Seven Springs witnessed an Arabian Renaissance as a host of would-be sultans sought to win over the Five Tribes of Naqala. After a slump in attendance last year, the event saw a participation increase of nearly 20 percent, despite running one less heat than years past. Particularly heartening were the many newcomers to the tournament. Both demos were well attended, with many novices playing their first game immediately afterwards. One such novice, Greg Romano, used his newfound knowledge of the game to play straight into a seat in the finals! Overall, seventy contenders played twenty-two games in the preliminary heats, yielding seventeen unique winners, including three double winners.
All three double winners, eleven single winners, and two alternates with strong second place finishes presented themselves for the semi-finals. As with the tournament overall, the semi-finals were awash with new faces. Only six of the 2018 semi-finalists had previously qualified for the semis over the last two years. Among the returning semi-finalists were 2015 champion Michael Huggins, who has qualified for every semi-final since the event began, 2016 and 2017 finalist Dominic Blias, and 2017 runner-up Allan Jiang. The top four semi-finalist (Connie Vogelmann, Greg Romano, Christopher Ellis, and Jessica Brown) were seeded at four tables, while the remaining players were seated randomly. At Table #1, the initial set-up featured three tiles with a single color of meeple, which led to a first round bid of 0/5/8/12! In the end, a strategy of cash preservation (money=points), builders, and viziers gave Connie Vogelmann an eight point victory (140-132-129-119). Table #2 was a nail-biter, with only six points separating first from last place. Two-time finalist Dominic Blias played a land development strategy, taking multiple tiles with assassins and building multiple palaces. On the last turn of the game, Dominic bid 18(!) to guarantee the first move, which allowed him to take the 15 point tile and place his last camel on the board, thus ending the game. When the final scores were tallied, Greg Romano was named the winner by a single point (123-122-121-117), with most of his points coming from djinns and vizers. At Table #3, Pierre-Luc Ramier edged Chris McCurry by 4 points in a low scoring affair (122-118-114-101) with a focus on builders. Finally, Table #4 saw 2017 runner-up Allan Jiang win convincingly in a 31 point victory (163-132-126-120) with a balanced approach, finishing first or second in four of the five main scoring categories. Once again, a combination of judicious bidding and builders proved to be a winning strategy among the semi-finalists. Three of the four winners ended the game with more than their starting allotment of 50 coins. A strong finish in the battle for viziers also factored into the winning score of three of the four semi-final winners. On the other hand, two of the semi-finalists ended with no market goods at all and a third scored only 2 points from the market!
For the second year in a row, the final table featured only one returning finalist, 2017 runner-up Allan Jiang. Joining him were WBC-rookie-but-Five-Tribes-veteran Connie Vogelmann, Five Tribes prodigy Greg Romano, who only learned to play at the demo, and semi-final alternate Pierre-Luc Ramier.
Almost immediately after seeing the opening set-up, all of the players agreed that this was a “bad board.” There were no obvious high point moves, and the market featured ivory, but nothing else except fish, pots, and fakirs. The opening bidding of 0/0/0/1 reflected the state of the board, as none of the players wanted to move first and set up better moves for subsequent players. Greg, the unlucky one bid, collected three viziers and bought the ivory at market. Connie collected two elders, claimed a 5 point tile, and bought a fakir. Pierre-Luc used three assassins to claim a 5 point tile and place a palace. Finally, Allan promised to “make the board a little more exciting,” and collected three viziers from a 5 point tile, leaving two builders and an unclaimed palace on the tile.
There was a long pause before the bidding began for round two, as each of the players evaluated the move which Allan had set up for the high bidder. Greg and Connie decided that it was not worth it to start a bidding war, bidding 1 and 0 respectively before Pierre-Luc jumped in with an 18(!) bid. Allan, denied the move he’d set up, bid 0, declaring “Last position is always most fun in this game.” Pierre-Luc took the obvious move, scoring 9 points from builders, a 5 point tile, and two palaces, earning him 24 points for his 18 point bid. After the excitement of the first move simmered down, Greg collected three assassins to claim an 8 point tile and buy fish and pots at the market. Allan executed a looping move to collect two builders for 6 points and claim an 8 point tile. Finally, Connie collected two builders and used her fakir for 18 points, and spent two elders to buy the djinn Haurvatat (increases the value of palm trees from 3 to 5).
The mid-game settled into a defensive struggle as the players minimized their bids and moved defensively so as not to set up any other player. Some notable moments from the mid-game:
- On round three, Allan, seeing little opportunity elsewhere, decided to try his hand in the market. He collected market goods on several occasions, and on round four purchased the djinn Sloar, which let him trade fakirs for random market goods.
- Greg claimed three tiles between rounds three and six, including the 15 point tile. He also collected three viziers giving him an insurmountable lead of six.
- Pierre continued to claim land tiles and add palaces. On round three, he executed a looping move to place a third palace on his tile, and on round four he purchased the djinn Bouraq, which allows the placement of palaces in exchange for an elder or fakir. Pierre-Luc would eventually end the game with seven palaces on one tile and one on another.
- On round four, Connie claimed an 8 point tile with a palm tree. One round later, she purchased the djinn Enki, which allowed her to place palm trees on her tiles at the cost of a fakir or an elder. Coupled with the djinn Haurvatat which she had previously purchased, this gave her a powerful incentive to claim and improve palm tree spaces.
By the conclusion of round six, the end of the game was in sight. Each of the players had found a reliable source of points and were looking to close out the game by maximizing the dwindling number of opportunities left on the board. It was the heretofore lackluster market which provided a spark of excitement in the final rounds. When the market was replenished for round seven, the appearance ivory, gold, and gems set off a bidding war to start round seven. Connie, who had recently started collecting goods during the previous two rounds, opened the bidding at 3. Greg, jumped the bidding to 8, but Allan won the first player with a bid of 12. Only Pierre-Luc, who had no trade goods in hand, bid 0. Allan wasted no time in purchasing the gold and gems, claiming a 6 point tile in the process. Greg, deprived of the choice market goods, collected four elders, leaving two builders and a palm tree on an unclaimed tile. This was exactly the opening which Connie needed. She quickly claimed the tile, placing a second palm in the process, and then used Enki to place a third palm. Finally, Pierre-Luc collected three elders and added a sixth palace to his tile.
At the end of round seven, only two legal moves remained, meaning round eight would be the last. Bidding for the last remaining moves was fierce. Allan bid 8, but was outbid by Connie at 12 coins. Connie collected two merchants for two trade goods, and used the small market to purchase a fakir, which she then converted to another palm tree using Enki. Allan took the last legal move, two merchants for two trade goods. Pierre-Luc used his djinn to add a seventh palace to his tile, and Greg was left with no moves.
When the final scores were tallied, Connie Vogelmann was the decisive winner with 172 points. She was the only finalist to finish with more coins than she’d started with (51), once again proving the value of builders and parsimonious bidding. She had an additional 32 point in land tiles and 31 points in market good. However, it was her 30 points worth of palm trees which provided the margin of victory over runner-up (again) Allan Jiang. Allan finished with 142 point, including 66 points worth of market goods. Greg Romano finished third at 135 points, with 36 points worth of viziers and 30 points from market goods. Finally, Pierre-Luc Ramier finished fourth with 124 points, earning a total of 72 points from his camels and palaces, but no points for viziers or market goods. Congratulations to all of the finalists for a well fought battle, and hope to see all of you again next year.
I would like to extend a special thanks to my hard-working assistant GMs, Denise McKibbin, Sarah Stewart, and Bob Wicks, whose collective support led to a well-run tournament. I am looking forward to seeing all of you would-be sultans again next year.