Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Two-Player Age of Empires III

It's been about five years since my step-son last played a game with me. He is into computer games (and was into Warhammer). He never liked Euros (except Settlers when he was little), CCGs, or anything that didn't involve visceral killing and complex war strategies.

Upon recommendations, I picked up Age of Empires III on my last visit to the US. While I understood that it is a Euro, I also hoped it might tempt my step-son, who had played the computer game, and who had, at least, looked curiously at some of my other recent Euros that sported pictures of generals and armies (though typically had no combat). So I was thrilled that he was willing to try it.

AoE3 (at least, for two players) is not really a war game, less of one than either Antike or what I remember of Wallenstein (played once about four years ago). But the combat is in there, and we did use it; actually I used it first and more viciously than he did. I'm a big fan of "remove one for one" combat in comparison to dice rolling; my step-son prefers the dice rolling.

Actually, AoE3 is a game of worker-placement, resource-management, and area control. The object is to earn the most victory points, which you get from a) buildings (ala Puerto Rico and Caylus), b) areas discovered, c) your end-of-the-game income (excepting any bonuses from buildings), and d) three times during the game from areas controlled.

Each round you have five guys to allocate between a) turn order, b) moving to the areas, c) adding guys to your contingent ready to discover an area/discovering an area, d) buying a building, e) getting an additional special guy to use next round, f) taking an income source, or g) declaring your intention to battle.

The income sources are various commodities, which you can also get from discovering one of the areas on the board, as well as one "wild" commodity. Three of any commodity gives you $1 income, three of a kind gives $3, and four of a kind gives $6. Money is good for buying buildings, declaring a total war on another player (rare), or (useful only in a game with multiple players) one space that lets you buy a special guy for use on the next round.

The special guys are worth double value, or give you income once, or can be used to shoot the other player's guys in an area during a battle.

Each area has an initially-secret strength you have to overcome during discovery (essentially, how many Indians you have to slaughter :-( ). When you run out of areas, you can still discover areas off the board for more victory points, but you don't actually move guys to them. Control of an area is worth 6 points, second place is 2 points; this is counted three times during the game.

In our game, we both scored about equal for this over the three scorings.

At the end of the game, you also score your income levels. I scored a bit higher for that. You also score your discovered territories. Again I scored a bit higher for that.

Lastly you score your buildings. The big point-scoring buildings only appear in the last two round of the game, so it is essential to be first or second to claim these in one of these rounds. My step-son miscalculated the importance of these, and his buildings only amounted to some 17 points total, while mine totaled some 35 or 40. Earlier buildings give you bonus cash, bonus guys each round, bonus income, etc...

Oh yes, combat. If you declared combat, you can pick one player in one region and have each of your soldiers in that region remove one of the other player's guys. If you pay $10, you may instead declare total war against a player and have this occur in every region of the board. I killed a few of his guys first, and then he loaded the board up with more soldiers. The object, of course, is to be the one with the most in an area during scoring turns.

The game is a scant 8 turns long. The entire game took us about 45 minutes on our first play, which was impressive, maybe even a little too short. We could both tell that the game becomes richer and more competitive with multiple players, so probably 4 or 5 players is ideal.

I quite enjoyed it, and my step-son thought it was a good game, though he would have liked more dice and more combat. I'm looking forward to trying it out with the game group.


This week has been overwhelming: I'm essentially working two jobs (I missed a lot of work in the US), keeping up my blogging, fixing a whole lot of things, dealing with various money issues, and cleaning for Pesach while the wife is away (coming on Friday). And I started the week with a bad stomach virus of some kind.

I had to cancel both game night this week and games day I usually host over Pesach. Luckily, one of my gamers is hosting a smaller version of games day at her house, which I will try to attend after work next week.

A video review of It's Alive.


Dug said...

I hate AoE3 (I find the discovery mechanism to be overly chaotic in what is otherwise a nicely balanced game), but I'm glad to hear you found a way to involve your step-son. Good for both of you!

A couple of suggestions for games that he might enjoy playing with you:

1) Warhammer: Invasion. This is a "Living Card Game" very similar to CCGs but without the collectability issues. Instead, they put out pre-packaged sets of cards on a monthly basis. There are four factions you can play and it's built for two-player. My friend and his wife who own a hobby shop play it every night now. Nice tie-in with an existing hobby.

2) Washington's War. Reprint of We The People with excellent production values. The rules are much longer in terms of page count than was perhaps warranted, but it's a very simple game at it's core, at least mechanically. If he likes this, you might find yourself playing some of the lighter wargames, of which there are more and more.

3) World At War. More of a standard wargame, but with a Cold War setting. Scenario based, and they tend to take a couple of hours tops. Very simple ruleset.

Neither of these games involve the Nazis, which I would think could be a problem in Israel with some people, especially since someone has to play the Nazis.

That's all for now. Keep us posted and I'll see what else might work for you and your step-son.

jim gonzalez said...

I was a big fan of AoE2. Amazing game. Haven't tried AoE3, but now I'm pretty eager. By the way, if you ever need to ship a car overseas, look up Auto Shipping Network. They did a great job for me. Just a fun fact. Keep up the good work!