Cool Kids Bring Their Games ...
Special Wonder Boards indeed. Just
how old is the Host really anyway? I guess that explains the
aqueducts ... er plumbing.
The UK meets Kansas, Toto ... Super
Sportsman Peter Elgridge runs afoul of Paul Klayder buiding a
civilization on his border.
Ya gotta love that super duper Host
GM Nick Ferris oversees his finalists.
There's just no holding back the behemoth of an event that the 7 Wonders tournament has become. Attendance jumped again, this time by nearly 10%, and 165 emperors and empresses oversaw the construction of their mighty empire in over 400 plays Thursday afternoon.
As in recent years, the preliminary rounds favored table size on a less monumental scale, ideally seating four per game in the two-round qualifier. Unfortunately, as a bizarre campaign to discourage players from packing their multi-player games continues to grow, not enough game copies materialized to support the 42 tables in the opening round. Cries of "I wish I had known to bring my copy" and "I have a game, but it's back in my hotel room across the street" echoed through Ballroom B as the contingency plan that refused to turn away players went into effect.
In future years, perhaps a less forgiving GM will expel the unlucky masses into the darkness should a lack of game copies persist. But not this year.
A handful of tables were grouped randomly into 5-player games, and advancement favored fifth place finishers at those tables as much as it did fourth place players, i.e. not at all. Sadly, some element of strategic depth found mainly in the brilliant selection of cards used only in the 4-player setup was lost at these tables, and this was reflected in the typical results at the 4-player tables: a single player winning both games much more frequently than those at the 5-player tables. On the flip side, a proportionally higher chunk of 5-player tables advanced multiple players to the tournament's quarterfinals.
In 2015, the magic letter was "B," as in all players would play the B-sides of their randomly determined Wonder boards. While the GM anticipated that the more complex iconography of the B-sides would illicit more questions from players, there was only a single resulting Wonder-board power question. And it arose 11 times. Let's give it a separate paragraph here so that all may benefit from this knowledge:
The question: "If Babylon Side B builds its second Wonder stage, allowing a player to build the seventh card of each age, and the sixth card of an age is used for its construction, can the player immediately use the seventh card of that age?"
The answer, as some editions of the instruction book so helpfully explains, is: "How the heck should I know?" Oh, wait, that isn't helpful at all. You would think after multiple editions and likely countless queries as to the resolution of this issue, every mention of Babylon Side B would be accompanied by an explanation of this quirk. The worst part is that this ruling is somewhat inconsistent with other board and card powers in the game, and this led to at least one table within earshot of the GM adopting the inverse of the correct rule.
Fortunately, no players were harmed in the resolution of this issue, and the massive field helped ensure that at least 50 players would advance to the quarterfinal round. Indeed, thanks to some cruel and coincidental ties where the cutoff line would normally be drawn in the rankings, and rather than employing ridiculous 4th-level tiebreakers this early in the tournament (FYI, the fifth tiebreaker favors the "most civilized" player, whatever that means), the GM simply advanced a few extra players into an 11-table quarterfinal.
Exciting and complicating matters even worse was the first totally tied game in tournament history. At one table, two players tied for first in points and in coins. As the tournament rules explained, preliminary game ties would not be broken. Of course, as luck would have it, three OTHER preliminary tables tied utterly and completely, but all tied players ended up advancing anyway. The GM decided at this point to don his centurion helmet to help ward off additional coincidental outcomes. Unfortunately, it didn't work.
As the ancient scrolls on the WBC webpage tell us (get it? scrolls? like scrolling on a website? I'm here all week, folks, so try the veal), 7 Wonders quarterfinals means 5-player tables for all, advancing exactly 20 players from one game to the semifinal round. Thus, to avoid elimination and the dreadful pulling out of the WBC schedule to see what's happening at 4 o'clock on Thursday afternoon, players needed to finish in first place to guarantee advancement, though most runners-up would also advance. Sounds like a great plan on paper, right?
In yet another blow to the GM's sanity, the advancement bubble yet again fell across a few players with identical results. Still too early and too cruel to pull a semi-arbitrary tiebreaker on these players, the decision was made yet again to let skill decide the fates of the bubble players as 22 were advanced to six semifinal tables, setting up an occasion not yet seen in a 7 Wonders semifinal: only absolute victory would advance a player to the next stage.
Of course, this presented yet another issue, but one which resolved itself quite nicely. While a natural 20-player herd would divide nicely into five 4-player matches, 22 divided by five would leave a lot of bloody limbs on the floor of the Lancaster Host's Ballroom B. "Well, I mean, it IS our last year here..." most certainly did not cross the GM's mind, so some semifinal tables featured just three players. And while players at those tables might initially think "Wow, I like my one-in-three chances better than the one-in-four at those other tables," those thoughts likely quickly evaporated because of the increased difficulty and cut-throatiness of a 3-player battle. Both 3-player tables recorded score differences between first and third of eight points or fewer, compared to an average 14-point spread between first and last in 4-player versions.
Notable tables in the semifinal round saw Duncan McGregor squeak out a point-tied victory over Jon Senn with McGregor's 30 coins edging Senn's 16 despite the latter player's massive military conquests. One table over, Michael Wojke pipped Alyssa Bernard with round high scores of 69 and 68 respectively. Remarkably, Bernard's 55-point Science coup (the tournament's highest Science performance) wasn't enough to overcome Wojke's massive Guild build.
From six tables advanced six winners into the two-game Final Round. The first game featured the Cities expansion, a first for the tournament, as well as a first play for several of the advancers. With the added expansion cards, players drew eight and played seven cards in each of three ages, pulling from two new guilds (randomly, neither of which actually made it into the tournament game) as well as a slew of new Black-colored cards with nasty coin-burning, debt-inducing effects.
Early in Age I (that's "one" for you non-Roman types), Kelly Czyryca (playing Babylon) jumped to an early apparent victory point lead with two 3-point Civilization card builds. Michael Wojke on Ephesos quickly responded by "bucking up" himself and his neighbors with a Cities card, and Ernie Czyryca on Giza built a resource-doubling card that would make his Wonder builds a breeze later in the game. Etienne Evans building Halicarnassus took first blood in the coin-killing Cities game, but all players survived Age I without incurring VP-damaging debt. Duncan McGregor built up his military might in Rhodes early, though his thirst for conquest would later evolve in favor of a more scientific method.
Indeed, it was Kelly Czyryca who brought out the big military guns in Age II, ultimately netting him 17 of a possible 18 military points by game end. Ed Beach playing Alexandria jumped after multiple Cities cards, pulling one for six VP and another to hit the coins of prior-round military victors. Beach later set himself up in the Science world in an otherwise science-light game, while Evans and Ernie Czyryca struggled to put together a strong set of cards to support their play in the final age, with the latter opting to take debt voluntarily to hang on to a couple of precious coins.
Come Age III, Wojke plopped down multiple guilds to take advantage of neighboring Civ cards as well as one to reward his own resource builds earlier in the game. On the other end of the table, McGregor took a more balanced approach, scoring positively in all eight categories to lock in a third-place finish. The Cities diplomacy mechanic fired off nicely for Wojke at the end of Age III, pulling him out of the fray and letting the two Czyrycas duke it out with a slew of military cards in front of them while Wojke himself rode his collection of Civ cards to second place. Beach hung on for a fourth-place finish, while Kelly Czyryca's military and Civ card upsets combined with his completed Wonder board skyrocketed him to a 70-point victory, 11 ahead of his nearest competitor. Evans finished fifth—not enough to advance to the 4-player Final table.
At multiple points during Game 1, players queried the GM as to Cities' status in Game 2, receiving a response of "Only the base CARDS would appear in the last game" but that there would be a "thing." "What thing?" some asked. "You'll see," warned the GM. That thing was a slew of new Wonder boards not yet featured in tournament play. Czyryca's victory in Game 1 earned him the right to choose the next table's ultimate seating order as well as his Wonder board from the following options.
Manneken Pis B
Great Wall A
Lighthouse of Alexandria A
The collection of expansion and promotional boards (with a cameo appearance by the base game's Alexandria) made the picks particularly tough. Each player, in order of their Game 1 finish, was presented one of the five options at random which they could either accept or veto, the latter option which would randomly deal them a Wonder board from the remaining options which they must accept. Czyryca readily accepted Side A of The Great Wall, a four-stage behemoth that could be built in ANY order. Wojke stuck with the classic Alexandria A, while Beach adopted Petra A and McGregor settled into Catan A.
Czyryca leapt into an early military lead which he would maintain throughout while simultaneously setting himself up for a heavy Science build. Wojke completed the first stage of Alexandria in Age I, coupled with some extra cash and early Civ card builds. McGregor ignored his Wonder stages early game but gladly used its built-in ability to trade an unused resource each turn into two of a needed resource. Once again, McGregor favored a more balanced approach, ultimately scoring positive in all categories and not more than 11 in any of them. Beach hoarded resource cards and coins in the game's Age I, likely hoping to secure the 17 points on his Wonder board later in the game.
Age II saw Wonder builds left and right with Wojke finishing his Alexandria completely. Czyryca continued his daring Science gambit as neighbors Beach and Wojke took no Science of their own. Instead, Beach ditched a card his first turn of Age II for coins. McGregor, possibly hoping to stop Czyryca's Science machine on the opposite end of the table, grabbed tablet Science cards, accumulating three of them by the end of Age II in addition to building his first Wonder stage. Czyryca topped off the round building his two-military Great Wall stage, putting him into a military lead that would not be caught.
Entering the tournament's final Age, Czyryca grabbed whatever Science he could find and afford without a fight from his neighbors. Wojke favored blue over green, putting together 26 points in Civ cards by the game's end and topping things off with a 9-coin, 3-VP Arena and a high-valued guild. Beach completed his Wonder by the skin of his teeth and gladly took a ton of points from the Wonder guild. McGregor continued his balanced play, mostly taking cards that seemed to benefit Beach and Czyryca down the way.
Czyryca spent almost his last penny securing two more Wonder stages, including a Science wildcard to bring his final Science total to 31 points, almost half his total score. Indeed, his combined Science and Military scores alone were almost enough to defeat his three opponents, but a few points in Civ, Commerce, and Guilds gave him a comfortable 10-point lead and finishing score of 61 by game end. Just two points separated second from fourth, with Wojke's 51 taking second, Beach's 50 earning third, and McGregor's 49 fourth.
In conclusion, perhaps we can all reflect upon the infamous words of Julius Caesar himself: "When in Rome, all the cool kids bring their %&#$*@ copies
Nary a spare table to be had
when Seven Wonders starts.