Thursday, July 25, 2013

Milk Run: "Merchant of Venus"

Most of what I could say about Merchant of Venus I've already said about Dune I.E. Rex: The Final Days of the Empire.  Both games were produced by the late, great wargame publisher / Ameritrash progenitor Avalon Hill and were trapped within its dying husk when the company was assimilated by  Hasborg...er, Hasbro in 1998.  

Merchant of Venus featured in one of Avalon Hill's last product catalogs from 1997.  

Both titles were rescued from oblivion by Avalon Hill's contemporary spiritual successor Fantasy Flight.  But unlike Dune, which had to be re-skinned thanks to the jackanapes in charge of the Frank Herbert estate, Merchant of Venus was ported over largely intact.  Here's what Fantasy Flight has to say about their new incarnation:




"The galaxy is bursting with opportunities for savvy space traders to exploit, and the race to profit blasts off in Merchant of Venus!  In this exciting game of interstellar trade and exploration, one to four players each represent a fledgling merchant eager to make a name for himself.

"Following a devastating alien attack, a galactic cluster is once again opened for trade, and unimaginable wealth awaits the most ambitious merchant.  Each player begins the game with a ship and a gung-ho pilot fresh from the Academy.  From these humble beginnings, they must find the most profitable trade routes in order to deliver goods, transport passengers, build spaceports, mine asteroids, and acquire fame by completing missions and upgrading their ship and pilot.

"Merchant of Venus launches players into a galaxy full of markets hungry to discover and buy alien goods.  Space traders from four different races zip along trade routes to make contact with distant planets and uncover their key consumables.

"Human – Adaptable and generally content to inhabit any planet they run across through technological inventions.

"Whynom – A strong race of intelligent horses.

"Qossuth – Insane and bent on taking over the universe, the Qossuth often devise elaborate plans which require vast sums of money (making them good targets for trade).

"Eeepeeep – Intelligent machines descended from a single toaster that achieved sentience after being stabbed with one too many kitchen utensils.

"From your First Contact with alien cultures, to the establishment of trade routes and spaceports, your quest for cash demands that you remain on the move. Each round, players take turns declaring their heading, launching their ships, moving through space, and buying and selling goods. The trader with the most wealth wins!

"Successful traders will quickly locate fast and reliable trade routes, timing their purchases and sales with the interest in the market.  You also need to weigh your investment in your ship against the cost to your profit margin.  Upgrades to your ship may allow you to blaze through the stars, faster than ever, and they can help you bypass the various hazards of interstellar voyages, including space pirates. Likewise, your basic pilot may be good enough to take your ship on its maiden voyage, but when you’ve got a vital trade line established between multiple planets, do you want to trust your business to a rookie?

"Along your journeys, you may also pick up passengers able to pay for transit across the stars, invest in racial technology, and undertake a number of missions that can enhance your fame and profit.

"Fantasy Flight Games has remained true to the wild, intergalactic pursuit of wealth from the game’s classic 1980’s roots, and we’ve kicked it into hyperdrive with several new enhancements, including a fantastic new board and sculpted ships.

"Fans of the original version will find our implementation of Richard Hamblen’s classic game on one side of the board, and Rob Kouba's newly reimagined designed on the other. This revised iteration keeps the core mechanics intact, but boosts them with new options that enrich the game by presenting fresh strategies to players."

Looking to review the full cargo manifest?  Click on the following link to see exactly what you need to do with all of those Designer Genes and Melf Pelts!

***  


I think Dean acquired this one as a Christmas gift, so the fact that we just got around to playing it tells me two things:
  1. It requires a bit of prep time to table.  
  2. We all own w-a-a-a-a-a-y too many games.  
Regardless (or perhaps because of) the delay, Dean, Mike and I were quite excited to try out the "Classic" version of the game when we sat down for game night back on July 10'th.

RANDOM RACE DRAW 

ME...Human (White)

DEAN...Eeepeeep (Red)

Mike...Whynom (Green)

***


Via a random roll, Mike became the first player to move out.  After chucking a 6, 4 and 1 for movement he blasted off to the spaceport orbiting Nebula Habitat and encountered Dean's people, the Eeepeeep.  He then purchased a Data Probe for his ship and took on a load of Pedigree Bolts as cargo.   Then, after scoring another great movement roll (6/6/3) he flew off to Water World, secretly checked to see what race was concealed there and then decided to keep on truckin'.  While in deep space, he Encountered a Telegate, which would allow us to hop across the galaxy as more appeared!

Dean's movement roll (2/1/1) was frightfully slim, so he spent his first turn crawling towards the nearest system.  His second roll (3/3/5) was moderately better and he docked at the Spaceport high above the Interstellar Biosphere and met the planet's custodians, the Cholos.  After this amicable tête-à-tête, Dean went on to pimp out his ride with a Variable Shield and also picked up some Designer Genes at cut-rate prices. 

My rolling was equally poor.  After throwing a 3, a 2 and a 1 all I could do was inch my way towards the Colony World.  Upon arrival (via a follow-up roll of 4/1/1) I decided to make friends with the native Dell, which, in retrospect, was kinda stupid.  Although my purchase of an advanced Yellow Drive was clutch, their export crop of Finest Dust left something to be desired.  Their proffered "Licensed to Drill" tech also did very little to tempt me, since it was more suited to the Standard game rules.

With a movement roll of 3, 5 and 2 Mike tried to get to the Nebula Habitat but fell prey to a forty-point Hazard.  He decided to change course, jetting off to the Insterstellar Biosphere to hang with the Cholos instead.  After selling his Pedigree Bolts to them for 200 credits he decided to replace this with Designer Genes as his next delivery.  

When the Speed Die produced a 6, 2 and 1 for movement, Dean motored off to the Trapped Rogue Planet but couldn't quite get there.  His next Speed Roll of 2, 3 and 1 was just enough to facilitate his rendezvous with the newly-revealed Nillis.  After selling two lots of Designer Genes to these weirdoes for 120 bones he purchased some Bionic Perfume for 80 and then went on his merry way.  

Against my better judgement, I bit the bullet and picked up some Finer Dust from the Dell and then blasted off towards the Giant Planet.  A triple-six movement score got me there in one turn, and I soon ingratiated myself to the native Wollow.  Given my limited cargo space, I quickly turfed the Dust and brought a Megalith Paperweight on board instead.          

Mike's roll of 1, 5 and 3 didn't quite give him enough juice to get to the Trapped Rogue Planet, but his subsequent movement of 6, 2 and 1 did the trick.  He sold his Designer Genes to the Nillis for a respectable 240 credits and then bought into a Data Probe Factory on the planet's surface.   


Dean used a 3, 1 and 1 roll to start navigating back towards the Colony World, arriving the following turn thanks to his first decent movement roll of 6/4/3.  He quickly sold his Bionic Perfume for 140 credits and then purchased a Spaceport, just because all the cool kids were doing it.

Even after throwing an anemic 5/4/1, I still managed to find my way back home, encountering my fellow Humans on their Multi-Generational Ship.  Delighted by the return of their prodigal son, they gave me a hefty IOU and a great deal on raw materials, enough for me to buy a stake in the on-board Shuttle Factory.  Then, "thanks" to a weak-ass 3/1/1 roll, I started crawling my way off to Water World.    

Propelled by a 5/4/3 Speed Roll, Mike struck off towards the Desert World.  Thanks to a 6/1/2 follow-up he gently touched down and then broke bread with the Yxklyx.  Fueled by an IOU dowry of 100 credits, Mike filled his cargo hold to the brim with Immortal Grease and then bought stock in the local Stasis Tank Factory.

Dean stayed put, selling his second shipment of Bionic Perfume for another 140 large.  His planetary options now tapped out, he used a 5/3/1 roll to whisk himself off to the Giant Planet.  

With my 6/4/1 Speed Roll I splashed down on Water World, bumping into the Volois for the first time.  After selling the Paperweight for a respectable 160 credits I purchased some Canned Traits to transport off-world.  Propelled by a 6/3/2 movement roll I hurtled back towards the Multi-Generational Ship in order to pawn those self-same Traits.  Now lamenting my echoey cargo hold, I picked up some Rock Videos, which, if nothing else, certainly outed the game as a product of the Eighties.      

Mike used his 4/4/1 roll to blaze a trail towards the Nebula Habitat.  Despite a decent 5/1/2 follow-up, he didn't score the required Navigation die and got stuck bobbing around out in space.  

Dean also stalled on a woefully inadequate 3/1/1 movement score.  He also Encountered a deep-space "Jump Start" Relic which gave him the ability to leap across the board via any of the revealed Telegates.  Since only one was out at that time, he decided to stick with traditional locomotion for the time being.  Not a bad call since his next roll of 6, 5 and 6 got him all the way to the Multi-Generational Ship where he sold his Fine Dust for 50 credits and picked up some Rock Videos in return.

Using my 5/2/1 roll I zipped off to the Spaceport orbiting the Nebula Habitat.  Thanks to the profits from my Rock Video sale I decided to stake my claim on the local Spaceport and pick up some of them thur Pedigree Bolts.  On my next turn I also took a Cylo...er, Toaster onboard as a passenger to (A) increase my earning potential and (B) heat up my blueberry bagels.  

After a disappointing 2/3/3 roll, Mike decided to change course and head for the Interstellar Biosphere.  The following turn he threw just enough pips to limp into the system where he found an eager buyer for his Immortal Grease, earning 250 space clams.  


In a clear sign of the apocalypse, Dean threw another great Speed Roll, scoring a 6, 4 and 5.  He used this turbo boost to bypass Water World and strike out towards the Desert World.  Unfortunately, his hot dice soon become a liability.  After rolling 6/5/6 the following turn Dean realized, to his horror, that he didn't have the Navigation required to take the Desert World off-ramp.  As a result, he was forced to drift around for a turn.  *Cue sad trumpet noise.*

With my 5/2/1 roll I (barely) arrived at the Interstellar Biosphere and sold my Pedigree Bolts for a cool 300 bits.  The following turn the Toaster disembarked, trying to pay me in breadcrumbs before I beat the 120 credits out of his aluminum hide.  Chafing under the yoke of a single cargo hold, I decide to re-invest my profits back into my business and bought a Transport!  

After rolling a 6 a 3 and a 2, Mike zoomed off to the War-Torn System.  He encountered the planet's overseers, the Graw, and thanks to their 90-credit IOU he bought some Junk which was even more Glorious then what he was born with.  Like an interstellar Vasco da Gama, he then spent his 5/4/3 movement roll to discover the Niks on the Polluted Planet.  After letting them enjoy his Glorious Junk for 200 credits (?) he picked up the deed for a Merchant Spaceport and then stocked his cargo hold with a bunch of creepy Living Toys.  

With a roll of 1/1/5, Dean once again found himself in limbo.  He decided to spin off to the Nebula Habitat, where he sold his Rock Videos and then dumped his Finer Dust in order to purchase Pedigree Bolts.  As if his transportation woes weren't already bad enough, he next roll of 6/6/1 got him hopelessly mired in the Nebula for a turn!  

A 6/4/1 roll fueled my journey to the Nebula Habitat where I procured another lucrative Pedigree Bolt. I wanted to head down to the War Torn System but despite a bodacious movement roll of 6/4/1 not only did I find myself lost in the dark reaches of space, I also had to pay 20 extra credits in order to maneuver around a stupid freakin' hazard!    

Speeding through the galaxy on a 5, 4, and 6, Mike Encountered a Relic Shield which he happily decided to install in order to mitigate those pesky Hazards.  He then swung past the Inhabited Moon but decided not to stop there, choosing instead to forge on to the Water World.  

Although his Speed Roll of 5/2/1 wasn't very good, it was just enough for Dean to reach the Interstellar Biosphere.  He exchanged his Pedigree Bolts for a tidy little profit and then picked up some Designer Genes to pay for his next jaunt.  Hoping to get to the other end of the galaxy in a hurry, he attempted to activate his Jump Start but with a triple 1, he barely leapt clear of the Biosphere.  


I set a course back to the Multi-Generational Ship but my 2/2/1 roll made for some pretty pokey transit.  I really needed a 1 on my next Speed Roll to get back to the Cholos on the Interstellar Biosphere, who were eagerly awaiting my Pedigree Bolt delivery.  Unfortunately I was forced to dock at the Spaceport orbiting the Multi-Generational Ship; a wasted turn for all intents and purposes.  

Propelled by a respectable 6/6/1, Mike boldly struck out towards the Desert World.  He diced up 5/6/1 on his next turn, giving him the option to divert to the Nebula Habitat facility.  Unfortunately he was also forced to pay an additional 20 credits just to navigate around all of the hazards!

With a roll of 3/1/5, Dean finally got some satisfaction out of the Telegates, ending up in orbit around Water World.  He sold his Jordache-brand Designer Genes for 240 credits and then bought a Combo Drive facilitate easier movement around the board.  With his new engines installed, the following Speed Roll of 2/5/6 got him all the way to the Interstellar Biosphere where he sold his Pedigree Bolts for 300 large.

I finally managed to reach the Giant Planet on the back of a pitiful 1/2/4 Speed roll.  Upon arrival I sold my own Pedigree Bolt for 300 big ol' space bucks.  Given the excellent return on these things, we kept picking them up until there were none left.  I then purchased a Megalith Paperweight for the return trip back to the Multi-Generational Ship but was immediately stymied by a frustratingly-low 1/2/1 roll.

Thanks to a twelve-point movement tally (6/4/2) Mike landed safely on the Colony World.  Between the regular trade value of the Living Toys and the accumulation of Demand Tokens, the Dell paid Mike 300 credits in total for his booty!  Intoxicated by these spoils, Mike decided to gamble on the high-capacity storage space of a Freighter.  But as soon as he realized that he was now stuck with only two Speed Dice he might have voiced a few regrets.  When the 5 and 4 he diced up next prevented him from escaping the system, he spent that particular turn cooling his jets on the Colony World Spaceport.  

Dean used his roll of 1/4/5 to propel his ship to the Galactic Base where he quickly upgraded his Scout Ship to a Transport.  He then engaged his Jump Start and the matching Telegate sent him hurtling half-way across the galaxy to land on the War-Torn system.  Immediately he went on the prowl for some Glorious Junk to stuff into his cavernous pod bay.  Man, what a space-trollop!

I used the 4 from my 4/2/1 Speed Roll to navigate to the Water World, paying 20 credits in added expenses just for the privilege of getting there.  My next craptacular toss of 1/1/2 was just enough to facilitate a splashdown on Dennis Hopper's turf.  After selling my Monolith Paperweights to the Volois I quickly snapped up the deed to the nearby Merchant Spaceport.     
       
Mike's frustration came to a head after he rolled two 6's and discovered that he was still trapped in orbit around the Colony World!  To his chagrin, the exact same thing happened to him on the following turn. Losing that third Speed Die was proving to be painful!

Meanwhile, Dean decided to take on a scumbag Arms Dealer as a Passenger.  He then blasted out of orbit with an excellent 6/6/5 roll which propelled him all the way to the Multi-Generation Ship.  Upon arrival, he quickly sold his in-demand Glorious Junk for 160 credits!  Ah, the glamorous life of a space-gigolo.

My weak-ass roll of 5/1/1 got me as far as the Multi-Generation Ship but I had eyes on another destination. Finally I get a decent Speed Roll (6/6/5) and touched down on the Polluted Planet.  Despite suggesting that the native Niks change the planet's name to something more tourist-friendly ("Fog World"!), I sold my Canned Traits to them for 280 credits.  In good faith, I also invested in their domestic Merchant Spaceport. Even though we all avoided these privatized facilities for fear of giving our opponents so much as a red nickel, Factories and Spaceports continued to be a popular investment, probably because of the tangible Net Worth they provided.


Finally, Mike got a 2 and a 5, releasing him from the apparent gravity well that was plaguing him around the Colony World.  He then became the first merchant to land on the Jungle World, meet the Shenna and acquire some Milf, er...Melf Pelts.  Continuing his quest to explore EVERY FUCKING INCH OF THE KNOWN GALAXY, he then rocketed off to the Ice World via a 6/5 Speed Roll.  Along the way he Encountered and then installed a Spy Eye Relic along the way.  This handy little device was soon put to good use, giving Mike the ability to survey Encounters before flipping them.

Meanwhile, Dean bit the bullet and parked at my Water World Spaceport, earning 120 credits for his Designer Jeans and another 40 from the stockpiled Demand.  After purchasing some Canned Traits at wholesale prices he then hurtled off towards the Polluted Planet with a 6/5/1 roll.  En route he Encountered an Autopilot Relic which would keep his ship moving at a consistent speed for the rest of the game.  After reaching his destination, Dean sold his Canned Traits for another 220 simoleons, capping two great turns in a row for him.

Looking to test the boundaries of my expanded cargo hold I took on two lots of Living Toys.  Stuffed to capacity, I rolled 6/4/4 for Speed, docked with the Multi-Generational Ship and then sold one of the Toys to my fellow Humans for 60 credits.  Even though I'd just tripled my investment, I also knew that such a sparse payday wasn't going to be competitive.

Continuing to venture into uncharted space, Mike used his 4/1 Speed Roll to maneuver through the Asteroid System.  His follow-up movement of 5 and 6 gave him a chance to duck and weave through the interstellar debris field.  After using his Spy Eye to scan an Encounter directly ahead and retrieve some Mulligan Gear, Mike instantly gained the ability to re-roll one Speed Die.  Given his limited die pool, this Relic proved to be a tremendous find.  He then docked at the nearest space station, sold his Melf Pelts for a cool 150 beans and then invested in a hot new commodity: Impossible Furniture.

Dean opted for another Jump Start, rolled 6/4/1 and ended up in the War-Torn System, I.E. the ass-end of the galaxy.  Beating Mike to the punch, he was the first person to reach the heart of the Asteroid System and establish diplomatic relations with Mike's own race, the Wynoms!  Wow, what a dick move!  He then cargo-dumped the virtually valueless Living Toys and picked up some Impossible Furniture with the Wynom's 80-credit IOU gift.  He then used his follow-up 5/4/1 Speed Roll to set a course for the distant Inhabited Moon.

Coveting the mobility of my rivals, I decided to install a Red Drive after selling more Living Toys to my fellow sucke..er...Humans.   With my souped-up engines I decided to make haste for the Polluted Planet via Water World.

Armed with a respectable 6/2 Speed Roll, Mike scanned the path ahead with his Spy Eye and then opted to go in the other direction.  Eventually he landed on the War-Torn system and bought the Graw's "Hard Burn" Technology which gave him a one-use, 10-point Speed bump on a future turn.

With a 5/1/1 for movement, Dean touched down on the Inhabited Moon and offered his Rock Videos to the resident Zum.  After buying some Chicle Liquor (!) from these raging intergalactic booze-hounds, he initiated a Jump Start, rolled what he needed and then "BAMF"-ed half-way across the cosmos.

Mike then augmented his 6/4 Speed Roll with a Hard Burn, getting all the way to Water World where he pawned his Impossible Furniture for a healthy 160 credits.  He then purchased some Canned Traits in exchange for 140.

Taking stock of Dean's potential hootch windfall, I cashed in my 4/4/2 Speed Roll to reach the Inhabited Moon and snagged a few skids of Chicle Liquor.  Mainly because I love saying "Chicle Liquor".  Chicle Liquor.  Sorry.  Anyway, I also picked up a Sales Passenger who would hopefully make my next run even more lucrative.


Driven by a perfectly cromulent 2/4/5 Speed Roll, Dean arrived at the Inter-Stellar Biosphere.  After selling Chicle Liquor to the Cholos (PLEASE NOTE: send your letters of complaint to Fantasy Flight c/o designers Richard Hamblen and Robert A. Kouba) for 140 credits he then bought some Designer Jeans for 60.  On his next turn he decided to stay in place so he could buy some shares in the Merchant Spaceport floating just overhead.  He also sold the Impossible Furniture collecting dust in his secondary cargo hold and then bought some more Genes in exchange.

After rolling snake eyes, Mike activated his Mulligan Gear and ended up with a 1 and a 4 instead.  He started drifting towards the Multi-Generational Ship, arriving at the orbiting Neutral Spaceport the following round with a 6 and a 4.  After wheelin' and a-dealin' with the Humans, he sold his Canned Traits to them for 140 credits and then procured a few Rock Videos with the profits.

In order to deliver Herbert Ruggles Tarlek Jr. to Water World, I desperately needed a 3 or a 6 for Navigation.  Instead I got a falking 5, 2 and 4 so I ended up stuck in a Trade Route nexus.  The crap luck I experienced simply trying to get from point "A" to point "B" really started to piss me off.  After I diced up two 5's and a 2 on my next turn I had to resist the urge to flip the table.  Frustrated beyond belief, I jettisoned my original plan and flew off to my own Nebula Habitat Starbase to sell my Chicle Liquor for a pitiful 90 credits plus a 10 credit commission.  My irritation continued to mount after realizing that I still didn't have enough money to buy those tantalizing Pedigree Bolts that the Eeepeeep were dangling in front of my face.  "Urge...to...kill...rising...rising..."

With a roll of 1/3/3 Dean set his sights on the Ice World via the Trapped Rogue System.  Next turn's Speed Roll of 6/5/1 was enough to get him face-to-face with the last unrevealed race on the board: the Qossuth. After smoking the peace pipe with these gnarly dudes he immediately scored two stellar windfalls: 120 credits for dropping off the Arms Dealer and another 120 from his host's IOU.  As if that wasn't enough, he also collected 180 space bucks for selling Designer Genes to them.  His subsequent Psychotic Sculpture purchase for 120 bones barely put a dent in his profits.

After throwing a 5 and a 2, Mike engaged his Mulligan Gear but threw another 2.  After a bout of cyphering he noticed that he could get to the Nebula Habitat, where he ended up pawning his Rock Videos for 160 credits and then procuring the last of the Pedigree Bolts.  I stewed in silence while watching this, boiling in mute envy.  His next movement of 6 and 1 got him part-way to the Giant Planet via the Multi-Generational Ship.

I used the 2 from my 2/3/4 Speed Die result to navigate to the Colony World via the Interstellar Bioshere. On the following round, a 5, 5 and 4 granted me planetfall, where I bought the 120-value Finest Dust from the Dell.  Now that I had a reason to visit the Inhabited Moon (where Dust was in demand) I had an alternate plan in place when my trip to Water World inevitably went off the rails again.  

Dean sold his second shipment of Designer Genes to the fashionably-beautiful Qossuth for another 180 bits. Given his Exxon Mobil-like profits on every turn, Mike and I knew that Dean's victory was nothing short of a formality.  He went on that turn to invest in a Merchant Spaceport and take another shipment of Psychotic Sculptures onboard.

Blessed with a pair of 5's, Mike arrived on the Giant Planet where he sold his Pedigree Bolts to the Wollow for an obscene 300 credit payout, loading his ship up with a gross of Megalith Paperweights in return.  

In yet another kick to my space-knutz, the dice gave me two 1's and a 2 for a Speed Roll.  I barely broke orbit en route to the Jungle World, who I also noticed were strung out for Dust.

Mercifully, it was the last turn I'd ever have to fumble through.  Intent on Water World's offer to buy his Statues, Dean called a "3" on his Speed Die roll so he could Jump Start to that system.  Instead he rolled a 1, 4 and a 6, which forced him through the #4 Telegate.  This turned out to be a blessing in disguise since the Graw also turned out to pretentious art snobs with a taste for the peculiar.  After selling his first Psychotic Sculpture for 340 credits, Dean promptly declared himself the winner!



FINAL SCORES   
(in net worth credits) 

Dean...2010

Mike...1110

Me...710

***
REVIEW

PROS
  • The economic engine at the heart of Merchant of Venus is simple and elegant.  Some of the cheaper goods might have a high profit margin but don't yield a big windfall while other, more expensive commodities provide a more satisfying paycheck even if they don't triple in value.  You constantly need to estimate the value of goods and how quickly you can convert them into cash.  Bonus tip: take advantage of Demand token accumulation for some easy bonus bucks.   
  • The components are colorful, clear and attractive.  The navigation arrows could be a bit easier to read, but otherwise, everything is perfect.        
  • After Dean briefed us on how to play, there were precious few trips back to the rulebook.  Having said that, I did spend the entire game laboring under the misconception that Telegates can only be used if their "matching number" is on the board.  Whoops!   
  • There's a certain dopey sense of humor inherent in this game.  The oddball alien names, generic Star Wars-ian terrain-based planets and the MTV-inspired commodities all have a charmingly-dated quality to them.  Indeed, Merchant of Venus feels just as Eighties as Pac-Man, heavy metal music and Wall Street cocaine abuse.  
  • After customizing your ship with advanced Drives, Shields and Relics it actually feels as if you're piloting a unique vessel with its own idiosyncrasies.  Upgrading to a Transport or Freighter might seem like a no-brainer, but if there aren't any lucrative goods on the board or enough money to stock your ship to capacity, it might be a needless investment.  Regardless of what ship you decide to stick with, a wise player should upgrade their Drives as soon as possible in order to improve their limited mobility.  
  • The game encourages you to be bold.  I was in the lead during the first quarter of the game because of all those early first contacts.  Thinking that I could just coast my way through the rest of the game on milk-runs, I stopped venturing to the outskirts of the galaxy.  Unfortunately,  Dean and Mike continued to boldly seek out new life and new civilizations and were handsomely rewarded with a metric shit-ton of free IOU's.  
CONS
  • The endless pattern of "pick up goods, roll to move, try to get to your destination, fail to get to your destination, roll again, finally get to your destination, sell your crap, pick up more crap" starts to wear thin after awhile.  We played the "Journeyman" game requiring 2000 Net Worth credits to win but I kinda wish we'd kept it at 1000.  Towards the end, things were starting to drag worse then your average Morrissey song.
  • The aforementioned game length wouldn't be so bad if there was some sort of mid-point accelerant or complication which screwed around with the game's global climate.  As it stands, there's not a lot of gameplay variety nor is there much hope to come back from a deficit.  Essentially the game ends in exactly the manner in which it begins. 
  • Ship upgrades do speed things up a little bit, but not by much.  In fact, for the longest time, I had Transport buyers remorse since I never seemed to have enough money to fill the damn thing to capacity.  And I know for sure that Mike kicked himself for buying a Freighter, what with that whole "only two Speed Die" thang.  Also, why don't ships add to your Net worth?  I know that vehicles depreciate over time but Holy Space Jesus, this is ridiculous!  
  • I really wish Fantasy Flight had sprung for different minis for each class of ship.  You go through all the bother of buying a new ship and you gotta keep plying around in the same ol' crappy miniature.   Lame.  
  • Words cannot do justice to the palpable feelings of impotent fury you feel when you get a great Speed Roll and then realize that you don't have the required Navigation die to where you want to go.  I know this is supposed to represent the rigors of space travel but there has to be some way to simulate this without inspiring feelings of murder/suicide.        
***

Like many "classic" games from the Eighties (Shogun I'm looking in your direction), Merchant of Venus definitely shows its age.  But this just makes me want to nag Dean until he tables the Standard version of the game.  I think it would be really interesting to play both versions back-to-back to see if the mechanics improved after twenty-five years of board game evolution.  Hey, it certainly worked for Conquest of the Empire.

Merchant of Venus rates four pips out of six with a gravitational tilt downward.


***     
    
Looking to get fair market value for your Glorious Junk?  Click on the image below to order Merchant of Venus from Amazon and help support this blog!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

F#@k You, Castles Are Cool: "The Castles of Burgundy"

Okay, so after thoroughly greasing the less-then-dynamic box art for Power Grid, here's what we were thinking about playing next:


Now some folks will think that this game looks even more yawn-inspiring.  To those people I say: fuck you, castles are cool.  As a fan of all things medieval I was immediately keen to try this one.  In fact, the box art for The Castles of Burgundy actually makes me vaguely aroused.

Awrite, so what's the deal with this one?  Welp, here's the game's synopsis right from the Lords n' Ladies at Alea Games:

"Das Tal der Loire im 15. Jahrhundert. Als einflussreiche Fürsten setzen..."   

Oh, wait...you probably can't understand that, huh?  At first, Eurogames were commonly referred to as "German Games" since so many of those influential early titles such as Tigris and Euphrates, The Settlers of Catan, and El Grande hailed from there!  And, trust me, Alea Games (along with The Castles of Burgundy) is as Deutschland as bratwurst, beer and public nudity (NSFW!!!).

For these reasons and many more, I  Germany.  They have as much reverence for board games as we North Americans have for video games.  Guess which one makes the most sense to this cowpoke?  

Okay, sorry, so here's the Anglo-fied version of the game's description:

"The Loire Valley during the 15th Century.  As influential princes, the players devote their efforts to careful trading and building in order to lead their estates to prominence. 

"Two dice set out the action options, but the players always make the final choices. Whether trading or livestock farming, city building or scientific research, many different paths lead to the prosperity and prominence of the players! 

"The many ways to gain victory points in this building game require careful thought round after round along with extensive planning ahead. Thanks to the different estates, the game remains challenging for the players for a long time, as no two games play out alike. 

"The winner is the player with the most victory points at the end of the game." 

Now, if that blurb caused your brain to partially flatline, then you might as well "X" this tab off, break out your copy of Descent and then roll around nekkid in the box for a little bit.  P.S. I'm not being judgmental since I've actually done that myself.  Be careful, BTW, some of those plastic figures are downright pointy.

For those of you who are still with me, feel free to click upon yon link to review your regal mandate in the tongue of thine preference.

***

With Dean off courting vendors with sexual favors and Chad hip-deep in the World Championship of Cockfighting, only Andrew, Mike and I were left to tackle this one.  So we got together last Wednesday night at my place to roll some dice and expand our respective dominions.

COLORS

Andrew...Red
Me...Black
Mike...Blue


TURN ONE

As soon as I heard that you get more points for completing similarly-colored regions early in the game I immediately sealed up that one-hex City section by plopping down a Market.  This allowed me to take a free Animal Tile from the communal game board.  Since Livestock gives you instant Victory Point (I said Victory Point) gratification, I landscaped two Pastures, one with two Piggies and the other with three Sheep.  After stockpiling a two-McNugget Chicken tile, I gently nudged my first Boat out into the East branch of the River, scoring some sweet Orange Goods in the process.   


Andrew followed suit, snatching up a Warehouse tile to complete his own one-hex City section.  This allowed him to Sell Goods without burning a turn, earning him a few precious Victory Points whilst altering the turn order.  After installing a three-poultry Pasture, Andrew became the first player to add a second Castle to his cardboard realm.  With the resulting free action, Andrew played a Mine from his reserve, knowing full-well that it would spit out Silverlings every turn like the world's loosest (and lamest) slot machine.  In his final action, he squirreled away a Market for a rainy day.    


Mike began his turn by completing the same one-slot City space with a Bank, giving him two free Silverlings.  By spending his "1" die roll, Mike then became the first player to buy a Knowledge Tile, which gave him a free Worker every time one of his Mines paid off.  Unfortunately, he didn't end up digging a Mine until two rounds later.  Instead he plopped down a three-Veep Cow tile and a single Ship which shoved off into the East side of his River.  This allowed him to pick up some Goods which were collecting dust on the docks.  


Here's the Victory Point tally at the end of that inaugural turn:


Andrew...21
Me...20
Mike...14

TURN TWO

Andrew added a second Castle, earning yet another free play which he used to double down on Mines.  He then started to expand in an easterly direction, smashing a champagne bottle on the hull of a new Ship which he used to pick up some Pink Goods.  He also dropped a Market into the south-east City Section, allowing him to pick up and subsequently play a three-Victory Point Chicken tile.  Andrew then capped off his turn by acquiring a Bank (complete with two free Silverlings), performing a Sell Goods action and then stockpiling a Church for a future round.               


After laying down a Market, Mike picked up a Pasture tile for free and then revealed his Great Gonzo-like predilection for Chickens, earning five Victory Points via their feathery hides.  He then continued his Knowledge gambit, placing a tile that promised four Victory Points for every Watchtower he owned at the end of the game.  This would have awesome if he'd actually bothered to buy one.  Oh, crap, sorry...SPOILER ALERT!  He ran out of time before the end of the round, temporarily stranding two tiles in his Storage Area.     


Meanwhile, I was toadly in the zone.  In an effort to be "the first one on the block to collect 'em all" I added a Chicken tile to my Pasture menagerie.  Inspired by Andrew's efforts, I tried to chain a bunch of construction projects together, starting with a new Castle.  This gave me a free action which I spent on a City Hall, which, in turn, allowed me to pick up and later play a Bank.  I polished off that three-hex City section with a Boarding House, giving me a decent amount of Victory Points.  The really great thing about the Boarding House is that it gives you four free Worker Tiles, which you can use to modify die rolls and score additional options.  Finally, I did a Sell Goods action for some extra Victory Points and then requestioned another Ship, looking to extend my reach out West.      


Here's a look at the score at the end of the second round:   


Me...43
Andrew...28
Mike...22

TURN THREE

Although Andrew was trailing, he remained focussed and went right back to work.  After adding the final Castle-shaped puzzle piece to the three-hex section of his Estate he became the first person to cover up all of the dark green spaces, thus earning a coveted Large Bonus Tile for six additional Victory Points!  He used the resulting bonus die to roll out a Church, which, in turn, let him snap up and then throw down a third and final Mine.  Not only did this give him a ridiculously-powerful economic engine, it also completed yet another section and color, resulting in a metric shit-ton of Veeps.  His first Knowledge Tile placement was also well-gaged, giving him a bonus Silverling every time he picked the "Take Two Workers" option.  He then added a Market which chained to a completed four-Cow Pasture and a third helping of Victory Points.  As a result, Mike and I immediately re-dubbed Andrew "Prince Greedyface".  He finished off this incredible run by investing in more Ships; an obvious challenge to my own burgeoning naval ambitions!      

  
Andrew's comeback efforts were aided somewhat by a breakdown in my own strategy.  I should have extended my Shipping line East first instead of West since this would have allowed me to reach the one-hex Pasture there a lot quicker.  Nevertheless, the completion of my Western shipping route did provide a decent little Victory Point boost.

Around this time I also started to feel the pinch of eschewing Mines since we all thought that cash monies only came from from Mines and Banks.  L-o-o-o-n-g after the game was over we found out that you also get a Silverling every time you pick the Sell Goods option, which would have helped me out tremendously.

BIG-ASS-TERISK ALERT!


Anyway, we didn't know this at the time so we kept blissfully playing on, doling out Victory Points instead of Silverlings for every Sell Goods action.  Heh, heh...whoopsie!  

Anyway, it's quite telling that Andrew managed to chain together no less then seven (!) new tiles that round and I only managed to a measly four.  


Meanwhile, Mike's strategy slowly began to coalesce.  He finally planted a new Castle, giving him a chance to move his three-Cow Pasture tile out of Storage limbo.  Coveting Andrew's Scrooge McDuck-like pile of Silverlings, he added a badly-needed Mine just south of his starting Castle and augmented this with a Bank out east.  He then went nuts with the Knowledge tiles, closing off the three-hex region to the northeast for a modest Victory Point reward.  The first Knowledge tile he placed allowed him to alter die rolls by a pip when placing buildings, kinda like a functionally-limited free Worker.  The second yellow tile, which he installed down south, was the Ship and Animal equivalent of its predecessor.  Although these tiles didn't do a lot for him right away, they eventually gave him the flexibility needed for late-game comeback.    


Here's the state of the union at the end of Turn Three:


Me...87
Andrew...75
Mike...40

TURN FOUR

Mike, now in the vanguard for turn order, used this opportunity to add to his burgeoning momentum.  After laying down another Castle he used his bonus turn to seal up his five-space Pasture with another gaggle of Chitlens.  He was then twice blessed: scoring Veeps from blanketing the region and for his prodigious livestock head-count.  After plunking down his second Mine, Mike continued to follow through on his Knowledge strategy, adding two more yellow tiles: the first granting one die-pip of wiggle room while placing Castles, Mines and Knowledge and the second doling out two end-of-match Victory Points for each Bonus Tile.  This actually worked out quite well, since he became the first player to cover up all of the yellow hexes and earn a Large Knowledge Bonus Tile for six additional Victory Points!  You gotta love it when a plan (eventually) comes together!    


By now, Andrew's Estate was growing like Poison Ivy's weed garden.  Just as predicted, he put every effort into outpacing me in Ship construction.  Thanks to his obscene stockpile of Silverlings, he had easy access to the Central Black Depot and all of the additional options that came with it.  Eventually he snapped up every available Ship, sealing off the East bank of the river and then the West.  I swore under my breath as he waltzed away with the Large River Bonus Tile in addition to a slew of Victory Points.  He then went on to cover up a three-hex City region for yet another Victory Point windfall.  Turd burglar!      


With Andrew and Mike both going before me, the pickings were mighty slim by the time my turn rolled around.  Regardless, I chained together the construction of two new Castles, allowing me to drop a Boarding House into the three-hex City district to the southwest and claim the Small Bonus Tile for Castles.  Armed with four new Workers via the Boarding House I installed a two-Piggie Pasture right next door.  This finally completed my long-fought goal of being the first player to cover up all the Pasture tiles.  Huzzah!  The resulting tsunami of Victory Points inspired me to acquire and then place my very first Knowledge Tile.  At this stage in the game it was all about horking as many Points as possible so I went with the endgame tile that gives you four Veeps for every Bank you own.  Since I already had one of them on the board I figgered there were probably worse investments.         

  
So here's the way things looked, score-wise at the end of Round Four:



Andrew...151
Me...117
Mike...84

ROUND FIVE

Mike, the Goods-Selling virgin, got to go first again.  Continuing his impressive rally he added a Church to his Estate, giving him a chance to draw and later play his third Mine.  This eventually resulted in a double-barreled blast of Victory Points for completing the region and covering up all of that unsightly gray.  He then struck out East, sealing up his Shipping route and earning a second round of V.P.'s.  As soon as he plopped down that three-Pig, one-hex Pasture hex I was convinced that I'd fallen into last place, especially when he augmented this with a Sell Goods action to soak up a few extra Veeps.          


I did what I could in that final round, which is to say that I threw a bunch of random crap down on my board.  First, I erected (uh, a-huh, huh) a Church in the southeast City section which allowed me to collect a Knowledge tile.  In a last-ditch effort to stay ahead of Mike, I chose the option which would give me four end-game Victory Points for the Bank that I already had down.  I also brought out a Boarding House, hoping to retain enough Workers to eke out a few stray Veeps.  And although I managed to add to my Eastern waterway, Mike had already snatched up the very last Boat on the board.  With that, my life-long dream to finish off that river region was rendered stillborn.  Arrrggghhh!!!  Oh well, at least I sold a few Goods at the very end for a small pittance.  


Not willing to rest on his laurels, Andrew kept hammering away, looking for a Billy Mitchell-style High Score.  Two livestock tiles placed in the northwest Pasture earned him seven Victory Points, certainly nothing to sneeze at.  Looking to inflate his post-match score, he also retrieved and played an excellent Knowledge Tile designed to give him three Victory Points for every different type of Good he'd sold during the game.  Andrew then set his sights on completing the southeast City region of his Estate.  He managed to accomplish this by playing a Carpenter's Workshop next to his Mines off to the West, which chained together with a second Carpenter's Workshop followed by a City Hall and then a Tower!  After slotting these structures into the last three hexes of that City region, he sat back, tallied up the bonus points and then touched himself inappropriately underneath the table.  


FINAL SCORE

We then tallied up all of the post-game Victory Points from the following sources:
  1. One Point for every unsold Goods tiles.
  2. One Point for each remaining Silverling.
  3. One Point for every two remaining Worker Tiles.
  4. Any post-game Victory Points produced by the Knowledge Tiles.  
And here were the final standings:

Andrew...173
Me...144
Mike...134


***

OBSERVATIONS & REVIEW

Pros
  • The game offers so many choices and possibilities that I often found myself gripped by analysis paralysis.  Andrew's early Castle / Mine strategy appears to be pretty formidable and I can't help but wonder if anything else can compete.  Hopefully a subsequent play will reveal that alternate paths to victory are just as legitimate.  
  • At the very least, the game certainly rewards a cohesive strategy.  As soon as I lost focus on my eastern River / one-hex Pasture goal, my efforts quickly began to unravel.  
  • The game virtually demands that you pay attention.  Although selling goods for Victory Points is a pretty sweet peach, you could end up last in the turn order.  And let me tell ya, vying for table scraps at the end of a round ain't pretty.
  • It's kinda fun to chain a string of actions together.  Smart player will always strive to maximize their turn order.   
  • Although dice are used to determine your options, luck is actually a pretty minor factor in the game thanks to the Worker Tiles.
  • The lead changed hands several times in our game, which is great.  It's definitely possible to storm back from a deficit if you remain focussed.    
  • Despite our little Sell Goods / Silverling / Victory Point faux pas, the rules are actually clear, concise and well-presented.  
Cons
  • The game could do with a makeover.  The artwork on the communal board isn't just subtle, it's downright washed out.  Also, a lot of the iconography is microscopic and the tile thickness leaves something to be desired.  The inclusion of Player Aids to describe the various tiles would have been ridiculously handy.  On the bright side, the game is fairly priced, so I'm willing to let this slide a bit.  
***

Welp, another week, another solid Euro.  I can't wait play this one again so I can test out some alternate strategies.  And, let's face it, if you find yourself chomping at the bit, itching to play a game again, then that's some pretty high testimony right thur.

The Castles of Burgundy rates five pips outta six, with a healthy tilt up towards the parapet.  

 
***

Looking to build an Estate that makes the Palace of Versailles look like a trailer park?   Well, then, click on the image below, buy the game and help support this blog!   


Monday, July 1, 2013

Don't Judge A Game By Its Box Art: "Power Grid"


C'mon, look at that box cover art.  Just look at it.  A scientist dude in a lab coat holding a clipboard and twiddling his knob.  I'm sorry, but this looks about as exciting as watching a workplace safety video played backwards, upside down and in Latin.

Along with games like Steam and Die Macher, Power Grid really suffers from limited curb appeal.  At face value, it really looks as if it would put the "bored" back in board games.  But you'd be wrong for thinking that.  Wrong, myopic and quite likely a bit of an asshole.

Okay, so here comes my rebuttal to the charges of "boring as fuck".  First off, I'd like to table this opening statement, provided to me by the legal team at Rio Grande Games:

Power Grid is the updated release of the Friedemann Friese crayon game Funkenschlag.  The latest cooperative publishing effort from Friedemann Friese and Rio Grande Games removes the crayon aspect from network building in the original edition while retaining the fluctuating commodities market like McMulti and an auction round intensity reminiscent of The Princes of Florence.

Okay, okay, whoa, whoa, whoa, stop right there, guys.  Crayons?!  "Funkenschlag"?  "Fluctuating commodities markets"?  The "auction round intensity of The Princes of Florence"?  You guys ain't exactly helping out my case here.  Can you punch this up a little bit?  C'mon, it's time to bring yer "A" game!  Hit me with your best shot...GO!!! 

The object of Power Grid is to supply the most cities with power when someone’s network gains a predetermined size.  In this new edition, players mark pre-existing routes between cities for connection, and then vie against other players to purchase the power plants that you use to supply the power. However, as plants are purchased, newer more efficient plants become available so you’re potentially allowing others access to superior equipment merely by purchasing at all.  Additionally, players must acquire the raw materials, like coal, oil, garbage, or uranium, to power said plants (except for the highly valuable ’renewable energy’ wind/solar plants), making it a constant struggle to upgrade your plants for maximum efficiency while still retaining enough wealth to quickly expand your network to get the cheapest routes.

Okay, well, that sounds a bit better.  Looking to scope out the full deposition?  You can read all the legalese simply by following this link to the full rule book.

***

So, a coupla Wednesday nights ago, Andrew, Mike and I gathered in Dean's phat palatial basement to have a go at Power Grid.  Ages ago, Andrew and I played the game with Chad and were anxious to try it again with a different map.  Dean, who has a mild allergy to Eurogames, was understandably skeptical.  Mike, who's business cards probably say "Hooray for everything!", was just happy to be PLAYING A BOARD GAME.

COLORS

Andrew...Red
Me...Black
Dean...Blue
Mike...Yellow

We decided to use the United States map this time out:


And here's our starting assortment of Power Plants:


What's that?  You want to now what all this crap means?  You don't bother to read the rules, didja?  *Le sigh*

Okay, here's a quick orientation of the Power Plant Cards.  First off, the bold number in the upper left hand corner is how much the thing costs to buy and sorta represents the factory's relative value.  The iconography below shows what resources you need to spend and how many Cities you can power as a result.  For example, you can spend two barrels of Oil to power one City with that Cost "3" Plant.  

The Power Plants are deliberately arranged in two rows for a reason.  The top row represents the current market: I.E. Power Plants that you can buy right now.  The bottom row represents the future market and are off limits until they move up into the first rank as their predecessors are purchased or discarded.  As such, players can easily keep tabs on what's coming, allowing them to plan accordingly.  

In the first round I bought that six-value Garbage-burning facility and Mike picked up the five-point dual-purpose Oil and/or Coal-fueled factory.  This made the seven-point, three-Oil barrel operation available and Dean was all over that like a fat kid on a bag of Nerds.  Andrew also got his mitts on a second-generation Power Plant: an eight-pointer that required three Coal to power two Cities.  Mike and I immediately exchanged dubious glances, suspecting that we were already starting to lag behind.

All four of us began staking our claims with our initial Cities.  Mike started in Motor City and then expanded to one of the four corners of the earth: Cincinnati.  Seeing how inexpensive future infrastructure would be on the East Coast, I made my first few ventures into Raleigh and Norfolk.  Dean decided to set up shop in Denver and Cheyenne, either because he knew there'd be little competition or because he just so happened to be standing there.  Finally Andrew jumped all over Dallas and Oklahoma City, intent on splitting the country in half.

Dean and Andrew's ability to power two Cities gave them the initiative and soon I found myself irritated by the inflated cost of raw materials.  How could Garbage be so gorram expensive?           


Here's how things looked going into the next round:  


Mike snapped up a Power Plant capable of fueling two cities with two Coal.  Still on a budget, I picked up the three-cost factory which could power one City for two Oil.  Dean made a heavy-but-worthwhile investment in a thirteen-point wind turbine.  Andrew acquired a frugal three-point operation which provided one juice for two Oil.  

And that's when I realized that I'd done goofed up.  Up to that point in time I though that you could use a Power Plant tile as often as you wanted so long as you had enough resources to keep powering it.  Yeah, I was wrong.  Although this oversight prevented me from powering all three of my Cities, I did end up stockpiling some pretty cheap Coal.  I made sure not to make this same mistake again.  

Andrew extended his reach by snapping up Kansas City.  Spurred on by the cheap connectors, I quickly claimed Washington D.C. for my very own.  Only Andrew had things balanced in perfect harmony and managed to power all three of his Cities.  

  
Here's what we were all vying for in the following round:


Nuclear power really came into vogue that turn.  I snapped up the seventeen-point factory, giving me the ability to power two Cities for two Uranium.  Andrew went all-in with a twenty-eighter pointer, allowing him to fuel four Cities for the same cost!  Dean stuck with more traditional means and picked up a twelve-cost Oil and/or Coal facility which could juice two Cities.  Mike nearly broke the bank when he spent twenty-nine (billion?) dollars to buy a Power Plant which could supply four Cities with lights for only one Oil or one Coal.  

During this round the stragglers caught up in the City count.  Dean moved into Billings and Mike went after Buffalo.  At this stage, our strategies really began to get interesting.  The first time I played Power Grid I never placed a new City until I knew for sure that I could power it.  This time out I threw 'em down as quickly as possible in order to stake out an early claim on my territory.  My relatively-cheap building costs really helped me bounce back from those first few questionable opening moves.

The resulting cash that came from my ability to power all three of my Cities really helped fuel my next few turns.  

  
Here's what the next Power Plant assortment looked like:


Both Mike and Dean decided to pass, either because they were financially strapped or they weren't keen on the current spread.  Andrew, intent on setting up all the infrastructure he'd ever need right now, bought a massive facility that could power six Cities for three Coal.  Of cource, it also set him back thirty-one bucks!  All I cared about was buying the cheapest possible Power Plants that offered the best possible deal on resources.  As such, I bought another el cheapo facility for nine beans which converted a single inexpensive Oil to power a hypothetical fourth City.

In fact, the cost of raw materials was quickly spinning out of control.  Uranium quickly became uber-pricy and I found myself pondering the idea of dumping my own recently-acquired nuclear Power Plant.  At that stage in the game we'd all invested in Coal-burning facilities and this drove the price up to five (hojillion) bucks per l'il black nuglet.  Yikes!

I'm not sure if he was financially strapped or he just didn't want to go last in the turn order but Andrew didn't buy another City that round.  I know for a fact that Mike was broke and he had little choice but to pass.  Thumbing his nose at the rising cost of connectors, Dean placed cities in both Seattle and Portland.  Meanwhile, I enjoyed some of the cheapest possible expansion out on the East Coast, upgrading Philadelphia for only thirteen bones!  


Here's the auction fodder we were looking at for the next round:  


Still paying interest on their previously-purchased big ticket items, both Mike and Andrew were forced to bow out, giving Dean and I the perfect opportunity to expand.  Dean picked up a Power Plant which could fuel five Cities on two Coal.  Not keen on the price of that particular resource, I paid twenty-eight bones for a factory that could power five Cities with two Oil.  

Seeing how inexpensive my expansion was, Mike started to weasel in on my turf, reaching New York City before I did.  Andrew succeeded in cutting the country in half, urbanizing both Omaha and Minneapolis.  After expanding a bit too quickly, Dean found himself scrambling for resources.  I was in the same boat, but many of my Power Plants were fueled by the cheaper raw materials.  

By then, we'd already started to look at nuclear alternatives but Coal was still being sold at a premium rate.  


I'm not sure if we just got lucky with some of those earlier pulls but the new Power Plant draws turned out to be decidedly underwhelming:


In fact, all of us passed on acquiring any new facilities.  Since we could already power more Cities then we could build, why buy something else?  

I kicked myself for giving up on nuclear power so quickly since Uranium was beginning to stockpile in the market.  Although we all began to transition away from Coal to Oil, both resources continued to be sold at above-average rates. 

City expansion was rampant that turn.  Knowing that Mike was going to flood into my zone like a yellow tidal wave, I quickly snapped up Atlanta, Birmingham and Memphis.  As such, Mike had to be content with Boston, Knoxville and Chicago.  Tapped out from last round, Andrew was more then happy to let someone else play last.  Dean, in his own little world, bit the bullet and invested in Boise and Salt Lake City.  Slowly but surely, all of that extra infrastructure cost was starting to put a serious dent in his coffers.  


Although the assortment of Power Plants didn't change very much next turn, market fluctuations and the need to keep up with City expansion forced most of us to act.  


Since Andrew still had the ability to fuel half the globe, he refrained from buying anything.  Although the price of Oil and Coal was certainly high, I think the rest of us went a little too nuts with the Garbage-burning facilities.  Dean overpaid on a twenty-four-cost site which could supply four Cities with power for only two Garbage.  I got a nineteen-cost facility at a steal, allowing me to keep three Cities charged up for only two Garbage.  Mike ended up paying through the nose for a thirty-cost Power Plant which lit up a whopping six Cities for three Garbage.

Now armed with some incredibly productive industry, we set about procuring the resources required to power all of this shit.  Even after we all made a conscious decision to move away from it, Coal continued to be very pricey.  And while Oil bounced back a bit, Garbage took a ridiculous hit after all of us invested in the same technology.    

But this didn't stop us from laying Cities down like a Tom Vassel component drop.  Andrew horned in on my territory by stealing New Orleans and St. Louis.  He also expanded up north in Duluth and Fargo, "don' cha know."  Since it was still relatively inexpensive, I decided to get up in Mike's grill by developing New York and Pittsburgh.  He returned the favor by venturing into Philadelphia.  Meanwhile, Dean, all alone out there beyond the Rocky Mountains, could only afford to expand into Santa Fe.      


Towards the end of the game, last-minute acquisitions would be critical.  Also, as per the rules, the "future market" was abandoned and every Power Plant was suddenly up for grabs.  


Andrew still had everything he needed so he wasn't temped.  After butting heads over Garbage acquisition, Mike and I decided to take a more sustainable route.  I bought an eighteen-cost wind turbine, giving me two free power-ups while Mike paid a whopping thirty-three coin for an oversized pinwheel in order to power four cities for free.  Also seeking to diversify, Dean dropped twenty-one bones for a dual Oil and/or Coal burning plant which could spark up no less then four Cities.  

After wisely hanging on to his nuclear Power Plant, Andrew gobbled up some relatively cheap Uranium.  Garbage continued to be precious, costing upwards of seven bucks per unit.  Coal also remained steep, making Dean's recently-acquired, flexibly-fueled acquisition a wise purchase.  As for Mike and I, we began to suspect that wind power was going to become very practical at that late stage in the game.  

Since the player with the most powered Cities would be declared the winner, expansion continued unabated.  Seriously hobbled by the high price of West Coast expansion, Dean could only afford to develop Phoenix.  Drawn to the comparatively-cheap cost of infrastructure in my region, Andrew decided to join me in Memphis.  After establishing a bulwark against easy incursions into my northern turf I kicked off my endgame: cheap expansion into Florida.  I pushed my finances to the limit, buying up Savannah, Jacksonville and Tampa.  When Mike saw this, his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.  He began to plot out a similar move by laying groundwork in Atlanta and Birmingham.  

         
The next assortment of available developments boasted a slew of nuclear plants and a very temping wind turbine:


Knowing that the end was in sight, we all took a close look at our efficiencies.  Even though it pained me to do so, I dumped my wind turbine in lieu of a thirty-four-cost nuclear plant which could fuel five Cities on a single Uranium.  In a last-ditch effort to remain competitive, Dean bought his own thirty-nine cost Chernobyl.  Meanwhile, Mike blew fifty freakin' bucks on some sort of weird Bond-villain evil lair that produced a slew of energy for free.  Although it looked pretty awesome it might have been a shade too extravagant so late in the game.  Andrew, oblivious to the current market, doggedly clung to his current stable of facilities.

Commodities continued to be pricy right across the board.  Coal never really dropped in price, primarily because its late-game production trickled down so much.  Everyone still had major Garbage-burning facilities so that resource continued to be stupid crazy expensive.  And now that Dean and I were back in the Three Mile Island bidness, Uranium prices spiked again to fourteen buck a dollop, much to Andrew's chagrin.  Though it all, only Oil remained at a reasonable price.  

Dean, now completely frustrated by the disparity of his development costs, resigned himself to a single move into San Diego.  Mike kept running riot in my neck of the woods, laying down pipe in both Savannah and Jacksonville.  Mercifully, Andrew halted his incursions into my territory, choosing to  cut a swath into Mike's holdings via Chicago and Detroit instead.  That left me with two "Captain Obvious" moves into Miami and Boston.  


Here are the Power Plants remaining on our very last turn:


Again, Andrew decided to stay his hand, but could he find the room to build enough new Cities to win the game?  Mike, still reeling from the price of his above-ground lunar bunker, also abstained.  Dean dumped his twenty-one point Oil / Coal factory and then got embroiled in a vicious bidding war with me over that thirty-eight-cost Garbage Burning plant.  After driving the auction price up sufficiently, I let Dean have it and then picked up the thirty-six-point retro Coal-burning plant at face value!

Now that my opponents had moved away from Coal and the price was sane, I decided to sneak in there at the last second.  Although still relatively rich, Coal was nowhere near as expensive as Garbage. Through it all, the price of Oil remained pretty cheap, mainly because no decent Oil-related production facilities appeared late in the game.  As for Uranium, Andrew and Dean kept the price of that inflated all by themselves.  

So began the last desperate bid to light up as many Cities as possible.  Dean sparked up Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Oblivious to how many sites he could actually power, Mike totally went off, spreading like a yellow fungus down into Tampa and Miami.  He also barged into Washington and crashed Andrew's party in New Orleans.  As is that wasn't enough, he even spent the mega-cash required to horn in on me and Andrew in Memphis!  Meanwhile, I placed Cities in the only two places that were still available: Knoxville and St. Louis.  

Since I didn't have the most amount of Cities on the board I immediately began to despair.  Here's how that particular tally stacked up:

DEVELOPED CITIES
Mike...17
Andrew...16  
Me...16
Dean...12

But, in this game it doesn't matter how many cities you have: it's how many you can power.  So, here are the standings after the switch was flipped: 

POWERED CITIES
Andrew...16
Me...16
Mike...16
Dean...12

Holy crap, a three-way tie!  This prompted us to delve into the rulebook to determine a tie-breaker.  After discovering that remaining money was the final deciding factor, here's how the final score ended up:

POWERED CITIES + THE MOST REMAINING MONEY
Me...16 Powered Cities and $14.00
Andrew...16 Powered Cities and $1.00
Mike...16 Powered Cities and $0.00

WOOT!



***

REVIEW

So, you may ask yourself, how can a died-in-the-wool Ameritrash fan such as myself possibly like a game that comes in such a sterile-looking box?  Well, here's how:

PROS   
  • At face value, the game may seem complicated but that's just because it's so wildly original.  Honestly, the rules are actually quite intuitive.  After a few turns you'll notice how infrequently you find yourself referring to the rule book.  
  • The mechanic used to simulate the commodities market isn't just elegant and inspired, it's actually a legitimate strategic avenue.  Since you can stockpile stuff, clever players will be temped to snatch up cheap resources and drive up the costs for their opponents.  
  • Picking the right Power Plant is key.  Although it might be tempting to invest early in an expensive facility that can power four cities, the cost could curtail your City expansion.  Also, you might feel obliged to hold on to that beast long after its fuel costs become prohibitive.  
  • Although auctions often feel stilted and forced in so many other board games, it's a legitimately tense part of the action here.  Inflating the bid can easily turn a good Power Plant into a mediocre one.  In fact, sometimes it makes sense to go for the more humble factories because you can often nab 'em at face value.  
  • The wooden resources tokens, "houses", Power Plant cards, "Elektro-bucks", and summary tiles all make for appealing and user-friendly components.  The board is colorful without being garish and the iconography is relatively clear once you know what to look for.  
  • The game is actually quite forgiving.  After some early oversights I adjusted my strategy and managed to surge back mid-game.  Since the player with the least amount of Cities always goes first, you never feel as if you're totally and completely out of contention.
  • Although some folks might consider this to be a "Con" I actually consider it be a "Pro".  There's absolutely no effort made to make the game boards "balanced".  In other words: West Coast infrastructure costs on the U.S. are appropriately pricey when compared to the East Coast.  So, you can either brave the more costly region knowing that you wont have much competition or wade into your opponent's turf and then slug it out.  
  • Victory requires a balanced approach.  If you think you can win just by randomly building crap in an inexpensive region then you're in for a surprise.  You have to closely monitor your Power Plant efficiencies, remain aware of future "technologies" and constantly gage the climate of the commodities market.  

CONS
  • Let's face it, folks, the game's theme is admittedly less-then-riveting.  
***

Honestly, Power Grid is the perfect example of substance over style.  Some people might claim that the theme, such as it is, was just tacked on to unify a set of clever mechanic, but I don't agree.  While playing the game you really feel as if you're managing and expanding a burgeoning energy empire.  Every auction, purchase and placement feels impactful.

Ameritrash fans who take one look at Power Grid's box art and automatically balk are doing themselves and the game a tremendous disservice.  I think this game would make an excellent addition to anyone's collection.  In fact, I can't help but give it a perfect score: six pips outta six! 


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