We just got back from TotalCon game day at a store in Plainville, MA called Battlegrounds. A very nicely set up gaming store, and the regular TotalCon crew plus a bunch of people playing games. The event started at 10, but we showed up a little after noon.
I was very happy to see a group of four people sitting down to play Automobile. When I arrived, they had just about finished going over the rules, so it was perfect timing! I put myself in last in the turn order since I was a latecomer, and away we went. (Bronwen took the car to visit a nearby quilting shop for a bit, but showed up for gaming a little while later.) The first turn I took Sloan as a fifth pick - I've been burned by those loss cubes too often that I might be a little too careful and paranoid about them. I grabbed the first economy car space and used three salesmen to get rid of them, but since I made two factories, I ended up with two cars and two loss cubes, which Sloan put back to one. The second turn, I was earlier in the turn order, and took Howard. I built one of the luxury car spaces and again ended up with a decent, but not amazing turn - but very few loss cubes. On turn three, I was back to Sloan, and built a mid-sized car factory in the $650 range. Turn 4 I got Chrysler and put a second factory in that spot along with the parts factory and pumped out a lot of cars.
I'm fascinated by the ability to win this game with different styles. It seems like you can do well by being aggressive, building a lot of factories and making a lot of money, but also taking loss cubes, and sometimes a lot of loss cubes through gambling play. But you can also do well by playing the way I did this game - make sound, solid investments without overdoing it, keep your loss cubes low, and don't ever have to take a loan. Three of the other players took loans in this game. I ended up in second, but the first place finisher beat us by a sound margin, something like $4400-$3570-$3300-$3100-$2800. The winner also took no loans, so in this game the loans seemed really bad, although the third place finisher was more than the $300-$400 back he would have saved by not taking those loans. I find myself only wanting to take Sloan, Chrysler, and Howard, and shying away from the other three. There's a more to this game to explore than it might even seem at first. I have to say I was feeling the game was pretty mechanical and dry, which is pretty strange because I often love games like that - but this play went by much smoother than previous plays and hence was much more enjoyable.
Even after what I thought was a pretty careful reading of the rules and a careful two turns yesterday, there is still a lot going on in this game rules-wise that you need to keep in your mind or at the least constantly refer to the reference sheets for. You have a number of options on your turn - but each of them can only be played in countries based on certain conditions, so it led to a lot of rules corrections by Andy like "no you can't do that, that option can only be done to an Ally country". I wouldn't call the game elegant, but it definitely is interesting, and might just take time to grasp what is going on. It certainly wasn't clear what I should be doing to really have any shot of stopping the seemingly endless waves of sleeper cells spreading out from Afghanistan through Pakistan, eventually establishing Islamist regimes in Saudi Arabia (which I invaded to Regime Change), Pakistan, and finally Iraq, winning Andy the game in pretty short order. Granted, we played the shortest version of the game, where you go through one desk.
Based on this game, it feels like either this will be the way to play it and it will get much faster once I know the rules better. In that case, maybe the feel of the game is a close see-saw that at some point topples and you slide down to your doom. The other possibility is that the "two deck" version is the way the game should be played, and hopefully that will provide a little more opportunity for back and forth as perhaps some of the luck of the cards will even out. It certainly felt like a lot of powerful jihadist events were occuring... Definitely a fun and intriguing game, thanks to Andy for being so enthusiastic about it!
Overall, another great day of gaming - it was nice to grab a win in Stone Age since I haven't been that good at it in the past... especially after getting destroying in Labyrinth (understandable) and Navegador. I was happy with my second place in Automobile, but I'm still not entirely sure what makes people win or lose in that game yet, but I feel something in my subconscious is working at it. Innovation... well, that's just crazy. Maybe I should not play it again and say I have a perfect record in two-player competition!