Two Quick Session Reports

Over lunch on Friday I played Masons with Rich and John S. It was my first play but the game is extremely easy to learn and I’d read through the rules a couple of times and felt comfortable teaching it. Forgive the crap-cam cell phone image.

Masons is not, as you might expect from the way the board looks, an area control game. Instead, the game is an abstract battle of walling off territory spanning three segments of the board. The theme is city building but in my opinion you might as well throw that out the window and just think of it as doo-dad placement.

On each turn, you pick up a wooden wall segment and place it anywhere on the board. You then roll three dice; one depicts the color of tower that must be placed on one end of your wall segment (if it’s still unpopulated). If the other end of your wall is also unpopulated, you choose the tower color of your choice. The other two dice represent the color of houses that must be placed on the board. One house is placed on one side of your wall and the other is placed on the other side. The die does have a wildcard ‘?’ symbol that allows you to choose the color of your choice.

If you don’t complete a city (by enclosing a segment of the board completely within wooden wall, then your turn is over. If you complete a city, pairs of like colored houses within the city are exchanged for a palace and the player who placed the wall has an opportunity to tear down an adjoining wall with one other city forming a single large city from the two. Once complete a scoring round begins and you can play one or two cards to influence your score. Each player scores in turn and the next round begins. Regardless of the number of cards you play (one or two) during scoring, you can only pick up one card. You may also discard a card and draw two cards as a replacement (you score no points).At the end of a scoring round, all players tied for last place may discard N cards and draw N replacement cards.

The cards depict various board layouts that determine how many points you score. Some refer to the just completed city. For example, a card might grant you 2 points for every white tower in the city. Another might grant the player points for the number of pink houses within the city. Other cards depict scoring opportunities for the entire board. For example, you can score points for all towers not connected to a city that are also next to the shore line (the edges of the board). Others, grant points for the number of blue houses not in cities. Still other cards depict scoring opportunities for one of the three Guild areas on the board.

Overall I like the game quite a bit. It is more abstract that I was expecting but keep in mind that to me, abstract isn’t a very long four-letter word. I am looking forward to more games.

Lisa and I got in a game of Thurn & Taxis last night. It was her first play but I’m thinking she liked it quite a bit. She was pretty tired but was willing to (what she felt) slog through the rules. But after a few turns she perked up and her fighting spirit kicked in. By the end, I managed to beat her by only a few points. Her comment was that she liked the game because it didn’t feel like a hard-core cerebral experience. She likes highly strategic games too but she was glad to have access to a game that is fun, is more meaty than Ticket to Ride, and doesn’t cook your brain making you feel like you won’t sleep the rest of the night.


Manilla and Thurn & Taxis – Learning the Rules

Noah and I broke out Manilla on Friday night. It’s designed for 3-5 players but we decided to just play a few sample rounds to get a feel for it.

The game is composed of long rectangular board depicting the harbor and shipyards of Manilla (supposedly), three wooden punts that hold a spice board and 3 to 4 pawns, commodity cards in four types of goods. Each turn requires players to bid pesos for the position of harbormaster. Once won, the player loads three of the four goods types onto three punts, places the punts at the beginning of the ‘river’. Players then go through a round of positioning their pawns on the board in hopes of being at that position when the punts end their journey. Different positions have a higher return on investment and therefore cost more.

There are positions in the harbor for those punts that make the complete journey (get to position 13 or above after three rolls of the dice). There are positions in the shipyard for those punts that don’t make it to the harbor, positions for pirates to board or plunder ships that stop on position 13, positions for two types of ‘pilots’ who can aid (or hinder) punts heading up the river, and a position as an insurance agent hoping that most punts will make it to the harbor requiring little to no repairs.

After three rounds of rolling dice, advancing punts, and placing pawns, you resolve the pay outs, move commodity values up in the goods chart and begin again auctioning off the position of harbormaster.

Manilla is said to play like the game of ‘Craps’ which I know nothing about but I’ll take their word for it. It appears to be a dice-fest with some light theme thrown in but I can see why some people get into it. Knowing and playing the odds of the dice in conjunction with the thematic addition of pirates and pilots seems like a ball of fun. I’m eager to play a full game with my gaming group to see what their reaction is.

On Saturday night, Sophie and I pulled out Thurn & Taxis, made short work of the rules and played a quick game for two. I’ve read on more than one occasion that Th&T is reminiscent of Ticket to Ride and I can see the resemblance but I must say that it is fleeting.

In Th&T you do build stagecoach postal mail routes across the map but there is very little conflict as there can be in TtR. You cannot directly block another player’s attempt to build a route in Th&T. There are no secret goal cards as in TtR but there is a stack of exposed cards that you can choose to select a card from on your turn. That’s about the extent of the similarities. Yep…that’s about it.

I may seem a little down on the game but in actuality I quite like the game and I’m glad I have it in my collection now. It does fit well as a Gateway game to be introduced to new gamers without fear of chasing them off with complex or confusing rules. It does, however, have enough meat to it to interest heavier gamers. Not much…but just enough.

The board depicts a series of cities, grouped by color-coded counties, connected through a network of roads. Most cities are connected to at least two other adjacent cities. On the side of the board are 6 exposed city cards available to players on their turn. Some counties hold small numbered chips available to each player when they’ve built a mail stop in all of the cities of the county (or pair of counties). Chips are also available to those that build routes of length 5 or greater. In addition, there are chips for other situations allowing players to vie for points as they complete routes. Along the top of the board are stagecoach cards numbered 3 through 7. Player complete routes through the game and attempt to gather each numbered stagecoach (in order, one per player).

A turn is composed of taking one card and playing a card onto the single route you’re building in your play area. Your route cards are laid down in front of you (in a line) and the card you lay must be placed at either end of your route and must represent a city adjacent to the city depicted on the last card of the row (no duplicated allowed). At the end of your turn you can optionally ‘cash in’ your route and position mail stops on the cities from your route.

The positioning of mail stops on the route can take one of two forms: you can either place all of your stops in a single county or you can lay a single stop in each county traversed by your route. It’s this rule that bites you right in the butt when you wish you could do both.

There are also four special powers available to each player and one of them must be used during each turn. One power lets you clear the 6 cards replenishing them from the draw pile (before you take your card). Another lets you take two cards instead of one. A third lets you lay down 2 cards instead of one. The final power lets you add up to two to the length of your ‘cashed in’ route allowing you to take the next higher valued stagecoach card that you wouldn’t normally be able to reach.

The first player who takes the ‘seven’ stagecoach card or builds his last mail stop triggers the end game. The round is played to the end, points are tallied and the player with the highest number wins.

I like the feel of the game but I’m not very fond of the color scheme. It’s difficult to determine which cities are adjacent at a glance and I can imagine the board can get pretty confusing when determining if you have covered all of the cities in the county. Sophie and I played several of the rules incorrectly but we did catch ourselves mid game. We initially missed the rule about decreasing your hand size down to 3 cards every time you cash in a route. No wonder we seemed to be able to stock up a large hand size pretty quickly. We also missed the rule that a route had to be at least 3 cards in size. We did manage to see the rule that requires you to throw your entire route away scoring nothing if you find yourself in the position of not being able to play a valid card on either end of your route. That bit both of us badly during the game.


The Game Order

I placed my order but I was having problems figuring out how I could use both of my gift certificates in one online order. Thanks to the great online support from Game Surplus, they issued me a new Gift Code that would cover both of my gift certificates and I was able to check out without any problems whatsoever. Good service and good prices are the reasons I keep going back to Game Surplus. Check them out!


Final List for my Game Surplus Order

I’m pretty sure this is going to be my final list. I bagged Age of Steam and Elasund because I really can’t see them getting played in my group. I’ll have to find a chance to play them at CABS sometime.

The following list gets me up to $107.75 plus shipping so it hits my $110 gift certificate from Game Surplus almost right on the nose. All or the images below were yanked from BGG but I’ve linked them to their original gallery so that the authors can get the credit they deserve. Give them a thumbs-up recommendation if you like the image.

– Manila – $31
– Thurn & Taxis – $21.50
– Kreta – $29.50
– Masons – $25.75


AGN September 2006 – Lame Session Reports

I’ll come right out and apologize for the lame posting of AGN September 2006 and my Labor Day Weekend Gaming festivities. I was toast after game night and then ended up working until 4:15am this morning. So, you’re getting what you’re getting mostly because I’m tired and I just want to get the monkey off my back.

On Sunday night, Lisa and I played a game of Jambo. As usual my tactics drove me to be card poor the entire game. Unfortunately, I don’t play often enough to have developed a strategy of play. I do, however, know that the strategy I naturally gravitate to is, at a minimum, dumb. Lisa usually kills me and this playing was no exception. It came down to me risking that she couldn’t tie me with 67 gold coins so I sold all my wares and she came up with 20 gold coins on her last turn clocking in 69. Sheesh…I stink at Jambo.

On Monday, my gaming group met to play a lively round of Ra. As you can see from the picture, it was hard to keep everyone contained. This was the group’s first playing (my third) and my first attempt at teaching it. I felt ill-prepared and our first round was a real stinker. I think we had at least 2 or 3 major rule breaks but I think by the end we were playing correctly. I’d like to play a few more times but even after 3 plays I’m trying to figure out if I like it.

Our final game was Dos Rios. This game is a keeper. I like the tension, the chaos, and the struggle to find a good stategy for not having your guys thrown into the city on every turn.

I suspect that after a few plays one might arrive at an approach to playing the game that you use all the time regardless of the tile layout. At that point I can see the game getting boring but I do enjoy the hunt for that good strategy.

That’s all I can muster at this point. Thanks for hosting Rich. I’m exhausted and I’ve gotta hit the sack.


Carolus Magnus for Four

I finally got to play a four-player game of Carolus Magnus tonight. Most Euros are either solitary or group/cooperative endeavours but Carolus Magnus morphs from an every player for themselves format with two or three into a partnership format with four. The game plays well with two and really well with three and I was looking forward to trying it out with four.

I think I’d still give the nod to the three player format on sheer tension but the four player format comes in a close second. The great thing about playing with four is that it turns the game into a great family game since parents can partner with the kids making the kids feel like they’re part of a strong team going head to head with the other side trying to beat mom or dad.

Are there other games out there that have this morphing quality? If so, I’d like to know.

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Initial Short List

Here’s my initial short list of selections I’m considering buying with my gift certificate and some comments about them. I can’t get all of them but the exact number I do purchase depends on cost.

If you have any feedback on them I would greatly appreciate it.

  • Manila
    I like the looks of this game and the ‘fun’ nature of it. It’s all about barges, freight, and profits that depend on the roll of the dice. I’ve heard CABS members, on several occasions, laughing and groaning while playing. It literally sounds like it must be fun to play.
  • Thurn and Taxis
    Commonly referred to as a good Gateway game for those that like Ticket to Ride. A route building game centered around stagecoach mail delivery and designed by Andreas and Karen Seyfarth (Puerto Rico and San Juan), Thurn and Taxis will definitely make the final cut.
  • Age of Steam
    An oldie but a goodie. A game that many serious gamers have in their collection. However, my fear is that my group won’t be interested in playing it. I suspect it will sit much like Power Grid or Reef Encounter where the complexity and the length of play (about 2 hours) exceeds their interest level.
  • Elasund
    Based on the original Settlers of Catan game, players vie to build the premier city of Catan. I’ve only seen the game played at CABS but it looked very interesting. It appears to play nothing like Settlers which I appreciate but there appears to be much more of a ‘screw the leader’ feel to it which I find annoying.
  • Kreta
    I’m a Stefan Dorra fan (Amazonas, For Sale) and of area control games. The look of this game, the theme (harvesting grapes and olives), and the manufacturing quality look fantastic. A highly rated, 60 minute game for 2-4 is hard to beat.
  • Kingdoms
    Coming highly rated from someone I work with, and having Reiner Knizia as the designer…it’s probably a sufficiently interesting game. The production quality looks a little cheesy but then again, if the game is good enough I can let that slide.
  • Masons
    I’m also a Leo Colovini fan (Clans, Carolus Magnus, Inkognito). Sounding a little boring by now I’m sure, but it seems like you can’t go wrong with a highly rated game with superbly manufactured components and designed by one of the best designers.