Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The First Play Attitude

My group, which is comprised of my husband, daughter, Mike and myself, love confrontational games where you get the chance to interfere in others’ plans. We bring out our devious, vicious nature and stomp on anyone who gets in our way, kicking butt from the Desert to the Union Pacific. Is it strange, then, that on the first play of a heavier game we tend to be very cooperative, helpful and sharing?

Richard, Mike and I sat down for the first playing of Das Ende Des Triumvirats on Sunday. This is not a particularly heavy game but there are many things to consider when planning your move and small twists in the rules that are easy to forget such as when I wanted to increase my political competence but ended my move on a military province.

There is a tendency with us to help each other out, pointing out something that was overlooked or suggesting an alternative move that someone may not have considered and giving a little leeway for re-considered moves. On the very first move, Richard, who was playing Caesar, forgot about his supplies from Rome. Mike remembered as Richard was finishing his movement/attack so we all agreed that Richard would have taken additional legions so we added them to the outcome of the battle. Do any of you find that strange? In my house, I assure you, it is not.

Mike would have won, however he forgot to take his Civil Servant with him on his previous move which would have given him enough money to buy the needed forum votes. If he’d remembered during that move, we would have let him add the Civil Servant to his move but the fact didn’t register until his next move. This is another example of our laid-back attitude on the first playing of a game. The result was that Richard managed to win with a Competence victory.

Some talk amongst my online buddies had made me desperate to play Magna Grecia again. It had been waaaayyy too long since we’ve played it and it was almost like playing for the first time. The salient points had to be gone over, the quirks in the rules emphasized. The First Play Attitude poked its head up several times during the game, most notably when Mike wanted to get a market into Cori’s ever-expanding major city. She had already sold the market in her main city and established a single-tile city next to it; the plan was clear. Mike built a market in her major city which cost him 8 points but all the while he was counting out his cost on the points track Richard was saying, “No, no, no, no…” When the counting was finished, Richard explained how Mike could pay just 2 to build in the 1-tile city, which would soon become part of the massive metropolis. This new plan replaced the old move and Mike added the 6 points back to his score.

The final outcome was that Cori kicked our butts all over a large portion of Greece and impressed all but 3 of the Oracles, giving her the win by ten points. For the record, this is still one of my favorite games and I curse all those new games I played when I could have been playing Magna Grecia.

The First Play Attitude also extends to any new players as the “old pros” help someone who hasn’t played a game before. The tricky thing about First Play Attitude is that it doesn’t just disappear with the next play, it diminishes gradually until, by unspoken agreement, we know that we’re on our own no matter what stupid move we make.

This week I tried a game called Santorini, an independently produced game by Games By Gord []. It’s totally abstract, which you may know is not my favorite kind of game but I agreed to give it a try. It plays with 2-3 players but all my games have been with 2.

The game is made up of many flat wooden tiles which are laid out in a 5 X 5 grid to use as the playing board and to be stacked to a height of 3 above the playing board. Each player has a set of 2 wooden pawns in the shape of cubes, cylinders or triangles which you place anywhere on the board to begin the game.

The rules are very simple: move one of your pawns 1 space in any direction including diagonally then place a tile on any adjacent space, including diagonally. You may move up only one level at a time but you may go down any number of levels. When a stack reaches 3 levels in height you may either move one of your pawns onto it for the win or place a dome piece on it to block an opponent from moving there and winning.

I find most totally abstract games slow to start and this was no exception but with each move the play became more interesting and the choices tougher, plans and ideas formulating in my head. I can see abstract fans planning 2 or 3 moves in advance, though I can’t do that very well myself. The first game lasted about 10 minutes so we made some lunch and played a second game. By the end of the game, it had gotten under my skin (or into my brain) and I kept thinking about it. This is a good sign for any game.

It also has some expansion cards which let you break the rules or add a twist to the game play. I haven’t tried any of them and am not really inclined to in the future since I like the game as it is although with many, many plays they may refresh the game to give you even more hours of interesting head-to-head play.

The expansion cards are in the form of Gods which grant you extra powers. Aphrodite forces an opponent to end his turn next to one of your men if he started his turn next to one of your men. This sounds like it could add an interesting twist to the basic movement. Atlas lets you place the domes as if they were tiles (on any stack, not just the third level). I’m not sure if this would be a good addition to the game or not, though I have doubts. Athena says that when you step up a level, no other player may step up until your next turn. This could be a nice change from the basic play, adding a bit of strategy to the movement. Hermes gives you the ability to move a piece twice before playing a tile or dome which also sounds to me like a good tweak to the basic rules. My least favorite God card is Pan which says you can also win if you jump down 2 levels. This sounds way too powerful to me as you’d constantly be trying to block his movement up to the 3rd level and down 2 levels with very little chance of succeeding.

I’ve enjoyed my games of Santorini and can see it being played occasionally when I want a quick game in the evening.

The Memoir ’44 Secret Weapon

Richard and I played Memoir ’44 the other night and it was probably the closest game we’ve played, the luck (or bad luck) evenly distributed and the last medal for both of us a back and forth battle for 2 turns. But I had my secret weapon near to hand and finally captured the 4th medal for the win.

What secret weapon, you ask? My plush Penguin from the Madagascar movie!
Until next time, keep your balloon in the air.



Unknown said...

We play the same way, but even if we've all played a game dozens of times, if someone does something so obviously stupid, we feel we have to allow them to take it back. Personally, I don't want to win because someone made a stupid mistake.

Anonymous said...

Our group(s) will almost always allow "takebacks" as long as possible when a rule was misunderstood or forgotten. If not a complete takeback, at least any extra income or points will be awarded retroactively.

Really big blunders (like leaving a while front out of supply in Paths of Glory) will often be pointed out before "finalizing" turn regardless of experience. Smaller goofs are pointed out in first few games, then taper off as more experience is gained.

I've found some players get (or will accept/ask for) more leeway in "takebacks" than others.

Rick said...

We're a very vocal group, usually discussing other players' options and pointing out things. I know this others the more competitive gamers out there, but this is the way people learn and become better players faster. Takebacks are freely given as long as the move isn't "too far gone" which really depends on the game being played. In this way our games are always competitive, interactive and educational.

Anonymous said...

Sis (yes, it really is your brother),

I thought Tucker & Co. were your secret weapons! LOL

I've been reading your column since you started blogging. You seem suited to it. But I do have a question for you: So when are you and Richard heading off to a gaming convention like Origins?


Coldfoot said...

What a surprise to hear from you, G.

The only time Tucker would be a secret weapon is if you're playing with food!

Origins would be higher on our to-do list if there was a motorcycle convention right next door! :)
So where did a non-gamer like yourself hear about Origins?

Anonymous said...

If food is involved, Tucker can hardly be called a 'secret' weapon.

BTW, don't let my sister's, umm, "innocent" ways fool anybody. Though I much prefer RPGs, I probably started gaming before she did (even though I am years out of practice)! I even went to a combined GenCon/Origins years ago!

Hmmm, but on second thought, it may work to my advantage to have her think I am uninitiated when I Mary, if you are reading this...nevermind!