Rob Smolka's new place this week. I brought over a couple of games that I knew he and Michelle (whom I still have yet to meet) didn't have that I was hoping to play. Nathan Winchester and I headed over around 6:00ish and were the first to arrive. Figuring it wouldn't be long before folks started showing, I pulled out Samarkand: Routes to Riches for the three of us to try. For the record, having ten families differentiated by colors is probably not the best game to pull out when players have color issues like Rob does. He figured it out, but there really is not much else that helps you tell the families apart (unlike say the new printings of Ticket to Ride). At any rate, as soon as I got done explaining, Noah Antwiller showed up, so I explained it to him and we were off and running. As expected, Noah drew really well and did really well. I drew cards all over the map, which would have been ok if the players controlling the families had ever gone and taken the goods I had. Final scores were: Nathan 53, Rob 53, me 57, Noah 70.
After that, a number of folks had arrived, so we broke into two groups. I pulled out Steam Barons which I knew Noah and Nathan would play. Somehow we conned Matt Cullinan into playing with us and off we went. We played the US side of the map (which forces players to start on the Eastern side and work West). Nathan started a company and ended up investing heavily in it in the mid-game. His choice to go with one company rather than diversify hurt his standing quite a bit, and by the end of the game his diversification was too little too late. Noah had chosen a good set of routes for his companies and I left him alone in one of his companies one turn too many since my company was doing well, but not as well as his. Scores were pretty close with me at 109, Nathan 78, Matt 101, Noah 111. I'm now on the fence with this one. I really enjoy stock games and I like the familiar AoS/Steam mechanics for building and moving goods. However, this game is all about the timing - make a mistake and you are probably done (much like Age of Steam). The unforgiveness of the game isn't what I dislike - its the length. A three-hour game with no margin for error can drag on a bit. Even AoS - which I love - sometimes gets to be like this for me, which is why I've been leaning towards Steam a bit when given the choice. This is still a good game, but you have to be ready for a longer ride.
Next up was Oregon - something new to me. Matt chose this one and noted that it only had one flaw - the board was static. Well, after playing, I'd have to say that's not the only thing wrong with the game. So the deal here is: there is a board divided into a grid. Players have a couple cards in their hand that allow them to place in a couple of the 25? 36? areas of the board. Each grid area has 6 spaces that allow for different buildings to be placed (they must match the correct geography), or a meeple. Placing meeples scores you points and occasionally additional benefits. Occasionally, if you can get a building by your meeples, you'll score those points too. So what is wrong with this game? The same thing that's wrong with Samarkand and Amun-Re. If you get good cards, you are likely going to win. Matt and Noah both had bad draws and Nathan and I benefited greatly every time they played, because we had the right cards to do so. This isn't a bad game, but I'm not sure why Matt thinks its all that great. The final scores were me 72, Nathan 72, Matt 61, Noah 66. Tie to Nathan
It was getting late, but Nathan and I finished the night playing a little 2-player game of UR. I had built a set from some wood tiles I had and using dice rather than cubes (which works well, but is hard to track your totals). The game was a bit back and forth for a while and in the end, Nathan had two choices and chose the wrong one and took the wrong tile into his hand. I beat him 44-40.
Over the weekend, my son asked to learn a couple of new games. Not sure if he'd get it or not, I taught him Thunderstone. I set up a random assortment of cards and explained the game. For the most part each turn I asked him the same thing: how much attack do you have? If he had enough attack, I let him know what he could kill, otherwise I let him shop freely, making no suggestions on what to buy. On occasion, he'd get greedy and buy something instead of taking the kill, but for the most part did the right thing. Which of course showed one of the flaws to the game - if the cards come up right, you will do well. Ashton's choices of things to buy made a lot of sense, and his deck was doing well. For me? I'd get tons of attack, but no light, then in the next hand, I'd get three flaming swords and two torches, but not a hero. I was constantly short of being able to attack the monsters and its showed in the final scores. Where Ashton had 70 to my 59. The game went on a bit long (the Thunderstone was the LAST card) and I think Ashton was a bit bored at the end, but he didn't quit.
I also taught Ashton how to play Nexus Ops. This was the first time he'd played a war-ish game that was Heroscape, so the entire experience was new. He did pretty well - trying to work on his secret objectives and easily figuring out the purchasing. What he didn't realize was that HE HAD ALL THE MINES. My early explorations only turned up rock striders, which let me get a load of cards via the Monolith, but I had no cash. Ashton had three dragons on the board before I could slow him down. This was the first time I played two players and I'll say this - you have a lot more money. I met a lot of goals and picked off his guys that were alone and beat him 10-7 (we only played to 10). He wants to play this one again for sure.