Sunday, July 29, 2007

Looking for a Home for Eva

This beautiful puppy is Eva. Scrabblette found her roaming the streets of Deagon one day in a particularly puppy-like suicidal fashion. She rescued her and we've tried to find the owner by:
  • leaflet dropping neighbouring streets
  • asking Deagon Vet
  • asking Boondall Vet
  • asking the RSPCA
  • asking the council
  • putting an ad in the local paper
  • putting an announcement over the radio
  • searching the internet for "lost dog Brisbane" which turned up one possibility but that dog has been found.
Eva is about 8 months old, house-trained, healthy, not speyed, not microchipped, not registered with the council. She gets on very well with my dog Sammy and always wants to play. Her only bad habit is chewing things which is why my house is now full of tennis ball pieces. If you'd like to adopt Eva, please email me ASAP because we have to move house soon and she'll have to go to the RSPCA before that. She's a lovely girl but one dog is enough for us.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My Geese, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me?

I'm still suffering the effects of a cough which deafens all mortals within 10 cubits and makes dogs howl for blocks around. It's a pain, literally. So today I tested out another Roads and Boats plan for the Lord of the Ring scenario. Here was my plan:

As you can see, I planned to not build an oil rig and build a ... oh FUCK, where's the coal burner? You'll understand my dismay on about turn 5 when I realised that I didn't have a place for the coal burner, so in my haste I placed it in the top right corner where it says wood cutter next to mine. That was a disastrous decision which cost me untold problems during the game.

This is how the game turned out. Three wonder layers for 30 points, 6 gold nuggets for 60 points, no coins and no stock bonds for 0 points - score 90. One mint in mint condition, and one stock exchange still in shrink.

As far as I can tell, my mistake was to put the paper mill and the coal burners in the wrong places. I needed to make paper before I made the mine so my donkeys were toiling in the west. When the research for a specialised mine was done they had to go all the way around the ring to get to the site for the second mine, mint, etc, which took about 5 turns. A complete disaster! The coal burner needs to be near the mint and logs, so OBVIOUSLY it should have been in the west.

There aren't many good things I can say about this experiment. I think the raft factory should be between the quarries so that the stone needed in the west starts one step closer to where it will be needed. Placing the saw mill on the home space had the benefit of turning logs into boards before I spend them to build the wonder, but I seemed to spend a great portion of the game carting boards around to no real effect. Much thinking needs to be done.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Kill the Geese and Let God Sort Them Out

I'm still sick. It's getting annoying. I just want to be healthy, or near death so people fuss over me. As it is my throat hurts and I want to rip it out but other than that I'm fine. Today's Roads and Boats project was to investigate the tip that WerBaer posted on the 'geek that "there are places where you haven't built anything". I decided to build more primary producers to see what happened. I wasn't particularly concerned if I didn't produce a stock bond as in yesterday's success - I just wanted to see what the production capacity gave me so I could formulate a better plan to use what I had.

I started with the opening that worked for me yesterday - a quarry and a wood cutter to either side of the pasture in the bottom right corner, followed by a raft factory and a saw mill outside those. I was then able to build a wood cutter next to the second quarry, and needed to start mines in the mountains. At about Turn 8 I realised I wasn't far behind yesterday's schedule.

Turn 1: build quarry and woodcutter
Turn 3: produce donkey
Turn 4: produce donkey, build saw mill
Turn 7: produce geese, build second quarry
Turn 8: produce geese, build raft factory and paper mill
Turn 9: produce raft, build second woodcutter
Turn 11: produce research, build specialised gold mine
Turn 12: produce research and raft
Turn 14: produce raft, build second specialised gold mine
Turn 15: build stock exchange and oil rig
Turn 16: build mint
Turn 17: produce coins, contribute 2 bricks to the wonder
Turn 18: produce coins, contribute 1 brick to the wonder
Turn 19: produce coins, contribute 2 bricks to the wonder
Turn 20: produce stock bond, contribute 2 bricks to the wonder

Aargh, again! One turn short of a second stock bond! But my score was 2 wonder rows, 1 stock bond, 2 coins, 0 gold for 220 points. Another PB!

Notice that opening up the extra territory didn't cost me anything. The extra donkey I was muttering about yesterday was out to good use building roads with the output of the second quarry. The output of the second wood cutter produced two of the rafts (and I only got 2 completed yesterday). I would say that the aggressive expansion was successful.

I have some more ideas. Firstly, there's one space I forgot to build anything on! By the time I realised I know I wouldn't get anything out of it. Secondly, it's a very long way from where the paper is produced to the stock exchange. If I produce the paper in that empty space I can feed the paper mill with logs from the second woodcutter. But I'll have to move the geese all the way around there. Thirdly, if I produce a charcoal burner instead of an oil well I can produce one less research and not have to breed geese at all. The charcoal burner can go on the pasture where I was formerly breeding the geese. Hmm... I need the paper before the charcoal... maybe put the charcoal burner on the left and the paper mill where I had it, but a turn or so earlier. It took a lot of mucking with rafts to get the oil rig produced and I wouldn't mind seeing it go away.

It's a shame about the geese though. I like the geese.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Money Can't Buy Donkeys Love But The Other Way Around Works Fine

I'm sick again today, so in between being hassled by real-estate agents I played another game of Roads and Boats. I've been posting my previous blog articles as session reports on and have received some advice and had some inspiration.

Most of the errors I noted after my last playing were to do with the breeding of the geese - too many, too far away. This time I decided to use the pasture for donkey breeding, then geese breeding, and depending on the time, build a paper mill there. If the geese took too long the plan was to build the paper mill in the top right mountain hex.

I wrote down a plan of what order I wanted to build buildings in. I needed that plan so that I could remember what I was going to do next (and hence know where to start carrying stuff). The plan was: WOOD CUTTER, QUARRY, SAW MILL, RAFT FACTORY, PAPER MILL, MINE, OIL RIG, MINT, STOCK EXCHANGE. It occurred to me after contemplating Solamar's advice that primary producers are important to build as early as possible to maximise their output over the whole game. The saw mill will be able to catch up with the backlog of logs.

So here's the quick summary:
Turn 1: built wood cutter and stone factory
Turn 3: produced donkey
Turn 4: produced donkey
Turn 5: built saw mill
Turn 6: produced geese
Turn 7: built raft factory
Turn 8: produced geese and raft, built paper mill
Turn 9: produced research and raft
Turn 10: produced research
Turn 11: built (specialised gold) mine
Turn 12: built oil rig
Turn 14: built mint
Turn 15: produced coins
Turn 16: produced coins, built (specialised gold) mine
Turn 17: built stock exchange
Turn 19: produced coins
Turn 20: produced stock bond

At the end of the game I had scored: 0 wonder rows, 1 stock bond, 1 coin, 2 gold for a score of 180 points. Woohoo! In two more turns I could have turned the coin and 2 gold into another stock bond.

The problem was that it was only about turn 14 that I realised I could potentially build another mine and so get enough gold for another stock bond. I ended up building the mine in the top left when I think top centre would have been a better place.

What next? I wonder about the rafts. They're mostly only useful for building the oil rig, but without the oil rig I need a charcoal burner. But also one less research, so two fewer geese. And the burner would go in the space where the raft factory is. Hmm.

I wonder what would happen if I planned to build the second mine sooner? Would that get me the two turns I needed? I expect not. At the moment I feel that my arrangement of buildings is almost optimal. I wonder what would happen if I had one donkey less?

With the current arrangement I have one donkey permanently occupied on the wood cutter - saw mill loop, one or two transporting rock, and the rest working on the new buildings. I sometimes feel like I'm over-supplied with transporters, so maybe one donkey less would be more effective? So many options! I wonder if I'll still be sick tomorrow?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wild Donkey Sex

I started coughing last night, and felt worse this morning, so I took the day off work sick. Of course being sick yet still able to sit up means one thing - solitaire games. So I set up Roads and Boats on the bed, fortified myself with lemon-flavoured paracetamol, and had 3 turns finished before Scrabblette even got her shoes on (she was going to work). My ambition was to execute my plan formulated after last night's playing of "Lord of the Ring". In short, I was going to build an oil rig, a specialised gold mine, and get myself a stock certificate.

The start of the plan involved cleaning all those boards and rocks out of the home pasture to make a love nest for the donkeys. I started in the pasture in the northwest corner. All the donkeys took a load into an adjacent hex then a couple of them snuck back for a bit of hee-haw. The busy worker donkey built a saw mill and a woodcutter. In turns 3 and 4 baby donkeys were born, and it was all over for the donkeys' reproductive careers.

I then built a quarry. In last night's game I built a quarry on turn 1, but I didn't get it until turn 5 this game. I think that's a problem. On turn 8 I built a raft factory (turn 5 last night), and a paper mill on turn 11 (none last night). At this point I was wondering if I'd made a mistake. The donkeys' love nest had been turned into a paper mill, so I had to lead the geese all the way to the other side of the world to find somewhere quiet for them to cluck. I tried using a raft as a baby-sitter, i.e. to lead away the goslings while they clucked some more, but the raft just didn't have the charisma of Julie Andrews, or even a donkey for that matter. It took a very long time to produce four geese for research, and to get them all the way to the other side of the world to the paper factory.

I built an oil rig on turn 16, a gold mine on turn 19, and produced my first gold nugget on turn 20. At that point my score was 50 - 4 wonder rows and a gold nugget. (BTW, last night I did the wonder wrong - I should have filled in the first 4 rows, so my score was not completely valid.)

I decided to soldier on until I produced the stock certificate, just to see how badly my plan had failed. On turn 23 I built a mint, on turn 26 I built a stock exchange, and the stock bond was produced at the beginning of turn 27.

Disappointing. I definitely think sending the geese to pasture on the other side of the world was a bad idea, as was waiting for them to come all the way back. I also realised I only needed to produce 2 geese - I could have then used up all of those that I had to do the two pieces of research I needed. I probably shouldn't have put the paper mill on the pasture - the geese needed to be there. I also wonder whether I should have built a clay pit so I'd have a stronger supply of rocks? So many ideas! I guess I'll just have to play again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Playing Roads and Boats With Myself

Well, it has been a busy couple of weeks! I've had three all-day gaming sessions, a birthday (41) and bought a house. Tonight I finally got a chance to sit down and ... did I mention Scrabblette bought me Roads and Boats for my birthday? well she did ... and play Roads and Boats. Unlike my solo Runebound escapades I decided to use the official scoring rules etc for this game, so I sat down with the "Lord of the Ring" solitaire scenario to try to beat Werner Baer's score of 360. Given my poor showing last time I played Roads and Boats I didn't expect too much.

I soon realised that I'd need to approach the game strategically - I'd have to plan ahead to get the resources I'd think I'd need. I decided to build lots of rafts as there was a lot of water in the game. Indeed, I built a raft factory on Turn 5. However, due to poor planning I didn't build a raft until Turn 10. Then another on Turn 13, andother on Turn 15, and the game finished after Turn 20. Again, I think I should have encouraged some wild donkey sex early in the game so I had more land transporters, as the rafts came too late to help very much.

I figured out (at least, according to my understanding of the rules) that I only needed to build one brick in each layer of the Wonder to get all the Wonder points, so I set that as my target. I realised towards the end of the game that if I built more bricks in the wonder then I would score for more layers, so I'll be a bit more aggressive in that respect next time.

Anyway, as the game went on I decided my goal would be to produce a coin, as a stock bond was too much to ask for. So I built a mine and a charcoal burner to get the fuel and gold to make the coin. I produced the coin on Turn 20. Woohoo! My final score was 40 for the coin, 70 for the Wonder, for a grand total of 110 points! Not as good as 360 :-(. Stupidly, I also had a gold nugget lying on the ground that I hadn't realised I needed to pick up for another 10 points. Aargh!

Once I finished my head was full of ideas on what I'd done wrong so I wrote them all down for next time. Donkey sex, as mentioned above. Contributions to the Wonder, as mentioned above - another 4 contributions would have got me another 10 points. To get a second coin (and hence maybe a stock bond) I would have needed a specialised gold mine which required research which required a paper mill. I then went through and analysed what natural resources I would need to produce a stock bond, and I think it can be done. Maybe even by me. I need to use an oil rig instead of a charcoal burner to make fuel. I definitely need to optimise my transport routes, so I drew a map of where I currently think everything should go.

I've even got a nice little love nest for the donkeys.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Maharaja for Two

Following the tradition of playing games during State of Origin, Scrabblette and I played Maharaja on Wednesday night. Our previous play was in a 4 player game at "On the Beach" in January. At that time I screwed up my first turn (forgot to account for travel costs, couldn't afford to build a house and gave everyone else two gold), got hammered by CyberKev and everyone else, and wasn't particularly impressed by the game. However Scrabblette was favourably disposed towards it so we planned to play again.

Judging from the BGG forums, naive players of this game think it's better to go first, and when we randomly selected first player that was me. Having watched CyberKev's clinical demolition of us after playing first I knew the best move was to chase the maharaja and get the most money. Scrabblette chose to go to the second city which left me with a monopoly. Afterwards we realised that she would have been much better off to just send her architect over and come second, but we were just learning at the time.

I continued to lead from the front throughout the game - following the maharaja and winning almost all of the cities. Scrabblette used various roles to keep herself in the race but eventually fell one palace behind. I was impressed that she kept up so well as I was getting most money by far and built all but one central palace.

I built 7 palaces in 8 turns, and I may have done better than that if we'd remembered to place houses in our reserve at the beginning of the game instead of having to quarry them. The question then occurred to me - what DO you do about a front-runner?

BGG gives a lot of good advice, pointing out ideas such as the character with the Mogul (character 1) always builds palaces for 12 whereas the other player need only pay 9. I need more experience to see how this works, but a lot of players on BGG have a very high opinion of the game so I'd like to play some more and see how the strategies work and how our approach develops as we become more experienced with the game.

Monday, July 02, 2007

An Insane Angle on a Word Game

"Without knowing what futurism is like, Johansen achieved something very close to it when he spoke of the city; for instead of describing any definite structure or building, he dwells only on broad impressions of vast angles and stone surfaces - surfaces too great to belong to anything right or proper for this earth, and impious with horrible images and hieroglyphs. I mention his talk about angles because it suggests something Wilcox had told me of his awful dreams. He said that the geometry of the dream-place he saw was abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours. Now an unlettered seaman felt the same thing whilst gazing at the terrible reality."
H.P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu"

On a visit to the FLGS the other day (looking for Colosseum) I noticed the new Playroom Entertainment game, Unspeakable Words. Having spent 7 hours playing Arkham Horror against the kid only a week or two earlier, a 30 minute Cthulhu game sounded irresistible. Even better, it was a word game. Arkham Horror distilled to a 30 minute word game? I had to have it. Also, it was cheap.

The game is very simple. You make words out of letter cards. The letters contain angles - S has 0, M has 3, A has 5, etc. Making words with angles drives you insane. Try to get enough points to win without going insane due to loathsome redolence etc.

You have a hand of 7 cards and on your turn you may make a word or exchange your hand for a new one. You score the points for the letters in the word. In addition, you roll d20. If you roll less than the points for the word, you lose a point of sanity. Read that again - if you roll less, you go insane. So big words send you insane. Small words are safer. First to 100 points wins. To get to 100 points first you need big words, to avoid insanity (and its consequence, elimination) you need small words. Non-Euclidean, huh?

You start with 5 sanity points, which are, awesomely, little green Cthulhu figures. If you lose all 5 sanity points you're eliminated from the game. This can happen through bad luck or bad play, or both. Let's do the maths.

When you make a word worth n points you have (n-1)/20 chance to lose a sanity point. Let's do what statisticians do and say on average you lose (n-1)/20 sanity points to earn a score of n. As you're effectively using the cards to exchange sanity for points, you earn n / ((n-1)/20) points per sanity point, i.e. 20n/(n-1). As you start with 5 sanity points and need 100 points, and you must stay sane to win the game, you need to earn 25 points per sanity point. That suggests that n/(n-1) throughout the game should be greater than or equal to 5/4, i.e. your words should average 5 points or less. When an E is worth 5 points, that's hard work. Obviously big words are more dangerous and small words are safer. But then the luck factor gets involved.

Obviously any game will have some players who get lucky and some who don't. The luck swings in this game can be quite dramatic, and if there are 6 players you'd expect there to be a luckiest one and an unluckiest one. The likely winner of Unspeakable Words will be the player who best combines their skill with their luck. Some people can make lots of big words, rush to the lead and be eliminated, whereas others will ride their luck and win gloriously. That's life.

I'd like there to be a successful strategy to this game but I don't see that there is. I'd think you could make small words to be safe, and if you can make a very high scoring word, e.g. 25 points, go ahead and take the sanity hit. However my observations have been that the lucky player making medium (i.e. 12-17 point) words will win. That must be how she does it.

In any case, this is a fun game, from the very nice card art to the teensy weensy Cthulhu statues. It's great for kids, because if they can only make small words they can still do well - MET is worth 10 points but SOUS is worth 0. It's a great light game for gamers who can try to strategise and blame the dice when they lose. And most of all, it's a very funny nod to Lovecraft's genius, and a whole lot quicker than Arkham Horror.