A group of four of us had played Age of Mythology at our gaming session last week. (See my session report from 9/25/03) This week, we wanted to try it with six to see if it was balanced (and to check out the Greek culture).
The game room was closed for improvements, so Dale was kind enough to invite us over to his house.
The six players involved were Jake (Egyptian), Craig (Greek), Marshall (Norse), Dale (Egyptian), myself (Greek) and Shawn (Norse). Jake, Marshall and Dale had never played before, while Craig, Shawn and I each had played one time previously.
After explaining the rules, we all jumped in. Dale (E) went first. After initial Production Tile draw, the veterans encouraged the new players to include a Recruit card in their hand for the first round.
There weren't many battle in the first few rounds. I (G) was hurting for Production Tiles, so I attacked Shawn (N) at one point. I was thoroughly annihilated and sent retreating after losing a Cyclops, Medusa and Toxotes. Shawn also had some good rolls against Jake (E) and was investing heavily in recruiting. He had a very formidable army nearly from the outset.
I was the first player to advance to the Classic Age, which occured in round two. Meanwhile, Dale (E) was falling behind a bit on Production income. As expected, the Norse (Shawn and Marshall) dominated Gold production with their mountains and Dwarves. Jake (E) had quite a few, too, so Craig (G) kept finding himself short on Gold.
Somewhere in the middle part of the game, the Last Battle card wound up with three Victory Cubes on it. No one had earned a Victory Cube up to that point. Craig (G) smartly attacked Jake (E) at the start of the round to gain the three VPs. This would turn out to be a huge move in the game.
Shawn (N), Jake (E) were fighting for military supremacy, going for the Largest Army. Craig (G) and I (G) were clearly after Most Buildings. Marshall (N) could go either way. Dale (E) was still behind and trying to catch up to the rest of us. At one point, he invested in a Great Temple, but it was destroyed by Marshall (N) before he could put it to use. Ouch!
Towards the end, Shawn (N) and I (G) were in a position to build the Wonder, but we decided not to because Craig (N) would get Most Buildings and -- combined with the 3 Last Battle VPs he won earlier -- win the game by a single VP. So we continued on, hoping to find a way to cut down his city, despite not being able to directly attack him.
Actually, at one point, I (G) could have won the game. But I failed to realize it. For a brief point, Marshall (N) actually pulled ahead of Craig (G) in Buildings. If I would have bought the Wonder on my turn (which I could have), I would have won the game. But I didn't realize that Marshall was our new leader and so I played a different action. The others pointed it out to me a couple minutes later.
(We had been trying to speed things up -- so if one player's turn didn't affect anyone else, we moved ahead to the next player. Marshall was still paying for his buildings when I performed my action. That, and Craig placed his buildings in his city that made it hard to count them! Evil Craig! Evil! Evil! Anyway, those weren't the only reasons for my oversight, but they were contributing factors.)
On the next turn, Craig (G) regained the lead in buildings and Marshall (N) went back to focusing on recruiting. I was close in Buildings, but couldn't draw enough Random Action Building cards to close the gap all the way. Largest Army continued to fluctuate for a while, but Marshall eventually started to pull ahead.
There were a couple more turns that Shawn (N) or I (G) could have built the Wonder and ended the game. But we didn't, because Craig (G) would have won. Actually, Shawn was very tempted to end the game and finish in second place, but I talked him out of it.
In all this delay, Dale (E) started to make some inroads and actually began to catch up with the rest of us.
It became clear that winning was going to require just the right timing. I (G) actually had a shot, if it had gotten around to me again. But Shawn (N) attacked me and stole some of my resources to leave me short. Actually, after he won, he started to think more about which resources he needed, and very nearly left me with enough to pull it off. :-) But he realized his error before it was too late, and the game continued.
By the end, Craig (G) had his entire City full of buildings. I (G) didn't have the necessary build cards to tie him (I was 3 buildings short with only my build 1 available), so I was hoping that someone would successfully attack him for 2 buildings. Shawn (N) had run low on his supply of Production cubes and was no longer a threat.
Craig (G) had further improved his position by building a Great Temple and converting 8 Favor for 1 Victory Point. So he now had four VPs.
On his last turn, Jake (E) decided to build the Wonder and finish in second place. I thought I might still have a shot, if either Jake (E) or Marshall (N) had attacked Craig (G). But neither of them said they were going to do it. So Craig (G) took Most Buildings. Combined with his previous VPs, he edged out Jake's (E) Wonder points and Marshall's (N) Largest Army VPs.
Craig (G) finished with a full City. I believe Marshall (N) had around 30 units (give or take) in his army. Shawn (N) and I (G) were shut out, despite being so close on several occassions.
The entire game, including setup and rules explanation, took about 5 hours.
Everyone had a positive reaction to the game and really enjoyed themselves. The game length makes it somewhat difficult to play on a weeknight, so there's some talk that this will probably be a good candidate for our monthly Saturday gaming.
I forgot to mention that we played this game with a variant. We didn't allow for rerolls in battle. We counted all 6's, then tiebreakers went to 5s, then 4s and so on. The only exception to this was when a Medusa or Berserker was in battle -- we played by the original rules in these cases.
Anyway, that really didn't have a big effect on the game. I think there were only a couple of ties throughout the night. (Mainly because Shawn was rolling nothing but 6's!)
We are still a little concerned about the length of battle. It takes a while for players to select their units -- both initially and with each successive fight. The rest of the players can't do much during that time. Still, it's not that bad, as it gives a little break for conversation or to get up and grab a soda or whatever. Wish it were a little better, but it's not enough to tarnish our image of the game too bad.
It also occurs to me that you have to be very lucky with your timing to win -- which is kind of an odd thing for a game that takes 3+ hours. But I actually like the tension of trying to twist things around to your favor at the right time, and the pressure it puts on everyone around you to stop you and make the game go on. So it seems that many players will have a chance to win every game, but the one who does will have to get a nice helping of good luck at the end. Seems to fit with the theme of the game. Like I say, I don't mind that, I just find it a little surprising in a game of this length and magnitude.
Craig is not sold on the idea that a game outside of 3 or 6 is balanced. Shawn and I tend to disagree. But someone did have a good suggestion -- that if playing with 4, it should be the Greeks vs. the Norse, to remove any early advantage by the Egyptians.
For what it's worth, I still think I'd rather be the Norse or Greeks than the Egyptians. The Egyptians have a military advantage early, but I think they're the weakest of the three late in the game. And I think they tend to get the short end of things most of the time when a Gather is played by another player. As Shawn says, they're balanced, but it's kind of a "wonky balance." Maybe I just need to play them more to figure out what they do best.
Anyway, a lot of fun was had by all. Again, a very tight game. I'm convinced that the game has enough balancing mechanisms that no one is ever really out of it.
It's a fun ride and one that I'm sure I'll take several more times.
Another great write up for another fun and very close game.
This time around playing the norse was quite a bit of fun, and going in with a plan and some tactics helped out as well. My early goal was to make a gab for largest army, and to lock up the gold production enough to keep the others down. Most of the game this worked out well, but in the last turn of the game I ended up last in the turn order which was my undoing.
In a 6 player game it does seem like luck plays a hefty factor in who can win. I was sitting pretty up until the final round, but the fact that I was going last that turn really hurt me. I don't think I got any resources that whole turn, as by that stage in the game everyone has "Gather All" cards, and 3 players combined can usually break the bank of resources.
Overall my MVP has to go to the dwarves. Solid little giant killers, and they add a mighty +2 to a gold tile. Excellent units for the norse. They actually turned my fairly crappy initial gold draw into a massive pile of gold each gather phase.
I should also note that I very nearly won the game myself at one point. I had a norse build card that allowed me to pay 1 favor and kill any building. If Marshall had build his 3 buildings (which he ended up doing after my last turn for the round) he would have had 15 buildings. Then I could have played the card, destroyed one of Craig's buildings (dropping him to 15 causing a tie with Marshall), then used my remaining resources to build the wonder and win the game. Very very close.
I really think that's another of the fun aspects of the game. Not only getting yourself to the point you can win, but trying to get just the right cards and to play them at just the right time so as to jump in and win. I think in future games people will try to use the great temple and last battle cards a little more to secure some early points as those 3 points that Craig had are what won him the game.
And for the record, Craig won, with Jake following him in second, but John was awarded the honorary first place and I the honorary second place.