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Mar 17

Last Week in Games: Supersized Edition 2/17/14-3/9/14

  In case you were wondering, I have not forgotten about our little chats!  Yes, I know the title is,”Last Week in Games”, but the story of the last few weeks is best told as one.  Despite the “Supersized Edition” moniker, this should not be a particularly long entry.  It simply will contain a multi-week description of the IGS Season VII kickoff game, Dominant Species.  Dominant Species is an absolute beast of a game, and after my shameful last place performance in my first outing, I had different plans this time!

Dominant Species

Including the practice game, this event played out over a few weeks.  I feel like we could have played the real game much quicker under normal circumstances, but a combination of cautious play and Crown Royal intervened.

The first session was entirely a rules refresh and practice game that concluded roughly halfway through a complete game.  In the practice game I was the Insects, Nate the Amphibians, Rich the Birds, and Steve the Mammals.  Remembering, that Rich had won last seasons game with the insects, I was excited to copy and hopefully improve upon, his winning strategy.  As such, I looked to be omnipresent across the map, but with as few pieces on the board as possible.  There is no place less safe for your pieces in Dominant Species than on the game board, and seeing how pieces that are killed are removed for good, I tried to keep a low profile.  Still, it is important to use the Insect’s first position in the turn order to take the domination action as to have control of the most powerful cards.  To do this requires domination in at least one hex, or the use of a “shady deal” to quote Nate.  This was crucial to my performance in the practice game, as I destroyed tons of Rich’s Birds with the catastrophe card.  My biggest struggle was being overrun by the Amphibians, as Nate and I were on many of the same locations and water elements kept popping up.  This meant that I could never get over the hump and take dominance where we were both present.  The only way I was able to sneak in enough dominance to still abuse some  of the cards was to use the Insect’s free speciation ability and place on the other side of the board where there were no Amphibians.  Given that it was a shortened practice game, this was enough to keep my head above water for the three rounds.

In the end we called the game, scored all of the face up tiles, and it turned out I was the winner!  We did not score for cumulative dominance, because we did not get to the Ice Age card.  In retrospect, we probably should have so that it would have been better practice for the true endgame conditions, as that can be the most challenging part of Dominant Species for which to plan.  I say this, even though it would have caused me to lose the practice game, so you know it is the truth!

All things considered, it was a great evening!  It was good to see the fellas, play and amazing game, and I felt well prepared to play the real game and try to become the Dominant Gamer, er Species.

Dominant Species Real Game

I was excited when game day arrived, as I have been wanting another shot a this game ever since my embarrassing last place finish in our previous play.  I felt like I understood my mistakes and how to correct them this time.  I also had a plan for what species I wanted to play.  We were going to use a random seating arrangement combined with a bid for animal system to determine who would be playing what.  I hate to bid victory points in a game that I don’t feel any of us understand well enough to truly value the factions, so I planned on trying to get the least popular animal, the Birds, for a zero bid.  After the practice game, I had given some serious thought to the potential of the Birds and felt like I had come up with an effective strategy for them.  The results of the bidding were as follows:

Insects:  Rich and Steve battled heavily with a bid of seven victory points finally giving them to Steve.

Arachnids:  Rich won them with a bid of four victory points.  This made Nate next to choose an animal on which to bid.

Reptiles:  As I had no interest in playing the reptiles, let alone paying points to do so, Nate got them for free.

Birds:  Well, I got what I wanted.  Now I would had to see if I could make it work.

The bidding went even better than I hoped!  I got the Birds for free, and Steve and Rich both had to pay a decent amount for their animals.  With things progressing exactly as hoped, I could not wait to get things started!

Round 1

My relatively limited experience with Dominant Species has taught me a few lessons that I based my entire Bird strategy around:

Pieces on the board are targets, so never have more out than you need. The cards can be absolutely devastating, so be aware of what is available each turn and plan to control it or mitigate it.  Nobody can be strong everywhere, so high mobility combined with targeted competition lets you pick fights in your opponent’s weak spots.  Tons of points are scored at the end of the game, so having a late population boom combined with high mobility will allow you to rake in points from the endgame tile scoring.  The survival score for glacier control can be huge points, as competition always hits the glaciers where you are present, high mobility with a great deal of competition lends itself to success on the glaciers.

Which animal does all of the above the best?  In my opinion, the answer is the Birds and that was the exact plan I intended to follow.  It was a good thing I had a plan, because round one put a number of these ideas to the test!  In the initial spread of cards were Catastrophe and Immigrants, two potentially very damaging cards if you are not prepared to deal with them.

Catastrophe

Select one tile and eliminate all but one species.  Then eliminate one species on each surrounding tile.

Immigrants

In Food Chain order, all players pick to either: lose one element, one action pawn, or all but one of their species on each tile they’re on.

As the third animal in turn order, it was obvious that I would not have control of the Catastrophe, and as such my only option was to mitigate its affects on me.  This meant spreading out, and not adding any species to the board, as it would simply present a target.  Given that I would not be adding any species to the board, it seemed the best way for me to deal with immigrants was to only have one of my pieces in each spot anyways.  This in effect meant I would be skipping my first turn, but protecting my long term position.  I chose the initiative action to move up in turn order as this would be important later and I feel the Birds are well suited to this choice.  Few people take the migration action heavily, but even if they do I move to it after the resolution of the initiative space and still move two spaces per movement opportunity.  I either get the most moves, or I get to see where everyone moved and adjust accordingly.  These decisions allowed me to escape both cards completely unscathed and strengthen my position for the future!

Round One Score:

  1. Insects – Steve:  25
  2. Arachnids – Rich: 15
  3. Reptiles – Nate:  7
  4. Birds – Chris:  3

 

Round 2

Due to not growing my numbers at all during the first round, I focused on the speciation and adaptation actions to grow and improve my animal.  This allowed me to score dominance in a couple of locations with minimal effort.  I stumbled into the survival score as Nate placed a glacier where I had a presence and handed it to me.  This was the beginning of great things to come on “The Frozen Tundra of Dominant Species!

Round Two Score:

  1. Insects – Steve:  47
  2. Birds – Chris:  26
  3. Arachnids – Rich:  22
  4. Reptiles – Nate:  18

 

Round 3

My adaptations and the elements available near the glaciers lent itself to me pursuing the survival bonus, and it was during this round that I began to actively pursue total control of the ice!  I took a couple of competition actions and moved some Birds into to their winter home.  This mostly involved running the Insects out of the area, along with a few Arachnid stragglers.  My high mobility allowed me to move more Birds to the tundra then either of them could match and I easily took control!

Round Three Score:

  1. Insects – Steve:  55
  2. Birds – Chris:  51
  3. Arachnids – Rich:  33
  4. Reptiles – Nate:  27

Round 4

I made a mistake in Round Three, that allowed Rich to steal the first player spot from me via a dominance card and this created and number of frightening possibilities as Round Four was arguably the most decisive in the game!  The situation was precarious because three of the Dominance cards in the spread were potentially damaging to me and both the Arachnids and the Insects were positioned to steal the glaciers if things went wrong.  The troubling cards were:

Cold Snap

All other players must eliminate 1 of their own species from every tundra tile.

Predator

Eliminate 1 opposing species on every tile you occupy.

Biomass

Eliminate 1 species on each tile containing more species than element markers.

Needless to say, these could all be terrible for me, given that I was spread thin, on the glaciers, and technically in the lead.  I knew all of these factors made me an appealing target for a lot of this carnage.  I used migration to flee as many spaces that I shared with Arachnids as possible to mitigate Predator.  I also made a point to migrate to spaces with enough elements to support the population to try and avoid the effects of Biomass wherever I was able.  However, Cold Snap was going to be a real problem, because I had no intention of departing the glaciers.  I knew if it was played by Rich I was going to lose some species, and potentially control of the glaciers, because he could compete and move on to take it.  Adding more species to the glaciers could help me avoid that outcome, but would increase my vulnerability to Biomass.  Quite a pickle…  Fortunately, I was going to get to play some of the above cards, and chose to compete heavily as well.

This is when something interesting happened, Rich migrated the Arachnids off of the glaciers!  I still did not know how the cards would play out, but it meant that he was not coming for me directly with everything!  This was great news, because I was well positioned to stay ahead of the Insects when the smoke cleared.  I know he took Biomass, and we all suffered some. I believe that I played Predator and  Cold Snap as well which allowed me to keep a firm grip on the glaciers by ridding it of as many Insects as possible.  Rich’s decision led to much discussion, but in the end we agreed that he could have gone either way and while he chose the option that hurt me the least, he probably made the choice that helped him the most.   It was a tough round, but I felt pretty good about my chances of winning from this point.  This was the last round we played on this night and waited to resume the action the following week.

Round Four Score:

  1. Birds – Chris:  73
  2. Insects – Steve:  70
  3. Reptiles – Nate:  39
  4. Arachnids – Rich:  39
This was the state of the board when we stopped for the night.  Go ice Birds!

This was the state of the board when we stopped for the night. Go ice Birds!

Round 5

It was clear that the game was going to end on the turn following this one.  I knew that it was now time to get all of those species I had been storing in my gene pool on to the map and start migrating to prepare for endgame scoring.  I took the speciation action twice, wanderlusted to a valuable sea zone with one of my elements, and competed heavily to protect my position on the glaciers.  Once again I was able to hang on to the survival bonus and had managed to achieve dominance on nine spaces!  This was setting me up for an utterly ridiculous score, but I knew it would not last as Steve would look to steal a lot of dominance from me in the last round with his highly adapted Insects.

Round Five Score

  1. Birds – Chris:  106
  2. Insect – Steve:  70
  3. Reptiles – Nate:  69
  4. Arachnids – Rich:  59

 

Round 6

My goals for the final round were to spread out as much as possible, while maintaining control of the glaciers, and hang on to as much dominance as possible.  The scariest move of this round was when Steve took two migration actions with his Insects.  Seeing how they had far more adaptations than my Birds, I knew he could steal dominance from me virtually everywhere that I was located.  I was also threatened by all of those possible moves as he could be coming for the glaciers.  I took migration as well, and made sure that even if he used all of his movements and hit me with competition, the best he could do was tie me for glacier control.  He opted not to pursue it, for spite alone and proceeded to reduce me to two dominance markers on the board instead!  Who needed those 45 points anyway…  Rich also used this opportunity to spread out and dominate a number of spaces as well.  Moreover, he had the most species on a number of tile and was pretty well positioned for a big endgame.  Nate attempted the same, but the Reptiles had been on the receiving end of a great deal of attacks over the course of the game and simply lacked the numbers for too explosive of a finish.  All that remained was to count up the points and see how things played out!

Final Scoring

  1. Birds – Chris:  201
  2. Insects – Steve:  153
  3. Arachnids – Rich:  143
  4. Reptiles – Nate:  118

VICTORY!!!  I pulled off the classic “worst to first” improvement from my previous game to this one!  It was great to win, but even more so because I formulated a specific strategy with arguably the least popular animal, and managed to make it work in the highly competitive IGS!  It was certainly a hard fought battle throughout, and even during final scoring there were some nervous moments as Steve actually managed to pass my total briefly when we were scoring the Ice Age card for number of Dominance markers.  In the end, my glacier control in the last round kept even, but the massive points I score from the final tile scoring is what put me over the top.  Being so mobile and saving my species off the board for much of the game allowed me to be omnipresent during the endgame and rack up a nice point total.

All in all, it was a great way to kick of the IGS season opener.  A big win in an awesome game, playing with good friends and skilled gamers is all this geek can ask for!  Dominant Species is not for the faint of heart, or those with a short attention span, but with the right group it is an amazing gaming experience!  I am lucky enough to have such a group!

In Conclusion

There was actually some other gaming activity that took place during the period this same time, but most of it was on the game design front!  Legacy Wars is progressing quite nicely and possibly growing into more than I ever expected.  I can’t go into any details yet, but it is possible that big things are coming for it in the future!

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