Can You Survive on the High Seas? A Review of 7 Wonders Armada

The new Armada expansion to 7 Wonders has been released! Now you can take your empire building to the high seas. Armada promises to increase the strategic nature of your 7 Wonders games while also adding more fun.

Does Armada live up to the hype? We gave Armada a spin, so read on my faithful followers and find out what we thought about it!

What Does Armada Add?

Armada adds a brand near board for each player that tracks their naval accomplishments. True to 7 Wonders game play, the new naval board tracks a player’s fleet in the four areas of development: military (red), commerce (yellow), diplomacy (blue) and science/exploration (green).

— the new naval board. Note the four columns, each devoted to progress in a different color.

Each time a player plays a card, they can in addition pay the cost on the naval board–in the same color as the card played (ie play a yellow card, you can pay the next cost in the yellow naval column)–in order to move the corresponding boat up one space. In the photo above, all boats start on the bottom space of each column. If the player plays a yellow card, they can in addition to paying for the card, pay one wood to move the yellow boat to the next space up the yellow column. Also, each board has one column that has a pyramid symbol. When the player builds a stage of their wonder, they can also build in the column with the pyramid.

— in this photo, the player has advanced three boats one space, and the yellow boat two spaces

As the boats advance, the player gets a bonus. Red advancement gains naval shields (which work like land warfare but are a separate naval warfare at the end of each Age). Yellow gains coins. Blue gains victory points. Green leads to exploration of islands, which produce bonuses (eg resources) on special island cards.

The basic idea is that players can choose to use resources as they build normal cards to also advance their naval fleets. As such, the Armada expansion adds a second “play” each turn, if a player has the resources to pay for it. The naval board goes next to the player’s Wonder so that it is easy for each player to see what naval advancements are available.

— the naval board next to my wonder

Another twist is that at the end of each Age, there is naval combat. The naval board generates naval shields. Combat is global, so players are ranked from strongest to weakest. The weakest player gets a marker with negative victory points, and the stronger players get positive victory points based on order and Age (ie the strongest player gets more points, points are greater as the Ages move from I to II to III).

Armada also includes cards for each age that are themed to the new Armada expansion. This increases the fun as players must now contend with new and different cards with some unique twists (I won’t give any of it away, you need to buy Armada to find out).

Game Play

The Armada expansion significantly lengthens game play. Each turn, players can effectively make two “plays”: a card and naval advancement. The effect of this is multiple-fold (is that a real word? I don’t know, but I will use it anyway): 1) each turn takes almost twice as long, 2) players will be buying more resources from each other, and 3) you gotta watch each other because honest mistakes (or dishonest ones) are much more likely to happen (especially in Age III).

— here is what the table looked like at the end of our game!

More ships, more strategies!

We discovered that the Armada naval boards now allowed for more strategies. In the game in the photo above, I went for naval shields and domination of both ground/naval warfare (I am in the bottom left); Lee (top right) went for a Boston Harbour (his term for it) strategy of advancing all his boats; Stew (bottom right) went for scientific achievement and advancing his green boat to explore; and Bob (top left) went for diplomatic/governmental victory points.

These differing strategies led to all of us scoring lots and lots of points.

— the score sheet at the end of the game. I won by 6 points!

The Verdict

Armada turns 7 Wonders from a quick, simple game into a much longer highly strategic contest. We had a good time with it and would play it again. The downside is that the game was twice as long and man, we needed Bob’s entire dining room table PLUS the extra leaf we put into the table!

As such, this expansion seems like a welcome addition to those who want more complexity and a longer, more strategic game. If you are looking for a short, enjoyable game of 7 Wonders, Armada might not be for you.

Oh….and Armada is much, much better than Babel. We played the Babel expansion about a dozen times and nobody ever really liked it. I can tell you hands down that Armada is way better than Babel. The naval boards, plastic ships, naval combat, and island exploration both add a good deal of strategy and also are themed very well. It does feel like you are sailing ships and building ships. Armada fits the 7 Wonders theme very well in a way that Babel never did. In fact, I am thinking of listing Babel on Boardgamegeek to get rid of it.

Okay you landlubbers, get out your sailors and set sail!

New Year’s Day 2019 Lineup

Here is the lineup of games for New Year’s Day 2019 tomorrow:

7 Wonders with Armada expansion

Scythe: Rise of Fenris–Episode 3 plus the new Encounter cards

Maximum Apocalypse with the Gothic Horrors expansion

It’s going to be a good time, I bet you wish you were invited!

Peace out and Happy New Year!

In Defense of American-Style Games: 3 Good Reasons to Play Ameritrash as Seen by a Grognard

With the popularity of Settlers of Catan in the 1990s, Eurogames have exploded onto the American gaming landscape. The emphasis of Eurogames on indirect competition, hidden scoring, broad themes, resource-driven game mechanics, and balancing mechanisms to keep all players “in the game” has proven to be popular, particularly with younger players.At the same time, American-style Games, often denigrated as “Ameritrash Games”, have been criticized, panned, and abandoned by many of these newer players. The critique is that Ameritrash games are either based too much on luck (think Talisman), too much on direct competition (e.g. Advanced Squad Leader), too complex (e.g. almost anything by Avalon Hill or SPI), too theme specific as to not be appealing to the average gamer (e.g. Air Assault on Crete), and too long to play (e.g. The Campaign for North Africa).

Well, as a Grognard (look it up kids if you don’t know what it means), I am here to defend Ameritrash Games with 3 good reasons you should be playing them:

1 – Direct Competition Can Be More Fun Than Multiplayer Solitaire

One of my critiques of Eurogames is that often the game is thinly disguised multiplayer solitaire (in other words, each player plays alone and the end-game scoring determines who played solitaire better). Players really cannot directly confront, impede, attack, etc, each other. Thus, each player’s “strategy” is not truly an interactive strategy, but really solitaire. Good examples are Race for the Galaxy by Rio Grande Games or Cities by Z-Man Games. Often a Eurogame adds one element of direct confrontation, such as card drafting (think 7 Wonders), that isn’t really “direct” confrontation as the emphasis is on denying an opponent a resource rather than taking it from them.

Direct competition in an Ameritrash title is more than just denial, it’s seizure! Take the classic game Dune by Avalon Hill (or the new variant Rex by Fantasy Flight Games). Your units (tokens) will move quicker if they have access to Arrakeen or Carthag. Taking those strongholds gives you an advantage and removes it from an opponent. The battles that I have seen in my 4 decades of gaming in those Dune strongholds are legendary! In a similar vein, Small World by Days of Wonder encourages aggressive acquisition of territory–at another player’s expense (much like Risk). Nothing more fun than making your opponents’ units disappear from the board.

And if you haven’t played Enemy in Sight by Avalon Hill, you are missing out on how much fun direct competition can be. There is nothing more enjoyable than screaming “Breaking the Line” to the tune of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” as you wreck an opponent’s line of ships. I have seen grudges held for years (actually it’s two decades now in one instance) over a well-played Breaking the Line card! Taking the battle to your opponent can be very fun–and memorable!

— you don’t eat the worm, it eats you!

And here is the kicker–luck is NOT involved in battle in any of these games! The common criticism that Ameritrash games are full of luck can be untrue.

2 – Randomness Can Be More Fun than Repetition

What makes Talisman work? The random discovery of what monsters, treasure, etc, lie in every space! Why do battles in Star Wars Rebellion feel exciting–because you have to chuck dice and live with the results. Let’s face it, many things in life are random, and randomness in games is a good thing not a bad thing. Now, we don’t want so much randomness that we are playing Monopoly, but adding a random element can help make a game less predictable, repetitive, and boring. Even the classic Settlers of Catan has two random mechanisms (dice rolls for resources and random bonus card draw).

The main problem with Eurogames is that they are so repetitive due to a lack of randomness. And repetition can be boring. Really good games with repetitive play (for example, Lost Cities by KOSMOS) are fantastic (much in the vein of Rummy, Solitaire, Pit, etc) but a good number of Eurogames are not fun when repetitive. In particular, I find Carcassonne to be really boring due to it being the same game over and over.

— nothing says generic, repetitive play like these components from Carcassonne

3 – Strong Themes in Ameritrash Games Make for Evocative Gameplay

Okay, one thing I despise about many Eurogames is that the “theme” seems to be an afterthought. The game is so abstract that literally any number of broad themes could fit. The classic Puerto Rico by Ravensburger or the more recent Terra Mystica by Feuerland could realistically be titled and themed anything. The games are all about the gameplay “engine”, Puerto Rico has nothing at all about it that is truly Puerto Rico–other than the tacked on place names, currency, etc.

Strong creative or historical themes build evocative gameplay. When I play Dune, I can envision that Sandworm eating my units (even if they are just little round cardboard tokens), I can see the Baron Harkonnen backstabbing me with a traitor, etc. Eclipse by Lautapelit is a rather complicated game, allowing for players to customize their spaceships. Guess what? This detail adds to the space 4X theme and gameplay. Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight is so thematic that when I play it I can actually feel the Elder Gods returning to Earth.

— Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight, a million Cards, chits, tokens, bits, etc, but well worth the hours it takes to set it up and take it down


So in short, there is a lot to love about American-style gaming, so don’t believe the “Ameritrash” label and get out there and play a dice chucking, card drawing, heavy themed game today!

Visiting the Game Store Part Two — 7 Wonders Anniversary Packs

So, I was on the other side of town today and stopped in to Old School Games. I am glad I did! What did I find?

The Cities and Leaders Anniversary packs for 7 Wonders! Each has 15 new cards. Somehow I missed these packs when they were released in 2017… but now I have them!

Game on!

Top 5 Multiplayer Strategy Tips

As everyone knows, a multiplayer game is a completely different animal from a two-player or solitaire game.  In a two-player game everything is zero-sum: a gain for me is a loss for my opponent and vice versa. Strategy typically revolves around finding (in Game Theory terms) dominant strategies that will lead to victory.  In other words, each time you are presented with a choice, finding the alternative that maximizes your utility.  In layman’s terms, finding the choice that strictly is better than all the other choices.

Typically, in multiplayer everyone is your adversary, but they also can be your friends.  This dynamic makes strategy in a multiplayer game more of a mixed strategy.  In others words, there may not be a single dominant strategy, rather strategies are also a gamble based on the choices made by the other players.  No strategy is inherently always going to be maximal.  As such, in a multiplayer game you must “read and play” your opponents more than just analyzing the board situation.

What follows are my Top 5 Multiplayer Strategy Tips that are applicable to any and all competitive multiplayer games.  Please note that I am not talking about cooperative games (e.g. Pandemic, Ghost Stories, T.I.M.E Stories, Grizzled, etc.) or multi-person solitaire (e.g. Race for the Galaxy) but rather truly multiplayer games where one player’s actions directly impact another player.  It can be a typical strategy game where you take something directly from an opponent (e.g. Risk) or a game where you fight for resources and territory (e.g. Settlers of Cataan) or even where the only interaction might be drafting a card from a shared hand (e.g. Among the Stars).

#1 Hide in Second Place

Okay, this one should be obvious to most casual and serious gamers.  Basically, you can read this tip as “Do not race into first place too early.”  If you sprint out to a clear lead, everyone else starts gunning for you.  If you put up the first City in Settlers of Cataan, expect that Bandit/Baron/or whatever you call it to be placed on your most productive hex.  Capture the North American continent in Risk?  Watch the attacks on Fortress America commence.  And don’t even think about building that biggest fleet in Enemy in Sight!  Your masts are going to get blown apart by every other player in the game!  Have tons of health in Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards?  You won’t for much longer as every spell gets thrown your way!

So what is a keen player to do?  Stay in second place and keep your quest for victory hidden.  Grab a Special Card in Settlers and try for a Victory Point, or maybe keep your long road just one segment less than the guy with the Longest Road.  In games with a lot of victory points awarded at the end (e.g. Among the Stars), do not build space station blocks that have immediate points, rather build the ones with points counted at the end–such a sneaky way to grab victory from 2nd or even 3rd place.

5 mp tips 01

Keep these beauties hidden so your opponents can only guess at how many victory points you have.

#2 John the Weaker Opponents

When my brother and I were kids, during holidays we always got in a long game of Risk with our uncles.  Uncle Bruce was clever and tough to beat, but uncle John always used a particular and quite powerful strategy.  He would convince one of our younger cousins that either my brother or I were winning the game.  He would argue that if the weaker player didn’t do something about me or my brother, no one else could.  So after a bit of logic, intimidation, and persuasion, my younger cousin Bruce Jr. would launch suicidal attacks against my troops.  Bruce Jr. couldn’t beat me, but he did weaken me enough for Uncle John to win.

Johning your opponent means to convince a weaker opponent to attack another opponent–thus weakening the stronger one and making your “emerge from second place to win the game” strategy pay off.  It is a very effective strategy that you can use in most multiplayer games where opponents can either pick their targets (e.g. Epic Spell Wars, Enemy in Sight, Dune, Seasons) or in games where geography allows for players to attack a multiple number of “near” opponents (e.g. El Grande, Risk, Eclipse, Kemet, Smallworld), to interfere with “near” opponents by denying them resources (e.g. Settlers, The Golden City), or by making resources more expensive (e.g. Power Grid).  Note that Johning can also be used in card “drafting” games by trying to get other players to deny cards to the “leader” or true target of your Johning strategy.  Try to John players in 7 Wonders so that you can draft a useful card while they draft a card that your key opponent needs.

5 mp tips 02

Who should those Amazons attack?  If you are the Skeletons, John that Amazon player and make him go after the Humans–convince him that clearly the Humans need some paring back!

Johning is a strategy that you should use much like voting in Chicago: do it early and often.

#3 Do Not Leave the Table for a Slice of Salami

When we were playing those childhood games of Risk, I learned a very hard lesson: never, ever leave the table to get something to eat.  I come from an Italian family and we always had multiple sticks of salami around at each holiday. The temptation of grabbing a few slices would pull me away from the Risk board often.  And what awaited me when I returned…a new alliance among two or more players hellbent on destroying my empire!  Of course, some members of this new alliance appear to have been victims of Johning, but that wouldn’t make their troops fight any less effectively.

5 mp tips 03

What the?!?  I left the table to get a slice of salami and now my Fortress Europa is under attack from all sides!  I fear an alliance has been made against me!

The moral of the story is that if you leave the table, other players can plot against you.  I recommend stacking up the food and drink within easy reach of wherever you are seated.  Oh, and develop a strong bladder.

#4 Run with the Pack/Dodge the Pack

Some games are set up to reward players who follow the same strategy and punish the lone wolves.  For example, in Eminent Domain if you try a Produce/Trade strategy by yourself, you will not win.  If no one else is leading Produce/Trade, you cannot follow.  Thus, you will have to do all the work yourself by consistently leading Produce/Trade.  Meanwhile, the other players who are all leading AND following a Warfare strategy are smoking you like a cheap cigar!   Running with the Pack will not insure that you win, but you certainly will not come in last.

Drafting games follow the opposite rule: Dodge the Pack.  Because drafting forces players to focus on accumulating one or two types of resources, each player has to ignore/pass along the resources that they do not want.  For example, how many times have I played 7 Wonders and seen the Scientific structures keep circulating?  If no one wants them, you can be sure that you can grab them all!

5 mp tips 04

So many scientific cards getting passed to me.  What to do, what to do?  I think its time for some scientific discoveries!

#5 Limit the Strongest Opponent

I know that when I sit down to play a strategic game that my brother Stew, the West Point Graduate, is going to play to win.  He likes strategy games, he is good at strategy, and he is ruthless.  Thus, I look for ways to keep him in check.  This can be overt, such as not trading cards with him in Settlers or drafting cards that he wants in games like 7 Wonders or Among the Stars.  Or it can be covert, like when I try to John the other players into hemming in Stew in Smallworld or Eclipse.  The point is to not let Stew run amok over the weaker players. Stew already would consider me to be his strongest opponent, so I can’t expect help from him.  Thus, returning the favor is the best strategy to pursue.  Sure, sometimes we end up negating each other and somebody else wins, but better the occasional loss than the beat down that an unchecked Stew can unleash.

As an example, when I play Dune (or the Fantasy Flight copy, Rex) and I have to pick a traitor at the start of the game, I always pick one from Stew’s leaders.  Why?  Because I know that if I have to battle Stew, he is going to be prepared with a weapon, defense, good leader, etc.  I will need the traitor to turn the battle my way.  Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that he has taken a traitor from among my leaders too!

5 mp tips 05

Hmmm, 4 possible traitors.  Stew playing the Bene Gesserit?  My only choice is to make Princess Irulan my traitor.

Conclusion

I hope these tips help you win more of your multiplayer games.  Remember, the main difference between multiplayer and 2-player games is that in the former you must remember to also consider the other players and their strategies.  John them, focus on the top player, run/dodge the pack, hide in 2nd place, and never ever leave the table for a slice of salami.