2nd April 2021
It was a Friday and I was logged into Board Game Arena on my PC.
As the name suggests, Stone Age is a game about the trials and tribulation faced by the inhabitants of prehistoric communities.
Caveat: The digital version of this game was played at this time, but we had played the physical version on previous occasions.
What's in a game?
Stone Age is a worker placement game and at its core takes place on a central game board which is divided into various different locations, into which workers can be placed to activate the associated action. Some locations may contain any amount of workers, others are limited by numbers.
The game board has a bright and colourful depiction of a stone age community on the edge of the wilderness that's quite eye-catching. The player boards have similar, if plainer artwork, again this is fine since most of the time they'll be covered in components.
The civilisation cards essentially all use the same piece of artwork with elaborate game iconography providing some variation and the same is true of the building tiles. It's nothing to write home about (Or blog about I suppose?) but is perfectly acceptable.
For the most part, the art is good.
How's it play?
Gameplay is broken up into 3 phases, place workers, resolve workers and end of round.
Again starting with the first player, they must remove all of their workers from one location at a time from every location they've placed workers and immediately resolve the associated actions as they do so, returning the meeple to the player's board. Players are free to remove their meeples in whatever order they see fit (This can have significant impact on game play.). The following actions are available:
There are 2 conditions that can trigger the endgame.
If any of the building tile stacks have all 7 of their tiles purchased, it triggers the endgame, the current round is concluded and the game goes to the end game and then scoring.
At the end of a round, if there aren't enough civilisation cards to fill a 4 spots on the board, then the game immediately ends and goes to scoring.
In both instances, tribes must be fed for a final time.
Final scores are tallied by adding the score from the victory point track, points that come from sets of civilisation cards and 1 point for each (Non food) resource the player possesses.
Highest score wins.
If I have one criticism of Stone Age, it's that the first 3 opening moves in any given round are generally always no-brainers, that's because the tool maker, hut & field locations are such a high priority because they confer very good rewards that would usually be stupid for players to pass up. If you're the 4th player, you won't get a look in unless another player is really desperate for something else or doesn't know what they're doing.
I'm not sold on the resource gathering mechanic either, yes it's quite nice but it can leave you at the mercy of the dice rolls that makes low rolls feel frustrating but somehow high rolls not feel satisfying.
Otherwise Stone Age is a mid-to-light worker placement game that is fairly easy to learn but feels perhaps a little generic, however, it does provide a fair level of depth.
The game manages to generally provide a choice or two too many for players to cover with workers, forcing them to prioritise their actions and making meaningful decisions. An extra worker is good, so is the agriculture required to feed them, the tools can help with gathering resources which are useful to buy cards and tiles and so on.
So if you want to play a worker placement game that isn't too taxing on the grey matter, you could do a lot worse than Stone Age.
21st March 2021
Sunday afternoon gaming continues; I'm logged on to Board Game Arena and Zoom, the second game of the day is Tokaido.
I know several people who have visited Japan but to my knowledge none of them had made the 500km trip along the Tokaido route.
If you like the idea of taking a hike to enjoy hot springs or staying at an inn or looking at beautiful scenery, then maybe this is the game for you.
Caveat: We played a digital version of this game, we have also played the physical version previously.
What's in a game?
Art on the board looks quite minimalistic with white as the dominant colour, consequently the Tokaido route draws the eye's attention. However, the symbols used to represent the different destinations along the route are quite small and look samey despite being distinctly coloured from each other. It was something found to occur on both the physical and online version. This is only a minor gripe.
How's it play?
Each player is given a meeple and a randomly determined character tile, the 7 decks are prepared and placed on to their allotted spaces on the game board. The starting order is determined at the first inn, then money is then given to players according to the starting order.
On to play
Game play is very simple to understand, the purpose of Tokaido is to travel to the eastern end of the road, having the most pleasant journey, this is done by stopping at the various locations along the way.
Play continues until all players have reached the last inn.
Souvenir sets are now scored.
Then achievements are scored. There are achievements for completing panoramas first, having the most encounters, donating the most money to temples and so on. One achievement earns victory points for spending the most on meals at inns - which explains the varying costs for meals.
Points are tallied, highest score wins.
Tokaido is a fairly straightforward game to play, on the surface the game gives players a simple decision to make - where to stop and what to collect? It's a little more involved though, the question is; how much do you want to visit a certain spot?
As the active player, someone can choose to move their meeple as far as they need to in order to reach a specific spot, however, moving too far means that a player will end up sitting around as other players get multiple turns. Conversely, moving too slowly risks locations being filled with other players. It feels like quite a balancing act.
Generally we found that there's a basic strategy of moving as little as possible in an attempt to maximise the number of turns that are available and just collect what you can.
The games other balancing act is money; knowing when to keep money and knowing when to spend it is important since spending money can earn victory points and it needs to be done as efficiently as possible.
There's minimal player interaction here and generally player's can't interfere with each other. A canny player can try and predict where other players are looking to go (All cards are kept face-up.) and try to get there first but it mostly it hardly seems worth it.
All of this makes Tokaido a gentle, laid back game to play, it sort of fits the theme of talking a walking holiday.
Players used to heavier games may find that they feel like nothing is happening during the game. This may be partially down to playing online.
The online version doesn't feel as good as the physical one. Being able to collect and build panoramas or complete souvenir sets with physical components feels a lot better than when they're collected in the online version. It's a small sense of achievement but a sense of achievement nonetheless.
If you want a light and chilled game to play though, you can do worse than Tokaido.
21st March 2021
It's a Sunday lunchtime and I'm logged on to my PC in the living Room and signed into Board Game Arena.
The first game of the day was Takenoko, a game about gardening in Japan... and pandas.
Caveat: We played this game online, but I own a physical copy which I've set up for the photos.
What's in a game?
All of the cartoon-like art is uniformly bright, colourful and appealing, even the rulebook is filled with it. It shows a nice touch.
Finally I'll add that there's a giant sized Takenoko that was released a while back.
How's it play?
On to play
After a starting player is chosen, play proceeds clockwise.
Some actions do not count towards the usual 2 action limit. The active player can carry out any number of free actions at any time during their turn.
The endgame is triggered after someone has played a certain number of objective cards, dependant on the number of players.
The player that triggered the endgame immediately take the Emperor card and conclude the rest of their turn normally. Then continuing in clockwise order, every other player has one more turn.
After this, scores are tallied, highest score wins.
Firstly I'll mention how the game is uniformly nice, presentation is excellent and component quality is good, nothing to criticise here.
Since there are always objectives to work towards in Takenoko, there are generally always meaningful decisions to make.
The game's player interaction comes from conflicting objectives such as one player getting the gardener to grow bamboo and another getting the panda to eat it.
This is also a game about recognising opportunities and adapting to the card and plot tiles you draw and to a lesser extent the results from the weather die and not about strategizing too much.
There is some strategy regarding the uneven distribution of bamboo (Generally objectives that involve the less common bamboo score more points.) but that's about it. I suppose there could be a high level strategy where you watch what other players are doing and try to anticipate what objectives they're going for and try and scupper them but you'll probably scupper yourself as well in the end.
Optimising your actions per turn seems to be very important.
Takenoko is a relatively simple and straightforward game to play, the concepts behind it should make it a fairly accessible crossover game. For dedicated gamers there might not be enough meat on the bone to satisfy them though.
Ultimately Takenoko is a light somewhat gentle game that you shouldn't take too seriously if you play it. If you want something heavy on strategy and direct interaction, it's probably not the game for you. However, if you're in the mood for an undemanding game, it's a reasonable diversion.
15th January 2020
It's a Friday evening, I'm logged into Zoom on my laptop and I'm sitting in the living room.
So it's time to play Forgotten Waters, a co-operative fantastical pirate exploration game that we've only played over video chat.
Caveat: I've only played this game over video chat and never in person, I've also never actually seen the physical components for the game. So this blog will probably be a bit different to the usual.
Before we begin
Forgotten Waters is one of this new breed of boardgames that requires an app to play, not just an app to help, but actually required to play.
Additionally, the game has a Remote Play Assistant app available. This app is what has allowed us to play online and in this time of Covid-19 is a welcome feature.
What's in a game?
Because I've never seen the game physically and because the remote play assistant app replaces the need for some components, it's hard to gauge what exactly, is what?
It's hard to talk about the quality of these physical components though as I've never see them other than briefly over video chat.
But I can talk about the apps.
It's clear that the game's developers have put a lot of thought and effort into insuring the quality of the game app. It's very slick with professional voice acting and production qualities, scripting and dialogue is very well written and often witty. There were frequent chuckles at gags that hit the mark more often than not.
I'm not sure what to think though, like many people; the idea of a game needing an app to play sits uncomfortably with me. We all know the question, what happens to the game a few years down the line, how long will the developer support the app?
However, I doubt this game would even exist in this form without the app. The game seems to have hundreds of differing encounters that can contextually change according to the story mission being played. It would require a fairly elaborate book to manage all of this physically, slowing the game down and no doubt adding to the cost.
The remote helper does it's job well enough to facilitate remote play and is easy to use, apart from the occasional need to refresh the browser and put everything back in sync, it works perfectly well.
I cannot say enough about how useful it is though. We played a game with 7 players and someone commented how how this was the most people they'd talked to in a year. In these times of self-isolation it has proven to be a godsend.
One minor criticism I have is about the character sheet PDF. It is a slight oversight that it is not form-fillable as it could save on the unnecessary use of paper.
How's it play?
First of all, one of the 5 available missions is selected, this will give the players a series of objectives to aim for, then play can begin.
Essentially, the ship travels from hexspace to hexspace dealing with the encounters that are generated by each space.
Each encounter will have 7 pertinent actions. Players take turns placing their standee on the action they want to perform,
Some actions are mandatory, some can only be completed by one player and others can completed by any number of players.
Additionally, some actions become locked when they are completed whilst others can be repeated.
Some actions are specific to certain encounters or mission objectives and others are generic and frequently appear during encounters.
Players place their standees on the encounter spaces in order of the infamy track, Forgotten Waters utilises a real time mechanic during encounters. If players have not placed their standee/worker in the allotted time, they receive a misfortune token as punishment.
Once all workers have been placed, then actions are carried out but in the order shown on the encounter.
There are a great many different action in the game, related to combat, sailing, exploring, trading, objectives etc.
Often players will be given 2 or 3 sub-choices for their chosen action and sometimes they will have 2 actions they actions they can perform.
Many actions will increase one of the player's 6 skills, frequently this will then require a roll using the relevant skill, generally there are 3 different levels of outcome depending on how high the final roll is.
Once all actions have been repeated, the turn ends. Depending on the situation, players may have the choice of staying and repeating the parts of the encounter which are not locked (Like foraging for supplies, burying treasure etc.) or they have be forced to move on to another encounter.
This continues until the endgame.
There are numerous ways to lose.
If the ship's hull, supplies or crew are reduced to zero then it's game over.
If the crew's discontent value increase to or beyond the crew score, then it's also game over.
Finally there's threat rating. Threat can go up and down; the game will on a fairly regular basis call for threat checks, depending on the result this may generate a threat event, this is another type of encounter. The higher the threat rating, the more likely it is that a threat event will be triggered, when one does occur the threat rating is reduced to zero. If four threat events are triggered, then it's also game over.
If all the objectives of a mission are met then the player's collectively win.
Each character also has an individual ending though, depending on how many stars they filled in on their constellations, this may be bad, good or legendary. Bad endings are usually very bad comical demises for the character, explosions, drownings etc.
The good and legendary endings are as comical but obviously better for the character.
Forgotten Waters is a long game to play, a mission can take 4 or even more hours to complete and the developers are aware of this, all missions come with a natural breakpoint, which can be used a temporary stopping point and then picked up again at a later date.
Mostly the game gives players meaningful co-operative decisions to make and the timer forces them to think quickly.
It's also a well produced, smart game that is entertaining to to play, the app does add to the atmosphere and help with booking.
but I do have some quibbles to do with game balancing.
Firstly; when undertaking tasks, some tasks are more attractive to complete than others. One example, during ship combat:
Furthermore it exacerbates and perpetuates the imbalance. Once a character starts firing cannons, thus increasing their aim skill, it makes sense for them to continue doing that action, because they're more likely to get better results. So one player can be stuck loading cannons and earning little to nothing and another firing cannons and getting skill points and treasures.
Sometimes it's not so bad because with some actions, multiple characters can perform it but with single-character actions, it can be irritating.
Maybe its deliberate, it certainly can make the infamy track more important for actions that can only be done by one player.
Forgotten Waters is a mostly co-operative game, but it also a little edge of competitiveness as well, players can steal treasures from other players and so on.
Maybe the game wants to force players to choose between what's good for them and what's good for the mission?
Speaking of which, characters seem out of balance. When they earn bonuses, the usefulness of them seems to vary widely, some characters will get permanent items that confer constant bonuses whilst other characters get one-use-only less useful abilities.
Additionally, it appears that constellations are harder to complete for some characters than others for what appears to be no rhyme or reason why.
Luckily they don't affect the game too much, especially since it's co-operative. Other than that I've found it a fun game to play.
3rd November 2020
It's a Tuesday and I'm not at the Woking Gaming Club, I am however in Woking, in Simon's converted home-office for what would be the last time I play a game with a friend in person before lockdown 2 began.
It was an unusual setup, two us were in Simon's office and Colin was dialling in via Zoom, able to view the game through Simon's phone which was clamped above the table.
Tonight we played Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion, the little sibling of Gloomhaven. Like Gloomhaven, it's a cooperative RPG with a legacy element.
Caveat: This blog post may differ a little from the ones I normally write. When we played the game, a number of the components were not used, instead they were replaced with an app, it also allowed Colin to remotely log into the app and see the same information we did. Additionally, both other players were very familiar with the game.
What's in a game?
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion comes with a lot of components and a lot of cards.
What art there is on the components is good and the components are of a high quality.
How's it play?
The game follows the paradigm of an RPG; there are a series of linked scenarios that form a campaign. As characters progress from scenario to scenario, they accumulate experience points and become stronger. Characters are persistent and they and their progress carry over between scenarios.
There are also legacy elements here, decisions that players make during the game will have some sort of effect later on.
The setup is fairly quick and simple, mostly because the game uses map books instead of tiles.
On to playing
In each round, the players will choose 2 cards from their deck to play. Enemy behaviour is dictated by the game.
A scenario will end when its win/lose conditions are met.
If the players win the scenario they gain experience points, characters gain experience points according to the scenario. Additionally; certain action cards grant characters experience points when played, these are added up as well.
When a character acquires enough experience points, they will level up and gain whatever benefits it confers.
During the game, enemies that are defeated will drop treasure. If characters collect these treasures, they gain gold after the scenario ends.
Gold can then be spent to acquire more or better item cards.
Next, there is an encounter as determined by a randomly drawn city card.
After this, players are given the choice of what scenario to attempt next. This may involve adding a sticker to the map or some other legacy type action.
There's a lot to think about here.
There's a lot of components to the game too and it might be a bit fiddly. But it seems to me that most of this occurs during setup. I can't imagined how much setup the full Gloomhaven requires without the map books?
The character-gameplay is actually pretty straightforward, simple to learn and goes smoothly enough.
Enemy behaviour may be a bit trickier and it probably pays to have some one who is familiar with the rules (As we did.) when playing.
The action card mechanic was pretty well implemented, it not only gives players options and a bit of flexibility, but meaningful decisions to make.
The rest mechanic is also a good addition, it forces players to act, be decisive and deters them from trying to play overly safe and spend too many turns resting to regain hit points.
Since a character deck only has 10 cards, it means that a plaery will empty their deck in 5 rounds. Then they have to decide to discard 1 card and miss a turn, or discard one at random and continue, which can be a hard decision.
Now you have 9 cards and only 4 turns before facing the same dilemma. Additionally, some cards are discarded when use and so on.
All of this serves to create sense of urgency, a need to complete the scenario before player decks become too depleted. Players will want to minimise the time they waste carrying out long rests.
Combat is a bit of a mixed bag.
There are a good number of special moves, conditions and effects that play a role in combat. The four different characters can feel different in combat because of it.
I dislike the cancel result on the combat deck that waste an attack, I imagine that if a player has set up a powerful move using a card that gets discarded - only to have that entire attack negated, it must feel gutting.
I'm not sure how I feel about using individual decks as a randomizer for combat, I can see the appeal of having a customisable individual randomizer for each player, but it seems like having components for the sake of having components. It works well enough, but I'm sure a similar effect could achieved with a single bunch of dice that are collated for individual rolls.
Gloomhaven/Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion are 2 games that are sort of chasing a board game holy grail. These are games that are trying to an give RPG style gameplay and experience, but without a GM.
It's a tricky goal; too simple and it becomes bland and repetitive, too complex and the game gets bogged down in rules, rules exceptions and components.
Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion seems to straddle that line fairly well.
Although as I mentioned above, we did use an app to facilitate play. It did have the advantage of allowing a player to join in a board game where he played over zoom!
Maybe this is the way to go, where an app does the GM heavy lifting, I've seen at least one game that requires an app, no doubt there will be more games that do that.
But this raises the question of legacy, an older game can (And probably will.) be rendered obsolete if the companion app becomes unavailable.
Overall though; I was happy enough to play it and will be continuing with the campaign I joined.
27th October 2020
Tuesday evening is here and I'm at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking with the Woking Gaming Club.
Time for the first game of the evening; Karuba.
Have you fancied yourself as an explorer just landed on some unmapped jungle island? Well in Karuba you control not just 1 explorer, but 4! All in a rush from beach to jungle in order to find temples, treasure and ultimately glory first before everybody.
What's in a game?
How's it play?
The set up for Karuba very straightforward, if a tiny bit time consuming.
Gameplay for is very straightforward. Players are trying to move their explorers to the temple of the same colour. Unsurprisingly, this is done by laying tiles and moving the explores along the paths that are created.
Karuba has no turns, everyone makes their choices at the same time.
Play continues until one player has moved all 4 of their explorers to the relevant temples, or as is more likely until the caller has depleted their entire stack.
Players add the points of all the scoring tokens they've collected and the gold and diamond tokens, gold is worth 2 points and diamonds 1 point.
Highest score wins.
Despite the simplicity of the rules, Karuba gives players lots of decisions to make nearly all the time.
The most common of these is whether to play a tile or discard it for movement.
This is a very elegant mechanic, the best tile to build paths with is the crossroads, because it gives you the most options. But the crossroad is also the best tile to discard for movement, as it give you most movement.
Early in the game, you'll obviously be wanting to play the tiles more often to build up your paths, but you can't afford to play them willy-nilly. A meandering path is something players will want to avoid.
You may end up putting tiles in seemingly unconnected, random places, hoping to get the right tiles later on!
Players have limited rounds in Karuba and will want to build their paths as efficiently as possible. The game has an absolute maximum of 36 rounds.
If you look the photo of my gameboard from the end of the game. All 36 tiles were drawn. This means I played 19 tiles, which means I moved 17 times, whilst I managed to get 3 explorers to their destination, the blue explorer barely managed to leave their starting spot.
Movement may also provide difficult decisions.
For example; you may have an explorer who is just 1 step away from a treasure or a temple but have just drawn a crossroads tile which grants you 4 movement, using it on 1 movement can be a waster. Do you use it to move another explorer to maximise it's value, or do you use 1 movement to complete an objective and waste the rest of the movement?
Also, when moving explorers, players will need think ahead a little, a badly placed explorer can block their colleagues, meaning it might require an entire round to clear the path.
Only towards the end of the game, when I had connected everything up and reached 2 temples, did the decisions become no-brainers. But because the game is played simultaneously and other players were more or less in the same situation: There was little downtime between rounds, which passed very quickly.
Karuba is a quick game to play anyway, if a player spends 1 minute deciding their move, the game has a play time of 36 minutes.
The only small criticism I could level at Karuba is that there is no interaction with other players. Not a problem for me personally, but it can be for others.
Otherwise I thought it was a good game.
Quickly and easy to learn, quick and fun to play.
Anybody can learn and play Karuba. It's such a visually driven game that players should quickly comprehend what they need to do.
It's a game that's definitely going on my list.
20th October 2020
Tuesday evening in Woking at 'The Sovereigns'.
Time for a boardgame with the Woking Gaming Club.
Tonight's game was 'Ride the Rails'.
Now Ride the Rails looks like a traditional railroad building game set in North America, but it has a few wrinkles that make it play a bit differently.
What's in a game?
Some of the components will seem familiar to any that's played a railroad building game
You may have noticed that I mentioned shares, but there are no components for shares and no money either. Well, more on that below...
How's it play?
Ride the Rails is played over 6 rounds.
It's important to know that there are only 2 train companies (Red & blue.) available from round 1. The orange becomes available from round 2, yellow from round 3, purple from round 4 and black from round 5. No new companies appear in the 6th and final round.
Additionally, each company has it's own rules for the placement of train meeples.
A round consists of 3 actions, which all players will carry out.
Play continues until the 6th round has been completed. Final scores are tallied, highest score wins.
As you can see, Ride the Rails is pretty straightforward and simple to understand, it also plays quite quickly.
Don't let the simplicity fool you though, there is a fair a amount of depth here.
Firstly; Ride the Rails has the classic dichotomy in which competing players may need to cooperate. If more than one player has spent a turn investing in a certain company, it's to both their benefits to expand that company efficiently.
Being able to gauge which shares will generate the most points is vital to winning, if a player manages to get 2 or 3 shares (Out of their 6) in a rail line that will see a lot of use, they can potentially rake in a lot of points. If a player however invests too quickly in a single company, it can scare off players who might perceive they are helping another player too much. Remember, 2 players can build up a network much quicker than a single player.
Secondly, building rail networks. In the first round, red and blue train meeples can only start in east coast cities and must more or less head west.
Should a player create a meandering network that maximises connections?
Or should they race towards the west coast? No single rail company can cross the entire map, it will probably take the efforts of 3 companies to do that and this will involve crossing the mountains.
This means it's unlikely that more than 2 companies will connect the east and the west. Making this connection first can be very lucrative, it forces other players to either use the rail network you've got shares in, or waste time building a separate network and just like with shares, each player will only have 6 opportunities to build their network.
I think that Ride the Rails is a good game, that has a lot of elements that will be familiar to experienced gamers but actually plays a bit differently.
You buy shares, you just take them and you don't pay to expand a rail network, it just happens. There is no money in the game in fact, money immediately translates into points.
I definitely want to try Ride the Rails again.
13th October 2020
Tuesday is here and we're at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking.
Time for the Woking Gaming Club to play a game and tonight we will be playing 'The Networks'.
This is a game for the budding media mogul inside everybody; create TV shows, hire film stars, fire chat show hosts, stick advert breaks everywhere, well at least during primetime! Fun for everyone.
When we played The Networks, a couple of expansions were also used.
What's in a game?
The Networks is a card game that has some nice additional components.
All the other components are standard, except the money tokens which are cool.
How's it play?
The Networks is played over 5 'seasons'.
At the start of each season, TV show, star and advert cards a dealt in 3 rows.
Network cards are only dealt out from the 2nd season onwards.
After this, in turn order, players take 1 action each. This continues until there are no more actions that can be performed or all players have chosen to finish for the season, this is called 'drop & budget'.
The actions are:
The game continues for 5 seasons, at the end of the 5th season the shows are still aged. Then a 6th season is scored (No new cards or other actions occur).
Accumulated audience figures are tallied, highest score wins.
The Networks has some cool design choices that give players interesting decisions to make.
A player can keep going and acquire more stars and adverts for as long as they've got money, which can give them an advantage later on because having these cards in their Green Room means that it's easier and quicker to develop shows. But ending your season early gives you more money/audience, more importantly though, it allows the player to be earlier in the turn order for the following season. So when the new cards appear, that player will get first dibs.
Because the game is very much about card drafting, players really have to think about how they prioritize their actions, as all players will be vying for the same cards.
Players have to try and use their actions as efficiently as possible, there's a fine balance between doing all the actions you want to do and ending your turn quickly.
All in all, The Networks gives players important decisions to make throughout the game and that's a good thing.
6th October 2020
It's Tuesday evening at 'The Sovereigns' in Woking and it's time for a boardgame.
The main game this evening was 'Pan Am', a game about building up airline companies over the years and then watching as they bought out by Pan Am in exchange for shares!
What's in a game?
This game is set in 'The Golden Age of Air Travel', which I guess covers from the 'inter-war years' to the late 1960's.
This is reflected in the games look and art, which has a cool retro look to it.
The game's components are all good and the game's art direction and quality are worth noting. This shows the game's attention to detail.
How's it play?
The set up for Pan Am is pretty straight forward.
Every round begins by turning over that round's event card. This determines some actions that will occur in the game.
This is where the majority of the game occurs;
Usually placing workers starts with the 1st player, but there is something called priority. This is explained in detail below, but basically any workers that were placed into the directive spaces in the previous round go first in placement order.
There are 2 types of spaces a worker can be placed into.
So we go on to the five different types of worker action available to players. Players can obviously place down their workers in any other, but below is the order in which they are resolved
Pan Am airlines starts the game in the Miami city space. The die is used to determine how and where Pan Am expands. The number of times the active player rolls it is dictated by the event card.
When the die is rolled, it will show one of two types of action.
Selling (Or being forced to sell.) routes is not necessarily a bad thing, it can be vital to winning the game.
This is because Pan Am actually offers reasonably good money for a route.
A 1 point route will earn a player 1 per round, thus if a player has it for all 7 rounds it will earn a maximum of 7 throughout the game. Pan Am pays 5 for a 1 point route. So long term, keeping a route earns more, but it's a slow drip of money. Selling to Pan Am gives the player a lump sum that can immediately be re-invested into claiming more routes (Or buying shares.).
A 1 point route is worth 5.
A 2 point route is worth 9.
A 3 point route is worth 12.
A 4 point route is worth 14.
Obviously, there are diminishing returns here, but remember the class 4 aeroplanes will not appear until turn 6 (Unless an event card changes this.) and will only generate income for 2 turns.
When a route is sold to Pan Am, the player reduces their income track by the value of the route and the aeroplane on the route is replaced by a Pan Am token. The aeroplane is returned to the player which is actually very useful. The amount of aeroplanes a player can have is limited to the number of aeroplanes available. Each player only has 1 class 4 aeroplane, so being able to use it, sell the route it's on and then use it again is the way to go.
Players not only get the opportunity to sell routes during expansion, event cards and directive cards can also allow players to sell routes.
Players earn an amount of money equal to their position along their income track.
Players can now buy shares, because this is the airline business, the only shares that matter are Pan Am shares.
Players may buy as much Pan Am stock as they can afford, the price of the shares is influenced by the event card played at the start of the round.
Since there is only ever 7 opportunities to buy shares, it's probably a good idea to try and buy them at every opportunity.
Once all players have bought all the shares they want, the round ends. The first player marker is moved left to the next player and new round begins.
In this game, no one cares about the little routes that you create, they only care about Pan Am.
After the end of the 7th round, players tally up the shares they have bought. Highest number of shares win. Remaining money counts as a tie breaker.
Pam Am does a good job of blending accessibility, depth and player options.
Very rarely was there a meaningless choice in the game. Most of the time I felt that I could do with an extra worker or two.
Maximising your workers is very important, as is knowing when to bid for something or not. The destination card and class 1 aeroplane auction tracks have a minimum bid of 0. There's potential to get stuff for free when other players have minimal interest in it.
The key to the game I think, is selling routes to Pan Am at the right time, the prices are set a sweet spot of being good but not too good. Generally it's prudent to sell routes to Pan Am, but it's never a no-brainer - and that's a good thing.
Ideally players will want to try and build routes close to Pam Am, hoping to get bought out. It's almost a counter-intuitive way to play.
Since the game is ultimately all about Pan Am shares, you obviously need to buy as many as possible and the game only gives players 7 opportunities to do this.
Stock prices generally start low in the game and rise continually throughout the game, this can put players in a quandary.
Do you buy shares in earlier rounds when they are much cheaper and run the risk of lacking funds to compete in bidding?
Or do you buy them later, hoping that your early investments pay off and give you more money to buy the invariably more expensive shares.
Finally, it's quite interesting watching as Pan Am unfailingly spreads across the board, consuming everything in its way.
I have the urge to play Pan Am again, that's always a solid indicator of a good game in my opinion. It's definitely worth trying.
21st March 2020
Saturday is here and normal Saturday gaming has not resumed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
On the last meeting of the Woking Gaming Club, Simon & Colin invited us to play a final game, provided that an opportunity would present itself. And that opportunity did present itself - on Saturday 21st March.
So we're at Simon's for a Saturday as his wife and children are away.
The game of the night was 'Maracaibo'.
If you've ever favoured yourself as an adventurer, explorer or trader jobbing your way round and round in circles for years in the Caribbean. Then maybe, just maybe. This is a game for you.
What's in a game?
Maracaibo is a big game with a lot of components, cards and tiles:
How's it play?
There's quite a lot of setup to this game.
Since we're not playing the campaign, some of the components will be left out.
So now we're ready!
The basic principle of Maracaibo is to travel from location to location in a loop from and back to Havana. Stopping at different places will allow players to perform different actions in pursuit of victory points.
A player's turn consists of 3 phases, sailing, main action & drawing cards.
Let's start with city actions:
Players keep taking turns until a round ends. A round continues until any player reaches space 22. There's a game mechanism that prevents a player immediately ending a round (Players must stop at space 21 first.). Then the following actions occur.
Players can purchase a project card or gain 2 VP.
The money and victory point economy tracks are dealt with.
A new prestige building is revealed and new quest cards are placed on the board as required.
The new first player is the player who ended the previous turn.
Play continues until the end of the final round.
Points can come from project cards, player boards, prestige buildings, rank with nations and of course the scoring track.
Final points are tallied and highest score wins.
TLDR; right? Although I've probably made it sound more complicated than it actually is.
Maracaibo definitely sits at the heavier end of the complexity scale.
Some of this complexity is down to rules, but much of it is due to having so many things going on at the same time. Not only is there the main track and project cards and ship grades and personal objectives, there's the exploration track. Then there's the influence and rank tracks. I've probably missed something too!
All of these are ways to score points
It's a lot for a player to think about and take in, particularly with potentially very limited turns!
There may be 22 spaces on the main track, but if a player races round, they can end the round after about 4 turns. A sneaky player can end the game quite quickly and if players don't pay attention, they may get caught flat footed.
So players need to think of ways to optimise their strategy, manage their resources and play to the strengths of their personal objectives.
They also need to keep an eye on what other players may be doing with regards movement and also to influence and rank, high rank with a high influence nation can be the source of a lot of victory points.
This is not a confrontational game by any means, but influence represents the only way players can mess with each other (Even though it's indirectly.). Lowering a nation's influence after another player has increased their rank with that nation can cost them a lot of victory points.
Its mechanics suits its themes fairly well as what players are doing is following trade routes whilst buying and selling.
Whilst Maracaibo is not the most complex or heaviest of games, but it's complex enough.
It's a game that will take a couple plays to understand a learn, so it's not very accessible. But if you like heavier games, then you'll be used to that.
If you like heavier games and you like the theme, you'll probably like Maracaibo, although it typically requires a few hours to complete, around 3 hours I'd say.
For me, I'd like to play it again, but it sits close to the upper limits of complexity I like dealing with.
I play, I paint.