Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Who loves you, Alexandros?

Today, Kathy and I played Alexandros (designer Leo Colovini, art by Grafik Studio Krüger, publisher Rio
Kathy's green generals govern some
high tax-earning provinces in the west
).  I'd blogged some time ago speculating that this game might have a runaway leader problem, but that was not in evidence in our game today.  Although I jumped to an early lead and tried to continually levy taxes to open my advantage, Kathy gamely and gradually caught up to me.  She accumulated cards to knock me out of my high-earning provinces, one by one.  She timed it perfectly, so that she passed me on the high end of the scoring track and maintained the tax-collecting momentum to win by a substantial 120 to 97 points.

Interestingly, this game took a very similar arc to a session we played two years ago but that I'd forgotten about.  I think I've learned a subtle element in tactics that I hadn't appreciated in previous plays of this game.  In general, I tend to avoid trying to take provinces away from my opponent because the procedure requires two specific cards for each enemy guard in the province, beyond the normal requirements for taking the province if it were unoccupied.  That seemed inefficient to me, so I would tend to target my card collection toward taking unoccupied provinces before Kathy could get to them.  That tactic works well in the early game, but Kathy was much more aggressive today.  Whereas I took perhaps one province from Kathy all game (and perhaps five or six unoccupied ones), she took at least three or four occupied provinces from me (and only a couple of unoccupied ones).  Although her method is more difficult, it creates an income swing in the game because it deprives me of income at the same time that it boosts her own.  "Income" equates to "victory point accumulation rate," so achieving a positive differential against her opponent is key to building a lead.  Kathy demonstrated that the extra cards required to pull this tactic off are more than compensated for by the point swing that it can generate, particularly for larger provinces.  So I learned something today.

You know, an interesting thing about Alexandros is that I never hear about it in any game forums or podcasts or read about it in any blogs that I can think of.  Grant Greffey gave it to me for Christmas some years ago, and I had never heard of it, even though it is a Rio Grande title.  Assessing its popularity on boardgamegeek, I see that it's rated (as of this writing) 6.20 with 728 raters and ranked 1900 among boardgames overall - 770 among strategy games.  (Other titles in this range but perhaps better known include Munchkin Quest and Candamir: First Settlers.)  Those who rated Alexandros a '6' (the most common rating) commented largely on the weakness of the theme and a perception of lack of control.  Some called it interesting, but many were tepid.  Several called it typical of Leo Colovini's designs.  The only other Colovini game I'm familiar with is Cartagena, which is on my wish list but which I wouldn't compare to Alexandros.

I tend to think that Alexandros is better appreciated after two or three plays, when some of the tactical subtleties emerge.  It's too bad this title doesn't get more attention; it would be interesting to see the gaming community revisit this gem ten years after its original publication.

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