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Subject: Game Session with the Prototype Part 3 (Lutao) rss

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This is part 3 of my series of session reports about a game with the prototype of "Die Insel der steinernen Wächter". Participants where Claus (the game author) / Henning (his 12 year old son), Christian, Hermann and me. The game took place on 10-01-2009. For more details please see my other session reports (part 1 (Game Set-Up) and part 2 (Game Phases)).

A few words about the importance of Lutao in the game. A player must conquer and hold the city on Lutao (central island) for at least 1 round (between 1 and 3 rounds to be precise) . So there is no way, winning the game without going on Lutao. The provinces of Lutao are initially occupied by Golems. The distribution is: 3 Golems in the city, 2 Golems in each adjacent province of the city and 1 Golem in each other province on Lutao. Fighting against the Golems is a bit different, then the normal fights. The Golems don't use fighting cards, they automatically destroy one army per Golem involved in a fighting round (you can prevent a destruction of your army by playing a shield). Additionally players can't cast magic spells against the Golems, they are immune to these spells. And as if that is not already enough, players who come to Lutao don't have the powers of their race and rune at first (this will change, after the player was able to get one or two of his artefacts, which where placed in provinces on Lutao in the game set-up step). So the life is hard and dangerous on Lutao.

As long as no one decides to go on an adventure to Lutao, the life can be (but not necessarily is) easy in "Die Insel der steinernen Wächter". Every player tries to maximize his forces and build strong armies. Here and there could be some fights to distract the other player in his plans. But the moment an opponent shows signs to go to Lutao, the game could theoretically end in very few game rounds. This is the moment where at least one other player should decide to go to Lutao too.

So how do you get to Lutao in the first place? Lutao is surrounded by water. So you need ships and movement sticks to get to Lutao. There are a range of magic spells and race / rune abilities which make it possible for a player to travel over water without a ship (Rune of Flying: your normal movement range is increased by one (this means you can jump over one water space); or spells which gives you the ability to walk over water). But these spells and abilities can't be used normally on the way to Lutao if you are the first player to go there. Because if no one else went of to Lutao it means that there are only Golems (you can't play spells against them) and you don't have already your artefacts, which in turn means on Lutao you have no race and rune abilities. So the players should be aware of what their opponents buy in the purchase phase (do they buy ships and have they movement sticks to travel with theses ships?), and where do the opponents place these ships and how many armies do they place in the province with the ship?

OK, let's get a bit more concrete and look at my last game session. Hermann was the first player to go to Lutao. He was able to develop his forces pretty well and, what is equally important, wasn't forced to fight for his cities and important lands (he needed these as an income for magic spells (for every city you normally get one spell) and points (please see Part 2 of my session reports)). Let's assume Hermann had 20 points on the point track at the start of the Purchase Phase. He decided to buy a ship (cost 4 points) and 7 armies (cost 16 points). From previous game rounds he had collected some movements sticks, let's say 7 (cities, ships and movement sticks can be collected over multiple rounds, armies on the other hand have to be placed in the next Placement Phase). He was the first player in the order of play, so now the next player can buy things for his points. Even though we, Hermann's opponents, don't know what He plans to do with his recently bought forces, we are aware that he could go to Lutao from now on. After a brief discussion the blue player (Claus/Henning) decides to also buy a ship and enough movement points along with some armies to be prepared. In the Placement Phase Hermann put his ships and all his purchased armies on a province near Lutao (there is a limit of 8 armies per province). Now the other players have to place their game material in the Placement Phase. We guessed that Hermann will go to Lutao (because ships and movement sticks dramatically extend your normal movement range of 1, placing a ship is often just a way to distract other players from what you are really want to do). Claus/Henning also placed their ships and armies on a strategically good position, the other player also made their actions. Now, its the Main Phase of Hermann and in his movement step he uses his ship and one movement stick to go with 6 armies to Lutao on a province with his rune artefact marker on it. In this province of Lutao are 6 armies of Hermann and one Golem. In the fighting step Hermann drew 4 cards (one card more then your involved armies but no more then 4). One of these cards he put back face down under his fighting deck. He had 3 misses. So the Golem destroyed one of his armies and with 5 against 1 Golem the next fighting round starts. In this round Hermann destroyed the Golem and he had 4 armies left in the Province. Now he can take his rune artefact and use his rune ability (Rune of Ghosts) on Lutao. Additionally his winning conditions has been improved, because he now only needs to hold the city of Lutao for two consecutive game rounds (instead of the normal three game rounds). After his Formation Step, it was Claus's / Henning's Main Phase and they conquered the province on Lutao next to Hermann's province.
This game situation can be seen on the following photo:

Various Things
Even though I always say Claus / Henning, when I speak about actions done by the father / son duo, I should say that for a large part of the game Henning played with us the game and made the decisions. Claus (the game author) was in the kitchen and fried some meatballs. So the game can be played by kids in the age of 12 or up. But on the other hand Henning is not the usual 12 year old kid, when it comes to playing strategic games. To get you an idea, Henning explained to me the game "Starcraft: the Boardgame" last Thursday without relying more then one or two times on the rulebook (which has 50 pages).

In the end, Claus / Henning won the game. Ironically even though I was the only player not present on Lutao, I was the one who could have stopped them from winning the game. This was because, I had some good spells in my hand, but Claus / Henning had even better spells and stopped me from coming to Lutao with the ship. So in the end they won.

The game ended after 3 and ½ hours of play I would guess. A four player game typically lasts longer then a 2 player game. We discussed some decisions made in the game afterwards which can be seen on the following photo. On this photo you see (from left to right) Claus, Christian and Hermann.

All the guys you see in the photo will also be present in Essen at Spiel'09

OK, I hope these session reports helped a bit in understanding what is behind this game and to show you how flexible and versatile it is. I have played this game over the course of at least 5 years in various rule variants. It was never boring. If you ask me how I find this game. I like it very much, I would rate it a 9. Some of you could say that I'm biased. I'm one of the play testers and the game author is a very good friend of me. So find out more about the game for yourself and visit us in Essen at the Spiel'09 for some test games.
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