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Subject: Follow-up to My Preliminary Thoughts rss

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James Nathan
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BACKGROUND

I can't speak as well to the heritage of Trick-Taking games as I would like. Euchre has always been a family and in-laws favorite, and I've had splattering of Sticheln, Dwarf King, Tricky Bid, Triumverite, Bottle Imp, maybe there were some others. But, noticbly lacking is my ability to reference the king of the tricktaking canon, Tichu, yet, here goes:

OVERVIEW

For me, the genius of this game revolves around three design aspects: (1) the Trick Lane, (2) what happens when a trick is resolved, and (3) the use of the same resource for shares and track.

Trick Lane: As I mentioned earlier, one of, for me, the inspired ideas of this game is the Trick Lane. And, sure, its a great representation of the Marketing/Operating round structure of 18XX games: some rounds you're acquiring shares, some rounds you're laying track.

Not Discarding Things: The second inspired idea is that something happens with the cards you played. That is, you're not simply winning a trick or not. The cards you played aren't simply discarded or even points for/against you. If its a share round, and you lose? You just bought that card as a share. If its a track round? The card you played, you will lay as track.

Notice I said if you lose you get that card as a share - but if you win the trick? You acquire the share that was up ....for auction? It makes it almost an auction game (and I find it hard to describe or teach this game without saying things are "up for bid") with a sortof Ra-ish limited numbers you can use to bid.

Similarly, and oddly, there will be rounds you want to lose. I played a game last week, where, based on the starting layout of the game (non-distributed cards are layed as track to setup the game), I had the lead, and didn't want the available share - so I led the 1 (of a suit that I thought people would be able to follow-suit on) because I didn't want to win that share, and I would love to have my 1 as a share.

The Trick Lane varies by the number of players, and in 3 and 4 player games, the winning card of a share trick is placed later in the trick lane - almost seeding the deck TtAstyle - to be available for bid later (though I think the idea of strategically and tactically seeding the right shares for your hand is likely specious).

Shared Track/Shares: One of the aspects of Paris Connection that I enjoyed, is the use of a single resource for shares and track, and it shines through here even more. Strategically, it performs the same function: (a) fewer shares of powerful railroads, and (b) a Sisyphus-ian task to increase the value of a company with too many owned shares. It's worth noting that even though each card is the same value as a share, the cards are of unequal value when placed as track.

CARD DISTRIBUTION

Each card has a "Number", which only plays a role when determining who wins a trick, and a "Station Value", which only plays a role when layed as track. Each of the five companies has Numbers 1 through 10, and Station Value's that range from 10 to 40. Each company has the same distribution of Station Values (3 x 10, 4 x 20, 2 x 30, and 1 x 40), but the correlation of Number to Station Value varies, as follows:

C&O (Light Blue) - Number 1 has the highest "Station Value", and values decrease as the "Number" increases
Erie (Yellow) - "Station Value"s go up and down. Localized peaks at Number 1, 5, and 9.
B&O (Blue) - Number 10 has the highest "Station Value", and values decrease as the "Number" decreases
PRR(Green) - "Station Value" peak is at Number 5, and values decrease as the "Number" goes up and down
NYC(Black) - "Station Value"s go up and down. Localized peaks at Number 3, 5, and 9.

It lends itself to that 7 Wonders standby: burying a card my opponent would love as a share so as to prevent him from getting its Station Value.

And, of course, the reverse: if I'm playing a card of a train company I have a stake in, I have to judge the value of the Number required to win a trick, with what happens to the Station Value of the card I have. In the games I've played so far, most companies have had end-game values in the 40-50 range, with high of 70 or 80, and a low of 0 (due to similar circumstances to casca's) - though I haven't kept exhaustive track, and 0 has only happened once, and much to the chagrin of a player to my right who had three of his six shares in that company (C&O).

WHAT HAPPENS WITH THE DANGEROUS COMBINATION OF LUCK-OF-THE-DRAW AND FOLLOWING SUIT

One of the design risks of this game, is the luck of the draw. Traditional trick-taking games can balance lucky hands with many hands, and granting winners points, rather than some sort of cumulative scoring.

But without the large samples size of hands, and, as we've discussed, atypical trick resolution, a trick-taking game could suffer greatly from a bad hand - accentuated by following suit.

This finally came into play last night.

The Time I Ruined Someone's Game: The situation was: Round 4 of a 4 player game, and the 3 locomotive was up for bid. Round 5 would see a Green/PRR share up for bid.

The Green and Light Blue companies had only their starting track, and one additional card.

Black, on the other hand, was loaded. It had the game's only city, and seven or eight tracks laid - but only one player had a share.

It seemed that the general plan around the table, was for the three of us without a black share to place the 3 locomotive on Black.

However, I had a Black 5 in my hand, and knew that if I could get the lead going into Round 4, I would lead the 5, force someone else to followsuit - causing me to gain a black share, and removing someone else's potential black share from the game.

So, I was able to win the locomotive round and, having no green cards in my hand, placed the locomotive, unexpectedly, on the green train. And hey, I was pleased with that play - those were two fortuitous rounds for me.

However, the player to my right had all the green cards I didn't in his hand - and, if he wants, I'll let him chime in with his thoughts on what happened, but, essentially, the rest of his game was shot: he would largely not be able to gain the lead or follow suit which would result in him gaining green shares and laying green track - on a company that was going nowhere.

Dealing With Lots of the Same Suit: I'm not sure of the exact cards he had in his hand - and, perhaps, if you have a large amount of a certain suit, there is a different early game strategy where you take the lead early (if possible) and control the game as long as you can. Sure, there is potential strategic relevance to the card distributions, but too much following suit will ruin those plans.

I did have one game where I had an abundance of green cards, and was able to gain the lead early. This let me control my hand to put each green card where I wanted it - high Station Value's as track, low as shares, and locomotives as I see fit.

I think the moral is probably that you need to (*surprise*) cater your strategy to the hand you're dealt.

SO HERE'S WHAT I THINK

It's great!

I'm a big fan of Hab & Gut - I like that its a distilled-to-its-essence version of a speculation/market game. Elegant design & elegant gameplay. Simple rules, lots of depth, and interesting decisions.

This, for me, boils down train/stock games into their essence.

Limited hand-size and following suit doesn't add unnecessary luck to the game in my mind. Rather, it reduces analysis paralysis and adds a little pain - I'm a fan of constraints, and games where I don't like any of my choices.

I also find that I'm not a fan of the same game twice. That is, when I find a game I like, I probably don't like any other game by that designer, on that theme, or with those mechanics. I'm pretty fickle about, well, lots of things, and for me, the other trick-taking games I've played have been lacking. There's almost been something there, but, well, I always felt hungry afterwards.

That's simply not the case with this game.

This game just makes me want to shuffle the cards and deal again.

My game playing regime consists of two game nights a week, and, typically, we only play games we haven't played before. The folks I play with still have a backlog of things we want to try, but we've hit a stride the last few weeks and have found some new staples for us, I think. This is one of them.
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Martin G
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Excellent review that chimes well with my impressions after the first few plays. I think it's quick enough that it would be worth playing multiple rounds (probably one per player) and totalling the score, as you do with most trick-takers. That would even out the luck of the draw somewhat.

Quote:
But, noticbly lacking is my ability to reference the king of the tricktaking canon, Tichu

Technically Tichu is a climbing game, not a trick-taker
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Jimmy Okolica
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Quote:
However, the player to my right had all the green cards I didn't in his hand - and, if he wants, I'll let him chime in with his thoughts on what happened, but, essentially, the rest of his game was shot: he would largely not be able to gain the lead or follow suit which would result in him gaining green shares and laying green track - on a company that was going nowhere.


I'm not sure I understand this. I've only played a couple of times, but it would seem to me that if he could drop 2 30 tracks and a 40 tracks in a row, he'd end the game with $60 shares. If he had enough of them, that might be competitive.

While I like the 4T and the 5T, the 6T and the AT can cut into stock value enough that they aren't worth the investment unless there's a lot of track on the table and the one or two players who benefit get to drop them where they want them. If the player to your right really did have all of the green shares, he might have been able to set up the PRR nicely without having to worry about anyone else.

Just quickly doing the math and ignoring the cities that are available in a 3 or 4 player game, it looks like maximum share values are:

A-Train: $120 if only one share is in players' hands
6-Train: $90 if track is laid perfectly and no more than 4 shares are in players' hands
5-Train: $80 if track is laid perfectly and no more than 5 shares are in players' hands
4-Train: $70 if track is laid perfectly and no more than 6 shares are in players' hands
3-Train: $60 if track is laid perfectly and no more than 7 shares are in players' hands

Looking this over, if one player really does have all of a color and plays it well, I don't see them being out of the game at all.
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James Nathan
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Hmmm, you make good points. I agree that in theory, there's no reason having all of a color should be a detriment.

At this point I don't recall which green cards I had and which he had (again, he may chime in, but I doubt he remembers, and he has a baby due any day now...). I will point out that that he is a strong game player, and if he couldn't figure out how to profit from the solid hand, then I must have missed a detail in my explanation (as I said, he had the green cards that I didn't, so maybe I had the high value track cards? maybe he had one or two cards that weren't green, but in such a manner that he may have to follow suit in an undesirable manner? maybe my having the lead would let me play my green cards in such a way as to foil his ideal placements?)
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Jimmy Okolica
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xitoliv wrote:
Hmmm, you make good points. I agree that in theory, there's no reason having all of a color should be a detriment.

At this point I don't recall which green cards I had and which he had (again, he may chime in, but I doubt he remembers, and he has a baby due any day now...). I will point out that that he is a strong game player, and if he couldn't figure out how to profit from the solid hand, then I must have missed a detail in my explanation (as I said, he had the green cards that I didn't, so maybe I had the high value track cards? maybe he had one or two cards that weren't green, but in such a manner that he may have to follow suit in an undesirable manner? maybe my having the lead would let me play my green cards in such a way as to foil his ideal placements?)


All that makes sense and I agree it is possible to get messed up with a bad hand, or a hand that's bad because of the hands that the other players have. For me though, I think I'm just not a good enough card player to be able to figure out how to make the hand that I have a good one.

What I really like about this game is how quick it is while still giving a little bit of 18XX flavor. So far, I've only gotten 18XX players to play it once, but I'll keep trying.

BTW, nice review. It really gives a feel for the game.
 
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Jason Finley
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I do not remember at all what I had in hand and why the game played out the way it did.
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