Wednesday, December 2, 2009

CombsCon 2009, Part III

Allan, Mike, and Scott convened on 11/28/2009 for a quick day of gaming, and it was a very interesting and enjoyable gaming session to be sure. But there seemed to be a theme running through the day: "Never throw in the towel." At least two games were marked by players not giving up in the face of overwhelming odds and coming out on top. More in the the updates, but the lesson of the day seemed to be that as long as the game continues you have a chance to come back. To wit...

We started with an 11:00 game of Taj Mahal, an enjoyable card and property game Allan found at a gaming convention. After a practice round, we got started, and Scott jumped to an early lead, getting three senators to Mike's one, while Al got the city. Al continued building cities and extra "goodies" to get the matches that meant more victory points, and Mike tried building a chain of properties that would connect and re-connect for extra VP.

All of us learned the lesson that sometimes it's better to pass early and get better cards for the next round. In fact, during the game, Allan said that you should always keep an eye on turn order so you have enough cards to play when you are the first to go. And of course, even though he said it, Scott had to learn the lesson on his own -- twice! Mike always had lots of cards, so he seemed to understand from the beginning.

The game was close, with all three players playing the role of "game leader" from time to time. But turn 9 or 10, Allan used almost all his cards to dominate a round, and he powered to a commanding lead. The scores were something like: Allan 45, Mike 30, Scott 28, and it looked like a blowout.

At that point, Mike actually said out loud that he was trying to decide if he should go after Allan or hammer Scott to solidify his own second place position. In the end, he played the last rounds to win, and it paid off. Allan was out of cards, so Mike mostly won the next round, with Scott keeping pace. So now rather than a 15-point lead, Allan led Mike by about 7 or 8 points.

In the last round, Allan tried to win some things with his five-card hand, but couldn't do much of anything. (Afterward, he said he would have scored eight points if he'd just passed, but he ended up with only three.) Scott was a non-factor -- just too much ground to cover -- so it came down to Mike's huge stack of cards and Al trying to squeeze out some points and hold on. In the end, Mike came through, winning by five points with an inside chain that surrounded the main city and had most of an outer ring, too.

The game notes say he "chain-ganged us to death" and that's how it felt. Again, Allan might have won if he'd dropped out first in the final round, but tried in vain to get something going only to get shut out after using up his hand.

The spoils of not turning on your fellow gamer and trying to win outright:

Mike 56
Allan 51
Scott 51

The game only took about 90 minutes, and would go even faster if we replayed it. Highly recommended as a three- or four-player game. Five-players might be interesting, too, as you'd have to compete for the five decent things you can win every round.

Next was a quick game of Caribbean, with the same cast and crew, Allan, Mike, and Scott. Most of the action took place up north, with Allan and Scott butting heads over some ships early on. Mike was the game leader after two rounds, and it appeared that it might become a runaway. All this despite his apologetic assertion: "I'm sorry guys; there are three rules and I can only remember two of them."

When the southern booty showed up (no, not Gisele B√ľndchen -- Cartagena and Caracas!), Allan got back in the game with a nifty steal and delivery. Scott was back close a few rounds later, and all of a sudden it was a dead heat to the finish. Mike and Al blocked each other for an entire round -- and by that, I mean they had the exact same tiles in every single position. Scott sneaked by to hold the lead for just a moment. But he was out of moves, and Allan won with a right-side of the board delivery and a pick up in the lower left.

Final Score:

Allan 42
Scott 34
Mike 34

(Our second tie for head boot-licker.)

We broke for lunch and then Allan, Mike, and Scott came back to play Power Grid. This was a fascinating game. Al got semi-hosed by ending up first (thus getting the worst plant), and Scott jetted out to an early lead by placing his cities in an advantageous building area and powering two in the first round. Mike was close behind, and Scott went third for a while by keeping his bad plants but paying through the nose for of fuel.

Allan got a "green" plant and wasn't paying much for fuel. And he espoused the strategy that if you can't power a city, then don't build it. That led him into last place, but it was a very strategic move because last is best in the mid-game (you get to buy fuel and build cities first). Mike and Scott had more cities than Allan for a while, and the cost of coal and oil was through the roof. We even ran out of coal one round.

About the time we got to 10 cities, Allan moved back into the lead. He just couldn't help building, and Mike had no money because he spent $150 for the 25 plant. It was a bargain, as he ran it until almost the end of the game, but he was hamstrung when it came to building cities. At 12 cities, Scott could have won the game with a 5-city round, but he would have had to not buy any fuel in order to build those cities, and he was sure that would have been noticed. Unfortunately, that missed opportunity left him with the most cities but lousy plants.

This was the second time a player faced the "tank it or keep trying" dilemma. It looked like Allan was a lock to win, only one city behind Scott and lots of plant power. Scott even pondered aloud, "I guess I could just build to 17 cities and let Allan win so we can move on to another game." But for the second time, the player decided to keep trying, and in fact, Scott used the uncertainty of whether or not he would end the game to make the other players work to one-up each other whenever they could.

In any event, it was then that we hit the inevitable three-player Power Plant Lull. The plants available for auction sucked and would have done nothing for any of us, so we passed for three rounds. In another round there was just one plant bought, and Step 3 hadn't appeared, so our city-building opportunities were limited. We were in stasis with Scott at 16 cities, Allan at 15, and Mike at 12.

The last round before Step 3 the power plant logjam broke and all three players got new plants. At that point, it didn't make sense for Mike or Scott to end the game, and Allan spent all his dough on plants, so we went one more round. Then Step 3 arrived. Allan kept just enough cash to build two cities to get to 17, and he bought more plant power than the other players could match. Mike got the 50 plant (for $50, BTW) -- the first time that plant had ever been in a game of ours -- and Scott bought all the plant power he could but it only added up to 17.

But in a twist of fate, the last round went like this:

Allan could only build 17 cities, even though he could power 18, so his final score was 17.
Mike could only build 17 cities even though he could power 18, so *his* final score was 17.
And Scott could have built many cities, but could only *power* 17, so his final score was 17.

That's right, folks, a three-way tie for first. And with Allan and Mike lower in cash, Scott skated by for the win he might have gotten 8 turns earlier. The final tally:

Scott 17 cities (242,000 in Elektro -- i.e. cash)
Mike 17 cities (125,000 in Elektro)
Allan 17 cities (0 in Elektro)

It was another example of not giving in to the temptation to end the game prematurely. Scott could have tanked it, but ended up winning by staying the course.

Our final game was a quick one of Acquire, with Allan, Mike, and Scott playing again. Apparently this is an old game, going back to 1962, but we have a more modern copy (link). The game started okay, with no new companies for about five rounds. But once they started coming, it was fast and furious. We were out of companies quickly, and waited quite a few rounds to get our first merger.

Allan loaded up on America and Hydra, whereas Mike bought up Quantum and small amounts of three other companies, and Scott went with America, a minority in Quantum, and two other small companies. Unfortunately for Al, America would never merge and Hydra went most of the game without buying or being bought by anything.

Quantum swallowed three companies in succession (Phoenix, and two others), with Mike and Scott trading majority/minority status. Allan was left out in the cold, and since he was cash tight he would never get back in the game. Mike and Scott continued to restart companies, and soon we were corporation tight again. And that was sort of interesting, as players tried in vain to place tiles that wouldn't start companies and wouldn't add to companies they wanted to have acquired.

Scott broke the corporate logjam by having Quantum take over Saxson and Zeta in successive turns, and Allan owned some Zeta so he got a little cash to play with. America was takeover-proof by then, with Scott now the majority shareholder, and when America finally acquired Hydra, Mike was majority owner in *that* too.

If you hadn't picked up on it by now, Mike was in on all the mergers and was the clear majority owner in the Quantum behemoth. And so it is written; the rich got richer and the game ended thusly:

Mike $60,100
Scott $48,900
Allan $34,600

We discussed whether there should be some mechanism for feeding money to players who are out but don't get in on mergers. It seems like a game flaw that if you happen to buy three companies early and they all get too big to be acquired, you are not only out of the game, but it is extremely boring to continue playing.

The best plans we came up with to remedy this were:

1. Give an $500 extra to each player when a merger happens. This would not imbalance the game, since everyone would get the same extra money. And with this rule, if you are out of the merger and out of money, you can get back in the game -- or at least *play* the game.

2. When a player is about to buy stock, if s/he has less cash on hand than it costs to buy a single share of stock, that player would get a set amount of money (perhaps $500). This might imbalance things, since one player could get thousands of extra dollars in a game. But honestly if you are out of cash and sitting on mountains of un-acquriable stock, you are basically in last place no matter what else happens.

3. There was another plan, but I can't remember it. Perhaps one of the players will post it if he remembers was we discussed.

It was a very close day of gaming, as evidenced by the two ties for second place and the three-way tie for first in Power Grid. But in the end, the Grand Champion of CombsCon 2009, Part III is Mike with the final wins tally looking like this:

Mike 2
Allan 1
Scott 1

With his two victories, Mike vaulted over Scott for third place on the Overall Victories tote board. But I think I'll go through all the gaming sessions that aren't counted yet and get that total *really* up to date.

Congratulations on both victories, Mike, and on your new status as Assistant to the Head Boot-licker on the Overall Victories list.

And thank you for hosting -- it was a lot of fun!

- The Eye in the Sky

PS. As always, I look forward to everyone's corrections and amplifications of what *really* happened.

1 comment:

  1. If we keep gaming without Josh, we'll eventually catch up wiht him!

    The 3rd idea was pay a dividend to each player who doesn't get a majority/minority share of a merger based on the other companies they own ($200 per majority share, $100 per minority share they own in non-merged companies). Basically by paying dividends, players don't get completely hosed for investing in successful companies.