Review – For Sale

This evening I didn’t have much time for gaming. Unfortunately I missed the special 3rd weekend of CABS gaming this month. I did have just enough time to run up to the meeting to drop off the copy of San Marco I had checked out but then I rushed home.

With what was left of the evening I did manage to crack open my copy of For Sale. For Sale is an extremely quick card game that supports 3-6 players and only lasts about 15 minutes per game. It makes a great opener/closer for game nights or a game you can chat over when the in-laws are visiting.

The game, designed by Stefan Dorra and published by Uberplay comes in a very nice box. There are two decks, each with 30 cards. One deck is composed of pieces of ‘real estate’ numbered 1-30. The other deck of 30 cards depicts personal checks with values from $2000 up to $15,000 with a few voided checks thrown in worth $0. The only other component of the game is a pile of silver $1000 coins and a few gold $2000 coins printed on thick cardboard.

Your goal is to purchase auctioned property using the money you’re given at the beginning of the game. Once you’ve purchased properties (everyone will have the same number), you sell them off and the player with the most money at the end of the game is the winner.

The game is played in two phases. In the first phase, property cards are turned face up and placed in the center of the table (one per player). The starting player bids a number of coins and bidding continues around the table. If you bid you must outbid the previous bidder. If you pass, then you take the real estate card with the least value left in the center of the table and you take back half of your bid rounded up. Bidding continues with properties being taken by those that pass. When only one player is left with the highest bid, that player takes the last card (the highest valued property) but must pay his full bid amount to the bank. You’re not required to bid to obtain a card. In other words, you can immediately pass and take the lowest valued property for free. The last player to take the property card starts next round of bidding.

Bidding rounds continue until all of the property cards have been purchased. Any money you have left from this phase is held until the end of the game. Purchased property cards are held face down by the players and are used during the second phase of play.

The second phase begins by placing the deck of checks in the middle of the table and picking up your purchased cards forming your hand. Check cards are turned face up and placed in the center of the table in the same manner as the property cards during the first phase. After the checks are exposed, players select a property from their hand and everyone exposes their choice simultaneously. The checks are awarded to the players in the order determined by the value of the property.

When all of the properties have been exchanged for checks, the game ends. Players sum the value of their checks with any coins left from the first phase and the player with the most money is the winner. Ties are broken by the player with the most coins.

For Sale is a great filler and I really enjoyed playing it with my family. We played two games back to back with Lisa winning the first. Lisa and Sophie each had 61 (Lisa broke the tie with more coins left from the first phase). I had 60 to Noah’s 47. Our second game proved Noah the winner with 72 beating Lisa by one coin. Sophie had 56 to my horrid 48 (be careful of those voided checks!).

For Sale is a great game…go find a copy and grab some friends.

Technorati Tags

San Marco – I don’t think so

I’m a pushover from interesting mechanics and nice game bits. San Marco is an older Euro (2001), well respected, highly rated on BGG (7.39/10), designed by Alan Moon (Ticket To Ride, Elfen*, King of the Elves,…), very nice bits, and a very interesting mechanic called ‘divide and choose’.

I’ll be honest though, the bits are what initially caught my eye. The artwork for the map of Venice is very nicely done. The wooden components are standard Euro quality but the cool red Doge pawn and the little arched bridges make for a game that’s very pleasing to look at. I’ve been interested in the game for years but never had the opportunity to get my hands on it. My recent increase in gaming activity led me to my recent joining of CABS which put me in direct contact with a copy that I could checkout from the library and take home and fondle.

I slept late after my late night of CABS gaming and awoke with high hopes and I planned my day carefully to carve out some time that evening to read through the rules and play a round or two. That night I opened the box, looked over the cool components, and sat down with the rules.

San Marco uses the ‘divide and choose’ mechanic throughout three ‘passages’ (i.e. uber-rounds). Each passage is made up an indeterminate number rounds each of which requires the players to take on roles where some players (distributors) draw cards, inspect them, and divide them into two offerings (i.e. piles of cards). Those players that were not distributors (i.e. decision makers), pick up the cards offered to them by their corresponding distributor, examine them and choose which group of cards they want to play the round with. The distributors then must play with the cards that were not chosen by their decision maker. So in short, distributors do the ‘dividing’ and the decision makers do the ‘choosing’.

At first blush, this seemed like a really neat idea. I could envision lots of angst for the distributor trying to figure out how best to divide the cards into two offerings such that the decision maker would choose the one that the distributor doesn’t want. But the distributor can’t make an offering too enticing without sacrificing the additional capabilities that that player will have once the round begins. I envisioned that this must be mind boggling fun trying to examine what the decision maker can do with the cards. And then on the flip-side, as a decision maker I get to see what the distributor offered and see which offering is best for me given what the distributor will be left with.

Then…I started thinking some more.

So, how does the distributor role get chosen? You’d suspect some sort of round-robin approach where everyone gets a chance right? Well, that’s not possible given the additional rule that as a round is played out, players can be dropped out until the start of the next passage. So the game design calls for the role of the distributor to be chosen at random. With four players you have two distributors and two decision makers. So…say I get stuck with being the distributor more than others. That could be good I suppose, if I’m a good distributor and if I like performing that role. Being distributor seems like a good way to at least feel like you’re in direct control of the game.

What if I’m chosen to be a decision maker more than others. That could be good too I suppose if the decision maker isn’t very good at breaking up the offerings. I can then force the distributor to play with the crappy offering. And even if the distributor is good, I still get first chance at choosing.

So far, it looks pretty good. But wait just a minute more…

What if I work really hard as the distributor but the decision makers keep choosing the bone headed offering (from their perspective)? In addition, how long is it going to take for the distributors to compose their offerings? That’s got to be a tough decision and given the number of cards you’ve got a lot of options to run through in your head. And then, if that didn’t take long enough, then after the offerings are exposed, then the decision makers will have to go through a period of card examination to determine which offering makes the most sense for them. With the group I play with, we’d be lucky to get through a single passage in 4 hours! And finally, it seems the game hinges on someone making a mistake. A single screwed up distribution and/or decision could turn the game.

I’m not saying that San Marco is a bad game. Honestly, I don’t think that games themselves have the ability to stink. The game might not be appropriate in some situations but that doesn’t mean it stinks. That said though, San Marco is the first game I’ve ever come across that was so highly rated and yet seemed so poorly aligned to my group and to my style and desire of play. The downtime would be horrendous for us. I cannot think of another Euro that I’ve read the rules to and immediately came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to play it. The bits are so cool that I wish there was another set of rules to go with them.

San Marco may be right for your gaming group and if it is, then I’m glad that you’ve found some enjoyment in it. I, on the other hand, will toss it aside lightly…maybe even with great force.

Technorati Tags

Weaning Myself from BGG

Over the last few months, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time on BGG. I’ve spent large portions of many evenings

  1. Browsing games
  2. Reading geeklists
  3. Reading reviews and session reports
  4. Checking to see if the images I uploaded had any more recommendations or comments
  5. Checking back on lists I had commented on or added games to
  6. Tending my Geeklist Chain

BGG had become my ‘Bloglines’ activity. What I mean by that is that when I didn’t know what to do, I used to just bring up Bloglines. There are always links to follow, RSS feeds to catch up on, stupid crap to fill your mind with, etc. In other words, Bloglines is a great way to fill time with mindless farting around. If the last six months have taught me anything, they’ve taught me that I need to stop farting so much.

Well, let me put that a different way. I’ve read a few blog entries about ‘fringe gaming’. For the life of me I can’t find the reference. If it rings a bell to anyone I’d appreciate the link so I can give appropriate credit. I’m a fringe gamer. A gamer that spends more time reading and talking about games than actually playing them.

I’m seen as a gamer know-it-all by some of my friends, many people I work with, and my family. But when you get on BGG, you realize that you know very little in comparison to many members. It’s quite a humbling experience to become involved with the site and to be, for lack of a better explanation, repeatedly reminded that your ideas and thoughts are almost infantile compared to those of the elite.

BGG is lead by the ‘cool crowd’, those that post a lot of insightful or funny content. They garner a lot of respect. Almost any geeklist and/or forum entry by one of these members will attract recommendations, active respectful discussion, and genuine dialog.

BGG is used by new members who the cool members tend to help through the process of becoming cool. For the most part, they’re lead tenderly through the process, occasionally given a few hard knocks but in general they’re wished well in their journey to geekdom.

There are the faceless masses that use the site but submit no content. We of course cannot see them. Only the weblogs know but we all know they’re there…watching.

And finally, there are the Rodney Dangerfields of the site. Those that, try as we might, never seem to get plugged into the cool crowd, the funny crowd, or the crowd that everyone respects…the E.F. Huttons.

Even after almost 4 years of registered use, I find myself in that final group, not knowing enough to even break into the bottom feeders of the respected but also not sure I want to spend any more time than I already do learning about games. In the end, what’s really the point of knowing a lot about games and/or knowing about some inane geeklist when I could be doing something productive.

I don’t want to make surfing BGG yet another one of my hobbies. There’s really no purpose in farting around on BGG when I could actually be playing games with my kids, working in my woodshop, reading a book, or maybe even something as adventurous as learning to play the violin. I’m not boycotting BGG by any means but I’m going to be making a conscious effort to be more purposeful in my usage rather than trying to catch up to the Joneses.

Too much information

My latest game order included a copy of Mesopotamia. I placed the order to get copies of China, For Sale, and Ingenious but at the last minute I threw in Mesopotamia. It had been described as a lighter Tikal and it played in 45 minutes. The game bits from Phalanx Games/Mayfair Games were top notch (including real rocks!) and it was designed by Klaus-Jürgen Wrede of Carcassonne fame. BGG members had given it a 6.98/10 rating which is pretty high. The best of the best rate only in the 8’s.

I was excited to crack open the box and sift through the cool bits and last night was my chance. A quick read through the short rules gave me high hopes that this one would be a hit. I had a couple of questions but Noah freed up working on some Invention Convention items and he wanted to play a sample round or two.

He and I set up the start of the modular board for two-players as depicted in the rules and removed the necessary bits. After a few rounds we worked out the kinks and were going along pretty smoothly. We encountered one of my questions from the rule read-through (can you build two huts on a plains tile if you have two tribesmen and they’re both carrying wood). It was time to shut down the game so Noah could head to bed which gave me some time to investigate my questions on BGG.

After getting the kids off to bed, I jumped on the kid’s computer (my computer died and I’m waiting on the new Dell) and started browsing BGG’s entry for Mesopotamia. That’s where I got too much information.

I quickly found the answer to my question (no…you need 4 tribesmen carrying at least 2 wood) but I also found quite a few session reports and reviews that I felt compelled to read but now I’m wishing I wouldn’t have. Maybe I should have read them before I bought the game but after playing the little bit that I did, I’m thinking maybe not. Some of the session reports and reviews classified the game as having a low replay value. The reviewers were concerned that the rush for stone to increase your mana rating early was crucial to even being in the running for the end game. Reading that really bummed me out. For me, it’s like telling me what happens at the end of the movie; reading me the last page of the book. I don’t want to know that information. I’d rather find that after 25 plays of the game that I’ve grown tired of it. But now, I’ve been pushed to the end of the game. My mind is playing with rose colored glasses.

I think next time I’m going to buy a game, I’ll just look at the pictures, take a look at the rating, and look at geek buddy analysis comments…nothing more.

By the way, the race for stone was caused by an incorrect English translation. Stone delivered to the temple is not removed from the game. Instead it’s put back in the supply just like it is when you construct a Holy Place.

Hansa – 2 Player Session

While the kids were watching a DVD on their computer, Lisa and I played Hansa by Michael Schacht. Lisa quipped with me about subjecting her to a game she’s never played before. I shot back that she can’t remember how to play any game from one time to the next so I might as well play a game that I don’t get to play very often…

As she puts it, she’s good at games right out of the shoot but she feels like she doesn’t get any better. Probably because she’s a little like the guy in the movie Memento where every play is her first play 🙂

Hansa is pretty easy to learn but the rules, although short, cause some understandable confusion. Moving the ship and restocking the warehouses cost a taler…that’s pretty straightforward. Buying a good in a port costs a taler (unless you have the majority of markets) and that’s pretty easy to keep straight. But how you ‘pay’ to build markets in a port just doesn’t stick in your brain. It seems awkward that you pay one of your purchased goods to build a market and the number of markets built is determined by the number of barrels depicted on the goods chip. If keeping that straight isn’t enough, you bank victory points by selling goods. Selling costs no talers but you lose a market when you do…and anyone with goods in the same color loses a goods chip in the matching color.

I understand the mechanics and how they compliment each other very well but there’s something about the association of the mechanics to the theme of buying & selling goods, and building markets that I have mild difficulty remembering. It’s not really that bad but it does stand out as a hurdle to retaining a clear picture of the rules.

As usual, though Lisa picked up on the rules pretty quickly and started to make quick work of the board. She was good at leaving the ship in an area difficult for me to turn a quick profit and tried very hard not to restock the board. Over the course of the game, I restocked twice and she only restocked once, triggering the end of the game. Lisa dominated the Tonsberg, Aalborg, Copenhagen conduit for the first half of the game until I finally took control of Aalborg and Tonsberg. Reval and Riga didn’t see much traffic either but we did vie for the majority in Danzig.

In the end, Lisa thought she had the edge on victory points earned from selling goods. Our market placements earned us the same number of victory points so it came down to sold goods. The final score of my 50 to her 47 made for a good game. I don’t get to play games very often with her since she’s so busy but it felt good to sit down and play with the kids only 10 feet away watching the movie.

Hansa gets classified by many as a dry game but regardless, I like it quite a bit. My copy of China should be arriving this Tuesday and I’m hoping it’s another hit by Schacht.

CABS – March 17, 2006

I arrived at New Market Mall at 6:45 to a sparse group of gamers. I’m not sure if March Madness was keeping people away but it felt like the crowd might not break 80. Rich, a buddy from Analog Game Night (AGN) Group, was going to drop by around 7pm so I started looking for a game that we could get involved in. I couldn’t find an open game so when Rich arrived, he and I played a game of Jambo. Rich had never played and I failed to get his feedback so I’m not sure if he liked it or not. Jambo is one of my favorite two-player games but I hesitated to play it at CABS because I knew Jeff Chunko would chide us for playing a two-player game when there are so many group games to play. I had warned Rich that he might and as expected Jeff fulfilled his role with flying colors (just kidding Jeff!).

I’m always at the mercy of my innate “sucky card karma”. Although Rich won, I felt happy with the knowledge that I needed just one card for the win, putting up the good fight with only one small market against Rich’s three. Jambo isn’t something I want to play all of the time but I do find it a respectable filler.

After Jambo, I linked up with Jeff Wolfe who participates in my giant geeklist on BGG. We picked up a fourth player and performed the requisite hummin’ and hawin’ in front of the CABS game cabinets. Nobody seemed to want to commit to anything so I offered my copy of Samurai. I quickly went through the rules and we got down to business. I ended up with the majority of Rice Paddies but Jeff ended up winning with the other two majorities. The key to Samurai is to engage others at just the right moment and level of effort so that they lay tiles near the pieces you want but in such a way that you can still retain majority. Attempting to capture pieces, without help from others, over commits your efforts into one area putting you on the sure road to disaster.

After Samurai, we stared blankly at the game cabinets again. I’m starting to feel like I need to line up the games I want to play in advance so that I can come in with a plan. My plan certainly wouldn’t be an attempt to dictate the games to play but I don’t enjoy the indecision of what to play next. I’m open to play just about anything but I’m also not hesitant to voice my opinion if I don’t like a game. There are lots of games in the cabinet that I’ve read about on BGG and I’d love to play them at least once. However, I’ve noticed a hesitance to play many of these games. For example, I have never played, San Marco, Web of Power, Oasis, Carolus Magnus, or Dos Rios but my mention of them falls like a lead balloon. I really can’t complain though. Being so new to the group, gazing into the game cabinet still has that “Christmas Morning” effect on me. I just want to grab the toys that are new to me. It’s for that reason that my check-outs from the library will be these games; San Marco is first up. If I only read through the rules at home, I’ll be more prepared to play at the next meeting. Okay, enough of that…and back to the games.

To break the indecision I offered my copy of Mexica. I haven’t played this great game for years and it’s on my “blow off the dust and play it stupid!” list. I’ll be posting a full review soon but I really like the game even though I so totally suck at it. Being one of the Kramer/Kiesling “Mask Trilogy” games (Java, Tikal, Mexica), it’s an action-point, area-control game. Jeff Wolfe was the clear winner and I came up last. More on that in another post. Boy, do I suck at this game but I want to play again…now!

Rich left around 1am after Mexica and again…the indecision. Jeff and I linked up with Alan to play his copy of Plunder. The game vaguely reminded me of Ice Pirates of Harbor Grace even though it’s really a much different game. In Plunder, you sail your ship out onto the ever expanding board as cards are placed on the table. Open Sea, Ports, and Coastline cards are placed in a grid pattern determining where you can sail. France, Holland, England, and Spain ply the waters and you attack them to plunder goods. Wars between countries can break out limiting your ability to sell goods in ports controlled by those countries. The game doesn’t use dice to resolve battle but, instead, uses cards that play multiple roles in the game depending on how and when they’re played. I appreciate the nice artwork on the cards and the huge pile of cardboard coins and chits representing flags from countries and the goods you can plunder. I found the game engaging but it ended abruptly leaving everyone with, as Jeff put it, a Fluxx like feeling. Jeff and I were pretty close to being tied but after two more rounds, he’d doubled his money and won. I’d play it a few more times to see how it feels in different situations but I don’t generally like games that have a widely varying play time.

Boy, this was a long post and if you made it this far, I appreciate it. I’d be interested in hearing how you feel about the games I’ve mentioned. Now…time for a nap. Getting home at 2:30am is getting harder and harder to recover from.

Whoa…game night score!

While Sophie was finishing up homework and practicing piano tonight, Noah and I got in a game of Metro designed by Dirk Henn. Metro is one of those games where you bide your time and by mid-game you might feel like you’re on the ropes and really behind. Noah was racking up some impressive runs but I was keeping him out of the center station. Near the end my scores started pouring in for a clear win but I really did start to get a little nervous.

After Sophie finished up, she and I got in a game of one of my favorite Knizia designed games, Samurai. About two-thirds of the way through the game I had the win locked up. I just needed to take the last High Hat leaving many Rice Paddies and Buddhas still on the board. Sophie wanted to play longer and have a chance of beating dad, so I refrained from taking the last High Hat while trying to win another way. As it turns out, four of my last five tiles were Buddhas and I had no chance to capture the last Rice Paddy I needed to secure two majorities. So in the end, Sophie did beat her dad winning two majorities. Sophie played a good game and made great use of the swapping tiles and the ability to perform multi-tile lays on your turn. Good job Sophie.

Latest Game Order

I had a few games I wanted to order and I put out the call for any additions to bump the total above $125. If you exceed $125, you get free shipping from After lumping in the add on items, here’s the final order:

2 x Hive: Second Edition = $44.92
2 x Ingenious = $45.44 (1 copy for me!)
1 x Lord of the Rings = $34.97
2 x Pick Picknic = $22.76
1 x Rat-a-tat Cat = $6.50
1 x Qwitch = $6.99
1 x China = $24.12 (mine!)
1 x For Sale = $10.34 (mine!)
1 x Mesopotamia = $29.25 (mine!)

Sub-Total: $225.29
Flat Rate Shipping (continental US only) (3 to 7 business days *): $0.00
Total: $225.29

I borrowed Ingenious from the CABS game cabinet and (sorry I had it for two sessions – I didn’t originally intend for it to work out that way) and it went over pretty well at the March AGN Meeting. I’ve wanted For Sale for quite awhile. I cancelled a backorder for it around Christmas so now is my opportunity to pick that up. I like Michael Schacht as a designer (Coloretto, Fist of Dragonstones, Hansa, …) so China was a pretty easy choice. It seems like a rare bird to find a 5 person game, rated as high as 7.54 on BGG and only lasting 45 minutes. At the last minute I threw in Mesopotamia. A Klaus-Jürgen Wrede design (Carcassonne) that supports 2-4 but also only lasts 45 minutes. The bits look really nice (Mayfair/Phalanx) and the game uses the pick up and deliver mechanic which I’m particularly fond of.

Now it’s time to start monitoring the shipping and counting down the hours to when I can carefully ‘rip open’ the boxes and warm up the macro lens! Oh…I almost forgot…I also need to find somebody to play them with.