Monday, November 25, 2013

The strategy review - 7 Wonders

I must admit that I have never been a big fan of the game nor have I ever pushed for my gaming group to play it. Nevertheless, 7 Wonders is one of the board games which is part of  the history of the hobby industry for the revolutions it created. This game can be very well played with 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 players in approximately the same time, it is a strategy game and it has amazing replay value.

So, you may ask, why am I not a big fan? Simply because I enjoy more difficult games. But this did not stop me from playing 7 Wonders more than 30 times, with every expansion and any number of player except two.

Now, let's jump straight to the strategy. For those of you who are computer geeks like myself what I am about to say will make somewhat more sense than for the rest of the world, but please bear with me... To win 7 Wonders you must accumulate Victory Points and there are so many ways to do that. For some the road from knowing the game to winning the game may seem too curvy. But there's a very straight path. There's a theory in programming which says that to reach an overall optimum you must seek the optimum for every single step. I will start from this assumption, 7 Wonders is an optimization game, meaning that a player who makes optimum decision every step of the way is the most likely winner.

Age I - resources and relying on your neighbors

While in the later stages of the game you may simply choose the card which brings the most VP, in the early game you must look for resources. Use your neighbors and figure out what can you buy from them. Play those resource cards which bring the most wanted resource for you and your neighbors. If you rely on the resources provided by players on your left and right, make sure that you have at least two resources that they need from you and that you also have enough income to support your strategy.

The second step is to select and play those cards which allow other cards to be played for free. In age I, have at least one blue (direct  VP) card and one green (tech) card which will open new horizons for you in ages II and III.

If there are multiple choices, choose the card with the most VP not only for the current step but two steps ahead.

Age II - optimization and building your wonder

The abilities or the Victory Points on your wonder are usually powerful enough to be worth the effort. In age II, try to achieve an average of 3-4 VP / played card. By mid-age you will already see most or all the resources you have access to for the rest of the game, so you can decide if the "build wonder strategy" is sound or not.

Since in age III you will have access to more powerful cards, age II is the perfect moment to build your wonder. Building your stages will also take out some cards very valuable to your opponents. A built face A wonder, one blue and one green card will usually give you the average of 4 VP / card.

War - "go" or "no go"?

This depends on your neighbors. If they invest massively in war cards, it's better to stay clear of them. The 6 VP you lose represent a lot less that the effort you might spend into become a warrior nation. Especially in age I, the VP from war are negligible in comparison to how much you gain on the long run from one blue card.

However, if your neighbors do not invest in war, in age II you have the chance of making easy 2-6 VP with a single war card. Especially if by the last round none of your neighbors has bothered to play war cards of total value 2 or more, it's worth spending one card on that.

Age III - optimizing your every step

If you have played the "wonder strategy" to the end in age II, you might find yourself without valid options for at least one round of age III. In age III, you should ideally add 6-7 VP with every card you play. You will find this is not possible most of the time, so leaving the last level of your wonder for age III is a good idea.

When you have many options, chose the cards which give you most VP and pay attention to what you spend (3 money = 1 VP). You can factor in what the other competitors for the first place may want and if you have more choices for the same amount of VP choose that one card which also denies the other players some VP.

The purple (special) cards can bring you a lot of VP during age III. If you see none of them in your starting hand, be sure you will see them later. Look at your neighbors and try to speculate their strong points and make the work for you. If you have two "techers" on your sides, the purple card which allows you to score 1 VP for every green cards they have might bring you as much as 12 VP.

Knowing the purple cards in the game is usually the small difference between two good players. You won't now what are the exact cards in your game, but you will know what is in the pool. 

Also, during age III you have easy access to the green cards. In the worst case, collect one of each technology and this will bring you 10 easy VP. If you are the player focused on technology, make sure that you have the 10 VP combo and that your focus is on one specific tech which was not developed by another player. This usually insures 16 VP, with the possibility to score 25 (or even 49 with an expansion).

These are my few cents in strategy. I will only add that 7 Wonders is fun even if you don't win and there are a lot of cool combos in the game which present specific challenges. As an example, try to score 40 VP or more without playing any resource (brown or grey) card. Or try to score all your point from technology and war.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

An expansion for Exodus: Proxima Centauri

For the past year there was one question we had to answer over and over again, "will there be an expansion for Exodus?". I must admit that we avoided that question for a while because we were simply not able to give a straight answer. That has changed, we are actively working on an expansion for Exodus and we plan to release it in Spiel '14 Essen.

The expansion topic revolved around yet another question, "how come there are no races in Exodus?". The game play is symmetrical, all player have the same starting resources, they have access to the same technologies and the same actions. Their development throughout the game is different, but this happens because each player has a different strategy for victory, not because the game forces them to go on a specific path.

The expansion comes with good news for those who wanted various player abilities and an asymmetric game play according to the race or faction (since all the parties involved in the struggle for dominance are humans, we will call them factions rather than races). In the expansion, each faction will have specific powers, access to a new set of technologies and even a different set of actions. Let's take them step by step.

Today I will talk about technologies.

At the beginning of the war for establishing a star empire, every faction started from the same common ground, a balance kept in place by the all-mighty Centaurians. But with every cycle that passed, the factions evolved differently. Therefore, they focus their research in different areas and some of the new found technologies were not accessible to the other factions.

The technologies we have prepared for the expansion will provide several interesting abilities:

  • defense against Weapons of Mass Destruction - this is a set of technologies that we have thought about before the release of the first edition of Exodus, but we kept it boxed because it would add a new layer of complexity to the game. It is however appropriate for the expansion
  • new drives will allow even faster movement and a more conflicting way of expansion. The most advanced engine core will be the Hyperspace Drive, a technology which may change the course of the conflict and allow unexpected Victory Points
  • so far, the ships in Exodus have very straightforward weaponry. The Antimatter Cannons are the most effective, yet simple to use. The new Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Cannon will bring another level of battle tactics
  • speaking of battle tactics, the expansion will bring new technologies which will change the structure of combat
  • the expansion will also bring a core change related to research. A few of the new technologies will bring along direct Victory Points. This is possibly one of the biggest changes from the base game
Each player will choose a faction and will receive a separate player board with a specific set of technologies, most of them unavailable for the other players. This will not cancel the access to the base set of 28 techs, but will simply add to a total of approximately 35 technologies.

I will stop here, for the next post I will shed a bit more light on some of the other changes that the expansion will bring to Exodus: Proxima Centauri

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

First thoughts after Essen

One week has passed since our return from Spiel Essen and besides one day of full rest and another one dedicated entirely to gaming the follow-up was more intense than the fair itself. We had to do it because the memories of all the meeting are slowly fading away and our mind starts to focus only on the biggest things.

I guess that the biggest thing in Essen 2013 was a larger booth with more people visiting us than in the previous two years together.

A view from the top with NSKN and Ventonuovo together
Exodus demo and lots of people watching

The other big thing is that we had this games giveaway contest which attracted a larger crowed with every passing day. I have personally seen someone wearing 6 (six) NSKN pins to be more visible to our guys with the freebies. I do not know whether he won or not, but I sure think that he deserved to win. 

Wild Fun West winners
Exodus Revised Edition winners

Unlike in 2011 and 2012, in Spiel '13 we had our full team of NSKN people in Essen and four extra guys who were the best addition to our teamm better that I could have hoped for (thanks guys!). We no longer had a problem to present games in German, which is a big sign of respect for the people hosting the fair.

It was also the first time for NSKN to show not only published game, but also prototypes. Our focus was on Praetor - the game we plan to publish next, but Perfect Storm and W - The Board Game have also had a good audience, nice feedback and many people asking if they can buy them on the spot or sign up for preorders.

In the middle of Perfect Storm
Surrounded while playing Praetor

We have also had partners this year. I am talking about Ventonuovo Games, very nice Italian guys with a passion for war games. They've displayed two impressive games and it was a perfect combination between our strategy and euros and they heavy war games.

Ventonuovo's Blocks in the West and Blocks in the East

I guess that there's a lot more to say about Spiel 2013, but these are the most striking memories, the images that I have very fresh in mind today. 

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