Lawrence and Dave arrived for games tonight. After a roundabout discussion of what to play (and what not to play), we decided to give Yspahan a try.
Yspahan is one of the latest games that tries to marry multiple means of converting resources into victory points. Players can gain camels, gold, or goods. The camels and gold can be used to make buildings (granting special powers). The buildings themselves yield victory points as more are built. The goods can be used to occupy fixed areas (called souks) on the board. Larger areas that are harder to reach worth more points than smaller areas that are easy to reach. In addition, the points can be moved to a "caravan" again yielding points both for being early in the caravan or having goods "high" in the caravan. Finally, there are cards that grant certain powers or can be used as resource.
The game will last 21 turns with scoring at the end of every 7th turn - so in thematic terms - the game lasts 3 weeks, with the scoring at week's end. The unique feature to this game is the unique resource generation method. Nine dice are rolled and the die sorted by pips (all the 1s gathered together, all the 2s, 3s, etc.) These die are then assigned to a "tower" board with 6 slots. The lowest pip goes in the lowest slot, the highest pip in the highest slot. The remaining dice are then stacked in ascending pip order from the lowest slot. As a result, the lower slots are more likely to generate resources then the higher slots. This makes the areas/resources for the higher slots harder to reach and more valuable.
With the rules explanation done, we launched into our first game. Before the first scoring, Rich focused on gaining cards and building a couple of buildings. Lawrence focused on capturing territories, while Dave also captured territories and moved a few goods to the Caravan. At the end of the first week:
Dave had 9 points from his territories (souks) and 4 from the caravan: 13 Lawrence has 8 points in souks: 8
Rich: 0 (hoping to have a strong foundation for the later rounds)
In the second week, Rich started to gain territories and also move goods the Caravan. Lawrence continued to focus on souks (capturing 3). Dave continued in both souks and caravan points. Rich and Dave also continued to complete buildings and gaining the initial victory points for having at least 3 buildings completed. At the end of the second week:
Dave: 10 points in souks and 6 from the caravan: 47
Lawrence: 6+4+8 in souks and 2 from the caravan: 29
Rich: 7 from souks and 8 from the caravan: 31
The third week saw Dave move into the souks as well as gain goods in the highest line of the caravan. Rich managed to get into only a few souks but filled the caravan to trigger scoring as well as emptying it of goods. Dave and Rich also completed the last building gaining the full VPs from building. Lawrence played a bit of catch up with some souks and only a couple of buildings built. At the end of the third week (and the end of the game):
Dave: 28 points in souks (helped by +2 bonus for each of them): 100
Lawrence: 11 points in souks and 2 from the caravan: 46
Rich: 5 in souks: 71
So while Rich was able to gain points after the first round, to gain second place, Dave was the most consistent and balance builder and generator of victory points. Finally, as is our tradition, we missed a rule in our first playing. In this case - it was using the caravan for 4 players (3 rows of 4 camels each). Our 3 player game should have used only 3 camels per row. This would have reduced the caravan points and likely emptied it sometime in the second week allowing for different scoring going into the last week.
But the initial comments from Lawrence and Dave was that the game felt very abstract despite the thematic elements drawn on the game. Personally, I can see this game following an arc a bit like St. Petersburg. It will be interesting to play a few games to see how best to manage the resource stream. But once a working pattern is identified, the game will probably settle on the luck of the die roll (card draw in St. Petersburg) making is a bit more of a luck-fest than a skill-fest. There is a download one could get (play against AI players) that is probably good to learn the mechanics, but reports are already suggesting that the AI doesn't utilize the caravan point mechanism, so is easily beaten that way.