My wife and I have slowly been indoctrinating our families into German Style games. For the most part, we have been quite successful. Since most of them live nearby, we've instituted a Monday gaming night for family and friends. This was our second gathering.
The players: Stephen (Myself), Christine, (longsuffering wife), Maria (my sister), and Matt (Maria's hubby).
First Game: Carcassonne (with River) + Inns and Cathdrals + Traders and Builders
Maria and Matt arrived right at 7.00 with chips and salsa that we didn't eat. When we talked to them yesterday, Matt had mentioned really wanting to play Carcassonne again. [We had introduced this game to the family this past Christmas.] Christine and I hadn't played in a while either. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to throw in the Tiles and Commodities from Traders and Builders and use the included tile bag. Maria was joined at the table by 4 year old Grace who "assisted" her as well as climbed in her lap, on her back, and onto the table despite many stern looks from Mom and Dad.
The game started off well enough for everyone. Matt and I tried to develop some fields that we ended up sharing. Christine and I also began a tactical battle around a field to which she had laid claim. She ultimately won the battle, but there was little in the way of spoils for her efforts. Meanwhile Maria's Meeples are getting trapped in odd places, some of them for the remainder of the game. As we move along, Matt draws several early cloisters that he easlily scores. This along with several smaller cities gives Matt an early lead. I steal a city from Christine, much to her annoyance. In return, she advises Maria on tactics to steal one of mine, which I manage to thwart. She also closes it to get the commodity and prevent growth, giving me a temporary lead. More cloisters return the lead to Matt's hands. Christine and I continue to duel for possession of her main field, but she manages to close it off.
As is usual for us, the Cathedrals showed up in the latter half of the game. Matt placed the first one in one of his cities. If had concentrated more on this, he might have been able to finish it. He placed the second one on Christine's current city as she had recently jumped into the lead. I had closed one of her cities and Maria another in order to get commodities. She never was able to do much else with this city. As tiles were running out, I was trying to close off a rather large city, which remained open to the end. Matt connected a city of his to one of Maria's that gave him a majority. Unfortunately, without her assistance, he was unable to close it. Christine adds pieces to a city with no cathedral just to get the points.
Finally, the last piece is placed and we score. Matt is in lead, followed by Christine, Maria, and myself. I did well in the commodity department, scoring majorities in two (cloth and wheat). Christine claimed the third. All of us except Maria scored a fair number of points for incomplete cities / roads / cloisters. Finally, the farmers -- we were playing where you count every city bordering a field as 3 points. This is where I really racked up as I had managed to place a couple of farmers in really good positions with lots of closed cities.
Stephen -- 135
Matt -- 109
Christine -- 108
Maria -- 82
All in all, everyone had a really good time. This was our first time with the Traders and Builders tiles. I really liked the addition of more city pieces. Previously, there just seemed too many road pieces that no one really wanted most of the time. This seemed to even that out some. I'm still undecided on the commodity pieces. They themselves did not have any real impact on the final score. However, by causing cities to be closed early (reducing size), being closed at all (increasing Farmer scores), and preventing the actual city owner from cashing in on the commodities, they did have a less obvious effect on the final scores.
This game clocked in at about 105 mins, including set-up, rules refresher, and clean-up, but it seemed to go much quicker.
Second Game: Settlers of Catan
After Carcassonne finished up, Matt mentioned the game he had really been thinking about all along was Settlers of Catan. [We introduced this to the siblings this past July 4 holiday and got them all hooked.] He was suffering from withdrawal. Christine and I still enjoy this game immensely, so we were all for this. Unfortunately, it was past Grace's bedtime, so she could not join us for this game.
Maria started, followed by Christine, Myself, and Matt. The board was really clumppy with the mountains in a line across central Catan, most of the forests in the Northwest, all of the grain in the southwest, and most of the clay in the southeast. The number distribution, as far as probabilities were concerned, were pretty much level all over the board. Brick was the big winner with 6-8-9, though only the 8 got built on to start??? Sheep was the big loser with 3-5-11-12.
Funny note: Even in their first few games, my family noticed that rolls rarely follow exact probability and that some number(s) in each game always seems to come up more than others. Before the game, I was pressuring my sister about choosing her second spot when she made a comment about never knowing if this game was going to be the one that 11 got rolled all of the time. Sure enough, early in the game, a lot of 11's (and 3's for that matter) were rolled.
The early game was dominated by an amazing scarcity if sheep. It was difficult to trade for them as they tended to be used almost immediately. The side-effect of this was a long period with few new settlements being built. I managed to get longest road pretty early simply because of where I was trying to get. However, Christine and Matt both managed to get on wood / brick 6's. So everytime a 6 was rolled, they got to build a road. Forttunately for them, this seemed to be a rather common occurence. Christine went after the roads and took my longest road. Matt was more interested in getting his settlements / cities completed. Other than that, things stayed pretty even for a while.
One of the side-effects of the sheep scarcity is that there were very few resource card purchases -- at least compared to most games we have played. In the whole game, only 7-8 were bought. I never managed to get one. I would be willing to bet we were halfway through the game before the first resource card purchase. Incidentally, no one ended up with largest army, either.
At any rate, we stayed pretty even throughout the game, with no more than a 2 victory point spread overall. As more and more cities came into play, the game sped up tremendously.
At the end, I noticed that despite her excess of wood and bricks, Christine had not consolidated her lead in roads. I only needed two roads to take the longest road from her, and thereby the victory. I had the bricks, but my wood supply had been spotty after the first few turns, and no one was trading. When it got to my turn, I got some wheat. Then I realized that I had built on a wheat port -- solely for the sheep to which it gave me access. So, I used the port for the only time in the game to get two wood and steal longest road. Game over. It's a good thing, too, as my sister had 2 hidden VP's and was going to win on her turn.
Stephen -- 10
Maria -- 9
Matt -- 8
Christine -- 6
(This wass actually closer than it appears due to Christine's loss of the longest road on the final turn.)
This was a really close, tense, and balanced game, and a lot of fun for everyone involved. Now Maria and Matt want to get their own copy of Settlers -- which I have promised to order the next time I make a games purchase [insert shameless plug for timewellspent.org]. I hope I don't reach the point that many Geeks have where they no longer enjoy this game. Total time for set-up, play, and clean-up was right at 80 minutes.