After the inevitable haggling over what to play...okay, let me just break here and insert a frustrated comment in case any Board Stiffs are reading this. I hate it when we stand around and debate what game to play for 15 minutes. Why are people so reticent and fearful? What, you think if you pick the wrong game you’ll be miserable for the next couple of hours? If you can’t get the absolute maximum enjoyment out of your time you feel cheated? Just play something! It’s not that serious! Don’t be afraid to try something new, or play something that’s not your favorite. People who really like games will enjoy themselves, no matter what they play–with a few exceptions for games like Diplomacy or Fluxx which really aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.
Okay, with that off my chest, a brief description of our game of Lowenhertz. Players were myself, Steve, Rob, and Randy. The first major event of the game was that I gave all my gold to Steve in order to grab a big territory. The move allowed me to grab two towns and a sizable lead. However, the next two cards had no gold bags on them, followed by a card with only four gold. So my lead was whittled down over several turns where I didn’t get any actions, and renegades stole my knights. Steve benefitted from this most as he sat on my left. In the end I did manage to get more gold, but it was not enough to compete against Steve. When a card came up that would allow one of us to enclose a huge region at the expense of the other, there was no way I could overbid him. He grabbed a huge lead and the board was fully divided.
Now it became a game of knights. Again, I was cash poor for quite a while and had to settle for weaker actions quite a bit. However, I managed to hold my own as most people concentrated on attacking Steve or at least bolstering their position against him. Randy became mister alliance, but it seemed like each time he played one, that player would lose strength and the alliance would become rather pointless. Rob, suffering from rather limited territory, used knights stolen from me and from Steve to build massive strength in one of his regions. Steve mainly tried to prevent the rest of us from taking too much of his territory.
At the end of the game, Rob didn’t quite have enough money and first Steve and then Randy managed to steal actions from him. I was able to wrest some silver mines from Steve, and since I was in last place I wasn’t much of a target. I ended in second place, only two points behind Steve, much to my surprise. I think I kind of snuck in under the radar. Rob probably would have won if he had just gotten a little more gold. Steve won in part because people focused too much on hitting him on the board and not enough on forcing him to spend his gold. Even after he took a huge lead he got several actions either uncontested or contested only by me; and I was too poor to put up much of a fight. We should have forced him to spend money every round. Since we didn’t, he had enough left to defend his position when it really counted.
I liked this game a lot more than the last time I played. I think I understood a little bit more what was going on. I’d like to try it again with some different strategies; I’d especially like to try being more cooperative with fences rather than playing them aggressively. I also think buying cards early is key, since the renegade cards are very important and they don’t make you an instant target like enclosing a big region does.
That being said, I did have some issues with the game. It seems a bit too easy to pick on someone who is in the lead; witness how quickly my position was dismantled. Of course, I couldn’t bid to defend myself, but then we could have run Steve out of gold too if we had tried. All we had to do was make sure someone with money contested every action Steve went for, and forced him to either spend money or lose the turn. Even without going after him systematically, he only won by two points.
This keeps someone from running away with it if they put togther a huge region with tons of mines like Steve did. On the other hand, it means that the only way to win is to hang back with the pack and try a surge in the last round. Since the number of turns is unpredictable, this would seem to make a well played game something of a toss-up.
My other caveat is that it’s too easy to victimize people who are weak. Because taking a city gives you six points while taking a silver mine only gives you two, it’s better to steal a city from someone who is tanking and can’t defend themselves than to take a silver mine from the leader. In the first case you gain six points on the leader, while in the second case you only gain four. I personally dislike games where it pays to victimize those who are already losing. Of course, since silver mines pay out throughout the game this only really applies at the end of the game, but it’s still a problem. Fortunately this didn’t happen too much in our game but it very well could have.
Anyway, I’m willing to try it one more time to see how real these problems really are.