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Subject: Stepping it up a notch (starting with only 16 life points). rss

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Bart de Vos
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After my strategy guide/session report/review in the strategy section of this forum, the designer of the game Friedemann Friese (who I think deserves praise for his active participation in the forum) suggested:

If you really want to play hard, just start with only 16 life points. I found it too difficult to add this level in the rules.

Overall I had played 20 games so far, 11 at the hardest level (18 life points) and still thought the game perhaps was not tight enough. So I decided to take on this challenge and try my hands on this very hard setting.

I must say, I was not disappointed! For me this changes a challenging game which I can play without focusing too much and still play nearly optimal into a tense endeavour, a test of nerve, skill and a bit of push-your-luck added to the mix.
Having 2 life tokens less, means you'll be balancing on the edge of death quickly. The tension really increases a lot. Each decision becomes more important, not just at the start, but throughout the game. Whereas at first, even in the complete game, I thought that winning the fights against the Pirate Cards was a sure thing, with this small change, these fights are anything but a certainty.

So, without any further ado, here's a short session report of my first 3 games:

Game 1
In the first game I was close to death a few times. As I lost life points quickly, I couldn't manage to get rid of aging cards which meant I had to exchange them time and time again, which severely hurt my deck. I narrowly made it to the first pirate fight, but then lost quickly. I scored a measly 12 points.

Game 2
The second game was horrible: I got crushed completely. Before the yellow phase even started, the game was over and done with. The cause? Some bad luck, some dumb choices, and generally too little destroy, +cards and +life abilities. I didn't bother with calculating my score, as it would have been well below 0.

Game 3
The third game was definitely the best one! I got down to 5 life quickly, but with the help of +cards and +life ability I managed to stay alive, but only just. I even went down to 1 life point once, but then managed to get up again. With smart use of mostly the exchange action in combination with the destroy ability, I managed to trim my deck down slowly but surely.

I started the pirate phase with 5 life. One of the pirate ships I had to face was the one that makes you sacrifice 2 life points to draw extra cards, so I was a bit anxious to fight this one. The other one was a draw 6 and fight 20 card. I like fighting pirates that make you draw many cards as you'll get plenty of ability cards to increase your hand quickly. But alas, no such luck.

I decided to try my luck with the first pirate card and was lucky enough to draw a double, a copy, a 4 and a 3 among the first 7 cards. I didn't have enough after 7 cards, but was getting there. I used +cards and +exchange actions, but still was forced to discard 2 life points to draw an additional card, which brought my total at exactly the right amount. I had only 3 life points left at that time.

On to the second pirate fight. I drew 6 cards, but wasn't nearly close enough to defeat the pirates. I thought this could possibly mean a close defeat, but after I had to discard 2 life tokens I managed to get a +card ability and then a few life tokens back. Drawing a few extra cards and getting a few life back I managed to secure a win with only 3 life tokens left.

Final score was 45 (fight points) -5 (1 age card left in the deck) +30 (win against both pirate cards) +15 (3 life tokens left) -15 (5 hazard cards not defeated) = 70 points.
Quite a good score! It'll be a real tough challenge to get above 80 points (a Glorious Victory according to the designer). For the first time I really had a sense of having achieved something.

For me there is no turning back now. From now on I'll only play this game at this even harder than hardest level. Playing as such changes my game rating from an 8 to an 8.5 out of 10.
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