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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A First Look Back at a First Sunriver

I get the lucky break of being the first to post on the past weekend's Sunriver extravaganza. I wrote the bulk of this Monday night a few hours after returning.

This was the first Sunriver gaming retreat I've been able to attend. It most certainly won't be the last, and it reinforces my desire to attend more of this type of gathering.

I rode along with George for the four-hour drive out to Doug's family's house in Sunriver, arriving around 2pm on Friday. Doug and Dave had arrived the night before, so after unloading the car and unwinding for a bit, we dove right into the gaming. I pretty much didn't stop for nearly three solid days (except for some sleep, of course...)

From 2pm Friday through 11am on Monday (when Dave, George, and I started heading out) I played 18 games. That might not seem like a whole heck of a lot until you see some of the games I played...


The weekend started off with a clunker. As we knew others were arriving relatively soon, we wanted to try something shorter (~90 minutes). We chose First World War, the newish Phalanx game on WWI designed by Ted Raicer (designer of Paths of Glory among others.) Ugh. I don't think I'll be trying this one again. Abstracted to the point of uselessness, really. I know Phalanx is trying to provide lighter, euro-wargame hybrids, but this game really can't decide which it is. And it doesn't do either well.

After Matt, Alex, and Mike arrived, we pulled out Saboteur. Dave had gone to the store, so six of us were playing. Matt won rather easily, and pretty much everyone enjoyed it (as far as I know). Tim, Carrie, Chuck, and Jodi all arrived while we were playing so the full complement was present from this point on.

My big game for Friday was the new Britannia published by Fantasy Flight. I'd never played the original, but it had always hung around the lists of games I was going to try and/or buy. This deserves a better session report, but I ended up finishing second by two points (243/241/236/191) when my last Saxon unit was killed on nearly the final die roll of the game. If he had survived, I would have won by two instead.

After dinner, I got in a game of Hacienda and two plays of Die Sieben Siegel. Hacienda surprised me – it was better than I expected. I might be buying this one. DSS played very cleanly. It's a great trick-taking game.

So Friday's summary: six games played, zero wins.


I had a bit of a slow start as I was attempting to sleep in the same room as the Fury of Dracula marathon that stopped sometime after 1am. While they were finishing up in the morning, I got set up for our three-player Here I Stand tournament scenario session. Chuck (France/Ottoman), Doug (Hapsburg/Papacy) and I (England/Protestant) played this three-turn version. (which still took us around four hours) I pulled off the win in the last turn by managing to father an heir (a sickly Edward VI) and converting a number of English spaces to the Church of England. Final scores were England 23, Ottomans 22, France 20, Protestants 20, Hapsburg 18, Papacy 17.

After that, I jumped into a Railroad Tycoon game. I hadn't actually played this to completion yet, and enjoyed it. This is definitely a choice over Age of Steam if you've already fried your brain. Finished 3rd out of four in this one – probably should have built in the west sooner. I really wish they could have sorted out the color issues on this one – the constant confusion over blue and purple is annoying.

A quick game of San Juan followed. This might have been the tightest 4-player contest I've seen. Final scores were 36(2), 36(1), 36(0), and 31. I ended up winning by one card in hand over Alex who managed to build three 6-buildings and a Library when his only production building the entire game was the initial Indigo Plant. It was quite impressive to see.

After dinner, Chuck and I played a quick game of Twilight Struggle. Quick in that I got hammered by a Soviet auto-win on turn 4. I never really got anything going my way in that game. Frustrating, but that happens in card games some times.

The post-dinner game that night, for me, was Air Baron. Dave, Mike, Chuck and I rode the ups and downs of incredible luck swings in this game. At one point, Dave was two successful takeovers from winning, and fell all the way to last. We nearly called the game and gave the victory to the system. In the end, Chuck perservered and won, scoring more points than the rest of us combined.

Around 10pm or so, we started a game of Die Macher, knowing we'd only get a couple turns in. We stopped around 11:30 or so and crashed.

Saturday summary: five games completed, two wins.


This was promising to be a good day. Any day when you start by playing Die Macher during breakfast can't be a bad one, can it?

Starting around 8:00 or so we resumed the Die Macher game. I was in the lead after the big, 80-point third election (Westphalia) and matched nearly the entire National platform, but my platform didn't really match (and in one case directly opposed) any of the remaining elections. I was unable to fully manipulate things to my advantage, doing poorly in most of the remaining elections – this also meant the National platform was falling away from me, and I ended up only matching two of the five opinions in the end. I fell to fourth as Chuck ran away with things. Only being able to get into two coalitions the entire game really hurt me. It's critical in a five-player game.

By the time that ended (around 10am or so), Tim had pulled out 18MEX, one of the entry-level games in the 18xx family. I own two of them (1860 and 1856), but had never played any before so I jumped at the opportunity. It took a while to work through the explanations, etc. but we got things limping along. Tim has played this one before, and has played a handful of other games in the system, so he won as expected. I really enjoyed the experience, though, and am very happy I got to play. I'm really looking forward to getting some of these games on the table now, but opportunities are slim. We called this one just before we were likely to break the bank as Tim and Carrie had to get going. I finished last (by only $30 or so behind George) but loved the game.

By this time, there were only four of us left. Dave, Doug, George, and I. (Yes, we were the first ones to arrive, and the last to leave.) We pulled out Power Grid, and played the France map. It was the usual close jockeying for position. Late in the game, I made the mistake of competing with Doug for garbage (against my initial inclination) and it cost me. I believe I would have won the game had I taken a different route, but I'll never know. Instead finished last as I was unable to power my garbage plant on the final two turns due to Doug buying out all the garbage on me. I love this game. I've never had even a luke-warm experience playing it. Always great.

After the four of us went out to dinner at the local grill, we came back to give Bolide a shot. This is a new racing game by an Italian publisher and it has a very novel momentum-based movement system. There is nearly zero luck in the game. I'll be devoting some space to it in a future column on racing games. Suffice it to say, I really enjoy the game but you really need to use the supplied egg timer or it just drags on too long. We only ran one lap and it took just over two hours. That said, we rarely had to refer to the rulebook – the game is simple, but takes a while to figure out how to manipulate your way around the corners. I like this one a lot – will need to try it again.

We capped the day off with Tower of Babel. Eh. It's not bad, and I'd like to play it again, but I don't feel the urge to own it.

Sunday summary: five games, 1 win, 3 last places.


This was a short day as I needed to get home before five – which meant leaving before noon. We only got two games in – Money! (the card-based bidding game) and Magna Grecia. Nearly caught Dave in the latter as I never sold a single market the entire game.

So... final tally – 18 games, three wins. Eight of the 18 games I played were new to me: First World War, Britannia, Hacienda, Air Baron, 18MEX, Bolide, Tower of Babel, and Money!. Four of the games were 4+ hour sessions (Brittania, Here I Stand, Die Macher, and 18MEX.) I only played one game I didn't like (First World War) and one I'm unsure about playing again (Air Baron).

Doug's hospitality was fantastic. Many years of running this retreat has seemingly fine-tuned the logistics. Many thanks to his generosity and enthusiasm.

Here's the list of games I played, approximate play time, my final position, and their BGG rank.

First World War, 60 minutes, 2nd (of 4), 1077
Saboteur, 30 minutes, 5th (of 6), 557
Britannia, 4.5 hours, 2nd (of 4), 168
Hacienda, 60 minutes, last, 131
Die Sieben Siegel (twice) 90 minutes, 3rd/last, 258
Here I Stand, 4.5 hours, 1st (of 3), 200
Railroad Tycoon, 2 hours, 3rd (of 4), 23
San Juan, 45 minutes, 1st (of 4), 31
Twilight Struggle, 60 minutes, last, 21
Air Baron, 2 hours, 2nd (of 4), 781
Die Macher, 4.5 hours, 4th (of 5), 7
18MEX, 6 hours, last, N/A
Power Grid, 2 hours, last, 4
Bolide, 2 hours, 1st (of 4), 710
Tower of Babel, 45 minutes, 207
Money!, 30 minutes, 2nd (of 3), 427
Magna Grecia, 90 minutes, 2nd (of 4), 286

For those of you counting at home, that's 36 hours of gaming in a 68 hour span. Still haven't caught up on my sleep - hopefully I can do that tonight.


  • At 1:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    For future 18XX plays have a look at Lemi's moderator. It removes the money, the shares, the company charters and the trains from the game to a computer , leaving only the board and track for the players to handle. In doing so it vastly speeds the game. We're not rocket racers by any means, but we've been easily compleating games of 1824, 1830, 1856, 1870 etc in 2.5 hours.

    Caveat: Not all 18XX are well supported by the moderator.

  • At 12:35 PM, Blogger Eric said…

    Well, part of the long play time was due to three of the four players never having played an 18xx game before. One of those three also missed 10% of the rules explanation as well. Plus we're social beasts, being at a social gaming gathering and all. So we socialized. Lunch came during the game, too.

    I have no problem with it if the rare occasions I'll have to play an 18xx game take 4+ hours.

    The moderator is something to look at, though. Of course, it requires having a laptop near the table, and that's not always feasible/desired.

    And, two of the three games I own, (or will soon own) 1860 and 18FL, aren't currently supported as best I can tell.

  • At 9:26 AM, Blogger Tim said…

    I'm a bit leery of the moderator as well - but only because it has a non-trivial learning curve (I've looked at it in the past) to use.

    In a former group, we tried using spreadsheets for all the monetary aspects, and the time savings wasn't nearly as high as we had hoped - in fact, we found moving from the spreadsheet to poker chips (which are easier to move around) was actually faster, while both of those were faster than using the paper money.

    In the game in question here, we used the paper money just to ensure the correct bank size.


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