Uber-Avatar Madness

I registered on BGG on Dec 27, 2002…back when avatars were first getting started and you could buy one for 10 Geek Gold and we were given 10 Geek Gold to do it with. Badges didn’t exist. UberBadges didn’t exist. I bought a badge on September 2, 2005 for 50 Geek Gold and I now have enough to get an UberBadge for another 50 Geek Gold. However, I’ve been struggling finding just the right badge image and I figured while I was at it I’d change my avatar from the Yellow Clans Hut that I’ve grow tired of. I really like playing Maharaja, a game Lisa got me for Christmas, and I really like the artwork.

So…I’ve spent hours and hours working on the stupid avatar and Uberbadge that in the end don’t really mean squat. But, here’s where I’m at in the process and I hope to finish up and buy the Uberbadge soon.

The avatar is an animated image that cycles through the 7 Governors from the game. In the game the Governors are depicted not only in the role tiles players vie for but also on the tiles placed on the Governor’s track. On the tiles, the Governors are color coded by setting over a background field of color. In my avatar I’ve taken an image from the box, split it in two pieces so that the image continues up onto the Uberbadge. The Governors have had all of their colored backgrounds removed and then they’ve been layered onto the avatar box image. Sprinkle in some effects like shadows, buttonizing, text overlays and coloring, and some edge effects; splice them all together in an animated gif and Voilà! …time from your life you’ll never get back!

Hansa

Sophie, Noah, and I played a 3-player game of Hansa this evening. It was my first playing and I must say, it’s an odd one. I’m not really sure what I was hoping for but when the game ended I was less than thrilled about it. I had researched Hansa quite a bit on BGG and its respectable rating of 7.28 and comments from my GeekBuddies steered me to put it on my wishlist. I was excited to play and finally got the kids to join me. Throughout the entire game I felt that I was behind and it was starting to get to me. Both Sophie and Noah were racking up sold goods at an alarming rate and I kept running out of gold just one or two actions short of what I wanted to do. Sophie had the uncanny knack of leaving the ship where it did me very little good. Layer on a good dose of them not wanting to restock the warehouses and I felt like I was getting crushed. But in the end I won by quite a few points due to my lone markets in cities and the fact that I had sold few goods but they were worth a lot of victory points. Now that I’ve had an hour or two for the game to sink in…I’m starting to like it better. The sheer fact that I’m still trying to figure out the best way to balance the actions two hours later is a testament to the quality and depth of the game. Now I’m chomping at the bit to play it against opponents in my gaming group.

The board is a rough depiction of Scandanavia and the waterways the inundate the region. Players are members of the Hansiatic League and they take control of a single ship that plys the waterways (and strangely a land route on the map). The 9 cities of the map contain warehouses that hold one or two goods (tokens depicting one to three barrels in several colors like the blue one in the image above). Play moves clockwise around the table where each player’s turn travels through four distinct phases.

In the first phase, the player receives three gold coins from the bank. In the second phase, the player may optionally restock all empty warehouses on the board. In the third phase, the player takes all of the actions they are willing and able to pay for and in the fourth phase, the player pays any taxes and tolls to the bank bringing his unsold goods and gold coins back down to three each.

Phase three, the meatiest phase, is where the player can move the ship from one city to another but only in the directions indicated by the arrows on the map for one gold coin per hop. When the ship is in a port of call, the player can place markets (wooden discs in the player’s color like the white, orange, and purple chips in the image above) in the city by cashing in a good bought during this or a previous move. The number of market token they place in the market is equal to the number of barrels depicted on the goods they cash in. Player may also buy a single good from the city’s warehouse (if there is one present – see restocking) and the gold coin is paid to the owner of the most markets in the city (or the bank if there is a tie or the city is devoid of markets). Lastly, when the ship is in a port of call where the player has at least one market, the player can sell pairs (or better) of like-colored goods. Selling goods is the only way to convert goods into victory points as the tokens containing the barrels are flipped over and remain in the players cache for end game scoring. After selling though, there is a ‘gotcha’ moment. To sell you must have the ship in a port of call where you have at least one market and when you sell you lose one market in that city. Also, and somewhat more painful, if any other players are holding unsold goods of the same color(s) you sell…then they lose one of the those goods during your sale. OUCH!

There is a stash of five roughly even piles of goods used during restocking and when the fifth pile is needed for a restocking, the game is near the end. When the end game is triggered, you finish the round and end just before the starting player ensuring everyone gets the same number of turns. The player with the most victory points for sold goods plus unsold goods plus victory points for your final market position in the city determines the winner.

Whew! Thank goodness the game is much harder to describe than it is to actually play. Hansa only takes about an hour to play and is listed for ages 10 and up but Noah, at 9, had no problem grasping the mechanics. He even mentioned that had he known more about the victory conditions, he would have done some different things. His final comment was, “Hansa is cool.” What more could you ask for? Come to think of it, I’d like a T-shirt with that on it!

Maharaja: Palace Building in India

Sophie, Noah, and I played our first game of Maharaja: Palace Building in India. Raja is an excellent Wolfgang Kramer/Michael Kiesling offering from 2004.The game covers an indeterminate number of rounds but ends when a player builds their last palace or when scoring has taken place in the city where the governor is sitting on the 10th position of the governor’s track. The board contains 7 cities connected by a network of roads containing one or two villages. Your colored wooden pawn represents an architect that is attempting to build palaces and houses in the region. Your architect travels around the board by traversing the roads that connect the cities and at times you must pay gold coins for their movement.

Each player has an action selection wheel and all players choose their two actions simultaneously. Each player also possesses a role card (from a pool of 6 cards – for the basic game, 7 for the advanced game). Players take turns in the order determined by the number of their role card. On your turn you may build houses in villages (required to travel on the road) or in cities, build palaces on one of the 7 locations in the city (your architect must be present to build anything in a city), move houses, move houses from the quarry to your pool, take gold, modify the order of the governors on the governor track, and take another player’s role card (giving yours to the bank and forcing the other player to take a replacement role card from the bank).

Role cards not only determine turn order but they also grant the holder a special privilege. For example, if you hold the #4 Travelling Monk role card, you can travel the roads for free but any fees that you would have incurred are still paid but instead by the bank.

After each round of turns, the city where the Maharaja sits (the large black pawn) is scored for gold coins. Palaces, cities, and your architect can earn you points and the gold payouts come on a graduated scale for 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on. If you don’t make any points in the city you get no gold for that round.

After each round, the governor chips are adjusted and the Maharaja is moved to the next city where scoring will take place (indicated by the governor at the top of the track). The governor at the bottom of the track indicates where scoring will take place after the current round of scoring but you must be careful not to depend on that too much since one of the actions can adjust which city will be scored after the current round

I liked my first game of Raja but didn’t really get the full effect of the tactics and strategy as expected. I really think the game will change dramatically with more players and in a good way. I now know that you have to be careful to not depend on where houses are in the villages since players can move them during their turn severing your ability to move in some situations. Going earlier in the round can be advantageous at times but so can going later. Stealing a role card and moving the governors on the track can be very advantageous but also costly if you’re a little behind in the current scoring.

The game requires you to make many agonizing decisions and wonderfully captures what I like about Himalaya in that you have to try to predict what other players will do and in what order so that your plans aren’t thwarted. I like being able to play in two different ways by playing in the ‘now’ working towards the current scoring round or playing in the ‘tomorrow’ by leaving behind a legacy of points in the hopes of building a good base for a subsequent scoring round. Add to that the fact that some cities will come around a second time in the game and it’s crucial to leave behind a legacy of points so that you can build on them later in the game.

Blokus Redux

Sophie and I were looking for a quick game after she finished up her homework and after digging around in the game closet she decided on Blokus. It’s been quite awhile since we’ve played and given that I had just talked to a friend at work about it after he received it as a gift, I thought it quite apropos.

All four colors of the Tetris-shaped tiles (blue, red, yellow, and green) are always used in the game. For two players, each player plays two colors. For three players, you alternate playing the fourth color, and for four players you each play a single color. The object of the game is to get rid of all of your tiles and as a bonus lay your single square tile as your last play. The board is a square grid made to accept and to hold the tiles securely in place. Each player must start in a corner and when a tile is placed, it must touch one of the previously placed tiles but only at the corners. A tile can touch any of the other colors but at no point can any of the same colored tiles lay directly against one another (you can see two yellow corners touching in the image as an example).

In general, early turns are quickly taken while each player expands out from their respective corners. It’s only when the colors start colliding and competing for the every shrinking real estate does it get interesting. The game has won awards and is a great way to keep the brain juices warmed up.