Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label 7 Wonders. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 7 Wonders. Show all posts

Friday, October 17, 2014

Top ten games that I play with my wife

Quite some time ago, Chris Norwood posted a list of his top ten games that he plays with his wife.  That list in turn was inspired by The Dice Tower podcast Episode 189, in which Tom Vasel and Eric Summerer shared their own top ten games that they play with their wives.  Those lists are both several years old, but the topic is timeless, so I thought I'd confer with my wife Kathy so that we could compile our own list.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WBC 2014 Thursday: TPA and a day of not winning

Last week I conducted my fourth annual pilgrimage to the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the summer highlight of my gaming year.  I had a fairly loose schedule in mind, with only a few key tournaments that I specifically wanted to hit.

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.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Spring game photos

I've been gaming, and photographing, but not posting so much over the last month, so I thought I'd do a little catch-up with a sampling of the things my wife and I have been playing.

Pinot grigio, Anchor Steam, and Traders of Carthage
Traders of Carthage
I've mentioned this obscure favorite a few times and actually posted about this game, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to include my photographic effort to incorporate the juxtaposition of the drinks, the game, and my lovely opponent across the table.

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.

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.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Multi-player games for two players

Ryan Metzler recently posted a top-ten video of his favorite multi-player games for two players - that is, games made for two or more players but that are his favorites as two-player games.  His video is both quick and informative, and I bumped up a number of games on my wishlist as a result.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day weekend gaming

We marked the three-day Labor Day weekend celebrating American workers with several boardgaming sessions.  (In other words, we commemorated work by playing.)

Image courtesy of
Rio Grande Games
Friday evening, Kathy and I had our friend Theresa H. over for a game of Puerto Rico, one of our very favorites but one that we seldom get to play in its original three-to-five player form.  The three of us ended up very close in shipping and building points, but Kathy won with a strong showing of bonus points from the fortress and city hall.

Monday, August 6, 2012

World Boardgaming Championships: Wonders, ships, and farmers

Last Thursday, I arrived at the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with a "flexible plan" (which is just one step above no plan at all) of how best to enjoy this annual trek to the highlight event of the Boardgame Players Association.

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.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Third day at World Boardgaming Championships

Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson
Saturday was all about Wooden Ships and Iron Men.  Tim Hitchings set up a fleet action in an engagement between British and French fleets in a hypothetical scenario with several players on each side in which the British fleet attempted to intercept a French fleet leaving port.  Tim gave me command of the British fleet.  The entire action ran about seven hours, with a short break for lunch.  A number of people dropped out, and others dropped in over the course of the scenario.  The battle itself was exciting and engaging, as the British became almost completely surrounded by the more numerous and better-reinforced French.  British superior crew quality and gunnery, however, helped the Royal Navy withstand the onslaught of the French fleet.  Despite one or two of the British ships having to strike colors under heavy rakes from multiple directions, we were able to sufficiently bloody the French that Tim declared the Royal Navy team to be the winners.  He gave me a prize as the best captain in the British fleet.

Later that day, I faced Evan Hitchings in the semifinals in a very even match-up of two 74-gun SOLs.  Again I was able to practice my tactical doctrine of concentrating fire on the rigging of the lead ship to reduce maneuverability, then focusing all squadron fire on a single ship's hull to take it out of action before turning to the other target.  In relatively short order, I had taken out the mast of the lead enemy ship and forced the second ship to strike her colors.  My ships had suffered a lot of damage in the process, however, and after some amount of time, my opponent was able to force one of my ships to strike her colors.  He had also inflicted a waterline hit on the other ship that induced flooding, so that a third of my crew had to be taken out of the gunnery teams to operate the water pumps and keep the ship afloat.  All else being essentially equal, my remaining ship - down one crew section - was not able to keep up in the battle of attrition that followed with the remaining enemy ship.  When the timer was up, it was clear that Evan had inflicted more damage on my ships than I had on his, so he won our semifinal matchup and advanced to the final.  We both agreed that it was one of the most exciting battles either of us had played in the tournament.

Keith and I met Chris and Cherilyn from dicehateme.com in the open game room, where they invited us to playtest a game in development called Viva Java.  The premise is that players collaborate to invent blends of various coffee beans that will be profitable on the premium coffee market.  The game involves a number of innovative mechanisms, the most interesting of which is the formation of players into temporary teams who try to combine their resources to come up with the most optimum blend on the market.  Players can invest in each others' projects if they think they will be profitable.  The cooperation is always transitory and self-serving, so there's a constant interplay to juggle benefits of collaboration with the game goals of beating your opponents.

I have been reading the Dice Hate Me blog for quite some time, so it was great to meet Chris and Cherilyn and discuss their game projects as well as share Trains Planes and Automobiles with them.  Their energetic enthusiasm for gaming is infectious.  Likewise, Josh Tempkin of Tall Tower Games shared some fascinating insights into how he and his partner developed a carefully researched and tested set of design principles on which they base all their game projects.  The results speak for themselves in the gameplay of their project Wartime, which I consider to have the potential to be a groundbreaking development in table-top gaming as a fundamentally new paradigm.

Keith, Brian, and I got together afterward for a number of games - Tikal, Citadels, and 7 Wonders.  Keith had competed in the finals for Conquest of Paradise, and Brian had made the finals for Tigris and Euphrates.  So, in short, there's been a lot of boardgaming going on this week...

Friday, August 5, 2011

First day at World Boardgaming Championships

A quick summary of yesterday's events:

I started in Wooden Ships and Iron Men with a single frigate engagement against Tim Hitchings, the event coordinator.  I won largely due to die luck; for a good stretch of the game, I couldn't roll lower than '4,' and he couldn't roll higher than '3.'  It's hard to lose under those conditions.  

I followed with a match-up against Rob from Alexandria, VA, my two Spanish 80- and 74-gun ships-of-the-line (SOLs) against his similarly rated vessels.  I won that engagement as well, partly due to basic naval gunnery tactics (concentrate both broadsides on a single target, take down one mast, then switch fire to hull and blast away) and partly due again to die luck (although not as egregious as in the frigate battle).  I was by no means unscathed; through effective use of chain shot, Rob completely demasted my 80-gun SOL.  At one point he tried to perform an end run by pulling his rear SOL out of line and upwind, away from my fire, then rigging full sails, and attempting to sprint around the far side of his lead SOL to turn down wind and attempt to set up a rake on my rear SOL.  I was pretty tight with my line and maneuver, though, and managed to re-form my line along the wind in such a way that instead of firing on my rear, he faced a combined broadside as he made his attempted raking maneuver. Meanwhile, I was able to keep up the barrage on his lead SOL until she struck her colors.  At that point Rob felt that he was unlikely to pull out a win (particularly under tournament time constraints), and he conceded the battle.

I had an opportunity to introduce Trains Planes and Automobiles to Laurie W. and Jenna S., the adults running the Juniors Room.  (There were few children present at the time, and those were all engaged in other games already.)  The adults seemed interested in learning a new family game, and it went over very well.  I'm optimistic they will look for it in the Vendors Room tomorrow, when Worthington Games will have it available for sale.

I competed in the 7 Wonders tournament at a very fun table of seven people, including Stefan from Montreal.  I came in a very close second place (112 points over two games).  There were 25 tables and 42 seats in the quarterfinal, so my strong second-place finish qualified me for the quarterfinal.  Unfortunately, there I had my worst showing ever, with 36 points and a solid lock on seventh place.  So that was it for 7W for me this convention.  

Dr. Lewis Pulsipher delivered a seminar that amounted to a summary of his lecture notes on game design, with a great deal of Q&A and interaction among the audience members, who included Joe Angiolillo, designer of Objective Moscow and Operation Typhoon (although he denied deserving credit for that latter title), among others.  It was a rich and fascinating session that ran so long that I skipped the Agricola heat scheduled for later in the evening.

After my friends Keith F. and Brian G. finished in Agricola (Keith won his table), we went over to the open gaming area, where I introduced them to Citadels.  Keith won our game, a victory I think I could have snatched from him if I'd properly played the assassin against the architect (rather than the warlord), which would have prevented him from building his eighth district and getting sufficient bonus points to outscore me.  Curses!

Today's plan includes more WS&IM, more opportunities to introduce kids to TPA, Alhambra (or maybe Agricola - there's a conflict), demos of Tikal and Washington's War, a seminar on gaming and ethics, and opportunities to play Battleline, Ingenious, and Liar's Dice.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Final preparations for WBC

I'm making final preparations to leave early tomorrow morning for Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to attend the World Boardgaming Championships.  Besides introducing Trains Planes and Automobiles in the Juniors Room, I hope to attend Dr. Lewis Pulsipher's seminar on game design and play a few games.  The top six on my list are


The first four are among my favorite games; the last two are new to me, and I look forward to learning about them.

I welcome comments from others already at WBC or planning to go.  Let me know what you're most looking forward to!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Two-player Wonders

My wife and I have finally got the hang of the two-player rules for 7 Wonders, currently my favorite game to play.  We played a session this afternoon, right around the time we made the transition from iced tea and iced coffee to wine and beer.

Kathy had the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus ('B' side), and I had the Statue of Zeus ('A' side).  Interestingly, Kathy spent nearly all six turns in the first age acquiring different resource-producing structures, largely because the Mausoleum demands a lot of variety to build the three stages.  I started early with a military strategy, which worked for the first age, but Kathy responded with two military cards in the second age, and stayed ahead of me thereafter.

Kathy's impressive array of
blue civil structures at the foot
of her wine glass
My fallback was going to be the blue civil buildings, but she raced ahead of me in those as well, in large part because she had such a variety of resource production as well as the benefit at each stage of her wonder of getting a free building out of the discard pile.  She was very aggressive about building blue civil high-point buildings - and keeping them out of my hands - as well as completing a set of three green technologies.  With all of that, she completely overcame the Mausoleum 'B' side's disadvantage of low point potential and beat me 58 points to 51.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My top ten card games

Inspired by Dice Tower Episode 206, Chris Norwood (GamerChris) recently posted his favorite card games.  Since inspiration begets inspiration, I thought I'd explore the topic myself.

Before I get into my top ten list, I'll mention that the definition of a "card game" might be ambiguous. I think Alhambra qualifies, for example, because the card play (among four suits or "currencies" of a range of values) drives the purchase of the tiles that are placed for scoring. But I wouldn't include games that just "have cards in them," like Agricola or Clue, because card play isn't the primary aspect of the game (even if they are essential to the mechanics). I'm not sure how to write the definition of a "card game," but I'd be curious to know people's thoughts on which games are close to the frontier between card games and "other games" and how you decide on which side of the boundary a game falls.

My honorable mentions would include:

Chrononauts: A goofy title from Loony Labs that my wife really seems to like. I prefer Martian Fluxx, but this one is also a likeable game.

Incan Gold: I'm always fascinated by the way teenagers play push-your-luck games, so this is a fun one to play with my kids. I never know what they're going to do.

Guillotine: The artwork in this Wizards of the Coast title still makes me chuckle.

Triumvirate: A recent discovery that I am only beginning to appreciate

Mille Bornes is a nostalgic favorite that has fond memories going way back to when I was growing up.  It was a family favorite then and still sees the light of day from time to time even now.

So, my top ten card games:

10. Alhambra: I used to dislike this game because I thought it had a "run-away" aspect to it, in which an early leader was hard to catch. That is, until I thought I'd run away with a game in the PrezCon semifinals and then lost somehow in the final scoring. Perhaps I completely misplayed near the end, but I prefer to think that my worthy opponent had a more subtle appreciation for the game and how to score big without leading in many categories.

9. Munchkin: My kids have taken a sudden recent liking to this game, and I like anything I can get my kids to play. Another good one for laughs.

8. Empyrean, Inc. This is a regular go-to game for my wife and me, a surprise hit we received as a gift. We love this game so much that we started to wear the cards out, so I bought a backup copy.

7. Martian Fluxx: A genius little game from Loony Labs. What a crack-up.

6. Down in Flames III: Zero!: A very clever card-play mechanism for air combat

Image courtesy of
Rio Grande Games
5. Race for the Galaxy:  This is a game I want to like more than I do. My wife and I found all the symbols confusing and frustrating, and we haven't played it since. Having said that, I'd still like to try it with a fresh (patient) group and find out why people rave about it.  (San Juan is worth mentioning here as something we explored as an alternative to RftG, but I think we found it a little simplistic and perhaps disappointing. We kept thinking, "Why don't we just play Puerto Rico instead?") 

4. Battle Line: Great mind-bending game with my wife, except that she always wins.  What is up with that?

3. Condottiere: I haven't had a chance to play this nearly as much as I'd like. I fell in love with it in just one session. I wish I could play it a lot more to fully appreciate it.

2. Pacific Typhoon: Very fond of this game with a bigger group of people. I love the historical photographs. Very clever game-play structure that motivates some pretty lively negotiation.

1. 7 Wonders: Currently my favorite game of all. I will play this at the drop of a hat.  Will Wonders never cease?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Seven Wonders and Maori

Friday evening had two friends over for dinner and games.  Since it was Good Friday, Kathy made fettuccine with shrimp.  Jeff W. brought white wine; Rebecca E. brought strawberry chocolate mousse.  My ten-year-old serenaded us on the cello.  So how do you follow a meal like that?

With the seven wonders of the ancient world, of course.  Jeff had played 7 Wonders once before, but it was Rebecca's first time, so the first game was a learning opportunity (and a refresher for Jeff).  Rebecca had the Lighthouse at Alexandria, Jeff had the Pyramids at Giza, Kathy had the Statue of Zeus, and I had the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.  It was a great learning game, with very close final scores.  Kathy won the first game, in part by using the special ability of the Statue of Zeus to build the eight-point Temple for free.  Interestingly, no one played any significant number of green science cards in that game.

Lighthouse at Alexandria
Image courtesy of Repos Production
My experience with 7 Wonders is that once everybody has played the game one time through, all subsequent games go much quicker, and everybody seems to have a handle on what they're doing.  That was certainly true Friday night.  We randomized the wonders again for the second round, but Rebecca and Kathy ended up with Lighthouse and Zeus respectively again, and Jeff and I ended up trading Pyramids and Mausoleum.  Since everyone had neglected the green science buildings in the first game, I decided to try to capitalize on them in the second game and see how well I could do with them.  I ended up doing rather well in the sciences (two full sets of three for a total of 26 points) but grossly neglected my red military (minus six) and blue civics (one building for six points).  Rebecca, however, completely dominated the game, with strong showings in military, civics, and guilds (including the Strategist Guild, which earned her nine points - in no small part to my terrible military performance).  So, not bad for Rebecca her first time out.

(c) Rio Grande Games
Used by permission
We wrapped up the evening with Maori (designer Gunter Burkhardt, publisher Rio Grande), a game I learned in a pick-up session at Congress of Gamers a year and a half ago that has become a favorite in my family.  Each player places tiles (or "discovers islands") in his or her own array (rather like Alhambra), but with a unique tile selection mechanic.  Sixteen tiles are arranged in the center of the table, around which the players move a canoe to determine which tile to choose.  A particularly desirable tile that can't be reached for free can be obtained by spending shells (the currency of the Maori, presumably).  The objective is to obtain the most points by discovering islands with trees, huts, and completed leis, and having the most canoes and shells at the end the game.

The nice thing about Maori (pronounced MOW-ree, according to my 15-year-old Liam and dictionary.com -- not may-OH-ree, as we had thought) is that it is relatively easy to teach.  Strategy is pretty straightforward, from the standpoint of trying to commit one's tile placement in a way that maximizes the opportunity for points, while at the same time positioning the canoe that moves around the tiles in the center of the table so as to minimize the opponents' opportunity to gain the most valuable tiles.  Our game started with a lot of high-value tiles early on, with a dearth of point-scoring tiles toward the end.  It made for a rather challenging finish for all of us, and it looked as though Jeff had a very solid position to win the game, but it turned out that I outscored him by two points, primarily owing to have a completed lei (where he did not).

Most important, everyone had a great time, and we look forward to playing both these games (and others, I expect) again soon.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Five friends and Seven Wonders

Last week our friend Jeff W. hosted Sheila D., Keith R., my wife Kathy, and myself for dinner, with the stipulation that I serve as "game sommelier."  I brought several boardgame options but had a special desire to introduce the group to 7 Wonders (designer Antoine Bauza, publisher Repos Production).  After a marvelous steak dinner prepared by master chef Jeff, we cleared the table and pulled out the game for a little run-through.

I enjoy 7 Wonders for a number of reasons.  It's relatively easy to teach.  The components are beautiful.  All action is simultaneous, so you are never waiting for your turn.  Everybody is in the game until the very end.  There are several different ways to win.  Once everyone is familiar with the rules, the game goes pretty quickly.  And most of all, it's fun, with just enough strategy to demand some brainpower.

The process of explaining the rules of a game is a real skill, one that I feel I'm still developing.  As I went over the rules to 7W, apparently I introduced some confusion regarding how to use resources to build structures and how to purchase resources from your neighbors.  It took a while for everyone to realize that building a structure doesn't "consume" a resource production card, and buying a resource from a neighbor doesn't "transfer" that card from one player to another.  So I still have some room for improvement as a game "explainer."

It's also important to get all the rules right.  Previously, one rule that I had forgotten is that you can't build two of the same structure, like two Barracks, for example.  My friend Keith Ferguson, whom I'd taught the game a few weeks ago, learned that the hard way in competition at PrezCon.  During one tournament game, he ended up having to give up one of his redundant (and therefore illegal) structures for three coins.  "Oh, sorry, man.  Missed that rule....."

So back to our recent game last week:  Jeff had the Temple of Artemis, Kathy had the Lighthouse at Alexandria, Keith had the Colossus of Rhodes, Sheila had the Pyramids of Giza, and I had the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.  People got the hang of the game pretty quickly, and it was clear early on that Sheila was starting an arms race.  I think she was worried about Keith's Colossus giving him extra military power in his second stage.  As she put it later, she could understand the value of building up her military, so that was the approach she took.  Her neighbors Keith and Kathy tried to keep up, and in so doing did some fair damage to Jeff and (especially) me.  For my part, with the Hanging Gardens, I had built a number of scientific structures in pursuit of a "technology" strategy, but somehow - inexplicably - ended up in last place.  Sheila's military superiority and completed pyramids won the day quite handily.

Jeff had mentioned earlier that he had a copy of Rail Baron (a 1977 Avalon Hill title designed by R.S. and Thomas F. Erickson), so after our game of 7W, we had him pull it out and teach it to us.

Learning Rail Baron took me back to the days when I played Avalon Hill games as a teenager.  It was a remarkable contrast in standards of game design and production between two eras, and really two different markets in boardgaming between my early gaming days and today.  In the 1970s, Avalon Hill tried to develop games as models of real-world decision-making.  So the railroads in Rail Baron reflected actual railroad companies and routes at the height of the rail industry.

The early game of Rail Baron is a bit mechanical, as most routes are unowned and therefore traveled at little expense to the players.  Destinations are largely determined at random, and so players roll dice and move until they reach their destinations and earn money.  It is with the opportunity to invest in a railroad company or locomotive upgrade that the game begins to get interesting.  Even so, the first few railroad company purchases are largely inconsequential, as it is relatively easy for opponents to avoid having to travel on your rail line and pay through the nose for passage.

It was rather late in the evening when we were each beginning to purchase our second or third railroad company, and we regrettably did not have the stamina we might have had in the 1970s to continue the game to its conclusion.  But I could see, as we began to buy up all the railroad companies in the southeastern United States, that the next player to draw Miami as a destination would have to pay somebody for passage aboard that opponent's rail line, and that would be where the game would really get interesting.  I was really intrigued at the notion of trying to dominate a region in the interest of forcing payment and gaining some return on the investment.  We just never got to that stage in the game before we had to call it quits.  Too bad, too; I was just starting to get my avaricious capitalist tycoon on.

Kathy described her impression of Rail Baron as something like railroad Monopoly, and I could see her point.  The game progressed with gradual accumulation of property (indeed, the railroad company title cards closely resemble property deeds in Monopoly) and the opportunity to collect payment from opponents who were forced to travel on the rail lines you own.  Although there is no property "improvement" in the obvious sense, there is still an opportunity to "monopolize" a region to guarantee payment when an opponent rolls a destination serviced only by railroads you own.

An aspect of the game that surprised me was the frequency with which it was necessary to look data up in tables - both to determine payment for destinations reached and to determine the next destination.  I say it surprises me today, but it wouldn't have surprised me in the 1970s, and that fact opened my eyes to a facet of game design that has clearly changed over the years.  Seldom do today's new titles require many table look-ups during the course of gameplay.  For the most part, game data are either easily memorized or readily available on cards or on the board.  It's hard for me to think of a game today - at least among those I typically play - that requires referral back to rules or tables the way that the strategy games of the 1970s did.

Gunfire tables
from Tobruk
I remember Tobruk was notorious for requiring multiple dice rolls and table references with every weapon shot.  I think some people reveled in that degree of realistic detail at the time - the extent to which armor and ammunition characteristics were so carefully modeled in a tactical game like that.  Nowadays I wouldn't have that kind of patience, certainly not in a new game.  But then again, I'm not the wargamer I used to be.  I'm much more interested these days in games that are playable but still pose a mental challenge.  

So, the question comes to mind:  If I were to redesign Rail Baron today, how would I go about it?  How would I preserve the general strategic sense of accumulating railroad companies to dominate regions of a transportation market without having to resort to detailed payment and destination tables?  How would I improve the playability and approachability of the game while maintaining the capitalistic appeal of railroad investment?

Before I pursue that question very far, I have to be honest about the fact that I am rather unfamiliar with the state of the art of rail games today.  Other than Ticket to Ride, I haven't played any of the recent rail game genre.  The 18xx series has quite a following, and I would probably do well to research those games first, to see whether they haven't already answered the "Rail Baron of the 21st century" question.