25th March 2014

While we waited for people to arrive we started out with a quick duelling card game set in feudal Japan, called Tessen.  The tale goes like this:

“Many years ago, in feudal Japan, disagreements and feuds were common among the clans. Fantastic battles were fought for control of resources, land, and supremacy.  Tiring of all the bloodshed, the Shogun declared a plan to minimize the violence…  All disputes would be decided by a Tessen challenge – a competitive hunt for eight types of elusive mystical animals that roamed the land. Whichever clan’s samurai were able to capture and bring back the most animals would be declared the victor, and the dispute would be ruled in that clan’s favour.  The samurai warriors from each clan would certainly attempt to sabotage the opposition’s efforts and capture their animals.  The only weapon the Shogun would allow was the Tessen, a war fan used for both attack and defence.  While the Tessen could still be deadly, there would be far less bloodshed than if the samurai were allowed to use swords.”

Tessen

So, players each have their own deck containing animal and samurai cards.  Players can draw cards, place them in one of five “cages” in their play area, or attack with a samurai card, but although actions are performed simultaneously, they must be discrete actions.  If attacked, the victim must stop immediately to either concede defeat so that the attacker can move the animals to one of their cages, or repel the attack countering with a samurai card of their own.  Each cage can only contain one type of animal and when it has three or more, the animals can be “banked” and moved into storage freeing up the cage for more animals.  The round ends when one player runs out of cards, so they are frenetic affairs which take only a couple of minutes each.  The first round was a bit of a landslide in favour of the Atika Clan, but the Nambu improved significantly on the second round to level the game.  The third round was close with the Nambu starting very aggressively, but the Atika caught up and ran out of cards first preventing the Nambu from banking her final four deer and winning the game. By this time the others had arrived, so exhausted, we left it as a best of three…

Tessen

Next we played our “Feature Game” which was Sushi Draft!.  This game is similar to 7 Wonders in that it is based on “card drafting”, however, the aim is far less complex.  The story goes that the children are having a competition to see who can eat the most of one type of sushi at a Japanese family feast.  Mother, however, wants the children to eat a balanced diet, and will give pudding to the one who eats the most varied meal.  Therefore, the aim of the game is to try to do both.  Players start with a hand of six cards and then simultaneously play one before passing all but one of the remaining cards on to the next player.  Play continues until everyone has played five cards at which point the scores are evaluated and players with the most of each type get a corresponding token and the player with the most different types gets a token.  If there is a draw, then the next highest player gets the token.  About half-way through we realised that some sushi were more valuable than others which changed the game somewhat, but the damage was already done and the winner had already collected the highest value tokens.

Sushi Draft

After some considerable debate, next we decided to play Settlers of Catan.  Nearly twenty years old, this is often credited with being one of the first modern boardgames.  As such, it has largely been usurped by more recent and fashionable games.  However, although we were all quite familiar with it, it was a while since most of us had played it, so we decided to blow off the dust.  The game is played on a modular board made up of hexagonal tiles corresponding to resources (wood, clay/brick, sheep, wheat/grain and ore), each of which gets a number.  Turns come in two parts.  First the player rolls two dice, adds the numbers together and anyone with a settlement on the edge of the corresponding hexagon, gets that resource.  However, if a seven is rolled, then the active player moves the robber onto one hexagon (preventing allocation resources from that hex) and then takes a card from an owner of one of the settlements surrounding it.

The Settlers of Catan

The second part of a turn is trading and building, where the active player can trade resources with other players at any rate they can negotiate, or with the Bank at a predefined rate.  Settlements (which score points at the end of the game) must be connected to at least one of the players other settlements by roads, and players start by placing two settlements on the board (in the player order 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 3, 2 , 1).  Unquestionably the game has its faults, one of them being that the starting positions are really very critical.  While this is unquestionably true, it is not always obvious which positions are the best, and with the random nature of dice, sometimes double six will come up far more frequently than the statistically more likely combined totals of six or eight.

The Settlers of Catan

Since we started out with a random tile lay out we had a very, very distorted map with a lowland region containing all the sheep pasture and wheat fields in big regions with a more mountainous area of with forests and hills.  Even worse, all the clay (used to make bricks) was located on the low probability numbers (two, eleven and twelve), meaning that in theory, these would be difficult to come by.  Initial settlements were predominantly round the sixes and eights with players trying to maximise the variety of resources they had access to.  Blue settled in the highland area while Green, Orange and White tried to get a bit of everything, especially the rare clay.

The Settlers of Catan

It seemed Green had the best placement as he was the first to build a third settlement and followed it quickly with a fourth, meanwhile Blue was getting plenty of ore (which is useless at the start) but struggling to obtain bricks and ended up building a lot of road just to get something built, joined her two settlements and picked up the Longest Road in the process.  Two and eleven seemed to be rolled with peculiar regularity and Green was the main beneficiary as he had multiple settlements that qualified, while Orange and White also picked up the occasional hod-full.  Blue’s long road partitioned off an one corner of the board blocking both Orange and White in the process and when Green beat them to a couple of settlements, that left both Orange and White very tight for space to build and it was a race to the finish.

The Settlers of Catan

Orange judiciously used a monopoly card to steal sheep from everyone and then slaughtered the whole flock to build a city and a lot of road.  Meanwhile White used her impressive skills breading and exporting sheep to great effect to extend in the only direction available to her.  Blue’s productive ore and wood supplies in the mountains, together with the “ore harbour” and “wood harbour” finally started to pay dividends making up for her complete lack of any source of wheat or brick.  Green meanwhile, used his vast grain empire to build cities and collect development cards in an effort to build the Largest Army.  With Blue one point from winning with the cards she needed to build one last city in hand, Green needed just one more Soldier to get the Largest Army and bought a development card.  Although it turned out that three of the next four cards were Soldiers, Green was unlucky and Blue took the win.

The Settlers of Catan

Learning Outcome:  Some of the old classic games are classics for a reason and should not be neglected.

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