Daniel had brought along Tikal, yet another of his newly acquired games, and so I sat down to play with David, Kate/Hamish (the couple playing as a team, which meant that the game wouldn't suddenly stop when Kate, who has the attention span of a gnat and almost admits it, got bored), and Daniel, in that play order. When I arrived, the orders had mostly been read through - Hamish reading in a truely soporific and unenlightening fashion. I had played once before (at a con two years ago with an inexperinced gamer and his son of about eight - hey, I had nothing better to do at the time), so I jumped in to clarify the rules which confused them ("To uncover the sixth level, I need six explorers?" "No, just one, as long as the fifth level is already uncovered." and then we jumped into the basic game.
I went into the game planning to play for treasures whenever I could, for once I have a treasure, that's sure-fire points in hand. Get enough treasures and even if they aren't in sets, nobody can trade them from you without giving you sets. So, having claimed those points, I could then go and raid other people's temples. Similarly, once I had control of a decent temple, I intended to cap it so that again, I'd be free to compete elsewhere. Kate and Hamish adopted a similar cap-the-temple strategy, but didn't seem to think that treasures would be worth it. Daniel thought that building a temple up to about nine or ten and then capping it would be best, while David's strategy (somewhat forced) was to score all the little temples that nobody else wanted to fight for.
My treasure-hunting went well, as I claimed four treasures (or was it more?) before the first scoring round. Daniel threw out a very early base camp (later commenting that it was too early a placement). Kate/Hamish drew the first volcano, and competition for the temples was fierce. Kate/Hamish and Daniel each claimed 11 points, mostly in temples, and I could not compete for the richer temples which had already been scored twice, but I made up the points with treasures and scored 12. David drew in points for the temples the rest of us didn't bother with, but it wasn't enough to compete and he scored only 9. However, the point spread seemed very small at this stage.
Before the second volcano, Kate/Hamish built a temple to seven and guarded it before anybody else could step in to claim it permanently. It was the right move, for at the time I was figuring out the cheapest way for me to do exactly the same. David established a new camp in an area with few points but many chances for cheap paths to be found in the future. He hoped to be able to cash in on tiles he would place around his camp in the future, and he hoped that a high access cost to his camp would keep the rest of us out. I countered by placing an empty hex on the next space deeper into the jungle and establishing a camp of my own there, so that most placements in the area would actually be cheaper for me to get to than him - an "anything you can do, I can do better" play. Then, of course, the others played to mess us both up, and my camp never did score much for me. And Kate/Hamish drew the second volcano, and I fell behind on the scoring. David did well out of the levels he had excavated at those small temples the rest of us were ignoring, and he jumped to the lead on 33 points. I fell back to 29, Daniel was on 31, and Kate/Hamish on 30 - but there still wasn't much of a spread.
I continued treasure hunting, and used a lone ex-treasure-hunter to walk into a newly-place temple, excavate an extra level and guard it. I figured it was a very cheap guard, and I would never be able to do any better out of that one isolated explorer with no treasures to dig up any more. I also walked my leader into a six-point temple which had only three explorers in it (two Daniel's, one Kate/Hamish's) and capped that underneath them. Kate/Hamish placed a camp deep in the jungle, next to the furthest corner, then put a rich temple right in the corner hoping to claim it all for themselves. They made the cost to enter the hex huge, with six stones to cross from their camp, figuring that this would shut anybody else out. It would take an entire turn's points for anyone else to send an explorer in, and if anyone tried it Kate/Hamish would simply put one more in and have a few points to spend elsewhere. However, they didn't reckon on new exploration, and in a coup that won me the game, I place an empty hex right down the back, oriented so that passage into the big temple would cost only 1, and dropped my second camp there. I walked a new explorer into the temple, and now Kate/Hamish lacked the points to cap the temple in a single turn. I never capped the temple (my reconstruction of this game is somewhat achronological, my second guard was placed quite late), because I didn't need to. I could always stay ahead by spending a mere 1 AP. I also placed another temple beside my camp, placed such that entry there would also be very expensive. By the end of the game, these temples were worth 15 points per scoring between them, and nobody could score them but me.
In a different corner, David tried to establish his own isolated temples. Having just been shown how to do it, Kate/Hamish pulled exactly the same trick on David as I did on them - less effectively, but effectively enough to cost David dearly and pay them handsomely.
By now, Daniel had more treasures than me, but we each had more than our fair share. My scoring was pretty much locked in, and I had to ride out my position through the last two scoring rounds and hope nobody beat me in the end. When we got to the end of the game, we debated concerning the interpretation of how to play the final scoring - Daniel favoured the interpretation which gave him first scoring and a block of 20 APs before he scored, I favoured the interpretation which gave me first scoring (not because it conferred an advantage, which it did but only fairly minimally in my case because I had most of my scoring so firmly locked down, but because otherwise this would be the only point in the game where a player spends 20 AP at once). Daniel jumped on the computer and pulled the correct interpretation of BGG, and I was right. So we scored it, and I finished on 112 points. David scored 98, which was quite impressive considering that luck was strongly against him that night. Daniel pulled out to 101, while Kate/Hamish lagged way behind in the 70s.
We learned a lot of lessons from this game. Mine was, don't commit limited resources too early - I should have saved my leader and my first base camp a while longer. Kate, Hamish and David learned that treasures are worth something, and that an isolated hex isn't really isolated until everything around it is placed. Daniel learnt that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and so he shouldn't wait too long to guard temples.
Daniel complained bitterly about always being 10 AP behind David and me when scoring came up. However, in post-game analysis David and I realised that Daniel actually did better out of the scoring order than us. Scoring favours those who score first, and I think this benefit outweighs the benefit of having spent an extra 10 AP before scoring. In our game, Kate/Hamish drew every volcano, so I think Daniel was just unlucky in other areas or didn't make the best use of his resources. I'll have to do some analysis concerning the volcano draws to see whether the game tends to favour one player strongly over another, but in this case with all the volcanos being draw by one... er... team, there was a definite advantage, and it wasn't to David or me.
The big problem I found was that David, Kate/Hamish and Daniel played far too slowly for my taste. I'm often accused of being a bit slow, but even my slow plays in this game were relatively fast. Hopefully this will change the next time we play, but sitting there waiting fifteen minutes or so waiting for my turn to come around again was driving me to distraction.
Maybe next time we will play the auction game, which I know is supposed to be much better than the basic game.