Things I learned at WBC, 2011 Edition
Anni Foasberg
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After last year, which involved three finals, two of which I won, this year was bound to be something of a let-down. It was worse than expected, actually... I didn't advance far in anything, I didn't play especially well, I didn't advance when I was entitled to, and I didn't even manage to stay healthy throughout the convention.

The saving grace was GMing the Navegador tournament, which was great.

So there's that. Sigh. On to the list!
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1. Board Game: Eurorails [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:725]
Anni Foasberg
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Actually, people really do flush their cards on purpose.

I wrote last year that I needed to flush out my cards earlier than I did when I ended up on a dead-end route without enough money to finish it. This year, that didn't happen. I had a little trouble making money early, but I overcame that, not enough to compete for the win, but enough that I actually had a reasonably nice train running by the end of the game.

What surprised me was that the player to my right, who spent many consecutive turns flushing his cards in the middle of the game, finished ahead of me.

I'm informed that people really do that on purpose--people who know the important deliveries and are looking for one of a small group of cards that can make a big difference for them. When I look at the size of the card stack, this seems incredible--but it seems to have worked better than what I was doing. I must look into this further.
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2. Board Game: Ingenious [Average Rating:7.22 Overall Rank:222]
Anni Foasberg
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Having the tile with the right color is important; hold onto it until it's needed, but make sure to use it at that time.

My game ran too long for me to catch the Ra heat I'd wanted to play in. Thus, it was time for Ingenious, which seems to be a game I often end up playing without every really intending to play it.

So, I did better this time than I've done in the past. I'm attributing this to improved timing. I took advantage of the common colors when I could, but perhaps more importantly, I was able to take advantage of my tiles of rarer colors, even when I was only scoring a couple points with them. I only had one Ingenious, but I don't think that mattered too much.

I came in second--the best I've done in an Ingenious heat at WBC.
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3. Board Game: Yspahan [Average Rating:7.16 Overall Rank:293]
Anni Foasberg
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Take advantage of opportunities to get into the top of the caravan.

I haven't played Yspahan too much. I know the caravan is good, and I'm beginning to get a sense of when to take cards, but I'm still kind of a newbie to this one. So bear with me if all my insights are totally obvious.

But the caravan filled up very slowly in this one; at some point near the end of week three, it hadn't emptied out yet. However, one player had finally reached the top level. I had the building that gave me a card for getting into the caravan (very useful!) but only one camel. I knew I wanted to use it before the end of the game. I had an opportunity to delay and use it on the last or penultimate turn.. but I decided to get in there now.

I don't remember exactly what spurred me to make this decision, but it was the right one. The caravan filled up on the next turn and I was able to multiply my cubes by three instead of one.

I think I came in second, maybe third--it was close at the end. Interestingly, the player who was hitting the caravan a lot early was last. But then, I'm told that the caravan is better the more people use it.
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4. Board Game: Martian Rails [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:1928]
Anni Foasberg
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Good luck is not enough to overcome a basic lack of attention.

So my cards looked really good to me--Red and Green Martians to places that were near each other. Furthermore, I kept drawing them! This was working out well. My track probably wasn't too good; it was too far south to be very versatile. However, the deliveries that I was drawing were rewarding it, so it seemed to be working out.

But, in the midst of a very efficient set of deliveries that involved taking Red Martians to Hinkston Creek, I cleverly blew right past Helium without stopping for my cargo and didn't realize it until I was almost there. There wasn't some other clever way to make money in the meantime; I had to pause all my plans and go all the way back to Helium, then all the way back up to Hinkston Creek.

I couldn't catch up from there. The really frustrating thing about it was that I'd had such a good set of deliveries in my hand and hadn't taken good advantage of it.
 
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5. Board Game: Amun-Re [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:175]
Anni Foasberg
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If farmers are going to work, it's better to get the right cards.

I hadn't played Amun-Re for some time. I had played it a lot on Spiel-by-Web, but since it came down from there, I'd had substantially fewer opportunities to play it. Furthermore, I'd really avoided the farmer strategy even when it was there, because it seemed like a really difficult way to make money. But I ended up with a good farmer province, both the farmer bonuses, and one or two other farmer-related cards early on, so, you know, okay. I managed to draw some free farmers and extra harvests throughout the game, and it turns out that the advantage of the farmer thing is being able to get free stuff (and, guess what, more farmers) through the sacrifice.

Anyway, I remembered that I don't need points in the Old Kingdom, just money for the New Kingdom, so I did that right, and built up to three sets in the New Kingdom. I didn't compete for any majorities, but I had enough points to win on a tiebreaker--I had one more pyramid than the other player.
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6. Board Game: Saint Petersburg [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:157]
Anni Foasberg
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Picking up the aristocrat upgrade in the next-to-last turn is a lot better than hoping one will pop up at the end of the game when it's needed.

One of my goals for the last three years has been making the Saint Petersburg semis. It's not easy to do; there's always a large field, and to make the top sixteen, more than one win is usually necessary. But I keep trying.

In this instance, I was a little daunted when I saw that I was at a table with Tom DeMarco. I've played it with him on several occasions in the past and have gotten destroyed as a matter of course. But it's a game of Saint Petersburg and I think I'm decently good at it by now.

The pivotal moment I refer to above was pretty important. I had the square on what seemed likely to be (and in fact was) the penultimate turn of the game. I picked up an aristocrat upgrade and put it into my hand, not realizing until the next turn that this was what put me in the running to win the game. See, if you have an upgrade in your hand, it doesn't matter what aristocrats come up in the final turn! I just bought the cheapest one and upgraded it.

I could see it would be close, and it was; as we counted up the points, it turned out that Tom and I were tied--but I had a ruble and he didn't. So, that's one win.
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7. Board Game: El Grande [Average Rating:7.83 Overall Rank:26]
Anni Foasberg
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Good players won't let me get away with a bunch of cheap seconds.

Much as I love El Grande, I was a little apprehensive about playing in the tournament, since weird things happen in this game at WBC--both a higher level of table talk than I'm used to (and I'm weak against table talk), and surprising behaviors, like that time someone initiated a grande battle against me in New Seville on the first or second turn of the game (I did not see that coming!).

But this time I lucked into a table of people that were exceptionally entertaining to play with--Eric Brosius, Richard Irving, Bronwen Heap and Dominic Duschenes--so I was pleased with that.

It was a close game throughout. It took me a while to get any score on the board, but I was eventually able to get some of the special scorings for myself and catch up. I like to go for the seconds, but it wasn't easy in this game. I got pushed out of scoring position in a lot of regions, but was reasonably successful with my castillo choices. In the end, it was close and fairly low-scoring. I was third--I'm not sure I've done this well in El Grande at WBC before.
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8. Board Game: Thurn and Taxis [Average Rating:7.15 Overall Rank:258]
Anni Foasberg
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The super-long route may be worth it. Or not.

Hmm, I seem to have missed one. I also played Thurn and Taxis.

I was pretty far behind in the beginning of the game, but I had a very long route that put me back in the thick of things. I just kept drawing cards that added on to it and continuing it a little longer. This got me a lot of houses on the board and two bonus chips (the 7 carriage bonus and a color chip), and put me back in the game, but in retrospect, I wonder if it wouldn't have been better to have broken it up into two smaller routes and get them finished sooner.

Anyway, I finished second. It wasn't terribly close, but it was a respectable performance in a game I don't play much.
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9. Board Game: Macao [Average Rating:7.46 Overall Rank:158]
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If I cut people off in the city, they have less incentive to block me in the future.

I said I hadn't played Yspahan much, but games with which I have little experience reach a new level with Macao, which I believe I'd played twice before. But I wanted to get in another game that evening and thought I might as well play.

It's a game in which players are forced to do a lot of things they don't really want to do, such as taking cards they will not likely be able to use, prioritizing the near-term over the long-term in order to avoid penalties, and so on. I had a card that encouraged me to ship goods, so I tried to focus on using my cubes to claim spots in the city and get the goods. One player was far out ahead of me on the wall, another had a very impressive collection of cards working for her throughout the game, and the third, though he'd taken a couple penalties, was building up a pretty impressive presence in the city, and was also getting money from somewhere and buying points like nobody's business. In comparison with all this, I was falling behind, but I did manage to pick up some goods in the city, aiming at a large block. I was a little surprised that I was able to get so many spaces next to each other, as when I began there were spaces close to me that I was sure other players wanted. They explained later that once I cut them off, it was less useful for them to go there--good to remember for next time.

Anyway, I managed to get the card that gave me seven points (governor?), which seems pretty strong, made my deliveries, and somehow came in a close second--though I'm not sure that we were executing all the text on the cards correctly, and that would have worked in my favor if it was wrong. I thought I was very far behind and coming in fourth, so I was very surprised.

I feel like I know the game a lot better now, but I'm not sure I want to play it again. It was late at night when we played and it felt very long, and negotiating the bad translations on the cards added an extra layer of difficulty, and it's really difficult to make anything happen, especially as the dice are obviously unpredictable. Then again, I often have a negative reaction to a game when I do better than expected, so we'll see.
 
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10. Board Game: Saint Petersburg [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:157]
Anni Foasberg
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missing game

...I know I played Saint Pete at 9am on Thursday. I know I came in second. But the heck if I remember anything else about it. I'm assuming it was pretty good.
 
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11. Board Game: Ra [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:95]
Anni Foasberg
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Low suns may be great for calling Ra, but they won't win you many auctions.

My Ra game is still a work in progress. It's been frustrating lately because the more I feel like I'm doing things that are "correct"..the worse I do. So clearly something is wrong in my conception of the game.

In any case, this time I think a lot had to do with the low value of my suns in the second and third auctions, because I basically couldn't win any tiles. It didn't help that the player to my right also had low tiles and called Ra a lot right before my turn, or else pulled the Ra tile. Actually, I think having the Ra tile pulled before my turn was sometimes helpful, because it does provide a hint as to whether the lot is worth calling Ra on.. but then, if it is, I can't. So that didn't go too well.

I ended up with nineteen points. Yup.
 
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12. Board Game: Navegador [Average Rating:7.61 Overall Rank:98]
Anni Foasberg
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Demos are considerably harder than just teaching the game.

Next up was my Navegador demo. I was pretty excited about the tournament and had been promoting it throughout the last few days, so I came to the demo ready to teach.

I think I'm pretty good at teaching games, and I've had a lot of practice teaching Navegador, but I noticed that demos are harder because people wander in and out. Some players were there before the demo was scheduled to start (the Imperial demo was just breaking up, so one or two people looked over from there), and since I cannot make small talk, I started telling them a little about the game, planning to go back and start over when it was time to really start.

Of course, it didn't quite work out that way.. I ended up explaining most of the game, then going back and explaining the whole thing for the players that had come in late, but the hour-long demo provided plenty of time for me to do that. Rick Bynaker was also there asking helpful questions about things I hadn't covered adequately--thanks, Rick! We played a few rounds as well. I saw some of these players in the heats later, so I think it worked out.
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13. Board Game: Navegador [Average Rating:7.61 Overall Rank:98]
Anni Foasberg
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Turns out the game and the players do most of the work.

This was my first time running a tournament. I was a little nervous about it. I didn't play in any of the heats, for several reasons:

1) Navegador is a new game and I wanted to make sure I was available for any questions and to catch rules errors
2) I'm a first time GM and I wanted to be a little more aware of what was going on
3) I didn't want to mess up the numbers. I was running four-player tables (there was some discussion about this, but on the whole I think it is the way to go for the tournament), with the odd players going to fives. I didn't want to create an additional five-player table.

I was kind of afraid it would be chaotic and we wouldn't have enough sets and everything would go terribly wrong and it would be my fault. But in fact.. everyone settled down to games at their assigned tables and the hush set in. That's a great moment.. somehow it feels as if I'm orchestrating all this and interesting, satisfying games of Navegador are going on all around me.

I walked around and observed some of the games. It's an interesting game to watch and looking in on several games at once was fun.
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14. Board Game: Saint Petersburg [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:157]
Anni Foasberg
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Starting with a Fur Trapper and a Ship Builder probably calls for some adjustment in strategy.

I arrived at this heat feeling optimistic. A win in my first heat and a second in my second seemed like a promising start--I thought, if I can win this game, I'll certainly be in, and with a second, I have a good shot!

Unfortunately, this turned out to be a fairly embarrassing session of Saint Petersburg. I was late in the worker phase and the expensive workers came out early, forcing me to spend a lot of money. I don't remember exactly what happened from there, but somehow I expected to have more money than I did, and ended up taking ill-advised cards in my hand, having to pass in worker phases (ouch), and other similar disasters. I did manage to pick up an observatory and made somewhat good use of it, but I fell so far behind in in-game points that I had no chance to catch up. It says something that I had eight (or was it nine?) aristocrats, and I still ended up a good 20 points or more behind the third place player. As I said, embarrassing.

(It was a pretty interesting game between the front runners, though: see Eric Brosius's recap for more.)

After this performance, I was certain I was out of the running and didn't even bother to check the standings. Now, though, I wonder how close I was and wish I'd checked.
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15. Board Game: Amun-Re [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:175]
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I don't even know, man.

Okay. So the truth is that this game caused me to hesitate to make the list. If the St. Pete game was embarrassing, this was... um, worse. But it happened and I have to write about it.

There were a couple external factors involved, sure. The game started at eleven, by which time I am usually in bed in real life. The cold that would follow me around the rest of the con making my life miserable really kicked in while I was playing this. And it was a semi, which shouldn't have freaked me out considering the games I'd played in the previous year, but this is, like, a serious tournament. None of which is a decent excuse--if I were going to use it as an excuse, I shouldn't have played in the first place, and anyway other players performed brilliantly under the same circumstances. So, none of that matters, but I think it did make me feel worse about it in the end.

I'd disoriented myself somewhat by playing a strategy in the heat that's different from what I normally do, which this time led to a decided shortage of funds. I also had somehow gotten the idea in my head that because it was a higher level of play, I needed to bid more on everything (in fact, it only makes sense to bid higher on, like, things that are good). It occurred to me at some point that this is very likely another game where people track money, and at some point, maybe not cashing in cards for money before the sacrifice gives people more information than doing so! This wasn't a particularly relevant thought, though, and actually part of the problem may have been that I was thinking about stuff like this instead of, you know, how to get money.

Anyway. I'm not sure I want to write about it anymore. Apologies to my opponents if I messed up the game.
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16. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:84]
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Even a very well played game can be lost through a small mistake.

It was time to try my hand at defending my TtR title, so I showed up to a heat early Friday morning. I was having a good game, but the player to my right was having an amazing game. He had more tickets than I did and he kept snapping up the valuable long routes. I didn't think I had a chance to win.

But, when we counted up the tickets, another player noticed that he had failed to connect to one of the cities on his tickets through simple oversight--he could easily have done it. He lost many points to this mistake, and the win fell to me.

Nobody at the table was happy with this. We all agreed that was the outcome, but it didn't feel good at all.
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17. Board Game: Ra [Average Rating:7.48 Overall Rank:95]
Anni Foasberg
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More flexibility is a good thing.

This time I went back a little more to being willing to take what's out there instead of waiting for what I want, but I also tried valuing suns a little more highly and was able to get the big ones and get better lots with them.

I don't think this would always work. The player to my left helped me out a little. Although he had low suns, he didn't call Ra very much, and he once refused a large lot he could have gotten with the 1; it had a disaster in it, but it wasn't as bad for him as for other players, and there was good stuff in there too.

In any case, it was certainly the closest game of Ra I've ever played. The final score was 37-37-36-36-22. I was in fourth place.

I should probably be frustrated by this, but actually I'm pretty happy. With Ra, I'm just trying to get better at the game, so it's really always about the next game.. and anyway, given that I scored 28 of those points in the last round, it was probably about where I should have placed.
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18. Board Game: Alhambra [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:312]
Anni Foasberg
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Early walls are a gamble.

As mentioned above, I was fairly certain that I hadn't made the St. Pete semis. I'd planned to play Agricola, but after the St. Pete and Amun-Re games of the prior day, I was a little tired of having my butt kicked. So, I decided to play Alhambra, which I'm decent at, and which is a mellower game.

I know that early walls can hurt the late game, but I had an excellent opportunity to build up a beautiful wall early on, and I took it. I was hoping that the scoring card would come up early, so I could score them before anyone else had a lot of tiles. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way, but the wall was still good for a lot of points, and I managed to catch up in some colors later on in the game. It was good for second place--the winner was far ahead, but the third place player was only one point behind me.
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19. Board Game: Chicago Express [Average Rating:7.25 Overall Rank:260]
Anni Foasberg
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When the shares don't sell early, a lot more trains come out on the board.

This was an interesting game. Last time I'd played Chicago Express at WBC, it was a race to Chicago, with the shares selling out quickly and the trains moving across the board efficiently. Actually, I'd seen some version of that whenever I played the game, so that was what I was expecting.

Instead, we played a completely different game! There weren't a lot of early auctions, and multiple trains made it to Chicago. Wabash actually was built to Detroit. Not until nearly the end did the shares end up selling out.

In a game like this, it was better to build trains than it is otherwise, because they'll pay off more times, and it's a little easier to share them, always plotting to take over later.

One player observed, after the end of the game, "Y'all are paying way too much for your shares." Maybe she was right. It'll take more thought to process what I need to do in this type of game of CE. It was eye-opening.
 
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20. Board Game: Navegador [Average Rating:7.61 Overall Rank:98]
Anni Foasberg
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Sometimes they schedule finals in the same room as heats.

It does make sense. There isn't an infinite amount of space available in the Lancaster Host. Still, it was a little awkward. Now that I'm more aware of that, maybe it'll be a little less so next time?
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21. Board Game: Catan [Average Rating:7.35 Overall Rank:164]
Anni Foasberg
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Cards. They're pretty good.

I hadn't played Settlers at WBC before, and I don't get too many opportunities to play Settlers at all, though I find I often win when I do. (Credit for this probably goes to Doug Faust, who told me how to do it.) So I was happy to get a chance to play it on Saturday morning.

The board wasn't a very rich one, except for sheep. Not only that, the robber was rolled a lot in this game, so it went longer than your average game of Settlers. I was the first player, so I got the good spot with my first placement, and my second placement was basically a card. I would have preferred to use my resources on cities, of course, but rocks were scarce and I didn't want to get hit by the robber, so I ended up buying nine cards over the course of the game. Five of them were soldiers, which were pretty useful as I was robbed a lot, and three of the others were for getting resources (Monopoly and whatever the one is called that gives you two of any resource). These were very useful in such a harsh board. The other, of course, was a victory point.

The final victory point was the hardest to get; another player was catching up to me and I was afraid she would win before I got it. There were several turns where if I rolled a 12, I would win--of course, that did not happen. But I finally managed to get the rock I needed and build my final city.

I should have kept playing, but I was a little confused by the format and wasn't sure how to do so. I was also influenced by the people at my table, who all said they didn't want to play again--after all, it had been a long game. Of course, I should have considered that my position was different from theirs as I had won, but sometimes my rational mind is slower than the irrational one.

I also still felt bad about my "win" in TtR the prior day and wanted to see if I could make up for it with a real one.
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22. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:84]
Anni Foasberg
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Watch out for the player with a lot of cards in his hand, even if he has a lot of trains left, too.

Even though my stated goal was to get a real win, I also felt a little more free to use this game to calibrate my risk levels in the game.

I was a little worried about my tickets because they were difficult enough that they were likely to take a large portion of the game to complete but not valuable enough to help me win the game. I did something I often do, which is get about halfway and take tickets just before it was time to make a decision about which way to go. I was a little ambitious with them, but I looked around and there were lots of trains left.

But I hesitated between two methods of getting to where I needed to go, and I was trying to see what others would do so that I could react (not a good position to put myself in, in retrospect), and then another player had lots of cards in his hand and came down with several sixes in quick succession to win the game. I was fourth and actually lost points on tickets.
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23. Board Game: Navegador [Average Rating:7.61 Overall Rank:98]
Anni Foasberg
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Having the semi right after the third heat presents some logistical problems, especially when it's in a different room.

I'm collapsing the third heat with the semis here, because they were one after another, and how many Navegador entries do I need, really? I was happy to see a lot of players from the first and second heats back for the third.

I was trying to input the scores into my spreadsheet as the game finished, but it's not the thing that I'm best at and I had some trouble wrestling all the data into shape in time for the semis--in fact, they started a little late because I was still trying to figure it all out. In the end, though, it was actually simple; there were fifteen winners (from seventeen tables-- Andrew Emerick had won three times), so all I really needed to do was find the best second.

Some interesting things happened in the semis, which will be described more extensively in my report, but in the end, all four players who advanced to the final table had played a church/factory strategy (although one player came close to winning with a exploration). On the one hand, this gave me pause about the viability of other strategies, but on the other hand, it guaranteed and interesting final. After all, they can't all play church/factory in the same game--there simply aren't enough privileges and buildings to go around.
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24. Board Game: Navegador [Average Rating:7.61 Overall Rank:98]
Anni Foasberg
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Crossing the line to phase two is a very important decision.

The four players in the final game were Samantha Berk, David Platnick, Andrew Emerick, and John Sizemore.

This is one of the great things about being a GM; I got to sit there and watch this game. And it was great and fascinating. It's too bad that only the players and I got to see it. This stuff needs to be broadcast on TV or something.

Again, I don't want to spoil my report by revealing too much here. But there were a couple really notable things:

1) The privileges went very quickly in this game, and I suspect that they will usually go more quickly in games with more experienced players. The exploration privileges were the last to go, since nobody wanted to explore anyway. There was a stall before entering phase two, at least partly because I don't think the players wanted to open up the privileges for anyone else. This adds a new dimension to the game and a new importance to the Navegador card.

2) Two players had to readjust their strategies to avoid competing too much with other players--and it turned out it's possible to do this successfully.

In the end, Andrew won the game on a tiebreaker. Most of his points came from colonies, shipyards and exploration tokens. David was the other tied player, with an even more impressive number of colonies and lots of final-turn money.

The more I learn about this game, the better it gets. I think it has staying power and I am certain that it is by far the best game of 2010.
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25. Board Game: Ticket to Ride [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:84]
Anni Foasberg
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Panicking pays off.

My win may not have been a satisfying one, but it was still good enough to get me into the quarterfinals. My initial ticket draw was very good. The cards wanted me to go to the Midwest and all seemed to fall in a line between Houston and Winnipeg, with one card also veering off into Washington. Not a lot of big routes, true, but it was all very convenient. I hesitated, knowing that I was the fourth player and didn't have a pair in my hand to get from Houston to New Orleans, but after all, that wasn't a necessity, so I kept that one--and the other players allowed me to take the route! So that was one gamble that paid off. I made my way up the Midwest, across to Washington, and took more tickets that happened to fit with those as well, pushing me up to Montreal and Sault St. Marie.

I did end up using three wild cards for that blue route--that's why I say that panicking paid off. What would have been really useful would be for me to have enough cards in hand to end the game, but I didn't. I was collecting orange cards in an attempt to get the big orange route, having made a loop with the rest of my trains, but the player to my right, who had made a cross-country route and was doing very well in the route score, had enough time to draw tickets on the last few turns of the game. He was particularly lucky with them, and they gave him many points and the game.

He played really well and I'm glad he won, but that was the end of my championship defense attempt. I have to admit, I enjoy playing TtR at WBC much more than I enjoy playing it elsewhere--it feels as if there is something at stake and I think I care a lot more.
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