After my no-show at Tuesday's great Christmas games night at Sam's, I managed to entice Martin down to my studio for a couple of late afternoon two-player sessions this week, before we all drift in to the oblivion of the holidays.
We had our sights set on Sekigahara: Unification of Japan, a lovely-looking and stunningly-simple GMT block war game. However it seemed a bit rash to try and embark on such a big number with the small window of play-time, so I suggested Aton, eager to introduce Martin to a game he hadn't tried (no mean feat, as a glance at his list of commented games on the Geek will demonstrate).
Sam and I went through a bit of a lunchtime Aton phase a couple of years ago - in fact I think we once, in a fit of unselfconscious-ness, played at Royce Rolls, didn't we Sam? We GNN-ers only play at cafés with the word 'Roll' in them...
Because of its strictly two-player nature, Aton has only once seen a Tuesday night outing, when Adam and I played a couple of games, but it is a real gem, and I had a feeling it would be right up Martin's alley.
It's essentially an abstract area majority game, with players competing for dominance in four 'temples', each with 12 available spaces. On your turn you'll place up to four of your discs, and possibly remove one or two of your opponent's. Removed discs go into a track with eight spaces, and when the track is full, a scoring phase takes place. If a player hits 40 points, the game ends and they win. If not, you keep going.
Each round, you deal yourself four cards from your deck, all of which are numbered one to four, and secretly assign them to your four 'cartouches' - these dictate how many pieces you can put on and take, and from which of the four temples. This card mechanism has brilliantly subtle ramifications, and although it's random, you'll go through the deck in most games, so your luck will even out. Good card play can net you points outside of a scoring round too, which can really swing the battle and add huge tension to the endgame.
The other clever thing is the insta-win conditions: fill a temple with all your pieces, or fill all of the 14(?) green or yellow squares that range across the temples, and you get an immediate victory. So just as one player is be about to dominate a scoring round, the other can sneak an outright win - eight out of twelve spaces in a temple is enough to really put the frighteners on - get ten in there and really, the insta-win is inevitable.
So we played two games yesterday, and won one each. The first was a score track victory for me, the second an insta-win for Martin. We met up again this afternoon to play the decider, and then played another three games.
I'm not here to gloat (much), but I did win all four games this afternoon. What's brilliant about Aton is that you get better quickly, and the games get much closer - each strategy has a viable counter, and you're guaranteed a nail-biting finish. I remember Sam and I reaching the point where the games were unbearably tense, and after six games with Martin, we were up to speed, and the last two games both came down to a card-draw...
In the penultimate one, Martin was poised for an insta-win in temple one, and I managed to stave it off just long enough to trigger a scoring round for the win (mostly through exceedingly lucky card draws).
The last game was just brilliant. Martin had mastered the art of creeping up the score track, and that plus a healthy scoring round left him up into the thirties - poised for victory. Even if it went to another scoring round I couldn't catch him, so my only option was to try an insta-win. I had six counters in temple four, which doesn't seem that threatening, only 50% full, but a lucky hand including two fours meant I could pile another four counters in, which is past the tipping point.
Martin was on 38 points by now, so in the next round I needed a four to stop him winning with points, and I needed another four to put the extra two counters in temple four for the insta-win. Should neither of these happen, a scoring round would ensue, and Martin would win. As it happened, I drew two fours and two twos, perfect. Glorious insta-win for me (thanks for sitting through my exhaustive account of my own victory, I'll stop now).
Here's a picture of the final board state - a high drama played out in cardboard and wood…
Aton is marvellous fun, can't wait to play again - and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before Martin becomes unbeatable, so I have to record this small victory for posterity.
Here's his reaction:
Here's his reaction:
I guess there's the possibility that as both players get really good, it could always come down to a card draw, which would get tiresome. But I'm not sure that's the case, and also, you each get one chance per game to draw a new hand, so you could mitigate that luck a little by holding on to your free draw til the final showdown.