Shannon Appelcline
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I was pretty tired this evening, after three big events in the last week, but I decided to go to EndGame anyway because I've scarcely played any board games in the last two weeks. I'm happy I did because I had a good time.


I brought my copy of Ticket to Ride Europe which I received as a preview copy yesterday. I wasn't surprised that it was the first game to hit the table, as a few people were quite interested when they heard I had it.

This was my third game of TtRE, and my first game with more than two players. The new game has four new rules: tickets are divided between long (20-21) and short (5-13) tickets, and you just get one long ticket at the start of the game; there are tunnels which might randomly take more cards; there are ferries which require some number of engines; and you have train stations which you can play in order to use another player's connection when you need to make your routes at the end.

The map is also different. Every game I've played has felt a bit daunting because it feels like there are a lot more routes through the middle of Europe, and thus you've never quite sure which path to take. In addition, the map feels "bigger"; I more frequently pick up destination cards that are clear on the other side of the map than I did in the original, or so it seems.

Putting all that together makes for a very different game experience, and that's what really makes the game for me, because I played the original TtR 50+ times last year, not even including online plays. I suspect TtRE might be a slightly better game too, but that's hard to say when the original TtR's been so overplayed.

Patrick kicked butt in this game; I'm still not sure how. I had a strong second place, despite failing one ticket, and I was still 40 points behind him.

I have noted, however, that in my three games I've played, every time the winner had the Moscow-Palermo long ticket, and it was a different player each time.

Hmm.


Second game of the night was Eric V.'s Heart of Africa which I've been wanting to play since he got it a couple of months ago. Tom & Mike were the other players. I'd assumed HoA was a majority control game, but it's really not. Instead, there's a whole mess of systems, including a once-around action auction, a closed-fist combat auction, a random-draw combat system v. neutrals, and an action point system.

I felt like I could see the influence & melding of a whole slew of games, but it was the take-off of Ursuppe that amused me the most. Ursuppe uses a very clever system where turn order is determined by scoring rank. Heart of Africa does the same, and it even goes up to the exact same score: 42. Homage or rip-off? You decide.

Heart of Africa does have one system that I find highly innovative. Every turn you bid for a pair of action tokens, each of which gives you action points and special actions. You only actually get to take a turn when you win an auction, which is weird and interesting.

Throughout the game you're trying to expand your trading empire across the map while manipulating good values and doing other clever things to score. It's pretty neat, but there are so many systems that it also seems a bit of a mess.

I was playing strongly, I'm not quite sure how, and so I was in a really good position for the end. I realized that all I had to do was win an auction and take a turn and I was almost guaranteed to hit 42 points on my turn. (And I did, as it turns out.) This led me to some concerns in the end-game system.

First, it's possible for some extreme jumps in score on your last turn, particularly if you've got a victory point bonus tile hidden away. Eric V. almost managed to hit the end on the penultimate turn, and he was down at 25. At least my jump from 31 was a little less unexpected.

Second, when you're bidding you can bid with your influence cubes, but also your victory points (to a max of 10). On the last turn I bid my full 24 cubes that I had. One other player had 15 or 16 cubes. He really should have dumped out 10 of his victory points to keep me from going, as I was very strongly implying that I was about to win. That seems to me to be a lose-lose situation in a game design, where you're either random players to either self-sacrifice or let another player win, and where if someone does self-sacrifice it just causes the game to drag.

I'd play it again, and see how it works, but I suspect that Heart of Africa has some muddy game design.


I was close to ready to go home by this point, but I said I'd stay if we played a 30-40 minute game. Eric V. brought out San Juan, which I don't think I'd played yet this year.

I was the first player up at the start of the game. I had a 4-point building in my hand, the Quarry, and so I took Builder and that pretty much defined the rest of my game. I built up purple buildings all game, often for cheap or next to nothing, while collecting my occasional 1 card from my Indigo plant when the other two players planted and harvested.

A purple strategy versus two producers is often a bit hard, but I managed to barely optimize my building, so I almost always had just the right cards in my hand when Builder got called. This wasn't entirely luck, as I tried to keep one building ahead at all times.

I ended up with 36 points to Mike's 35 and Eric's 28 or so.

We finished the game in 35 minutes, which was perfect.
 
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