Summertime always sees an increase in the boardgaming activity around Hypermind, and unfortunately for me, that often means that games are already in full swing before I’m able to make it to game night. So when I walked in Tuesday night, I had to satisfy myself being a game voyeur rather than a game player for 45 minutes or so.
At one table, a game of Stone Age, our Game of the Month! for July, was underway. Ever since Small World was out Game of the Month! in May, I’ve been choosing a matching musical theme to help inspire play. Small World’s was, if you’ll remember, the Disney ride classic “It’s a Small World“. For Acquire last month, I choose Pink Floyd’s “Money” (which unfortunately only got played a couple of times). And now for Stone Age, I thought long and hard, and then like a true revelation, my iPod shuffled up the obvious choice – “Love Shack” by the B-52’s (for those of you unfamiliar with Stone Age, the reason this is so appropriate is that one of the actions you can take in the game is to send two of your workers into this little hut to make another little worker; so it’s clearly a real “love shack” in the game). So, as quickly as I could, I set up my little iPod speaker dock and blared that funky 90’s rock music all over the play area!
I didn’t really pay much attention to the game, however, but here’s the information about the game anyway:
Time: 97 minutes
Score: Chris 266, Josh 190, Ian 181, Alton 160
Ratings: Chris 8, Josh 7.5, Ian 8, Alton 9.5
I actually spent most of this time watching (and mocking, of course) a game of Big City. Britt and Carol were doing a pretty crappy job of teaching Steve how to play by building an ugly, disfunctional city and breaking lots of rules. One of the first questions I asked when I started watching was “How did y’all start that streetcar without buinding City Hall?” Blank, confused stares eventually gave way to acceptance when they realized their error. We then also noticed that they had built one of the parks (one that didn’t actually match the card, I’ll also point out) illegally as well. It wasn’t a big deal, and Britt laid down City Hall a turn later anyway.
Steve built a huge lead in the game, but Britt was was wily and engineered himself into building a shopping center that thrust him right up into contention as well. As the last couple of neighborhoods were added, Steve and Britt battled back and forth, changing the lead almost every time they took a turn. In the end, Steve ran out of playable cards one turn too early, and Britt’s shenanigans pushed him to win by one little point.
Time: 49 minutes
Score: Britt 100, Steve 99, Carol 86
Ratings: Britt 7, Steve 7, Carol 7
I think that I actually like Big City better than any of them do. Britt needs to bring it more often, especially until Valley games gets off their heineys and reprints it!
Back a few weeks ago, Le Havre made a brief appearance on Tanga, and I picked it up in a moment of weakness. Not that I feared it wasn’t a good game, but more that I am afraid that it will be tough to get it to the table at game night because of its length. For 35% off, though, I was willing to take the chance. So anyway, this week I found a few people willing to invest the time and give it a play.
Alton and his son Ian joined me, and we set things up while we waited for Kenny (who we sort of drafted into playing to get another player) to get back from supper. I explained the game as well as I could, but we found out later that I got a few little things wrong. I totally forgot about harvests, we paid one Franc per loan each time interest was due (it’s supposed to be one total), and I completely misread/misremembered the rounding rule (which I though was always in the player’s favor, but the rules clearly say is in their disfavor). But still, we had the basic rules pretty much straight, and I feel confident that we got a decent understanding about how the game is supposed to go.
So anyway, these basic rules pretty much say that on each turn, a player first does a supply action (which adds more resources to the Offer spaces) and then performs a main action. These main actions are to either take all the resources from one of the Offer spaces or to place their person marker into a building that has been constructed (which usually requires a fee of money or food). They can also then either buy or sell buildings and/or ships, but early in the game that didn’t happen much. For the the first several rounds, we were just picking up resources and moving right along.
Eventually, I decided that it was time to start constructing some buildings. We had an unusual distribution of the building cards (which are randomly shuffled into three piles and then arranged in numerical order so that the simpler buildings in a stack are on top) where most of the early/simple buildings were all in one stack, and therefore weren’t available until later in the game than I would guess would usually happen. But eventually, we all got into the action and had at least a few buildings in front of us. One of Alton’s buildings was the first Wharf, but I was the only person to use it to build a ship (which gives you food each round) for quite a while.
While the basic gameplay is really simple, the meat of the game is deciding how to build/buy and use all these buildings. None of us were at all familiar with the buildings beforehand, so we were fumbling along for most of the game, blindly trying to stumble into some semblance of a coherent strategy.
The first “strategy” that I settled on was using the Leather Industry (which was one of the first Special Buildings that came out). A turn or two before the Abattoir (where you slaughter cows) was available, I had the foresight to pick up a huge stack of Cattle that had accumulated that offer space because they were pretty much useless up to that point. Once it was constructed, however, I turned my herd into steaks and then sent th
eir hides off to the Tannery to make some leather. Eventually, I accumulated the 14 Francs I needed to use the Leather Industry to make 16 more Francs. That was pretty cool.
In addition to working this Leather Industry process one more time before the end of the game, I also continued to construct and buy buildings. I tried to focus mostly on buildings with symbols (craftsman, industrial, public, or economic), and I essentially won the game when I was able to construct both the Bank (which gives bonus points for industrial and economic buildings) and the Town Hall (which gives bonuses for public and economic buildings) on the final turn. Of course, that also took some pretty good planning to pull this off as well.
Kenny and Ian (especially Ian) didn’t get very focused until later in the game. Kenny put together some nice combinations early both in getting and smoking lots of fish to feed his workers. After that, though, he kept doing stuff, but it wasn’t anything that was going to earn him big points in the end. Ian just sort of collected resources for most of the game. He did get into the swing of at least constructing a few buildings later on, but I think that others got more use out of them than he did.
Alton, on the other hand, took a crazy ride around Le Havre. He was a little lost early, but then decided to throw himself neck-deep into a Ship (and latter Shipping) strategy. In the process, however, he accumulated a number of Loans. A few were the result of our misinterpretation of the interest payment, but we figured that out before too late and at least mitigated the disruption it caused to his game. By the end of the game, however, he had all the loans paid off, shipped a lot of goods, and finished in second place.
Time: 166 minutes
Score: Me 145 F., Alton 105 F., Kenny 92 F., Ian 73 F.
Ratings: Me 8, Alton 9, Kenny 9, Ian 9
We had a good time, even if it was the “head down, think hard” kind of fun. It looks like I’m still a bit more skeptical about it than everybody else in this game, but all of us see a lot of potential for Le Havre. Strategies seems to take longer to develop than they do in Agricola, but the game seems to be somehow less stressful (perhaps because of the more relaxed pacing). I definitely like the multitudes of different paths that you can take to earn money, and if I get the chance to play and explore it more, that alone may be the thing that pushes it to challenge Agricola as one of my top 10 favorite games.
Of course, I couldn’t stand to play just one game at game night, so I convinced Kenny, Brad, and Robert to join me in a play of Nexus Ops that started at 10:45.
Again, I explained the rules since none of them had played before. I was randomly determined to be start player, and since the random terrain deployment placed a group of rock plains in front of my start area, I consistently produced Rock Striders to make a dash for the Monolith. After we had all expanded and finished up the exploring phase of the game, we were all a bit tentative about unloading on someone else. For some strange reason, both Kenny and Brad (who were sitting on either side of me) decided to go after Robert. In a turn or two, Robert was nearly knocked out of the game, but the strange thing was that all these attacks had made it easy for him to counterattack and start playing out Mission and Secret Mission cards, putting him firmly in the lead.
My Rock Striders vigilantly guarding the Monolith!
Brad offered me a non-aggresion pact, and I was more than happy to accept. With Kenny still a little overextended fighting on his other front, I pressed forward and began to invade his territory. In one turn, I won two battles and played four Secret Mission cards for 6 points. Using some of the many Energize cards I got from the Monolith, I was able to move my units faster and hit harder, and Kenny’s forces crumbled before me. I was soon sitting at 10 points with a virtual guarantee of getting the other two I needed to win on my next turn.
Unfortunately, Robert was recovering nicely. With the pressure from Kenny easing up, he was able to focus all his attention on Brad. And while I’m sure that it was scary to have come so close to elimination, having the battles take place so close to his starting spaces meant that it was very easy for him to get new units into battle almost immediately. And then it came to his last turn, with him sitting at 10 points as well. He attacked Brad’s forces again and won, taking a Mission card for 1 point. He hesitated, and I grew anxious. Finally, I asked him point blank if he had another card that he could play for the win, and he answered “No” to my complete delight. As his turn ended, he drew the card that would have won him the game had it come a round earlier.
On my next go, I pushed further into Kenny’s homeland, winning a battle and playing another Secret Mission card to take the game.
Time: 75 minutes
Score: Me 12, Robert 11, Kenny 5, Brad 4
Ratings: Me 8, Robert 9, Kenny 8, Brad 8
I had a lot of fun with Nexus Ops as well. It’s almost too well-designed to be thetotal dicefesty, light-conquest game that it is. From the economy of the rubium, to the discovery of mines and units and the elegant little combat system, all the way to the victory point winning condition (rather than total geographical domination found in many other similar games); this game has a lot going for it. It may be a bit too long for its weight, but we hardly noticed the time because of how much fun we were having. And I really like how getting hit a lot early turned into an advantage for Robert, and that if my slow build/turtling strategy had taken one turn longer, it would have failed. Overall, this is definitely a game that I need to play more.
This is not a totally staged “action shot” set up after the game was actually finished…
Nor are they the droids you’re looking for
Other Games Played
Time: 103 minutes
Score: Steve 206, Brad 189, Carol 170, Ian S 100
Ratings: Steve 9, Brad 8, Carol 9, Ian S 10
Time: 27 minutes
Score: Chris 16, Britt 13
Ratings: Chris 7.5, Britt 7
Time: ? minutes
Score: Chris – 2 wins, Britt – 0 wins
Ratings: Chris 7, Britt 7.5
Time: 52 minutes for 3 games
Game 1: Chris -4, Carol -18, Brad -25, Britt -31
Game 2: Chris 20, Britt -19, Brad -27, Carol -30
Game 3: Britt -6, Chris -7, Brad -19, Carol -21
Ratings: Chris 8.5, Britt 7.5, Brad 7, Carol 7