Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weekend Gaming

I spent shabbat at the house of my friend and fellow gamer David K and his wonderful, hospitable family. I've known David for 30 years; the first time I visited him at his house in Maalei Adumim was 25 years ago. I don't visit him often enough, so I see the kids in a kind of strobe: one in a teen and another is a little child - flash - now the older one is married, the former child is a teen, and there's another little child.

Even though I hadn't met the little children often, my reputation preceded me; they were expecting games. Here's what we played:

Before lunch we played half a game of The Settlers of Catan. I partnered with the littlest girl, and I let her make many of the decisions for the early parts of the game. As a result, though we weren't too far behind, we weren't winning either. Lunch came along and we had to leave the game alone until we could resume it later.

After lunch, the principles from Settlers had gone out to play, so David and I started a game of Homesteaders. It was only the third or fourth time for David; but even though I had played a few more times (maybe 10), the game still feels like a vast uncharted sea of possibilities. My respect for the game grows and grows. It's really a stunning achievement for a first time designer, and probably in my top ten games at this point.

Some of the principles from Settlers returned while we were halfway through Homesteader, so we left it set up and started a game of Bridgetown Races. (That left two games in progress, Settlers and Homesteaders, while we played a third.)

The problem with BR is the last third of the game, when there just isn't much to do. The mechanic where a particular flag is assigned to a particular bridge on your scoreboard means that you have to not only hope that the right flag colors appear but that they appear in the right places. There is only one "swap" action available for all players, so you can't do anything if the draw isn't right. So what do you do in the last one or two rounds? And the all or nothing scoring doesn't help.

I figured to solve the problem by assigning points to the flag colors equal to their movement rate, so the game could end with an immediate win, but otherwise you count the flag points. David said even early on in the game that the points should be reversed, i.e. the flags with less movement rate and thus harder to acquire should be worth more than the flags with a higher movement rate. And he is right. But more so, I think you should just toss out the whole bridge scoreboard, and simply count all flags you pick up; none of this tossing out and replacing nonsense.

The game just needs a good final follow-through. One of the kids won.

After BR, we returned to finish our game of Settlers, which I and little girl won barely by completing eight points and then spending three rounds trying to steal Longest Road, eventually successfully. After that, David and I returned to our game of Homesteaders, which I won 75 to 54. I played with a second round Gold Mine, rather than the usual Market or Farm start. I did pretty well until the last round or two when, for the first time, I couldn't buy the building that lets you also buy another building in the same turn, neither in round 9 or 10. I successfully bought some good buildings nonetheless, including the 10 point building in round 6 (for a gain of 20 points).

I retired to read a book, and David taught his kids and a neighboring kid how to play Tichu. After one of them left, I joined them. I think we only played one hand.

The rest of shabbat was sweet and mellow.
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