LudoNJ Game Day - Tigris and Euphrates, Sticheln and Das Zepter von Zavandor

Yesterday marked another great game day with the LudoNJ group. I was able to attend the full time from just after noon to close, which was at 11:30 on this session. I managed to get in 7 games, 3 of which were new to me – which is always a delight. I played Tigris and Euphrates, Caylus, Ra, Mamma Mia, Sticheln, Das Zepter von Zavandor and Amun-Re. Caylus continues to amaze me. With all the varying possibilities of play each game remains fresh and unique. New to me were Mamma Mia, Sticheln and Das Zepter.

Another new experience was playing T&E ‘in person’. All my previous plays have been online (with particularly miserable play on my part). Funny thing here is how difficult the Mayfair edition is to play based on the graphics, particularly compared to the online experience. I will be elaborating on this in a future post, but this has to do with the complexity of the board graphics and tile graphics and relative weakness of the color impact of the tiles. In games such as this where spacial pattern recognition is vital towards “seeing” the game status, the eye needs to absorb the board as a whole very quickly. Weak differentiation with pieces or undo visual clutter can really hurt game play here.

Image by Psauberer

Sticheln is a fascinating card game from Amigo from around 1993. The cards have 5 colored suits numbered 0 through around 14 (depending on the number players). It’s a once around play of cards with the highest card winning each trick. The only exception being an “anti-trump” suit which is the first card played that set. Any card of this color automatically loses unless all players play this suit. Each card won scores one point except “pain suit” cards. At the beginning of the game, each player picks one card from their hand, the suit becoming their individual “pain suit”. Any time a player receives a card from that suit, the number of that card is subtracted from their score. Ouch! With cards numbering up to 14, capturing just a few of such cards can negate scores of tricks won. Consequently, most of the game is spent screwing other players with their pain suit more than looking to win tricks. Pure evil! In the six player game we played, I came out victorious with just 9 points – a number of players coming out solidly in the negative.

Image by BigWoo

Now onto Das Zepter. Wow! Definately the highlight of the day. I must admit, when the game was introduced the month before, I passed on this one. With a theme solidly in the fantasy camp, this seemed not my cup of tea. The fact of the matter is that the fantasy veneer disappears immediately in this game of economic management. For me, it felt like Goa on steriods. The artwork here is mesmorizing and game play is thoroughly engrossing. Players purchase gems which provide income and some VPs. They may also purchase upgrades on six different tracks which give mostly economic benefits and a few VPs for maxing each track out. Artifact cards may be purchased which give both economic benefits as well as a good amount of VPs. These are like the buildings in PR where some new playing benefits can come from each one. Finally, players my buy the super expensive Sentinal cards which are like the big buildings in PR – no economic benefits, but many VPs if players meet specific requirements. Of particular interest is player order which is determined by VPs. The player in first place is penalized with higher cost for cards and, in the 5 or 6 player game, players in fifth and sixth place benefit from reduced costs. This creates interesting situations where players may wish to stay behind the pack a bit to take advantage of these economic perks. While I came in third of six, this was my strategy (for a lack of knowing what I was doing), staying in fifth and sixth place and launching into third on the last turn. Game ends when a certain number of Sentinals are purchased. With six players, this clocked in at about 3 1/2 hours, which was long. But, wow, was it a good ride! I can’t wait to play this one again.