The next day was the big game: I went over to sign up for Advanced Civilization.
Description of Game : Each player takes the role of an ancient era Civilization. A turn consists of taxation (two tokens per city become money), population expansion (token populations double if you have them to place, which you often don’t), building ships, moving (those with more tokens move first), conflict if areas are overpopulated, then city building if one player has enough tokens in one place. Players need tokens on board to keep growing and two per city to support the cities. Then each player draws cards from the first X stacks, provided the stacks aren’t empty, where X is how many cities they have, and they trade cards in sets of three or more only two of which you have to tell the truth about; some cards are calamities that do Very Bad Things and most of them are tradable. After the trade round, the calamities happen to whoever is holding them and the person who traded them to the victim is immune from the frequent secondary effects. Players then can turn in sets of X of the same card for X^2 points times the stack number that the card came from, and use those points plus treasury and credits from previous purchases to buy civilization cards, which are technologies you can use. If you have enough cities and technologies and technology types, you can advance on the AST. At the end of the game, when someone gets to the end of the AST, you score points primarily for technologies but also for cities, treasury and remaining trade cards. The game has conflict, but conflict is not the point. This game was the original basis for Sid Meier’s Civilization.
Game Length : 8-10 Hours. Seriously. Go big or go home.
Number of Players : Ideal is 8 players, with 7 still solid but a drop-off in game quality for every player removed. If you’re going to do it, do it right.
Complexity : High, but not as high as you might think and nowhere near as bad the old school war games.
Rating: A . I love this game, and have yet to pass up an opportunity to play it for real, but the logistics are a real problem as is the cost (it’s out of print and goes for $250). If you get a chance, go for it!
There was a nervous early period where we only had one copy of the game on hand, and Kevin the GM even sent people to see if the con owned a copy, with the report back being, “at least we weren’t laughed at,” but people arrived with copies in time to save the day. I drew third choice at my table for which civilization to play. The owner of the game got first pick and took Egypt, followed by Babylon (the safe plays) and I debated whether to take the traditional third choice of Assyria, but decided instead to favor my best skills and take Iberia. Everyone looked at me funny, and considering over five games Iberia’s average finish was 5.50 out of 8, I suppose they were right to do so; the man who ended up with Africa said “you must be masochist.” I just smiled knowing that if played correctly, Iberia is deceptively powerful.
The goal of the game on the board is to sustainably keep as many cities as possible without getting attacked, and Iberia is excellent for this; it’s hard to attack her because she’s off in the corner and has lots of space in which to farm and to build wilderness cities (cities that cost double because they’re not on city sites) that can’t be touched. The bad part is you’re stuck with only six city sites, but I quickly made the traditional deals with my neighbors Illyria and Africa and we never touched each other the whole game; I even pulled back a little at Illyria’s request later when I no longer needed the whole of Gaul.
My strategy with Iberia on the 32-token turn is to build two cities, one in Spain and one in France, both on city sites, going to 20 tokens, collect 4 in taxes and double to 40. Then you build two ships, one on the French coast and one on the Spanish coast, and populate Sardinia, Corsica and the Balearic Islands, and build cities on the other Spanish site, the other French site and in Brittany. The turn after that, you can build two more on the islands and populate England while building a protected inland wilderness city for 8, and the turn after that you build Ireland for 9, and reduce and rebuild on the sites for the rest of the game. Your wilderness cities are safe from Barbarian Hordes and attacks by other players, and can easily be retaken after Civil War or Treachery. One of them is even safe from Piracy, and once you have Architecture, keeping 9 cities on the board is simply a matter of not getting severely unlucky with calamities.
The tone was set early when I traded Treachery to Africa, then let him pick which city I would take and gave him full permission to sack it after I turned in the full Cloth book for Architecture and Engineering on the first serious trade round. That bought a ton of goodwill at the cost of an Iron card. Illyria didn’t understand how to manage the board and was constantly short on cities, but was happy with me since I gave him everything he wanted in terms of space and was nice with my trades and secondary effects. With my allies in the west and strong trading skills I went for a quick Mining, despite not having Agriculture or Enlightenment, which was a big risk since that makes the Slave Revolt a nightmare, but a risk worth taking with my position secure. Assyria was the other strong player, and he tried to get people to target me as the leader and asked for a point count, only to realize he was in a strong second and perhaps shouldn’t press the issue. I basically painted it as two leaders instead of one, but took the secondary calamity effects like a man knowing I could handle them.
Down the stretch, Assyria and I pulled away from the pack. He never did get Mining, and that was the big difference, as we were both left alone by both the deck and the other players and made good trades. I ended up winning by about 200, and both of us moved on to the final after a quick game of History of the World:
History of the World
Game Description : Each age the player with the lowest score draws an empire from that age of history, decides to keep or pass to the player of your choice, and each player does this in turn; if you already have an empire you must pass what you draw. Each has a starting area, navigation of where it historically went, a strength rating and may or may not have a capital. Empires try to spread and score points for whether your pieces have presence, domination (2 or more areas and more than anyone else) or control (3+ areas and no one else in the area) of each region, with region values changing with the flow of history. You also build forts or position to keep your guys on the table to score again in future eras. If you attack where someone is, there’s combat that favors attackers unless there’s rough terrain or a fort. You also score for capitals for those empires that start with one, cities which are captured capitals, and for monuments if you assemble resources or capture old monuments. You can play two cards per age to help your cause, with various effects.
Note that there have been major changes since the old version, the biggest being a change from choosing in empire strength order to victory point order, which means there’s no real downside to getting Persia or Rome other than being ‘the leader,’ and that being in the lead after a turn gives you a ‘pre-eminence marker’ worth 3-6 points to make sure no one knows the score and you’re rewarded for an early lead; that’s mostly good.
Complexity : Low.
Number of Players : 3-6 on the box, realistically 5-6.
Rating: C+ . The other big change is going to plastic pieces, and they are a giant pain in the ass and on the eyes. Trying to sort them and keep the eras straight is really annoying, and the colors chosen are atrocious; the number of times I asked what was blue and what was black wasn’t small and I was far from alone. There’s a lot to like in this game, with real decisions and a lot of interesting game theory, but there’s also a lot not to like that often overwhelms it. The combination of leaders in the game picking last and people deciding where to go with their pieces creates a lot of kingmaking, and it feels like a lot of what happens is somewhat arbitrary with a few events being big swings.
The game started with me keeping Sumeria, but it being wiped from the board by the end of the age; I played it aggressively to get the marker, and perhaps that was a big mistake. I spent several ages with bad empires, and couldn’t rebuild my position until ages 4 and 5 out of 7. By then it was too late, as I could catch back up to the pack but not to the leaders. I did learn a bunch of game theory, especially that as the last player it makes sense (although I’ve never seen it) to pass almost exclusively to the guy in next-to-last, because you want to force him to pass, knowing the good stuff would go to you, and hoping he continues up the line, rather than trying to stick the leader unless the card is truly awful. In any case, I enjoyed the game and it has the advantage of being easy to learn, but I wouldn’t recommend it again. There are too many better games out there.
The Advanced Civilization final was on Friday; before that could happen I had a day of freedom to try out new games. I didn’t see anything that offered me a chance to finish the tournament in question. It turned out El Grande was win and in, and I could have played that, but I’m glad that instead I tried out something fresh. I got a quick demonstration of Empire Builder from a woman who was clearly one of the favorites in the semi-final, and it seems like a fine one-player game. It’s a pity that it’s played with two to six. Instead, I landed on another train game:
Baltimore & Ohio
Description of Game : The game is 18XX light. Instead of track, you drop cubes to hexes to show where your tracks are, and each railroad has a limit. In each stock round, you can sell X stock of anything, then buy Y of anything else each turn, but can’t buy what you sell. Each railroad also has 10 shares. When you buy shares from the railroad the money goes to the railroad, when you buy outstanding shares, they go into the public pool, drag down the stock price each stock round, and soak up profits into the aether; players or the company can buy them back. Companies are then run by whoever has control, with ties leaving the original controller in charge, and there are two operating rounds. Players pay to place cubes, with a limit of X cubes in each city where X is the current tech level, and can buy trains that decrease in price inside the tech level and then jump for the next one, and can scrap the trains for a little money if desired. They can also pause to pick up a Coal marker instead of laying track, which gives them permanent extra income. When a higher tech level train is bought, train operating costs go up $10/train, payments from cities go up (mostly, the South gets worse in TL2 due to Civil War) and you can place an additional cube each turn. Game ends at the end of a cycle where a level six train is bought. Unlike most 18XX games, trains never rust; in my game three railroads kept TL2 trains to the end. Each railroad can then either pay a dividend or keep the money – your price goes up if you pay out more than last income, goes down if income declines whether you pay out or not.
Game Length : 3 Hours, probably more like 4 with new players.
Complexity : Medium. Game is easier than 2038 and far easier than 18XX.
Players : 3-6. It is recommended as best with 4, which makes sense to me.
Rating: B- . It is fun, but it has issues. The lack of any randomness means the game’s life span is necessarily limited. The rule that dividends must go up each turn to get a price increase means that you need to intentionally sabotage operating income, which can get logistically frustrating in annoying ways. The game is fine, but you can do better. If this sounds like fun, I recommend trying to find a copy of 2038.
The game had four players, and the others had clearly played before. I drew first player and took the Pennsylvania RR, the second player took the B&O. I took that as a cue and bought a share of B&O, as I figured the Pennsylvania couldn’t spend the money right away so I’d rather have it keep 50% of its profits and I could go sell the B&O later. To my surprise, on the second stock round B&O was sold and I was left in control with one share! It became clear later this was a complete bonehead move, but the guy was having fun. The player running the NY RR decided to buy a share of B&O, at which point I dumped it to buy more Penn since the price was headed south, and he got to have fun running B&O while I stuck to Penn. The fourth player was busy buying up all of the southern RR for himself, but long term it didn’t make as much as Penn or NY. The NY player had floated at a higher initial price than normal, which resulted in me being able to make more money than him and buy three shares of NY, whereas he got only one share of Penn before I got the rest. I was able to sandbag payments for one turn on Penn to set it up for a strong late game, and ended up making a little more per turn than NY. NY’s price ended up a few notches higher, but that was fine; I had more certificates and was earning more, which I used to get major shares of the late stage RRs and I ended up winning by several hundred. I informed them that I couldn’t play the semi-final due to Advanced Civilization, and moved on to my next game.
My guess is I’ll enjoy a few more playthroughs, but I’m not sure how much beyond that. I worry if I play again, my chances in the finals will be 25%, or at most 50% since there’s bound to be a player who can play correctly.
The structure of 7 Wonders was a demo followed by five rounds in a row; if I kept winning I could keep playing, if not I’d have time to grab dinner and then come back for something else.
Description of Game : Booster draft! Cards are dealt out, you pick one and pass left, then in age II pass right and in age III pass left. You must then play the card using your resources and gold, or if necessary renting out resources from those on your left and right to meet requirements. You can also use the card to work on your Wonder of the World, which has its own requirements and tends to be worthwhile. You can work on science or not, try to win military arms races or not, assemble key resources , skip them or rent them. Resources come from first two ages, while the big payoff is in Age III.
Complexity : Very low. A very easy game to understand.
Game Length : 30 Minutes. It’s lightning fast.
Number of Players : Game says 3-7. I’d try to stay on the high end of that if possible.
Rating: A+ . There’s a ton going on, because you can try to deduce what is in every booster, what everyone has and how people will react to future opportunities. You want good stuff you can play that also can’t be cut off, and plan ahead for later ages. My one complaint is that the split resources (give you either A or B, where A and B are two of the four building resources) are always picked first, because this limits information and the number of real decisions. Part of this was because they can’t be rented, which makes passing them that much worse. However, it turned out that both the demo and the players at the tournament were wrong and you can rent them! Fixing that mistake likely makes the game even better.
I sat down to what became a seven-player game, which included one of the players from my TTA semi-final. I spent my initial three gold too early, and was broke in age II and had to pass up key resources. I also didn’t get a scroll, which was a risk I didn’t have to take. Those two mistakes added up to a sixth-place finish well off the lead, which put me in a hole in the second game too big to climb out from. In the second game I did an excellent job being the only one who had access to a full resource set on my side of the table and finished second by a point and nearly running away with it, but it wasn’t enough to get into the top two cumulative scores and move on.
I decided to grab dinner and come back for my next event, Napoleonic Wars.
I’ll give my summary of the game afterwards so as not to spoil the story. It starts with me getting there about twenty minutes before the game will start and reading through half the rules before I run out of time, then being assigned a mentor to help me in a newbie game of what I’m assuming is reasonably similar to Twilight Struggle. I did not know what I was in for. They asked me who I wanted to play (other than France), I suggested Russia and they said I should be Austria, so I got to start the game as designated whipping boy.
On about the second card played, England goes looking for France’s fleet in the Atlantic. England fails to find it, and France says he wants to be found. England says that doesn’t matter, France says if you want to be found then you’re found, and they argue for a while. Then England finds France, France plays a card that allows a special kind of interception, and England plays a card that cancels an interception. France says that’s not a valid play. England says it is, and they have another big fight over it. I have not yet taken a turn. When it is my turn, I’m advised to essentially do nothing but use my card to place a few extra strength points and hope the French don’t smash in my face. This goes on for a while as France decides to poke at a few things, they have me terrified he’s going for Vienna but France never actually tries to go for it. The turn lasts about two hours.
Then comes the end of the first turn, and France rolls a die to see if he wins.
Amazingly, that description is fully accurate. At the end of each turn, each player is given the option to give up cards to increase or decrease a die roll. Then the die is rolled and if it’s a six, whoever is ahead on points wins, which on turn one is usually France. You see, there’s also this card called Europe Exhausted that makes the die roll get a bonus, and France decides last whether to pay a card. So the result is that unless the Coalition overpays so much that they’re at a huge disadvantage, France gets to pay a card, roll a die and win if he rolls a 6. In this case, we thought it was 5-6 but it was actually a 4-6! Instead he rolled a 3 and the game continues.
At the start of turn two, there are negotiations to see who wants to join which side of the war. France asks me if I’d be interested in switching sides. Russia acts like this is unthinkable, and says if I do that France just wins. I then respond that if this is true than France should pay a very high price for me to get me to do it! France was offering to return Venice, but obviously that was a joke offer since I lose. In particular, I ask if he’d be willing to give me enough that I’d likely be the one rolling for the win at the end of the turn rather than France. It’s a five player game, so getting a 1-in-6 chance with options can’t be all bad, and I ask if he’d give me back Venice and also give me Rome and Naples, just to see if he’d do it, and he said if I was serious he’d think about it but probably say no so that discussion was over. After that, Russia made sure to park in Vienna just to make sure I didn’t try anything, but I wasn’t about to overturn the integrity of the game like that in a tournament unless the price was awesome. It was clear France wasn’t willing to pay an awesome price.
Prussia meanwhile asked what we’d give him to enter the war; he starts neutral. Russia replied with ‘a chance to win’ and Prussia said in that case I’ll remain neutral, thank you very much and continued using all his cards to build more strength points. This seemed to me like a very reasonable way to act given that there is only one winner, but Russia and England were less than happy. In the meantime, I sat there trying to keep my armies in place to keep France pointed elsewhere, and France obliged, but that meant I wasn’t doing much of anything. I had some original ideas, but every time I was told not to do them. I suggest hooking up multiple armies and attacking France where I’d have the advantage but was told that would be suicidal even though by rules that didn’t make any sense to me. I suggested shoring up what seemed like the important defenses, they told me to worry about other things. Again I didn’t want to blow up the game by letting Napoleon march into Vienna, which seemed to me to be massively over defended, but decided to just let things play out until Prussia entered the war.
Alas, the next nation to enter wasn’t Prussia, instead France managed to get the Ottoman Empire to enter on his side, and now I had another front. Luckily the Ottomans are pathetic, so now that I was relatively safe I got to do something (finally!) and took an army down to capture Belgrade for an extra key and another card for turn four. It was increasingly clear that France had no intention of marching on Vienna unless we messed up and left it unguarded, and I got to do things like move and attack and besiege. I was even looking at moving down to Sofia or perhaps even Constantinople. For Austria!
In the meantime, Prussia and Russia were coming to blows. Not entering after turn one was considered reasonable, even though Russia didn’t like it, but when turn three came around and Prussia again asked what was in it for him, Russia didn’t take it as well, once again saying “a chance to win.” When Prussia again kept neutral, Russia went ballistic. He accused Prussia of having no plan to win the game. Prussia asked, quite reasonably, why if it was so damn important to us why we didn’t offer him anything. Russia replied, quite reasonably, that since Prussia had no choice if he wanted to win we had no reason to make an offer. Oh wait, actually they both got really mad. I asked Russia if Prussia was basically throwing away the game, and he said yes. I had my little fun with Belgrade, but France was still way ahead, still rolling for the win every turn and Russia was so disgusted he didn’t even spend a card to reduce France’s chances. I think at least three of us were hoping that France would roll a six.
Finally, turn four is beginning. If Prussia doesn’t join now, it’s clearly too late. Russia is barking at him, and has already taken a large number of tilt walks and cigarette breaks, as have England and Prussia. Prussia is barking back, including a threat to walk away from the table. Russia storms out yet again, and I talk to Prussia, apologize for Russia and point out that his only path to victory is to join the war, and he says he has no problem with my arguments. Suddenly it dawns on me that Prussia is going to join the war if Russia would just shut up. So when everyone finally came back, I took control of the situation, announced I was staying with the Coalition (Austria goes first, then Russia, then Prussia), then asked Russia if he was staying. He said yes. Then I asked Prussia. He said he would join the Coalition. Suddenly all is forgiven, and everyone worked together. Their tactics were awful and got my best armies routed, which left me to do nothing but mop-up duty, which I was trying to parlay into enough keys to backdoor a win. Thankfully the GM called the game after turn four as it was getting close to one in the morning. He assured me they’d take Paris and the game would end, but I replied no, they had screwed up, and I was right as Napoleon marched back to retake Paris in time. Le sigh.
The next day at Advanced Civilization, they were setting up the Semi-Final, and the GM apologized to me for their treatment of me. When I ran into my mentor in the halls, I told him what happened and he said that was more about the players, who he agreed had been atrocious. But despite all that…
Game Description : Players take the roll of nations in the Napoleonic Wars, but there is only one winner which is determined by ownership of resources and key areas. Players play cards to take operations, move armies, build armies and leaders. When battles are joined, each side rolls infinite dice and tries to roll better; bigger armies roll more dice. At the end of each turn, there’s a die roll to see if the game ends.
Players : 2-5. I’ve been told that playing less than 5 is awful.
Complexity : Medium.
Game Length : Mine took 5 hours and still had a turn left. Other games finish in an hour because France rolls a six.
Game Rating: F . There does not seem to be any trade-off for the amount of busywork and fiddly bits and massive numbers of dice. There don’t seem to be that many interesting decisions. The random end of the game on turn 1 is the most ridiculous rule I have ever seen in any game, which may include those of Congress. Also, the players are assholes.
The good news was that I still got plenty of sleep for the Advanced Civilization final!
Since I hadn’t played in so long, I spent the morning of the final looking at the board trying to figure out how to play various countries, but was fortunate to draw Africa, which was a strong fit for my playing style.
The finals were a completely different animal. In the first game, everyone was peaceful; in the final there were loads of arguments, lots of brinksmanship, a number of sacked cities, lots of lobbying and whining and secondary effects designed to damage rather than to avoid damage. As was the case with Through the Ages, it felt like a different game, and Kevin gave me a bunch of insight into the more advanced style after the game was over. I’ll give the official review, and then fill in my perspective:
Here is the event report from Kevin:
Advanced Civilization Event Report
Attendance dipped slightly, down to thirty this year, possibly due to the combination of changing the event back to Class A, and the elimination of the Tuesday night heat. Next year, ACV will return to Class B and run a Tuesday demo as part of the quest for new players.
Before launching into the full event report, here are the nation statistics:
Nation Wins Average Finishing Position
Assyria 2 2.67
Illyria 2 3.80
Thrace 0 4.00
Crete 0 4.16
Africa 0 4.33
Babylon 0 4.67
Egypt 1 4.83
Iberia 1 5.50
The two preliminary heats consisted of five total games. The winners were Zvi(Iberia), Kevin (Two wins, Illyria and Assyria), Sean (Assyria), and Nathan (Egypt). The final field of eight was rounded out by Jennifer, Harald, Christina, and Jon. Positions were chosen by random draw with trading allowed. Everybody seemed happy with their selection except for Kevin who was anxiously trying to pawn Illyria off on some other poor sucker contender, but to no avail. The choices were Africa/Zvi, Iberia/Nathan, Illyria/Kevin, Thrace/Sean, Jon/Crete, Assyria/Jenn, Babylon/Harald, and Egypt/Christina.
There was the general discussion of borders at the beginning of the game, and it was apparent that Assyria was going to be in trouble early. Her normal territory was looked at hungrily by both Babylon and Crete, and they combined to limit her growth from the Stone Age on. Another dispute was between Africa and Egypt over the territories near Cyrene. The rulers of Illyria and Iberia probably didn’t make matters any better by encouraging Africa’s claims, but they sure had fun doing it.
As the game progressed, the calamities became a major factor. Africa was the primary victim of thirteen calamities, including a nasty Civil War/Epidemic combination on turn 9. Zvi lost twenty units to Crete, and did not have Medicine at the time. Insult was added to injury the next turn when he caught another round of the flu bug and was reduced to zero cities. To his credit, he never gave up trying to win the game despite going backwards on the AST. Three turns later, it was Crete’s turn as he was stuck with both Famine and Iconoclasm & Heresy in addition to being chosen for the full secondary effects of Epidemic by Thrace. This combined to drop Crete to zero cities.
Crete had chosen to play a highly aggressive game, and one of his strategies was to take full advantage of any player having no units in stock and sacking the undefended city. He did this to Egypt on turn 13, then both Crete and Illyria did it on turn 14, knowing that the Egyptian queen was holding several Spice cards. Nathan then uttered the quote of the tournament when he leaned back in his chair and announced “I’m looking for Spice.”
Turn 14 was also brutal for Assyria as she had Civil War and Barbarians. She was only able to rebuild to four cities the next turn as she had to clear her territory of both Barbarians and Cretans.
By this time, Illyria had used Mining to catch up to the pack and was becoming a force in the game. Crete and Thrace had previously purchased Military, and Crete had launched multiple attacks into Illyria. Kevin chose to respond by purchasing Monotheism instead of Military for defense. The powerful effects of this buy helped push the Illyrians to victory as he used Monotheism as a diplomatic tool, and Babylon had to rearrange his entire purchase for the turn to buy Theology to avoid becoming the target for Monotheism. Babylon had been working his way to the Black Sea to attack Thrace, but Sean chose to eliminate the Babylonian coastal presence so Harald could not launch any attacks. This had the unintended consequence of helping Kevin as he cut individual deals to give immunity from Monotheism to any player who did not attack him. In the end, Kevin was able to hold on for a slim victory over Harald.
The final scores were: Kevin/Illyria 4406, Harald/Babylon 4313, Sean/Thrace 4090, Christina/Egypt 4070, Nathan/Iberia 3800, Zvi/Africa 3328, Jon/Crete 3288, Jenn/Assyria 3033.
Many thanks to all who joined us to play! Let’s do it again next year.
For those who are interested, the BPA also provides an online ACV tournament. Check us out at http://bpa-civ.rol-play.com/
The dispute was over the 2-population area just to the east of Cyrene. Not having played with this group, I didn’t know who usually got it, and I did know that in my first game Egypt had it, so I was willing to let it go long term. When I left it open for one turn to build a city to its south, Egypt walked in, and we had arguments over the situation; she let me have half of it when I insisted, which was enough to support what I needed. I was on a complete shoestring for support territory. The more interesting dispute was over Sicily; Kevin threatened to actively fight for it, despite my not thinking that was legitimate, and his country Illyria is pretty bad in 8-player. I read him as serious, although it turned out if I’d gone there early he’d have backed down; he later told me that the demand wasn’t truly reasonable and he plays a very obnoxious Africa when necessary to win control of Sicily, but I decided to let him have one of the two city sites for peace. My plan was to build 3 wilderness cities with 6 cites again, and it was working until I drew Civil War and Epidemic on turn 9. He also told me that the above mentioned disputed area completely belongs to Africa in serious games, although the combination of these two makes me think that Africa is then superior to Egypt and Illyria, which in turn makes this equilibrium unstable. Then again, I’m the guy who thinks the best country is Iberia.
For the record, my brief views on the other countries:
You get Italy, which has 3 city sites, and have 2 others that are clearly yours, along with a decent amount of farming space. After that it’s a struggle. You should be able to get a sixth site from Crete, but I don’t understand how you do much better than that unless you fight Iberia for Sardinia or Africa for Sicily, neither of which seems common, or get a 7-player game so there’s no Thrace, in which case you’re in a great spot. That means cities seven through nine are wilderness cities in the north, and means you’ll have to push a little against Iberia to get the space for them. One danger is that Earthquake will destroy both your wilderness cities if they’re adjacent, so try to push for Iberia to build his in Brittany, England and Ireland if possible.
Thrace has done well for several years in the finals and I don’t understand how; you’re severely pressed for space and especially for city sites and need to use the Aegean to get what you can. However, you can use this as leverage, and probably get six or seven sites along with two easy to rebuild sites and some safe area for a wilderness city on the Crimea.
You’ll start a turn behind due to the need to levy up a ship, will have eleven or so city sites but nowhere to farm your tokens. You should make a deal with Illyria or Assyria before building the ship and send your tokens the other way to stake out claims, then trade two or three sites away to get other space. I like leaving Crete itself for tokens if you can, but that may not be possible, and Illyria is the best place to try and rent some space. On the plus side, you can eat Barbarian Hordes, which I’ve yet to see Crete take proper advantage of.
You want to get Assyria the city site and one other minimum from Babylon, which in the final didn’t happen, and keep Crete and Thrace’s invasions of Asia Minor to a minimum, but your natural territory is very good if you get decent deals. In one game at Gen Con, Crete gave me a sweetheart deal and I ended up with a full nine city sites. There’s no good place for wilderness cities without risking Barbarian Hordes, but if you can pick up Cyprus you can probably get to at least seven or eight cities without needing to do that. If you give a good deal to Crete, he should be willing to eat the Hordes for you so you can build in the corner, although I’ve never seen that deal happen.
Babylon is a very comfortable position to be in and you go ahead of Egypt so the card stacks aren’t quite as empty. You get a base of four cities on the flood plain, since you don’t want anyone else there, then likely two of the three just west of it for a base of six. Pick up two more in Israel and you’ve got eight. If you can build the ninth in Sinai, you’re all set. Pick up Engineering early, and you’re safe from attack from everyone but Assyria. Treat him nicely and you’ll go far. This is by far the best country if you don’t count the AST issue and drawing next to last, but those are serious issues.
Egypt has the Nile, which gives you sites that are trivial to rebuild and six of them. Two in Palestine makes eight. The ninth is tough but like Babylon I think the best thing to do is find a way to build it in the desert, either Sinai or if necessary Saharan since a friendly player can send the Barbarians into the Nile instead. You’ll need Agriculture to get enough farming space to get to nine cities, but that’s a nice worst problem to have. Much worse are drawing last, being down the AST spot and the Nile flooding. It’s a solid country, but almost strictly worse than Babylon.
The game turned ugly quickly. I was well on my way to where I wanted to be when I was struck by Civil War too early in the game to have Drama & Poetry or Music. I’d also drawn Epidemic, so there were two ways to go about it. I could trade away Epidemic and try to rebuild from Civil War, or I could keep both and try for as many calamities as possible. I chose the second route, as I knew the Civil War was going to be ugly. The risk was that the two would be exactly Epidemic and Civil War, which is a deadly combination; that was what happened. Crete was friendly about it, but it still cost me 20 units and then Epidemic knocked me down from 35 points on the board to 19, so I could only keep one city. Then the next turn Assyria slipped me the Epidemic at the very end of trading and I had no time to get rid of it, which knocked me back to zero cities. From there I was largely ignored for a while, but the gap was huge.
I then made two diplomatic mistakes that compounded my troubles. One turn I turned in the entire Salt book, but didn’t realize the full extent to which everyone was simply counting points to see who to hit, and accidentally took second place on that metric. That got me a fistful of Famine and Epidemic and other such goodies, knocking me back down. Then on the penultimate turn I chose to sandbag the Cloth book to try and prevent this. If I’d turned it in I could have bought Theology and Democracy, putting me in the first pack but without a hand, which I then figured wasn’t good enough because I’d get hit with secondary effects; I was counting on keeping 9 cities to counterbalance my AST problem. Instead, I accidentally provoked Crete, because he saw a chance to take me down a peg and steal 6th from me. I offered him a giant bribe to go in any other direction, but he refused. I simply hadn’t thought about the fact that 5th was completely out of reach for him. If I do it again, I lock in 5th (+200 to the final score for Democracy, +150 on cities most likely) and then try to assemble another book to try and pull off the miracle or perhaps stop Illyria from advancing and extend the game.
Final Result: 6th Place out of 8 in final (30 total), for a nominal number of laurels.
A few words about the area. The best way to get there is by Amtrack, which is about an hour outside of Philadelphia; it took about four hours from door to door, and I left at 9am from NYC for a 2pm start time. Coming home took longer because of a connection in Philadelphia, but still wasn’t bad, and you can get a taxi to and from the train station. A car gives you a bigger variety of restaurants, but it’s still fine for a week: Cracker Barrel is a good breakfast spot (the buffet at the main hotel is terrible), and they actually serve decent food at the event if you’re in a hurry. With time, you can hit a Texas Roadhouse across the street for what I felt was punching far above its weight class in terms of price and atmosphere. Avoid the Applebee’s, of course, which means getting your dinner done by 10 during the week. You also have an Asian Bistro, a Red Robin and a Fuddruckers’s on your right. On your left is worse, although there is a Japanese steakhouse I’ve heard is solid, but after that you hit Arby’s and Pizza Hut. There’s more if you keep going, and you’re only there a week. Not bad for Amish country. Hotel rates are reasonable as well – on site for just over a hundred, or across the street for about eighty, and you need not book in advance except for the main weekend.
Overall I had a great time, with only one bad experience (Napoleonic Wars) that taught me a lot. I also learned several new games that I will be buying and playing, especially 7 Wonders and El Grande but also Ra, Samarkand and Baltimore & Ohio, in addition to remotivating me to locate Age of Renaissance and Advanced Civilization. I will pay market for either or both, if anyone has a copy. This is an awesome experience that I recommend to anyone interested in board games. Whatever your speed, there are tournaments for you. Next year, I’ll be ready to go for better results and chase Randy, who has put up an impressive five wins in two years, in five different games! The bar has been set high. I’ll be practicing, so if you’re in NYC and want in, drop me a line.