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Subject: Conquest Of The nEwbs rss

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roboros
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Risk holds a special place for me as the game that my high school buddies and I would play for hours on end and generate lots of post-game mocking and camaraderie. Wanting these days something with more variety and strategy but the same enjoyment, I picked up COTE (with an eye for the II game). I had a new game - now I just needed some players!

Fortunately there's people at my work with similar fond memories of Risk that made it easy to get them interested in a game of COTE II. While two of them have played Settlers extensively, no one else had any other hobby gaming background so this was going to be an interesting experience in anointing new players to the experience.

And so it began at 8:30pm last Friday night; six brand new players with zero understanding of the rules. Being the game owner it was (reasonably) assumed that I'd take the group through the rulebook to figure it all out. It's a good thing they're a smart group with enough patience to sit through a reading of the rules. It took the next 90 minutes (with pizza break) but we finally established a collective common understanding of the mechanics and sequences and were ready to start (armies placed during this time as well). I took a temperature check and everyone was still tuned in - I was worried they'd be zoning out after this long delay in beginning the action. Fortunately, their appetite for conquest remained strong.

Since we hadn't really understood yet what benefits we'd get from bidding for the turn order, we just set it randomly for the first campaign season (at the start of the setup). From there we all felt our way through the turns, coming quickly to the understanding of the interesting limitations that the two actions places on your plans for conquest.

Our first set of turns was also very slow, taking another hour to get through 2 actions for 6 players. I checked again but everyone felt they were getting how it worked and wanted to keep going. The next 3 rounds were much quicker and we continued to accelerate and finished the first campaign season in another hour. At this point, everyone was down to less than one minute per action, sometimes a minute for both, so the outlook for future replay looked very good to complete four campaign seasons in 3 hours or so.

We pushed through into campaign season two just after midnight where we got a bit bogged down in the bidding (as this was our first real contact with this element of the game). However, the banter and bargaining made the time pass quickly - this is a great break from the internal planning the dominated the first campaign season and got us all interacting again. I appreciated how this mechanic is inserted into the game flow and keeps it from what can be a monotonous roll-and-conquer (or lose) experience.

Season two revealed to us Build City, Merchant, and Diplomacy cards for the first time. This was quite a revelation as it showed what possible engines one could build and exploit to generate momentum. More attention may have been needed in the shuffling portion of the game setup! We each in turn scrambled for what seemed like good cards but learned the hard way that we couldn't execute on them as we expected. (The most common error was planning on taking two synergistic conquest cards in a single turn!) This season also saw brutal battles over Italy, as 6 of the 12 province tokens that came out at the start of the season were for Italia. With all this, we did managed to finish campaign season two in a single hour, at which point we called the night and tallied our points.

On reflection we each spent (too) many actions taxing for income as we hadn't looked through the conquest cards to see what potentials existed for other income. Our first dozen options were dominated by Bribe Senator and Barbarians at the Gate and seemed of limited (or at least, not well understood) benefit. Being all on the same footing, however, no one was able to exploit this lack of knowledge. In spite of the long setup and learning time, everyone seemed satisfied with the experience and were interested in trying again soon now that they all could see the big picture.

Overall, I was very happy with how it turned out. (I considered running out and buying Small World in order to have a simple-to-explain backup game.) But the group was very understanding and hung in during the long explanation. In summary, with the right people, you can learn COTE II by playing through, even if no one knows the rules to begin with.
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Miguel
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One often missed rule is that none of the starting markers can be in Italia. This changes the game considerably!

As an aside, I recommend that when you play next time, warn the players to start planning for the endgame much earlier than they would expect to have to. With only two actions per round, players often discover they can accomplish very little in the last campaign because they didn't plan ahead.
 
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Stephen Sekela
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Great Review!

I've played this game several times, and with a couple different groups (of experienced gamers), and we ran into some of the same things you describe (bidding taking a long time; not realizing you wouldn't have enough actions to implement a plan). But, just like you said, after a season everyone gets the hang of it and has a blast! This is really an awesome game IMHO.
 
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Chris Crowder
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Your opener threw me off, since it didn't sound like an intro to a COTE II game. If it's a Risk throwback you're after, you should be playing the COTE I ruleset instead. But either way is enjoyable, as you discovered.
 
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CJ
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agent easy wrote:
One often missed rule is that none of the starting markers can be in Italia. This changes the game considerably!


eh!?

I've been playing for years and have NEVER seen that rule...

edit: Just had a peek at the rules and it seems I misunderstood. I thought you were referring to the first round rather than each player's pre-game generated markers. It is clear now.

edit 2: Incidentally, I know the FAQ apparently clarified that an allied player can't buy an unprotected marker but I always thought that rule was a bit crap and non-thematic. Much better to force players to be more aware in protecting their influence and allow allied players a little bit of sneakiness in back-stabbing their 'allies'.
 
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roboros
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Cecrow wrote:
Your opener threw me off, since it didn't sound like an intro to a COTE II game. If it's a Risk throwback you're after, you should be playing the COTE I ruleset instead. But either way is enjoyable, as you discovered.


I'll confess what I didn't mention above, that I had planned on playing COTE I as an actual Risk substitute. Somewhere along the line realized I was reading from the II rulebook instead! It is a completely different game, and consequently there were questions throughout as to 'why outlying regions had coins on them' and 'what regions with no influence were good for', etc. In the end, the feedback was that the game we played was much preferred to a Risk-style game so it was serendipitous.
 
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roboros
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agent easy wrote:
As an aside, I recommend that when you play next time, warn the players to start planning for the endgame much earlier than they would expect to have to. With only two actions per round, players often discover they can accomplish very little in the last campaign because they didn't plan ahead.


We did catch that restriction on Italia during setup. The first Campaign season saw 3 influence token on Italia which were quickly controlled by the first few players (not coincidentally, they were of Italian heritage). The rest of us focused on establishing other bases of operations during that season. Then when season two placed 6 more uncontrolled influence on Italia all our eyes lit up as the path was now open to a) stop those in control getting more of it and b) get some for ourselves!

In addition, at the start of season two we realized that we weren't going to finish and announced this. You're right that this drastically changes one's strategy and that information needs to be out there. Again, it was a very patient bunch of players who were happy to learn and experience, and I think we all accomplished much less than s possible even in 2 seasons. Next time, though, I'm expecting no mercy! arrrh
 
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roboros
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Zordren wrote:
Great Review!

I've played this game several times, and with a couple different groups (of experienced gamers), and we ran into some of the same things you describe (bidding taking a long time; not realizing you wouldn't have enough actions to implement a plan). But, just like you said, after a season everyone gets the hang of it and has a blast! This is really an awesome game IMHO.


Thanks very much. It is a great, fun game (with awesome components).

Another thing that I forgot to mention that 1/3 of the group were women who really liked it (by their admission) much more than they would have Risk (or presumably COTE I). As we had 9 players in all, three of the teams involved partners. This provided another interesting dynamic as teammates weighed the economic, military, and political options between themselves during others' action phases.

I look forwards to getting through 4 seasons next time now that we're seasoned campaigners of COTE II.
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roboros
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elgin_j wrote:

edit 2: Incidentally, I know the FAQ apparently clarified that an allied player can't buy an unprotected marker but I always thought that rule was a bit crap and non-thematic. Much better to force players to be more aware in protecting their influence and allow allied players a little bit of sneakiness in back-stabbing their 'allies'.


I missed that and we played that a player could buy allies' unprotected influence. I agree with you and prefer it this way as it adds to the risk-reward of trusting ones allies. Heck, if you can use the Assassin on an ally, I can't see why you can scoop their unprotected influence, particularly when it only takes 1 infantry to protect it, right?
 
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Stephen Sekela
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theMage wrote:
elgin_j wrote:

edit 2: Incidentally, I know the FAQ apparently clarified that an allied player can't buy an unprotected marker but I always thought that rule was a bit crap and non-thematic. Much better to force players to be more aware in protecting their influence and allow allied players a little bit of sneakiness in back-stabbing their 'allies'.


I missed that and we played that a player could buy allies' unprotected influence. I agree with you and prefer it this way as it adds to the risk-reward of trusting ones allies. Heck, if you can use the Assassin on an ally, I can't see why you can scoop their unprotected influence, particularly when it only takes 1 infantry to protect it, right?


Not sure I agree. An assassination is generally secretive, so you won't know who did it (hence you can go around your "alliance"). Taking over some territory is an overt act - in clear, "public" defiance of a treaty/alliance. More importantly, though, I would think that being able to take over undefended influence would (to a small extent, at least) degrade the importance of the alliance phase. There's plenty of chaos and backstabbing already in this game for me as is.
 
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roboros
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Zordren wrote:
Not sure I agree. An assassination is generally secretive, so you won't know who did it (hence you can go around your "alliance"). Taking over some territory is an overt act - in clear, "public" defiance of a treaty/alliance. More importantly, though, I would think that being able to take over undefended influence would (to a small extent, at least) degrade the importance of the alliance phase. There's plenty of chaos and backstabbing already in this game for me as is.


This is speaking thematically, correct? We haven't got the chance to use many of the cards, but mechanically speaking at least, who sent the Assassin is player knowledge and not secret.

I see your point and will try it by the FAQ next time. I can imagine the rule would make alliance bidding more important (also not entirely well understood by myself yet) as I can see paying heavily to arrange alliances to control who may get the benefits. Thanks for comment.
 
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Stephen Sekela
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theMage wrote:

This is speaking thematically, correct? We haven't got the chance to use many of the cards, but mechanically speaking at least, who sent the Assassin is player knowledge and not secret.


Yeah, sorry, didn't mean to be confusing. That is "thematically" secret, since yes, the card is played in the open.

There are other cards like that, too (Slave Revolt comes to mind), where you can screw your ally.
 
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Scott Randolph
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theMage wrote:
Zordren wrote:
Not sure I agree. An assassination is generally secretive, so you won't know who did it (hence you can go around your "alliance"). Taking over some territory is an overt act - in clear, "public" defiance of a treaty/alliance. More importantly, though, I would think that being able to take over undefended influence would (to a small extent, at least) degrade the importance of the alliance phase. There's plenty of chaos and backstabbing already in this game for me as is.


This is speaking thematically, correct? We haven't got the chance to use many of the cards, but mechanically speaking at least, who sent the Assassin is player knowledge and not secret.

I see your point and will try it by the FAQ next time. I can imagine the rule would make alliance bidding more important (also not entirely well understood by myself yet) as I can see paying heavily to arrange alliances to control who may get the benefits. Thanks for comment.


Interesting discussion. Having played 5 games now (and all games were 6-player games) with my game group, these are our vote results for a couple of items that I feel aren't dealt with in a black and white manner in the rules:

"13. Clarification - Alliance Restrictions: When Players are allied with one another, they may not use their own land or sea combat units to attack the land or sea combat units, or leaders, of another player in their alliance. They also may not purchase the Influence Tokens of a player in their alliance, even if those Influence Tokens are unguarded. Conquest Cards may be used against allied players according to the instructions written on the card itself."

"9. Clarification - The "Two-Move Action" turn in a round: Since a player cannot pass any land units through hostile provinces, occupied by hostile or un-allied player's units in a territory; they may instead move in, stop, then move through on the next action - {Agreed 6/21/’08}"


Have any of you ever thought of adding a "Trade" action to the game? I like the "Trade" action in "Attack! The Expansion" quite a bit, and I wonder if that might add something to this game as well. (SFRR)
 
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Glenn Drover
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I haven't played Conquest of the Empire II in a coupel of years, but now you've got me hankerin' for it again.

It really is fun and interesting. An homage to the original and Struggle of Empires; both great games.
 
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roboros
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Budley wrote:
I haven't played Conquest of the Empire II in a coupel of years, but now you've got me hankerin' for it again.

It really is fun and interesting. An homage to the original and Struggle of Empires; both great games.


Although I haven't played either of the originals to compare with, I feel that COTE I/II fills a good niche in the gaming spectrum. I expect your game will provide me with years of variation and replayability for my gaming and non-gaming friends and family alike. So, thank you!
 
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