Analog Game Night – August 2009

We met at Bob’s house for the August 2009 installment of Analog Game Night. Bob, Jared, and I have been on a buying binge lately and have several games in the wings that we’re itching to get played. So for the last couple of game nights we’ve been sending out links to the rules of at least two games we’d like to get to the table so that if anybody wants to read up on the rules before coming they’ve got easy access to the information. I think it’s been working well. I don’t know if anybody is reading the rules but it at least gets the games to play narrowed down to some reasonable amount so we don’t waste time hemmin’ and hawin’ about what to play out of a big collection.

We split into two groups of three and at the far end of the table, Bob taught Chicago Express while at the near end, I taught Keythedral. The Chicago Express group finished up about 20 minutes before my Keythedral group and they broke out Sushizok im Gockelwok as a filler until we finished.

We lost Tim at the break and after hanging out a bit eating food and talking shop in the kitchen we looked over Bob’s collection and decided we had a rare opportunity to play the same game back to back so we set up Chicago Express again and Brian and I joined the group making five.

Chicago Express is a medium-light “route-building” game. It’s lighter than Stephenson’s Rocket but heavier than Ticket to Ride. For our group, it’s positioned nicely in the bell-curve of complexity of what people usually enjoy. It’s listed at 60 minutes for 2-6 players; a neat package to get a medium-weight game covering that large spectrum of players in such a short play time.

I’ll not go into the rules but at a high-level, players vie to earn the most money and to ear that money, they purchase shares of stock in various train companies. Players holding stock have the opportunity to raise more capital by auctioning more shares, expand the train’s network across the eastern half of the USA, or build houses along the route enhancing revenue. At various points during the game, dividends are paid out to stockholders.

There are a couple of interesting items to note:

Somewhat akin to the mechanic in Steel Driver, the money bid to buy a share of a company doesn’t go to the bank. Instead, this money is placed in the company coffers and is used by players holding stock and wishing to extend the line. This approach adds a nice touch to the game since players may need to raise their bid higher than they’d like so that the company has enough money when it comes to build across occupied cities or over the mountains where track gets expensive. Shares of stock have minimum values based on the current income level of the company and the number of issued shares. This keeps the stock price high for those late game purchases that one might otherwise wish to offer a low-ball bid.

The other interesting item to note is the lack of selling off your shares at the end of the game. The game end is triggered when one of several situations occur and at the end of the round a final general dividend is paid and everybody counts their money. In many games it’s common to sell off the items you amassed throughout the game but in CE, your job is to maximize your earning without selling off your shares at the end. I was thrown off a bit by this but I think it may prevent large swings in final money counts that might occur otherwise.

Overall, CE is a good game. I’m not convinced something isn’t amiss with the way the red train has the potential to dominate the map without a third shareholder actively sabotaging the efforts of the player holding two shares. Time will tell.

Keythedral is categorized as an auction/bidding game but that seems a bit off. It’s an older game, published originally in 2002, for 2-5 players lasting about 90 minutes. The designer, Richard Breese (Reef Encounter) designed the game to fit in a series of games (The Key Series) set in a fictional location called Keydom. At the time it was compared to the much older Settlers of Catan and named the next game Catan players should migrate to. I have no idea what precipitated that thought because I found little to no similarity between the two games beyond a vague sense of familiarity during the initial setup.

Players vie to earn victory points. The game begins by players flipping up octagonal-shaped terrain tiles and placing them on the table to form the map of Keydom. In between the tiles, players place numbered cottages. During play, the cottages house workers who emerge into the adjacent tiles to work the ground to produce resources. Players take turns placing tiles and (somewhat like Settlers) the initial setup of cottages can be crucial to having a fighting chance.

Once the map is built, players take turns selecting which numbered cottage will emit worker(s) into the fields. Workers in fields block workers trying to emerge from a cottage later in the round. Once all workers have been placed, players receive the resources their workers produced and players enter a phase of the game where they can use resources to buy victory points, upgrade cubes to different kinds of cubes only available from their respective craftsmen, etc. The game is really a cube shuffling and turn order manipulation game but I found it quite enjoyable to play. The rules are much easier to grasp than Breese’s Reef Encounter but the game still clocks as a relatively heavy game.

There are a few interesting items to note:

At the end of each round, players can use some of their cubes to bid for the ability to select the start player for the next round. The start player always moves to the next player at the end of the round and the player to the new start player’s left starts the bidding. Players can pass or must bid higher than any previous bid (with the exception of the last bidder – the new start player). This player only has to match the highest bid. But the twist is that the winner bidder must give the cubes bid to the last bidder that was outbid! Once the privilege is won, the player can choose the start player for the round.

There is a phase of the game where play moves around the table until all players are done taking actions. Each time around the table, players can take one action or pass. Passing doesn’t mean you’re out though. If not everybody passes you can come back in and take another action. However, your ability to take actions can be cut short if, as your action, you purchase a “Law” card. The law cards allow you to do special things throughout the game and they’re usually good for one event and then they’re discarded. The Law cards adjust the parameters of the game allowing players to pay less for items than that listed, force other players to pay more, etc.

And finally, players are given three fences and during the phase of the game mentioned above, players can build fences around cottages to prevent workers from emerging into the adjacent fields. Wise fence placement can turn an under-producing field (always gets shut out during worker placement) into a something useful. However, watch out for those Law cards, players can jump fences, build more fences, etc. to thwart even the best laid plans. I liked Keythedral a lot and look forward to more plays.

Well, enough rambling. Thanks for hosting Bob.

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