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A Derk appears from the mists...
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John, Dutch, Neil, Derk

George had acquired a copy of Ta Yue recently, and he was aching to give it a shot. Luckily we had enough players that I wouldn’t have to play. In fact, with the people we had in attendance, we had a perfect match, because four of us liked abstracts and four of us didn’t. I started to teach my group the in’s and out’s of jungle exploration. I’ve played this game three times before, and two times I’ve won by taking lots of treasure. So when I explained the rules this time, I tried to express how important treasure collection was (or at least how important it was that one player didn’t acquire a commanding lead in the treasure hunt). I thought I’d explained it well enough…

The game started off with two treasure sites, and I moved in as quickly as I could. The others each took a couple treasures, but I was able to nab more by moving guys in and then bidding really high at the beginning of the second turn (so I’d go first, and thus take more treasures using the guys I’d placed there last turn). I quickly had three pairs of treasures, and little else. The others were scrambling around nabbing a couple temples here and there for the upcoming scoring round, but not Neil. He was completely dominating one single pyramid site, and making it very valuable in the process. However, he had so many men in the hex that it made little sense to try to challenge his dominance. In retrospect, someone should’ve made some sort of token effort so it would’ve cost him more to guard the temple, but no one was willing to take one for the team. Anyway, the volcano drawn in the second round triggered a scoring round and we each snagged a couple points (personally, I needed a scoring round as I was running out of points to bid with).

Dutch: 23, Neil: 21, Derk: 21, John: 19

As we continued, I could see that the others were starting to understand the game. The next couple treasure sites were very difficult for me to secure, as John tried to drive the price of the hexes up. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to continue to bid eight or nine points just to get another treasure hex, but I didn’t have anything else going (I still hadn’t taken control of a pyramid), so what the hell. Neil continued with his single pyramid development and finished it off with the ‘ten’ level. As if this wasn’t bad enough, Neil then moved his army of guys off the site and guarded it without losing many guys. That wasn’t a good thing. John and Dutch had kept even with in the last scoring round by not spending too many points in the auctions.

I would be the first to place a secondary campsite onto the board, and I was repaid in kind for my efforts. Many of the others’ land placements summarily blocked my movement. Several other camps quickly sprang up around mine as Neil and Dutch saw the value of getting guys into the field. Dutch and I were squaring off with a couple pyramid sites, and he had a better (read cheaper movement) camp location and could therefore cover more ground. I decided to consolidate my forces and started building my first significant temple site. Neil had a campsite in the same general region, but closer to Dutch’s area. The sites he began to uncover were quite nice, and I began to worry for my lead as his sphere of influence expanded. John saw the three of us tripping over each other, and decided to find somewhere else to inhabit. He established a camp along the edge of the board that was dominated by our initial hexagon placements. The pyramids there didn’t have a high initial value at first, but a couple turns of excavation fixed that up, plus he had the added benefit of being virtually alone in the region. When the next volcano tile came up, lots of shuffling in the middle of the board scored some decent points for Dutch and me.

Derk: 66, John: 59, Neil: 46, Dutch: 36

At this point, most of the good hexes had been used up and most of the higher pyramid tiles had been taken too. We were all fairly well entrenched, and the game sped to its conclusion (well, sped is perhaps an overstatement, sometimes this game drags on and on…). Anyway, John had completed his collection of pyramids over on the border and began to branch out into some weaker sites. I was able to guard my ‘nine’ pyramid without using my foreman, and then moved him back to my second campsite. I’d had to place another campsite because my other one had been cut off almost instantly, and the new site was placed so I could take advantage of Neil’s area with cheap/close movement. When the final reckoning came, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to beat John’s score…

Derk: 101, John: 90, Neil: 84, Dutch: 52

I still like this game a lot. But it’s sooo damn long! While the four of us played this game, the other group of four was able to play Ta Yue, Modern Art, and Auf Heller und Pfennig. After all the others left that night, Ken and I talked about the game and threw out some ideas for making the game shorter. We both agreed that playing without the auction was a bad idea, as it’s too luck dependent. However, I think most of the downtime is the auction. We had an idea of a once around auction, but I didn’t like that idea so much as it seemed like it’d favor the latter bidders. We thought perhaps of using a blind bidding method with a deck of cards. Each player gets all the cards from one suit and picks one of them to represent their bid (Aces are one’s, and Jacks eleven’s, etc.). Players reveal their bids simultaneously and then resolve the turn in the order of the cards (with the value of the bids being subtracted from point totals). I’m not sure about reusing cards. There just so much to like about this game that it’s a shame to have each game be interminable…
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