Monday, January 31, 2011

Pandemic - Infecting Another Houstonian

This week I played several games of Pandemic as I introduced the game to my compatriots in Houston.  Pandemic is a quick playing game where four diseases have broken out around the world.  The players must form a team of specialist with unique abilities to contain the infection until they can find a cure.  Its a great, fully cooperative game.

My first game is with my buddy Akhtar (  In our two player game we defeated the germs handily, but I could tell Akhtar was hooked and we played a few more times.

One player Akhtar and I have been trying to get to join us was Christa from work.  She finally found time to play a single game, along with Winnie.  I explained the rules and we were a disastrous failure.  The disease defeated us handily despite coming close to winning.  Christa obviously had that "new addict look" as she glanced at the time and said (in that texas accent of hers), "Let's play it again".  I chuckled, and we set the game up a second time with the four of us.

This time we were much more coordinated.  The Yellow Germs fell to our superior teamwork and was vanquished.  Blue infections erupted in Chicago, Toronto, and Washington.  We easily contained them, but Asia and Oceania were different stories.  The red plague seemed to be everywhere, spreading from Tokyo, Seoul, and Jakarta.  Meanwhile, Central Asia was a writhing mass of Black cubes.

Christa, our every dutiful medic, traveled from city to city treating the infected as much as possible.  Every time an outbreak occurred we groaned and the game grew more intense.  "Chennai!  How could it have spread in Chennai? I was just there.  Oh man.", she complained.  Finally, we collectively had the cards to cure the diseases, we just needed to get our Scientist in a research station and give her the cards.  Suddenly an epidemic broke in Osaka, the Red Menace Plague had spread to the rest of Japan.  Could we do it?

Our Medic took her turn.  Unable to fly to Tokyo or Seoul, we could only hope there were no more outbreaks in those cities.  She flipped the first Infection card over....Kolkota.  Not good for us, but we could survive it.  The second card....Seoul.  Seoul's outbreak spread to Tokyo, which caused an outbreak to spread to Osaka, and that was  the eighth outbreak of the game.  We had lost again.

"I got to go, but I want to buy this game," Christa declared.  We packed the game away, but I knew boardgameitis had infected another individual.  This time the epidemic is in Houston.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Battlestar Galactica - Exodus

I played a game of Battlestar with the Exodus expansion.  The characters were: Starbuck, Tom Zarek, Cally, and Felix Gaeta.  There are some significant changes with Exodus which greatly changed the way the game works.  We played with the Cylon base, Personal agendas, and Final Five.  We didn't bother with a sympathizer, there would be only one cylon.

The very first event out, which we failed, prevented anyone from viewing other's Loyalty Cards.  Starbuck wanted this to fail and Zarek seemed to agree with it.  I immediately suspected a potential cylon among my compatriots.  My analysis was wrong, as both of them had a Final Five card, and therefore didn't want their loyalty questioned.  However, not used to these changes in the game, I continued to suspect a cylon.

First order of business: repairing the Mark VII's.  By the time Starbuck arrives, all of them are available.

At this point I'd like to express my initial disappointment in the cylon board.  Yes, the cylon's attacked, but their  attacks were weak and disorganized.  Starbuck chewed through whatever raiders appeared, and the Galactica's main guns obliterated the Basestar.  So, far, not impressed with the cylon board.  One card, which we couldn't succeed at, executed Cally.  She was replaced by Tyrol.

A few strategies became very apparent.  First, escorting all the civilian ships off the board is a bad idea.  Starbuck did this once, and the raiders immediately attacked the Galactica, inflicting damage through sheer numbers.  Second, the Communications office becomes critical and receives much more attention.  A typical turn would go as follows:

1) Three Civilian Ships appear on the board,
2) Starbuck Executive Orders Zarek, who is in the Communications.  Zarek moves the two civvies to Starbuck's location.
3) Zarek Executive Orders Starbuck, who then escorts two civvies off the board.

If we need to escort 3 ships, Starbuck (who is CAG), uses the CAG ability to have on ship escort 1 ship and still has 2 actions left (CAG ability gives one raider activation and an action).  Starbuck can then escort two more civvies.  Very quickly we could vacate the entire area of civilian ships.

Lo, I'm the Cylon!
The build up of the fleet on the cylon board continued.  About the third or fourth time they make an appearance, it is swarming with ships.  We blast the ships.  Cylon Raider parts are scattered in space by Starbuck, Heavy raiders fall to the Big Guns, and a nuke launch (with Strategic planning) annihilates a basestar and its escorts.  When Galactica jumps, the cylon fleet appears to not be a threat.  The Galactical did take damage, although we did the best to repair it.  Often it would seem we would repair a system only to have it get hit again.  Visiting the sickbay due to Galactica blasts became a hobby.

At the halfway mark the Loyalty cards are dealt out and I find out I'm the cylon!  That threw me for a loop as I really suspected Starbuck (escorting all civvie ships?  Suspicious.  Promoting not looking at loyalty cards?  Suspicious.)

Looking at the resource dials I'm amazed at how incredibly well we are doing.  The lowest dial is on 7, and population is practically untouched.  Yep, it's going to be a long haul.  I determine I can't win through the basic "drain them of resources", I'm going to go through the destroy Galactica route.

At this point I want to point out another wonderful addition to the game: the Consequences cards.  The Consequences actions had come to our rescue several times in the past.  It is one of the major reasons our resources were so high.  However, as a hidden Cylon I added several Consequence cards to great effect.  One was a Green 0, where no green was needed.  I also added to additional cards which drove the final score to -1.  Woohoo!  Morale is -1!  Just 8 more to go!  Even as a Cylon I managed to manipulate the Consequence skill cards once or twice to negatively impact the crew.  A few times it did backfire.

I manage as a hidden cylon for one full turn before my cover is irretrievably discovered.  They humans are too busy fixing galactica, but Starbuck is onto me after Zarek's skill check.  I decide it is time to bug out and send Starbuck to the brig.  Timing was fortuitous, as the Launch Bay is shot to pieces and she won't launch immediately.  My Supercrisis is a doozy for the CAG: either lose some civvie ships or be executed.  I realize the damage Starbuck has done earlier, and hope she chooses execution.  She does and is replaced by Lee Adama.

Lee Adama is good, but he is no Starbuck.  Civilian ships are lost faster than the humans can escort them.  The Mark VII's become damaged.

From here I spend my time either on the new Cylon board: adding ships, activating fleets from the main board (when they arrive), and once or twice I did the crisis search.  Quickly the damage mounts on Galactica.  The humans manage to fend them off and repair her, but the resources dip into the Red.  The Galactica makes it to  distance 8, and it becomes a race to finish off Galactica before they jump again.

One lone unmanned viper stands between my raiders and two civilians.  Galactica is severely damaged.  I activate the Raiders, in huge numbers now.  The proud viper pilot dodges left, dodges right, dodges up, but to no avail.  The last Vipers is damaged and the vipers close on the civilians.  Population, for the longest time the must expendable resource, drops to 1.  The final civilian ship is flipped, and its the big population carrier, two population is lost.  The humans lose after a great battle.

Final Thoughts
Exodus adds great options for both the cylons and the humans.  Executing Starbuck was critical to my success.  Having her as a CAG was brutal.  She annihilated raiders left and right, took potshots at basestars, destroyed heavy raiders.  A real menace.  When she voluntarily executed herself,I could then focus on destroying Galactica.  I didn't succeed in that plan, but the continuous damage inflicted on her kept the humans busy while their civilian ships gradually dwindled.

I took two pics (with a poor phone camera), which I've included here.

A cylon happy sight:

Yep, every one of the vipers was damaged.  First time I've seen that.

End condition.  Look at all those pretty raiders around those civilian ships.  I consider this a lucky win as next turn the humans were going to jump to victory.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Battlestar Galactica - Pegasus

Today I'm going to post about one of my favorite games "Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game" (BSG for short).  Normally, a game based off a movie or show is usually less than stellar.  Everyone once in a while one will rise to the rank of "ok".  BSG is incredible in that it captures the tenseness of the show, the gritty fatalism, and the need to fight against that struggle.  There is also a sense of rising paranoia and, if you are a cylon, the dread that maybe they figured you out before your plans come to fruition.

I had the joy of playing two games of BSG at a convention recently, one with the Pegasus expansion and one with the Exodus expansion.  This is about the Pegasus version.

# Players: 7
Characters: Gaius Baltar(President), Saul Tigh(Admiral), Karl "Helo" Agathon, Cylon Leader Cavil, Anastasia "Dee" Dualla, Ellen Tigh, Starbuck
I was Ellen Tigh

Pegasus - Early Game
We found out after the game there were no cylons in the first half and the Cylon Leader wanted a Human victory (but with low resources).  As such, it went fairly well for the humans.  The cylon leader infiltrated the ship, and later executed himself.  Starbuck did what Starbuck does: eliminate cylon ships, and Ellen Tigh went to Pegasus for the Engine Room, ensuring there was a jump prep symbol on the card..

Crisis cards ate away at our resources quickly.  It would be nice to say that Ellen Tigh did a useful job, but it seems whenever she was XO'ed, or she did her Engine action, the card had a prep symbol (only once do I remember this not being the case).  So the game quickly progressed to the Second half.

We encountered several cylon attack cards along the way, but whenever Starbuck was in trouble Ellen was XO'ed to fire the Pegasus Main Batteries or the Pegasus canons. In Short, with Pegasus there, the Cylons would appear and promptly get torn to shreds.  "Dee" was executed via a crisis card, but no one seemed to miss her, and she was replaced by "Chief" Tyrol.

When attacking a basestar, the Pegasus damaged herself, twice: once in the Engine Room and once in the Airlock.

Pegasus - Late Game
I found out I was a Cylon!  Baltar was sent to the Brig, but used his special once-per-game action to look at Helo's cards and announced Helo was a cylon.  I now knew it had to be one of the two of them.  Accusations flew.  With Baltar in the brig, his power was neutralized if he was cylon.  I decided I had to spring him when it came my turn.

By a stroke of luck Helo's skill check succeeded, but with four negative cards.  Helo threw in three cards, the only player that did so (I admit, I threw in two negative cards), and everyone else threw in two or one card except for Gauis.  Gaius now had enough circumstantial evidence to get himself out of the brig successfully, the Humans had few cards in their hands to stop him if desired, and I had horded a my cards as best I could to get him out.

The round went ok for the humans with everyone out there.  Helo's turn saw a failed check, with two red cards turning the tide of the failed check (I imagine they came from the Destiny deck).  Baltar had throw in no cards.  So, with all the "evidence" piled against him, I XO'ed Baltar, who immediately travelled to Pegasus and repaired the Airlock.  Starbuck took her turn shooting cylon raiders, and then Gaius tossed Helo out the airlock.  When it was revealed Baltar was a cylon, I announced I'd royally screwed up and begged forgiveness.  Helo was replaced by Lee Adama, but it was too late.

Resources continued to drop dangerously low.  All the scales were reading 2 or less when the jump to eight was made.  This occurred on the Cavis turn, and it was too late.  A crisis card came up which would cause a loss of morale if failed.  The humans tried to prevent it, but it happened.  They were doomed even if they succeeded as my turn was coming up and I had a morale reduction special ability.

Pegasus Tactics
Pegasus really changes the game.  The ship itself is a cylon killing machine.  I would almost recommend focusing on killing the Pegasus as a revealed cylon.  It's firepower is overwhelming and potentially pilots are almost unnecessary.

Executing people to determine loyalty may sound like a good idea, but in a large group game that means a loss of potentially 5 morale.  In a smaller game it seems Pegasus would allow executions without major repercussions: 2 morale loss maximum to know the loyalty of every player seems acceptable losses to me.  In a large game, doing it when your sure of the loyalty is one thing, doing it when your uncertain is not.  Therefore, I'm holding judgement on that aspect of the game for a few more plays.

The Treachery cards had a small impact on the game.  They were crucial for airlocking people (Ellen is the only human to collect Treachery cards, and the only player collecting treachery cards in our game).  The only one which seemed to come into play often was the "Basestar" card.  Just luck of the draw there, I guess.  The Reckless skill cards did make an appearance once or twice, but they did not impact the core game play dramatically.

In all, Pegasus definitely adds some power for both the unrevealed cylon players and the humans.  I look forward to playing it again, but I would like to hear some comments on the overall impression from other people.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In the Year of the Dragon

In the Year of the Dragon is a management game, where players attempt to assemble a population to overcome certain disasters.  The game challenge comes from having to manage ones population (which determines turn order), housing (how many people can be held in your 'village'), cards (people available to hire), money (what can be bought) and the upcoming disasters.

I've played this game several times and I have more words of advice for new players of the game.  These are simple guidelines and not hard and fast rules, but they should help:

First play
Play the first game as desired, learn the mechanics and what happens.  Have fun, but expect to lose.  In this stage the mechanics are being learned.  The rest of these guides should help improve the score.

Build at Least One Palace Floor Early
This will help with the next two steps.  Building a floor early relieves the population pressure quite a bit.  It doesn't have to be in a separate palace, but so much the better since every palace is a point.

Planned Obsolescence
Expect to lose people.  It is almost impossible to keep everyone alive.  Therefore, expect to have people replaced by others.  There is no reason this can't be planned out.  For example: the physicians are good, but after the last plague they are of no use.  If required to lose someone, lose the doctors after last plague.  Another version of planning is to not put all doctors in the same house.  If required to lose people from drought, having both doctors in the same house means you can only lose one of them at most.

3-Turn Rule
Look forward 3 turns to see what is coming up.  Try planning for it if possible, picking up the person (people) required to meet that objective, then work on the next objective which should be 3-turns out.

Going first is nice, Winning is better
Population decides the order of play.  Going first is a definite advantage, but it may only be a temporary advantage.  When choosing an action, always have two or three available options to choose from.  If the player before you chooses the first choice, it is unlikely all the options will be chosen.  This is another area where working 3-turns out, gives some advantages.  Trying to get rice the turn it is needed is too late.  Instead, start thinking 3 turns out.  While the other player(s) spend actions on increasing population, spend time doing something useful by gaining rice, money, research, etc.

Privileges - Timing, Money, and Efficiency
I've seen games won where people concentrate on Privileges.  Similarly, other games were won where no privileges were chosen.  To review, early privileges are better than late privileges because it provides more turns to score points.  But look at timing as well.  Spending all 6 starting yuan on the first turn for a 2 Privilege equates to 24 points at game end.  However, spending 2 yuan on the first two turns to purchase 2 1-value Privileges yields 23 points at game end.

Get Offensive
Be vicious.  Look at opponents' weaknesses and strike.  For example: If the opponent is short Rice, consider taking Rice, or its paired action, even if personal supplies are good.  Losing people may not hurt much if the opponent placed people correctly in the palace, but the loss will limit their options

Let Others Do the Dirty Work
When playing a multi-player game, consider choosing actions which will force others to take an action another player needs.  Again, this requires looking at what opponents' need and then choosing actions that make one item seem more valuable than others.  For example: using the rice situation above, if rice is secure, and the opponents both need it, consider taking a different action which one of them needs, but not at the moment.  One of them will then choose Rice, leaving the other to suffer the effects of Drought while keeping to the "3-turn' rule.

Looking at this game strategically in the above fashion will improve the game.  That said, like any advice, there are always times to ignore the rules.  After a few plays those times when to break the rules should become easier to deduce.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Power Grid: Russia - Timing is everything

Players (4): Alex, Barbara, Chance, Diane

Played a four player game of Power Grid on the map of Russia (I think, or eastern Europe, whichever has the unusual nuclear rules) which was notable for two major reasons. First, an unusually long "Stage I". Second, an unusual position swap at the end of the game.

Opening Game
The game opened as Power Grid usually does.  There was some jockeying among Alex and Diane, with Diane trying to keep Alex from being able to get territory where nuclear power was an option, but after the third time around, we all had the option to purchase nuclear plants.

Bidding for plants and fuel was good, with everyone purchasing plants in the first three rounds.  By the end of the opening, Alex, Barbara and Chance had 6 cities each, Diane had 4.  This marked the end of the opening game.

Mid Game
We now entered into what makes this game unusual: a very long Stage I.  All the powerplants which came out within the first four turns were really good.  However, the we locked up the entire map with cities, except for a few which were far out from Chance and Diane's location.  Now, Power Grid has a "most money" aspect to it.  Basically, the player with the most money has power, so gathering money is important. However, turn order is determined by the player with the most cities (ties broken by power plant size).  Lastly, turn order is vitally important to the game, with the player who goes first basically having several disadvantages (must put up plants for auction or pass first, purchases fuel last, buys cities last).

Every plant which came out was "worse" than a plant someone already owned, so no one was purchasing powerplants.  Furthermore, with fuel costs the way the were, Alex and Barbera were making 10 and 6 dollars over Chance per turn.  Diane was making 11 dollars less than Chance.  From this perspective, and given that whomever purchased the "seventh" city would get the disadvantage of going first, Alex  and Barbera looked to be in a good place.  They could wait it out until cards triggered Stage III, and wrap up the game.  The longer it lasted, the better position they were monetarily.

As an example of how unusual this game was and how long Stage I lasted, Diane had over 500 Electros, an enormous sum of money, and she was the poor one.  Chance had around 800, and the other two had over 1000.

End Game
With a losing proposition and time working against him, Chance decided to break the stalemate.  Spending over 140 dollars for a city, Chance bought the seventh city, making it Stage 2 for the game.  Four other cities were purchased, bringing the total cities to 11.

With that, the flood gates opened- and no good power plants came out again this turn.  Alex purchased one, making a minor improvement over an existing one.  Diane purchased a better plant on the cheap, but the cities was where the action was.  Diane purchased cities in the middle, bringing her total to 11 and strategically driving the cost of cities up for everyone, except Chance.  Alex and Barbara purchased like crazy, and their city totals were 10 and 11.  Chance, having spent so much to get 11 cities,brought his total to 14.

Now came strategic positioning of power plants.  Next card flipped over revealed Stage III, and Alex and Barbara came to realize the game was going to end next turn.  Both Chance and Diane could power more cities, and there was no time to upgrade the plants fast enough.  They went from First and Second to Third and Fourth in a single turn.  Diane was forced to spend a large amount of money to upgrade one of her plant's so she could power as much as Chance, but the cost would come to haunt her.  Chance and Diane ended the game with 17 and 15 cities apiece, but they could power only 16 each.  Chance broke the tie however, by having the most money by 50 Electros.

Lessons Learned
Never underestimate the ability to grab initiative.  Although Alex and Barbara had more money, it was the subtle upgrading of power plants which did them in at the end.  Their reasoning seemed good to everyone, and moving to Stage II early would have crushed Diane and I.  However, waiting too long would have meant a loss for us in the end anyway, so I had little too lose and the possibility of something to gain..

By properly gauging (guessing) when Stage III would arrive, I managed to steal the initiative.  Realizing the two leaders would need to upgrade all three of their plants to match my power production, I hedged my bets I could hit the game ending city limit quickly.  Diane presented a good challenger, but there I used her lack of cash against hen.  I drove the price of the power plant she needed up on purpose, just to drive the price up and reduce her cash.  I calculated exactly what I would need to purchase fuel and cities to end the game, then just bid like crazy.  The end result was a bid she couldn't afford to lose, but one I couldn't afford to go crazy on..

I'd like to say I planned it that way, and in some small way I did.  But I doubt I could predict the timing of the Stage III card as well a second time.  Still, it was a very memorable game and one which I would remember fondly even if I had been on the losing side.

Has anyone else experienced an unusually long Stage I and how did it end?

Ground Rules

Here I will discuss the games I've played, how much fun I had, and basically what happened. I can't really get into people's heads, so I won't be able to describe exactly what they were thinking, but I will discuss what it looked to me was going on.

I'm going to set the following rules for me on this blog:

1) I will not publish my opponent's names unless they grant me permission.
2) I will not bother with mentioning rules, and gameplay, unless specific to the game played.
3) The discussion will be in "third person", so there won't be any "I" this and "I". Players will be denoted by color, country, etc., relevant to the game being played.
4) This blog is as much for myself as for others. I'm recording it not to gloat (I'm not that good), but to look back and remember what happened. Plus, it ties in nicely with strategies I've tried, how they worked out
5) I will not publish any information on prototypes or unpublished games.

That's all, now, on to the games!