CABS – 04/08/06

There wasn’t an overturned ammonia truck hampering attendees this week but there was some pretty severe weather and an active tornado watch in the area. I don’t attempt to keep track of the number of attendees but I would estimate that there were close to 100 throughout the evening. I arrived at 7:00pm to a pretty full house and I had to wait until about 7:30pm to get in on a game. I packed a bag with China, Mesopotamia, Hansa, For Sale, and Samurai as a Plan B when/if we started standing around the game cabinet trying to figure out what to play. This meeting was very enjoyable and I didn’t get home until 4:30 this morning!

First up was my copy of China designed by Michael Schacht for a 4-player game with one seasoned player, two new players, and myself with only one game under my belt. Due to the seating arrangements, the seasoned player was to my left and the new players weren’t taking advantage of emissary opportunities and/or they would trigger a opportunity that couldn’t be ignored. Because of this, I had to play a mostly emissary based strategy. Although I was last on the track for house scoring points I blew away the field by dominating the bottom half of the board for the emissary scoring. Although I can chalk it up as my inaugural win at CABS, to be honest, it was handed to me on a platter.

Next up was Alan’s copy of Inkognito designed by Alex Randolph and Leo Colovini in cahoots with Venice Connection. I’ve played Inkognito several times and I was up for the deductive challenge. Nunzilla was particularly cruel with doling out the white balls but in the end I was able to declare the win by naming my partner and meeting my team’s mission goal. In the gap between games we lost a player to a better opportunity opening up at another table but we were able to pick up a replacement player and we sat down for a back to back playing of Inkognito.

This time everyone knew the goals and their partners pretty early on but Nunzilla was not cooperating. At one point, a player told the following player (his partner), “you better not roll three whites”…and sure enough, he did. My partner and I both failed to roll a black ball to move the ambassador one silly space for the win, and finally the player to my left rolled what he needed to declare the win.

One of the players had to leave but we picked up another player and pulled out Maharaja designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling. I was a little concerned during the rules explanation because the new player was spending a fair amount of time convincing his girlfriend (a CABS observer) that he wouldn’t be long…it would be all right…we’ll leave right after I’m done. Leaving in the middle of a game is just a big gaming faux pas and I felt like we were right on the cusp. In the end, it worked out fine.

Unfortunately, we handed one of the players the win by letting him hold onto the Role 1 card too long without jumping out ahead of the pack and going for a future city or choosing to manipulate the governor track. It was an oddly played game but still fun. Maharaja remains one of my favorites.

Now…the gem of the evening: Nautilus designed by Brigitte and Wolfgang Ditt. From what I understand, Nautilus is the only game this husband and wife team have designed and wow, to come onto the scene with a game like this is incredible. The game calls for players to build an underwater research station tasked with finding Atlantis. Players build habitation modules loaded with scientists, place research modules in various colors, move scientists around the station to activate the research modules, launch submarines into the deep, explore the trenches for treasure and signs of Atlantis. The game is classified as a Set Collection game but there is so much going on in the game that it seems a shame to stamp it as a Set Collection game. Money is so tight in the game that it has some of the same resource management aspects as something like Power Grid.

Each player has their own score board/playing mat that due to its layout snookered me into playing it like you would Ingenious. You have several aspects to your play mat (green – scientist movement, gray – sub movement, brown – sonar strength, blue – super sonar, black – treasure value) and throughout the game you move a marker for each aspect forward increasing your ability in that area (e.g. increasing your ability to move through the station or increasing the distance your sonar can ‘see’). However, you get bonus points for that aspect if you are the most powerful player in that aspect. Being the most powerful is extremely important even at the expense of some other aspect which is very unlike Ingenious where you cannot ignore your lowest score.

Scoring in Nautilus is easy to calculate but somewhat unique. Your play mat is divided into two sections. On one side is the ‘Ingenious’-like scoring track for the five aspects of play. On the other side, is the area where you place the treasures you’ve located with your sonar and subs. There is a special spot on that side as well that is filled in with a chit that numbers from 1-5 (see below). Your final score is the sum of your left side points multiplied by the sum of the points on the rights side of the mat.

Now, where does this 1-5 chit come from. While your subs are out finding treasure, they can uncover pieces of Atlantis. These pieces are numbered from 1-15 and those pieces, when found are placed on a small board near the main board (the small colorful board just below center on the left side of the image) . Players vie for having found the most number of pieces of Atlantis. Ties are broken by finding the piece with the largest value. At the end of the game, players grab the 1-5 chits based on how they faired in the Atlantis chip finding business.

Nautilus is a fascinating game. The play time is longer than I would normally gravitate towards but I really like it. I think it took us almost 2.5 – 3 hours to play but I really didn’t notice it. There is very little downtime and it’s rarely so clear what to do that you can’t spend some time thinking about what to do next. The theme of Nautilus is very nicely integrated into the game (e.g. subs have a 3D movement component that allows them to ‘fly’ over the station). The integration of the trench depths into the cost of building a station is ingenious as is the use of octagonal tiles which force games to play very differently from one to the next. The various ways to score points keeps the mind humming trying to find the best approach to managing your money, your position on the play mat, your number of scientists free to move around the station, your position on the Atlantis board, and the position and strength of your three subs you’ve deployed.


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