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PostPosted: Wed Dec 20, 2006 6:49 pm 
Gaming God
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Location: Appleton, WI
Polyhedral Underground Session Report 12/14/06 -- In which we get to bask in the majesty of the fabled Basement Grill

LOCATION: Auger the Great’s Swinging Basement Pad of Fun (TM pending)

4 Auger The Great
11 Guardtroll
18 TheTodd
21 Stehl-Chao a.k.a. LRO
32 Eric Holdridge

I’m trying for a shorter report for this week. In this I know I will fail. Please excuse my long-windedness.

GAMES PLAYED: Two as described below.

Game #1 – Saint Petersburg -- http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/9217

Players: Auger The Great, Guardtroll, TheTodd & Eric Holdridge

Guardtroll = 73
Auger = 93
TheTodd = 113
Eric = 117

I got to Auger’s no problem and while we waited for others to arrive I got the grand tour of Auger the Great’s Swinging Basement Pad of Fun. I got to see the many games -- some of which really led me down a nostalgic path -- as well as the other amenities. The most important is the indoor basement grill, which was actually pretty cool. Eventually I hope to be a shut-in who never leaves his house, so this type of set-up would come in really handy. Plus, none of the hassles of tromping in and out during the winter. There was also a bar area and a separate bathroom, which are both cool on their own, but the most intriguing item was a sauna installation. It isn’t working now, but it gave me pause as I imagined the swinging party people who must have installed these wonders. All in all, it is a very nice set-up for gaming where we wouldn’t have to bother the household.

TheTodd was next to arrive and brought a bag-o-games with him. We had no sooner settled on St. Petersburg and set it up when Guardtroll and LRO showed up. St. Pete only supports four so we dealt Guardtroll in and LRO generously offered to sit out and play on the computer.

St. Petersburg is likely well known to all of you, but this was my first time playing. It had long been on the want list so this was a welcome one to play for me. Basically the game turn is separated into four sections.

1- you purchase workers and then score your workers
2- you purchase buildings and then score your buildings
3- you purchase aristocrats and then score your aristocrats
4- you purchase improvements/exchanges to workers/buildings/aristocrats

You repeat this until one of the four decks of cards is exhausted. There are other rules regarding (1) hand limits; (2) purchasing discounts (for multiples of a type and if you wait until the cards go to the second row); & (3) the limit to filling up the choices in the display of cards to a total maximum of only eight choices.

The goal of the game is to have the most victory points at the end of the game. The game itself could be said to be separated into two phases, in the beginning you are focused on collecting items that create income and at some point you alter your focus to collecting items that score big victory points. How you go about that and when you alter your focus is likely the crux of the game, but I haven’t played enough to state that definitively.

At the end of the game you score major points for each different aristocrat you have in front of you. You lose points for any cards remaining in your hand. And it is possible that the dreaded Rule We Missed (TM pending) made an appearance, as reviews I read after we played suggested that you were also supposed to score 1 victory point for every 10 rubles you had left at the end of the game. I don’t remember doing that, but we may have, or it may not even by the right rule, so don’t quote me on that.

As you may have guessed from the fact that I sought out the rules and more info on the game afterwards, I really enjoyed it. I’m not certain my somewhat building-heavy strategy would work again, but after seeing TheTodd’s strategy I think there is more to explore. TheTodd scored 45 points for having many unique aristocrats at the game-end scoring and shot across the board to almost capture the lead. I maybe should have focused a little more on the aristocrats. Another thing I may play differently is that I was somewhat scared to put many cards into my hand. The others risked this more often and I do not think any of them were subject to penalties at the end, so maybe that is a risk I could take a little more often as well.

Overall, I really enjoyed this game and would be happy to play it again anytime. It is staying on the want list and when I looked it is surprisingly inexpensive to boot. But no new purchases until after the holiday season.

QUESTION SECTION #1 -- In my reading about St. Petersburg I came across some criticisms of the game that early powerful aristocrats taken by one player (they named the Judge and the Mistress of Ceremonies in particular) unbalance the game or pre-determine victory for that player. I don’t recall for certain but I am sure that I had the judge at some point and may have gotten the Mistress of Ceremonies as well. Having only played once, I have no opinion, but do others who are more experienced find this a valid or invalid criticism of the game?

After this game we noted that Auger would have to be leaving for work in a short-ish period of time, but decided we could play a speedy game of Modern Art & LRO joined us. We were not speedy enough, and Auger had to leave prior to the final round and since he was timed out, we did not count his score. Hopefully we did not make him too late or cause him any trouble.

Game #2 -- Modern Art -- http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/118

Players: Auger The Great, Guardtroll, TheTodd, Stehl-Chao a.k.a. LRO & Eric Holdridge

Guardtroll = 275
Auger = timed out & score was not counted
TheTodd = 331
Eric = 480
Stehl-Chao a.k.a. LRO = 521

I think most people know Modern Art, so I’m not going to describe it in detail. If you need more info, just check out the BGG link above.

It was an odd game of Modern Art for me. I suffered as I often do during auction games from my inherent cheapness, which apparently extends to fake money just as much as real money. LRO was an early high bidder, outbidding the rest of us often. In fact he purchased by far the most artwork and kept doing so throughout the game. I have seen people who use the “buy it all” mentality win Modern Art quite a bit, but I have also seen this backfire if the rest of the table works together to “popularize” other artists. My hand fed into LRO’s hand quite well and so I did not have great incentive to stop him. Instead I tried to help him make the artists that we had in common be popular and tried to get him to purchase my offerings for decent or high prices. This actually wasn’t very hard and I think he purchased all of my offerings in the game but two. I actually bought very little and have had good success with this strategy in Modern Art in the past. Buy very few items, but sell yours very high. How well this works is often hampered based on the luck of the card draw and can be affected how the player order turns out as well. Here it worked fairly well, as I had a decent score based on how little I invested in, but in the end the LRO juggernaut could not be overcome.

Modern art is a game I owned and traded away. Again, not because I didn’t like it, but based on the amount of play it was getting, it wasn’t worth keeping. Some of the people I have played with, including my wife, think it is both math-heavy and unforgiving, and it is hard to disagree, but this is a game I would always play if asked.

QUESTION SECTION #2 -- Modern Art is designed by Reiner Knizia and is also part of a made-up “trilogy” of auction games. Knizia again has stated it wasn’t meant as a trilogy at all and the fact that the games weren’t even released in the same years lends credence to this, but it is hard not to compare games with similar mechanics from the same designer. On BGG you will often see some of Knizia’s auction games compared. The three most referred to are: Modern Art, Medici, and Ra. The fourth that is often also included is Traumfabrik a.k.a. Hollywood Blockbuster. The questions:

How many (if any) of these have you played?
What is your opinion of each (good or bad) and why?
Do you have a favorite?

I have only played Modern Art and Ra. Medici is out of print but is set for a re-printing by Rio Grande as early as January 2007. Traumfabrik has recently been re-printed in English as Hollywood Blockbuster by Uberplay. I do really want to try both of these, so if anyone has them feel free to mention it and/or bring them to the next game night you attend.

As for Ra and Modern Art I would say that I like both of them, but don’t really love either of them. For me they would maybe fall into the 5, 6, or 7 rating category if I were using the BGG scale. This means I don’t feel a strong need to buy them myself.

Maybe it is the repeated auction mechanic. I know that I don’t mind an auction mechanic in games, especially when it is one of several mechanics/elements (i.e. Princes of Florence, Goa, Amun-Re, and even Vegas Showdown have auction elements and I quite like all of them). But straight auction games have not gone over well with the others I play with. If I had to pick between the two I’ve played I think Ra would get a slight edge for the fun of the (very abstracted) theme and the chanting. Gotta love the chanting.

For those that like these games and rank them much higher, what is it that appeals to you? Have you ever found that one bidder who was not “in sync” with the others can throw the whole game off? This is the type of thing some of the others I have played with have complained about. I suggested that playing the game repeatedly would alleviate that somewhat as valuation in a game is something that can be learned or that would normalize over time. The consensus was that they didn’t like the games enough to invest the time needed to test that out, so we didn’t. For those of you who have strong opinions or who have played these games often enough to have seen some sort of progression, I would be really interested in your opinions on the matter.

Anyway, as usual I had a great time and send thanks to Auger & Kat for hosting and to TheTodd for bringing his bag-o-games. That’s all for now, hope to see some of you tomorrow night!

PostPosted: Wed Dec 20, 2006 8:39 pm 
Polyhedral Underground Master
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Joined: Sun Apr 06, 2003 10:35 am
Posts: 5096
Location: I don't know... Wisconsin, maybe?
I will comment later, but for now, you are right about St. Petersburg- At the end you get a point for every 10 rubles.

Memoir wouldn't do that...

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