Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

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.

This is a clever little game, fun and engaging.  I'm not sure whether to pull the trigger on it, because dice allocation games (specifically Troyes and Roma) have tended to fall flat with Kathy and me, but I'm keeping it on my list for future consideration.

Down in Flames: Zero
(c) GMT Games
Used by permission
When I think about Down in Flames: Zero! (designer Dan Verssen; artists Mike Lemick, Rodger B. MacGowan, and Mark Simonitch; publisher GMT) out of context of actually playing the game, I kind of shrug my shoulders and say, "Yeah, it's alright."  But when I'm in the middle of the game, I continually find myself saying, "This is really fun."  I participated in a heat in which John (last name escapes me) and I each started with two pairs of aircraft; I started with A6M2 Mitsubishi Zeroes ("Zekes"), he with Grumman F4F Wildcats.  As anyone familiar with World War II aircraft might expect, the Zeroes are more maneuverable but take less damage than the Wildcats.  I had actually forgotten a rule by which the Zero has a special ability to use any card as a "scissors" maneuver to reverse a disadvantaged position, but in fact John tried to avoid ever leaving me in that position so that I could use it in the first place.  I won our first engagement by shooting down two Wildcats and suffering one Zero shot down and one damaged.

In our second engagement, we reversed roles, and he did much better with the Zeroes than I did, shooting down two Wildcats while suffering no casualties.  So he won the heat with a seven-point differential between the two engagements.

Although luck is a factor in DiF, it has many tactical elements and fun gameplay considerations that make me want to open this one with my kids and see if they would be interested.  Heck, Kathy might be willing to try it as a quick two-player, even though it has a strong wargame theme to it.

Chicago Express
I returned to the CE table hoping to win after my loss the previous day.  As it happened, one of my opponents was the sweet little girl who beat me and four others in the six-player final at PrezCon last year.  In this heat, we had only three players and therefore more starting cash than the four-player game the previous day ($40 rather than $30 each).  I had learned my lesson of cash management and positioning for upcoming auctions, and I think I pulled it off pretty well.  I won the opening Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) auction with $17, which left me with $23 to work with.  I tried very hard to diversify my stock position so as to have shared interests with both opponents while maximizing my income.  I also managed to expand the PRR faster than the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O), in which our third opponent had a majority position (two shares to my one).  In managing my cash and the auctions, I was actually able to acquire a second share of PRR and get my own majority position.  What followed was a race across the plains, which the PRR won to reach Chicago first.  Winning that race was the key to success; with the extra dividend payout and the strong cash position to win the Wabash Railroad auction as well, I gained a commanding lead and never looked back.  I won with $116 at the end of the game; my opponents were tied at $65 each.

I love playing Acquire (designer Sid Sackson, artist Kurt Miller, publisher Wizards of the Coast), even though so few people in our immediate gaming group like it.  Once when playing Chicago Express at a friend's house, Rebecca E. mentioned that it reminded her of Acquire, and that was what turned me on to really getting into it.  But I just don't get to play it at home, so getting to play Acquire is a key highlight at every convention for me.

I'm really bad at this game, though.  There's a bit of a memorization element, from the standpoint of remembering what stocks everyone else has bought as well as tracking who has plurality position in each company and whether to try to be the leading stockholder.  When a large hotel takes over by a smaller one, the first and second place stockholders of the smaller company get big fat bonuses as part of the merger.  That cash now makes possible more stock purchases and improved investment positions.  I still have a hard time keeping track of what's going on, what to buy, and what the right option is when a merger happens and the opportunity to keep, sell, or exchange the stock of a taken-over hotel.

I didn't do quite so badly, however.  I focused on a few hotels that looked like good takeover candidates, and with a few lucky tile draws, managed to manipulate a couple of hotel takeovers.  I miscalculated, though, which stocks I had a plurality of, which resulted in me initiating at least one takeover that benefited an opponent more than me.  I finished a somewhat distant second place with $37,600 to the winner's $46,600.

Pillars of the Earth
Mike Selznick, Tom Snyder, and
Shane McBee - PotE 2nd heat
Friday evening, I ran the second heat followed by the final round of the Pillars of the Earth tournament.  I had seven participants in the second heat (three of whom had also participated in the first heat the previous day), so we had a three-player game and a four-player game.  Second-heat winners were Martin Houghton and Shane McBee.  Since Shane won his game in the first heat as well, that meant that the three winners plus the second-place finisher with the highest score would advance to a four-player final.  The other first-heat winner was Peter Gathmann, and the highest scoring second-place finisher, who rounded out the four-player final, was Tom Snyder.

Martin Houghton and Brian DeWitt
PotE 2nd heat
PotE represents the construction of a cathedral described in the Ken Follett novel of the same name.  Players score victory points (VPs) by making the greatest contributions to the cathedral construction as represented by the efforts of craftsmen whom they recruit to their construction teams.  These craftsmen need materials to do their work, so players also have twelve workers to send to the forest, quarry, and gravel pit to retrieve wood, stone, and sand.  Players also have three master builders to send on various specialized tasks to optimize the performance of the craftsmen, upgrade the team, and otherwise maximize the VPs that the player scores.  Players further have a gold reserve for hiring craftsmen, buying materials, and paying taxes.  The game lasts six rounds, each of which involves committing workers, assigning tasks to master builders, and then resolving the actions that the players took in order.

Steve Shedden and Glenn Weeks
PotE 2nd heat
In light of my observation from the first heat, I advised the finalists that I would not allow players to bring their own written crib notes as player's aids to the table for the final.  I was concerned that if one player used a card list or home-made decision tree and subsequently won the final, it would bring the integrity of the competition into question; a competitor might reasonably challenge that the sheet constituted an unfair advantage.  I didn't want that question to be on the table for the final round.

PotE has an interesting worker placement order mechanic:  Master builders are pawns that are drawn from a bag at random.  The player who controls the first drawn master builder may pay seven gold to assign his master builder first, or send that master builder to the end of the line (for free).  The next master builder to be drawn may be placed for six gold or sent to the end of the line.  The process continues with each master builder costing one fewer gold to be placed next or else sent to the end of the line.  When the price drops to zero, players simply place master builders in the order that they are retrieved from the bag.  When the bag is empty, the remaining master builders who were sent to the end of the line are now assigned, one at a time in the order in which they came out of the bag.  

Pete took an early lead after the second round at 12 VPs with the heavy use of two masons, who are efficient at working stone.  Shane hoarded the limited supply of metal; that action undermined Tom, whose tool maker had no metal to generate income.  I was struck at how many workers all the players sent to the wool mill to accumulate gold.  All players aggressively spent that money to place master builders ahead of each other.  An observation I've made about the four-player version of PotE is that depending on the order of actions taken, the last couple of master builders to be assigned may have no options of any value to the owning player.  I think that's one reason players were eager to place early (and were willing to pay for it) so as not to be stuck at the end of the phase with no options for the master builders.

One of Tom's early acquisitions was "Tom the Builder," a privilege card that yields an additional stone every round.  He picked up a sculptor on Round 2, which is even more efficient than the masons at converting stone to VPs.  Those acquisitions may have been key to Tom's success later in the game.

In Round 3, Pete continued his focus on stone and took a third mason.  Players continued to spend money aggressively for early master builder placement.  Shane sold all the metal he'd accumulated and bought out the wood market; he'd built a team of wood craftsmen that converted wood to gold as well as VPs.  Tom meanwhile picked up Otto Blackface, who provided him with an additional worker for acquiring materials.  He also stockpiled stone for future VP conversion.  Pete retained the lead with 16 VP, with Martin at 14, Tom at ten, and Shane at seven.

In Round 4, Pete bought the first glassblower, who converts metal and sand for three VPs, and sent all twelve of his workers to the wool mill for income.  Fortunately for Pete, the special event of the round gave each player one metal.  This round was a big turn for Martin, who jumped to the lead with 25 VPs to Pete's 19.  Shane had caught up to Tom at 16 VPs.

In Round 5, Shane bought the second glassblower, and Tom took the first goldsmith, who converts money to VPs.  Martin finished the round at 29 VPs, followed closely by Pete at 28, Tom at 26, and Shane at 23.  The field had tightened remarkably going into the final round, so the game appeared very close at this point.

In Round 6, Pete had Brother Remegius, a privilege that allows him to place a master builder for free, and sought to gain a specialized craftsman for big points as soon as his color came out of the draw bag.  It didn't work out for him, however; Shane took the second goldsmith, Martin the organ builder, and Tom the bellmaker before Pete's first master builder was drawn.  Tom, the winner of the maiden PrezCon Pillars of the Earth tournament, pulled ahead of everyone in the end with 50 VPs, followed by Martin at 46, Pete and 43, and Shane at 39.

I spoke with Justin Thompson the convention director afterward, and he was pleased with the success of PotE at PrezCon.  Although the turnout was small, he felt that having eleven different participants in the first year was sufficient to justify bringing it back next year and seeing whether the participation grows.  So I plan to run the event again at PrezCon 2014.

(c) Stronghold Games
Used by permission
Article 27
Keith had picked up a copy of Article 27 (designer Dan Baden, artist Michael Christopher, publisher Stronghold), an interesting multi-player political game, so Brian Greer, Keith Ferguson, Tom Snyder, Glenn Weeks, Adam (a former member of Grant's youth group), and I decided to give it a try in the open gaming area.  A27 is predicated on the notion of achieving political influence through getting measures passed in a United Nations - style voting forum.  Each player takes one turn as Secretary General.  Each turn, each player randomly populates a private scoring array that establishes which of five issues will benefit or degrade the influence of that player.  Under a three-minute timer, the Secretary General then bangs a gavel and announces (by moving colored markers into or out of an "agenda floor" on the board) which issues will be included or excluded on the measure to be voted upon.  Players can then campaign to include or exclude certain issues according to their interests by putting influence "bribes" in certain areas of the Secretary General's mat.

I learned in the first game by the time it was my turn to be Secretary General what a powerful position that is.  I was able to solicit considerable bribes in the three minutes that I deliberated over what issues to include and exclude in the measure.  The measure was (if I recall correctly) vetoed by Keith, which deprived me of a five-influence bonus for passing the measure (as well as the points I would have scored for the measure itself), but I kept all the influence I'd accumulated during deliberations, which contributed greatly to winning the first game.

We liked it so much that we immediately played again, and having grasped the nuances of the deal-making and the power of the Secretary General, we played the second game much tighter.  A27 is really a fun social game that finally captures the sense of legislative debate and influence peddling that I've never seen modeled convincingly before.

The Resistance
Friday night was our second effort to play a few rounds of The Resistance, and it went generally much better, owing largely to the arrival of Clyde Wright, from whom I'd first learned the game at PrezCon last year.  He threw in a few new twists with rules based on the Avalon edition of the game, which we didn't have with us but to which we were able to adapt the original edition cards.  This game is even more fun when you play it right (although I wasn't immune to screwing it up at least one time).


  1. Wasn't it Thursday night that we kept screwing things up? On Friday we played with Adam, and then Clyde showed up and introduced us to all the other roles ("Morpheus")...

  2. Oh, you're right, Keith. (In fact, that's what my PrezCon 2013 - Thursday post actually says.) With Clyde W. there Friday night, we did a lot better (although I still messed up when we introduced the Assassin role among the spies).