Had the gang over for gaming yesterday. Mark, Patch and Zjonni came over for another go with Conquest of Paradise. While it had taken an entire session last time, the plan was to play the basic game the first time (as Zjonni hadn’t played it before), and start using the advanced rules assuming we managed a second game.

For the first round, I drew Raiatea, and got to watch the struggle in the main island area while getting pretty good draws for myself. Zjonni as Tonga did a very nice job of assembling a good military force, and slowly working his way west, into the preprinted islands with native defenders. However, they also have villages to start with, and he was quite willing to sacrifice units to keep them all up. Patch as Hiva had trouble finding much good land, and I put a few small stacks on the border to guarantee that any adventurism would at least be expensive.

Mark, as Samoa, had some very good exploration and was emerging as quite a power. I kept up with him for a while, and then starting falling behind. I had to continually keep reminding myself that it was because Mark was generally turning up his culture cards soon after he bought them, and I was keeping mine face down. There were a couple of turns where I thought Mark might hit the magic 23 and end the game, but his growth finally slowed down as fighting erupted. I finally ended the game by hitting 19 and then revealing 5 VPs worth of cards (three 1s, a 0, and one that was worth 2 to me).

I don’t think they’ll let me do that again.

After lunch, we started a second round with most of the advanced rules in play. I drew Samoa this time, with Mark opposite me as Tonga. To a large extent, the game was dominated by the fact that Mark drew New Zealand early and laid the free second tile down. He managed his little empire quite well, and built up faster than I did, pushing me off Samoa late in the game, which also helped seal his victory.

That went quickly and we still had a fair amount of time left, and so proceeded to a third game. I drew Samoa again, with Patch opposite me on Tonga, Zjonni out on the edge as Hiva (for the second time in row) and Mark on Raiatea. This game had some of the most lopsided chit and tile draws of all three games. Zjonni found the bulk of the 1-knot open ocean chits, and did not encounter much land until the north edge of the board, where I was expanding.

Tonga (Patch this time) once again found New Zealand early. It is interesting that in the two games where we’ve used the second-tile rule, it has appeared near its historical location. I found a decent number of small islands, and had some trouble juggling between colonizing them, building up a military and keeping in the card race.

Part of the plan was to work my way into the western areas, and develop a route into the back area past the traditionally well-defended Tonga. By the time I was getting in range, Patch had Tonga and each of the hexes of New Zealand defended by stacks that were about as big my entire possible force. Considering that Mark was also trying to find a way to break this up, he was pretty determined to stay on the defensive, and kept us from risking anything big until the end of the game. I came in second, but my position was coming apart as I just couldn’t manage the resources I needed in that area, and Zjonni was starting to eat into my undefended north.

There was some around the table talk about balance and other issues (including speculation on how good my poker face is—not something I was going to answer at the time…). It seems like the tile draws should be reasonably even in the long run, but today the west side of the board was consistently doing better geographically. When your entire area is poor it’s hard to afford the ability to take much away from anyone else, and the east side can get really isolated.

Personally, I’m wondering if the two-tile New Zealand rule is too powerful as not only do you get a four-spot island, you then guarantee access to a three-spot island. It seems like it would be a great focus for conflict, but both times today it appeared in the south-west corner behind Tonga, which really limited the possibilities.

The current plan is for a day of two concurrent games of Commands & Colors: Ancients. This will take a bit of juggling, as we’ll only have Mark’s set available, but with a little creative scenario picking it should work out. If Jason is available (giving us five), we’ll try a five-player Soldier Kings.