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Showing posts with label PrezCon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label PrezCon. Show all posts

Friday, March 4, 2016

PrezCon 2016: Pillars of the Earth final

(c) Mayfair Games
Used by permission

I ran the tournament for Pillars of the Earth (designers Michael Rieneck and Stefan Stadler, artists Michael Menzel, Anke Pohl, and Thilo Rick; publisher Mayfair) at PrezCon again this year.  This worker placement game is based thematically on the Ken Follett novel of the same name.  Players compete to contribute the most to the construction of Kingsbridge Cathedral.  They have at their disposal a team of unskilled workers for collecting sand, wood, and stone, and for working in the wool mill for money.  Players can pay or recruit a team of up to five skilled craftsmen to use those raw materials to contribute to the cathedral's construction.  Metal is also available but more difficult to come by.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 5: Finals

(c) Rio Grande Games
Used by permission
Saturday of PrezCon was a wonderfully full day of gaming.  It started at 9:00 AM with a game of Power Grid (designer Friedemann Friese; artists Antonio Dessi, Lars-Arne "Maura" Kalusky, and Harald Lieske; publisher Rio Grande), which I love but really don't play well.  We played on the original map of Germany, and I started in the north, where I found myself immediately in competition with Henry Ho.  I think the two of us beat each other down pretty aggressively, stealing cheap connections and forcing each other to leap-frog one another in order to expand, so we both ended up finishing poorly.  James Henderson, against whom I'd also played Acquire earlier in the week, narrowly won our game over Joe Rudmin in second.  I placed third powering 12 cities.

Monday, March 24, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 4: Social gaming

Part of what I love about conventions is re-connecting with gaming friends as well as meeting new people.  This year at PrezCon, I got to meet in person Dan Patriss, whom I'd heard many times on the Geek All Stars podcast.  He was with Chris Kirkman of Dice Hate Me Games, and Friday night we got together with Stephanie Straw, T.C. Petty III, and Darrell Louder for a couple of late-night games.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 3: Pillars of the Earth final

As I mentioned in my previous post, I ran the Pillars of the Earth tournament at PrezCon again this year.  I had two heats totalling 14 different competitors in five games.  Four of the five qualifying winners showed up for the final:  Shane McBee, Philip Shea, Jeff Thornsen, and Tom Snyder.  I have really come to enjoy watching tournament games, because I get to see some real high-level play.  This year's final was no exception.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 2: Friday

(c) Rio Grande Games
Used by permission
Continuing my recap of PrezCon from a couple of weeks ago, Friday turned out to be a long and eventful day.  I started with Saint Petersburg (designer Michael Tummelhofer alias Bernd Brunnhofer, artist Doris Matthaus, publisher Rio Grande), a game that I never get to play as much as I would like.  I finished third in a heat of four players - not surprising given the level of competition I typically find at PrezCon for this game.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

PrezCon 2014 Part 1: Thursday

A couple of weeks ago, I enjoyed four days at my favorite gaming convention, PrezCon.  There were several hitches this year, a few things that didn't go right, but nevertheless I had a great time.  The next several posts will share some highlights.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

PrezCon 2013 - Sunday

The final day of PrezCon saw me sleeping in just a little too late to make the final heat of Settlers of Catan.  So this year was the first time missing the SoC tournament since I first came to PrezCon some six years ago. It was SoC that first attracted me to the Winter Nationals, with the prospect of winning the regional qualifier and going to the national championship.  But that's okay.  Because later that morning, another game that I like just as much as SoC started up.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

PrezCon 2013 - Saturday

Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery
On Friday, during my walk-through of the vendor area, I'd seen Spartacus (designers Aaron Dill, John Kovaleski, and Sean Sweigart; artist Charles Woods; publisher Gale Force 9) laid out at the Gale Force 9 booth.  In fact, it was the only game that GF9 was selling at PrezCon.  The demo at the booth had given me a mistaken first impression:  The rep behind the table started talking about the combat mechanics, which seemed good but not great as skirmish mechanics go.  He kept saying, "There's a whole lot of other stuff with influence and bribery that's really important, too," but the impression that I left with was that the combat was central and that there was some kind of wagering that went on around it.  I just wasn't impressed.  That is, until Saturday...

Sunday, February 24, 2013

PrezCon 2013 - Friday

(c) Meridae Games
Used by permission
Garden Dice
Glenn and I met Doug Bass of Meridae Games for a demo of Garden Dice (designer Doug Bass, artist Joshua Cappel, publisher Meridae), which I'd seen on Kickstarter and which is now available.  Garden Dice is an interesting game of dice allocation in which players use a roll of four dice to acquire seeds of various values, plant them in a garden based on grid coordinates from two of the dice, and subsequently water and harvest them for points.  There are run and set-collection bonus scores at the end of the game.  The most interesting part is the geographic element.  Watering higher-value plants benefits adjacent lower-value plants, regardless of who owns them, so there is an opportunity to take advantage of an opponent's placement to get watering and harvesting actions for free.  Players also can add a sundial to the garden to modify the grid coordinate dice rolls or a garden gnome to improve rolls for acquiring seed, watering plants, and harvesting vegetables.  Players can further introduce a bird to the garden to eat other players' seed or a rabbit to eat vegetables before they are harvested, although seed can be protected by an upgrade of the sundial to a scarecrow.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Friday, February 8, 2013

Countdown to PrezCon

Okay, it's that time of year when my favorite convention, PrezCon, happens in Charlottesville, Virginia, the week of President's Day.  I've got a preliminary schedule laid out, which is pretty much carved in sand - except, that is, for Pillars of the Earth, which stands like an immense cathedral, a great pillar, on the landscape of my convention plan.  (I'm running the PotE tournament, so I'm pretty committed to it.)

Monday, March 5, 2012

PrezCon 2012 - Part Three

Image courtesy
of GMT Games
Down in Flames
While not strictly a wargame in the truest sense, I enjoy the dogfight card game Zero! (designer Dan Verssen; artists Mike Lemick, Rodger B. MacGowan, and Mark Simonitch; publisher GMT) from the Down in Flames series for its atmosphere as well as its quick play.  My friend Keith F. and I played a heat with only the occasional stumble over the rules, which were a bit rusty in my recollection but which the game master Richard Phares was happy to straighten out for us.  Each of us took a turn as an element of two Zeros against two F4F Wildcats, and each came away with one shoot-down apiece for a dead heat draw between us.  I didn't compete in any subsequent heats in the DiF tournament because I had too many conflicts with other events, but I was glad to have this old favorite make an appearance in my PrezCon experience this year.

Settlers of Catan
Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used
by permission.  All rights reserved
Every year I harbor the fantasy that I will have a shot at winning at Settlers of Catan (designer Klaus Teuber, publisher Mayfair).  The PrezCon SoC tournament is a National Championship Qualifier, but with over 60 people competing every year, it's always a longshot.  This year I won in my first heat with some a very fortuitous initial settlement placement.  I had a nice variety of production with my first two settlements only four road segments apart, and I was able to build to a port as well as gain the Longest Road.  One of my opponents was Virginia C., a very friendly, expertly competitive SoC player.  Also at my table was Jason C., who'd beat me in SoC at PrezCon last year, as well as his father Gary.  Several times over the course of the game, Virginia openly preferred to trade with Gary and Jason before she would consider a trade with me, more out of respect for my board position than anything else.  Fortunately, everything panned out in my favor, and I qualified for the quarter final.

In the quarter final, my opponents were two very experienced players - Mark B. and Martin H. - and one novice, young Niccolo S., who had played and won his very first game of SoC earlier that morning.  What ensued was the wildest game of SoC I had ever played in my life.  Martin ran out to an early commanding lead by building five settlements, the Largest Army, and the Longest Road to gain a quick nine points.  Mark and I each had five or six points, and Niccolo four.  Young Niccolo was in the best position to steal Longest Road from Martin and knock his lead down, so we took every opportunity to trade brick and wood to Niccolo.  Longest Road went back and forth a few times before Niccolo locked it down for good.  Mark and I had each worked our way up to seven points, so the game was even and the competition got fierce.

Actual die roll during PrezCon 2012
Settlers of Catan quarter final
Meanwhile, the game had run so long that we ran through the entire deck of development cards (something I'd never seen happen before).  All trading pretty much stopped as we all got up to eight points each.  The dice rolling got pretty crazy, too.  At one point we'd rolled a "seven" six times in seven consecutive throws.  The craziest die roll was when a die actually landed on its beveled corner and stayed there.  The last three dice rolls of the game were "12," "12," and "two."  And the winner was young Niccolo, who eked out a victory over the three of us veterans who had essentially held each other down from winning.

Crazy game.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

PrezCon 2012 - Part Two

Small World
Among my goals at PrezCon this year was to learn Small World, which my buddy Grant Greffey is running as the Game Master.  I participated in his demo for new players, which was well-attended by upwards of eight people crowded around the table.  Small World  is a relatively easy game to pick up.  Grant is especially fond of it for its replayability.  The random combinations of races and special abilities make for some dynamic game interactions.

Later that evening, we played the first heat in the tournament.  I placed fourth at my table and learned (as I have so often heard but failed to incorporate) the importance of timing when it comes to placing a race into decline and starting the ascendancy of a new one.  I did reasonably well with "forest orcs" in the first several turns of the game but held on too long to "wealthy wizards," whom in retrospect I should have placed into decline after just a turn or two in favor of some more effective race.  The winner was Nathan Twigg, a regular face at PrezCon and a fun opponent.

The bottom line of course is that I learned how to play SW and found it to be a fun, light game.

Can't Stop
After my exhaustive statistical analysis of Pass the Pigs and the stark realization that I am mathematically too cautious in my approach to push-your-luck games, I vowed that I would approach Can't Stop with a more aggressive style.  That approach did not serve me well at all late Thursday night, where I busted on countless attempts to close out a category.  I really have to spend some serious number-crunching on that game to figure out the right approach.

Midnight gaming
My friends and I have taken to meeting at midnight to play together because, you know, 14 hours of gaming can't possibly be enough for one day.  So Grant, Keith F., Brian G., Tom S. and I were joined by Michelle H. (who was at my Can't Stop table) for a six-player round of Alhambra.  I did abysmally poorly.  It was so bad that at one point after the second scoring round, Eugene Y. (a very experienced and knowledgeable player) looked at our table and was astounded at how low the scores were - mine in particular at about nine points.  He asked me if I'd ever played before, or if I even knew how to play.  I told him that I'd placed in the semifinals the previous year, and he was just dumb-founded that we could have been so far into the game and have scores so low.  It was about the strangest game of Alhambra I'd ever played.

After Alhambra, we still weren't satisfied, so Keith, Brian, Tom and I stayed up for a round of Citadels.  None of the three of them had played a four-player round of Citadels before; Keith and Brian had only ever played three-player games.  The dynamic is completely different with four players (and a better game, really) since each player gets only one role, and two roles are visible face up and known to be out of play.  I built some substantial high-scoring buildings, but had only got to five districts before Keith finished with eight and won the game.

[Next post:  Friday's experiences going down in flames, settling Catan, learning to acquire, and bringing more people aboard trains, planes, and automobiles]

Friday, February 24, 2012

PrezCon 2012 - first day

I arrived at PrezCon first thing Thursday morning to demonstrate Trains Planes and Automobiles (artist Sean Cooke, publisher Blue Square Boardgames) at 9:00 a.m.  I shared the Promenade Ballroom with the Stone Age demonstration, but perhaps the hour was too early, because no one showed for either demo.  I have two more demos scheduled this weekend - one for this afternoon, and one for tomorrow morning, so I hope to get a little more visibility for TPA in the next couple of days.

Randy Dean found himself running the Risk tournament, and he hadn't even brought his copy of the game (nor had I brought my son's), so he ran out to Target and picked up a copy of the current edition before yesterday morning's first heat started.  I had assumed, since only two hours had been scheduled for the event, that we would play the new, objective-based rules.  As it turned out, neither Randy nor any of the other players at the table had ever seen the new edition before.  They were all surprised at the arrow-shaped armies and had no interest in playing anything other than conventional Risk.  So we adapted the new-edition components to the original rules.  Since the new-edition cards don't have the 19th-century infantry-cavalry-artillery symbols for reinforcement turn-ins, Randy established the rule for this tournament that four cards yields armies on the original progressive scale of four armies for the first turn-in, six for the second, then eight, ten, 12, 15, 20, and so on by fives thereafter.

The result was an old-style game in which I started with positions in South America,  North America, and northeast Asia.  Randy got knocked out of the game by Joshua S., who took Randy's cards and ended up getting two consecutive turn-ins for armies.  In retrospect, I was in a position to try to knock off the other player at the table (whose name escapes me) to go after his cards and then face off Joshua in a super-power slugfest.  Instead, I tried to knock down Joshua first, which I didn't yet have the strength to do.  At the height of my position on the board, I controlled Europe, North America, and South America, while Joshua was holed up in Africa and the other player in Australia with a stronghold in southeast Asia.  But I couldn't deliver the knock out, and Joshua was able to get another big turn-in, break out of Africa, and take me out of the game.  At that point, the other player conceded the game, and Joshua won the heat.

Our game did in fact exceed two hours, so I was unable to make the first heat of Down in Flames.  I expect to play that later this morning.

Although the session was fun in its own right, I stand by my often-repeated position that the newer edition of Risk is a much better game.  I don't expect to return to any later heats of the tournament here at PrezCon.

Command and Colors Napoleonics
I attended a demo of Command and Colors Napoleonics in my effort to learn at least one new game and to play at least one wargame this year.  C&CN appears to be a more complex iteration on the series of Richard Borg card-driven wargames.  It includes the attached-leaders element of Battle Cry (as you might expect in a 19th-century wargame) as well as some of the command card innovations and unit-type specialties of Memoir '44.  The handling of infantry vs. cavalry seems particularly interesting, as well as the counter-strike element of close combat.

Unfortunately, my schedule did not allow me to participate in the tournament itself.  It may have been just as well.  Again, the game master was thrown into the event at practically the last minute, so he made the decision that the tournament would be handled as a single-elimination event.  My limited experience in competitive play suggests that a single-elimination format is not well suited for a two-player game, but I didn't stick around to find out how well it went.

A Few Acres of Snow
At the adjacent table to the C&CN event, my friend Keith F. was trying his hand at the hot new game A Few Acres of Snow.  What was disappointing to him, though, is that the game master, Bruce Reiff, told participants that AFAoS is "a broken game," that the British player can not be stopped if he uses a strategy called "The Halifax Hammer," and that even three or four recent game modifications to mitigate the problem do not fix the game.  Although Bruce felt that the game was not well suited for competition, he continued to run the event "for fun" and to teach it to newcomers like Keith to familiarize them with it.  Keith ended up playing as the British against a very experienced player; I think his experiences with it were mixed.  He said the comparison many people make to Dominion holds up as deck-building wargame.  For my part, the bottom line of this event is that I am taking AFAoS off my wishlist.

Chicago Express
I got very excited about Chicago Express when Kathy and I played with our friends Sheila D., Keith R., Rebecca E., and Jeff W. some weeks ago.  It struck me then as the perfect capitalist game in which players invest in railroad companies and direct their development in an attempt to maximize income and make the most money.

I got to play in the first heat of the tournament here yesterday against Jim [missed his last name], Pat D., and Demy McB.  As it happens, Jim and Pat had played once before each, and Demy had never played before (but is a quick learner, as I've played her in a number of other games over the years), so the level of competition was fairly even among us.  I ended up owning three of five shares of the New York Central plus one share of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and I won the game in a fairly close finish.

[More entries to follow as time allows, and I will add pictures, links, and details to this entry as well.  PrezCon continues...]

Monday, February 20, 2012

Personal Pre-PrezCon

PrezCon open gaming and pre-cons started this evening (President's Day, hence the name), though I won't be arriving there in Charlottesville, Virginia, until Thursday morning.  But I had the opportunity to play a lot of games this weekend in a kind of home-style pre-PrezCon warm-up.

My son's red empire extends from
Buenos Aires to the ends of Asia
My 15-year-old's friend from Maryland spent the weekend with us, so Saturday afternoon started off with a reprise of our three-player Risk session from last July.  Last time, my son and his friend got pre-occupied with Asian occupation, and I ended up achieving an objective in each of the first three turns and winning the game in short order.  This time, I was not so fortunate, and they were not so inattentive.  My capitol was in New Guinea, and my dice luck prevented me from seizing control of Australia in the first turn.  It was all slow going from there.  My son gained control of South America and Africa, his friend dominated Europe, and I could do little more than throw roadblocks in the path of one and then the other.  Eventually my son rolled up the "Control two continents," "Control 18 territories," and "Control Asia" objectives to win the game.  I definitely prefer Risk (designer Rob Daviau, publisher Hasbroin the new objective-based format (rather than the old-style player-elimination global-domination victory condition).  I haven't decided whether to throw my hat into the Risk tournament at PrezCon, though.

That evening my wife and I played a two-player game of 7 Wonders (designer Antoine Bauza, artist Miguel Coimbra, publisher Repos Production).  It's not quite the same crazy free-for-all that a four- or five-player game can be, but it's still a nice way for us to pass the time.  She had the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; I had the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.  I won by a fairly narrow margin, as I recall.

Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved
Yesterday, our friend Sue C. came to join us for a couple of days, and we started with Cities and Knights of Catan (designer Klaus Teuber; artists Volkan Baga, Harald LieskeFranz Vohwinkel, and Stephen Walsh; publisher Mayfair), an expansion that I actually prefer to the original Settlers of Catan but which requires considerable familiarity to play.  Maybe I can develop some interest in C&KoC among my gaming friends.  With barbarians, knights, walls, commodities, city developments, and progress cards in lieu of development cards, the game takes on a richer level of complexity.  Dice luck is still a factor, but sound planning counts for a lot.  Kathy kept me from building a settlement on a contended road junction by occupying the corner with a knight.  Although I had a more powerful knight on the same road network, I hesitated to spend precious wheat to displace her knight and then have to move my knight out of the way again to make room for a new settlement.  My hesitation cost me in the end; she ended up building the settlement there instead, which left me to have to build new roads elsewhere and develop less productive locations.  Ultimately it was Sue, however, who stole Kathy's longest road and ended up winning, despite my late-game move to build a cathedral and get within two points of victory myself.

Next was Citadels (designer Bruno Faidutti, numerous artists, publisher Fantasy Flight Games), always a favorite of mine, and one that Kathy had never played three-player before.  I think that assassins and thieves are particularly dangerous in the three-player version, because when the roles pass around the second time, each player knows two roles that have definitely been chosen by someone - so the assassin and thief can guarantee that a target is in play.  I ended up running away with the win this time, in part because of an excellent hand at the start of the game.  Although I think Citadels is primarily a game of getting inside your opponent's head, card luck is still a considerable factor.

Box cover image courtesy
of Rio Grande Games
Today we opened with another favorite, Puerto Rico (designer Andreas Seyfarth, artist Franz Vohwinkel, publisher Rio Grande).  Kathy and I seldom get to play it in its original intended format of three to five players.  I had a pretty strong engine going with corn, sugar, and coffee, plus a factory and office that helped with the cash flow.  Kathy put her hospice to good use (as she likes to do), ending up with three occupied quarries that enabled her to pick up the fortress and capitalize on her excess population.  Despite one captain phase that saw me spoil a ton of product, I was able to eke out a one-point victory, helped by the guild hall.

After Sue left this afternoon, Kathy and I enjoyed our customary cocktail hour with a game of Ingenious (designer Reiner Knizia, publisher Fantasy Flight Games), which was a PrezCon acquisition last year and which I still appreciate both for its elegant gameplay and for its aesthetic appeal.  Kathy won, as she often does.  Although tile draw luck is a factor, I think Kathy did a better job keeping an eye on my scoring track and anticipating what I needed to do better than I did on hers.

So I got to spend this three-day weekend sharpening my teeth on some friendly competition before heading to Charlottesville later in the week.  I have to admit that I'm a lot better prepared to go have fun than I am to beat anybody; I think I'm a far cry from winning anything at the tournament level of competition that I expect to encounter.  But heck, it's all about having fun, meeting people, learning new games, and engaging with other designers and publishers.  I expect to do plenty of all of that.

Friday, February 17, 2012

PrezCon: The first casualty of battle is the plan

PrezCon!  I get excited just thinking about the name.  My favorite convention.  So convenient to northern Virginia, such a friendly and yet competitive gaming community.

I felt a little burnt out after five solid days of PrezCon last year, so this day I'm going for just four days; I'll arrive on Thursday and go through Sunday.  My gaming friends Keith F., Brian G., and Tom S. will arrive a day ahead of me, on Wednesday.  My buddy Grant plans to arrive in time for the first events on Monday evening and stay the entire seven days.  Hard core, baby.  I don't know how people do a solid week of intense boardgaming.  People like that must pace themselves better than I do.

Excerpt of my PrezCon
schedule ... for now ...
Every year I go to the PrezCon website and agonize over the schedule.  Every year I carefully prioritize my gaming preferences and put together a perfectly-crafted sequence of events that will take me from breakfast to midnight of solid gaming for the duration of my stay.  And it seems that every year my plan flies out the window within two hours of arrival.  I always seem to get re-directed to some new discovery and find myself playing something I never thought I'd try.  I think that's the magic of a game convention - the impetuous spontaneity of pick-up games and demos and vendors and auctions.  Grant said he's given up on even trying to make a plan.  He just plays as the spirit moves him.  All the world is his gaming table, and all of us merely opponents...

I've written this before, but I'm not afraid to repeat myself.  The best advice I ever got when approaching PrezCon came from Convention Director Justin Thompson:  "Learn at least one new game; buy at least one new game."  I have three demos in mind for games that I want to learn this year:
  • Acquire
  • Small World
  • Command and Colors: Napoleonics
1976 3M Edition
I'd actually seen a demo of Acquire (designer Sid Sackson, artist Kurt Miller, publisher Wizards of the Coast) once before, at my very first PrezCon, and bought a copy on eBay shortly thereafter, but never got a chance to bring it to the table.  But when Little Metal Dog Show explained why Acquire deserves the title of a "stone cold classic," he reminded me of how much I liked what I saw in that game years ago.  So now I'm going to blow the dust off the box and get reacquainted with this Sid Sackson masterpiece.

Grant is running Small World (designer Philippe Keyaerts, artist Miguel Coimbra, publisher Days of Wonder) at PrezCon, and I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never actually sat down and played the game before.  So I'm setting SW as a specific "learning goal" for PrezCon this year.

Cover Design by
Rodger B. MacGowan
Copyright ©2010
I also want to get my hand back into wargaming.  Now, the Richard Borg series of historical strategy games (Battle Cry, Memoir '44, Command and Colors: Ancients, Battle Lore) aren't exactly the kind of hard core Avalon Hill / SPI wargames I grew up on, but they will scratch the itch for now.  And I haven't done Napoleonics in a very long time, so Command and Colors: Napoleonics (designer Richard Borg, artist Rodger MacGowan, publisher GMT) seems like a good new title to learn.

As for buying at least one new game, well, I'll bring my wishlist, but there's no telling what I'll come home with.  Here's my top seven, in no particular order:
  • Fairy Tale
  • Le Havre
  • Chicago Express
  • Traders of Carthage
  • Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War
  • High Frontier
  • Saint Petersburg
Finally, of course, I'll be demonstrating Trains Planes and Automobiles three times at PrezCon.  I've mentioned before that PrezCon has a special place in my heart as the place I sold TPA two years ago, so it's nice to come back and show it off as a finished product.  The family game format is a little off the conventional PrezCon path, but I'm hopeful that for a few people, it will be the new game they learned at PrezCon, and maybe one or two will even pick up a copy.  I just want people to have fun playing it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

PrezCon Demos - 23, 24, 25 Feb 2012

I am elated to report that I will be demonstrating Trains Planes and Automobiles at PrezCon at the DoubleTree Inn in Charlottesville, Virginia on Thursday 23, Friday 24, and Saturday 25 February 2012.  PrezCon has a special place in my heart, because that's where I first demonstrated the game in 2010 to Worthington Games and we sealed the deal with a handshake on the spot.  Before long, Worthington's new BlueSquare Board Games had released TPA as the first in its line of family games.  Seeing it on the PrezCon schedule has got me all juiced about game design again.

It's time to get back to work and turn some digested ideas into real playable prototypes.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Trading styles in Settlers of Catan

Seth Brown posted a nice essay about trading strategies in Settlers of Catan on About.com.  His strategies are very much in line with my own, and his article makes a nice summary of considerations for resource trades.

Resource cards in Settlers of Catan.
(c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved
His post got me thinking about some different styles of trading I've seen when playing among friends or in tournaments.  For my part, perhaps the most basic approach to a trade is to ask for what you need and offer what you don't.  It seems almost trivial, really - I need wood, I've got an extra wheat, so I offer one wheat for one wood.  In a friendly game, that's about as much thought as it takes.  I've even seen people approach Settlers as a co-op game, although they don't explicitly think of it that way.  They don't mind being helpful, and they enjoy building until at some point someone says, "oh, look, I've got ten points, I guess I win.  That was fun!"

A friend of mine has a son, on the other hand, who has a killer instinct for the barter economy of Catan.  His sense for which resources are going to be in demand is uncanny, and he invariably knows when to press a hard bargain on a trade that anyone else would have accepted on the first offer.  Because he is such an effective trader, he typically wins, and the people around the table look at him and ask, "how do you do that?"

I played in one tournament at PrezCon against a fellow who was a shrewd trader.  I specifically remember one interchange where another player said, "I need brick."  Shrewd Trader said, "what can you offer me?"  Brick Guy said, "Do you want a sheep or a wheat?"  Shrewd Trader immediately answered, "Both."  Neither of the other two of us had brick to trade, and Brick Guy had essentially admitted (if not in so many words) that he needed neither the sheep nor the wheat and therefore could spare both.  So Shrewd Trader held out and got the best deal.  Needless to say, Shrewd Trader advanced to the quarterfinal.

But playing hardball can backfire.  In another tournament, one guy at my table said that in his gaming group, nobody would trade straight up, one card for one card.  The active player, the one whose turn it was and therefore who would be able to build, had to offer at least two-for-one just to get people to consider a trade.  He said trading was not at all common in his group, and he was astounded at how freely the other three of us at the table would trade among ourselves.  He ended up in last place at that game.

So perhaps the lesson here is that a barter economy is still an economy.  A market equalizes when supply balances demand, so if one player is a hold-out and demands, say, three wheat for a brick, anybody else who has a brick can make a better deal than that, and the "price" of brick goes down.

Different people have different ideas about when a boycott is appropriate.  One practice I've seen is a hard-and-fast policy never to trade with anyone who has eight or nine points.  I try to be more flexible than that, but not by much.  I'll trade with someone who has eight points if I'm confident that I'm not enabling a big move (based on the number of cards my opponent has and whether a two-point turn is within striking distance) and if it gives me a sure point - and even then, I'll give it very careful consideration.  Others never trade with the leader, regardless of how early in the game it is.  A few even refuse to trade with anyone who has more points than they do, which can really shut the market down if everybody takes that position.

Sometimes its very tricky to balance the need for a trade with the potential edge it gives an opponent.  In yet another tournament game, I had six points, behind a very good player who had the lead with seven.  He made me a respectable trade offer, and after some hesitation, I accepted, over the objections of the other two people at the table.  As I handed him the card, I said, "I have a feeling I'm making a deal with the seven-point devil."  He gave a little half-smile, and sure enough, he stayed just out of reach of the rest of us until he won the game.

The infamous Monopoly card.
(c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved.
Making an offer generally requires that you have to reveal something about what you have, but that can be risky when someone could have a "Monopoly" card.  Some people like to be cagey about the way they pose deals, like, "if you had brick to trade, what would you want for it?"  I've described before the "Monopoly give-back," in which you freely trade a lot of one resource away for everything you need, then play the "monopoly" card to get it all back.  As non-confrontational as Euro games are intended to be, there are opportunities to take an opponent down at the knees.

So trading style sometimes comes down to a function of strategy, but it is also an artifact of the personality of the players.  Since boardgames are at heart a social activity, and since trading is inherently interactive, it makes sense that trading styles will vary according to the individuals playing the game.  That quality of sensitivity to the individual playing style is, I think, part of the appeal of Settlers of Catan.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Progress toward release of my first title

While at PrezCon, I had the opportunity to meet with my publisher and hammer out the final details of the rules to my game.  We nailed down some of the final wording, and in so doing I caught a mistake I had made in handling a case where a player's piece lands on another player.  We were able to resolve that at the eleventh hour, so I believe the rules should be ready to go to press.

The only outstanding decision they have at this point is to choose between two manufacturing options for the board.  They are very interested in making the right quality decision consistent with the target price point.  The intent is to go to the printers in time for an April release.  

I've got my fingers crossed.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pay attention when you discard

A couple of weeks ago at PrezCon, I played in two heats of Ticket to Ride (designer Alan R. Moon, publisher Days of Wonder), and it was in the first of these that I came face to face with my own absent-mindedness. 

As those familiar with the game know, each player starts with three tickets, each of which identifies two cities to connect by rail for points.  Longer routes in general are harder to connect but are worth more points, and having multiple tickets with overlapping connections make it relatively easy to compile a substantial score.  Of the three tickets at the start of the game, each player must keep at least two.  The disadvantage of keeping too many tickets is that uncompleted routes lose points at the end of the game, so it is prudent to keep no more routes than one is reasonably confident of finishing.

In my first heat, the three tickets I drew were all north-south routes with virtually no opportunity for overlap.  One was to connect Vancouver and Phoenix in the west, another Sault-Sainte-Marie and Houston in central Canada-U.S., and the third New York and Miami along the eastern seaboard.  So these routes had nothing in common, and clearly the logical thing to do was to discard one and strive to complete the other two.  After some thought, I decided to keep the eastern and central routes.  I discarded the third card, laid down the two tickets that I kept, and proceeded for the first half of the game to try to complete the two routes I'd decided to keep.

In a five-player game of TtR, there can be quite a lot of overlap among the competing players for key routes, and it became necessary for me to assemble a pretty convoluted network to get Sault-Sainte-Marie, Houston, New York, and Miami all connected.  I glanced at my tickets to double-check that I'd connected the right cities, and was horrified to discover that I still had Vancouver-Phoenix in my hand.  I had discarded New York - Miami without realizing it.

There was no hope at this point of making the Vancouver-Phoenix route; my opponents had by this time completely locked up the western U.S.  So the rest of the game involved scrambling for more tickets that I could reasonably complete by making extensions of my existing route in the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada, in the hope of accumulating more points.  I was actually rather successful, but I couldn't quite make up for the eleven points that I lost from having held on to Vancouver-Phoenix.  In fact, I came in second, only ten points behind the winner.  A most frustrating lesson in paying attention to one's cards.