Ender Wiggins
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The 100 in 25 Challenge

This session report is part of a series known as The 100 in 25 Challenge: 100 Games, 25 Weeks, as a fellow GamerBuddy and I are on a quest to play at least 100 different games in less than 6 months. On the menu for tonight? Alhambra!

Introducing the world's worst tablecloth

We've already heard once before about the world's worst tablecloth, in The Adventure of the World's Ugliest San Juan Themed Tablecloth. Is it really that bad? Stare at this for 30 seconds, and judge for yourself:

I hope that you haven't had to call your psychiatrist yet as a result of seeing delusional 3D stereograms, and are still with me reading. Now I admit that there are some really bad tablecloths out there. See here for a good collection. Or should that read "a bad collection"? A good collection of bad tablecloths, or a bad collection of good tablecloths? At any rate, there's some real nastiness out there, some of which will most certainly make you go blind, deaf, dumb, or blonde. In some cases, all of the above.

Courtesy of: Really Bad Tablecloths

Certainly the Masked Man's dungeon tablecloth was a strong contender to make this list. After one game of San Juan, I was already starting to become a little delusional, and was having visions of myself playing Twister in a meeple costume, and of the Masked Man showering me with blended Monopoly confetti. Could I handle a game of Alhambra on the same tablecloth? I always knew it was going to be a tough ask, and only when we calculated the final score did I realize how tough.

Introducing Dirk

But first, let me introduce Dirk. See, Dirk is our mutual invisible friend. He's apparently the invisible friend of the designer of Alhambra too, because the rules specifically tell you that when you're playing with only two players, you should have Dirk play too. As a dummy player. Dirk is no dummy, of course. He's read the Dummy's Guide to Alhambra. In fact, last time I played a two player game of Alhambra and had Dirk join in, he beat me! So when the Masked Man insisted that Dirk join us, I was just a little nervous. I was already on edge because of the bad tablecloth, but hey, it was the Masked Man's basement ... errr dungeon ... who was I to pick up my ball and go home?

Round #1

Now for an invisible friend, Dirk is actually quite a smart cookie. Look at the six tiles he drew to start the game:

Considering the bad tablecloth, that's not a bad start! Two white buildings. One purple building. This Dirk chap knows what's valuable and what's not. Already after the first round I knew I was going to be in trouble, because while the Masked Man had rocketed ahead to 14 points (in part courtesy of points from purple buildings), I was only on 5 points while Dirk was on 6 points! Fortunately I got to add 2 points for my wall, so that edged me just 1 point ahead of Dirk.

14 points: Masked Man
7 points: Ender
6 points: Dirk

So there! Nyanyanya Dirk!

Round #2

Of course I should have known better than to stick out my tongue at Dirk. For one thing, it's just impolite to do that to invited guests. Even if they are invisible. It didn't take me long before I was deeply regretting my folly. Dirk took another six tiles, and of course, made good choices. By the time the second round had concluded, the Masked Man had successfully extended his lead. But this time even my wall points didn't give me the saving grace of being ahead of Dirk. He made sure he edged in front of me by 1 point. 1 point! I knew that he could have been much further in the lead, but I suspect that he made it just a single point in order to humiliate me further.

So after Round 2, this is what the score-board looked like, with the Masked Man as Yellow, Dirk as Red, and Ender as Blue:

43 points: Masked Man
36 points: Dirk
35 points: Ender

Round #3

With just 21 tiles left at the beginning of the third round, Dirk selected 7 more tiles. It was around this time that I finally began to escape Dirk's spell, and the spell of the world's ugly table cloth. Because suddenly I had a brainwave. What about if I stopped competing with Dirk, and started helping him? It was completely unthinkable. Absolutely unprecedented. Entirely unexpected. Dirk would be so shocked, so mortified, so horrified, so devastated! He'd never see it coming! My generosity was sure to break his spirit. Hesitating no longer, I immediately decided to implement my evil plan. By helping him instead of competing him, Dirk would be so confused he'd just get a complete brain freeze. Overwhelming analysis paralysis.

And so it happened. As the final tiles were taken, I purchased a purple tile. And gave it to Dirk. I purchased a white tile. And gave it to Dirk. To his great surprise, Dirk found that the Masked Man was no longer beating him in these two categories, but that he was in fact tied with him for first in both! What a masterstroke of genius it proved to be, because poor Dirk was just overwhelmed with emotion, and didn't know what to do next.

His final set of tiles looked like this:

Now granted, the Masked Man still had a glorious win. Before the scoring of the walls, here's how our points looked:

106 points: Masked Man
104 points: Dirk
94 points: Ender

But see, now now the Masked Man and I got to add our points for the longest wall, whereas Dirk was so overwhelmed by Analysis Paralysis at this point that he scored no points for walls.

The Masked Man, admittedly, had an architecturally sound construction that harmonized beautifully with the world's worst tablecloth, and gave him no less than 11 points:

My own construction, by comparison, was chaotic and broken - a result, no doubt, from the psychological damage caused by the evil tablecloth. Try your hardest not to look at the tablecloth in this next image, and if you peek carefully, you will see that despite the chaos of my alhambra, it did have a wall no less than 17 long!

Aha! A triumph! I had lost to the Masked Man, but I had conquered Dirk and the evil tablecloth! Admittedly, the Masked Man made headline news the next day for his well-deserved victory:

But I'd had a more important victory, even if it wasn't reported by the media: I'd defeated the evil tablecloth, and I'd escaped the Masked Man's basement alive.

Final scores:
117 points: Masked Man
111 points: Ender
104 points: Dirk

Challenge Points: Mr Ender 0, Masked Man 1.

Final reflections about San Juan

So what did we think? First of all, I think that tablecloths like this are evil for playing games on. They should be banned, boiled, burned, and buried, in that order. Secondly, I think that invisible friends need to be seen to be believed. Despite popular opinion not to the contrary. And thirdly, I think Alhambra is a decent gateway game. It's no Agricola, but it doesn't pretend to be either. As the 2003 SDJ winner, it's suitable as a light family game. It requires some careful resource management, in some ways reminiscent of the style and feel of the Ticket to Ride, despite the differences. I wouldn't recommend playing it with more than 4 players, since the downtime and luck of the draw become significant issues that detract from the enjoyment of the game, but it's great for 3 or 4 players, and even works well with two when inviting Dirk as a dummy player. When not taken too seriously, Alhambra can provide a relaxing 45 minutes of entertainment. Next time you're with 2 people, by all means invite Dirk over for a game! Just beware of evil tablecloths!

Stay tuned to hear more about the adventures of The Masked Man, as The 100 in 25 Challenge continues next time!

The 100 in 25 Challenge Progress Log: Games 22, Weeks 8
Games played: Jambo (25/11), Lost Cities (25/11), Hera & Zeus (25/11), Pick Picknic (25/11), Roma (28/11), Cartagena (30/11), Chinatown (30/11), Conquest of the Fallen Lands (5/12), Dominion (5/12), Change Horses (11/12), Glory to Rome (11/12), Witch's Brew (19/12), Royal Palace (19/12), Through the Ages (22/12), Pandemic (27/12), Twister (31/12), Kamisado (31/12), Bang (1/1), Strozzi (1/1), Race for the Galaxy (2/1), San Juan (15/1), Alhambra (15/1)
Challenge Overall Points Leader Board: Mr Ender 15.5, Masked Man 11
Other pictorial reports & mini-reviews in the Masked Man series: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37038
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