Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Worst Shogun Experience EVER

Jonathan, Chris, David, Manny, and I sat down at the table around 1pm with the board already set up. Jonathan and David hadn’t played before (though I found out later that Jonathan had read through some strategy articles in preparation), so I briefly went through the rules.

We played the Sun map, and I established my position mainly in southwest with a small presence in the southeast while Manny pretty much dominated the northeast. Jonathan’s forces were mainly located in the northwest, and Chris contested control of that area while also taking a strong position in the north central area. David concentrated his troops primarily in the south central.

For the first couple of turns, Manny set about conquering all interlopers in his area while the rest of us mainly went after neutral territories. I suffered two early defeats even with two to one and three to one advantages against those annoying green armies. During the Fall season, I tried to take over a castle that David had built adjacent to my main area and ended up losing. After another large beatdown, I was down to only 5 territories at the end of the first year and in last place by a fair margin. David had likewise suffered some setbacks and wasn’t looking too good. Manny had a slim lead by virtue of having one each of a castle, temple, and theater and having possession of all but one or two territories in his region. Chris’ position looked pretty good as well with holding second place and a strong presence in the center of the board. Jonathan was pretty isolated in the northeast and in third place, but he didn’t look like he was in that great of shape.

I spent the Spring fighting it out with David for control of my area before realizing that he and I had no shot at things. By the Summer, he and I had called a truce in order to focus on trying to make a dent in Manny’s and Chris’ fortifications. Meanwhile, Jonathan sat in his area buying building after building. By Fall, I realized that Manny, having not been able to expand outside one region, was no longer a threat and that it was actually Jonathan who was about to take us all down without firing hardly a single shot in the second year.

When we totaled all the points up, I was right. Jonathan finished with a strong 54, followed by Chris at 40, Manny and David both at 30, and me bringing up the rear with only 28, my worst showing ever at Shogun.

I had set the board up prior to their arrival, and the game took about 3 hours total, including the rules explanation.

Lessons Learned:

I’m not sure that focusing on dominating one region is the way to go. If you can’t bonus points in multiple areas, your chances of winning seem to be greatly reduced.
Jonathan’s mantra was “don’t be in the lead at the end of the first year.” It seemed to work well for him.You can get on a downhill slide fast in this game. I took a couple of early gambles, and, though slightly favored in each, lost. Those setbacks made me feel forced to take more chances, which also went against me. There’s a definite balance that has to be taken between being bo

Friday, March 5, 2010

2010 SWAG Heavier Gaming Champion

I started a contest to determing the best Heavier Gamer in our group for several reasons:

  1. I'm hoping that it will give participants a reason to attend more often and increase interest in the club in general.
  2. I'm hoping that the way that I've structured the contest will encourage participants to get to know the 10 games that we're using in depth instead of playing a whole bunch of games one time. By the end, we should all know these games pretty well.
  3. I want to know who's the best.

In an ideal world, we would find our gaming champion by having each participant play in a round robin tournament using a variety of different games. Each player would get a chance to test his skill versus each of his opponents, and everyone would play each game an equal number of times. Points would then be awarded according to order of finish, and the player with the highest total at the end would win.

We don't live in an ideal world, though. There is simply no way to get all the participants together in the same place long enough to play all the games, so, in lieu of the perfect solution, I came up with the best one that I could.

The first thing I needed was a list of games. Since we're specifically trying to find a "Heavier Gaming" champion, the list needed to be comprised of games with a decent strategical weight. I also wanted ones that were enjoyable and to have a good variety. I chose 8 games to definitely include, and then let the potential participants decide on the last two. The final list is:

Power Grid
Princes of Florence
Puerto Rico
Race for the Galaxy
Stone Age
Tigris and Euphrates

Next, I needed a point system. Ideally, if all participants are playing against each other with an equal number of plays, points based on order of finish is superb. The problem is - what do you do when I might attend all the gaming sessions, and a good competitor may only attend half? I would get more points simply because I played more. I tried to make it work, but I couldn't.

In the end, I chose to go with points scored in each game. Only your highest score is counted, so number of plays only gives you an opportunity to improve your score, a slight advantage instead of a huge one. With Manny's input, I also decided to take the highest score for each game and make it be worth an adjusted score of 100, scaling the lower scores based on the ratio of the participant's score to the high score. This way, all games are worth an equal number of points, so a high score of 11 at T&E isn't dwarfed by one of 40 at Agricola.

The person who has the highest total gets a trophy and title of 2010 SWAG Heavier Gaming Champion. The person with the highest total who attends the final meeting and isn't me gets a copy of Twilight Struggle (a roughly $40 game and ranked #3 on BGG). I'll also throw in 2nd and 3rd place prizes based on the number of participants.

I'm not sure that this contest finds the best gamer or simply the one who can score the most points in these 10 games. Still, it ought to be interesting to find out what happens, and I'll chronicle the events on this blog.

Some additional thoughts:

  • Only games played at official Heavier Gaming Sessions count, and the contest will end at the conclusion of the 12th Session. We are considering a modification to this rule to allow participants to play official games during the monthly SWAG Fiesta.
  • Participants must play all ten games at least once. Even if someone has the points lead playing only 9 games, they will not be eligible for prizes until they complete the 10th. We're going to do our best to ensure, however, that you can complete all 10 games in just 4 Sessions.
  • The thing that worries me the most is scoring differences playing the same game with different numbers of players. I don't really have a way to combat this problem because the number of participants in a game is solely determined by who shows up at a given Session. I'll try to keep track of the results, and see how much impact that it has.

2010 SWAG Dominion Tournament Recap

First of all, sorry that I haven't posted in a while. I'm going to be hosting a gaming tournament over the next 6 to 8 months and hope to chronicle the games here with session reports, etc, so look for new content fairly consistantly in the near future.

Our gaming group, the SouthWest Area Gamers (SWAG), has a decent number of members, but we have a hard time getting a lot of participation outside the core people to show up at events. The organizer and I recently began a series of tournaments to try to help drum up more interest. The following report is from our Dominion Tournament. The winner got a small trophy and the title of 2010 SWAG Dominion Champion.

We had two tables with each playing two games. The winner of each game got 7 points, 2nd place 5, and 3rd place 3. The top 4 finishers at the end of the two game qualifying round advanced to the single game championship.

Ofer, Laura, and I played at Table 1. I consider myself to be a pretty good player compared to the experience level of the rest of the players in our group (though not at all in the same league as the really experienced BSW players). Ofer has a decent amount of experience playing on BSW but hasn’t made it a point to study BGG strategy articles. Laura was at her first meetup and had never played.

Table 1 Game 1:

Cards were – Chapel, Chancellor, Moneylender, Throne Room, Militia, Market, Witch, Mine, Council Room, and Laboratory.

I started immediately with Chapel and a Silver and got rid of a bunch of my Estates and Coppers on my third round. Ofer expressed surprise at my ditching cards so early, and I knew then that I pretty much had the game won. He managed to give me a couple of Curses, but he didn’t run nearly enough Witches to seriously derail my strategy, especially since Laura didn’t add many, if any, Witches to her deck. I added a couple of Labs and Golds and was off to the races. Ofer used Militia more than anything else, but, with my small deck, all I needed was to draw one Lab to negate any deleterious effects. Final score: Me 37, Ofer 27, Laura 19.

Table 1 Game 2:

Cards were – Workshop, Remodel, Spy, Thief, Smithy, Throne Room, Feast, Gardens, Market, and Witch

I tend to prefer running efficient Lab or Chapel decks over the Gardens strategy, but, with only Market available and both Gardens and Workshop on the table, I pretty much had to go Gardens. Ofer let me buy 10 of the 12 Gardens (with Laura taking the other 2) and about 6 of the Workshops. I built my deck as large as possible with multiple buys from Market whenever possible and by using the Workshops extensively. By the time all the Gardens were gone, only about half the Provinces were purchased. I decided, at that point, to buy anything that had a short stack figuring that, since I was about maxed with points and my opponents could still get Provinces, ending the game sooner rather than later would be good. I finished with over 50 cards in my deck. Final score: Me 60, Ofer 50, Laura 38.

Jonathan, Michael, and Marc played at Table 2. I know that it was Jonathan’s first play and that Marc has some experience. I’m not sure how many times Michael had played.

Table 2 Games 1 and 2:

I wasn’t playing at this table, so I don’t know exactly what happened or the cards. I did get enough info, however, to give a brief overview.

In Game 1, Michael was able to develop an engine that allowed him to draw all his cards on just about every turn and ran away with the game. Final score: Michael 44, Jonathan 26, Marc 21.

I watched the end of Game 2, and it was the strangest Dominion match that I had seen. Apparently, all three players had gone Witch crazy the first part of the game and went through the entire stack of Curses. They spent the second part of the game mainly trying to get rid of the horrible purple cards via Chapel. Then came the weird part. They used Thieves to trash a bunch of the Golds (maybe fearing that they’d just be stolen back?). The game, obviously, then drug on as no one had a great deal of money. Jonathan in particular ended up with a very small deck with absolutely no treasure. Final score: Michael 48, Marc 28, Jonathan 6.

Marc and Jonathan ended up tying for fourth place with 8 points. Jonathan was then randomly chosen to sit at the final table with Michael, Ofer, and me.

Championship Table:

Cards were – Chapel, Cellar, Woodcutter, Feast, Bureaucrat, Militia, Smithy, Laboratory, Library, and Market.

Given a table with no Thief and both Chapel and Laboratory combined with my on preference for Chapel decks, the strategy choice was pretty much made for me. I opened with 4/3 and chose Chapel and a Silver. I thought that I was at a serious disadvantage, however, because Michael started with 5/2 Laboratory and Chapel. In retrospect, I’m not sure that this was the case. I think that having the Silver allowed me to Trash more Coppers early, which made up for my opponents early Lab buy.

What did kill me, however, is two early game Bureaucrat draws by Ofer. Ouch! He played the card exactly twice the entire game. Both times were early, and I had a Chapel and an Estate that I desperately wanted to get rid of each time. I think that I could have overcome those attacks, however, if not for a crucial mistake.

It was fairly early, and I had purchased 3 Silvers, a Gold, and one Laboratory. I got a draw that gave me all my Treasures, and I thought “No brainer. When you get 8, you buy a Province.” I’m almost positive that not picking up a second Lab here cost me the games. Though I was able to get another Province relatively quickly after that, my deck started to bog down, and I only ended up getting one more before the game ended.

Lesson learned – establish your engine before buying Provinces! Final score: Ofer 24, Jonathan 21, Me 20, Michael 18.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I Suck at Ticket to Ride

I've now played Ticket to Ride 4 times, and I have yet to win. Is it that the game requires a lot of luck or am I following a failed strategy?

On our Saturday, 4/4, meetup, Mandi joined us for six player Apples to Apples but left us on our own when we started playing the more complicated games. That means we had 5, Manny, Erin, Richard, Nora, and myself for the rest of the day. It made no sense to break up into 3 and 2 player games, so we needed ones that would accommodate 5 players. Ticket to Ride, though not one of my favorites, fits that niche quite well.

I felt pretty good about my strategy. I jumped out to an early lead by building a six piece track, and all my routes until the end of the game meshed well together. They were, however, all short, low to mid value routes. For my final draw of three tickets, though, only two were even possible, and only one seemed plausible. It, however, was not well connected to my other routes, and I ended up not being able to finish it before Erin used up all but three of her train pieces. This cost me -8 points. Still, I was competitive in total points by building, and I completed a pretty good number of routes.

When the final tally was done, Manny completely obliterated his opponents. He had as many or more routes than me, and they were all worth more points. Even if I had neglected the final round of tickets and concentrated on building 6 piece tracks, there's no way that I could have caught up.

So the answer to the question posed in the first paragraph - a little of both. There is a lot of luck involved, but I think that I also am pursuing a failed strategy. Some tips that I have learned:
  1. Go for long route early, not the short ones.
  2. In terms of both points and efficiency, it's better to use one long track than 2 or more short ones.
  3. It's more efficient to draw tickets if you can than to pick tickets up off the board due to the potential for wild cards.
  4. It's better to hold a lot of cards than spend consecutive turns building except for:
  5. You have to claim choke points early.

I'll try these out next time and see if my play improves.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Shogun at Manny's

Richard, Manny, Cruz, and I played Shogun last night. It was a fun game, but it ran an hour past the 2.5 hours that it was supposed to take. I need to remember to add in serious time for teaching and for the fact that everyone moves slowly until they figure out what is going on. Additionally, there were several rules questions that came up during the game that I had to try to figure out, and I messed at least two of them up (when dealing with revolts, you do not remove the revolt tokens after a non-winter revolt, and bonuses are given to a defender without tokens, not the attacker going against a territory with tokens).

I can’t help but compare it to Power Grid, which we played last week. The rules for PG were much easier to figure out and easier to learn. Part of the difference is that, with Shogun, you repeat a long set of actions a relatively few times whereas with Power Grid you repeat a short set of actions more times. The mechanics, however, are interesting and create a great playing environment once you figure everything out.

In Shogun, you are a Daimyo controlling all actions and troops in an attempt to become the dominant warlord in Japan’s Sengoku period. Each turn, there is a blind auction in which the player offering the most war chests gets to choose a card that will give a bonus in one of the action phases and which also determines play order for that turn. Then you have the option of taking 10 actions, but each action may only be taken in a single one of your territories with each territory only having one action taken place in it. You may:

Buy a Castle for 3 war chests
Buy a Temple for 2 war chests
Buy a Theater for 1 war chest
Tax for rice
Tax for war chests
Add 5 armies for 3 war chests
Add 3 armies for 2 war chests
Add 1 army for 1 war chest and make a reinforcing move
Attack A
Attack B

The winner of the game (the Shogun) is the one who collects the most victory points. Victory reports are awarded as follows:

1 point for each territory
1 point for each building
1 point for owning the most Theaters in a province
2 points for owning the most Temples in a province
3 points for owning the most Castles in a province

Shogun is a nuanced game that requires great attention to detail. For our session last night, I was the only one who had previously played the game, which gave me a serious advantage. Years of experience playing Risk serves me well in Shogun too.

In Risk, you get bonus armies if you completely control an area. In Shogun, you get bonus points if you own the most of a building type in each province. There are subtle other advantages for establishing a secure home base as well. What happens if you tax a territory for rice or war chests and it gets taken before you get your resources? Basically, you’re screwed since you have no opportunity that turn to get your resources from another source. If your territories are safe behind other territories that you own, your opponents can’t touch them. Therefore, your strategy should be to develop a strong home area with no opponents around and then expand out.

Even having an understanding of this vital point, I still screwed it up. I started with 4 territories on the isolated west side of the board and 4 near the very congested center. Instead of abandoning completely the center ones and consolidating in the west, I reinforced two in the center, including putting 5 on one of them. With 8 armies, I felt like the space was fairly safe, so the next turn I taxed it for war chests. Inexplicably, Manny chose this well defended territory to attack, and, since the battle occurred before the taxing, I lost all money production for the turn and thought that I was sunk.

Having learned an important lesson, I abandoned the remaining center territories and concentrated on the west. Richard was concentrated mainly in the northwest and became my natural target. In the meantime, Cruz, who had a great position in the east, started loading more and more armies into his western territories and going after Richard instead of consolidating his eastern positions. By this point, Manny had firm control of the center but was surrounded by hostile forces. He chose to expand to the north, going head to head against, you guessed it, Richard.

Because Richard had to spend so much of his resources defending himself from both Cruz and Manny, it was no problem at all to take over all his northwest territories, granting me complete control of two provinces. Had Manny and Cruz focused on each other, I think that the game might have been a lot closer. As it was, my dominance was virtually uncontested, especially since Richard exacted his revenge on Cruz, my nearest competitor, by knocking him out of some valuable but poorly defended eastern territories.

A couple of tips:

A key fact to remember about Shogun is that it is a lot like Risk but it has key differences. The most important of these dissimilarities is that Risk allows you to attack as many times as you have armies to attack. Shogun only allows you a maximum of two attacks a turn, meaning only 12 for the entire game. An opponent does not have the ability to lay waste to your entire territory. At most, he can advance one per turn, and that’s assuming that you don’t adequately fortify in the meantime.

My opponents, for the most part, did not realize the importance of the rice. If you do not accumulate one rice per province, you are subject to peasant revolts. The more rice you’re short, the more revolts will happen in your territories. If you have a lot of land in the final winter phase, you’re probably going to have at least 2 or 3 revolts. It is crucial that you have enough armies in your most important territories to survive these attacks.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Power Grid Mistakes

Manny, Richard, Nora, and myself met last night to play Power Grid, ranked the 3rd best game in the world by the members of

It was only my second session of PG, and it turned into my second loss. Hopefully, my mistakes will help you learn what not to do.

In my first game of Power Grid, I narrowly lost due to not having enough capacity on the final turn to power as many cities as my opponent. The lesson learned in that loss severely colored my play in this game, much to my detriment.

Here are some of the questions that I have about my play last night:

  • I let Manny and Nora outbid me for Plants 04 and 05, leaving me with Plant 08 and last in line to place my first house.
  • Nora, going first, selected the Pacific Northwest. Manny then took control of the valuable East Coast followed by Richard taking the Central Region. My decision was to fight it out with Manny or to claim an area for my own. I decided to take the expensive West Coast. This left no one to contest Manny for the east, giving him a tremendous advantage. I probably should have played it differently.
  • With the highest numbered plant, I would remain the leader for 2nd round if I bought a house like everyone else the first turn. I decided not to. I’m pretty sure that this was the correct decision since it let me be first in buying resources and placing houses. Also, it only cost me 10 Elektros, which would have almost been completely consumed by what I paid for the resources. The problem was that I started paying way too much consideration to placing myself in a good position as far as the leader track. The disadvantages to being in the lead aren’t nearly severe enough to make staying back too far attractive. In the end, letting Manny pull ahead too far is what killed me.
  • Later in the game, I really, really wanted a plant that was next up in the future market. With both Richard and me left to buy a plant, I took a chance and hoped Richard would outbid me for the one that I nominated. He didn’t. This blunder left me with a suboptimal plant that made me way to dependent on getting massive quantities of coal. In contrast, Manny bought much more efficient hybrid plants that allowed him not to be nearly as concerned with resources.
  • Near the end, I had much more plant capacity than anyone but very few cities. Instead of concentrating on catching up in cities, I spent all my money on resources when it wasn’t necessary. Huge mistake. Manny raced ahead to 17 cities even though he could only power 15. I had capacity for 20 but only had 11. Manny won.

In contrast to all my mistakes, Manny, overall, played an extremely good game. He took an early lead, selected plants well, and managed his strategy to perfection. Maybe he should be writing this article…

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Few Chess Strategy Tips

I haven’t played Chess seriously since college. At that time, I met Dave Dawson. I helped him out with his Mechanical Engineering homework, and he, being a near master level player, tutored me in Chess.

We started right after my first ever Chess tournament. Going in, I thought that I was hot stuff. Most people that I had played barely could stay on the same board with me. Surely, these players couldn’t be much better, right?

Wrong. They wiped up the floor with me. One guy was so bored by the challenge, or lack thereof, that I presented that he walked around the room while I made my moves.

That’s when I got more serious about learning. I never got near the level of a master, but, with Dave’s help, I at least reached the point where I was competitive. After leaving La Tech, I lost interest in keeping up my study of the game, and that knowledge slowly started leaking back into the dark recesses of my brain.

Recently, a coworker, Enrique, and I have started playing at lunch. I’m a bit rusty, but some of what Dave taught me is coming back.

If you’re a beginning player who hasn’t read much about Chess strategy, these few tips should immediately improve your game:

· Don’t cede control of the center of the board: If you have a knight in the center of the board, how many spaces can it attack? 8. Put that same knight on the edge and see how many it spaces it can attack. Only 4. Your pieces, especially knights and bishops are more effective in the center. Don’t let your opponent establish control there without a fight.
· Protect your king: Note that both your king’s and queen’s pawns are usually advanced in the fight for control of the center, leaving your king out in the open. If you leave it there, your opponent is going to gain, at the very least, temporal and positional advantage. Castle as soon as you can. The only exception to this rule is if the queens are taken off the board early. Your king becomes a more valuable strategic asset without the presence of the most powerful piece on the board.
· Try not to move the same piece twice in the opening: The purpose of the opening is to get all your pieces in position to attack. If I’ve got all my firepower pointed at your king and three of your pieces are still sitting in their starting spots, you’re pretty much going down.
· Don’t bring your queen out too early: Have you seen Searching for Bobby Fischer? Seriously, moving your queen out in the early game allows your opponent to develop their pieces by attacking your queen. Trust me, this is not good for you.
· Rooks belong on open files: Moving into the midgame, place your rooks on those files where your pawns have been taken. They are much more powerful threats there.
· Connected rooks are more powerful than the sum of the two independently: If possible, keep your rooks on the same rank or file with no pieces between. This way, they protect each other and provide for a double attack.
· Passed pawns must be pushed: A passed pawn is one that has no opponent’s pawns between it at the 8th rank. Advancing (pushing) these pawns creates a threat with which your opponent must deal.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pandemic - 2 Player Session Report

The meetup on Saturday was a bit of a letdown. 6 people showed up, not a bad turnout, but everyone left after 2 hours. All we had time for was one game of Apples to Apples and two of Scattergories. I don't consider either of those games to be worth a post.

My wife, Mandi, came to the rescue, though. She pretty much hates gaming, but, when she learned that I didn't get to play any games that I consider to be fun, she agreed to play one with me. I chose Pandemic because I figured she'd like the cooperative aspect of it.

This session was only the second time that I had played it. The first time, Manny led us through the game, so I didn't feel the need to do a thorough review of the rules since I had that prior experience. Oops!

The session at Manny's ended with us being overwhelmed by breakouts, and I was determined to not let that happen this time. Instead of choosing random roles, I assigned Mandi to be the Operations Specialist to build research stations, and I played the Medic to more easily clean out infected cities. Together, we concentrated, in order, on wiping disease out of cities that threatened to outbreak, curing diseases, and eradicating diseases.

We were doing really well, too. We had cured and eliminated all the yellow cubes and had cured the red disease. I noticed that we were getting near the end of the stack of player draw cards and read through the rules to see if we shuffle them and start over or what. Turns out, reaching the end of the draw stack is one of the loss conditions. At that point, there was no way for us to cure the remaining two diseases to win the game.

Lessons Learned:

  • Curing diseases is the priority. Though eradicating them gives you a benefit, you just don't have time to do it.
  • I think that two player is much tougher than playing with three or four. You have the benefit of moving each of specialist more, but you have less specialists, meaning less abilities and less cards.
  • If you're going to play two player, I wouldn't use the Operations Specialist. Because you can only hold 7 cards, you're getting rid of cards all the time anyway. Use the extra cards to build research stations.
  • The Scientist might be absolutely crucial. Needing only four cards instead of five may be the only way to get all four cured.
  • The Medic is useful but, again, with two players, may be a luxury that you can't afford. The Researcher's ability to transfer cards may be too essential to leave him out of the game.

For next game:

My plan is to concentrate solely on getting the 4 diseases cured and manage outbreaks only enough to keep from getting hoses.

BTW, Mandi did like the game better than most that I've forced her to play. No word yet on if she'll ever play again, though.

Friday, March 20, 2009

My Take on the Dominion Kingdom Cards

I’ve been playing a lot of Dominion online at BrettspeilWelt, so my knowledge is increasing at a pretty good pace. The game changes dramatically depending on which 10 action cards are in play, so I figure the best way to improve is to get a good grip on how and when each card should be used.

My take on the 25 Dominion Kingdom (Action) cards:

Adventurer – (6, Reveal cards in your hand until you reveal 2 treasure cards. Put those two cards in your hand and discard the other revealed cards.) It’s a decent card but not great because of the cost. If you’ve got a big deck and either have eliminated the coppers or have a high percentage of Gold and Silver, this card can net you 4 to 6 treasure. Don’t go overboard, but one in a deck that meets the conditions stated above isn’t too bad.

Bureaucrat – (4, Gain a Silver. Each other player reveals a Victory card and puts in on the top of his deck.) This one isn’t bad, but it never seems to fit into what I want to do with my deck. That being the case, I usually ignore it. It is beneficial, though. If you need a lot of Silver, this card gives it to you while punishing your opponents. It can also help slow up an opponent who’s got a chain deck going.

Cellar – (2, +1 Action, Discard any number of cards and draw cards for each one discarded) Unless I’m building a super efficient Chapel deck, at least one copy of Cellar fits into almost all my decks. It’s a great card drawing engine especially combined with other card drawers. Play a Laboratory or two and use this to get rid of the chaff.

Chancellor – (3, +2 Treasure, You may put your deck into the discard pile.) I have never bought this card. Essentially, it’s a Silver in the guise of an action card with a minor ability. The fact that it’s an action card makes it inferior to the Silver in that only one action can be used per turn, so, unless its ability makes it better or you’re scared of the Thief, you’re better off buying the Silver. The only use that I can see for the ability is if you keep track of every card that you play and that you have remaining in your deck. If so, you’ll know when it’s advantageous to use this card. I don’t know about you, but I don’t put that much mental effort into Dominion.

Chapel – (2, Trash up to 4 cards from you hand.) Doesn’t look like much, does it? Hard to believe that it’s a game changer, right? Believe me, it is. The Chapel allows you to discard all the clutter and, in a game with the Witch, makes the Curses almost worthless. The object when making a Chapel deck is to get rid of all your Coppers and Estates (don’t forget to buy a couple of Silvers before getting rid of your Coppers, though.) in order to make the deck super efficient. In an ideal world, you could cycle through your entire deck every turn while buying Provinces. Be careful, however. The Thief can completely wreck the Chapel deck by stealing all the Gold and Silver. My plan is to write a future post solely devoted to the Chapel Deck. I need a little more practice first, though.

Council Room – (5, +4 Cards, +1 Buy, Each other player draws a card) It’s reasonably priced at 5 and allows you to draw more cards than anything except possibly Library. Then, it let’s you have an additional buy. Slam dunk, right? I haven’t used it that much. There have been too many times when I’m sitting there with 5 cards in my hand, and my opponent uses this thing. That sixth card is almost always exactly what I need to set my hand into action. To me, it’s not worth what I’m giving my opponents.

Feast – (4, Trash this card and gain one costing up to 5) At first, I thought that this card was the most worthless card of all. Now, I see its use, and it’s essential in certain situations. A lot of 4 count cards are good, but most of the cards that drive your engine cost five. For example, if the Witch is out, you NEED to be the first one to start handing out Curses. If you’re not drawing the coin, consider using a Feast to get there.

Festival – (5, +2 Actions, +1 Buy, +2 Treasure) Often, the person with the most Festivals wins. It’s that good. Chain a couple of these together, and you’ve got 4 Treasure and a whole lot of actions left to use some card drawers. It pairs well with any card drawer, but especially well with the Library.

Gardens – (4, Gives 1VP for every 10 cards in your hand) This card is another one that you can build a deck around. I’m still perfecting my Garden deck technique, but a key combination is to use the Workshop and cards that allow you extra buys. Once I gain a bit more experience, I’ll do a post strictly for this deck.

Laboratory – (5, +2 Cards, +1 Action) It’s a card drawer that lets you play another action. That is always a good thing. Some believe that this card is so good that it actually should cost 6 to buy.

Library – (5, Draw until you have 7 cards in your hand. You may discard any Action cards drawn.) This one can be a super card drawer in the right deck. If you’re playing Festivals, for instance, which give you extra actions but not extra cards, Library works perfectly to cycle through your deck. It’s also the only card that I know of that makes you think “Please, please play a Militia…”

Market – (+1 Card, +1 Action, +1 Buy, +1 Treasure) The phrase “Jack of all trades but master of none” aptly describes this card, and, as such, it will fit into almost any deck. Though it’s never bad to draw it, rarely do I think “Yay! A Market!” If you need cycling cards, and none better are available, go ahead and take a few. If you need extra cash that is Thief proof or extra buys for that Garden deck, go ahead and take a few.

Militia – (4, +2 Treasure, Each other player discards down to 3 cards.) For me, the attack feature of this card is minimally useful. Sometimes, it deals real damage, but usually it’s not that great of an impact. The attack combined with giving you essentially an extra Silver on the board makes it worthy of play.

Mine – (5, Trash a Treasure card from your hand and gain one costing up to 3 more and put it into your hand.) Any card that makes your deck more efficient is good. This one turns Copper to Silver and Silver to Gold. Unless you have a Chapel to get rid of unwanted cards, you probably want at least one or two of these.

Moat – (2, +2 Cards, Reveal to counter an attack) I screwed up the rules on this one for my first several games. I thought that you had to discard it to counter an attack. Not true. All you have to do is reveal it; you still have use of it for that turn. The difference makes this one almost essential if your opponents are utilizing Witches, Thieves, or Militia.

Moneylender – (4, Trash a copper card and gain 3) This one isn’t the most powerful of the conversion cards because you have to draw it and a copper at the same time, but it does have it’s uses. Unless you’re going for a Gardens deck, you want to be as efficient as possible, and getting rid of Coppers helps to make you much more efficient.

Remodel – (4, Trash a card from your hand and gain a card worth up to 2 more) Note that Gold costs 6, and Provinces cost 8. See a connection between that fact and this card? Think about it. Seriously, it helps make your deck more efficient, can get rid of Curses, and helps to win in the late game. Nice.

Smithy – (4, +3 Cards) I was completely enamored with this card when I first started. Draw 3 extra cards? Sweet! I still like it, but it does have a big drawback in that it doesn’t provide you with another action. Late in the game, I like long combos, and the Smithy can stop a chain cold. I usually want one or two in my deck, more possibly if Villages are involved, but that’s about it.

Spy – (4, +1 Card, +1 Action, Each player reveals the top card. Player of the Thief chooses whether the card stays on top or goes to the discard pile.) This one isn’t super powerful, but it can be useful if there are no Markets, Laboratories, etc. It will keep a chain going, give you some control over what cards are coming up, and possibly harm your opponents. It’s not a card that I seek out, but I’ll use it if I feel it’s my best choice.

Thief – (4, Each opponent reveals two cards from the top of their deck. If any Treasures are revealed, one of your choice goes to the Trash pile. You may choose to steal any cards sent to the trash this way.) This card can stop an efficient Chapel deck cold. Other than that, it’s a bit hit or miss. Obviously, it gains value if you’re playing 4 player, and your opponents have a lot of Silver and Gold. Basically, it has situational usage at best.

Throne Room – (4, Choose an action card from your hand. Play it twice.) You have to be careful, because this card is worthless by itself. If you’re playing lots of action cards, however, Throne Room can supercharge your engine. I usually end up with 2 of these in the appropriate deck but never more than 3.

Village – (3, +1 Card, +2 Action) I think that I tend to misuse this card. Since it’s so cheap, I tend to buy too many too early. Is it really that useful to buy it on one of your first two turns? Without many extra actions to play, all it really does is draw either another Copper or another Estate. It is a useful card that belongs in most decks, though.

Witch – (5, +2 Cards, Each other player gains a Curse.) This one is another key card that changes the game. You may be able to ignore it if you’re playing a Chapel deck. Otherwise, you usually want to get these and start handing out Curses to your opponents faster than they hand them to you.

Woodcutter - (3, +1 Buy, +2) No card in Dominion is worthless; some are more situation than others, though. This one is good if a) you’re scared of thieves stealing Silver from your Chapel deck, b) you’re running a Garden deck because it gives you extra cash and an extra buy, or c) there are no other extra buy cards to give your chain deck the ability to pick up multiple Provinces per turn.

Workshop – (3, Gain a card costing up to 4) I use this one primarily in Garden decks. It gives you a Garden and still leaves you your buy to gain an extra card.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


Though the title sounds like the hot new German game in town, it isn't. Brettspiel is a free online gaming site that features many popular board games. I've seen Carcasonne and Stone Age, and I've played, to this point, 26 games of Dominion - only winning 11. YIKES, tough competition.

BGG has a nice primer on it here. I would recommend checking it out before creating an account because the interface isn't as intuitive as it could be.

I'm BWFoster78 on the site. Look me up.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stone Age Session Report

I played Stone Age with Nora, Manny, and Mando at the last meetup. For some reason, I'm enjoying playing it less now than I did at first.

I pursued my typical strategy of taking what was given to me. My priorities, in order, are:
  1. Moving up the food production track.
  2. New Meeples, but don't stretch food too thin.
  3. Good cards for low resource cost; late in game, cards that give me a lot of points regardless of cost.
  4. Huts that meet my resource needs.
  5. Tools, don't want more that 4 to 6 total however.
  6. Wood, good for trading for cards. Need to keep a bunch on hand.
  7. Higher cost resources for getting points from huts.
  8. Food, I can always throw meeples in the food production area since there are no limits.

Mando and Nora weren't really too much of a factor in the game, but Manny made a strong push at the end by trading in a lot of gold for points. He was able to accumulate a lot of Meeples quickly but wasn't able to move up the food production track enough to keep up with his population growth. It seemed to me like he was going for food almost every round.

His strategy seemed to be to get as much production of resources as possible and convert that into points. To do so, he almost completely ignored tools and cards. The lack of cards really hurt him. By getting a few more key bonuses that fit his strategy, he could have easily have pushed past me. Also, getting just two cards that allow him to roll for a food production bonus would give him 8 chances to roll a 6, pretty good odds. The extra food would have helped him a lot.

It would have been interesting to see what would have happened had he played a little tighter, especially since I made a major screw up in one of the last rounds miscalculating the number of resources that I needed on a turn.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Modern Art - Second Play

At the last meetup, I played Modern Art again and won easily.

From the standpoint of determining play strategy, games typically fall into one of three categories:
  1. It is difficult to figure out how the game mechanics interrelate and thus hard to determine what moves to make.
  2. There is a natural progression where I figure it out more and more as I gain experience.
  3. It feels intuitive to me.

Games in category 2 are easy for me to analyze, and I can put my thoughts into words for this blog. The other two categories are much more difficult. With the first type, I don't know what to do myself, so it's the blind leading the blind. With the final type, it's hard to break out tips from play that simply "feels right" to me.

Unfortunately, Modern Art falls into the 3rd category, but I'll try for discern some tips anyway:

  1. I'm not that aggressive in the first round. I have no information to tell me what artists are going to be valuable later on, so I'd rather bide my time.
  2. As the game progresses, the cards in your hand become more valuable, so don't get rid of cards unnecessarily in the early rounds. Save those double auctions for the end.
  3. Pay attention to how many paintings of each artist have been sold in the early rounds; it will allow you to estimate value for the final round. That artist that had five paintings out in Rounds 1 and 2 and another 3 in 3 isn't going to have a lot left to sell in Round 4. Conversely, you can pretty much guarantee that that artist that hasn't sold much the entire game is going to be pretty high on the list for that final round.
  4. This game is all about maximizing value. To win, you have to buy paintings for less than they're worth and sell them for more. To do so, you must correctly judge value and use metagaming on your opponents.
  5. In general, it's bad to close out a round. You're losing a minimum of $30,000. On the other hand, if there are two artists with 4 paintings out and you own a bunch of the one that you can close, the difference between first and second makes it equal if you own 3 paintings and a profit if you own all 4.
  6. There are 12 paintings for Lite Metal, 13 for Yoko, 14 for Cristin P, 15 for Gitter, and 16 for Krypto. Obviously, more players are going to have more paintings from Krypto than for Lite Metal. Therefore, Krypto is going to have a greater chance of coming out than Lite Metal. Note, however, that the fewer paintings an artist has available the higher ranking in tiebreakers. If Krypto sold 5 and both Gitter and Yoko sold 4, Yoko will be worth $20,000 to Gitter's $10,000.

That's all I have for now. Hopefully, you can glean some information from this post that helps you in your bidding.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Two More Sessions of Dominion

Dominion is THE hot game for our meetup group, and I got a chance to play two more sessions last Saturday.

The first game pitted myself against JM, Mando, and Nora. I chose to pursue a Chapel (costs 2, trash up to 4 cards from your hand) strategy this go around. Not only was it successful, but it completely fit my style of play.

I started with my normal buys of a Village (costs 3, +1 card +2 actions) and a Smithy (costs 4, +3 cards). The Chapel was my third buy, and I followed it up with another Smithy and two or three more Villages. That was pretty much all I needed.

I used the Chapel to trash all my estates, and, once I got a few golds, all my coppers as well. At the end of the game, I had less than 20 cards, and an astounding 7 of those were provinces. Basically, the only turns near the end of the game where I didn't buy a Province were turns where I drew four of them in my hand to start. The rest of the time, the Villages and Smithies allowed me to cycle almost completely through my deck. I definitely want to explore the use of the Chapel more.

The second game, between JM, Mando, and myself, became my first ever loss after 6 consecutive wins. We chose a set of action cards that did not contain any way to trash cards and did contain a lot of attack cards.

I started out buying a Village, a Smithy, and a Festival (costs 5, +2 action +1 buy +2 treasure). Twice, I misused the Festival early in the game, which completely killed me. I forgot to add the 2 treasure to my total which in turn made me not even think about the extra buy feature. My plan had been to pursue a Garden (1VP/10 cards in your deck) strategy, and a couple of moats early on would have helped greatly. My screwup also caused me to undervalue the Festival (it's the first time I had ever used the card), meaning that I didn't buy extra copies as soon as possible.

Mando ended up winning by a very thin margin over JM. He used the Festival card to great effect, but also seemed to fall in love with the Spy. I didn't use the Spy and, though I agree it has some value, am not sure that it merits four copies in your deck. Truthfully, JM should have won but made one screw up that cost him the game.

He concentrated on getting as much Gold as possible and, on one turn, bought it when he could have afforded a Province. That proved to be the difference in the game. JM said that he didn't want to clog up his deck with the green cards too early. To me, it doesn't matter when you buy them; my whole focus is to get to 8 to buy Provinces.

He was successful enough in acquiring them, however, that he shortened the game. By the time that I figured out my mistakes, it was too late to recover. I ended up not buying a single Garden. Not very good when you're trying to pursue a Garden strategy.

Win or lose, though, I do want to try this strategy again.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dominion - Some Additional Thoughts on Strategy

At our last meetup, I had the opportunity to play Dominion three times, two times using cards besides the beginner version. I've refined my play somewhat and will share with you some of my thoughts.

The basic strategy is to get enough gold in your hand to buy a Province. Failing that, buy a gold if you get 6 or 7 treasures. If less than 6, buy a silver or a card that's better than a silver.

My tendency right now (after only 5 plays) is to try to build highly efficient decks, ie ones that allow me to cycle through as many cards as I can. To this end, my favorite card is the Village (costs 3, gives you +1 card and +2 actions). In the past, I was in love with the Smithy (costs 4, gives you +3 cards) and would get all of them that I could. Now, I would rather load up on Villages and keep the quantity of Smithies to no more than 3.

Another fabulous card for an efficient deck is the Moneylender (costs 4, trash copper for +3 treasure). He gets rid of those early coppers for you and gives you a good jump in treasures for this turn. In the first game where I ever used him, I was able to trash 4 coppers, each time trading them for either Gold or a Province. I wouldn't buy more than one, though.

If your goal is to get to eight treasures in a hand, having an Adventurer (costs 6, allows you to draw through the deck until you get two treasures - discard interim cards). Assuming you have a tight deck and at least two or three golds, you're looking at an instant boost up to Province territory.

Next on my list to try: building decks around Chapel (costs 2, trash up to 4 cards from your hand) where you build a hyper efficient deck and Gardens (costs 4, 1VP for every 10 cards in your deck) where you try to get as many cards as possible.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

No Thanks!

No Thanks! is simple to learn and quick to play, a perfect filler game.

Each player is given 11 chips, and a turn order is established. A card is them flipped up in the center of the table. The first player has the option of taking the card or placing a chip on it to pass it to the next player. Each card counts against you based on the numerical value on its face, and each chip takes one from the total. The player with the least points after the deck has been gone through wins. The only slightly complicated rules are that some cards are removed from the deck and left face down so that no one knows exactly what cards are in deck and, if you get consecutive cards, only the lowest one counts against you.

Procrastinating for two weeks before posting this allowed me to realize that, out of all the games that we played at the last meetup, this one was the least memorable. I had to go to Boardgamegeek just to remember anything about it. Of course, it probably didn't help that we played two games, and JM kicked my butt both times. I do have a tendency to equate winning and enjoyment.

I'm willing to give it another try if only to see if I can figure out the key to the game. With most games, I pretty quickly ascertain at least the basic strategy, enough at least to keep me in contention. After two plays, I'm still searching...


Pandemic is a unique game in that it's cooperative. It pits you and your friends against the game itself, and, let me tell you, it's not easy to prevail, even on the medium difficulty level.

You and your team represent the Centers for Disease Control and must fight to stop outbreaks of different viruses. Each of you has special powers to help contain and cure, but the little bugs spread fast and furious. If you cure all the viruses, you win. If a certain number of outbreaks occur, you lose.

Unfortunately, JM, Angela, and I allowed pestilence to rule the world. Sorry about that all you who died horrible deaths.

What can you expect from our first attempt? I think that we can beat the medium setup with a little tweaking of our strategy. Man, I'd hate to see the hard level, though.

This one is going to require more play. That's why I'm so happy that my wife got it for me for my birthday!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Modern Art

While I can be a bit ambivalent toward card games, I generally love auction games, and JM introduced me to a gem of one last meetup, Modern Art. He also messaged me to let me know that it's on sale for half off at Barnes and Noble here in town and to admonish me for being so slow to update my blog. Sorry!

I did indeed enjoy the game and intend to pick up a copy ASAP.

Each player represents a museum and starts with a hand full of paintings by various artists. Following assorted rules, the players take turns auctioning their collections, receiving money from the other museums at the time of sale. Once five paintings from the same artist have been sold, the round ends.

At the end of the round, values are placed on the artists' worth based upon whose paintings sold the most. This sets a baseline value for subsequent rounds, and the game is on. The museum who manages to acquire the most money wins.

After the first round, the minimum value for the paintings has been clearly set, but occasionally I was allowed to purchase one for lower than that value. If that artist's work was worth $10000 at the end of round one, it will not be lower than that at the end of round 2, and it could go up in value to as much as $40000. Therefore, it makes no sense to let me buy it for less than the minimum $10000. By capitalizing on these mistakes, I ended up finishing with nearly twice as much cash as my nearest competition.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Take 6

Take 6 is a card game in which each player receives a hand of numbered cards and four cards are placed face up in the center of the table. Taking turns, the players place cards on the table next to the face up cards with the caveat that each one has to be placed next to the one that is closest numerically to it without going under. If you place the sixth card, you have to take the first five cards. If all the cards in your hand are lower than the ones on the table, you choose which row to take and start a new row with yours. Each card also has a point value, which are scored when you take them. Lowest score wins.

It's a short game, and we played it twice. JM kicked my butt the first game, but I managed to pull out a victory the second time.

As far as strategy goes, this game is all about card and hand management. You need to manipulate the situation so that your opponents are forced to take the points instead of you. There does seem to be a lot of luck involved however, because high cards do seem to give you a distinct advantage.

After two plays, I'm still on the fence. I need to play it a few more times to get a better feel for it.

Initial Impression of On the Dot and Jungle Smart

At our last meetup, JM brought out On the Dot and Jungle Smart. I'm reviewing them together because a) we played a lot of new games that night and b) the two are both puzzle games.

In On the Dot, players are given four transparent cards with colored dots on them. A card with a pattern of dots is flipped up, and players must manipulate their cards to replicate that pattern. The first one to do so, gets the card and the point. The game is challenging until you get the trick of it. Once you do, I guess there's fun to be had in trying to find the match before your opponents. Still, I'm not sure of the replayability factor.

Jungle Smart is very similar in that a card is flipped over, all players compete to see who can figure out how to move a lion, elephant, and bear into the order shown first. The trick is that you have to determine the moves mentally and be able to repeat them to the others to win the point. To me, this seems more like a good game to play with kids than a highly competitive adult game.

Overall, both were enjoyable for the first play, but I question how fun they would be with multiple replays.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Race for the Galaxy - 2 Player

After everyone else left Thursday night, Mando and I played Race for the Galaxy.

Frequent readers of this blog (I think that that pretty much means Ed) will remember that Race is one of my new favorite games. It's quick to set up and play, easy to explain, but the strategy is complicated and varied enough that it keeps me interested.

For this session, I pursued my standard produce/consume strategy. By the time that Mando, who was going for military, laid down his 12th card, I thought that I was too far ahead on points from using Consume 2x VP for him to catch up. He had two six cost cards that gave him huge bonuses, and he ended up passing me by two points. The win was somewhat tainted, however, by the fact that my opponent played two of the same card. Unfortunately, neither of us noticed the rule violation in time to correct it.

I need to switch to a new strategy. Mine worked well the first time I played, but it has let me down since then. I also need to pay more attention to the 6 cost cards.