Only Game: Atlantic Star
Last night, our good friend Dwight was able to come by and visit for a while before heading out of town this morning. As often happens when we get together, we ended up going out for a bite. This time, we headed across town to a Chinese / Sushi place he really likes. Unfortunately, by the time we made it back to the house, we only had time for a single "quick" game. In this context, quick meant something he already knew how to play. He rattled off a list of possibilities, leaving me to pounce as soon as he mentioned Atlantic Star -- one of my absolute favorite games.
Ostensibly, the game is about chartering ships for different legs of cruises in four different locales -- the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Baltic Sea. Each cruise has a different number of legs -- 6, 5, 4, and 3 in the same order. Players have a limited sum of money in which to charter ships from a rotating (with decreasing cost) supply. There are a couple of catches. The first is that you may not hold more than two cards in your hand once you complete and score a cruise. This necessitates a significant amount of hand management and reduces the amount of speculation in which you may engage. The second is that you may only get additional money by borrowing against established cruise, thus reducing their value and likely the victory points they can earn from you. All of this creates a constant tension between trying to get the most points possible, while using the least amount of money, with limited hand space.
In the three player game, each player starts with twice the money of a 4-6 player game but most also complete twice as many cruises -- two of each. While this is a lot of cash to have on hand at one time if you are used to playing with 4+, you ultimately have less money per cruise available as you can still only borrow against one cruise in each category.
Our game started off a lot quicker than I expected. By this, I mean that there were a lot more occurrences of having the charter board cleared of all ships and replaced. Since this costs money, which tends to be a scarce resource, this is not something that, in my experience, occurs a lot at the very beginning. Often, it is used late in the game -- or at least late in a cruise formation -- to try to get really necessary pieces of your cruise. Part of this I think was due to us each picking up a speculative nine leg card very early on, thus limiting our hand flexibility. Dwight very quickly put together his two yellow cruises, one of which would hold the number one spot until the very end of the game. Interestingly, he chose the five star column for this cruise, something of a rarity for the yellow line in our games.
My very first cruise ended up being a green cruise after abortive attempts at both blue and red. Unfortunately, the cards for those just did not come up for me. Strictly speaking, the cards I needed for the green cruise did not come up either, leaving me with a cruise I was guaranteed to be using as a loan source later in the game. Christine followed right behind me with a poor representative for a red cruise with a value less than 20. The problem for each of us is that we had actually spent money to put these cruises together with no real return on our investment.
My next attempts were a couple of red cruises and a blue cruise. The red cruises held up pretty well, finishing second and fourth overall. Christine managed to put together a massive 40 point red cruise toward the end while Dwight sneaked in a 30 point cruise just ahead of my 28 point. I had intended to take out a loan on this 28 cruise, but forgot about it until Dwight laid down his final cruise. I guess I should have been paying more attention. The blue cruise ended up in third -- behind my second cruise and Dwight's second after I was forced to take a small loan from it (just $2).
I next finished my first yellow cruise followed by the alluded second blue cruise, finishing up with green and yellow. The first yellow cruise actually was pretty good, tieing for the current high score, but placing second. It ultimately finished in third when Christine placed her final yellow cruise, cementing the lead. As mentioned, my second blue cruise was pretty much untouchable. Unfortunately, by this point, I was pretty much out of money. I had taken my $10 loan against my first green cruise and the $2 loan mentioned above. This last loan was actually used to get a relatively high-value card for my second green cruise, which, although not stellar, was a solid placement -- at least in our very lowball green scores. Once I purchased that card, I had but a single dollar left to finish both the green cruise and my second yellow cruise. Since nothing presented itself, I was left with taking the free card each time, turning my second yellow cruise in for a paltry five points.
Stephen -- 77 (wins tiebreaker with $1)
Dwight -- 77 ($0)
Christine -- 66 ($0)
It is very interesting that I managed to win this game despite taking significantly fewer loans than my opponents ($12 for me, $28 for Christine, $30 for Dwight). I had intended to take out an additional loan against one of my red cruises since I knew Dwight was about to fill the column. Unfortunately, I had a lapse in thought once I began looking at the cards available that turn. Once I took the card, no one would let me back up and take the loan. While annoying to me -- and perfectly within the rules -- it seemed awfully out of place in a friendly game. Ultimately, the only real difference it likely would have made was to let me pick up the final yellow card I needed, which would have given me the win in point total without a tie-breaker.
Another interesting anomaly for the game is the number of 9 value cards that were wiped off the board. Granted, you expect to see some of that in a game with fewer players just because there are fewer cruises being worked on at any given time and fewer speculative slots available for holding them. What was interesting was the very large number that Christine caused to be wiped out in the first pass through the draw deck. She easily caused nine, if not more, to be removed from the charter board. Since she was sitting to my right, I found this particularly frustrating. (I will note for the record that this was not poor play on her part -- just frustrating for me.) In fact, this seemed to work out quite well for her, as she turned in more 9 legs than either Dwight or myself. Unfortunately, she often couldn't complete the matching set of ships for her cruises, leaving her without the vital bonus points. I believe she would have trounced us soundly had she managed to get those points.
All in all, this is still one of my all time favorite games. I was very happy to get to play it so early in the year and hope to get in a few more before year's end. Our total playing time was about 60 minutes.