A periodic blog about Games, Books, Movies, Pop culture, Technology and whatever else I happen to feel like writing about...

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

K-ji & Mark

K-ji & Mark
Originally uploaded by Mark M.
This photo was taken during the Bobcaygeon adventure, and is of Karen and Me.

On Sunday, Karen and her cat Felix flew to Sao Paulo, where Karen will be working for three years. Well, a few months in SPAULO, and then the rest in Recife, but you get the idea. Basically, three years in Brazil.

Now, Brazil is both close, through technology, and very, very far, through geography. We can talk to each other every day if we want, and Karen just called me a few minutes ago to chat about her day. So, in a way, it's like she hasn't left, but of course she has...

I will be visiting her soon, and I know I will be very glad to see her. She is very special, and I am so happy that we met. It can be a bit frustrating, though, meeting someone who you get along with so well, someone who finally "groks" you, who loves you for being you, and then having to be apart.

She warned me that this could happen, one year ago when we met. I know that I would not trade the last year for anything, and that I am looking forward to many, many more together...

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Anno 1503

Since Mike the Uber Spielfriek (tm) invited me to some gaming last week, and we were both heading to the FNGS (Friendly Neighbourhood Game Store) Fandom II, I decided to pick up a copy of Anno 1503, being a fan of Teuber's work in general and exploration and development games in particular.

If I had to describe this game quickly, I think I would go with the popular Settlers of Puerto-Entdecker. Anno 1503 has the resource production of The Settlers Card Game, the buildings of Puerto Rico and the exploration of Entdecker. It also has some of the economics of Starship Catan.

The game is played a lot like a multiplayer version of the Settlers Card Game. Each player has their own board showing the colonists that they have built and/or promoted, the islands that they have colonized, the buildings they have constructed and the trade agreements that they have formed. Each board shows the four basic resources, wood, bricks, cloth and tools, and a wild space, on the numbers 1-5, but each board is different, so when a 1 is rolled, each player collects a different thing. This flat resource production is the same mechanism used in the Settlers card game, but here, each player only produces one resource on a roll, unless there is a year of plenty and they have built the Church, which gives them two resources.

The main resource of the islands is the inhabitants, which are composed of two types of two sided tiles that show 1-2 on two sides, and 3-4 on the other. There are four 1-2, and only three 3-4, and the mix is limited, so if you have the four 1-2 tiles built, you will have to promote one to a 3 to get a 1-2 back. It sounds more complicated than it is, and it works very well. This is similar to the Settlers Settlement/City problem, where you are forced to upgrade to a city to build a new settlement.

Each level of colonist will buy certain goods for the amount of gold of their level, so the most you can sell something for is normally 4 gold, and the 4th level merchant is only interested in buying tobacco, which can only be found in the island colony tiles.

There is a central board divided into square spaces that depicts islands, and square island tiles are placed according to the number of players. Island tiles are numbered 2-3-4 on the back, and they are divided face down, shuffled, and placed. If two players are playing, use only the 2 islands, and place them only on island spaces labelled two on the board. For three, use two and three, and place accordingly. This is a great way of balancing the game for 2-3-4 players, and it works very well.

Each player starts with one of their two possible wooden ships on the start space, and at the end of each turn, each ship may move one space for each player in the game. (2 player game, ships move 2, three player, move three). A ship that moves next to an unclaimed island tile may explore the tile by using 1 movement, and the player then has the choice of claiming the tile by taking it, placing it accordingly and sinking the ship, or returning it face down. This is a very neat mechanism, and it works very well. Tiles available inlcude vegetable and tobacco colonies, as well as cloth and tools, trade agreements, which reduce the cost of buying goods from the bank, treasure tiles which grant 12 gold, and tiles which allow the immediate promotion of 1 colonist 1 level.

There is no inter-player trade, but any resource can be bought from the bank for 6 gold minus the number of trade agreements that you have found, to a maximum of three. Only two resources per turn may be bought, and only one resource per colonist may be sold for gold to the bank.

Players start with two colonists on the board, a 1 and a 2, and once they build their 4th, they earn a free building which is drawn from the common pool and built underneath the new colonist. These buildings each grant a certain benefit, like protecting from fire, increasing the value of certain goods or doubling ship movement (very popular).

There is a mechanism for generating random troubles. Whenever a player rolls a six for resource production, there is no regular production, and the die must be rolled again. Then, there is a one third chance of a pirate raid, fire or year of plenty. Pirate raids and fires require all players to pay gold depending on their current levels of development, and failure to have enough on hand means that you will lose a colonist and building or an island tile.

On a turn, the die is rolled, resources are generated for all players, and then the active player may sell and buy resources, and then use resources to build ships or colonists, and to promote colonists. Once all the building and promoting is done, the player may then move all their ships to explore the high seas.

The game is won by collecting three victory points, and points can be earned in different ways:
  • One point for building 3 merchants (level 4 colonists)
  • One point for having 3 trade agreements
  • One point for settling 4 island colonies
  • One point for building 4 Public Buildings
  • One point for accumulating 30 Gold.

The interesting part of the game is that the tile dsitribution is set for 2,3 or 4 players, so that not every player can get 3 trade agreements or 4 island tiles. The only victory conditions that all players can achieve at the same time are 30 gold or 3 merchants, all of the rest are up for grabs.

So, you have to pay attention to what the other players have built. In the last game that I played, I had 2 trade agreements, but there were only two unexplored island tiles left, so I knew I had no chance of getting another trade agreement, and so I did not build any more ships, as I could not get any points from them. (I already had four colonies) The colonies were all vegetables, and I turned this monopoly into the 30 gold that I needed for my 3rd point and the victory. (I had 1 point from 4 colonies, and another from 4 buildings. I built the double ship movement, the increase vegetables and cloth to 4, the church and the increase basic goods to 2. Once I had three level 3 colonists who would buy vegetables for 4 gold each with the building, I was generating 12 gold per turn.)

All in all, I like the game, and I think that perhaps it is not being given the attention it deserves. Yes, it is derivative, but it is derivative of many good ideas, many of which are Teuber's in the first place. While there is little direct interaction, you have to pay close attention to what the other players are doing if you want to win. You also have to base your strategy on the island tiles that you turn up and the production that you get, although it seems that you do get more control over production than you do in Settlers.

If you have played too many games of Settlers where someone manages to whine their way to victory, give Anno 1503 a try, and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Broadway Pub Gaming - Naval War, Goa, Oh Heck, Sticheln

Last night, there was some gaming at the Broadway Pub. I convinced uber-spielfriek Mike to come out with me, and we bussed out to my place after work on our way to the pub. I grabbed Goa, a few card games, and then we hopped the bus out to the pub.

We got there early, grabbed a few jars and had a bite. (The food was decent, and not to expensive BTW). Once some of the guys started showing up, they decided that it would be a good time to play a huge game of the old classic AH Naval War while everyone finished their meals.

Now, I know that games have come a long way since Naval War, and it shows. The game is very random, and you can get stuck with lots of ships and no ammo to fire. Worst of all is the overwhelming power of the Destroyer Squadrons. Whoever draws more of these will surely win the game. The fact that we were playing with 9 players probably didn't help matters much. As Mike said, he was glad that he had played, since that meant he would never have to play again.

After that, some of the guys set up History of the World, while Mike and I convinced Mark and Sasha to play Goa. We had a pretty decent game, with most of the scores except Mike's pretty close. Needless to say, Mike managed to school us bad this game.

After Goa, Mike, Mark and I played Oh Heck, and while I was in contention, I could only manage to place second to Mark. Oh Heck reminded me of Sticheln, and since I had the deck and we had three players, I managed to convince the guys to try a few hands out. Mark got stuck worst of all, and didn't break zero, Mike had +5 and I managed the win with 12. All in all, it was a good evening, though Goa might not be the best game to play in a pub setting.