Analog Game Night – June 2010

June, 2010’s installment of Analog Game Night has, sadly, come and gone. We originally had eight but a couple of the guys had some late-breaking family items to attend to so we ended up with six. We started out the night with a six-player game of Medici. I must say that Medici is starting to become my go-to game for a shorter, but meatier, 6-player game. It can be a bit mathy that I think some of the players in my group really like but if my win/loss ratio is any indication, you can be successful playing by your gut.

Medici is a relatively theme-less auction/set-collection game of drawing goods tiles blindly from a bag and auctioning them off to place in bays on ships. When all the goods are sold, everybody ships the goods they purchased in hopes of converting those goods into the highest profit. Players generally must focus on buying and shipping specific goods to maximize profits. Because of this, the auctioned lots of goods have differing values to different players and therefore players must evaluated the end value of the goods once shipped to understand what they’re worth in the auction. Of course filling your ship with goods takes several auctions so the value of any particular lot is a bit difficult to predict since your cannot predict what other lots you’ll be able to purchase (and what others have purchased) in subsequent auctions that affect your return on your investment.

All players start with the same amount of money and the player with the most money at the end wins. We just think of the money as victory points since you use a little wooden goods bag on the board to indicate how much money you have. It could just as easily been victory points. Winning an auction requires you to move your money indicator back on the track and when you deliver the goods, your money indicator goes up; essentially victory points. The game is a Knizia so, as you’d expect, the mathematical underpinnings of the game are rock solid, the rules are clean, and the game although good, may be a bit dry and the mechanics easily detached from the theme.

We split up for the next round of games with three of us in the kitchen and Bob kept two others in the dining room. The dining room pulled out a very cool looking game, Cyclades. I must say, the game looks awesome and I wish I would have been able to play. It was Bob’s first attempt at teaching the game (and playing it) so I think it went rather slowly with lots of rulebook checks etc. However, that’s to be expected. Although our competitive juices still start flowing, winning and losing really takes a back seat to just exploring the mechanics, the bits, the cause and effect of different moves, understanding the high-level and course-grained cause and effects of play, etc. I wish we had a large enough block of time sometimes that when we learn a game that we’d play it…and then immediately play it again to help solidify what we learned and to step into the realm of fun that only occurs when you can explore the finer-grained nuances of the game.

At my table, I finally got to pull off the shrink and teach the game of Hansa Teutonica. I’d only played the game once, in November of 2009, in a five-player nightmare. In that game, I came in last by a mile and wished I could have played again immediately after realizing the importance of different aspects of the game. Hansa Teutonica is basically a cube pusher that, to me, feels a bit like Endeavor. Each player has an individual “escritoire” divided into areas that depict the limits imposed upon the player when taking actions. It’s the player’s job to raise those limits through intelligent game play allowing more powerful actions in subsequent turns.

As I mentioned, the game falls solidly in the cube pushing genre since your actions involve placing cubes on roadways that connect cities. By filling the roadway between two cities with only your cubes, you get the option of opening up an branch office in the city (placing a Kontor) or, depending on the city, removing a limitation from your escritoire. Where to place, move, or otherwise manipulate your cubes during your actions is up to you. There is player interaction since one action allows you to kick other cubes off a road that you want to occupy (at a cost to you and a benefit to the other player). There is a bit of randomness in the bonus markers that are randomly drawn and placed on three of the roads but during your turn, all information is known and visible.

The game also features a somewhat inverted scoring mechanism. In many games you earn the bulk of your points during the game and at game end there may be some additional “end-game” points awarded depending on your final position, resources acquisitions, remaining money, etc. In Hansa Teutonica though, the end game is, in most cases, triggered by the first person to reach 20 points. However, that person is not necessarily the winner. Instead, most points are awarded after the game ends. This inversion of point allocation causes an interesting increase in tension as players get close to 20 points. At times, you may wish to make a particular set of moves but to do so you might trigger the end of the game so you must determine an alternate path to victory. At other times, you want to force the end game sooner so purposefully give other players points to drive them over the point limit.

All in all, I like Hansa Teutonica but would not recommend it with three. There just doesn’t feel like there is enough conflict. I purposefully stayed away from much conflict and focused on lowering my privilege limits and then focused mostly on the lower left Privilegum track. Periodically I’d grab and extra action, place a Kontor, and of course, obtain more merchants but in generally tried to stay out of harms way and won handily. Of course, with two new players, the game may be much different on subsequent plays.

While the dining room table finished up Cyclades, Jared and I played a game of Roll Through the Ages and a game of Ra the Dice Game.

Thanks for coming guys. Some of us are heading down to walk the Origins Exhibit Hall on Friday (June 25) so if you happen to see me, stop by and introduce yourself.

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