Boardgamecafe.net Meetup Report @ OTK Cheras 26/10/2012 – The Great Zimbabwe
After everyone’s arrived – and the early birds have completed their Samurai Sword session (read sessrep here), we started with two of the highly anticipated games from this year’s SPIEL – THE GREAT ZIMBABWE and CRUDE THE OIL GAME. Read on to see how we rated The Great Zimbabwe in M’sia first play of this game. Crude Oil will be our next sessrep.
Gamers: Zharif, Jeremy, DWolve, Caleb, Ken, Lester, Ivan, Laurence, Thomas, Kelvin, Alvin, Sheng Yeong, Chee Ho, Boon Khim, Hiew, Kareem, Heng, Waiyan and CK Au.
Games: The Great Zimbabwe, Crude the Oil Game, Samurai Sword, Villages, Seasons, Small World, The Big Badaboom.
Date/Time: 26 October 2012 (Fri) 3.00 PM – 5:00 AM
ESSEN SPIEL 2012 PLAY TESTING STARTS NOW!!
If you have not done so, you may want to read our sessrep on the re-themed BANG aka SAMURAI SWORD. This sessrep dives straight into Splotter’s latest game, THE GREAT ZIMBABWE.
Hmm.. How does one start a sessrep on a Splotter game?
Splotter Spellen is a boutique boardgame design & publishing company, run pretty much by two person Jeroen and Joris. Their games are usually long (> 2 hrs) with deep complex strategies (siap faji anyone?) and often hard tactical decisions. They also do not come cheap with most of their games selling for USD90 and above.
On the other hand, most of their games give you a different feel and not likely to be another JASE (just another soulless euro). Their games usually have limited print runs and in spite of their high price tag, are usually sold out. As at now, three of their most popular games – Roads & Boats, Antiquity (see picture above) and Indonesia – are out of print.
CK with an autographed copy of The Great Zimbabwe (seen with the designers Jeroen & Joris)
The Great Zimbabwe released in Essen Spiel 2012 is the latest addition to their list of must-play games! As a gamer, this is a game you must simply experience!
Read on to find out more about the first play of The Great Zimbabwe in Malaysia, brought to you courtesy of Boardgamecafe.net!
THE GREAT ZIMBABWE
The Mutapa king struts into the village, followed by a bunch of young warriors herding cattle. “Oondabezitha ”, he addresses the assembly of kings, “I have brought twelve heads of cattle for the ceremony tonight”. The others seem to shrink in stature as he speaks. The star of the king of Mutapa is clearly ascending. They have not brought nearly as much cattle themselves. “Soon, we will all be praying to Obatala”, murmurs one of the older Kilwa traders. “The Mutapa will be raising their godless monuments sky-high. Perhaps it is time for us to resort to some magic of our own”. Then the sky breaks into a thunder and a torrential rain pours down on the assembly. The men scramble while the plains fill with water. The ceremony will be wet tonight…
This is a game about tribal competition to erect the BEST monuments in Zimbabwe… you can pray to your chosen God to provide you with support (and if you do not have a God yet, you may choose one).. But choose carefully coz once taken, you cannot change your God!
The rules for this game are simple. Players bid for turn order, then you get to do up to three possible actions:
- Choose a God or Specialist, and/or
- Take Specialist action, and/or
- Choose one of these actions (erect new monument, place a craftsman or improve monument)
The Generosity of Kings
As Kings of your own tribe, you show your generosity by offering cattles (which is “currency” in this game) during the Assembly of Kings. The king who showered the Assembly with the most cattles will ascend to take their turns first.
The interesting mechanic here is the redistribution of wealth (or cattles) across the assembly of kings. For eg if King Lozi (below) offers 3 cattles, they’ll be distributed to all the kings with three of the kings getting one cattle each.
This redistribution of the bid amount is similar to Boom Town, where the money spent to bid for start player is redistributed anti-clockwise, helping to balance the turn order disadvantage by giving you more money.
(Above) Bids are distributed across the player’s Kingdom tile and will be given to the Kings at the end of the bidding round
In Great Zimbabwe, the redistribution helps to even out the bidding such that even if you bid a high amount you’ll get back a portion of your cattles (and likewise when other kings bid cattles to secure favorable turn order position). However you still need to be able to afford to “pay” for the bid else you’ll have to pass and drop into unfavourable positions.
And in this game, you DO NEED to have good turn order position if you harbor hopes of winning! I find the turn order here (especially in the end game stages) to be more critical than say Caylus.
Actions are simple, but board is competitive
The game board is scalable based on the number of players ala Antiquity in the way you assemble the map tiles. A 5-player game will see nine (out of eleven) map tiles in play while a 3-player game only uses 6 of these map tiles.
(Above) A 5-player board with nine map tiles set up
On this board are resources – wood, clay, ivory and diamond – which you compete with the other players to use for erecting and improving your monuments. The higher your monument grows, the more (unique) resources you need – and if you want to build the very best & tallest of the monuments (ie a 5-level structure), you’ll need access to all four resources.
Resources are produced by craftsman, which can be hired by any kingdom as long as you have acquired the relevant know-how (ie “technology cards”). Placing craftsman will cost you cattles but it also provide you with VPs (the other way to secure VP is building monuments).
Craftsman is limited; there’s usually three for each types eg wood carver, potter, ivory carver and diamond cutter (each corresponding to one of the resources). Note: There are also secondary craftsman to the above, but more of that later in this report.
(Above) CK’s Kingdom employing two types of craftsmen – Thronemaker (a secondary craftsman) and a Wood Carver. Each of them requires the Know-How (technology) card above costing the player an additional 7 VR points but each thronemaker and wood carver placed on the board will gain two and one VPs respectively (see symbol on card’s bottom left corner).
When you need to take resources for improving monuments, you’ll need to pay the craftsman in cattles (the money goes back as revenue to the King at the end of each round) so there’s an interesting internal economic flow to this game. Each craftsman can set their own pricing for resources (from 1-3 cattles) in an attempt to control the market.
After a resource is spent (like Antiquity), the resource space becomes depleted (marked with a “used marker”) for this round and no other player – including the owner of the craftsman – may draw from that resource tile. The “used marker” is cleared only at the end of the round (unlike Antiquity where the depletion is permanent).
Your monument also needs to be able to reach the craftsman (in range of 3 steps) otherwise you have to make use of hubs (ie other monuments) to transport them to yours. Each use of a hub will cost you an additional cattle. Players can’t refuse you the use of their monuments as hub so there’s usually no issue of not being able to reach a craftsman except using hubs will add to your resource cost.
Competition for resources – and the ability to transport them to your monument – is the core of the game.. And for this I tend to see this as a logistic game first and economic game second. And in case you are wondering, competition for resource is plain brutal (you dun expect a Splotter game to be easy-going yes?)
Of Gods & Specialists
With things being so tough all around, you do need help. You are offered divine and not-so-divine help.
There are a total of eight Gods in play that you can choose from. Not a must to choose a God (and we’ve not played enough to know if not choosing a God can win you the game) but I can’t see how you can compete in the game effectively without any divine help in Zimbabwe. J
(Above) Gods (top row) and Specialists (bottom row) available for your perusal…
The God concept here is not unlike Antiquity where you chose a Saint for your cathedral and therefore draw on the unique ability of your chosen patron Saint. The Gods in Zimbabwe comes with their own unique powers – and while some of them look over-domineering, I think given experienced play, they would be equal and there’s no one or two dominant Gods in this game.
P/s In Antiquity, you are allowed to change your patron Saint by razing your cathedral and rebuilding it. In Zimbabwe, you don’t have that option so you’ll be stuck with your God once you’ve made your decision. Choose in haste, repent in leisure.
The not-so divine help comes from Specialists; there are five to choose from but it’s first come first served basis so if you really need one of the specialists, better plan for it and grab it fast!
An example specialists is the Rain Maker, who can bring rain to the dry lands of Zimbabwe and helps to create more “water space” which has the advantage of making it easier for you to access resources. Or the Herd that helps to breed more cattles (more moolah is always good, right?)
The use of Gods and Specialist combo is the key to unlocking the game. You need to quickly assess your board position – and those of your opponent Kings – and decide which God and/or Specialists (you can have only one God but may have as many Specialists as you wish) will form the best combo to help you achieve victory.
Choose wisely.. coz if you commit to the wrong combo, woe befalls your kingdom quickly as you would have dug yourself a hole that’s only going to get bigger! LOL.
Oh easy.. I’ll just stack up on craftsman & specialists and power to a win!
From reading the earlier paragraphs, one might be inclined to think a simple plan is to monopolise the craftsman (since they’ll bring you cattles as the other kings will need to use the craftsman to gain access to the resources) and grab as many specialists as you can.
BE A POWERFUL KING!
Yeah, plan sounds workable. However there’s an interesting design in the game where for each “power” you acquired – be it from God, craftsman (from the Know-how card) or Specialists – you’ll have to compensate in terms of Victory Requirements (VR) needed to win the game.
(Above) Each of the Craftsman – and likewise for God & Specialist – comes with a “VR + x” number that indicates the additional points you need to adjust to your Victory Requirements. With more power, comes more work!
Everyone starts with a base VR of 20 victory points.. but for each power you choose to acquire, your VR goes up (there’s one exception here as there’s a God that reduces your VR by 2) therefore making it harder for you to get to your winning point.
Taking a God would normally add another 3-4 VR and while placing craftsman does not change your VR but acquiring their Know-how (technology) card will cost you VR (around 4-5 as well). Specialists also cost you VR. So you can see how your VR will easily stack up!
That’s about a quick summary of how the game plays. Let’s look at each of the three games we did last night…
GAME ONE – Heng, Kareem, Zharif, Ivan and CK
The first group started after we completed our Samurai Sword session (read sessrep here). We’ve (above from left) Heng, Zharif, Ivan, Kareem and CK as the First Five Zimbabwe Kings in Malaysia!
The initial starting position of each player’s monument in the center tile.
All starting monuments are placed in the center tile. After that, you may expand a new monument anywhere on the map as long as you keep to zonal restriction rule (ie cannot be adjacent to another monument).
(Above) Victory Requirements (VR) marked by round discs quickly moving beyond the starting 20 VR
Trying to keep to a 20 VR is not going to be a very workable plan. We found out quickly our Victory Requirements will move north… only question is how high you want to push that (and how powerful you wish to become)?
Our game started nicely… one or two new monuments here and there. Some improvements here and there. Heng (white) was the first to improve his as the higher level your monument is, the more income (cattles) you get at the end of each round.
Ivan (yellow) quickly rushed into monument improvement once he started praying to Tsui-Goab which allowed him to use same resources (instead of restricted to different resources) when upgrading his monument.
CK (black) went for the God Qamata which provided him with a good revenue stream as the cattle payment when using hubs to transport resources to their monuments are now paid into CK’s kingdom.
CK also acquired the Herd specialist (above) that can gain additional cattles from breeding them. This allowed him to leverage on the revenue gained from the hubs payment from Qamata to generate cashflow.
However, taking too many powers have a “cost” in VR and as you can see from the Score Board above, CK’s Black has the highest VR while Yellow (Ivan) has the least VR and therefore has an advantage in the final push for victory!
I really like this Power vs VR balance as it provides a check-n-balance on the use of modifiers such as Gods, Specialists and Craftsman.
Kareem (red) went for Obatala which allowed him to build two new monuments instead of one per turn. I think he did not aggressively pursued his God’s ability as that’s a strong power since each monument gives you one VP (with no resource cost) and this God allows us to rush the monument building to crowd out the board.
(Above) Heng’s (white) three level-1 monuments…
White (Heng) executing the Nomad specialist power in conjunction with his Atete Gods ability to re-use a resource even after it’s depleted. That allowed him to quickly upgrade all his monuments in one-turn.
(Above) Combining the power of the God Atete with his Nomad specialists allowed Heng (white) to upgrade all his Level-1 monuments in a single turn to Level-6. That’s a 6-point move at relatively low cattle cost for resources.
I thought this was a very viable strategy but something probably inhibited him from leveraging this more in future rounds.
Our game then degenerated into a “mess” when someone (I can’t remember who started this trend first, I guess it was Zharif? Hehe) started dropping in secondary craftsman that literally messed up the resource market! Resource costs were tripled or quadrupled!
Another innovative mechanism for this game, the use of Secondary Craftsman which can quickly shift the power of the primary craftsman, allowing the owner of the secondary craftsman to control the resource market instead.
The moment a Secondary Craftsman is introduced for a resource type (eg Sculptor is now available which is a secondary craftsman to Wood Carvers), we can no longer use the primary resource for upgrading our monuments. We now have to turn to the secondary resource (ie finished product from the Sculptor).
Each Secondary Craftsman will also need to be able to access (and use / pay) the Primary Craftsman for providing the raw resource materials, and you will likely need to use hubs to get access to primary craftsman. Players cannot deny you the use of their monuments as hub so reaching the primary craftsman is usually not an issue but each use of a hub will cost you an additional cattle and the cost of resource can quickly add up!
The resource cost will obviously be driven up (for everyone) since in order to tap into wood (a primary resource), you need to pay the following (possible) cost elements:
- Use of Secondary Craftsman (Sculptor) to produce the finished product (from 1-3 cattles)
- Access to a Primary Craftsman (Wood Carver) for the raw material (from 1-3 cattles)
- If access to Primary Craftsman is further than 3 steps, you need to transport the raw material thru hubs and for that, you need to pay one cattle per hub (can be anything from 0-3 cattles)
It now becomes REALLY expensive to tap into resources for your monument upgrade, and if you have not yet establish a good “cattle engine” by now, you may find it tough to 1) spend enough cattles to stay ahead in the bidding game, and 2) have sufficient cattles remaining to pay for resources. Brutal.
(Above) Diamonds are special.. and is the only resource that does not require a Secondary Craftsman. It’s not cheap to invest in hiring diamond cutters but as they said, the VP is forever!
In our game, once someone started on the Secondary Craftsman, everyone seemed to jump in and started placing secondary craftsmen. In no time, the market’s filled with all secondary craftsmen, making primary craftsmen less useful and resources much more expensive!
Turn order became even more critical at this juncture – and we found if you are 4th of 5th in turn order, you may not have any more resources to tap from even if you can afford the cattles!
Ivan (yellow) ran away with the game at this point as his God Tsui-Goab allowed him to use same resources for his monument upgrade (and he didn’t have to search high-n-low for different resource types). He did have to bid high enough to get ahead in turn order in order to ensure he still have undepleted resources to tap into.
It’s also useful to note Ivan has the lowest VR so his advantage was two-fold; he found a way to push ahead in the victory rush without having to endow himself with all sorts of “powerful” messiah! LOL
(Above) Ivan’s (yellow) Kingdom has the lowest VR points so it was getting difficult to overtake him
Our game highlighted the fragility of the Zimbabwe economy especially when we went into Secondary Craftsman mode without setting up the proper economic foundation.
Note: Just to make it clear, I’m not suggesting the fragile economy is a problem with the game. To me, it simply adds to the depth of playing this game!
We also experienced the brutality of resource competition when we realized a player going 4th or 5th may not be able to get the resources he needs to do his monument building! :O Suddenly you find all Kings being super generous in offering cattles to jostle for turn order… haha.
The choices of God & Specialist combo are interesting, and while some combos may on first-look appear over-powerful, in hindsight they are not – and can be stopped if you have the experience to know how to counter. Experience obviously can only be acquired with more plays.
In this sense, Zimbabwe plays with very high player-interaction unlike Antiquity which tends to be more soloist-play. To win in Zimbabwe, you need to make sure you deny your opponents access to the (same) resources that you need for your monuments. There’s a partial cooperative element in that you want to build your craftsman near the other players’ monuments such that they’ll buy from you – and provide you with the much needed cattle moolah – but at the same time, you want to be ready to cut them off from the scarce resources when you need them for your own monument improvement.
Now let’s see how Game Two went.
Kareem has always wanted to experience a Splotter game – and this being his first – we would love to hear his thoughts on this game.
Note: At the same time, another Essen new release CRUDE THE OIL GAME was playing at the other table by Thomas, Laurence, D.Wolve and Waiyan. Sessrep for that in next report.
GAME TWO – Hiew, Alvin, Sheng Yeong, Laurence
Another 5-player game; this time between Hiew, Alvin, Sheng Yeong, Laurence and another of Alvin’s fren.
I did not follow this game closely as I was involved in a game of CRUDE OIL (the second session for this evening) on the next table. I did circle back to the Zimbabwe table occasionally to see how did the game progressed.
What I gathered from my short observations are:
1) Hiew’s (green) stuck in a big hole and trying to dig himself out of that. Not sure how that happened but he kept muttering, “Zimbabwe holes, holes, holes Zimbabwe”. LOL
2) Bidding in the Generosity of Kings was fierce… and much more costlier than in our first game (or maybe our game has cheapo Kings who just like to pass. Hahaha)
(Above) Heavy biddings in the Generosity of Kings phase for this session… that’s like over 30 cattles offered!
3) Their board appeared less developed than ours (see below).. with mostly primary craftsman and I think no secondary craftsman placed (yet). In fact Sheng Yeong (white) was dominating the wood resources with his well-placed Wood Carvers.
Note: The word monopoly was partly due to a misplayed rule when placing craftsman. With the correct played rule, this should not happen. There’ll still be stiff competition but not a complete block-out of resources.
Sheng Yeong also has control of the Shaman specialist; this then prevented the others from adding more resources to the board to open up the market (especially wood).
(Above) Sheng Yeong – guy in white in the center – dressed for the occasion!
This chokepoint allowed Sheng Yeong to drive ahead for a clear win. Also of interest to note is that Sheng Yeong (white) won with just two monuments built close to each other; which he improved to the max 5th level (his God Tsui-Goab allowed him to bypass the “different” resource limitation).
This appeared to be the 2nd time Tsui-Goab has delivered a victory. Will be interesting to see how this God plays out in future sessions at OTK and elsewhere.
We did one more game for the day – at 1 am Saturday morning! – when the CRUDE OIL group finished their session and wanted to try Zimbabwe. This seemed like the HOTTEST game for the night!
GAME THREE – Laurence, Thomas and Kelvin
(Above) Even though this was a 3-player game; we appeared to have more observers trying to understand the intricacies of the Zimbabwe economy.
We did a 3-player game and I thought it’ll be interesting to see how 3-player dynamics work on this game (given the past two sessions were 5-player).
(Above) This is how a 3-player board is set up. Thomas (green) focus on depth rather than width in his early game approach and I think this coupled with his strong money-engine strategy set him up nicely for the end-game run.
Overall I find Zimbabwe scales well even for 3-player. I did remember Joris telling me this game is best for four.
Another interesting combo came out from this game; Thomas (green) went for a money-engine when he chose the God Engai (which provided him with 2 cattles revenue), quickly improved his only monument to 3rd level (that’s another 3 cattles) and dropped a few well-placed craftsmen and set price at 3 cattles.
That move locked up the economy and slowed things down for everyone. With his money engine getting him at least 5 cattles per round, Thomas was well set up to tap into expensive resources. Can his opponents afford the 3-cattle pricing? Or can they break that price deadlock?
Laurence (red) was with the God Obatala and at one point he was executing his strategy of erecting new monuments rapidly all over the board (the God’s power allows him to erect two monuments instead of one per turn) and I’d thought he’d the game wrapped up as he was fast closing the gap between his VP and VR….
…until Thomas (above) with his tremendous wealth (in cattles) overran him in the last two rounds. Thomas’ final score was 35 (against WR of 30) so that gave him an impressive +5 score.
(Above) Thomas’s (green) kingdom won the game with just two monuments and I think Laurence’s (red) kingdom with their Obatala God’s ability of spawning monuments fast gave a good account for themselves too.
DIFFERENT GAMES, DIFFERENT STROKES
So we’ve done three games in one night for this brand new Essen release! Not a bad outing for The Great Zimbabwe. What’s even more interesting is that I’ve seen a variety of strategies in play and three different ways the game was won!
This is arguably one of Splotter’s most beautiful games! That’s not surprising as this year I noticed most of the new releases in Essen have beautiful artwork. The days of bland artwork ala Age of Steam (which by the way is a very good game) appears to be over.
This is also one of Splotter’s “fastest” game. Obviously Splotter games won’t be as “fast” as Ticket to Ride but comparatively to their other top hits like Antiquity, Indonesia and Roads & Boats, the Great Zimbabwe should play around the 2 hr mark.
I think the way the board is small by design (and scales well based on number of players), the game decisions narrow (but complex) and the inevitable rush towards victory points once you have set up your engine… all contribute to a fast game time.
There’s also much higher player interaction in this game – compared to the others with the exception of GREED which I felt has even higher player interaction than this.
We didn’t get all the rules spot on – even by the 3rd game – but I believe we now have the rules locked down and our 4th game should be a “perfect” one. For a list of some of the misplayed rules, pls refer to this thread in our forum.
But the most beautiful part of this game is the variability of winning strategies, and even though some Gods appear overpowering, they can be countered. You simply need to understand their ability and how to play against them – and need to do that fast!
1. The first game was won with the God Tsui-Goab, and Ivan tapping on his own resource reservoir before we wise up and try to stop him. However I also felt each of us have a good chance of overtaking him as the Secondary Craftsman came up early (a bit too early and too fast) such that Ivan did not have a free run at resources towards the end. But he did enough in the mid-game to earn his spurs.
2. The 2nd game was also won with the God Tsui-Goab but in a very different economical situation, where the land of Zimbabwe was starved of resources (part of that was due to a misplayed craftsman placing rule). Sheng Yeong’s tribe (white) had such a complete monopoly of the wood market, the rest were not able to break that strangehold.
3. The 3rd game was a completely different kettle of fish. Instead of fighting for board positions, Thomas (green) adopted a Cash (or cattle in this case) is King approach by setting up a nice money engine that kept him aflush with cattles, and by setting the most expensive price for resources produced by his craftsman, he kept the inflation spiral upwards. I thought Laurence with his Obatala God’s abilities to spawn monuments quickly had a good chance to overtake the money engine.. But somehow he lost focus for one round I think and that cost him the game.
On reflection, I can see clearly how the power of the Gods can influence the way you play the board & the game… and how you can plan where your VR are going to come from. A totally immersing game, and if this is one Splotter game that’s complex yet can be played in 2 hrs, I’m sure it’ll see more table-time at OTK (and elsewhere). Well, I think the guys are planning to bring it back this coming Friday at OTK for a rematch – this time with the correct rules played!
P/S Writing this sessrep and talking about Splotter games last Friday with Hengy is making me all itchy to get GREED to the table again. Let me sneak that into one of the OTK Essen Play Week.
Adios for now. Hope you enjoyed this sessrep. CRUDE THE OIL GAME coming next.
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