1960: The Making of the President – Strategy Tips

In the making of a President, one needs to know what can go right and what can go wrong – knowing the events and cards that may help or cripple you is key. If you know the other player is making a move for the South but is building to a key card, then perhaps you know how to block him. However, it will take you many games to get to that stage – for those newer to the game I would focus on:

During The Game:

Using the media; An early media lead allows you to shift the issues track each round, and that can help you build additional momentum / endorsements. It’s a very powerful tool which you can use whether or not you have the initiative. However, these cubes are hard to gain (support checks needed each time). There is one additional bonus to this strategy – these cubes are doubled when they go into the bag at the end of the game!

Seizing the initiative; Most of the time there is a clear benefit to forcing your opponent to go first – i.e. you go last and gain the advantage on the issues track. However, there are a couple of cards in your hand that you should look out for – such as gathering momentum – which would give you a reason to seize the initiative and take the first turn. Of course, it’s only your choice if two cubes of your colour come out of the bag first!

That last turn issue; In your final turn of a round (particularly going last), there is an opportunity to add to the issues track without being removed by your opponent. The issues dictate bonuses of momentum and endorsements – bonuses that can help you seize events in the next round.

Winning the debates; Winning two out of the three issues in the debates is powerful; but just as you build your own support on issues there is value in forcing your opponent to win the first issue even if that means using a card to support them – winning the latter issues is much more important. The first winner reveals their placement first and may well run out of cards to play on other issues. Taking a 7-2 lead on cubes by winning the second and third issues is a big swing; enough to remove their initial two and carry a state!

Watch out for the Midwest; New York is important, and so is Pennsylvania but picking up a handful of Midwest states can offer you a path to victory. Add California and Texas to these key areas and you can build a path to the White House. This route is probably the easiest to manage, and keeps your opponent on the move. Late game rushes for the larger states are to be expected, but build (and spread) your early votes!

Good luck!

1960: The Making of the President – Review

Type: Area Control

Time to play: < 120 minutes (Teaching: 20 minutes)

Best played with: 2 players

It’s perhaps a year too late to be talking about the American Presidency or indeed the tough balancing act of finding the road to the white house across the 50 states. However, if you enjoy a tense two player with card driven actions and difficult choices then there is no better time to be talking about GMT’s reprint of 1960: The Making of the President.

This game is set in the battle for the presidency between Nixon and Kennedy – two men set to each take up the Whitehouse. As a pair of players you have the chance to rewrite or repeat history – managing a campaign that traces it’s path across the key battleground states of the Midwest, South, East and West. You do so placing influence cubes for your candidate over each and every state with the aim to have your cubes in place by the end of the game in states with enough college points.

Every action in this game is driven by the selection of a card – either as an event driven by the text on it, or by the action points marked on the card. If you take the event, a specific action from the 1960 campaign is played out with an impact dictated by the card. If not, then the action points allow you to progress you support on an issues, with the media or on a key issue of the campaign. The events are intriguing as most are focused towards one and only one party – if that happens to be your opponent, they may be able to seize the event by using momentum markers.

These normal rounds of card selection – events or points – are broken up by a small debates round where the selection of cards from the previous rounds impacts your chances to win on the key issues. Those victories at the debate can give you political capital to expend on the key swing states. Then finally, on election day, there is a few key last minute swings to be factored in.

All these events are unique and leave a real theme running through the heart of this game. The theme pushes you through the key actions of the race and through the trade offs when a candidate drops a key issue, to (use the points and) win back a key state. These choices are genuinely tough – would you take 5 influence but only 1 in each state or 4 influence from the points which you can cluster into New York – a state worth the most points on the board. How you run your campaign will offer options to your opponent which they must exploit to have a chance.

The media and issues support adds elements to the game – these allow you to gain momentum and endorsements between turns. Leading on these can help deliver the incremental gains to seize the election.

This game takes the core mechanics of Twilight Struggle and builds a US focused and highly thematic game. However, it still suffers from the structure of the Twilight Struggle game – if you are playing this as an experienced player against a new player, the advantage of knowing the cards is so significant you will likely dominate. Playing two experienced or equal players presents a challenge, but with the board accurately focused to a small number of high value states there will be a lot of similarity between each game. There’s enough difference to keep you interested for 10-30 games but it’s unlikely to achieve the classic status of GMT’s top production.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t take away from a great playing experience and a reasonable play time. The game is also compelling in that whilst one player can be dominating the board – the balance of cards can always leave the opportunity for the other player to quickly regain a strong position. Also, with key states being so influential there is a significant opportunity to turn the tables on the opponent with just one change of state!

Last notes:

  • If you like a strong thematic and historic game with a tense run up to a big reveal – this is a clever and well balanced game
  • If you like to a game to build in efficiency and allow you to take a few final major turns – this game feels the same at the end as it does at the start.
  • If you win at this game have a go with the other candidate – both offer unique advantages and disadvantages.

Terraforming Mars – Strategy Tips

Seed the game with random companies – they are not perfectly equal, but learning how to use them is all part of the game and not in my view a player choice.

During The Game:

Use the standard projects; This is probably the most forgotten option I see players use – in other words, I hear a lot of “I should have done that” two turns later due to not using these. They are printed in the bottom left of the board, but it’s easy to forget, and when you are trying to build a city / further a card / gain terraforming points, these are expensive but valuable tools at your disposal. For example, don’t use them to just build a terraforming point, but do use them to sneak that bonus terraforming stage (the one that gives you two terraforming for one!)

Watch the board; You can play a strategy predominantly in your hand and with points on the cards. However, the reality is that each forest gives you one point now (for oxygen) and one point later for occupying the space. This, especially early in the game, is significant. The second element of the board is to look for opportunities to pick up cards / resources and other benefits from building in certain location. Lastly, the map also allows you to force players to build in a direction / build in a way that gives you points (forests next to cities) or to limit their development. Watch out for corners (especially those created by oceans / special zones) and watch out for the opportunity to drop a city in the middle of that other corporation’s forest!

Money from the ocean; The last thing to be said for the board, is the interesting use of building next to an ocean to sneak those extra couple of megacredits. Two megacredits next to one ocean is good, but more likely you will get 4 from two tiles later in the game – this can really boost your money and get that extra card down!

Grab the bonuses – and watch out for others; Some terraforming projects get you a bonus – manage your turn carefully to get those; sometimes that means waiting a turn before playing the terraforming point, and sometimes it means playing two of one type even if that requires a standard project. Grabbing these points can be really effective and once they are gone – they are gone.

Awards / Milestones; Using these is key to a good final score. Focus your energy to grab one milestone from the start. Keep your focus, and then make sure you don’t miss the chance to grab it and allow three other players to go ahead of you in taking those (or even the other of the five). I have seen players waste energy to go for one, but not take it before 3 have been claimed – just because no-one else could grab that one. Of course the reverse is true – squeezing a player out by claiming that last (third) of the five to be claimed in that game can be a big points swing! On the awards, don’t rush to these a it will give away your plan, but once you have the cards to go and a small advantage – take the early award. I would say it’s unlikely that the final award is worth purchasing except in that final or penultimate turn – before this, gaining the income / playing other cards is more beneficial to your score.

Terraform First; At the start of your turn you will have plants and heat ready to terraform and in most cases you should do it immediately! You need to do it quickly because “take that” cards exist, and the potential in later turns for the benefit to be run down is also key – get the most you can from your resources per turn, but do wait if it will hand a bonus to your opponent and you would otherwise have gained it.

Search for Life; I won’t comment on many cards, but just to say that “Search for Life” which requires a random draw action to search for mircobes is so bad, that despite being cheap I have never seen this pay off for a player. Watch out for hope value being applied – a big score is possible, but it’s completely out of your control and very unlikely.

The Meta Game; Lastly this is a game where you may find a lot of table talk going on. Why? Because it’s easy to miss the points on the board, the milestones that are shown, the cards that have scoring conditions – all this means that there may be quite a debate about who is winning during the game but it can always be calculated. Watch out for players pushing attention on you – particularly if you are drafting those cards!

Terraforming Mars – Review

Type: Euro

Time to play: < 120 minutes (Teaching: 25 minutes)

Best played with: 4 players

Terraforming a new planet is quite a novel idea for a game and yet in Essen Spiel 2016 there were three major games released about venturing to Mars and transforming the planet. each mechanically distinct, each with unique artwork, and all to be followed by by the Portal Games release in 2017  – First Martians. It’s therefore quite something to say that Terraforming Mars has been the undisputed best of these thematically similar games.

Terraforming Mars is not your average Euro game – this is an engine with a difference. During the game you are developing the planet and the choices you are making will have small but significant impacts to your opponents. That could be the taking of spaces on the board, or the placement of cities next to enemy tiles but it could also be the last step in the terraforming of the oceans, oxygen or heat on mars – which leaves it impossible for other players to gain points from this.

There are a mass of ways to score points here and I have seen players do a wide variety of tactics, but first let’s bring it back to basics. As a collective group you will transform Mars to a habitable planet – raising the heat, oxygen and amount of oceans through cards that you play. Along the way, you will claim parts of Mars, scientific developments on the cards and a set of predetermined milestones and awards which will all give you points either now or at the end. Points now have a material advantage as your points (or Terraforming score) counts towards your income. Points in the future are thus normally more numerous to compensate for the time value. As with all my reviews I am not going to try and explain the details of the rules here (the rule book is concise and excellent) but I hope these steps help to frame further comments below.

Adding to this framework then of drawing different cards and competing for points, you have a well developed “research” mechanic. When you draw cards, they are not eligible to be played. At the start of the round you must decided which to pay 3 megacredits (the currency unit) to research. Researching a card means you keep it, but you still need to pay to develop it. In other words, every card has a cost and that cost is printed on the card but each card also costs 3 to acquire. This is interesting because researching cheap to build cards is relatively expensive, but developing the expensive cards is going to prevent you from buying lots of cards at the start of the round – after all, you only have so much cash to start with!

The game also adds an asymmetric starting player feature by having each player given a “company” and that “company” has a special advantage. They are all based on the games core resources or scoring mechanisms and actually help the player to focus on a certain method of efficiently scoring points. They also add greatly to the replay-ability of the game.

However, my first negative note on the game would be that these companies feel quite contrived. In a lot of cases there is no intrinsic thematic link to the way in which that company has an advantage and the game – sure a company has a better ability to produce heat than another which can better use steel, but does it seem obvious that Mars will be competed for by these slightly asymmetric corporations which don’t have the ability to compete on a level field with opponents. This is not me trying to be negative for the sake of it, and I suspect many will disagree with me (given the flavour text given) but for my tastes these don’t fit as thematically as say the hosts in TIME stories, or the different player powers in a pandemic.

Of course this doesn’t ruin the game and these corporations do push players to differing goals each time. The one mechanic that truly feels frustrating is the dealing of the cards. That is because 10 cards at the start can leave new players floundering as to where to start, and the regular 4 cards a turn can deny players cards in big groups of 4-5 players. That is to say that a lot of the start time goes into picking a combination from the first 10 cards, and the rest of the game may be impacted by the 4 cards a turn you get out of the 20 round the table. The solution to this is presented in the rule book though, and I think is widely adopted – draft the subsequent round cards. Whether that’s in the form of Inis or a more simple draft is up to you, but I would highly recommend this rule change.

So is it just a good game because the negatives are limited and it provides an interesting points salad at the end? NO! That’s definitely not the conclusion I would suggest taking away here. This game has that satisfying ability to build complex engines that combine area control, hand management, and a variety of points tracks to build to an interesting finally. The fact that the game finishes when all three (oxygen, heat, oceans) are maxed out, means that the players control the pace and differing paces can benefit differing strategies. Also cards like pets which pick up points from other players’ actions make you and your friends choose between difficult and interesting optimisations.

This is an evolving game that you will play differently for a number of games before settling into a grove. With the additions now of Hellas & Ellysium boards (and the differing milestones / awards) this will leave this in the top 10 on BGG for some time I expect.

Last notes:

  • If you like that feeling that you achieved a lot, but could have done even more with just one more turn… this brings the perfect balance
  • If you like direct take that / combat with your opponents, then this may feel like a cold war of economics and science – pass over it, and take a look at Blood Rage as a mix-Euro.
  • If you win at this game then it’s time to reseed the corporations and go again – you have much to try and many cards to combine

Memoir ’44 – Strategy Tips

So, you are trying to beat a tricky adversary across the beaches of Normandy or in a key skirmish across the French countryside, but he keeps getting the better of you? This is my first set of tactics to start to change the way you play Memoir ’44 – there’s more advanced game moves out there, but I think this gives a feel for regular tactics you can use:

During The Game:

Circle of death; This is as bad as it sounds – it’s that point in the game where you move one piece forward only to have three or more pieces shoot back. How did that happen? Well your opponent laid this nasty trap where everything could either shoot you after you moved, or could move and shoot after you moved. This is what you need to do. Position yourself to shoot with force – multiple troops against one or multiple troops shooting back if someone steps forward. Often that’s a U shape rather than a line – staying flat exposes you to a forced push in one part.

Sitting on the lines; Now part of the challenge in this game is that one card, typically, only effects one part of the map. Your opponent strikes and then you can’t counter or you push forward, but can’t take the final strike. Well one way to avoid this is to end turns with units on the lines – units on the lines count in BOTH cards. That means there’s more defensive and offensive flexibility with these units.

Staying in cover; Sometimes you will be offered the chance to move units from cover forward – but without purpose. If you have one extra move, and a unit in cover but away from the fight, think twice before rushing out. If he is cut off from the army / better served carrying on the staunch defence from cover, then just leave him there. Taking him out might just be that easy medal for the opponent!

Don’t give easy medals; Pushing a unit into a trap, or opening up a unit from cover might lead to a medal in the long run, but even more dangerous are the one man units staying in the front line. It won’t take much for them to topple and hand a strategic point to your opponent. With each medal often 25% of the victory, you won’t want to give that away to often. If you can retreat this behind those stronger units in defence, this might be the time.

Positioning for the medals; Just as your opponent will position for those medals – those 1 man troops or those key areas of the map – so should you. Look for that opportunity to sprint across the terrain (even with your tanks) to take a medal. Particularly position for the opportunity to take two in succession – winning that fight on the left flank and then rushing for the bridge the next turn. If you give yourself these options then the opponent doesn’t know where to defend or better still, might not see the second flanking move.

Spreading the commands; Look where you will need to defend and build your attack steadily. Rushing out three cards on the left flank might look good early game, but if your enemy can hold the line and then steadily push you back – they are likely to be the winner. You don’t want to find that you don’t have the cards to counter or indeed the cards to size that last step for the medal! This tactic isn’t just about not rushing forward, it’s about seeing where your enemy will go once your plans are revealed and using one turn in three to build the protection in these places.

No retreat; One great trick, and it’s only occasionally useful, is that a roll of a flag will lead to a hit if your opponent can’t retreat. Seize these situations and avoid setting yourself up!

Order of orders; Lastly, and it’s core, think about what your units can do if you roll a flag with your other unit! In other words, sometimes you will force an opponent back or actually roll sufficiently well to kill that unit – it’s then a question of what you can do with the other activated units. If one unit can only shot the preferred target – start there, and then the other unit might be able to fire elsewhere (although watch out if that unit is unlikely to land a hit vs a fully armed further unit!)

Good luck gaming!

 

Memoir ’44 – Review

Type: Area Control

Time to play: < 45 minutes (Teaching: 15 minutes)

Best played with: 2 players

Just to take that two player review to a whole theme, I thought it might be time to talk about a really interesting two player war game – Memoir’ 44. If you haven’t played it… then imagine those little green and grey soldiers of your childhood are back, and this time you can actually beat someone with them! If that’s not exciting enough then time to grab some specially marked dice and roll them…

This game is a simple command and roll game – you use a card each turn to move units and then any units you activated can shot. This movement all gets a bit more complicated by the fact that each unit has different movement rules and each card has different conditions. Most importantly each card, typically, only moves things in one third of the board – left / centre / right. So you can architect a push on one flank, but a full attack is quite hard to master.

The shooting is also a little bit more complex than it sounds – rolling the dice to see if you hit is simple and whilst the icons in this game make the rolling clear there are a couple of tricks! Firstly, it’s not just hit or miss. If you roll the icon of the unit you are shooting at (or the grenade) you hit. If you roll a different unit or the star you miss. The other option though is the flag. The flag is basically a chance to break the morale of your opponent and push him back. This can break your opponents structure, push him back from terrain or indeed push him out of the fight entirely!

If that’s not enough, then it’s time to talk about objectives. They are asymmetric and offer you options for how to achieve them. Most games come with multiple ways to win – a number of medals required, but 50%+ more medals available. Of course, as it’s a war game the most simple way to win medals is to kill your opponents units. Each unit killed provides a medal. The other medals come from strategic land grabs on the map or difficult achievements. If you can complete these you can rush to victory even if the enemy is pressing in from all sides.

So, if you are a thematic player, you are probably going to guess that this is not thematic. There is no effort here to make the game look anything other than a sunny day out where pieces on the board disappear. It’s tense and strategic, but with a limited number of pieces on the board the game hinges on strategic decisions and careful planning and not the war of attrition you might find in other games.

Also, if you are a miniatures war game (Warhammer et al) then be aware that this is not quite the dice rolling and statistical puzzle that you might be used to from those games – there are a good number of rolls, but a few key bits of luck could move the needle. Plus, you likely won’t likely this for the more limiting card selection at the start of each turn.

However, the reason this game sacrifices attrition / statistical balancing of mass dice rolling / larger scale fights, is so that it is QUICK. Thankfully the game achieves this brilliantly. It makes this a light two player filler to enjoy a tense but short show of muscle across a small board. In other words, if you can’t bring yourself to an 8 hour marathon axis & allies, perhaps it’s time to put the kettle on and try a short round of Memoir ’44.

It’s not that there aren’t strategies to be considered here or indeed that the additions of scenery don’t build this game into a challenge for each player. Or even that there isn’t vast replay-ability driven by the multiple scenarios. Also, you can make the game longer / more balanced by playing both axis and allies in sequence. So in other words it’s not that it’s BAD. It’s just short and light – and that’s just the way it was made to be.

Overall, I would commend this game for what it is. I think it’s an exceptional quality game and personally I really enjoy it. Endorsing though to others is more tricky – with many war gamers enjoying longer, more incremental fights across many more turns or decisions. If you aren’t a war gamer, then you may actually enjoy this – but do you really want a short war game for only two players? If the answer is yes – great, this is a great choice. If you have that other friend who likes to pick up the pieces and reset the board and go again; this is a GREAT game.

Last notes:

  • If you like two player games, and want a short and punchy war game – this is that hole in the games shelf
  • If you like a war game, but you want to really recreate history or build an incredible campaign to victory – you will not get that feeling from this game
  • If you win at this game then turn the board, and try playing it as the other player – the lack of symmetry can make it very hard to play the other side.

Santorini– Strategy Tips

So I have said that there are various starting positions in the review, but to be honest despite 50+ plays of this, I am not sure I have any preference beyond four squares quite close to the middle. Why? Because if you leave too big a gap for your opponent then they can build up quickly and first player simply wins, and being any closer doesn’t make much difference when the board is only 5 squares wide and the first thing you do is move 1 square!

That said, there might be an advantage to being close to corners – because it’s easier to block people off. If you find a dominant starting position then let me know.

Also, I would generally start in a symmetrical position – it makes the symmetry of the choices you face even more tense!

During The Game:

Don’t Fall!; The biggest advice I can give is to not let yourself be in a position where you have to jump down. If you lose height in this game it can be extremely difficult to get it back. Your opponent will try to keep you pinned down (see below), and you can only build after moving. Dropping levels in this game is a quick way to give away an advantage to your opponent and likely lose the match.

Building on the diagonal; This is more of a defensive move, but it’s important to watch the diagonal. When the player builds that third level, it’s often the build from a diagonal that is left open or wasn’t seen – this can cap the third level and stop the win! Building on the diagonal is often less obvious and hence powerful.

Trapping a player; It sounds like an obvious one, but putting this in to practice is difficult. You can trap a player if (a) there is no equivalent level or one higher for them to step on to, or (b) if all the towers around have the blue cap. This is tough, but if you can create a gap between the player’s two pieces – and get both your pieces in between, your build options are vastly superior and they can almost certainly not out run you. Many early players will focus on building up with just one character and cutting them off with both of yours will likely trap them in a corner and leave you with 2-1 and the rest of the board to play.

Using your piece to block; Another key trap is to use your own builder to block. Sometimes it’s worth keeping them on a lower level just to block that tile being accessible to your opponent. That might be just before building the third level (so your opponent cannot cap it), or it might be to stop your opponent being able to move before they can build. It’s a little trick that can reduce your opponents otherwise pretty open set of options.

Keeping them on the floor; The other noteworthy strategy is to build to the second level a lot before focusing on the third. This is equivalent to trapping in the other player or at least making it take them a lot of time to get to you! Building to the second level whenever your opponent builds to the first keeps them on the ground floor. This is helpful even if you are on the ground floor as well as you are probably filling up their side of the board with unusable space before rushing off to build behind you builder!

Using the edge; Lastly, as with the second level, the edge is unusable and finding yourself backed into an edge can be dangerous. That being said, I have seen this used against me with that back corner being only accessible from three other squares – if your opponent doesn’t stay close, the corner is the perfect place to build for the win!

As I mentioned in the review though, just as soon as one of these tactics comes good, they unwind – your opponent learns the move and plays it back at you. This is a constant evolution so do let me know if you find other tactics that exploit the above!

Santorini – Review

Type: Area Control

Time to play: < 20 minutes (Teaching: 5 minutes)

Best played with: 2 players

San Torini is for me already a classic two player game – very simple to teach, very fast to play, and with an ever changing strategy as your opponent evolves their strategy. It will get your brain thinking just like chess, but with many less rules and a really neat looking board and pieces.

This two player game works on a basic principle that if you can move your piece to the third level of a building you win. Sounds simple, and it is. Movement is simple: you can move up one floor at a time, and you can fall any number of floors in one go. Your turn is simple: move one of your two pieces one square and then build at any level in an adjacent square (including diagonals). So where’s the puzzle? Well, with all this simplicity is open to your opponent too! So most of the time your next move is obvious and their ability to counter is pretty clear.

Perhaps then this is more like fencing than chess – one person moves and the other parries. So on and so forth for a while until one person finds their back is against the proverbial wall or the opponent just has two ways to win. This is the trick, creating the trap where you can go left or right, or where your opponent simply can’t move on this small board. The fact that you can only go up one level at a time is often key to this!

As with many modern board games, the components here are great! There is no drop in quality despite the simple plastic pieces they are elegantly designed and if you play with an experienced opponent you may well have a San Torini style city on the table by the time one of you has played that key move.

Whilst it won’t take a computer as much time as “GO” to optimise, this feels a very balanced game for both opening players and with the ability to vary your start position there are great opportunities for changes in tactics and subtle tricks that you can play in the early rounds.

Now, all that said, there are two things I think don’t work well. One – playing with more than 2 players. In my collection this game firmly sits in the 2 player section. Yes, it says you can play it with 3 or 4 players, but the 3rd player options leaves one player almost always making the key decision between who they stop (and therefore who they let win). The 4 player option is actually just a team game of the two player version. The second failing (in my eyes), is the expansion cards provided in the box – the “God” cards. These are an interesting rule breaker option which gives the players asymmetric powers and alternate win conditions. It’s not that these are bad, but inherently this is a very different game when asymmetric and it’s clear from the manual that you cannot just draw these randomly (they make the point about various powers being better against other particular powers). I am not sure why to include this to be honest because with 50+ plays of the original I just don’t think it’s necessary. That said, if you enjoy a more random experience with a potential big balancing issue, then go for it – the cards are an optional extra after all.

The base game is hard to flaw – it really is simple, straight forward and hours of fun. If you are also looking for games which your other half might have a go at, I can highly recommend this. My fiancee tried this and really enjoyed it despite not being into board games.

Last notes:

  • If you like two player games, then I cannot think of a reason you would not pick this up (it’s my highest rated 2 player game on BGG)
  • If you never play two players… that’s literally the only reason I can think not to buy this game!
  • If you win at this game then your opponent will start to learn your tactic – keep playing because this game has some serious evolution!