Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Never Ending (Railway) Journey

One games night, eight hungry gamers. Sam was hosting, and Adam, Martin, Ian, Matt and Roll For The Soul regular (but new to Tuesdays) Katie were first to arrive. While they waited for the last two attendees, the old favourite Timeline was brought out to fill the, ahem, time.

Adam played his hands like an expert, such that his final two cards to place in order of occurrence were The Formation of the Earth and The Extinction of the Dinosaurs. He successfully put these down, and was out first. But Martin managed to place his card: The painting of The Raft of The Medusa just after Adam to share first place. Ian didn’t know that The Times was first published in 1785, and so could only manage second.

1. Adam - clear
1. Martin - clear
2. Ian – one card left
3. Sam – three cards left
3. Katie – three cards left
3. Matt – three cards left

By now I had arrived. Sam had a new game: Five Tribes, which he, Martin and the as yet absent Joe wanted to play. The remaining five had to choose what the other game would be. Adam and I were keen on Railways of the World and Katie likes trains, so it was chosen. Ian decided he wanted to play a new game instead of play RotW again, so Matt was left to learn the delicate intricacies of RotW.

It was a packed table, with the eastern seaboard of America sharing space with the tiles of Five Tribes. What a bustling games room it was, with two sets of rules explanation taking up the air space.

I have no idea what Five Tribes was about. There were a lot of meeples, a lot of cards being drawn and Sam crying out “Bollocks, Martin!” halfway through. I’ll leave it up to them to tell us what happened.

What happened on Railways? Well, a lot. Adam and I both missed a Railway Executive card as one of the opening cards on offer and neither Matt nor Katie knew how awesomely powerful it was to have two turns immediately. Adam only noticed it after he took his second go. He asked if he could take his go back, and I said “sure,” because, at that time, I still hadn’t seen it. So he did. How annoying.

Then, to pour salt on our wounds, Adam tried to warn Matt off a particular move, saying he could take it again if he wanted. Matt said he’d decided, so he’d stick with it. It was a free industrialise, so Matt turned a grey city into a vibrant new city full of cubes. And then Adam built a link to it, ruining Matt’s plan. Adam said “I tried to tell him not to build it!”

In Adam’s defence, he did notice a new rule that we’d never noticed before: that the Kansas to New York link only gets you points once you’ve paid the $30,000 to activate the Western Link.

Meanwhile, I took over the New York area, moving cubes around. By using other people’s links, I got the “four colour cubes” and “three-link delivery” bonuses on the same turn, and I continued to use other people’s links (mostly Katie’s) throughout the game. Possibly a mistake, but at the time, there always seemed to be some better way to spend my go.

It was an epic. Katie complained that we were halfway through and she’d already had two gins. She also texted home to let them know she’d be late. On the other half of the table, Five Tribes ended with the scores at:

Martin 165
Joe 120
Ian 109
Sam 96

And they began Ra, the game of Egyptian-style bidding. And it must’ve been a ding-dong battle listening to their reactions as tiles were drawn from the bag. We were still ploughing through our game, and this prompted Katie to comment that she wished she were playing a game with swearing in it, too.

But we had no swearing. Just long thoughtful pauses which could comfortably fit a visit to the toilet between turns. But time ticked on, and soon we had triggered the end of the game. Phew. And I made a foolish move: choosing to upgrade and move a cube for six points instead of moving two cubes for three points each. Why was this foolish? Well, just look at the scores...

Adam 80 (plus $7000)
Andrew 80 (plus $6000)
Katie 59
Matt 55

Matt’s last minute sprint up the scoreboard was not enough to close the gap on third, but I’m willing to bet he’d be a formidable opponent next go. Especially now that Adam’s taught him how harsh the game can be.

As for me, If I’d gone for the cheap option and not upgraded, I could have won. If I’d built a link instead of giving Katie about ten points during the game, I could’ve won. On the other hand, if Adam hadn’t been honest and discovered that new rule, he could have won by a mile.

By now Ra had finished, and Joe and Martin bade us goodbye and went home. The scores for Ra were

Joe 49
Sam 44
Martin 37
Ian 21

This left Sam and Ian with enough time for a quick two-player Ponte del Diavolo to fill the time while we finished. Sam won, but it was Ian’s first game. In fact, it had been Ian's first game at anything for almost the whole evening.

And this leaves us with a brand new name on the GNN form table. Welcome Katie, to a new world! Meanwhile, Joe heads the pack.

Joe 1 2 1 2 1 7
Martin 3 1 1 3 1 9
Andrew 2 13 2 2 10
Sam 2 4 3 21 12
Chris 1 2 13 5 12
Adam 1 1 4 3 4 13
Ian 4 3 2 3 2 14
Hannah 3 4 5 2 2 16
Matt 4 3 2 3 5 17
Paul 2 2 5 5 5 19
Steve 1 5 5 5 5 21
Katie 3 3 5 5 5 21

I said there’d be more divisions for our favourite games, and we played two this week. The division for Railways of the World is a pretty one-sided affair. Adam leads the pack in his favourite game by any measure you care to mention.

Ra is slightly more generous in sharing out its honours. Sam is top on points, with Joe the leader on points ratio and on the medal table.


  1. Five Tribes was pretty abstract. The alleged theme is reuniting the five tribes of Naqala, but it's really moving stuff around to make points.

    That said though, it's a clever game. As those present witnessed, the board is made up of randomly dealt tiles, and at the start of the game, three randomly chosen meeples are assigned to them (Viziers, Elders, Merchants, Builders, Assassins). On your turn you pick up all the meeples in a chosen tile, and then moving orthogonally, distribute them one at a time in a direction of your choosing. When you arrive at your final destination you pick up ALL the meeples of the type you finally dropped off. You do the action for the meeple, and the action for the tile. If you've emptied the tile of meeples entirely, you also claim it for your own by sticking a camel on it - it'll bring you victory points.

    However that *reasonably* straightforward ruleset is complicated not only by the actions themselves - each meeple and each tile has one, and there are at least nine different actions - and the fact you bid for turn order, collect goods to score points a la Stone Age, and buy Djinns for further victory points and/or in-game advantages… but the sheer amount of choice on your turn. A tile with two meeples on it stuck in a corner already has four different routes they can take. A tile with six meeples in the middle of the board has… well, a lot of options. And as well as trying to maximize your own score you don't want to leave a tasty morsel behind for anyone else. It's MAD I tell you.

    So my little brain struggled with it and as I said, it's an abstract in all but name. But that also said, we all seemed to enjoy it in our own way. Ian did his usual surge followed by fall away. Joe pondered. Martin laughed and seemed to have played it before. I stared with a face of horror. And considering all those things and the array of choices, it didn't feel too long.

    Let's play it again!

  2. I'd enjoy having another crack at Five Tribes, but it falls slightly between two stools for me. Not intuitive enough to be a light game, too convoluted to be played super-competitively - the downtime would be horrendous if you tried to min/max each move. So you end up spotting something and going for it, and that might just set up the next player for a huge haul of points.

    But it's dead pretty, and different enough to warrant further exploration. Can we play it again soon please, it's definitely worthy of digging in to a bit, and short enough to play twice back to back.

    Ra! It's one of the only games I can claim to be any good at, and I love it. Such great moments of absurdity and high-drama from a bagful of tiles and a non-existent theme. My favourite Knizia auction game, and a true classic.

    Lovely evening, thanks Sam.

  3. I really enjoyed Five Tribes. I agree with much of what Sam and Joe have already said. It would be horrendous to try and min/max every move, and when I tried to consider the knock-on effects that a move would make I could almost hear my brain grinding to a halt.

    But I really enjoyed the basic movement aspect, an interesting puzzle. I pretty much only had one strategy (collect Viziers), but that worked out reasonably well for me. I'd really like to play again.

  4. I think it's Katy with a 'y'. Though after that baptism by fire, she might never return :)

    I'm ambivalent about Five Tribes. I kind of enjoyed the puzzle of moving the meeples around, but it did seem like you just looked out for the most points you could make right now rather than laying many long-term plans. And it's oh-so-prone to analysis paralysis if you try and plan more than that.