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Subject: A frantic first experience rss

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Bill H
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Absecon
New Jersey
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"Shijuro" in Awatum (Serpent's Tongue)
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"A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation." LP Jacks
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Setup:
I introduced this game to my sister's children: Robert, age 8; Rachael, 11; and Kurt, who turned 13 just after the game (I'm more or less an adult, several decades old). Although I had read the rules and salivated over the pieces (figuratively) this was the first time any of us had played it. We used everything except the "Take that!" technologies (the black-cube items) and we inadvertently omitted the neutral planet demand cards.

I used IngredientX's suggestions (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/160082) for teaching the game to ensure that everyone had a good grasp of researching technology, building items, producing goods and rocket movement. We also used IngredientX's suggestion to score at the end instead of using the scoring track. In hindsight, I should have refrained from playing this first game and just referreed what everyone was doing. I jumped in myself, though, because I've been dying to play this game since I first read about it on BGG.

Once the questions were answered and they seemed to have the hang of working the sand timers and when to use them, we reset everything, started the music and began to play for real.

The Game:
-29:00 Rachael concentrated on technology, and when the rest of us produced our first resources and slapped down an additional mine, generator or depot, she was drawing from the Tech 2 pile and starting to build a solar generator. Robert started pursuing technology also, eventually reaching Tech 3 but without the luck of the draw that Rachael had (see below). Kurt was staying low-tech, just running a few mines and shipping the product.

Although I should have known better, I made several stupid mistakes in my haste (just like watching Jeopardy on TV: it's much easier when that timer isn't running for YOU): I produced a good just after my rocket left for another world, forcing me to discard it in order to use the timer again. In an attempt to remedy that (but actually wasting more time) I built a depot only to discover that I had no available power points to play it on (I wasn't sure if I could play it but not use it until it was powered, but I decided to discard it and build another generator instead).

-25:00 Rachael was drawing from the Tech 3 pile (a fusion mine!) and the boys were sending our rockets out with just a couple goods in each to earn our first victory points.

-15:00 I had managed to blunder my way to a reasonable Tech 2 produce/ship/satisfy-demand operation, when Rachael asked about the robot factory. I handed her another timer, noticing that she already had the neutral ship. Uh-oh.

-10:00 Rachael finally started to trade, sending both her rockets out with her third timer producing goods for the depot in preparation for the rockets' return. At this point, we found we were frequently butting heads -- getting to a planet only to realize that someone had just satisfied the demand we were trying for, or (in my case) forgetting I was waiting for my rocket to arrive somewhere and allowing Robert to send the appropriate goods to his rocket via his transport probe and satisfy the demand before I unloaded it ("Doh!"). Somehow, Rachael snagged a FOURTH timer.

-05:00 We were engaged in a frantic race to find some demand to satisfy (those neutral planets would have made a big difference here). We each had loaded rockets, either from just winging it or because someone swiped a deal out from under us. It seemed that any time we found one that looked right for the mix of goods on our ship, there was another player's rocket already en route.

-00:05 I really have no idea where the final five minutes of the game went. It was all a blur of falling sand, tiny wooden cubes and groans of despair. Suddenly, The Voice was counting down "5...4...3...2...1" and that was it.

+00:00 Rachael had only managed to use a couple of her victory tokens but they were for 5-pointers, and all of her own demands had been met giving her a mess of secondary victory points. Just as we totalled it up and found that she had danced rings around us technologically and economically, she said "That was really HARD." We all just looked at her for a moment, then I hit her in the face. We totalled the rest of the points -- Ok, no, I didn't really hit her, she could probably take me in a fair fight and her mother was watching.


Lessons learned:
1. A couple times, we realized that someone had a mine with no power running to it or a goods cube sitting on a mine waiting for a rocket or depot to unload it to (in these cases it can be left there, but the timer can't be reused until the good is stored or discarded).
2. Several people played two timers in the same place to use it twice in a row (I hadn't told them not to). This is illegal.
3. I hadn't explained that an item couldn't be discarded without building it (running the timer on it once), which partially explains how Rachael moved through the Tech 3 deck so quickly (playing a card, discarding it and drawing two more to choose from).
4. I think everyone built an item or two with no place to put it. This isn't illegal, just a wasted move.
5. Everyone managed to misplan a rocket trip, arriving to find the deed already done. Part of this was due to sloppy placement of the victory markers -- make sure they cover the demand to show that it has been met.
6. I have to bite the bullet and test the sand timers. Some of them seem noticeably faster than others (as reported on BGG) so I need to ensure that the players have balanced resources.
7. There's an expression "More haste, less speed" that can apply nicely to this game. If you try too hard to be quick, you end up wasting entire timer cycles and actually moving slower than if you take a breath and make sure you're making the better move.
8. Rachael can trounce us even when she finds a game "hard". Next time, we are so playing with sabotage and rockets.


Conclusions:
We all felt that the gameplay was unique.
Everyone enjoyed the game somewhat, although no one (except me) wanted to play again immediately. It felt a bit like we were missing something, so I'll re-read the rules carefully before we play again.
Because we were all neophytes, we were all still making that first-game transition from "What can/can't I do?" to "What would be a good/bad thing for me to do?". We had some fun, but there were enough new concepts and mechanisms that I believe that a subsequent game should be more enjoyable for everyone involved.
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