All Aboard October 2013

The past couple of months, I’ve been trying out a lot of new board games, and October is no exception – I got to try out three games that I’ve never played before. I was one of the first people to arrive where the event is being held, so one of the organizers played a round of Summoner Wars with me, and boy, was I impressed. Let me mention that this game is very popular, with the Master Set edition ranked 39th over on Board Game Geek at the time of this writing.

summoner wars - master set box

Summoner Wars is a competitive card game for two or four players that involves technical combat. A player chooses one faction among several available choices, with each faction having it’s own deck of cards made up of spells, creatures, walls, and a summoner. Each faction also has a reference card that determines their starting creatures and positions on the board.

summoner wars - board set upThe board consists of two halves, with each half controlled by one player.

Once the cards are in place, players take turns moving their creatures around or casting spells, all with the end goal of killing the opposing leader (or Summoner, as referred to in the game) before the opponent kills off your leader. Combat is resolved by means of dice.

Now, I’ve played several collectible card games in my time, from the famed Magic: The Gathering to lesser-known but still popular games like Legend of the Five Rings and VS System, and let me tell you, playing Summoner Wars made me miss those times. Summoner Wars isn’t a collectible card game (CCG) though – instead of buying booster packs and tweaking your own decks like in a CCG, each Summoner Wars product comes with it’s own pre-built, ready-to-play decks.

summoner wars - componentsThe contents of the Summoner Wars: Phoenix Elves vs Tundra Orcs set.

Given my CCG experience, it didn’t take me long to learn the game; I gave the organizer a good fight before eventually losing. I liked Summoner Wars a lot, and this is probably a good time to learn about it because there’s a Summoner Wars tournament happening this November. It’s a very popular game right now, so popular that it is also available as an iOS game.

After playing that one round of Summoner Wars, my friend and his girlfriend arrived. We ended up playing Tsuro, which is known as “the game of the path”.

tsuro - box

I have to mention that one frequent All Aboard volunteer, who goes around and helps new people understand how different games are played, facilitated a round-and-a-half for us. He also facilitated Pandemic for me and my girlfriend last year, and I’ve seen him play with different folks every month. Sadly, he passed away a few days after this event, a stroke claiming his life. He will be missed.

tsuro - meeplesThe simple but elegant design of Tsuro’s game pieces makes it hard for me to call these meeples. So, they’re not meeples.

Tsuro is an abstract competitive game for two to eight players where the objective is, in the words of our friendly facilitator, “to be the last man standing”. Each player has a token of a specific color, which he/she can place on one of the short lines around the edge of the empty board.

tsuro - empty boardEach side of the board has 12 starting lines that any of the players can occupy.

Once all tokens have been placed, each player draws a hand of three tiles that have different patterns drawn on them. Players then take turns laying down tiles on the square that is adjacent to their game piece, connecting the short lines on the edge of the board (or the tiles already on the board) with the lines on the newly placed tile.

tsuro - sample tilesThe tiles in Tsuro have different linear patterns. What’s amazing is, no matter the orientation, the lines on one tile will always connect with the lines on adjacent tiles.

When a new tile is placed, the current player must move any tokens adjacent to the new tile along the newly created path. Let’s use the image below as an example:

tsuro - movement example editedA token at point A (either one) must be moved along the path (green line) following only the smooth curves. Tokens cannot move along the sharp curves (encircled in red).

If the tile above is placed on the board and there is a token at point A, the token’s owner must move it along the path created, following only the smooth curves and avoiding any sharp turns. If there are tokens at points A, B, C, and D, then all tokens would be moved simultaneously along their respective paths. Players are eliminated if their token moves along a path that leads it to the edge of the board or if it collides with another token, in which case both players controlling the colliding tokens are eliminated.

tsuro - sample gameBoth the blue and yellow tokens are in danger of colliding with each other once a tile has been placed in the adjacent square.

As I mentioned earlier, you win the game if you’re the last player left standing, so to win the game you have to make sure that you’re placing tiles that would keep your token away from the edge of the board and from other tokens for as long as you can. If there are opportunities for you to place tiles that would eliminate other tokens, you should take it too.

What can I say about Tsuro? I love it! It’s an elegant game with simple mechanics that involves quite a bit of strategizing in order to win. It’s actually a must-have for me, I’m definitely going to grab a copy if I have the funds for it. Unfortunately, I was told that it’s currently out-of-print so I guess I’ll have to look for someone who’s willing to let his/her used copy go.

After another round of Tsuro, the three of us moved on to another well-known game, Ticket to Ride: Europe.

ticket to ride europe - box

Ticket to Ride: Europe is another popular game (ranked 63th over at Board Game Geek right now) that I’ve been seeing at these events. It’s a competitive game for two to five players where each player takes on the role of a train company owner whose tasked with building railway routes across Europe.

At the start of the game, each player is given 48 train cars that correspond to his/her color, and three route cards – one long route, two short routes – that they will be building to earn points.

ticket to ride europe - route cardsSamples of route cards. The one above is a long route (in blue) that will be more difficult to build but is worth more points.

 The board is a representation of Europe, with markings that indicate where railway routes can be placed and how routes can be built.

ticket to ride europe - boardEurope, with all the possible railway routes indicated. The colors and outlines determine what’s needed in order to build a railway on each path.

Each turn, players draw two cards either from a shared source of cards where the cards are revealed, or from a draw pile where the cards are face down. The advantage of drawing from the shared source is you’ll know what kind of cards you’ll be drawing, allowing some control over what you’ll have. But if you don’t need anything from the revealed cards, you can opt to draw from the draw pile and hope you’ll get what you need.

ticket to ride europe - sample gameThere are two blue cards, two pink cards, and one green card in the shared card source. If you don’t need any of those, you can draw from the draw pile (lower right).

In order to build a railway route, you’ll need to discard a number of cards equaling the number of rectangles of the path that you want to build a railway on. The discarded cards must also be of the same color as the rectangles of the path. If you don’t have enough cards, you can’t build that particular route. Some of these paths also have additional requirements – a thick black outline means that it’s an underground path so there’s a specific requirement for that; a path may also indicate that it needs to be built across a body of water, and there’s a different requirement for that too.

Once you’ve discarded the required cards, you can place your train pieces along the path to show that your railway route has been successfully built. Some paths allow for two players to build two railways along it, while others will only allow one railway route. If you’re unfortunate, you might end up needing to build on paths that are already occupied – once there’s no more room, you can no longer build a railway route there and you’ll need to look for other options. Since you only have a limited number of train pieces, you need to make sure that you build on the most economical paths so that you can build as many routes as possible and in the process, earn as many points as you can. 

ticket to ride europe - game in progressA four player game of Ticket to Ride: Europe in progress.

 I have to be honest, I didn’t like Ticket to Ride: Europe on my first time because of several reasons. First of all, we weren’t playing the complete rules – my friend wasn’t familiar with how train stations are utilized, so we didn’t use those components. Secondly, and I’ll have to admit that I’m sourgraping here, but I knew that I had no chance to win early on because the routes that I got had no common paths with each other. This is a long game, and it’s not fun for me if ten minutes into a ninety minute game, I already know that I’m going to lose. Don’t get me wrong, Ticket to Ride: Europe is not a bad game, I’m definitely up for another game if there’s a chance, I’m just saying that I didn’t like the game the first time I played it.

After trying Ticket to Ride: Europe, the group parted ways and I was joined with my girlfriend. We played several rounds of Tsuro (I wanted her to experience such a good game), and then we played a very serious game of Toc Toc Woodman:

toc toc woodman - boxThis game’s cheesy tagline, “Axe your friends to play!”, still manages to make me smile.

Rather than play for points, I challenged my girlfriend with special rules – the first person to make a core piece fall of the tree would have to do a dare from the other person. She accepted, and we ended up removing 33 out of the 36 bark pieces available before a core piece fell off (to be specific, the tree collapsed completely).

toc toc woodman - mid gameRemoving all of the bark pieces on this tree without a single core piece falling off is definitely a challenge.

Who won? I didn’t really care – we didn’t do the dare part of the challenge anymore, what I really loved was how we almost stripped the tree free of bark pieces, and let me tell you, that requires a lot of skill and patience to do.

This was another good event for us, with me being able to try out three more games. As always, I’m ending this post with the list of games that I’ve tried at this event – those in bold are games that I eventually bought copies of:

  1. Shadows Over Camelot
  2. Dixit
  3. Last Night On Earth
  4. Jab
  5. 7 Wonders
  6. Pandemic
  7. Monopoly Deal
  8. Cutthroat Caverns
  9. Conquest of Planet Earth
  10. Defenders of the Realm
  11. Flash Point: Fire Rescue
  12. Smash Up!
  13. Incan Gold
  14. Ultimate Werewolf
  15. King of Tokyo
  16. Puerto Rico
  17. Toc Toc Woodman
  18. Ca$h ‘n Gun$
  19. Pressure Point!
  20. Forbidden Island
  21. Guillotine
  22. Shadow Hunters
  23. Mice and Mystics
  24. Bezzerwizzer
  25. Timeline: Diversities
  26. Cards Against Humanity
  27. The Resistance: Avalon
  28. Hanabi
  29. Summoner Wars
  30. Tsuro
  31. Ticket to Ride: Europe
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