First Light to Second Heavy

Wednesday’s Corbridge Gamers session was relatively light, with the short civ-tableau-engine-builder Imperial Settlers starting proceedings. While the concept of a civilisation game where you can destroy your opponents’ buildings might not initially appeal to the eurogamer, when you realise that the defender gets 1 Wood and gets to keep the card as a Foundation (which can be used as part-payment towards a high-VP faction building), it doesn’t seem so bad.

Which was good for Corbridge harmony really, because I spent a fair bit of the game razing John’s buildings to the ground. I played the Roman faction which can store Raze tokens between rounds; John, as the other side in the suggested 2-player newbie game, was the Barbarians, who are good at producing and storing people from round to round. John got a nice little engine going fairly early on, involving some sort of gold mine and an Acting Troupe card which let him clear off the gold mine and use it again to gain even more Gold tokens. Gold being wild, he could then pour his mountain of it into building new Locations.

The Acting Troupe was first on my list of Raze targets. While John was gaining ground on the VP track, I was going for a much more ‘civilised’ approach, building as many of the Roman faction Locations as I could. That meant also picking up as many cheap Locations from the Common deck as possible, so I could build them and then spend them as part of the building costs for the Roman Locations. It worked out pretty well, with some lovely Feature Location synergies and a lucky draw of two ‘multi-colour’ Roman cards which each triggered two Feature Locations for extra Gold and/or VPs.

My glorious Roman civilisation. Common Locations (1 VP each) to the right of the Faction board, Roman Locations (2 VPs each) to the left.

My glorious Roman civilisation. Common Locations (1 VP each) to the right of the Faction board, Roman Locations (2 VPs each) to the left. I was very Production-heavy.

I was a little behind on the VP track at the end of the fifth and final round, but my massive collection of Roman faction Locations outstripped the Barbarians.

Final score – Me: 44 / John: 39

Imperial Settlers was a very fun, light (but not too light) engine-builder with tons of replayability and different factions to explore. I’m sure it’ll get played a fair bit in future.

We moved on to my fresh copy of Reiner Knizia’s venerable Samurai, in a lovely new edition from Fantasy Flight Games. I’d had a little bit of experience with the iOS version, but I’d never been any good at it and it had been a while since the majority of my plays anyway. We were essentially both new to the game.

The crucial difference was that I’d already figured out the crux of good Samurai play: timing. It’s not about getting the highest-value tiles down next to the statues; it’s usually about being the player to get the last surrounding tile down. It took John a few rounds to realise that, and by that time I’d already got the upper hand.

The end of the game after four tied statues – I took two majorities for the win.

The end of the game after four tied statues – I took majorities in buddhas and castles for the win. Never mind all that though… it’s PRETTY.

I forced the end of the game by causing a fourth statue to be tied while I was ahead on two categories. It felt a little gamey – it would certainly be lot harder to do that with confidence in a three- or four-player game because captured statues are kept behind player screens in those games.

We finished with a “quick” game of Harbour, which was new to me and didn’t make a great impression, largely down to an unlucky card draw which made the first few rounds painfully slow. Four of the five cards available to build at the start were high-cost, which is one thing you just don’t get in Le Havre (from which Harbour takes clear influence) because although the building order is slightly randomised, it’s also structured so the engines get built first. Not so here, so we struggled on for a while before things eased up and we could finally get some building done.

I managed a win, 40–27, mainly because John twice used the Wizard’s Travelling Imaginarium to swap one of his existing buildings for a higher-value one. That meant he got a cheap build, but at the sacrifice of the points he had in the building he traded in. Thus, I ended up with five buildings and John with three.

As I said, not a great impression, although I could see how much more fun it could be if the cards came out in a better order.

Saturday brought another Newcastle Gamers session, which began with another game of Samurai, this time with four players. It’s a very different beast with four – there are substantially more spots that could be surrounded by the time your turn comes back round, plus there are more spaces for ships to affect multiple contests. Thankfully, everyone twigged the timing aspect of the game pretty quickly, but there were some very long turns as people analysed the board situation and tried to figure out the best move… or sometimes just the least bad move. After a long dance, the last castle disappeared from the board and the game ended. I won a leader token and Graham won another (the third went unclaimed by either Olly or Andrew), so the tiebreaker was statues in castes other than the one in which we had the leader token. I just tipped it in my favour with 6 against Graham’s 5, so a win for me.

The rest of the session was a rematch of 1830 after an initial play in September. In order to fit the game into a normal Newcastle meeting, we’d gathered a few resources to make things quicker and easier (poker chips, player aids and a fabulous iOS app called Survey Party that does things like automatically calculating maximum railroad revenues and player payouts based on shareholdings) and actually played out the initial sale of private companies by email over the preceding week. I’d nearly ended up without a private, but thankfully Ali passed on his opportunity to buy the B&O private at face value and I snapped it up (setting share par at $90 in the hopes of keeping the B&O railroad a steady medium-to-high earner through the game). That left Olly with the C&A (I bid him up to an eye-watering $246 before dropping out), Ali with C&StL and John Si, King of the Privates, with SVR, D&H and M&H.

My initial plan worked OK for a while – the B&O is in a perfect position to crank out decent payouts pretty quickly, especially with a handful of trains. My 2, 2 and 3 did me well, until the 2 trains rusted and things slowed down dramatically. As expected, Olly’s PRR was knocking heads with the B&O in several spots, and he ended up blocking me via both tile and token placements (the latter after I’d foolishly let the B&O’s cash reserves run down to $3 so I couldn’t afford a token of my own). Ali’s New York & New Haven and John’s New York Central were far enough out of B&O’s way to not worry me in the early stages of the game.

About an hour or two into the game. B&O has upgraded some tiles to gain better revenue, but blocked out of some tiles to the east by the dastardly PRR.

About an hour or two into the game. B&O has upgraded some tiles to gain better revenue, but been blocked out of some tiles to the east by the dastardly PRR.

I played the shares game very carefully – probably too carefully – and only held a maximum of one share in anyone else’s railroad until we were into the diesel era. That protected me from having bankrupt railroads dumped on me, but it also ‘protected’ me from gaining a decent income. And for the second time, I failed to start up a second railroad. In fact, the Erie didn’t float at all, while Olly took control of Boston & Maine, John took Chesapeake & Ohio and Ali ran the Canadian Pacific again. This failure to start a second company (in part caused by the fact I got the B&O private – it closes as soon as the B&O railroad buys a train and thus can’t be sold to a railroad for fat stacks of cash you can spend on a second company) was a big part in my mediocre performance overall. I couldn’t play the game of buying trains between two companies in order to have enough money in one to buy a better train; rather, I had to withhold revenue to save up enough cash to trade in my 4 for a D train. (That was actually my one triumphant moment of the whole game.) At least I wouldn’t have to fund a train from my personal money, but I wasn’t going to do well overall. 60% shareholding in a railroad running one diesel on a heavily blocked route doesn’t compare with what the others had.

Olly, meanwhile, was manipulating the PRR share value to stay within the yellow zone, meaning his 60% of PRR shares didn’t count towards his portfolio limit of 16 certificates. That left him free to invest widely in other companies, benefitting from their continued revenue payouts while he kept PRR relatively low in value (and occasionally paying out handsomely). I only went over the 16-certificate limit by one, because all the interesting shares had been snapped up.

This time round, Ali was the only player to get stung by a forced train purchase, but it was a nasty sting, costing him just over $800 of personal money for a diesel. That involved ditching a bunch of decent shares as well, so Ali’s game never really recovered, while John and I just trundled along, paying out with our railroads, trying to engineer some decent track routes (failing in my case) and picking up the odd share here and there when they became available.

The endgame map

The endgame map – notice how horribly boxed in my B&O is, and how unappealing the Erie railroad was.

The bank broke around midnight. The last few operating rounds felt a bit stale – very little was happening in terms of track changes, so at least the Survey Party app helped keep things ticking along smoothly. As an aside, that app probably saved us at least an hour just tracing train routes and working out revenues. Possibly two hours. Seriously worth the money, especially because it’s free.

Final scores – Olly: $9,039 / John: $7,924 / Me: $7,602 / Ali: $4,646

For reference/interest/completeness, some cash/share-value splits:

Olly: $5,405 cash / $3,634 shares
John: $5,134 cash / $2,790 shares
Me: $4,616 cash / $2,986 shares
Ali: $2,066 cash / $2,580 shares

Not a terrible showing from me, considering the lack of second railroad (my widespread portfolio actually served me pretty well alongside a high value for my six B&O shares), and an unsurprising victory for Olly, considering his excellent manipulation of the PRR stock value and massive shareholdings. As with the first game, it was really good fun and now I feel like I’m just getting a handle on the ebb and flow of 1830… and handily there’s already talk of a further rematch.

Final gaming news of the week was that our marital copy of Pandemic Legacy arrived, which should keep us on our toes for some time to come. Looking forward to getting started with it!

3 thoughts on “First Light to Second Heavy

  1. John

    I thought Imperial Settlers was a _very_ neat engine/civilisation builder; I enjoyed that one a lot. Samurai was a definite “learning” game for me (I’ve since tried to get hold of the iOS app to put in a bit more practice but, frustratingly, it seems to have been pulled from the UK app store). Harbour seems a bit “meh” on the basis of the two times I’ve played it… and _this_ outing felt almost as tortuous as the everlasting game of Snowdonia that we had the other week. Maybe the pacing will be better with more players… but I suspect it’ll be a long time before I’m in the mood to find out.

    It’ll be interesting to compare notes on Pandemic Legacy… we’ve just finished our 4th game (March took us two attempts); _really_ enjoying it so far — seems very deserving of the accolades 🙂

    Reply
    1. Owain Post author

      Ah, I didn’t realise Samurai had disappeared from iOS. 🙁

      Pandemic Legacy is currently the 12th Best Game Ever (according to BGG users) and I can only see it going up for a while. Can’t wait to get stuck in.

      Reply

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