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Friday, January 02, 2009

A Guid New Year!

I'm fortunate enough to be spending a family new year in Prague with Bill, Radka and Daniel. It will come as no surprise to regular readers to hear that some gaming has been on the menu.

The Really Nasty Motor Racing Game
We started on Tuesday night with this game, which I'd bought as a present for young Daniel on the advice of Spence in a FLGS - with 'Really Nasty' in the title and finking cards in the box I figured that this would be ideal for some family fun chez King. I wasn't disappointed.

Some readers might be familiar with Formula De - the current star in the firmament of motor racing games. The older among you might also remember an abiding favourite from my own childhood days, Waddington's magnificent Formula-1. What I loved most about this game as a kid was the neat way in which you set your movement by choosing your speed based on simple principles of acceleration and deceleration, and the accompanying tasks of managing wear to your tyres and brakes. This contest of pure skill and judgement was very sophisticated for a children's game of 1962 vintage. My only regret about Formula-1 was that I never owned it, so that I couldn't play it as often as I'd've liked.

Such strong memories of an all-time favourite game meant that The Really Nasty Motor Racing Game had a lot to live up to; all the more so since it's a roll-and-move game. What made the game for me in the end was:
  • The fuel strategy rules. Chosen at random, your fuel strategy determines how often you must make a pit-stop in the 10-lap race. This adds an authentic touch to race tactics, and the random allocation should keep the game from being too samey.
  • The weather and tyre rules. Again random, the roll-and-move mechanic varies the dice - and therefore your average speed - according to whether or not your tyres match the dry or wet weather conditions.
  • And finally, the Really Nasty Cards. These provide enough finking opportunities to generate all the rivalries and petty vendettas you could wish for in a family game, and they also add another nice layer of tactics.
Bill took an early lead in Tuesday night's game, until I played a card and the weather changed from dry to wet. With intermediate tyres as compared to everyone else's mismatched dry tyres I overtook Bill to pull ahead. My lead didn't last long though, and that was the last time I saw the open circuit in front of me. I can truly say that my dice seemed cursed that night. My fellow drivers will no doubt remember the amusement they enjoyed at my expense, not to mention the standing joke of the night - that my driver had to get out to jump start his car every time he had to move off from a stop.

The lead changed once or twice after this, but Bill eventually regained a lead that was much more commanding than that which he'd previously enjoyed. The rest of us threw all our finking efforts into stopping Bill, culminating in a last ditch attempt on my part using the safety car, an effort which ultimately resulted in nothing more than confirming Bill's victory and my last place.

We all enjoyed playing The Really Nasty Motor Racing Game. It proved to be a good family game:
  • Simple rules, easy to teach make it suitable for all but the youngest children.
  • The random elements create a level playing field so that younger players can compete against the adults.
  • The tactics - especially those associated with pit stops and the Really Nasty Cards - are not as obvious as they might appear at first, so that there is a learning curve giving the game fair replay value even for adults.
  • And the kids can then go off and happily play it among themselves.
I'm not sure if I'll be playing The Really Nasty Motor Racing Game again in the near future. I hope that young Daniel gets good value out of it.

Settlers of Catan
Hogmany (New Year's Eve to all my non-Scottish readers) brought us to the table for this now traditional confrontation across the legendary isle of Catan. Regular readers might remember how I'd seized the crown of Catan from Radka in the last session back in Glasgow I'd reported on. So I was in the position of having to maintain my grip on power on the one hand, and of hoping to win my first ever game on foreign soil on the other.

The game didn't start brilliantly for me. My first settlement was in a good enough location, but my 2nd was poor - it gave me my grain on an 11 or a 12, so that I wasn't feeling hopeful about my access to this vital resource. To make matters worse, with that same settlement I decided that the 3-1 port I fancied was safe as a secondary objective, and so chose to develop in another direction. Unfortunately Bill had other ideas. He launched himself into a spate of early road building and I soon realised that the port was lost to me.

Apart from Bill's road building - which quickly netted him the longest road - the early game was dominated by Daniel, and by my use of the robber to deny all 3 of my opponents lumber or brick on what turned out to be a regular basis. Retribution soon followed. I was able to mitigate this for a while with soldier cards kept as insurance, as is my wont, but that couldn't last for ever. A particularly funny moment came when Daniel chose to put the robber on the 12-grain space where I had 2 settlements. His reasoning was that this would cost me more when it came up. I was just explaining to him how unlikely this was when Radka rolled the resource dice to generate, yes, you've guessed it - a 12! And that was only the 1st of 2 occasions on which I was forced to eat my words about that dang robber!

As we went through the midgame Radka and I were in competition to build a crucial road: if I got it Radka was trapped on a mere 3 settlements; if Radka got it my development was closed down in 1 of my 2 initial locations. In the end, Radka got her build just 2 turns before I'd've made mine. Daniel meanwhile was amassing a grain empire with city builds; and Bill was sitting on a comfortable 6 points including his longest road.

By this time I'd been buying as many development cards as I could. Initially encouraged by the difficulties I was experiencing in developing beyond 3 settlements, this strategy was helped by cities which started delivering me handfuls of resources for 4-1 off-board trades. Drawing 1 VP was nice; 2 were even better; but to draw 3 was almost too sweet for words, and presented a real challenge to my poker face, especially when I found myself with 2 soldiers down.

Bill was alert to my position and made sure that Radka and Daniel were too, but there wasn't a lot anyone could do. I was soon able to collect the resources for another development card, and sure enough, it was the soldier I needed for the largest army, and the game. I confess it was a pleasant surprise, because my position had seemed so poor for so long. I simply couldn't've done it without the VP cards, and the soldiers helped too. (6 cards @ 3 resources each= 18 resources for 5VP. Compare this to 20 resources for 5 settlements; or 22 for 2 cities and a settlement. I was getting a really good deal in other words, but it took real luck.) Radka stealing the longest road off of Bill also helped.

A good game then. ;)

And a good 2009 to all my readers. Cheers to you all! ;)

PS. How could I have forgotten?
Score
Bill 1
Daniel 0
Radka 0
Me 1
:)
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