Tag Archives: tzolk’in

T for Two – March Gaming Roundup

I’ve done it again. I’ve gone and left it a whole month between posts. Gah. I’ve had a Pandemic Legacy post gestating for a while (given that we finished our campaign way back in February) and there’s another post brewing about a recent… ahem… descent into Ameritrash territory, but here’s a quick spin through March.

John and I have played some corkers in Corbridge this month, almost all beginning with “T”: Tzolk’in: The Mayan CalendarTrajan (with Port Royal to round off that evening), Terra Mystica and the double-whammy of Tash-Kalar and Trambahn. Yes, by the end of the month we’d realised the accidental T-theme and played into it deliberately.

Tzolk’in and Terra Mystica were two games I’d played once a couple of years ago, really enjoyed and then inexplicably hadn’t played since. It astonished me quite now much I remembered of both, mechanics-wise, although the finer points of the rules and strategies had largely escaped me.

For Tzolk’in, I made a few mistakes in terms of timing… and timing is everything in this game. Knowing when to place workers onto wheels and when to take them off, especially when you can only place or remove workers in one turn – never both – was something that slightly eluded me, and I took a couple of very inefficient turns that threw me well behind in terms of tempo. I did manage to disrupt one or two of John’s plans, but nowhere near enough.

Final score – John: 74 / Me: 39

Ouch. I did get a vague feeling of “oh, yes, I remember why I haven’t played it since the first time”, but I couldn’t lay my finger on quite what the reason was. Very odd. I think there’s always just something else I’d rather play.

Trajan was familiar territory and I used all my experience from boiteajeux.com to lay down a hammering on John. I shipped loads of cards and got whacking great bonuses from the Senate bonus tiles I’d engineered my way towards (and the ones I’d ended up with by accident) to finish the game 161–128. It made up a little for the shocking Tzolk’in anyway.

Port Royal (another Alexander Pfister design, after recent plays of Isle of Skye and Oh My Goods) was nothing spectacular, although it did make me wonder if my 8-year-old would manage/enjoy it. I’m not a huge fan of push-your-luck mechanisms, and there’s a big one that drives the core of this game.

Unlike Tzolk’in, the lack of plays of Terra Mystica is a complete mystery to me. I really like this game. It’s heavy, it’s pretty and it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

My largest halfling city, next door to John's grey dwarfville.

My largest halfling city, next door to John’s grey dwarfville with its under-river tunnels.

My halflings had cheap digging upgrades so I tried to go for that as early as possible. Naturally, there were a load of other things to do before that was even feasible, so John and I pretty much matched each other step for step, carefully trying to avoid giving each other Power from building adjacent to existing buildings. We tussled a little on the Cult board, but nothing momentous happened until right at the very end of the game, when the jostling finally gave way and I used my Power bowls to devastating effect, edging ahead for the win.

Final score – Me: 113 / John: 99

…which is, oddly, almost the score we finished with the first time we played, and exactly the same winning margin (110–96). Great stuff. Must play again soon, and with more than two!

Tash-Kalar… well, it’s a decent game and I like the constant back and forth, although it can feel a bit too swingy at times. Also, it transpired that John had played all our games (and half of this one) without realising that you can not only rotate the patterns of pieces required for summoning, but you can mirror them too. So that was possibly a factor in my melee victory this time round. I keep coming back to this game, even though (again) I can’t quite pin down exactly why.

Trambahn turned out to be a bit of an unexpected treat. Designed by Helmut Ohley (of Russian Railroads and a whole scad of 18xx games), it combines Lost Cities with San Juan alongside a couple of simple ideas from 18xx to create a nicely thinky, slightly luck-dependent tableau-building game that plays quickly. There’s definitely more than meets the eye with this one, and John’s extra experience with the game certainly paid off against a few very lucky hands that I’d had.

Final score – John: 177 / Me: 154

Beyond our regular Wednesday sessions in Corbridge, I was home alone for all of the Easter weekend. It was glorious. If there’s one thing I yearn for, it’s time on my own. And living where we do, away from main roads and general hubbub, it was completely silent for two whole days.

Of course, I made the trip over to Newcastle Gamers that Saturday for Roads & Boats, that now-ancient progenitor of… pretty much every resource-conversion euro that ever was. We used the special scenario designed for two experienced players to play against two newcomers; Olly and I had played a couple of times before, while John and Ali were first-timers to this “Le Havre with logistics”. As it turned out, I’m not convinced two plays is enough to count as “experienced”. What really happened is that Olly and I just had to spend ages organising ourselves into sea-based transport in order to reach the mountains in the centre of the board, while John and Ali got on with mining.

However, because we’d had extra time to build up, both Olly and I had researched specialised mines before building any. (In fact, I didn’t even get round to building a mine or stealing anyone’s gold before the end of the game, which explains my hideously low score.) So while John and Ali had easily collected all three gold from their one mine each by the end of the game, it had taken six rounds to guarantee those three gold; Olly had picked up one gold per round in the last few rounds before the game ended.

azdg

The whole world. A couple of timing/resource errors/hubris meant I (red) was a few turns behind Olly (yellow) in reaching the mainland. Rafts would have been better than rowboats.

I had a reasonable points showing from the Wonder – and I’d helped to accelerate the end of the game once I’d realised how much of a mess I’d made of things – but it just wasn’t enough in the face of gold. It had been a very solitaire-ish game, with not a single wall built and no stolen goods whatsoever.

Final score – Olly: 69 / John: 61 / Ali: 55 / Me: 36

We’d actually played quite quickly, so we pulled out My Village next. It turned out to be the game for the rest of the night, but that was fine by me – I really like it. I went heavy on the monks, getting a full church before turning my hand to properly concentrate on other things. The full church wasn’t quite enough to combat everyone else’s huge swathe of goods sold though (there really are a lot of points in getting a goods/merchants engine going) and it ended up being a very close-run game.

Final score – Olly: 50 / Me: 49 / John: 48 / Ali: 43

The day after that, with my house still empty, I did this:

By far the loveliest of all the COIN boards.

By far the loveliest of all the COIN boards.

Yes, it was the latest instalment in GMT’s COIN series, Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection, taking the now-well-established COIN system and using it to model the American War of Independence. I played a medium-length-scenario solo game as the British (naturally) and just lost to the AI flowchart bots. It’s thankfully a step down in complexity from the last COIN game, Fire in the Lake, of which I’ve never managed a full solo game. Still a huge amount to think about though, and it was a really engaging and enjoyable six-or-so hours. (Possibly more than six actually… working through the bot flowcharts can be tough the first few times.)

More soon! Hopefully!

Newcastle Gamers – Saturday 27 July 2013

I’m a bit pressed for time at the moment, so it’s a turbo-report this time.

First game of the night: Dungeon Petz, with Olly and John S (all three of us having played it last time Olly brought it) as well as John F (new to the game). I paced myself much better through this play, ending up with nearly all my possible imps, making decent sales and scoring OK in exhibitions all the way through. I made sure I had nice, clean cages for the final scoring exhibitions (my downfall last time), but it wasn’t quite enough to beat John F, who’d beaten me into placing imps on the selling platform for the last round, selling a pet for a whopping 24 points.

Final score – John F: 59 / Me: 56 / John S: 52 / Olly: 44

It felt a little… flatter this time round. No one struggled much to satisfy their pets’ needs – there were no magical mutations, very few suffering cubes and no dead pets at all. (The worst thing to happen was having my fish, Bubl, swimming in a bowl cage full of his own filth, but my Employee of the Month imp cleaned it out admirably.) I guess it’s all just the luck of the draw, and I’m sure next time will be riddled with disasters.

John S suggested Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar, and I wasn’t going to say no. I’d been wanting to play this game for months, and I’d just never quite coincided with the right table at the right time. This was the table; this was the time. Olly, having played it before and not been entirely convinced, went off for a round of 7 Wonders, and was replaced at the table by Jérôme.

It’s worker placement, but it’s also a game of worker removal, with a hefty amount of forward-planning and engine-building required to make things happen when you want/need them to. It’s frustrating; it’s complicated; it’s a game it would take several plays to get the hang of; and it’s PRETTY.

Round, like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel...

Round, like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel…

The cogs are a very clever way of managing worker placement, with the possible actions you can take when you remove your worker becoming more powerful the longer you leave your worker on the cog. It’s pretty complex at first glance, though, and it took me half the game to get a handle on how everything worked. By about three-quarters of the way through (i.e. around the third of four worker-feeding phases), I’d figured out a strategy and just went for it. This involved having built enough farms to feed all five of my workers without needing corn resources, so I could collect corn and channel it into hopping up the temple piety tracks. Meanwhile, I built a monument with a hefty points bonus for moving well up a temple track of my choice, so by the time it came to final scoring, I had plenty of bonus points, giving me an emphatic win. I didn’t note the exact scores, but I was somewhere around the low 60s, with the others some 20 points behind or so.

I enjoyed the game a lot. It initially reminded me of a Stefan-Feld-type design, with many ways to make points in various areas of the board, but John F quite rightly pointed out that Feld usually presents the player with several good options on each turn, whereas Tzolk’in throws plenty of non-optimal choices in your direction. Definitely one I’d like to play again, although I’m always slightly concerned when I win a game by accident the first time I play it, especially against someone (John S) who’s played it quite a few times.

And then on to the meat in any good gaming-session sandwich (um… what?): Agricola. And not just any old Agricola; I’d brought along my bargain-purchased-but-as-yet-unplayed copy of the Farmers of the Moor expansion. It adds a few twists to the usual farming formula, throwing in horses, starting farmyards covered in forest and moor tiles, the need to heat your house lest your family fall ill, Special Action cards to be taken instead of placing a family member, new Major Improvements, two whole new decks of Minor Improvements… actually, there are more than just a few new twists. It feels quite different. Different enough for me to be completely thrown and get distracted by the shiny, shiny new Major Improvements (I ended up with a Peat-Charcoal Kiln and a Museum of the Moors, while still completely lacking any method of producing food for myself).

Final round. My woeful farm is bottom-left, with Olly's game-winning corker top-left. Note all my cards in play down the bottom. Not enough to compensate though.

Final round. My woeful farm is bottom-left, with Olly’s game-winning corker top-left. Note all my cards in play down the bottom. Not enough to compensate though.

My fellow farmers, Olly and John S, took it much more in their stride and actually built… y’know… farms. Like you’re supposed to. At the end of the game, I had no pastures, no sheep, no cattle, no horses… my saving grace was that the Stonecutter occupation and Clay Supports and Clay Roof Minor Improvements had made it easy for me to expand and renovate my house. Here, for posterity, is the final score breakdown (showing points in each category, not number of things – my HTML-table-fu is too rusty to figure out column spanning and things so I can show both):

Olly John Me
Fields 4 1 2
Pastures 4 2 -1
Grain 3 3 1
Vegetables 3 -1 2
Sheep 2 1 -1
Wild boar 3 2 2
Cattle 3 2 -1
Horses 9 4 -1
Fenced stables 4 0 0
Unused spaces 0 0 -1
House/hut rooms 0 8 8
Family members 12 15 12
Points on cards 6 4 9
Bonus points 3 5 2
Total 56 46 33

Yep, a solid loss for me. Farmers of the Moor was an interesting variant, but I certainly wouldn’t want to play with it all the time. The base game of Agricola is so beautifully tight and elegant that it made Farmers of the Moor feel a little like the bloatware that comes pre-installed on a big-brand Windows laptop. It might be useful bloatware, and some of it might be fun, but it slows things down a bit and it’s ultimately unnecessary. Still, I’d be willing to give it another crack of the whip (horse-related reference there, y’see?).

After that, it was time for a bit of Coloretto, with Nick and Jérôme joining us after we’d played a round with three. The additional players gave it quite a different feel, with a different set of tactics coming into play. It’s a really nice little game, this, and it plays so quickly that you don’t mind if absolutely nothing goes your way. Besides which, you’ll be too busy having fun messing with other people’s colour collections.

And that was the end of the night. A solid session with some excellent games played.

All photos by Olly and me, shamelessly stolen from the Newcastle Gamers Google+ page. Newcastle Gamers is on the second and last Saturday of every month, 4:30 pm until we drop at Christ Church, Shieldfield, Newcastle upon Tyne!