OK, now I rarely attempt to learn a new game during the tail end of a gaming meeting ... but Joe (who I had just played at 6 Nimmit) insisted that this game would be easy to learn and fun to play. And (two games later) I gotta say, he was absolutely right.
Initial turn order: Matt, Alex U, me, Joe
In many ways, this game strikes me as a cross between Through the Desert and the 18xx series. The goal (to me) is to buy into families near the cards you're dealt and, when possible, get into neighboring families to maximize adjoining resources.
(I'm referring to all families by color.)
I started the first game holding cards in the east, so I bought into the White and Purple families early. Later on I bought into Black ... but I wouldn't get into any other families for the game. And the game ended quickly.
I ended up earning only 2 handshakes for the game (White/Purple, not surprisingly), and one of my final 6 cards ended up wasted. I only ended up with one 8-card; I could've gotten more, but Alex ended the game before I had the chance by making the 10th different handshake. The Red and Blue families, in particular, were highly active, branching out to families never bought into. In the end, Alex just edged Matt for the win; I DFLed yet again on the day.
Final scores: Alex 49, Matt 48, Joe 40, me 39.
* * * *
We got done so fast that there was still time for another game, and we all figured, what the hey!
Initial turn order: me, Joe, Matt, Alex U
This time my first two cards were diametrically opposed (near White and Green), and I settled on keeping the one near Green, which I subsequently bought into. My next set were also far apart, but I kept two, including #8 (near White), which I figured someone would take. But after seeing the others go all around that resource, I eventually discarded #8 on a later card pull.
This time I ended up with 7 cards, in large part because I bought into 4 families. I got into Brown early on (holding #30 at the time, getting #31 and #32 later), then Blue (I wanted a central family that could double-up my holdings) and Yellow (no one else started that one, and it was near some of my earlier acquisitions). I was helped by the pace of this game; no one bought into either Orange or Red, meaning little chance of a game end by 10 different handshakes. But what really helped me was the cooperation I got from my opponents.
I believe that you want to be where others are, as they help further your own goals when it's not your turn. Matt bought into Green at the same time I did, later getting into Brown too. Joe took it a step further, buying into Blue and Yellow before the end and, often, making moves that I would have done given the chance. Joe, in fact, ended the game by merging Yellow into Green (Green's last handshake), and all those added pieces of those four colors, combined with the cash I had from them and the numerous 8s, 5s and 4s, helped me earn a big win.
Final scores: me 80, Matt 62, Alex & Joe 53.
(I was oh-for-7 before that last game; nice way to make up for that!)
Great game! Easy to learn, quick to play, lots of chances for strategy and tactics. A game I will definitely keep in mind for the next EPGS meeting.