Cambria Arrives

I was contacted through BGG and received a copy of Cambria for review. I’ve only played one game so far and haven’t collected enough material for my review but I thought you might like to see a few images and get up to speed with what I’m currently playing around with.

Although I can’t comment at length yet on the game itself, the fact that it supports 3-5 players and possesses a small number of bits, minimal space requirements, and quick play time (20 minutes!), I’m thinking Vainglorious Games and Eric Vogel may have a great little lunchtime game to play at work.

Festival Internacional de Juegos Córdoba 2008

The Festival Internacional de Juegos held in Cordoba, Spain held a gaming photography competition this year and so I figured I’d give it a shot by sending in a few entries. Along with several prizes they were going to pick 29 images to show in an exhibit in the Palacio de la Merced in Cordoba.

Although I didn’t win any of the prizes I did manage to have two of my entries selected for the exhibit of 29 images. I’m honored to have two images selected from the 306 images sent in from 22 countries.

An online virtual exhibit can be found here. Thanks and it was fun.

My images are macro shots from the games Manila and Torres.

Working Through the Rules – Yspahan

I cracked the shrink and set up the board for some sample rounds of Yspahan tonight. After cracking the box there was nothing to “punch”. The only cardboard in the box was the main board, the smaller tower board, the smaller caravan board, and the four individual player boards. The game is chock full of dice, three yellow and nine white, lots of little brown camel-eeples, cubes, wooden discs (gold), a small deck of cards, a couple of white cubes for keeping track of the rounds, a white pawn to represent the supervisor, and a black pawn to represent the starting player.

Everything appears well made but I have to admit that my heart sank a bit when I pulled out the rules. The book uses the same dreadful font and layout as Amyitis and Caylus. I was 50/50 for slogging through the rules on previous Ystari games and I felt a catch in my throat as a wave of doom spread over me. However, my fears were assuaged after just one pass through the small rule booklet and I sat down to play a few sample rounds.

The theme of the game pits players against one another as they populate souks in the four neighborhoods of the city. Each souk is composed of one or more individual buildings of a single color and players attempt to place cubes on those buildings. The game progresses across three seven-day weeks and the neighborhoods are cleared at the end of each week. The more souks you complete the more points you get. However, to complicate matters, an intersection between two streets separate the neighborhoods and the supervisor moves up and down the street. Whenever he stops, cubes in neighboring shops are moved to the caravan board. Sometimes players want cubes on the caravan board and sometimes they don’t. When and which cubes to move is a decision the player would rather make rather than to have it foisted upon them by another player.

Each day of the week is played out by having the starting player roll a handful of dice and allotting them in like-numbered groups, lowest to highest, to the Tower board. Once allotted, players take turns selecting a level of the tower, taking the dice (leaving subsequent players with less to choose from) and taking the actions allowed for that level. Taking a set of dice is compulsory and actions range from taking gold, moving the supervisor, taking a card, taking camels, or placing cubes in the souks.

How the dice affect the cardinality of your move is somewhat confusing. When you place cubes you use the number of dice on the level. When you move the supervisor you move him the number of pips displayed on the dice. When you take a card, the dice don’t matter. A small cheat sheet would be helpful for beginners but I suspect it becomes old hat after a few plays.

After your compulsory action, players can optionally build one of the special buildings depicted on the individual players boards. Most of the buildings cost the player camels and gold and grant the player special abilities throughout the rest of the game: getting extra camels, extra gold, adjusting the movement of the supervisor, moving a cube to the caravan board, extra points when souks are scored at the end of the week, and placing extra cubes when populating souks.

The rules are pretty straight forward but the thin theme doesn’t allow for them to sink in. It will take a few plays to keep everything straight. The rules will need to stay close at hand.

After reading what I’ve written it sounds a little harsher than I intended although accurate. I’m confident I’ll enjoy the game and look forward to my first play. Anything that will let me use my dice tower can be all bad.

Tinners’ Trail Finally Arrives

I’m not usually one to spend a lot of money on a game, let alone a game that is only a limited run. Tinners’ Trail is a new venture from WarFrog Games and designed by Martin Wallace best known for his train/rail and war games. Tinners’ Trail sets firmly in the Eurogame camp supporting 3-4 players running about 75 minutes.

The box is signed by the designer and I secured #1206 out of the 1500 produced from the first run. It was shipped on the slow boat from England and it took about 8 weeks to arrive. Unfortunately the game box is almost an exact fit to the shipping box (no padding) and it suffered a relatively severe crush on one side. Luckily it only wrinkled the box and didn’t cause any splits or harm the contents of the box.

The theme of the game pits players against each other in the role of competing mining companies in Cornwall. The game lasts 4 rounds and each round comprises 7 phases:

  1. Determine Ore Prices
  2. Available Developments
  3. Player Actions
  4. Sell Ore
  5. External Investment
  6. Prospect
  7. End of Turn – Final Scoring

Players attempt to build their 6 mines across Cornwall in an attempt to mine ore (tin & copper) at the lowest cost. The right to build a mine in a territory is auctioned off for cash and once built it cannot be moved. The cost to mine ore is determine by the number of water cubes in the region. The more water that exists, the higher the cost to mine. The use of water to drive cost is actually very thematic. Mines in Cornwall tended to be very wet and the deeper they dug the more water they found increasing cost.

The number of ore cubes you can mine during your turn is determined by many factors including the having a miner in the territory, if you’ve build a port (which helps bring coal to run the steam pumps – water again!), if you’ve built a railroad, or if you’ve built an adit (a horizontal tunnel into the side of the hill used to lessen the cost of draining water).

The first phase of the game sets the ore prices in the market which informs players which type of ore will be more profitable in the round. The second phase restocks an area of the board with the resources that will be available for building this round (adit, miner, port, railroad, steam pumps). The meat of the game is the action phase where players manager how best to use 10 “time points” to build resources and mine ore. Several actions cost money to build but all cost points on the “time track”. An interesting point to make is that turn order is somewhat like Thebes. The player farthest back on the time track is always the active player. With this rule, a player may take several actions before another player can react. In addition, the first player to pass will become the player that goes first in the following round.

Once all actions have been taken and the turn order has been determined for the following round, players the sell all of the ore that they’ve mined that round for its current market price. After receiving the cash, players then have the option of investing some of their money into companies outside of Cornwall. The earlier in the game you invest, the bigger payout you’ll have at the end of the game and investments drive the number of victory points you have. So invest wisely but not too much otherwise you may find yourself not being able to win auctions to build new mines where you want and not being able to pay for extracting the ore you need to ear money from the market.

As you can probably tell I’m pretty excited about this game. The mechanics seem very clean and although relatively simple, there is a multi-step process to turn ore into money into victory points. You can feel that there is some depth there. Throw in a healthy dose of theme which really seems to mesh well with the mechanics and you’ve got a sweet game. Anybody want to come over and play right now!

Analog Game Night – October 2008

We started October’s AGN with a round of Winner’s Circle. The intent wasn’t to play an entire game but to just test the waters with a round to see what people thought of it.

Overall, I just got a “meh” sort of feeling. We played with the Royal Turf “variant” where all of the horse cards have differing “horse head” values as well as playing with the “zero” betting chip. Matching the colors of the cards to the appropriate horse was problematic and a pain in the horses ass so I may look into what others have done (if anything) to combat this.

After rolling, the decision as to which horse to move seemed pretty straightforward. Which three horses made it across the finish line seemed left up to the luck of the die. I’m unclear whether much thought has to be put into which horse to bet on or is it a crap shoot.

I’m sure it’s not but I’ll definitely need more plays to raise my rating and to revive the hopes I had in the game.

We split into two groups of three with the near end playing Taj Mahal and my end playing Santiago. I look a little bored (the guy wearing the hat) but I assure you I wasn’t.

It was my first playing of Santiago and I like it. I can see real potential in the game. I know it doesn’t shine with three but it’s clear that the game is good. Especially if all players play with the same style. Analytical players that can work through the math quickly are at an advantage over those that don’t since they’ll be on top of what a bribe should be to come out ahead. However, if all players are either analytical/mathematical or “play by the gut” I think you’ve got a sweet game.

The game features an auction component for players to bid on turn order to select the plantation tile of their choice. You only get a once around the table shot at bidding so you’ve got to plan ahead. After obtaining a tile you must place it and put some cubes on the tile. Your goal is to create clumps of like colored tiles. The bigger the clump and the more cubes you have scattered on that clump, the better off you are. However, there are two very important catches. Every tile in the clump must be watered (adjacent to a blue irrigation stick) and the placement of that stick is up to the person who placed the last tile in the round. Players are allowed to bribe the player with money to place the stick in an area that’s advantageous to them. Unwatered tiles slowly atrophy (potentially over several rounds) until turning to desert creating a blighted spot in the clump.

Another important point to note is that money equals points so every time you bid you’re losing points relative to other players. In addition, every time a player accepts your bribe you’re giving that player some of your points.

Three of us hung for the final game of Stone Age. I decided to try the “starvation strategy” without really knowing very much about how to pull it off. The starvation strategy represents an approach to playing where you ramp up your caveman counts as quickly as possible while ignoring feeding them. Although you take a 10 point hit every round if you can buy enough points every round your gains will eclipse your losses. Well, I’m happy to report that I failed miserably and came in a distant third. I suspect most of the problem was my ignorant execution but I did get burned a few times on uncharacteristically bad die rolls closing me out of buying multiple buildings in the same round. I ended up with seven buildings and a five multiplier in civ cards but that was all I could accomplish. I’m unclear if the strategy works better or worse with more players. I’ll try it again some time and report on how it goes.

A Couple of New Titles

I wasn’t actively looking to acquire any new games but a member of my game group contacted a BGG member about purchasing a couple of games from his collection so I looked through his collection and sent him an offer for New England and Santiago. He was coming to Columbus for the annual CABS gaming convention so I met up with him this morning to pick up the games. Both games are in excellent condition; I was flabbergasted that New England is still “unpunched” (meaning the cardboard bits are still attached to the sprues).

New England and Santiago are older games (2003) designed by Aaron Weissblum, Alan R. Moon and Claudia Hely, Roman Pelek respectively. New England is a tile laying game for 3-4 players and lasts about 90 minutes.

From BGG:

There are three types of land in the game, land for settlements, land for crops, and land for animals. Players each start with some of each land. Each round, players bid (using a new mechanic) to buy more land, to build cities, to plant crops, and to graze herds. There are also ships to buy and Pilgrims to entice to your land. Players always want to both acquire more land and to develop their land, but you can only do a limited number of things each turn, so there are tough choices to be made throughout. You need money for everything of course, and you never have enough!

Santiago, is also a tile laying game for 3 to 5 players and lasts about 75 minutes.

From BGG:

This game is about cultivating and watering fields. To accomplish this, a number of tiles denoting various plantation types come into the game each round. The tiles are auctioned off such that each player gets one, and the tiles are then placed onto the game board along with an ownership marker that also indicates how plentiful the tile’s yield will be. Whoever bid the lowest in each round gets to be the canal overseer and decides where a canal will be built that round. The other players may make suggestions to help the canal overseer decide, and back up their suggestions with money. The final decision is always wholly up to the overseer, though.

At the end of each round, players determine what the water supply situation looks like. Should a plantation not be sufficiently watered, its production drops dramatically; should it happen more than once, then that plantation may revert to fallow ground. At game’s end, naturally only the cultivated land counts. Each plantation is counted according to type – the bigger the better. But since the ownership markers play a role as well, the same plantation can give drastically different points for different players.

I initially shied away from both games because they both include an auction/bidding component that, in the past, was a turn off. However, as I play more games, an auction/bidding component doesn’t drive me away like it used to. I’ll hold back on describing my reasons as it would take an entire blog post to cover the topic. I’ll save that for another time.

Teaching Myself Hermagor

Right after opening the box, I was pleased with the production quality of Hermagor‘s components. The wooden bits are nicely painted, glossy, and well formed. The color scheme is very pleasing and the artwork is superb providing a rich experience and without getting in the way of discerning your position on the board.

At a high level, the game reminds me somewhat of hybrid of Elfenland and Thurn & Taxis with a economic market thrown in for spice.

Your goal is to earn the most money and to do that you must first obtain goods to sell on your travels around the map on the board. To obtain goods, you “bid” for them by placing tokens in the market in the rows and columns and on top of the tiles/goods that interest you paying for your placement. At the end of bidding, a mini-area control game determines the winners and losers. After awarding tiles and money for the placement of your bidding tokens, numerous actions are performed by players in an attempt to move a traveler around the map selling the goods you’ve purchased in cities willing to buy them.

The catch however is that you must be clever in choosing what order to sell your goods because only certain cities purchase certain goods and you can only stop and sell in each city once. Purchasing the right tiles in the right order and organizing your travel plans based on what tiles you managed to obtain (and keeping your travel costs to a minimum) will make your brain swell in a good way.

For added goodness, the tiles you purchase can also allow you to increase the value of the goods when sold as well as determining the value of having sold that kind of good at the end of the game. As if that’s not enough, there are bonuses for selling in all of the cities in distinct regions on the board and along a “the main” road.

After reading the rules and playing a few sample rounds the mechanics of play seem relatively straightforward. Like most games, knowing what move to make and when only comes with practice and numerous plays. Game night is coming up and I’d like to get this to the table. La Citta or Hermagor…or both. Hmmm. So many games, so little time.