Boardgamecafe.net Meetup Report @ OTK Cheras 18/4/2014 – ALEA NIGHT
With 15 game titles in its list, the ALEA Big Box series became the source of inspiration for our meetup. Read on to find out which 8 ALEA titles we played tonight and which one is Stefan Feld’s Party Game.
Games: Chinatown, Hoity Toity, Traders of Genoa, Puerto Rico, Fifth Avenue, Rum & Pirates, In the Year of the Dragon, Macao.
KIV: RA, Taj Mahal, Princes of Florence, Mammoth Hunters, Notre Dame, The Castles of Burgundy and Bora Bora.
THE BIG BOXES OF ALEA
The ALEA series of Big Box Games is simply a collection of games produced by ALEA (Ravensburger) which bore a running number. The first game in the series RA was published in 1999 and to-date there are 15 titles in the ALEA Big Box series (and growing). Feld’s BORA BORA was the last title added to the ALEA series last year (2013).
Some of these games have since been reprinted by other publishers – eg Chinatown by Zman – or in a non-Alea box format – eg Princes of Florence by Rio Grande, RA by Uberplay / Rio Grande. However the original ALEA box series remain a much coveted set by boardgamers.
We thought it’s a good idea to refresh the ALEA series with our gaming buddies. While we are sure most of them would have already been acquainted with the newer ALEAs such as CASTLES OF BURGUNDY and BORA BORA, not many may have played the earlier ALEA such as CHINATOWN, TAJ MAHAL or HOITY TOITY.
So ALEA NITE it is for tonight at OTK. Let’s see how many of the 15 titles we can cover!
For more details on the ALEA Big Box series, check out Boardgamegeek’s wiki
IN THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON
The evening started with Allen setting up Stefan Feld’s IN THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON on his table, while Ivan was preparing MACAO (also another Feld game) on the next table.
This is always one of my favorite FELD, probably becoz it was also the first solid game from FELD that I played. Still remembered I bought this set in Sydney back when we were still gaming at Old Town Kopitiam. Simple rules, open information, no dice.
It’s a nod to Feld’s prolific form that two of his games in the ALEA series (he has six in total in this series) were featured in the first round of ALEA games being played at OTK tonight.
MACAO was the next Feld game in the ALEA series that followed his first Euro hit IN THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON and understandably came with heightened expectation. It features an interesting “action cube wheel” (below) where you manage your supply of action cubes.
The action cube wheel – known as the “wind rose” in the game – determines the supply of your action cubes. The wind rose always turn one space clockwise, and the action cubes available for you are those in the space pointed by the arrow.
Feld has taken the forward planning concept from his IN THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON one notch higher with this wind rose mechanism. If you think the resource wheel in GLASS ROAD is tricky, try this! 🙂
Office (building) and Person cards – you get to pick one for each of the 12 rounds – that provide special abilities to customize your game plan. These cards have to be “activated” before you can leverage on their abilities. To activate, you simply pay the action cubes required.
You need to manage your hands of these office/person cards since you get one – whether you want it or not – each round and your tableau has space for 5 cards only. Whenever you receive the 6th card – which means you have not been activating them (which gets them off the tableau into the Activated space) – you’ll receive a -3 VP penalty.
It’s typical Feld right? Penalising you for not being efficient and planning ahead. 🙂
The 30 city districts containing resource tokens. You can claim them by paying the right action cubes (and in exchange you get the resource token plus control of the district). There’s an end-game scoring of 2 pts per district for each player’s largest connected group of districts so you’ll want to link up your districts as much as possible.
Lots of action cubes – 300 to be exact. You need to manage these well if you want to be the most pretigious Portuguese traders in MACAO! These cubes are produced each round thru a throw of 6 dice. Before you start screaming “random Feld”, the result of the 6 dice applies to everyone. So while there’s randomness in the production of the colors of the action cubes, that randomness is affecting everyone and the one with the most flexible plan tends to come up top.
The City Wall, which represents player turn order – not unlike the Person track in IN THE YEAR OF THE DRAGON. Obviously being in front of the turn order affords you flexibility in getting the better resources (cards & choice of actions) and in this game, every small advantage counts.
You also get to compete with other players to ship certain goods to each of the trading ports. You need to be fast as the early trader claims the better points. Shipping is also a commitment as you need to invest action cubes to push your ship into the shipping routes.
Hey, you get to travel as far as LONDON!
Among all the FELD games, I tend to like his earlier designs better. The rules for MACAO are very streamlined yet the game packs in sufficient complexity – unlike some of his newer games where the complexity of the game is more due to the increased ruleset than the game design itself.
I dun get to play enough of these older games – given the number of new games that are turning up each month – and while I was not in this table, MACAO is one I’m always keen to play if it gets to the table.
A game that’s high on most gamer’s Wanted List but sadly out of print for so long… CHINATOWN is Game #2 on the ALEA Big Box series. Hiew has done this game once and he’s keen to do it again with the full compliment of 4 or 5 players. We would also be playing with the Westbank Gamers variant rule.
The version on left is 2nd edition from Zman published in 2008 (and reprinted in 2013), while the copy on the right is the 1st edition from ALEA in 1999. Since we are doing ALEA theme night, we brought the (blue) ALEA version to the OTK table for this session.
In CHINATOWN, you are businessmen aiming for your first break in the Chinatown of NY. You get to invest in building plots, opportunity to set up different businesses and then negotiate with your competitors to either sell your growing business to them, or buy over some of theirs. Everything is up for trade and it’s all willing buyers and willing sellers. Of course the one who makes the most money of all these deals is the winner! J
The numbers in the game board represent “building plots”. You get 3-5 new plots each round – there are only 6 rounds in this game – and you can either establish a new business on that plot or trade/sell it to other players.
You can even trade or sell a building plot that already has an established business. As I’ve said before, everything’s up for trade!
There are 12 types of business you can set up, represented by business tiles (above). The number simply indicates the total tiles required to build a “complete” business in that type. Each business you set up gets you income each round but a “completed” business gets you a bonus income.
Obviously while the larger business type (ie the Watch Maker business above that requires 6 tiles to form a “complete business) offers a much higher bonus payout, they are also the most risky to attempt to set up. You might end up with an “incomplete” business.
At it’s heart, Chinatown is a pure trading game – we played another trading game later ie TRADERS OF GENOA (more of that after this section) – and it’s a game suitable for those who love to have a banter or two during the game’s many negotiation phases. With the right crowd, this game is a blast!
… but it can also get into some dead-quiet moments (eg below) when you need to size up how much you can afford to deal – or not to deal – with your opponents. After all, if the deal is really that favourable why are they offering it to you?
Above: I bet at this moment, both Hiew and Ang were scheming how to cheat this poor CK of all his plots and businesses. The “friends” you keep … LOL.
I remembered we did this game back in 2008 at Old Town Kopitiam. The first session – which has Datuk Long in it – was a riot! We were literally trading everything we could, even underpants! The 2nd game – with another crowd (whom I shall not name haha) – was a dry, calculating mathy session. They were literally calculating how much you can make if I can swap this tile with you, how much I may lose, then let’s cut it down the middle. While yes, you need to do the maths if you want to win, but this game is more about winning. It’s the experience you’ll remember long after you leave the table, not the scores.
The Westbank Gamer variant mitigated this mathy issue a bit since we now have hidden biz plots and biz tiles which mean it’s not possible to calculate deterministically how to cut a deal in the middle since each player has hidden (inside) information the other players do not have.
This game is now out of print – both Zman and ALEA – but last we heard, Zman is looking to reprint this in 2014 and in a smaller box size.
You either love – or hate this game.
But tonight we’ve a group of gamers who have not yet been acquainted with Andreas Seyfarth classic game of shipping & building in the island of PUERTO RICO.
Heng was kind enough to show them the ropes of the game.
Heng going, “Hmm… that messes up my shipping strategy…”
Saw some interesting strategies in play here… two shippers side by side; Heng with his corn plantations, next to an indigo shipper. I thought I’d taken pics of the other boards (but apparently not). Dith was heavy on a building strategy. Jen & wife were learning – and enjoying – the game.
This session threatened to end with the Mayor action – seemed like everyone was pulling colonists over to their islands in a hurry. In the end, the Builder just shaved this win over two heavy shippers.
Above: The Rio Grande edition of this ALEA Game #7 next to the limited edition 10th Anniversary Edition.
RUM & PIRATES
Ah… this is the SURPRISE find of the evening!
Back in 2005, a new designer came out with a pirate-theme game – the second boardgame he designed – called RUM & PIRATES. It takes up to 5 players, plays fast under an hour and promises lotsa fun! After all, what do you expect when you mix Rum with Pirates?
The game board design was nothing much to shout about, the complexity of the game would be rated say “light” and on first glance, you might not be so impressed with the game. It’s a simple move-n-collect game.
ALEA agreed to publish it as Game #10 in their Big Box series. Today the game is ranked at #1252 in Boardgamegeek. You however would likely have heard of it’s designer or played some of his recent games – he who goes by the name STEFAN FELD. 🙂
This is one of FELD’s earliest designs (ROMA being his first) and we were keen to find out how well it plays!
Kaz getting everyone across the rules.
The game board is the pirate city where all the pirates go for their R&R when they were not raiding on the high seas. There are treasures, gold, rendezvous and other priceless stuff to be found on the intersection of the alleys.
It’s a basic move-n-collect mechanics where using the captain (the red colored figure above), you “move” the captain to the next intersection to claim the “prize tile” at that intersection. You pay for the movement by committing your pirates to fill up each movement space between the intersections. The prize tiles form set collections for you to score points.
Once everyone’s done with the Captain Move-n-Collect stage, you send the rest of your pirates to the ship (denoted by the ship mast) and here there are three sleeping places – Bunk, Hammock and Bed-rolls – to fight over! Obviously the Bunk being the most comfy place to sleep gets you the highest point.
The “wrangling” of the pirates for the best – but limited – sleeping places on the ship appears to be the most FUN part of the game, and frequently we can hear loud laughter from this group when it comes to the Wrangling stage.
It’s certainly not FELD’s finest but it sure is FELD’s most fun game! So it seems even Stefan Feld can design party games! 🙂
The 5th game in the ALEA series is known by its German name as ADEL VERPFLICHTET. It was a winner of the Spiel des Jahres (SdJ) award in 1990 and you might be surprised when you hear it’s designer is none other than Klaus Teuber, who gave us Settlers of Catan.
HOITY TOITY was a (English) re-implementation of the game by Uberplay in 2004 and it adapted the rule to allow for a 6th player. This game is also known by it’s other name BY HOOK OR BY CROOK, which would probably give you an idea of the nature of the game. 😛
For tonight, staying true to the theme of the nite we played the original ALEA version of ADEL VERPFLICHTET which supports only 5 players.
In this game, you are art collectors and you are competing with your fellow collectors of the eccentric Antique Club to bring the best & finest art collections to exhibit in the various castles along the way to the prestigious Dinner Banquet Hall (bottom left of the game board above). Game ends when one of the players reacht the Dinner Banquet Hall.
Each piece of art is denoted by a letter of the alphabet from A-F. To be able to present an exhibition, you need to have minimum three pieces of collectible arts in running alphabet sequence for eg “AAB”, “ABCD” or “CDDEEF”. The more arts you present at the exhibition, the more valuable is your collection. Only the top 2 collections would gain recognition (ie VP) from each exhibition.
In my hand above, I have only one set of exhibition ie “EFF”. Any other fellow collectors who can play a 4-card exhibition would beat mine. If we are tied on the number of cards, then the oldest art (by year) in our set would be the tie-breaker.
If I can acquire a “D” card, then I could have a 6-card exhibition of “BCDEFF”.
The gameplay is very simple and at the start of each round, you decide if you wish to go to the Auction House (where you can bid for a collectible art card) or the Castle (where you may choose to exhibit your collectibles). Every player chooses their destination at the same time so you won’t know how many other players are going to the same place as you.
Next, players who have chosen to visit the Auction House would get a chance to play one of two action cards – Bid money or Thief. Those who wish to bid to acquire a collectible art, choose one of their bid cash card (denoting the amount of bid) to play. Only the player who bid the highest gets to choose one of the two collectible cards on offer. The other unsuccessful players keep their bid card.
Each player starts with 4 collectible cards and the Auction House provides a mean for you to add to your collection.
You may also play the Thief action card – this card allows the thief to steal the bid money paid by the successful bidder in this round. If there are more than one player playing the Thief card, the Thief with the highest ranking number gets to steal (while the rest are unsuccessful).
Stealing is a necessity in this game since everyone started with 4 bid money cards but there’s no further replenishment. The only way you can get more bid money cards is to steal it from someone in the Auction House!
There are 12 castles along the route to the Dinner Banquet Hall, and in each of these players can choose to exhibit their collections. The top two collections would earn their players VP (which is marked by moving their pieces forward along the route which is also the score track).
Players who chose to go to the CASTLE get to play one of these three action cards – Exhibit, Thief or Detective. The EXHIBIT action allows you to choose from your set of cards to exhibit, and aiming to become the top two collections (by number of cards and then by year) in order to score the VPs.
Now this is where the THIEF action card gets interesting. Anyone who plays the Thief action card will get to steal one card from each player who exhibited! Unlike the Auction House, all thieves would get their chance to pinch a card. Ouch to those who are exhibiting if a lot of players turned thieves this round!
When you get theft-ed in the Castle, it’s not just a matter of losing one (precious) collectible card. You may also get your sequence broken! Aarghh!!
The CASTLE presents players with a third action card option ie DETECTIVE (or Police in other versions of this game). If (at least) one Detective card is in play, all Thieves (if there are any) get sent to the Prison!! LOL.
If the Detective(s) are successful in apprehending one or more thieves in the Castle, they get to score VPs as well. By sending other players’ thief to the jail, you have also dented their capability to steal (either in the auction house or the castle) in future rounds.
The prison (below) is where thieves get sent to when they were caught by detective(s) in the Castle stage. There are five slots (or as many slots as there are players) in the prison and your thief card does not get to return to you until the 6th thief is sent to the prison and your thief (if he’s the first-one-on) gets released from the jailhouse!
Be careful when playing thief in the Castle as you might end up getting both your thief cards in the jailhouse and that’ll seriously set you back since you no longer have the capability to steal from anyone, be it the Auction House or Castle – until your thieves are released from the prison.
The mechanics in the Castle is similar to the Rock-Scissors-Paper we used to play as kids but re-themed into the game as Exhibit-Thief-Detective. This is a game of bluffing, second-guessing and third-guessing (hahaha).
Ah.. So ROKOKO first appeared in Hoity Toity? 😛
This game is best with 6 players (HOITY TOITY edition) as the tension when trying to guess each other’s intention is so much more fun when you have more players in the mix. With ADEL VERPFLICHTET edition of 5-players, there were often times when you get 1 or 2 players in one of the location. This makes the guessing part less fun.
Above: An older version of the game.
After finishing Rum & Pirates, Kaz picked the 9th game in the ALEA series – FIFTH AVENUE – for the next session. Fifth Avenue is about the famous street in Manhattan and the building boom in the ’30s.
Thematically, it’s close to Chinatown except here, you are aiming to build skyscrapers in Fifth Avenue.
And instead of establishing more of the same type of business to grow it into a “complete” business (as in Chinatown), Fifth Avenue rewards diversity. You want to have as many different business types as possible for higher scoring.
There’s also an auction element – one to auction for a district and the other to auction for the building area in Central Park. Auctions are triggered by the Commissioner piece which each player gets to move him one space per turn; sort of a game timer.
I have yet to play this game so can’t comment much on its gameplay but given it’s in the ALEA series, I’d be keen to play this one of the days. I think this game is still in stock from Rio Grande but since we are not expecting much demand for it, we did not stock it.
TRADERS OF GENOA
The last game of the evening is another trading game – TRADERS OF GENOA. Genoa plays up to 5 – and also best with 4-5 – so we’ve Dith, Ivan, Enson and Boon Khim as I gave them the rule run-thru while Kaz kept himself busy on his iPhone…..
…. rules done and Kaz was still busy on his iPhone. 😛
GENOA – like Chinatown – allows you to trade anything and everything. Money, resources, privilege cards, orders, messages… everything. Unlike Chinatown, where the trading is literally free-flow, Genoa introduces some structure to how and where you can do your trading via the Action Tower which basically is the 5 round discs.
The Action Tower marks each player’s start location – and this is usually done by a pair of dice to select the X,Y coordinates – and from here, the active player negotiates and trades with other player to own (buy) the action for the building where the action disc is going to land on. Each building allowing certain privileges / resources to be obtained.
While most trades in Chinatown tend to be split-the-middle-way, in Genoa there’s room for much more creativity in how you package your deals. Again, like most trading / negotiation I would advice min-max efficiency gamers stay away from this game. This is not for you. But it’s one of the best games to get to the table when you have a group of chatty anything-goes gamers where the experience and joy they derived from playing the game are what matters to them. J
It was past 4am when we finished our session of GENOA. Whew…
This game is now reprinted but the 2nd edition from Rio Grande (see pic above) is not part of the original ALEA box set.
TRADERS OF GENOA – or just GENOA as it’s known in it’s 2nd edition – is a game by Rudiger Dorn. You probably knew him as the designer of GOA (another recent reprint from Zman). He has a few other older games like ARKADIA, JAMBO, LOUIS XIV and LAS VEGAS but the one I’m looking forward to is his newly released game ISTANBUL.
Watch out for our preorder to open on this soon… 20% off.
An excellent nite of gaming though we only managed to cover 8 of the 15 ALEA titles available. We did consciously skipped most of FELD’s games – CASTLES OF BURGUNDY, BORA BORA – since we’ve played them recently.
So was RA which had gotten some good playtime lately at OTK with Jen / Brian and his group. There are now 3 different editions of RA in OTK; from the pic above (from left); the first ALEA edition, the 2nd Uberplay / Rio Grande reprint and the more recent Priests of RA retheme from Rio Grande. Maybe it’s time to do an Eygptian Nite @ OTK? 😛
Ivan and Hiew had also brought PRINCES OF FLORENCE and TAJ MAHAL to the OTK tables in recent months. I can’t remember whether Ivan did the PRINCES session using the new Rio Grande edition (right) or the ALEA set.
Stefan FELD has certainly been dominating the ALEA series with the most recent 6 ALEA titles belonging to him – from RUM & PIRATES to BORA BORA. The upside is that the quality of FELD’s design has kept the ALEA flag flying high.
Thanks everyone for making the ALEA Nite one of the best meetups!
GETTING YOUR OWN ALEA
If you are keen to collect your own set of ALEA – or simply to get your own copy of some of the games in this series; 9 of the titles are still in active circulation and can be purchased from our webstore.
However, the first four titles above are now in 2nd edition printing and does not have the same box dimension as an ALEA series. RA has long been reprinted by Uberplay and then Rio Grande in a smaller box format, while TAJ MAHAL was another 2nd edition print-run from Rio Grande.
Rio Grande have also re-printed two popular ALEA titles – PRINCES OF FLORENCE and GENOA – in a box format larger than the ALEA box. I actually prefer the 2nd edition box design better than the ALEA ones but if you are looking to stack your game boxes together to form the ALEA collection then yeah, the new editions do not fit in. 😦
The following ALEA titles are no longer in stock from the publisher. You may however find some of them at eBay or other online stores in US. Or if you are dropping into Essen this October, you can search for them in the 2nd hand and retail stores set up for Spiel.
For more pictures of this meetup session, pls see our Facebook photo album (below).
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