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Orbus finally got to try Trains, which he’s wanted to do for a while. I realize now, in hindsight, that I didn’t ask him what he thought of it. D’oh.

Four of us played. Final scores were 33, 32, 30, and 25 (or 26?) I was third. I bought no extra station-building cards and only one extra rail-laying card (so late I never got to use it), and I paid for it with a smaller, less-developed territory than anyone else. Also, my high-level money never “clicked”. I found myself one point short of affording the biggest money or the biggest VP card more often than normal. Honestly, I’m not sure how I finished as close to the lead as I did given how far behind I was in the midgame.

Contrariwise, the player who finished second was distinctly in the lead throughout the late game (despite being distracted by work issues for several early turns, not understanding how strong the discounted rail-laying card was, and personally believing that he shifted from upgrading his economy to buying VP cards at the wrong time). There’s no question that luck played a role in Orbus beating him.

I enforced the rule about visibly marking everyone’s current point total all game. It was selfish, but it worked for me in the game I played at Foolscap. Strictly speaking, this tracking is unnecessary since it’s faster and slightly more accurate to tally points when the game ends, but displaying everyone’s score all the time helps the decision-making process for people like me who can’t mentally calculate and memorize four constantly-changing numbers and would otherwise do stupid things like make a 2-point move that ends the game when I have 15 points and someone else has 20.

More people had arrived by now, so five of us played Tongiaki. It’s a tight little game with dense, unique mechanics and a lot of replayability due to its random map. Players control early native settlers of Polynesia, which is represented by an explorable hex grid of sea and island tiles. Every turn, each player has to double his or her boat count on one island. Eventually this fills the island’s beaches, which forces all the boats on that beach to sail off together toward an adjacent tile. If it’s another island, the boats land there and spread out (which may fill its beaches and send more boats out…). If it’s a sea, it’ll have currents which the boats have to follow onto another tile. If that space hasn’t been explored yet, it gets filled with a random tile first.

The twist with ocean currents is that some are only passable if the fleet contains a minimum number of colors, otherwise all the boats are destroyed. Thus, exploring new territory introduces an interesting decision: if you send a small fleet, it’s more likely to die, but if you send a large, diverse fleet, you’ll be granting better board position to more opponents. Also, intentionally filling a beach and forcing boats to sail into a known deadly passage is not just legal, it’s a common and powerful tactic.

Each island has a point value. When the map is complete, you total the values of all islands you have at least one boat on. High score wins. Final scores were something like 30, 29, 18, 17, 15. I was last. I can’t identify any major scoring opportunities I missed. I do know I got swept off two 5-point islands in the penultimate round, gaining only a 2-point island and a lot of dead ships in the process. Still, I’d only be in a distant 3rd place if that hadn’t happened.

Oddly, the 2nd place player is the same one who came in second in Trains, also by one point and also by a stroke of luck. The eventual winner had 26 points and a 50% chance of scoring either 4 or 0 on the final move. Getting within striking distance wasn’t luck, though. He was legitimately behind the leaders most of the game, but players focused on taking those leaders down and this left him in a prime position at the perfect time.

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