop to that chicanery toot suite and basically wrecked him.

    I do agree that going last can be a huge disadvantage… especially if Trolls are available early; those guys are ridiculous first-picks. I had Commando Trolls in my game with Britt, Carol, and Josh and just vomited lairs all over the board on my first turn for a quick 14 points (seven the first turn and decline the second, losing only two tokens — the ones that conquered Lost races — in the process). Since we usually record who did what each round, you should be able to throw up a quick analysis of how play order affects finishing order.

  2. Chris Norwood

    Yeah, I’m very pleased that I got in two games of SW as well.  Our 3-player game drug on a little bit, however, probably because Jen and Adam haven’t played as much as you and Mark have.  The biggest difference I noticed on the small board was that no where felt safe.  There are no “isolated corners” where you can hide out, and almost any race has the potential to interact with every other race.

    And in thinking about the statistics of player order and how they finish, I’ve run some numbers.  I’m just about to post them

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