Great Western Trail by Alexander Pfister is a great game. Unfortunately, I recently discovered I’ve been playing it wrong for about a month and a half! When buying personnel from the job market, players cannot buy personnel from the line containing the job market token. This is significant because if players can buy from the line containing the token, it will delay the progress of the token down the board. In some cases it can prevent the token from ever getting all the way down the board.
This is the type of mistake that isn’t visible at less than a full complement of players because there are more than enough personnel counters to meet the needs of the board at two or three players regardless of whether players are buying from the row containing the token or not. At four players the board needs too many for the market to keep up. Thus, when I played my first four player we actually ran out of new personnel to replenish the market. We might not have discovered the error even then, but at the end of the game personnel become extremely cheap and everyone was buying two or three per trip to Kansas City.
Cinque Terre, published by Rio Grande and designed by Chris Handy, is a pick up and deliver game that sets the players as produce merchants grabbing tomatoes, garlic, etc. from local fields and delivering them to the eponymous Cinque Terre villages of Liguria, Italy.
The primary way players score off their deliveries is by fulfilling produce orders, which look like these:
After an order is filled, the player takes the card and gets points for it at game’s end. However, after taking the fulfilled order, the player also draws a card from the top of the deck which they may keep or not. If the player keeps it they take it into hand and get the opportunity to score points for the kept card too, but only if they fulfill the order by delivering all the required goods to the places indicated of the card. The game is over once a player has fulfilled five produce order cards and/or received five “most popular vendor” (“MPV”) cards (don’t worry, they don’t figure into our mistake). Produce order and MPVs can be taken in any combination to trigger game end. Critically, and here’s where we made our mistake, cards taken into hand remain secret and do not count toward triggering game end. We played such that fulfilled orders in hand were declared and put with other fulfilled orders, which had the effect of hastening the end of the game.
Some fellows and I recently had a chance to plau Century: Spice Road, designed by Emerson Matsuuchi (Spectre Ops), and also the maiden title of Plan B games, who have planned a trilogy of linked games. Our early impressions of this one are pretty good: you get some stuff, trade it for better stuff, then make some money and the person with the most money when the game is over wins. It’s like Merchant of Venus without a map and plays somewhat similarly to Splendor, although the similarity ends pretty quickly.
Our mistake involved the trade cards, examples of which are depicted below. In the game there are a few types of cards. The most numerous type of card let’s you swap your stuff for other, better stuff. When we played the game we thought that you could only use this ability once per play. However, closer inspection of the rules shows that a player can execute as many swaps as they like using the terms printed on the card. For example, on the card shown below, the player playing the card could use it twice in a single play, swapping 4 browns for 4 greens and 6 reds. A player could use it more than that if they wanted, but the ten cube maximum makes it less of a good play.
This mistake changes up the game a bit. I felt like we all picked up too many trade cards and the reason is probably because we overlooked this rule, costing ourselves valuable plays.
Century:Spice Road is definitely worth checking out!
My group has a soft spot for hide-and-seek style board games. Beginning a few years back when we discovered Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space, and gaining momentum with every new discovery–Letters from Whitechapel, Fury of Dracula, Specter Ops. I find that games of this type share the deductive appeal that makes games like Spyfall, Avalon, and Secret Hitler so appealing, while also introducing a geographical element to the sleuthing that makes the game more accessible.
Not Alone by freshman designer Ghislain Masson send players on a mission to the planet Artemia, where they crash land and have to survive until their rescue. The twist is that one player plays The Creature, who is hunting the other players.
Each of the crash survivors is given a hand of five cards representing the five places initially available to the survivors. Each round all of the survivors select one card from their hand to represent the location they are visiting that turn. After everyone has made their selection in secret, The Creature places a large token on one location. If any of the survivors picked that location, bad stuff happens to them. Eventually the survivors are either picked up or they succumb to the depredations of The Creature.
Cards that are played get discarded and need to be recovered before they are available for further use. This is where our mistake came in. The most powerful card is called the Lair, depicted above. When survivors visit the Lair they are allowed to take back all of their discarded cards, but not the Lair itself. The reason for this is that the Lair, while it is being played, is neither in hand nor in the discard pile, so it’s not available to bring back from the discard pile.
Another mistake we made involves another location, the Beach. The Beach accelerates rescue efforts, bringing the survivors closer to rescue and victory. Using it is a two-step process. The first survivor going there places a token on the Beach, which primes the location for use. The next player who makes it to the Beach without interference from the Creature or something else then takes the token off, which signals the rescue vessel, drawing it closer. However, only one player can use this location each turn, so if two or more survivors visit the Beach each turn, only one may interact with the token and the rest are out luck.
Early impressions of Not Alone are quite favorable. The gameplay is uncomplicated and easy to teach, while still allowing for lots of decision-making and surprises. Gameplay moves at a brisk pace. The art is pretty and, unlike most games of this type, the box is small enough to fit in a carryon. It is difficult to tell if the game has any balance issues. At once it seems like the survivor’s escape is assured and that the Creature’s project is doomed, yet simultaneously the Creature can engineer stunning reversals that make escape seemingly impossible. Artemia is well worth a visit if you get an opportunity–but be careful, it’s harder to leave than it is to arrive.
It’s been a while! Last night I played a game which has become a favorite in my group, The Voyages of Marco Polo by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini, the creative duo behind another favorite, Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar. Although we love this game, there was always something a little off about the movement rules, which we found to be overly restrictive. Turns out it’s that way because we were not playing them correctly. When a player places dice on a space (contracts, movement, grand bazaar), they get to pick from a number of places equal to the lowest die placed.
We mistakenly played that whatever you placed was how far you had to move, without an option to select a lower value instead. Naturally this makes movement much more difficult because it removes options that would make movement less expensive. Not only that, but a player could also choose to move two spaces but end up moving one, whereas I thought a player needed to exercise all available movement. Oops. Also, and less noteworthy, but we played the Grand Bazaar the same way, meaning that players have the option to pick a lower value spot. Of course, usually the higher value places give you the best bang for your buck, but players could in theory “overpay” for spot on the grand bazaar in order to get a mix of goods and camels or coins.
I loved this game already and I’m delighted to have found the correct rules open it up a bit, as movement is always difficult in the world of Marco Polo. Then again, it being hard to get around is historically accurate.
We did one other thing wrong. When the contracts board is depleted due to players having selected all the available contracts, you’re supposed to refill the first two spots on the board. This is a small rule that we completely overlooked but it’s critical to have contracts available for purchase because they basically make the game “go”. Again, it’s lovely to find a rule that opens the game up a little bit.
Lately my group has been playing Capt. Sonar by Roberto Fraga and Yohan Lemonnier on Fridays. After making a splash (get it?) at GenCon, this game has created a bit of a buzz with my friends, as the game seems to be that rare title that seats a lot of people, plays at a fast-pace, and provides a good amount of strategic depth (get it?). Indeed, a couple of times we’ve had a full complement of eight players and still had people waiting to get into a game.
After playing the game several times a couple of mistakes from the initial tutorial became apparent. We got the rules for surfacing wrong—our rule-explainer thought that you could surface in any zone, effectively giving your boat the ability to teleport across the map if you’d been cornered by your opponent. Actually subs need to surface right where they are and declare their zone to their opponent. This makes Silence extremely important as it is the only way to slip away from an opponent. Speaking of Silence, don’t forget to mark off a first mate gauge and engineering box just like a normal move. It even appears that you can even double move back activating Silence and then moving normally.
We also got the rules for Drones completely wrong—we thought using a drone required your opponent to announce their zone. In fact, the team activating their drone gets to ask whether or not their opponent is in a particular zone. There’s also usually questions about when teams can and can’t use their available systems (mines, sonar, etc.) as near as we can tell you can use them before or after moving. Due to the fluid (get it?) nature of the game, this ends up being less of an issue in the real time version of the game. Remember also that the First Mate can activate sonar and drone systems without getting the captain’s approval.
While strategy is not my focus in this blog I’m going to head into the deep waters (get it?) and offer a small amount of strategic advice for the real-time game: it seems like it’s less of an advantage to move often during the real-time game than simply moving at a pace your crew can handle easily. This is because the radio operator is the primary source of gaining information about the opposing sub’s location, and the radio operator only gets new information when an opposing sub moves. With each new move, the possible locations a sub could be drops off by an order of magnitude until in theory only one path remains. One way to mitigate this could be to simply not move as much, denying the opposing radio operator the information needed to eliminate possible locations and paths. Moving at less than full speed also prevents the sub from cornering itself as easily by preserving moves for the sub to take, and also might make it easier for the engineer to keep systems up as long as possible. The only advantages to moving quickly is that systems can be recharged quickly, and it allows one to close with the enemy. Until the end of the game neither of these benefits outweigh the benefit of minimizing the possibility of being detected and maximizing the possibility of getting away.
I received Camel Up, by Steffan Bogen, in the BGG Secret Santa last year when I asked my santa for a game that is good with a larger number of players. This game is a quick-and-dirty racing game where players make wagers on which of their favorite camels wins the race. It has a cool mechanic for movement that was the source of some confusion. Each camel has a different color (blue camel, green camel, etc.) and a correspondingly colored die. All the dice are put into a cardboard pyramid such that they only come out one at a time. We got that part right, but as soon as we resolved a move, we put the die back in the pyramid. Whoops! Turns out you’re supposed to keep them out until each of the camels has moved, whereupon all the dice go back in at once. Playing our way produced some outlandish results, like the time when a single camel moved maybe one or two spaces until the end of the game but still managed to win the race from way behind. Sometimes I miss playing it that way.
The game’s desert tiles also produced a little bit of confusion. At first we failed to observe the rule preventing players from placing desert tiles next to other desert tiles. This created fun slip-n-slides where camels would shoot ahead or tumble backwards as they hit him. We also failed to observe the rule where a desert tile is removed at the end of a leg.
This game is a lot of fun, and I think it says something about Camel Up that it can be so much fun even when half of the rules aren’t being properly followed. With all of its attendant rules in place, the game is much more procedural and predictable but still a great time. And it plays nicely with a large headcount too.