The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Burning Down London

I was thinking about London today, after my good experience, and I thought “It might be better to buy up land first, but perhaps the loan means that it’s a tough call. Or if you got a good hand, dropping 3 cards and running first, to avoid the loan, is an alternative.” But then I go and check out some comments and they seem to say “Nope, take out two loans, buy land, tune your 10 card hand, drop it, run a few times, then the game ends.”

Now that sounds like a boring 90 minutes. And oddly, nothing like a Wallace game. Say what you will about his titles, but they usually don’t railroad you down one path. Normally, I’d wonder if the commentators were just wrong (like all those people who think that the Labyrinth is balanced, I’ve got to get that back to the table, by the way), but as Alexfrog has chimed in, I’m going to take their word for it; so I’m taking London off my “Want in trade” list.

Sure, it’s all in the details of how you implement it … but this basically means it’s a card game where you spend the first 30 minutes dealing out the cards, arranging them into sets, and discarding the excess. That’s called Rummy.

On another sad note, I’m caught up on Justified, which means I’m limited to one episode a week. Movies may indeed suck right now, but TV boasts a few amazing shows (pretty much no matter what your tastes are).

Written by taogaming

March 1, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Posted in Misc

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8 Responses

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  1. I have a lot of respect for Alex’s analytical skills as well, but in this case, I believe he’s only played the game once (at least, that’s all I’ve seen him report), he tried the strategy, and it happened to work. On the opposite side, Richard Dewsbury participated in the Treefrog playtesting and he said they looked at the gambit and didn’t find it at all dominating.

    There are quite a few other threads which talk about the strategy, but I find them very unconvincing. It seems very risky (requiring that you pick up a few critical cards) and that your opponents be somewhat asleep at the wheel (i.e., they’re not buying boroughs quickly enough).

    I did have one game in which I was able to get a city with 5 immortal cards and I was able to run it a few times; it probably gave me the margin of victory. But it didn’t happen until near the game’s end. If you can acquire the cards, it might well be a good ploy to follow, but to say that it’s the only strategy just seems irresponsible to me. It runs contrary to the experiences of a lot of good gamers (who rate the game highly) and frankly, I trust Wallace more than that.

    So you may want to play the game again and see what you think yourself. Althout I’d let someone else try the “killer” strategy–as you say, it sounds awfully boring to have to play.


    March 2, 2011 at 12:41 am

    • If Alex hasn’t played since BGG.Con, then he’s played two games; I was in both of them.

      The first game, after we got done restarting due to major rules errors (we’d get a couple of turns in, say “hey, this can’t be right”, check the rulebook, and restart), was a lot of fun.

      The second game, Alex had this theory about how to play. I tried to see if it was reasonable to play without taking any loans (my conclusion is: no, or at least you have to worry a lot less about poverty in the early going than I was). The third player was playing a more “normal” (for someone who had also only played once) strategy. Alex crushed us, on the strength of both Omnibus cards and some other stuff.

      Given that I was trying a strategy that I would not try again, it’s possible (even likely) that we are overestimating the strength of what Alex did. It felt very strong, but I can’t claim expertise at the game. The questions we were left with after the second game were: a) what happens if everybody tries this–does the game devolve into a crapshoot for the Omnibus and similar cards, or does the game end too fast for them to be as strong as they were? and b) is there a way that one player can profitably defect from this strategy if everybody else is playing it? and possibly c) if playing something similar to this strategy *is* the main line, is the resulting game interesting? (our suspicion was “no”, but again, we’d only played twice)

      In conclusion, I agree that you might want to play the game again yourself a couple of times and see how such a strategy works out for you.


      March 2, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    • I’d normally trust Wallace, but there already seemed to be a bunch of false choices — the draw 3 option was used maybe once (to force the end game). There are pauper cards (the ultimate “Screw you” in a random card game) and when our game stalled, I wondered why there wasn’t a decent way to rush the end game that didn’t involve risking 3 extra poverty (which is, after all, negative 9 VP in the worst case scenario, but probably 3-5). It seems obvious to have some of the cards adjust game length (by chucking cards from the deck to the discard pile) when they are run.

      And the strategy doesn’t seem risky at all. Taking out loans to buy burrows trades money for VP, less Poverty and Time. Getting a perfect hand may be difficult/impossible, but grabbing the land early seems the easy choice (and I speak as someone who instantly built ran, then bought in the first game).

      I’ll play it again, but I suspect the game’s opening (and possibly ending) are a) too long and b) too scripted.


      March 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm

      • First of all, the Draw 3 Cards action isn’t a false choice, it’s there mostly for the end of the game when all the boroughs have been bought up and you need a way to acquire cards. Without it, the game could freeze up, so it’s a necessary option.

        Second, no one disputes that buying up land is a great option. If you need to take a loan to swing it, do so. I usually can buy all the boroughs I need with just one or sometimes no loans, but I also tend to focus on my finances early, at the expense of my poverty. But the point is, any decent player knows how good land is. The real issue is if you should buy boroughs when you don’t need the cards. Alex proposes buying up land, discarding excess cards, and tuning your hand. This seems wasteful to me. What’s wrong with playing the cards, running your city, and then buying another borough or two? You can score points and acquire cash that means you won’t need loans. The poverty you pick up early can usually be ditched by game’s end. Alex’s method seems to require that you get several key immortal cards (i.e., ones that don’t flip when you use them) in order to run your city on successive turns; otherwise, it has no chance. THAT’S why I think it’s risky, particularly in a multiplayer game.

        Would I prefer it if owning land wasn’t so damned good? Probably; it makes buying boroughs kind of a no-brainer. But that’s trying to make the game be something it’s not. The game the way it is works just fine and is fun to play. I see no need to impose my standards on a designer as long as I like the game they produce.


        March 2, 2011 at 9:09 pm

  2. I think the problem is that land is way too valuable. Yes it costs money, but you can go into debt as much as you want early and several (really terrible) cards cost just as much or more. Land generates cards, VP, reduces poverty when running and combines well with several cards. No other action comes close to being that good. I think reducing the card draw from all land by 2 would help, or at least make the card draw action semi-attractive before the land is all bought up.


    March 2, 2011 at 10:54 am

  3. “Say what you will about his titles, but they usually don’t railroad you down one path.”

    Really? Age of Steam is a bit of a railroad job. Brass certainly is. So are Princes of the Renaissance, Automobile, and Toledo.

    In fact, I’d say railroading is almost a defining characteristic of his games, and one of the reasons I don’t like them very much. They generally provide you with a lot of mechanical clutter out of which you have to figure what the right answers are. The game isn’t so much in balancing risks and rewards, making trade-offs, etc., it’s more about figuring out the puzzle of what works, and once you’ve figured it out, milking it for all it’s worth.

    I’ve had a lot of trouble returning to Labyrinth myself. After the last month’s events it just seems so, well, irrelevant. I think you’re right about the balance though. I don’t know why GMT has such trouble balancing these card games. I’ll grant you it’s not easy, but it’s not rocket science either. They need more outside playtesters.


    March 2, 2011 at 7:15 pm

    • Well, perhaps I should have said “Struggle of Empires” doesn’t railroad you. AoS does, somewhat, but I think that the financing model was so refreshing. Brass didn’t feel railroading, but a) I’m never sure I got the rules right and b) I had no idea of strategy. The rest of the games you mentioned I mainly play once. If that.


      March 2, 2011 at 7:37 pm

  4. I hate to come up with house rules as a general rule, but if this does become a problem, how about simply penalizing a player for discarding excess cards (one poverty per), like someone suggested on BGG? It seems in line with what the cubes represent. And besides, being forced to discard due to hand limit seemed to be a rare occurrence.


    March 4, 2011 at 5:15 pm

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