4 Player (first play for all)
Jeff, Lawrence, and Dave joined Rich for tonight's session. Not that many games to choose from and not that many played tonight. From the short list of games inour collections for "J" week, JAVA seemed to be the suitable choice for a thinking game for the evening...but the game was anything but short as it took the entire session tonight to get this one played. Granted we were all newcomers to the game, but with four players, it still clocked in at over 2 hours.
Java was Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer's follow-up game to Tikal and further modified the action point/area control mechanism to result in a game that is definitely much more of a brain burner than Tikal. Tikal might have a higher "luck" factor as the tiles are turned over, but that is gone in Java. Players have essentially full control over the development and placement in Java. About the only luck is the draw of palace cards which doesn't appear to be that much at all.
As we were all new, we really had little idea of what was good and what was bad in terms of game play. Dave started first and built a small village with a 2 point palace. But this just fed to Rich who quickly added to the village and expanded the palace to 4. Jeff built up a bit more, but didn't expand the palace. Only Lawrence bucked the trend by aiming for a quick 3 points by surrounding an irrigation pool near the opposite side of the board. But again, this just fed into Dave who expanded on Lawrence's villages by building a 6 point palace.
Interestingly, none of the festivals (feasts) had been called even though a few palaces were on the board. Rich did call the first festival, but with only a few cards in our hands no one wanted to bid high for the points, so the points were shared between Dave, Rich and Lawrence. By this point, Jeff had yet to score any points, but managed to do so with the first 10 point palace and then calling and winning the festival for 10 points. Large villages do not last long in this game, and Lawrence quickly broke up the city to start a new 4 point palace.
A big scoring play was realized by Jeff who played 3 irrigation tiles next to one on the board and surrounded them all with a quick 12 points. Another strategy became evident in the game when Rich managed to be the sole developer in a city that could be built to 10. He built the city and then quickly called a festival to score the full 10 points for the move. Dave followed this with an 8 point palace/festival. By now, we were 1 hour into the game and had 5 palaces on the board. We were starting to pick up some of the tactics, and I was thinking that the game flowing rather smoothly.
Perhaps because we better understood the tactics, the game place slowed considerably. 30 minutes later, we had only built 1 additional palace for a total of 6. And the number of 3-hex tiles being played slowed down considerably as people thought and rethought their moves. Rich was the first to try to get the game closer to the end by playing 4 of the remaining tiles for a quick 6 point palace (and festival). But it was Dave who finally played the last 2 tiles to trigger the final scoring rounds.
The final scores (in game scores + grand final reckoning scores = total):
Dave: 39 + 45 = 84.
Rich: 48 + 38 = 86.
Jeff: 54 + 35 = 89.
Lawrence: 22 + 26 = 48.
Jeff comes away with the win after a brain-burning session. We quickly realized that it was not efficient to build a city for a couple of points if it set up the next player for even more. It also took us a while to effectively utilize developer's to block developments (or transit) throughout Java. But as we all had 4 or 5 developer's still in hand (and not on the board), I wonder if we were as effective as we might have been.
With the freedom to play any of 5 types of tiles and to overplay those same tiles, there are simply a lot of choices each game turn. As a result, the analysis paralysis factor became the critical factor in the second half of the game. In fact, so much so that my initial enjoyment of the game seemed to turn a bit sour. The game simply overstayed its welcome. Perhaps with more frequent play, tactics become a bit more evident and the game play can be hastened, but at this point, I wonder when (if) I might get the chance to sit through another game to develop that skill.
But the point of playing through the alphabet is to bring out games that perhaps are sitting on the shelf and tend to get lost in favour of the latest game or the repeat of an old favourite. I certainly am glad we could get Java to the table tonight. It might not get played often (I suspect Tikal might get played a few times before Java is played again), but if I want a game with a lot of potential analysis I know what I might suggest.