Managed to get my first win in a Twilight Imperium (3rd ed) game. Won as the Xxcha by concentrating on technology and managing to hold Mecatol Rex for a good 4 turns.
This one took a while to hit table despite my best efforts since the rules are a bit long, so I finally did the optional solo variant by myself.
I realize this really is a very mini review even by my standards but I just want to say how fantastic the game really is. It’s a card builder-style game with lots of details and intricacies that all come together to provide a consistent whole (vs feeling like distractions). I say card builder-style game cause unlike with most builders your cards tend to get killed quite often. You’re perpetually building, fixing, defending, and rebuilding, while also destroying everyone else’s cards.
This on top of a very interesting and original theme, researched with a satisfying amount of detail. While playing you learn a little bit not only about the history of the time, but also about how difficult it must have been to live at the time.
And yes, this is an Ecklund game. The manual comes with an extended political/economic treatise by the author of slightly sophomoric quality, and the cards are intimidating at first with symbols all over the cards, some upside down, some back to front. They become very second nature very quickly though, thankfully.
The solo game isn’t perfect as the bot player, Diaz, doesn’t require money and as so never builds an engine that you can attack. This makes a few of the cards not particularly useful to the player other than as self-attacks to build Outrage and liberate slaves (building Revolt points).
My only modification to the solo game rules is to change the way Diaz picks his cards away from the d6/d6 method cause there’s too much money to be made in speculating on the 16s. I have a D16 from Dungeon Crawl Classic so maybe give that a shot. Something like 1-5 buys from column 1, 6-9 from 2, 10-11 from 3, 12-13 from 4, 14-15 from 5, and 16 from 6. We’ll see.
Incidentally, I (barely) won with a Revolution victory.
So yes, this was a mini-review. Proper review after we get a multi-person game of this going.
David brought Dice City to game night so I got to check it out.
The game is the exact middle ground of Machi Koro and Imperial Settlers. It takes the dice from Machi Koro and combines it with the resource management of Imperial Settlers.
You start with a large board in front of you filled with useful but unexciting builds. You roll all your dice and place them in their correct spot (where the color of dice and number rolled meet), and then activate that building. Sometimes you get a resource, sometimes you get an attack point, sometimes a weird power up goes off. You then use those resources and attacks to get new cards and VPs, perhaps attacking and disabling your opponent’s buildings.
That’s pretty much the entirety of the game mechanically, actually. Get resources, spend resources, hope that the numbers you need roll. This isn’t a criticism, simple mechanics for card building combined with interesting cards is all you need. So let’s talk about the cards.
The cards are definitely more Machi Koro than Imperial Settlers. There’s more of simple combos such as “Activate every harvest card in your row”, and very little of the more complex meta-cards of Imperial Settlers, which makes sense as those complicated Settlers engines require colossal hand draw and complete control of what plays when, which is quite literally impossible to set up in Dice City.
I think Dice City never quite jelled for me because I already played and got familiar with the games at the two extremes of it’s gameplay. It’s a perfectly good game in it’s own right, but for light card building and dice rolling I’d prefer Machi Koro, while for deep card building Imperial Settlers is much more stimulating. I’d recommend this if you have neither of the two above but are interested in the genre, or if you feel that Machi is too light while IS is too heavy, but me personally I feel like the two games on either side are better experiences overall.
Forgot to post our Valentine’s Day photo this year.
Grabbed it on sale from Eagle Griffin cause we like clever deck builders here. This one is even more clever, to the point it plays more like a card builder (like Mottainai) than a proper Deck Builder.
The premise of the game is you want to ‘isolate’ xenon in your hand by removing all other cards, then use it gain victory points. This is done primarily by a once a turn ‘distilling’ step where you remove from your deck all the cards of the most common gas in your hand (so all nitrogens if you have nitrogen, all oxygens if you have no nitrogen, etc). The catch of the game is that to get xenon cards into your deck you also must take a nitrogen, oxygen, and krypton, then you spend all your effort on removing those cards.
The non-gas cards are divided into 3 types: power ups, pipelines that increase your hand size, and contracts that convert xenon to points. Power ups can be used like in a deck builder (once per shuffle), or can be installed at a cost to go off every round. This means that it’s possible to play and win this deck-builder without ever buying a card to your deck. You would still need to take air in, but that’s done as a separate action from buying.
So the one half of the game is the above, a multiplayer solitaire to get the most points possible out of the objects you buy, about when to switch to ‘overtime production’ which allows you to distill twice, at the cost of not getting any new cards, and when to buy what. The player to player interaction comes through the process of bidding.
Bidding is placing your player token on a card available for purchase. It lowers the price of the card for you buy 1 (including going into negatives, meaning the card can pay you to purchase it), but perhaps more importantly it means that whoever buys that card will also have to pay you on top of the normal price.
This leads to the primary interaction with other players: trying to block their purchases and convert what they need into a slowdown for them and acceleration for you.
A playthrough is about I’d say 20m per player, and has a similarity to Mottainai in that the two main strategies are either to go slow and get as many points as possible, or to go as fast as you can in order to get the game to end quickly before the slower decks manage to ramp up their engines. In our experience this can go either way.
It’s a great game for us, not very heavy but interesting in a puzzle solve-y way, while still including a bit of player interaction without making it too aggressive. Recommended if those things sound appealing to you. The unique play style and theme also helps. Wish it was just a hair quicker cause it’s just barely too long for work lunches with our usual 3-4 people.
I just ‘finished’ the puzzle game TIS-100, meaning I wrote a code that solves the final task of the game and saw all of the plot (other than the hidden puzzle. I’m not ready to tackle that mentally), so please listen to me rant why this is probably my favorite puzzle game of the 2010s, if not of all time.
First of all: what is it? It’s a game that tells you that you inherited a weird old time-y computer from your missing uncle and are trying to run some debuggers on it to figure out what it is. It comes with an ancient looking manual and very little else. If it sounds like a mystery game, it’s cause it is.
(Throughout this post, feel free to click to embiggen the images)
The game is really about designing algorithms in the mathematical sense: converting inputs into outputs. To do so you’re given a pretty simple assembly language architecture with one feature, and one huge caveat. The feature is that you have access to multiple chips that all run in parallel and can talk to each other. The caveat is that each only has a single register that can do storage, math, and logic, and a second register that can only be used as long term storage.
Got it? Ok, so let’s go over a solution to a puzzle, or more precisely my thought process of solving one. Spoiler warning obviously, if you want to solve each one yourself, don’t read this.
The TIS-100 in later levels includes a ‘graphics’ module that allows you to display pixel data that is being sent to the output. The format is a string of integers formed as
( Starting X coordinate, Starting Y coordinate, <series of integers representing colors to draw 1 square of>, -1 )
In this task we are given a length of a line, then a color to use for it. We have to figure out how to wrap at the edge of the screen if the line is longer than the screen width. Here’s what the tasks look like, along with my initial solution:
So how does a guy who loves nothing more than clean logical order and Object Orientation handle this? Simple, by creating treating each node as a make-shift object. Let me walk you through the code above.
First, we got to keep track of where we are on the screen:
The upper circled node iterates from 0 to 30 (screen width), then sends that data to the right. It also sends either 0 or -1 down to the node that keeps track of rows. The row tracking node (circled below) returns it’s stored value, and whenever it receives a -1 it increments the stored value. So now we got a steady generator that spits out
(0,0), (0,1), (0,2) ... (29,0), (30,0), (0,1), (1,1) ...
Now we have to keep track of what color we’re on. We got a third node for that:
This one stores the length of a color and the value of the color, then by swapping those in and out of the long term register it decrements the length and constructs a little quad packet like (0, 0, 2, -1). That particular packet would draw a grey square in top left for instance. The node then passes this packet down into the chain of helper passing nodes and off they go to the output off the bottom row.
I make this sound trivial, but in reality it took the better part of an hour to come up with this solution, and then a better part of a second hour debugging a bunch of silly deadlocks and memory corruption mistakes (having two nodes get out of sync and wait for input from each other so that they hang indefinitely, forgetting to swap memory contents before displaying, stuff like that).
So what kind of performance do we get on that? Well, this:
Not great compared to the average other user. So now we get to the second part of TIS-100. Optimizing to compete with the ‘others’ of the internet. So how can we optimize this?
Well, first thing that jumps out at me is that the bottom right node seems to be sending stuff pointlessly far. Look:
It really doesn’t have to go that far. What if instead of going all the way around, it just goes right? Now the top right packet constructor will only do 3 of the numbers, and the node below him will just plug in the row number from the left as we go. That should skim off a cycle or two, no? And skim them off the innermost loops too. Always good.
So now we’re just going straight right, though we needed to add a tiny bit of logic to the right to build the packet. 3 cycles less per each loop. Nice.
We can do better though, can’t we. I mean, what if we reärrange the nodes so that instead of the top right node acting as a packet constructor the packet gets constructed “as needed” and only in the last moment. A Just-In-Time packet, if you forgive the borderline archaic term. It would require moving the two “storage” nodes to below the input and then setting up an assembly line to the right of them. And oh look, the output is already set up exactly in the perfect spot for it. Hm. It’s like the designers knew this.
So at time A the packet is (?, ?, Color, ?).
At B we get (X, ?, Color, ?)
And only at C do we get (X, Y, Color, -1)
Now, how much of an improvement do we get?
Down from 7684 to 4898, so 36%. Not too shabby considering all we did was move some nodes around. Now, if we really wanted to make this mother fly, we would use that feature that lets us create longer packets. I mean, why send
(0,0,1,-1), (1,0,1,-1), (2,0,1,-1), (3,0,1,-1), ...
When we can send
(0,0,1,1,1,1 ... 1,1,-1)
I mean, it can’t be that difficult can it?
And before you know it, you’ve sunk another few hours into TIS.
We’re midway through the first scenario so no genuine review it, but it really is a fantastic experience. I “get it” now.
So before we start, this is about the Japanese only version of the game, technically named ??? or Karesansui, and called Stone Garden on Board Game Geek. This is not the American game Zen Garden and/or Karesansui from Eagle-Gryphon. All clear on this point? Ok.
Got to play this thanks to Tomo who ordered it from Japan for our work lunchtime plays (thank you Tomo). The game is conceptually a strange Carcassonne with more player interaction, more complicated scoring, and amazing quality pieces. Each turn you pick up a tile, decide whether you’ll play it (possibly having it stolen), gift it, store it, or discard it. Gifting earns you virtue, discarding loses it, and stealing loses even more. You then can move your assistant (the little pawn), have him buy and place a stone, or have him meditate to gain virtue.
The first level of complexity lies in the virtue management and the associated risk balancing. You might hold off on placing a critical tile until your opponents don’t have enough virtue to steal it, but then you give up your only storage spot, possibly wasting a great tile later. Buying stones moves your virtue to zero, which means that for one turn you can’t discard. Drawing a terrible tile then can mess up a whole arrangement.
The second level complexity of the game lies in the scoring and choosing between going slower for maximum points, or rushing with sub-optimal tiles, but hopefully finishing first and forcing your opponents into suboptimal gardens (the game speeds up once the first garden is finished). You get positive points for pleasing patterns of sand and moss, negative points for unmatched edges, big bonus points for your hidden objective, and then you get to the rock rules. Various rock patterns count for points, while other rocks simply score points by being present in the right place.
What’s nice is the game is genuinely rooted in the art of stone garden design, so you do learn a tiny bit from gameplay. You won’t be an expert by any means, but you’ll learn why certain rocks are placed where they are, and what they are symbolically meant to signify (famous islands, ships, etc).
What made the game a such a word of mouth hit is the quality of the pieces though. Cause of how good the rocks look, while working on your fake stone garden you genuinely create what looks like a really pretty little stone garden. There’s a genuinely joy in seeing everything come together as the game runs, which then leads to people tweeting photos of their gardens, and the game then spreads from there.
The high quality also leads to a scarcity: the publisher simply can’t make the games very fast, so the game is difficult to find most places. And even once acquired you still probably need to get a good translation sheet for the rules, gardeners, and scoring patterns.
Having said that, I definitely think it’s worth it. The gameplay is genuinely interesting, and the components are just incredible. I genuinely hope it manages to come to the US without loss of quality because it’s a fantastic and unique take on euro-gaming, with a beautiful theme on top.
Tomo did a shopping order to Japan and I on a whim I ordered a Japanese micro that seemed be one with the least language requirements: Fairy Tale.
(Turns out it has an English version through Z-Man. Heh)
So this is a drafter, in the vein of Sushi Go or even more like Tides Of Time if you’re familiar with that one. You draft 5 cards in each of the 4 turns, after which you will play 3 of them and discard 2. Which if nothing else is very mathematically pleasing: 5 4 3 2.
The cards are used in 2 ways, the first being complicated scoring methods, just like other drafting games. This includes normal linear cards (“2 points”), exponential cards (“1 if 1, 4 if 2, 9 if 3”), conditional cards (“9 points if you have most dragons”), and ‘friend’ cards (“3 points for each bard you own”). The game is nicely balanced in these, but that’s not super groundbreaking.
The other layer to this game is that as cards are ‘played’, meaning added to your side, they have effects that fire. This includes flipping other cards face up or face down, or possibly intercepting cards before they hit the table and disable their powers early. This adds an element of combat to the game as players will often draft cards that they don’t intend to play just to make sure others can’t use those cards against them. Remember, you get to discard 2.
For example, in the game above I drafted every single demon card that flips human cards face down to avoid losing my combo cards. Two demons would have cost me two homesteaders and about 12 points, a third of my score.
As a bonus, I was pleasantly surprised to learn the cards used English words for “you” and “all” which made things easier, and came with a translated instruction manual to boot. Also, the design has that Japanese doujin-game style to it, which has it’s own unique charm. The only downside is unfortunately the paper it was printed on was kinda flimsy, but nothing a bit of penny sleeves can’t fix.
It’s a good game fun lightweight and a steady entry in our medley of “lunchtime at work” games, as it can easily be ran through in 45 mins. We’re fans of it here.
Tsuro strategy tips? Surely you’re joking. Nope, not at all. First though, a mini review.
The players have 3 tiles in hand and have to place one in front of their stone. This makes a path. If you connect to a different path, you have to travel along it. If you crash into someone, you both are eliminated, if you go off the board, you are eliminated. It plays in about 5 minutes, is pretty fun and easy to teach people, and you already know all this. Cool? Cool.
So here we go, Tsuro Strategy Tips, or “how to win against your family on that one day a year where you all hang out together”.
3 basic ideas, all of which amount to “maximize your options, minimize others’ options”:
- Play bad tiles as early as possible
- Stay in the center
- Force opponents to the outside
Play bad tiles as early as possible
First, let’s explain what makes a tile good or bad since a lot of people treat them equally. Each tile has 4 sides, meaning it can be played 4 ways for your stone. Each of the paths on the tile links your stone to one of 7 possible result spots. The quality of the tile is how varied the different locations it points to are. A good tile has 4 unique directions it can end up sending you to, one for each side. A bad tile has the same result 4 times. 2s are poor, 3s are ok.
Think about it, you always want options. If you end up in a situation where going straight will kill you, and the only tile you have is one where every side sends you forward, you lose. On the other hand one where 1 U-turns, 1 turns left, 1 turns right, and 1 goes forward could save you here.
So rule 1: play your bad tiles as soon as you can, save your good tiles for when you need them to survive.
Stay in the center
Again, we’re talking about maximizing your options. If you’re heading towards the empty center, all your exits are safe. If your in the corner, at least 4 of your exits are automatically death. So rule here is simple: stay towards the center.
Force opponents to the outside
Since you can’t force opponents to play good tiles directly, your only aggressive action (other than just sending people directly off the map) is to minimize their choices. Whenever possible, always steer your opponents towards edges, or corners (corners preferred). Even if they survive, they will have to use better tiles to get back, getting you a bit of advantage.
So there you go. Some simple tips to get you a tiny bit of an edge in Tsuro. Now go out there and crush your little cousin.