Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Was it something I wrote?

This is the way of the NBG…. Was it the planned absence of the ever popular Matt? Was it the crunch Man Utd Barca game? Was it my choice of deodorant? Either way Ollie was the only non-Crocker to attend….it was new years all over again and much to our regret (especially Kats) we played in the shadow of the emperor.

'Im Schatten des Kaisers' to give it the correct title is a euro-tastic politics game with interesting possibilities but a lot of minor rarely needed (yet essential) rules. The game started with Ollie being emperor and right from the first turn rule interpretation was unclear, games like this need exhaustive rule FAQs to cover umpteen eventualities unfortunately our FAQ was extremely limited so we made the best of it and used our flawed logic and judgment. In the final round there was a similar situation as the one at the beginning of the game, which created a third possible unknown outcome. Luke and Ollie simplified the rules and readjusted the VP awarded in the first round, as a result the game was an honourable (and thoroughly time wasting) draw.

I first played this wrong with two players and found playing it wrong with three a vast improvement, however I have no doubt that four is the magic number so look out and get involved in playing it wrong with me soon.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Cockroaches ravish eventual key harvest

This week we have been mostly playing key harvest ooh argh.

Jimmy has been bringing Key harvest every week for several months now and it finally got on the table last Tuesday. It’s a little dry and can suffer from extended down time but has lots of scope and is by far and away my favourite ‘key’ game and possibly even after one play my favourite Richard Breese game.

Each of the possible 4 players has an identical player mat made up of hexagonal regions, each region has a code made up of A-G and 1-9. Each player starts with two crop hexs on two of these spaces and each player has a different starting position so as to create the same level of conflict and desire for certain crop tiles. There are 6 workers in possession that can be placed on the board and if tactically aware ‘reused’ to acquire benefits, there is a limited pool of universal more powerful workers in a central store alongside a pool of crops.

Players have 2 actions and may take crops from the common pool and place for sale on there market, setting the price with there own crops, players may buy other players crops (though this action can not be done after the acquire crops to prevent you buying your own for one round). When they buy others crops they need to pay the same goods as the price in quantity and type. The seller then gets this payment and retains the crops they themselves used to set the price. If a player buys there own goods the crops go instead to the bank. You can purchase up to two crops as one action and you may transfer to market up to two crops as one action.

The third action is to remove or place a worker (which are numbered) it is possible to replace a worker with a higher valued worker, and then the original is returned to hand for later use. You use the power of the worker as soon as it is placed. – If when buying a crop its placement as defined by the grid reference on it force you to remove a worker this worker is then replaced in any legal position on the board or if this is not possible returned to hand. Again when replacing this displaced worker you use its ability. Thus the purchase of crops to up heave workers can result in a domino effect of benefits. The choice players make for what crops they offer and for what price has a massive impact on the outcome of the game, set a price to low and rivals get bargains, prices too high leaves you struggling with no resources.

The forth action a player can take is to harvest a connected area, all crops that are adjacent and have previously not been flipped are flipped over and one resource of the same type as the crop is received.

When a crop is taken from the general pool and placed on a players market it is replaced at random from a bag, thus every game has the same crops but drawn in different orders. On rare occasions I can see this causing the game to be lobsided as tiles more beneficial to certain players being drawn earlier or later in a game can impact how people play and who wins, but generally the mixed starting positions helps to lessen this impact.

Inside the bag, mixed with unused crops are event tiles. Which when drawn cause a global effect (most seemed good) some offer a reward others offer the choice of payment for a privilege. The timing of these can be crucial as if they arise when you can not pay the price, you can not gain the benefit. In our game 5 of these tiles came out (curtacy of Ollie) before Kat had her first go so may have been unable to use them. Jimmy chose to put a worker on the board in the first two rounds and was able to use a benefit that no one else could then near the end after a big spend he had no remain crops when three tiles where drawn that he was unable to use. The abilities seem only after one play to be well balanced and helpful and are far more ‘fair’ than previous key games as the benefits are global or open to all. When 10 of these tiles are drawn, the end game begins with each player having two more turns, this was partially drawn out for us as by this time the bag was empty and action choices very limited.

There is also a neat mechanic where after drawing 7 event tiles if a single player does not have seven hexes on there board the first two event tiles are returned to the bag and the game is prolonged. This was incredibly important as we repeatedly drew several events in the same turn.

I missed an important scoring issue regarding workers counting for VPs at game end and also missed out on connecting two regions together (worth 8 VPs) due to the order goods where drawn just in the last round, player A refreshes, Player A puts refreshed crop for sale, Player B purchases before players C or D get a chance. Kat was very much in the lead till the mid game when she didn’t diversify into two fields or build on her position, instead repeatedly buying her own stock at high prices. Jimmy managed to connect two small regions to compliment his large region thus scoring good VP at the end. I had over valued crops worth only 1VP to player with the most where as a single worker was a guaranteed 1-5 VPs. The final placings where Jimmy on 27, Luke on 25, Ollie & Kat on 23.

This game has some potential. The market and selection of sale prices mean players benefit from not working in a vacuum, the order and opportunity of tiles plays a big part in outcome and makes the game different each play. As players get used to the choices Key harvest will play faster and will as a result be even more enjoyable. A good modern euro.

We had time after key harvest to play Medici and despite the odd auction decision and dubiously cheap prices the game was down to the wire close, 6 points separating 1st and 3rd. Luke won, Jimmy was second and Kat was third leaving Ollie languishing some way behind.

Time for the silly voices and crazy simple bluffing fun of coach roach poker. Never have the words ‘spider’ or ‘cock-roach’ been more hilarious than when said with a pseudo French accent. Jimmy struggled with the three rules and there can be only one loser and that was inevitably him, the rest of us celebrated in our shared victory.

Ta Ta