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Thursday, August 9, 2012

WBC Conclusion

I'm back home in Boston and finally have the energy to wrap up this series of posts. The end of the WBC was both rewarding and exciting!

On Friday I woke up and headed straight to the Le Havre finals. Of course this was going to be tough, with the GM Ken, Nick, another finalist from last year, and a Nick I don't think I'd met before. Since there were three plaques, I was hoping to get somewhere in the top 3. Unfortunately that was not to be and I took fourth.  I thought I was doing ok in the game so I was a little surprised that I wasn't above the other Nick - he hadn't built much over the game, but I think he never took a loan. He built a bunch of expensive buildings at the end for points, including the Church (26 points). I had the Marketplace early, and accumulated a bunch of the symbols that make it more powerful. I was very excited when I used it and saw the Town Square come up - that one lets you take one improved good per that market symbol you have, except for steel. So I was able to go there multiple times and get charcoal, coke, smoked fish, bread, meat, hide, and brick. I shipped a bunch of hides and cokes twice too, but it wasn't enough. Fun game though!

Luckily that game ended in its time frame so I could play the third heat of Agricola for fun with the K deck. Since I was already a double-winner, I was looking for cool interesting things I might try out, and I was in luck! I ended up staying on two people the whole game, and using the Storehouse Clerk to accumulate a lot of goods. I had a super nice house and lots of bonus points, and was actually able to avoid coming in 4th!

I was very excited to get to the Agricola semis, and that was next. After making the Le Havre finals by being the best second-place in the semis, I was hoping to get an outright win. I drafted the combo of Perpetual Student-Writing Desk, and had six of my Occupations out by the third round. It seemed liked I was going to cruise to a victory when Patrick (who definitely knows the game well) dropped a Braggart on me. I managed to win a very close game by one point!

The finals took place right after that, and I was very lucky that Stephanie and Patrick stopped by and offered to get me some barbeque from upstairs. Sometimes at WBC I forget to eat regularly, so this was a super helpful reminded. That pulled pork is really, really good!

The finals were definitely interesting but also frustrating. I started in the fourth position, and didn't feel like I saw all that many good cards in the draft. Through most of the game I felt like I was behind the eight ball, trying to work my way out of a tight corner. I ended up in fourth once again, but at least Agricola gives a 4th place plaque!

I'll keep the rest of the convention short: I played the Power Grid - First Sparks tournament the next day, and won my first two games of it ever to make the finals, where I came in 4th out of 5 after making a silly mistake on turn 1. The 5th place player made an even sillier mistake that put him into a locked situation, where he was creating 4 food units and eating 4 food units, and would never be able to bid for technology or expand his family. Having that be a possibility is enough for me to not like the game.

Saturday night I played Mage Knight with Jesse and Bronwen and had a great time, and picked up a few pointers on how to play efficiently by watching Jesse play and having him give some advice here and there. Needless to say Jesse demolished us, and we ended early. I finally gave in and played Slapshot, Lancaster Milk Stout in hand. I had a great time with Shane, Daniel, Rob, Marissa, and Nick from SNEW! Somehow I won our game and of course immediately dropped out of the tournament. Does anyone actually play round 2?

Once again I had a great time at the WBC, and met the goal I had set before WBC 2011: either win one tournament or make the finals in two. I ended up making three finals, but I'm not sure if Power Grid First Sparks counts the same. I definitely had less of a chance in these two finals (Agricola, Le Havre) than I did in the ones I've made in the past (Princes of Florence, Princes of Florence, Power Grid). The players in these knew these games inside and out, so to ever have a chance of winning one of them I would need to really play those games a ton over the next year. Since Bronwen loves them, that doesn't seem too far fetched!

Thanks to everyone I gamed with and hung out with over a great WBC 2012!


Friday, August 3, 2012

Another monster day in at the WBC yesterday, and once again I am awake way too early for no reason! Apparently I've been an Uwe Rosenberg super-fan lately, as it seems like most of what I play at WBC is Agricola and Le Havre.

Thursday launched with the third and final heat of Power Grid, and to quote Randy, I was "playing the schedule game." Since I already have won a heat and came in second in another, I showed up early to play a fast-paced game. That would let me squeeze in a game of Stone Age if we could finish within two hours. I ended up with Jason (from Through the Ages heat 1) at my table and we were playing the USA map with the alternative power plant deck. I decided to play this map instead of the Japan map to get some experience with the new deck, which I haven't really played all that many times. We chose to not play with New England, and had a fascinating game where the player on the West Coast decided to let the game stall at 6 cities. After a few turns of saving up money, Jason bust out and built all the remaining open spaces in one turn. Unfortunately for him, Eric on my right as well as myself were able to get a plant to get more capacity, so I managed another 2nd place in a Power Grid game.

I ran over to Stone Age, where Steph and Patrick were ready to play a second heat. I didn't get to write about their arrival the day before, but Steph is a veteran WBCer like us (6 years running now!) and was able to bring her man with her this year. He's learning games the hard way by jumping into the deep end at WBC! They ended up playing a heat of Puerto Rico later in the day as well, so I'm glad he learned that excellent game as well. They are planning to play Steph's favorite event of the WBC tomorrow: Circus Maximus. I got paired against a very nice player named Cindy and two teenage boys who all played very well. Once again the starvation strategy paid off well for me, and I won with a reasonably large lead.

The second and final heat of Le Havre was next. I'm at the point now that I can play a good overall game, but I still keep seeing new combinations and lines of play just from the variance and seeing good players play the game. One of the players at my game was obviously an experienced Le Havre player, Rob, and I got to see him play the ship-a-ton-of-steel strategy perfectly. On the last turn of the game, I stupidly forgot that I was going to have to pay 2 food entry for the Shipping Line, so I sent some bread off the Bridge Over the Seine that I could have ended up shipping. Since those bread got me 2 points on the bridge, and I was able to ship one less good and one iron instead of a bread, I shipped for 3 less points. So I lost a point over that deal, and I realized it as soon as I had to pay the entry fee. Amazingly, the game ended in a 191-191 tie with me and Rob, and I was kicking myself! The tiebreaker is franc value of remaining goods, and we both had 1 franc worth of goods!! The second tiebreaker was reverse turn order, so Rob took it down. Ouch.

The good news was that often at WBC, in small tournaments you can get in with a second place finish. This turned out to be the case for Le Havre, so I was in the semis, as was Bronwen, who had somehow convinced the GM to let her table play their game on her iPad. The semis was going to be tough since I had two finalists from last year at my table, Daniel and Nick, and a hilarious 4th player who I hadn't met before named Rodney. Almost any sentence you uttered could send Rodney into a humming or singing interlude. I had a strong start with lots of good resource grabs early, then building the Joinery, selling a wood for 5, and buying the 6-cost Building Firm. I was able to build the Hardware Store and buy the Clay Mound, which gave me 3 hammer symbols, making the Clay Mound worth 5 clay for me. From there, I was able to build the Colliery and some other building, and start taking Coal over and over. I had a bit more food trouble compared to Daniel and Nick, because they both bought ships with money. In the end, I came in second to Nick by only two points, with Daniel 8 points behind me. I had accomplished my goal of playing well against the better players. It turns out they did three tables of 4 players, and the finals would be the three winners, and the best second placer: which should turn out to be me!

The bad news is that the Le Havre final is at the same time as the Power Grid semifinal, and Power Grid is my team game. I hope my teammates understand how badly I want to have a chance to win a tournament at the WBC, because I think I have to play Le Havre. I emailed one of my teammates, Eric, to see what he thinks, and hopefully he finds me before 9 am today.

The end of the night was Agricola's second heat, which was going to be interesting since I know the I deck a LOT less than I know the E deck. I drew Derek and two players I played with online only LAST WEEK, Merissa and John. I went for a pretty clay heavy strategy. I played the Clay Digger who adds the 1-accumulation clay space to the game with 3 clay on it to start, and if any other player wants to use it, they pay you 3 Food, which noone did over the course of the game. I took RSF again at some point and played Pottery in round 3. I also got the Church Warden for 4 food, the Juggler, who lets you double Traveling Players, where I got 6 food from twice, and the guy who makes clay stuff cost 1 less, and clay rooms 2 less. Even though I was the third person to add a room and a baby, I used the Improvement that comes with the baby to play the second Fireplace, and I made 4 stables along with my room. I got the Goose Pond out mid-game to enhance my food as well, a minor that gets me 2 wood when I take wood, and a minor that lets me get a breeding pair of sheep when I fenced in 4 or more spaces. So the mid-late game was saving up a huge amount of wood, taking 2 boar into the stables, saving up to do a huge fencing, and getting the 2 free sheep. I won comfortably with 49 points, with Derek on 42.

I was pretty exhausted but wound up after that, so hopefully my tiredness won't keep me from being able to focus today.

Coming up today:
   9 am Le Havre Final
  12 pm Agricola Heat 3: K deck
   3 pm Puerto Rico
   5 pm Agricola Semifinal
   8 pm Princes of Florence Semifinal

The sad news is that I'm going to miss the last heat of Brass, so I only got one game of that in. I guess you can't play everything!


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Day of Improbable Victory!

I have a ton to report on today. I played five games yesterday, and they were all interesting and tense. I kicked it off with a 9 am heat of Brass, and ended up at the same table as the GM Ed, Elaine (who I had played Through the Ages with earlier in the week and was new to Brass), and at the last minute Eugene, who I had played some game with my first year at WBC but haven't seen him often here since. My impression of him in the past was that he was a bit mercurial, but he was in a good mood and our game was polite and good-spirited.

Eugene played really well: he developed cotton mills away for 18 on the second turn and never looked back from a pure cotton rush strategy. He got all of his level 3 mills out and one level 4 during the canal era, which is pretty much game ending. I tried to counter with a coal-iron strategy but I got beat to my first two iron locations! I did manage to get the level 4 out eventually, and use the income along with well timed loans to end up placing all of my rails on the board. Eugene took it down with a score in the 180s, while Ed and I were a few points apart in the 150s. Unfortunately noone else really fought Eugene for the mill spots, so I ended up with a second.

Power Grid heat 2 was up next, and the board was Central Europe. Last year I won my first game on this map in the semifinals, so I was curious to see how it felt this time. I don't remember a lot about last year's game, but I remember playing really well. One of the players from that game was once again at my table, a really nice player named Jen. This game was really interesting. I put my house out first after getting the 4 plant in what I thought was a pretty safe location, putting a few cheap cities in a pocket behind me. Surprisingly, one of the other players put two houses down behind me, which barricaded himself in... Jen put her red houses down a little bit south of ours, and on turn 2 I put down 2 more houses, and then Jen moved north and blockaded us completely. I figured I was going to be totally hosed by having only 3 cities entirely surrounded, but ended up bidding up the 22 plant a tiny bit, figuring that I would have to save as much money as I could to explode with houses once someone bust into step 2. Once I was freed, my strategy worked perfectly and I won another game of WBC Power Grid. I don't feel like I'm that great at the game and find all kinds of mistakes in my play, yet I am consistently winning or coming in second.

I always have an irrational fear that this year is going to be the year that I don't win a single tournament game, so it felt great to get a very tricky, well-played win in. Our friend Shane, who has just moved to Baltimore, made his first trip to the WBC and played two heats of Dominant Species and won one - he's going to come back on Saturday for that semifinal game. I had a nice, relaxing lunch with him, which was great.

I was really looking forward to Agricola, so I gladly set up a copy of my game. The GM forgot his deck of cards to randomize the seats, so he decided to say "just sit wherever you want". I know the WBC isn't that serious, but... really? So of course there aren't enough players, no one sits at my table, and I look over to see the last seat at another table has a former Agricola champion, Cary. Well, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, right? I managed to do just that, winning a really close game 46-44-42-25 or so. Kerrin from Australia who I had already played Le Havre with was the 42!

The start of the game was interesting. In the draft I took Hut Builder first, then got Charcoal Burner and Wooden Hut Builder. After the other player on my right played an Occupation, I took Reed-Stone-Food, Kerrin took 2 clay, which was surprising, and Cary played Berry Picker (1 food when you take a wood). Because Kerrin had the clay, I took start player so I could drop Charcoal Burner in case she was thinking about taking the first Fireplace. It turns out she had some bread baking cards that she wanted to play. Since we were all playing cards, the resource piles got surprisingly big.

Somehow, I just couldn't get the timing down to build my house, as I was busy getting the Basketmaker's Workshop going and making sure my Hut Builder got played in Stage I. Cary used the Axe to build out to four, the guy on my right built a third room, and Kerrin got her third before me as well. So I just bided my time and saved up wood, then built two rooms at once. I was able to grow my family in rounds 9 and 10 with that, and then 11 with the Hut Builder. So even though I was the last to grow, I ended up as the second with four people after Cary and the first with 5. The Wooden Hut Builder meant I didn't need to waste actions getting clay or stone to renovate, so I was able to spend the rest of the game collecting animals and wood to finally make a big fence move. I also used Fruit Tree and Pottery to get the food I would need to feed everyone.

I should also mention that after the game Kerrin said I should be especially proud of my win, not just because I grew my family last, but because her and Cary took Start Player a lot of the game, so I was going third or fourth all the time.

I decided to play Stone Age and intentionally relax and have a nice milk stout beer. I had a fun game starving again, but the end result was pretty different because I was in the 4th seat instead of the 3rd, a lot of 6s came up on the "magic dice", and two of the other players knew how to react to my starvation. I ended up in fourth place with 99 points.

By that time, I was sobered up a bit, and ready for a late night Princes of Florence. It's one of my favorite WBC games (especially since I've made the finals twice), but it seems to slowly be slipping in popularity, so who knows how long it will last. Somehow, I ended up winning with 54 points by grabbing a Prestige Card at the second to last turn for 4 points (Most Landscapes) and bidding up John W., the old Puerto Rico GM on Forests, when it turned out he had the Most Forests Prestige Card! The guy on my right, who played a great game, had three failed Prestige Cards!

I will add more about other fun things about yesterday later, but for now I need to go play in Le Havre heat 2!


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

More WBC 2012

Tuesday is always an interesting day at WBC because the pre-con tournaments are wrapping up and the auction is the main event. I always avoid the auction because I know it might get me into financial troubles!

After hitting Target for some supplies (cherries, bananas, turkey slices, and some socks), Bronwen and I hit the open gaming room. Pretty quickly we found Alex, an amazing game player who has won tons of tournaments, including winning Ra three times, which impresses the hell out of me. The thing I like about Alex in this context is that he loves to analyze games and talk about what each player might have done differently, so I always learn a great deal by playing with him.

Bronwen of course suggested Agricola (it's her favorite game by a lot) and we found Peter, a nice guy from the UK who was looking for a game. I asked if we could do an E draft to prepare for the first round of the tournament, and all were agreeable. My first pick was Charcoal Burner, who I'm a big fan of. I got Reed Collector second, who is a very solid pick. I believe I had a meaningless third pick, but then a fourth pick Hut Builder, who I'm pretty sure I've never had before! In my original pack, Wooden Hut Builder came back to me, so I thought it would be good to just use him and Hut Builder and not bother upgrading my house at all in the game. It means you don't have to spend two renovation actions or any resources, and only miss out on 4-5 points instead of 8-10 for not having a nice house, but that would mean that I could focus on making sure my board was covered with fencing and fields. It worked out well because I was able to grab Axe in the Minor Improvement draft, and a Reed Pond to go with my good occupations (it requires 3 of them to be in play).

My game played out perfectly as I was able to drop Charcoal Burner and Reed Collector early, take Reed-Stone-Food a few times, and build the Basketmaker's Workshop. On turn 4, I barely remembered that Hut Builder needed to be played in Stage I! Alex had built a room and Head of the Family, and on turn 6 Family Growth still hadn't appeared, so I took Start Player with my first action, and built two rooms with the Axe with my second action so as to be able to take Family Growth right away before Alex could, although with Head of the Family, he could grow as well. I was able to grow to 4 the very next turn, and I was pretty much set up so I focused on collecting wood for one big fences drop. Then it was just a matter of collecting points the rest of the way. I had 53 points, Alex had 49, Bronwen was in the high 30s, and Peter had around 16.

While we were playing, Derek whom I had played in Through the Ages came and watched the end of our game. Afterwards, he wanted in on a game, and Alex suggested Princes of Florence since we had five if Peter still wanted in.

It was a tight, low-scoring game. I don't remember the last time I've seen someone win with 54 points, but Alex did it. I was in second with 50, Bronwen had 48, and Derek and Peter were right behind that. I was in seat two, but our friend Shane was arriving, so I was looking out for him entering the room and totally spaced on taking the extra Profession in turn 2. That's something that I would never do in a tournament! I ended up playing a mixed strategy of getting things opportunistically, so I ended up with 1 Jester, 1 Builder, and 2 Recruiting cards. I was able to build all six of my works but it wasn't easy!

Shane showed up and Bronwen and I went with him to possibly my favorite sit-down restaurant, Texas Roadhouse. I pretty much order the same thing every time: Texas Filet with broccoli (no butter!) and a house salad (no cheese!). We saw Randy and Andrew there, along with Zvi (who I haven't seen in a decade or so, a long-time Magic pro). I asked them what happened in the Through the Ages final. Randy took it down again, Zvi was second, Andrew third, and Sceadeau fourth. Sceadeau and I have been talking a lot of gaming online lately, and we had played two games of Agricola online last week. Apparently Through the Ages is a much more skill-based game than I would have expected.

Finally, the real tournament began! In Power Grid at WBC, you get to choose from one of two map options each heat. One of them always chooses the alternate plant deck, which I didn't really love, so I chose to play Korea regular rather than Germany with the alternate. Unfortunately, I drew the GM, Jim, who is a super nice guy but a really tough Power Grid player. He's one of those people that can keep track of a lot more information in his head, so he often knows to pretty good accuracy how much money you have. Last year he gave the finalists playing-card style money decks to replace the paper money in the game, so I proudly showed him that I brought my decks back to utilize this year, which I know was something he was hoping for.

We had a very tough, tight knife fight of a game. The Korea map is pretty darn brutal. People were hopping over each other left and right for board positioning. Jim had a great start with an early 25 plant, but because of that the coal markets (Korea has two markets!) dried up significantly. After getting blocked off early, I bid 21 for the 18 wind plant because I knew I would have to save money for connection costs as much as possible. I was stuck on 6 capacity for quite a while, and the plant market was awful. After the game, Jim thought I should have bought the 17 nuclear plant to replace the 11 nuclear I had just to churn through the market, even if it costs me some money. In the last turn of the game, it was up to me to end the game or not. I had been holding back a ton of money so I decided to go for it, even though it would be a 13-13-13 tie for first. I went for it and showed my 15 Electros. The opponent on my left showed 14! Then... the guy opposite us showed 17 Electros! First through third, all separated by 3 Electro. Well, at least it secured me a second place, and I can go for a win in the remaining two heats. Usually a first and a second is in...

At this point, the room we were in had multiple different tournaments at once, including a very excitable crowd of people for Elchfest, a dexterity game about moose trying to cross each other's paths. The room was getting muggy and uncomfortable, so Le Havre was going to be a challenge. Continuing with the theme of hard matchups, I drew Kerrin, a regular WBC friend of ours who comes all the way from Australia, Mike., a consistently strong gamer who beat me in the semifinals of Le Havre last year, and Rob, another strong gamer who has won many tournaments and is the GM for El Grande. Mike was able to get the Business Office going, make a lot of steel, build some steel ships and ship a bunch of things, all while not taking a loan. He had 180 while the rest of us were close. Kerrin was surprised to find herself in second with 140, Rob had 137, and I had 136. Considering the tight binds the dynamics of the game put me in, I was happy to be in that tight of a band.

After that, Shane and I met up and went to one of my favorite places in Lancaster: Waffle House! Simple, cheap food that gets the job done. I ordered 2 eggs, hash browns and toast for $4. I think in Boston that probably costs double.

Today should be a long, draining, fun day. The agenda: Brass, Power Grid, Agricola, Egizia, Stone Age, and Princes of Florence. Luckily the two most computationally heavy are the first two! I'm skipping the second heat of Brass which coincides with Stone Age and Princes of Florence. It was going to be a hard choice, but having already won the first heat of Stone Age means that Stone Age/Princes is two chances to make a semifinal, since Princes just needs a win and Stone Age typically needs two wins (due to the much bigger turnout for Stone Age); while Brass is only one chance. Maybe I'll make it a guaranteed choice by winning Brass in the first heat!