It's the eve of another full day of gaming at EPGS, and all I can think is:
How did I lose to a student?
A kid who never played before???
How'd THAT happen?
Ever since taking over and rechristening my high school's Chess Club as the Boardgaming Club, I've attracted a small but devoted following of like-minded students who would actually enjoy spending time after school on a Friday just to play games. I keep my copy of Settlers of Catan on hand at all times, and bring in mid-level Euros like Puerto Rico and Ra from time to time ... games that can be finished in around 60 minutes (so we can clear out by 4pm). This year, I introduced heavier fare like Caylus and Agricola, which didn't go over quite as well (in some part) due to their lengths of time.
Two weeks ago I brought in my current favorite, Le Havre. The three who sat down were immediately hooked, and we played through around 8 rounds (4-player game), but I knew we wouldn't finish a game so long. No one minded, though, and the three students I played against thoroughly enjoyed it. I figured, now that they had experience, we could maybe finish the short version of the game.
So it was that I brought back LH today and got two of the three players from before ... and one who wanted in but had to learn 'on the fly' (often a harbinger of doom for said player). We started at around 2:50 and got done at around 4:30, a good half-hour later than we usually wrap up but, all things considered, not too bad.
(It was a low turnout; only two others came, and they played some games of chess before departing, long before we finished.)
Now of course, being the only adult in the room, and having played literally dozens of games (at 3-, 4-, and 5-player), I figured I'd cruise to an easy win while they just enjoyed playing the game.
Yeah, go figure ...
To be fair, I did mention to them upfront that, in one regard, we were all new: I had never played the 'short' version before. I expected a simpler game (bereft of special buildings, along with a couple regular ones) ... but the choices one faces right off the bat really confounded my early play. Starting with all building resources (along with a cow and some fish), one can play any number of openings; I really didn't know what would be 'optimal' so early, but I figured I'd still outplay the others late. (With the one new player to my right, I went first so he could see how the game went.)
The participating students agreed to let me post their names, and I shall do so in the same way I post all my current session reports.
Initial Turn Order: me, Kou Y, Francis O, 'Black Steve'. (Yes, that's how everyone refers to him. He'd fit right in at EPGS!)
I grabbed 4 wood with my first move (the offer space started with 3, and wood/cattle got flipped first), later hitting the Construction Firm to build the Hardware Store and Smokehouse (useful for me after Francis built the Fishery). The latter building helped me get an extra good after a later trip to the Marketplace for a grain and cattle (allowing me to grow both ... wish I thought of that move earlier, instead of informing Kou that he could take advantage with his Marketplace). Later still, I hit the CF again to snap up the Bakehouse and Abattoir (buying the Clay Mound along the way). I had (arguably) great early buildings (and 3 Craftsman buildings, good for 5 goods from my next Marketplace visit), was able to grab iron later on for Iron Boats (I got 2 by the end), and felt I was doing well for myself.
So what happened?
Well for one, I got into food trouble by mid-game (around turns 7-8 of the 12-round game). Despite the one Iron Boat I had at the time, I still had to take a loan which bled me for around 3 turns before paying it off. Further, a Clay Mound - Brickworks combo netted me 6 bricks that, for the most part, went to waste. (I ended up modernizing both Wharfs in the game and built the Tannery, but the rest of 'em ended up getting 'underused'.)
But the biggest mistake by far was not hitting the Colliery more often before the end. I started the game with 2 coal and got more from Marketplace trips, while using one for the aforementioned Brickworks trip and two more for my 2 boats. I didn't keep good track of my timing, either: by the time I had set myself up with two Iron Boats (and plenty of cattle, and even 4 leather), I found myself with (a) only one coal and no wood, and (b) only 3 moves left!
I could no longer ship twice: I had to burn an action going back to the Colliery (last move of Turn 11) but now had no time to hop into the Shipping Line, hop out, and hop back in. Instead, my last move was to go to Kou's Bridge (three of us did so ... the eventual winner simply took 6 Francs from the offer space at the end) and turn in all my excess leather (unshipped), bricks, and assorted other goods for 11F (not including the 2F I paid to go in).
So who won?
The one who wasn't in our game 2 weeks ago. The one who had never played the game before.
More incredibly, he won with only one late-game Iron Boat.
How did he pull that off?
Well ... while Kou and I used early Marketplace moves to get our first grain and second cow, Steve was able to grab fistfuls of each from the offer spaces. He hit my Bakehouse and Abattoir often to stay out of food trouble for the game. He also hit the Francis's Joinery a couple times; money he got from that let him buy the Shipping Line. (At the end, I was especially crushed when I found myself with no Francs or food to go in; I had to sell off the Smokehouse for 3F to pay him off.) He made one good Iron grab, and used it for his only boat of the game (but worth 12F). He finished the game with only 4 buildings, but three (Wharf, Shipping Line, Business Office) were worth 36F alone. And his last Franc grab put him over 20F in cash. I, on the other hand, had more buildings for less Francs, and wasn't quite close enough with cash to overcome.
Final scores: Steve 81, me 75, Francis 50, Kou 44.
Honestly, I didn't expect such a low-scoring game. Then again, no one got the only Bonus buildings around (the Bank), and no one ever got steel the whole time. Maybe I should've made a bigger push for that at the end, but by then I was too busy shoring up my food situation; the one trip to the Tannery (as opposed to hitting the Colliery again) proved disastrous.
This was a thoroughly-enjoyed game all around, and maybe I will bring it back again (with more plays, we should get done even faster in the future) ... but man, was this a humbling experience for me. And right before another EPGS meeting, no less!
Then again, maybe I should just recognize that, regardless of age or experience, good gamers will just do well. And Steve (who has won may Settlers games, among other things) is proving to be a good gamer. Perhaps (when he can make a 30-mile trip to my area) he'll one day come by EPGS; I would love to have him around.
Until then, I gotta wait for a rematch. I got 12 more Fridays for redemption.