Sunday, 20 November 2016

A Three-Game Weekend

Another weekend of cat-sitting for Sam meant another week of trying out some solo gaming. The main attraction for this week was Scythe, which Sam promised to leave behind this time.

I set it up on a wet and windy Friday evening on a day when the traffic had been so bad that I decided not to wait at a gloomy bus stop so I walked the four and a half miles home after work.

After this ordeal I was exhausted and it was a daunting challenge just to wrestle the Scythe board open and work out what was needed and what wasn’t.

The enemy AI works by means of instructions on cards. I was doubtful, having seen this method fail to work on Viticulture, but I was intrigued by how much there was on the card. Each on has a green half (which you use in the early part of the game) with orders and a more aggressive red half (which you use in the last two-thirds of the game) as well as a strip down the side which has orders in the event of any combat.

It’s a surprisingly flexible method, since it offers a number of options for the AI, and if the first isn’t possible, you move on to the next until you’ve executed its turn and got its reward for that round. This means it hardly ever gets stuck in a corner unable to move a la the dragons in Tsuro of the Seas, and it reacts with at least a semblance of intelligence.

In order to do this, it ignores most of the game outside territory and combat, producing no resources, completing no upgrades or recruits and placing stars only according to how long the game has lasted.

Since it was my first game, I chose the easiest setting: Autometta. This AI spends longest trapped behind water (until it’s allowed out after five rounds) and sometimes skips a turn completely. I also put our two bases on opposite sides of the board.

Once we got under way, I found it pretty intimidating. The AI, once allowed to cross water, makes a beeline for the factory hex. Meanwhile, I was still pottering around trying to build my first mech.

Combat is fun. Autometta’s choice of power and cards depends on the stats along the side of the next card from the top of the deck. It might instruct that if its power is 0-7, it uses 4 power, 8-14 uses 6 power and 15-16 uses 7, as well as how many combat cards to use (regardless of number of mechs it attacks with). However, there are some cards where it says to use 1 power, regardless of how much the AI actually has. This effectively fools you into using up a lot of power to win a battle when you didn’t need to.

Since Autometta plays a limited game, it misses out on a lot of scoring opportunities. This is balanced out by receiving an almost constant stream of money throughout the game.

At the end of the game, I launched two simultaneous attacks, one of which was on the central hex. I just got control of that which was enough for my sixth star and to end the game. It was

Me 56
Autometta 44

That was Friday evening, and then on Saturday morning I broke out the Caverna. It was my first time with the new bespoke wooden trays, and it made setting up a lot smoother.

Solo Caverna is more of a puzzle than a game, and did better this time. However, there were still moments when I regretfully made an inefficient move and I kept thinking I need to try again soon. Which is better: making everyone a warrior, or none of them? Lots of animals or lots of furnished caverns?

My score: 77

And on Saturday afternoon, while I listened to the football I thought about seeing if a one-player Eclipse variant existed but I found myself drawn to Scythe once more. The inclusion of four difficulty settings (along with the chance of placing the two factions nearer each other for a real challenge) made me wonder how I’d do against stronger foes. So I set up a game against Automa, the Normal setting on the difficulty scale.

I think I misread the rules last time, meaning that workers piled up on the central hex (meaning a big deficit in popularity if you want it) but it seems that instead, workers can’t share hexes. Rather, they should spread out across the board.

Before long I was cornered, and I was grateful for the yellow faction’s ability to hop to unused home bases. Out of three battles in the game, I won two and although I didn’t have the central hex I was confident and I ended the game by completing my hidden mission for my sixth star.

This turned out to be a mistake, since blue’s immense empire got it a huge bonus for territory (twice as much as mine) which gave it the slenderest of wins.

Automa 71
Me 70

Frustrating. But at least it shows that the AI is at just the right level for a challenge.

With that said, after I’d just lost to Automa I thought I’d try Scythe at its hardest difficulty, using two neighbouring bases. The hardest setting is called Ultimaszyna, which is a bit silly so in keeping with the GNN tradition of calling AI opponents “Dirk”, I’ll refer to the four levels of difficulty as Durk, Derk, Dirk and Dürch.

I chose blue, reasoning that the Swim special ability might be useful for a quick start. However, while my workers ran free and unfettered my mechs were stuck at first. This was important since by the time I got my ability to travel across lakes, Dürch had plonked one of his mechs in it.

I was trapped and, one by one, his forces hemmed me in. I had a flash of inspiration and built a mine so I could whisk myself over to the other side of the board.

Unfortunately, the next move, Dürch attacked and according to the list of criteria to decide which hex to chose, my mine was his target. I had one power, and Dürch had eight. I put it on the disk, and added my strongest card, hoping for a bluff on Dürch’s part.

It wasn’t a bluff. He crushed me. Then, just to add insult to injury, in his last move Dürch attacked a hex with three of my workers on it (the AI gets no punishment for attacking workers). I finished the game with seven pieces on my home base, doing nothing.

The final score sums it up neatly:

Dürch 100
Andrew 29

And so there was just enough time to sit down for some supper before I set out that evening to Joe’s for more games.

Games at Joe’s this Saturday evening initially looked like being a five-hander, maybe six. But people gave their apologies so when the hour arrived, we were down to three: Joe, Ben and me.

As it turned out, we only played one game. Or did we play a thousand and one games? See what I did there? We played Tales of The Arabian Nights, since Ben was keen to try and I (arriving last) was happy to oblige. It may have only been one game, but what a game. We laughed, we cried (with laughter), we cheated death, got repeatedly scorned and crippled, everything you’d expect from a tale from the Arabian Nights (even though the game itself, technically, never got past morning).

We set off, I as Ali Baba, Ben as Sindbad and Joe as Aladdin, I think. Hard to remember since those names weren’t mentioned again. During our adventures we had many experiences. I had a terrible run of luck at the start, being enslaved and ensconsilled (sp?) which meant I couldn’t control myself, nor could I keep my treasures and destiny points from whatever adventures I had.

Ben, on the other hand, had people throwing money at him. He may have been crippled but before long he was fabulously wealthy, with a mass of destiny and story points. It looked like he would surely win. But then he had to go on a pilgrimage and, being so rich, movement across land was painfully slow.

We had a series of anti-climactic adventures. I found The Crystal Palace, but couldn’t get in. I tried to woo a princess, but she turned me down flat. Wealthy Ben discovered the Cave of Wonders but then found out that he already owned one of the mythical wonders that it housed.

Joe went for odd choices, with great effect. He managed to drink a storm, which cured him of his ailments. He tried entering a glittering artefact, and ended up stepping through a mirror into an alternate reality. Although all he did there was look around the room for a bit.

He tried to impress a Learned Princess with his wisdom. She thought that books were all she needed in life and the pearl of wisdom Joe used to win this princess’s heart was “You can’t eat books.” It didn’t seem very wise to us, but it did the trick and got him twenty-four hours of rumpy-pumpy! For the rest of the game, whenever Joe thought a bit of wisdom would get his character out of a fix, he’d hopefully say “Er... did you know that you can’t eat books?” however the phrase didn’t come up again in the story. And, as a chat up line, I can’t imagine it working in real life either.

As Ben pottered across Asia, distracted by a pilgrimage, Joe and then even I managed to get enough points that, if we got to Baghdad before Ben, we’d win. Unluckily for me, I got married. This meant every time I had an encounter in a city, I had to go back home to check on ‘er indoors. Jealous type, you see. This involved a lot of unnecessary criss-crossing Europe.

It was Joe who got to Baghdad with the winning criteria fulfilled. All he had to do is stay in the city until the encounter was over, and hope neither of us got back, and he’d win!

It was surprisingly hair-raising. He uncovered a Strange Custom, which involved a widower being buried with their dead spouse. Joe’s wife then died, and although he tried to escape twice, he was buried alive along with her, with only a loaf of bread and some wine.

The game listed a number of talents that would be beneficial, but he didn’t have any so he had to wait til he passed out and a grave robber dug him up and stole his money. But he was alive and, crucially, still in Baghdad! He’d won the game! And in some style, too.

By now it was quarter past eleven! We’d been playing for over three hours (albeit with a half hour break while Joe gave his daughters a lift somewhere). And it was right at the end that Joe and Ben revealed they’d considered Brass as an option, but Ben preferred Arabian Nights, and they’d hidden Brass in case I came in and insisted on playing that! Makes you wonder what they think of me. I mean, I might have insisted, but not much.

Anyway, what a night of Arabian Tales.

All that was left for me this weekend was Sunday morning. Caverna and coffee. How civilized. First, just out of curiosity, I decided to see how big the board would be for a seven-player game. Pretty big...

As for the game itself, this time I noticed the Peaceful room which allows a player to remove weapons from a dwarf in return for food. I was able to use that to good effect, and get the bonus for weapon-less dwarves at the end of the game. And I got sheep breeding early and some nice fields yielding. I was confident of beating yesterday's 77, and I was right to be.

My score: 90.

Just ten off the “magical score” of 100! So close. Maybe next time.


  1. Andrew I had no idea you were having such a game-centric weekend! Well done for beginning it with a six mile hike.

    Tales of the Arabian Nights was sublime, and ridiculous - there was a moment when we were all laughing so much it felt we might not be able to stop. It felt like the perfect game for three last night, and thank you for indulging me and Ben. Brass is better with four, anyway.

    Excellent high score on solo Caverna - I played once or twice before getting Fields of Arle, and never got near 90 as I remember. Now I want to play Arle...

  2. That's impressive staying power Andrew!

    Thanks again for looking after the animals. I want to play Caverna now...