The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘Struggle of Empires

A Good Mango/Stew War

Some thoughts about recent recentness:

  • (Finally) played Struggle of Empires again. 4 Hours just flew by. Really, I was shocked at what time it was. As usual, I mis-judged the unrest situation slightly and lost. To be fair, if I hadn’t pushed the unrest, I’d have lost anyway.
  • With tonight’s Dr. Who, we are now in the summer hiatus. Boo-urns. A few twists, some good, some bad. Some great writing.  A gathering of people.  And, let me second what Keith Phipps wrote in the AVClub. I’d totally watch a spinoff where Madame Vastra, a female Silurian (humanoid lizard), fights crime in Victorian England by eating the guilty. Especially since I have no real shows to watch right now. Warehouse 13 isn’t bad. (I’m mostly through the first season).
  • The Robot kicked my ass at Race (with Brink of War). I may start up another grudge match against the Robot. After all, we just won the Robopocalypse.
  • As always, open thread on the media I should consume to make it through the summer. I’ll be watching Torchwood (if I can … Starz often streams via Netflix pretty fast, sometimes the same day) but other than that I’ve got little to nothing. Oh, Jon Benjamin has a Van starts this week, I think.
  • I had one of the worst bridge sessions of the last year earlier this week. Truly awful. Yuck.
  • I’ve been picking out Space Oddity on guitar, without Rock Band. Need to turn it back on and try the song.
  • I got an email from Richard Cheese telling me he was playing a concert in Houston. It arrived a mere 12 hours before the gig. To me, this is not enough advanced knowledge. (Not that I’m going to Houston for Ricardo Queso … but if I would, I might have needed to know earlier). But, in his honor, I did listen to his CD on my way to today’s gaming. I may even buy his newest CD.
  • The game night had a copy of the Knizia Co-op Star Trek game, but I left before it started.
  • I’m liking Cornucopia. It’s no Prosperity, but it’s good.

And that’s it. Open thread for the weekend, engaged!

What games? What TV? What Movies?


Written by taogaming

June 11, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Posted in Open Thread

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More recent game

I got to try Zooloretto. Not bad. Good. I could play it again. I wouldn’t fret unduly if I didn’t.

I finally got in another game of Struggle of Empires … unlike my NC group here people drive their peasants hard; two nations hit 19 unrest (and I, sadly, came in second worst at 14, losing by 4).

We also played Castle. Castle is one of those games that I rarely think of, but enjoy when we play. Like earlier sessions, we played twice. Apart from the usual variant (“You may not draw a card if you have as many cards as you started with in hand”) I think I should errata the Merchant so that you can’t play him the turn you go out. (I now see this is an official variant).

Written by taogaming

September 1, 2007 at 10:48 pm

Hell, Caesar (Luck, Length and Lunacy)

Last night we played Ave Caesar (among others). I think I’ve played this about five times (counting Ausgebremst as the same basic game).

And I finished last. Dead Last. “Super Special Last.” The four races each award 6-4-3-2-1 points (for first through fifth). An average final score is almost 11 points . I got three. That’s right, I earned a fourth and fifth to go with my two sixes.

Now, I had “gotta see it to believe it” bad luck, so I enjoyed myself. Horrific luck while gaming is funny. Much better than run-of-the-mill below average die rolls, which doesn’t allow you to tell glamorous stories… just ask Karapet.

I played Struggle of Empires earlier this week, which is derided for high luck. [I’d been trying to get that on the table since I moved…] The dice seemed much more stable than Ave’s deck of cards (not just for me, either). Its easier to stomach luck in a 45 minute game than a 3 hour one.

Still, without luck we’d have a lot less stories.

Incidentally, is it just me or has the new version of Ave Caesar shortened the tracks? In the old versions, we usually had a few non-finishers over the course of four games (either by missing the Hail to Caesar, or running out of cards). Everyone made it this time (except for one race where the last place player skipped the hail to try to gain a spot or two and deny everyone points …). I think the closest anyone came to running out of gas was 6 points. [And I can assure you no favors were done].

Not that it would have helped me. No … Twice when I had the lead I drew the “Triple Six” to stall. In another race I lost a turn because there were only five open spaces in front of me. Another time I was blocked behind the leader when he stalled. And let’s not talk about the vicious three turn delay while Hailing Caesar…

Oh well, next time “lady luck” will victimize someone else, and I’ll bake a pie.

Written by taogaming

November 18, 2006 at 11:02 am

Posted in Ramblings

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Struggle of Empires Further Thoughts

Got in another game of Struggle of Empires (along with 6 Nimmt!). I definitely understand why some people think that Struggle has too much luck … I lost a naval battle and land battle on my second action (with a small advantage). Not horrific, but my next turn had my replacement army get lost at sea. At this point, I was in a deep hole and never recovered. The luck amused me, in any case, and I had fun, but I appreciate the feeling. While I wasn’t out of it after the 1st war, I had slim hope. In fact, after the 2nd and third war we counted “my” areas first (the areas I scored in) and after counting all of my areas, I tied for last. Then we counted the other areas.

Despite my horrific showing, I think I’m getting a grasp on the game. Some random thoughts on gameplay …

It seems like 12+ unrest costs 7 VP. Usually it’s right at that point, unless I decide I’m losing the VP and aim for 19. Depending on how ties work, ~10 VP suffers the 4VP loss.

The biggest flaw I’ve seen are people who evaluate the position at the start of a war, and then pound on the leader the entire war without re-evaluating the points. This flaw occurs often.

I think going last in the final two wars works out well. The worse place to be is in a middle position one greater than the number of pop/slave counters (for example, 3rd when there are two colonizing actions available in a 6 player game).

Starting with the geek discussion of the relative merits of tiles … I think figuring out the values of the tiles can be related to actions and unrest. I realize that comparing vs. Gov’t Reform has problems, but it’s a good 1st order approximation.

The Government Reform tiles now get taken in the last round of War 1 (a player will attack and then remove unrest, instead of move-attack). Then a run on reform starts around the middle of War 2. Now that I’m thinking about it, though, taking Reserves in the first war (instead of Gov’t Reform) deters a cheap attack, and probably saves you two unrest (in Wars 2 & 3) as well as potentially generating/saving VP. Taking Fighting Withdrawl also saves unrest, encourages your allies to defend, and may net you a lucky win. It’s especially nice with a colonial strategy, allowing you to contest naval superiority in a losing battle (hoping to see a ‘7’ on the other side, if not get lucky and win).

The tiles listed in the rule-book as good first picks (Mercenaries, Trained Natives, Pressgangs, Diplomatic Service and War Office) are reasonable. I suspect that the above order is correct. I disagree that doubling up leads to victory.

I’ve really come to appreciate Militia. Assuming you want to build 10 units over the course of the game, and half will be armies, it saves you 5 actions. Mercenaries saves you two actions and 3 pop.

I don’t think I’ve seen someone take Improved Agriculture. Navigation & Logistics are somewhat rare, but appear sometimes. Logistics works well with a continental strategy counters losses with a colonial strategy (if you have spare units). Sure, you lose units, but the 3rd move lets you recover to attack, so you don’t lose a unit you needed to attack with right now. I’ve seen Surprise Attack & Blockade. They have their place, but it’s rare. I haven’t seen as many Pirates or Slave Revolts as expected. I think people are put off by the rules text. One note that isn’t in the rules that I can see, but has been stated by Wallace on the Geek — the Pirates/Slaves do not destroy any units they fight, and opposing units aren’t destroyed if you roll a ‘7’. However, these let you attack ‘allies’. If the Pirates win, you can then attack them to gain against your friend.

It seems that everyone needs at least a bit of income. Given that ~12 unrest costs 7 VP, you can expect to lose 3 Units a war (roughly) and reduce 4 VP via Gov’t Reform (again, roughly), that means you have 7 points of unrest for gold. You start with 10, and get ~5 after each war (varies greatly, but a reasonable average). Let’s say 20 + 14 = 34 Gold. If you make 4 attacks a War, that’s 24 gold, leaving you ten for tiles. Not enough. Banking gets you 7 Gold. If you are spread out, that’s a reasonable return. I like the flexibility. However, a company tile can often get you that much gold if you work at it (usually just hoovering up spare control markers in the East Indies, for example). Too much gold rarely helps, though.

If you have a decided gold advantage, then start the arms race with Army Training. Usually everyone tries to grab one, since they help against the neutrals, and being the designated whipping boy (only player without one) means a steady decline. Naval Training seems neglected, but with a colonial strategy it tends to make others cede superiority.

The Alliance Tiles, initially scorned because they return at the end of each war, are actually quite good. Yes, you have to return them, but they act like a super Army training (you don’t need units and they can’t be easily countered) in one (or more) areas.

The reason they are better than expected: you don’t have the money or population to use all of your actions. So you sometimes see these tiles taken mid-way through a war, when an area heats up. Taking an action to get an additional +1 in a battle (pushing it up to +2 or +3, say) that also defends against a counterattack and doesn’t risk another unit is not to be scoffed at.

In fact, while players are trying to optimize, it helps to remember that Struggle deals with a colonial war. It’s better (militarily) to make a few odds-on attacks than to make many slight advantage attacks (as I learned to my chagrin). You don’t want to roll the dice often. It’s also better financially. However, politically you want to spread out. Overkill in an area doesn’t score (except for company tiles). I’ve seen a near-win by a player who had one permanent tile (mercenaries, I think). The odd alliance, government reform, and ‘use immediately’ tiles filled the extra actions. I think that case was extreme; but you can easily loose by grabbing too many tiles. It puts you under time pressure. Most people seem to end with ~5 permanent tiles, plus 3-5 others (alliances, one-shots, return to draws).

Finally, the tiles that can be used as a free action (particularly the ‘top 5’) just beg to be used to allow parting shots on the last action. A player with War Office and Logistics (on a continental strategy) can move 3 units into a country and attack twice. That’s a huge swing. A player with Mercenaries can drop a free unit and attack, or attack and then attack again (if the first one fails). Of course, that means not having a unit around defending early on. The other use for those tiles is to rush to take the easy neutrals (the 1s).

All of the above ignores diplomacy, a key area of the game in some groups. But we play with a minimum of table talk. But by all means be aware of when you can ally. Most of the time you’ll only ally with a weak partner against a strong (leader) enemy. But consider allying if it helps even the battle. You’ll risk losing a unit (on a seven), but may cause a tie. This assumes the main player has a unit to lose. Remember that in naval battles, you can choose the number of ships to help. [Land battles are all or nothing].

Hopefully the group in Texas will like this. My opinion on Struggle has fallen slightly; but if I enjoy it when I suffer a brutal loss, I’ll still play a few more times.

Written by taogaming

May 24, 2005 at 9:13 pm

Posted in Strategy

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Recent Gaming & Runaway Leaders

The last few games I’ve played shared the common theme of having obvious winners before the game ended. I’m torn on this. If you can predict the winner, the games have more skill than luck (or you’ve just witnessed an amazing run), and it’s probably hard to pick on a player. Both admirable traits, but anti-climatic. I suppose it depends on how early you know the ending…

First, La Citta. It’s not bad. I certainly remember why I sold it … it didn’t excite me. I knew the outcome before the end of turn 3 (of 6). It ended up closer than I thought (with final scores of 45, 38, 25 and 20-something), but that fourty five is a huge score. The runaway leader problem didn’t bother me too much (we were all rusty); the game lacks zing. Much of the good buzz on this game revolves around the fact that it’s become a collector’s item. [There I go, being a curmudgeon again].

Last night saw another game of Power Grid. I knew the winner, but only on the penultimate turn (and I was worried about my position two turns prior). I don’t know if others could read the position (I was the winner). I’ve played over 25 times (counting a few games of Funkenschlag) … I don’t think there’s much left to explore; but I enjoy playing.

And I played a 2-player game of Struggle of Empires. Interesting. My opponent hadn’t played before, so it was a learning game. It took about 1.5 hours (with rules). Without the alliances, the auctions fade from view, and tactics dominate. It’s not a bad game; but different from the larger outings. I suspect that the game just won’t work with three players. Two-on-one would be brutal. (Even three-on-two in the five player games hurt). The game was close through two wars, but I had excellent board position going into the 3rd war, so the ending was (again) known well in advance. Of course, if I’d had that position at the end of the second war in a 4+ player game, I would have gotten a beat down.

Written by taogaming

May 11, 2005 at 4:12 pm

Fixed Fun Games & Heckmeck im Bratwurmeck

Many Euro games take three or four players. Sometimes up to two or five. Few Euros play with six or more. There are many reasons (or at least, there are many theories) as to why this is so, but I think one reason is that the games have a fixed amount of fun.

When Alhambra came out (two years ago), the reaction at the Gathering split — about half loved it, half hated it. It quickly became apparent how many people played often dictated the feeling. More players means less fun.

Usually, it’s because you sit around during other players’ turns. So the game takes the same amount of time, but you get to do less. The fun dilutes. These are ‘fixed fun’ games.
Diplomacy doesn’t dilute. Add or remove a player and you may change the balance (or variant), but each player gets the same amount of time to play.

This isn’t a binary “Fixed vs non-fixed” choice; there’s an elasticity of fun (as compared to number of players). In Puerto Rico, you lose control with players, but not as badly as Alhambra. Most games are in the middle, and designs that have fixed fun would be well advised to keep to lower limits. Struggle of Empires leans towards the “fixed” column, but mitigates by taking away an action round.

Heckmeck im Bratwurmeck, Knizia’s dice game, is a fixed fun game. I played it with four players, and loved it. Basically, you roll dice and keep all dice showing a single number, re-rolling the rest. But you can’t keep a number you rolled before. Also, the dice show worms (as well as 1-5), and you need to keep at least one worm (worms are valued at 5). If you have a value higher than the lowest available tile (which run 21-36), you can claim it. If you have the value equal to each player’s most recently claimed tile, you steal it. If you crap out and have at least one tile, you return it (and sometimes remove the highest tile from the game). When no unclaimed tiles remain, you score (each tile shows 1-4 worms, which are points).

The reason I mention that it’s a fixed fun game is that the box lists 2-7 players. Guess what you get to do when it’s not your turn? Nothing. Ok, you get to watch dice tumbling across the table. I’m surprised that anyone who played with six or seven liked the game, but apparently some still thought it was OK. With seven, the game takes an hour (because one of the two ‘timers’ in the game only functions when I player craps out and has a tile). But with 2-4, the game takes half as long, and each player gets more time with the dice.

I played Heckmeck twice, and will buy a copy (after the move). It’s a cute filler, nothing more. But I’d never dream of playing with a crowd.

Written by taogaming

April 18, 2005 at 4:52 pm

Posted in Reviews

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Struggle of Empires

Now that I’ve played twice, some thoughts.

In Struggle of Empires, each player commands one of the major powers of Europe. The game consists of three wars. In each war, players get 5 (or 6) rounds of taking two actions each. But first, an auction determines player order and the alliances. There are two sides, and players cannot attack their allies, although they don’t have to help them. This alliance mechanism prevents players from picking on the leader, always an issue in multiplayer games with conflict. After the auctions for player order, players then get two actions each. The actions are:

  • Taking a tile,
  • Colonizing an area,
  • Building a unit,
  • Moving two units,
  • Attacking another player

There are around 30 different tiles, and they all provide some bonus or rule-breaking exception (like genes in Ursuppe, or the powers in Cosmic Encounter). Most of the tiles can only be used once per war, and some can only be used once.

Colonizing an area takes an action and either costs a population (to colonize) or requires having a ship in Africa (to enslave) and it’s one of the main ways that new areas open up. The tile and colonization actions are limited, you can only perform each action once per turn. You can take any of the other actions twice.

The other three actions form the standard basis of a light wargame. You build units, move them around and attack for control markers. Interestingly, you can keep control of an area without troops, but that makes it ripe for attack.

Troops (and colonizing) require population. Attacking (and tiles) require money. You can always squeeze the peasants for money if you run out, at the cost of unrest. You also gain unrest when your lose units in battle. Death and Taxes may be inevitable, but they still chafe.

I’ve never seen the battle mechanic before — Roll two dice and take the difference, which you add to your troop count (basically one per army, adjusting for naval superiority, tiles and allies). Loser suffers a one unit loss (and a control tile changes hands if the attacker wins). However, if either player rolls a ‘7’, they suffer an additional unit loss. As mentioned before, each unit lost causes a point of unrest.

At the end of the turn, each area scores. However, all ties let each player score full points, and only count as one spot. So the East Indies (which score 4/2) have Russia with two control tokens, Britian with two and France with one. Then Russia and Britian each get four points, and France still scores.

This has interesting implications. The leader in an area gets nothing for pressing the advantage (except costing others points, or a comfort faction).

After three rounds, anyone with 20+ unrest is eliminated, then the remaining player with the most unrest losses 7 VP, and the next worst losses 4VP. Most VP wins.

Anyway, thanks to the Geek, I can just point you to a file that summarizes the mechanics. [The rules are also online].

After two games, I like Struggle. But there are flaws that will keep it from being a big hit. As you can expect from Warfrog, it’s a longer game. Additionally, it’s overwhelming at first, since you can do anything on your first turn (and have more options than any other time). Expect four hours for the first game, but about 2.5 to 3 after that.

While players can evaluate the position exactly, it takes time (and most players won’t, I imagine). This leads to an evaluation issue. For example, in Age of Renaissance, players would often hit the leader even after he’d been ground down. That happens here, too. In the 3rd war, the leader will often receive attention. Struggle does mitigate that through the alliance mechanism, so only half the players can hit the leader, but it happens. [In theory, players can count out the 3rd wars scores, but that takes time. Unrest is trackable but hidden.]

One complaint I’ve heard is that the game has too much luck. Too some extent, that’s a judgement call. Bad dice rolls can cause you to lose combats, but that’s true of any die-based system. The ‘7’ gotcha adds risk to even a guaranteed attack, and I doubt I’ll ever see one. [Six points of units is huge — Players only get 5 population a turn]. In addition, naval movement has a chance of troop loss, which will probably hurt a player or two. There is also a random setup, where each player gets five colonies, and there’s the possibility of a very bad draw (all five in the same area guarantees a first, but not many points).

So yes, there is luck and a fair amount for a long game. Given the subject matter and scale, I’m not put out by it. I haven’t seen a runaway leader or a player fall behind due to egregious bad luck (as compared to poor choices), but I’ve only played two games.

On the plus side, Struggle gives you plenty to think about. You have 30 actions, limited population and cash. You can print more money for free, at the cost of unrest. But being 3rd worst in unrest (assuming nobody goes over) is the same as being pristine! Population is tight as well, and necessary for troops, colonizing and income. The tiles allow you to trade resources, for example spending money and an action to get a tile that will get you one extra action per war. There are about 30 different tiles, with varying number of each. There are some very good ones, which mean the first auction for player order can quickly get expensive. There are quite a few strategies on tiles, money and the like, and I suspect I’d enjoy this for a dozen games, given the opportunity. [I don’t know that I’ll get the chance to play that often].

So overall, I’m pleased with Struggle. Then again, I’m pleased with Age of Steam and Liberte, both Wallace designs under the Warfrog label. If you like the long (by Euro-standards) conflict game, then Struggle is worth looking into.

Incidentally, the number of players is listed as 2-7. I’d be interested to see how the game works with 2-3. I think I’d generally play with the 5-7. Four still seems the same, but three would be odd (one player vs two each war). Two, being zero sum, would be interesting and odd, I wager.

Written by taogaming

March 30, 2005 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Reviews

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