Another smallish gathering. Jim, Jesse, JR, Jason, and me. Four J’s and a D, which sounds like a bad 90’s sitcom.
Game the First
We started with a 5P game of Colonia, which we played two weeks ago. We had thought it was a good game, and it plays up to six people, so we decided to give it another go.
It turns out – funny story – that if you actually read the setup instructions in the rules, the game is very different from the way we played it last time. And a lot better. Here are the things we didn’t do the first time around:
- Each player should start with 5 [units] of each of the game’s four currencies.
- Each player should start with four randomly chosen resources.
- Each player should start with one randomly determined finished good token.
- The players have a number of family members (cubes) based on the number of players. With five players, we each got only 25 cubes instead of the full complement of 38.
Oops. When we first played, we had none of the starting money or materials, and we had all 38 cubes to use – which makes a difference, as we found. You may recall that you send cubes to take actions at the various stations during the week, and those cubes are unavailable until after that same action is resolved (with new cubes) the next round. When we played with all the cubes last time, there wasn’t really any cube pressure; nobody ever felt they didn’t have enough cubes to do everything they wanted, nobody ever had to leave resources unbought in the market, and nobody ever had to forgo their voting privileges in order to have enough cubes to send to the town hall in the first stage of the week.
Playing correctly, there’s a lot of tension about cube counts. Since you play a number card (from 3 to 8) at the beginning of the week to determine how any cubes you send to the town hall, leaving all your high numbered cards for the end can put you in a bind. As it happened, during three (or maybe four) of the six rounds, we had one player or another not voting because they had miscalculated how many cubes they would need to have left over at the end of the previous round.
Also, with starting resources and goods, it is possible to make some strategic decisions from the beginning – the resources you have may steer you toward some goods, the goods token you have may steer you toward a particular ship, and you may have a play on a relic in the first week (whereas last time we played, very little got accomplished in week one.
So in our first play we handicapped ourselves considerably on the materials side, while simultaneously giving ourselves a much easier time of it on the cube side. (Sorry, Joe, this means your previous victory will have to have an asterisk in Ye Offisial Recorde Boke.) Removing the “starting from nothing” aspect and putting meaningful limits on the number of cubes made for a much more interesting game. It was close until the last week when a combination of the available relics and fortunate speculation gave Jim the advantage. Final scores:
- Jim: 18
- Dan: 15
- JR: 14
- Jason: 13
- Jesse: 12
Game the Second
Jim and Jason both decided to call it quits after all that marketing, loading, and shipping activity. Plumb tuckered out, they was. Because we are idiots, JR, Jesse and I decided to learn a new game, a Polish economic game from 2012 called Mercurius. This is a straight-up economics/math game in which the players buy and sell shares of six different branches of the East India Company and six different commodities that the East India Company trades in. The meat of the game is in timing your purchases and sales, because the prices are always changing in semi-predictable ways.
Game play is simplicity itself. The share prices of the six company branches begin at a price of 10 [moneys]; the commodities begin at a price of 15 [moneys]. Each turn a player makes up to three “financial transactions” – each a purchase or sale of a share or a commodity token – and then plays a price change card to their personal board.
Each price change card affects one branch of the company and one commodity. For shares, the effect is either +1 or -1 on the main board; for commodities, it’s either +2 or -2, in the opposite direction from the share. Price change cards stay in play for three turns, which a player must take into account in making all decisions. Sell now, even though the price will go up again? Or wait and risk an opponent lowering the price? Purchasing and selling of shares or commodities is pretty basic, but if a player buys more than one of the same item (share or commodity) the price of each one purchased increases (+1 apiece to buy two; +2 apiece to buy three); and if a player sells multiples of the same item, the price decreases (-1 apiece if selling two; -2 apiece if selling three).
Each player also has three special cards that may be played once per game. Two of them substitute for all three of the player’s financial transactions that turn, and the third substitutes for a price change card. The Dividend card can provide an infusion of a small amount of cash; the Black Market card can avoid the multiple-sales penalty; and the News card can let a player clear undesirable price change cards from their hand.
Each player starts with 70 [moneys]. The game continues until the main deck of price change cards has been exhausted, after which the game goes two more rounds (with no card draws at the end of the players’ turns). At the end, all shares and commodities are sold for their full price on the board, and players total up their cash. Most cash wins.
I was fortunate, in that I got a handful of cards affecting one particular branch and was able to carry that branch long enough to declare a hefty dividend and then drive up the value to sell for a very sizable profit. That plus a reasonable diversity of other investments put me in the driver’s seat. Final scores:
- Dan: 181 [moneys]
- Jesse: 138 [moneys]
- JR: 124 [moneys]
The game is a very mathy game, obviously, but we were all a bit surprised at how not-dry and not-dull the game was. There can be a lot of “take that,” as one price change card undoes the effect of another. The only strategy is “buy low, sell high,” but having to plan for three turns, and decide whether to wait to try to maximize value, or sell now to have cash, can be a complex decision. I think if it were a significantly longer game, it might have become a drag, but there was a point when we all realized, “Hey, the deck is getting quite low. This game is almost over. Uh-oh.” It moves pretty quickly, and I think it would probably be just as fast – barring analysis paralysis – with twice as many players (it can take up to six), because the deck size is fixed.
And so we bid adieu to another game night. More to come next week.
On Monday, I finally got a chance to play Viticulture with the Tuscany expansion(s). This one has hit the table at Game Night two weeks in a row – an unusual occurrence for any game – and I can see why. No in-depth report here (I’ve made you suffer enough for one post), but I enjoyed the game enough to want to play it again soon.