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Saturday, July 23, 2011

LibertyCon Part 2

Day 2 of LibertyCon was on Friday July 1, and I got to play tons of games, including two for the first time. Here was the lineup:

   Dream Factory
   Taj Mahal
   Princes of Florence

This was my second game of Labyrinth, again playing against Andy L. I took the Jihadists since the last time we had played (at the TotalCon game day), I had the Americans. This game has quite a bit of asymmetry! Again Andy took me out in pretty quick order, getting a successful conversion of the Gulf States to Good governance and then rolling from there. I like the learning curve here, there's things to learn about - how do you respond to things that your opponent does makes a big difference in whether you can hold them off or get rolled.

I had been waiting a long, long time to play Indonesia. Every time I've been at Eric's, I've looked longingly at the game sitting on the shelf and even read the rules once while between games. It's highly rated on BoardGameGeek, and sounds exactly like the kind of game I really like: heavy and economic. The way you can merge companies in the game sounded really interesting, and the people at LibertyCon who played it before seemed enthusiastic about it. So finally I was going to get my chance!

After the first play, I was left feeling like I really liked Indonesia. It had some similarities to 18xx games in that you were controlling companies that had to operate, but without the track laying. People have complained about the graphic design and components, which while beautiful, really do get in the way of game play. Some of the areas on the board are way too small, especially since the component used for a city is a glass bead.

One of the most fascinating and bizarre aspects to the game is that you can cause two companies to merge. The strange thing about the way it works mechanically is that one player can cause two companies owned by two other players to merge, and there is nothing they can do to stop it. This makes Indonesia really feel pretty abstract and unreal, but from a game standpoint it's a really interesting mechanic. I was looking forward to playing it again soon so I could try out some different things.

After that, Eric taught us Traumfabrik, which has recently been printed in English as Dream Factory. This game was a lot of fun - you get three movie scripts which require different components: for example an actor, a director, and special effects. Another script might require two actors, a camera, and a director. Some actors are better than others, so all of the pieces have a value. When you finish a film, you get points for it based on how good the actors, directors, etc. that you got were. You are bidding currency in a closed economy: after the winner gets the pieces they just bid on (they come in lots of 2 or 3 components), you divide the money up amongst the other players. This means that the game ebbs and flows for each player because if you are not winning auctions, you are accumulating money for future auctions. You also get to see which lots are coming up ahead, so a key is timing your expenditures so you get the best stuff for your films. The scoring is cute and nicely done: after a certain number of lots, the person with the best finished movie gets some points; at the end of the game you get points based on things like best comedy. I'm not entirely sure but I may have won this game, or at least come close. Considering I hadn't really heard all that much about this game, I have to say I found it really just plain fun. Easy to learn with plenty going on to think about. I'm not sure why this game isn't as popular as some of Knizia's other light, auction games like Ra, Amun-Re, Modern Art, or Medici.

Speaking of other Knizia games, we then got a group together for Taj Mahal, which is one of the games I own that I have not played nearly enough. (Another Knizia, Amun-Re, is also in that category.) I decided I was going to explore the design space in this game instead of focusing on a greedy strategy, which is my default, and instead pick out a more defined strategy to push for and stick with it. For those of you who don't know Taj Mahal, there are 12 rounds of bidding for things in different districts on a map. You play one or two cards which have various symbols on them, or you withdraw from the bidding. When you withdraw, if you are leading in one of the symbols, you get that reward for that district. Four of the symbols let you put a castle down in that district and get a piece that is 1/2 of a special power card, one of them lets you put an extra castle down that doesn't take up a space so can share with someone else, and one (elephants) lets you get a tile from that district that has some picture of a good on it. There are other little tokens on spots that when you put a castle down, you get the token and some of those also have goods on them. You get points when you acquire a good based on how many other of that good you already have. When you withdraw, you also get to pick two cards from an array that is put out before the card plays.

The interesting thing in Taj is that you might not be winning anything and have to decide whether to push for it, or to cut your losses now and try to get an early pick of new cards. This can be a pretty fascinating decision, at times. The strategy I decided to try was to take elephant cards as often as possible, and try to win as many of the goods tiles as I could, and see if that was a viable way to try to win. Eric's son-in-law ran to victory by making chains of castles, which is another way to get bonus points, but I did end up in second, even though my strategy became quickly obvious to everyone at the table and they started actively trying to get in the way of it. Good stuff!

The last game I played on game 2 was one of my all time favorites, The Princes of Florence. I'm biased because it's the game I've done the best at in the WBCs, coming in 4th and 2nd in back to back years. I feel like I've lost my touch a little bit because it's hard to find people to play this game, especially to get a five player game. This game at LibertyCon was with a bunch of WBC eurogame veterans and really felt like the quality of a semifinal game. I've found at WBC the first round heats are very winnable in games that you like a lot and practice at, but the difficulty really rachets up in any semifinal game. I've made the semifinals of lots of games: Puerto Rico, Power Grid, Caylus, Ra for example, but only won a semi in Princes of Florence.

Anyway, this was a really tight game. I had artists with four different buildings since I was in seat 4, so I decided to try to push builders a little more than I normally would. For a game that seems so tight and simple, the variance in the cards you get and the chaos created by the player dynamic adds quite a bit of replayability. I was able to get a late "least open spaces" Prestige card which saved my game a little bit, but I believe I ended up coming in third. I wish I could get a few more games of this in before WBC, but maybe I'll find an open gaming game of it during the pre-cons.


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