Sunday, April 30, 2006

Moving And Twilight Struggle 4/30

Jon graciously agreed to help me move some stuff using his truck today. So as to not make the day a total waste we also played a game of Twilight Struggle. Before I go much further in this report, I think we also screwed up a couple more rules today. I believe in the space race, as soon as you reach a level, you can immediately use its benefits in the next action round. We were playing it as next turn so that could have made a difference as Jon led the race for the majority of the game. Also in my readings it seems that 5 year plan only triggers US associated events, not neutral events, so the point to make later may be moot, but I still would like to know about the situation replacing the Olympics with Drop and Cover.

I tried my hand at the US this time. Jon jumped out to a quick lead in vps and the space race over the first few turns and I was scrambling to hold on against the overwhelming communist expansion. By midgame, things had stabilized for the US with the scoring situation, but there were some critical issues that were not resolving in my favor. The middle east, which during the early war was a hotbed of activity for both of us, with a constant back and forth between the two of us, shifted dramatically to Jon's side with a flurry of anti US sentiment in the Muslim world. On the flip side though, Asia developed to become a bastion of freedom with nearly all countries south of North Korea enjoying democracy. Similarly Europe had stagnated favorably for me. The other three regions of power remained solidly up for grabs and were the main source of contention between the two powers.

Around this time, Fidel came to power, and the USSR had its much needed entry point to the Americas. Communism established a dominant presence in Central America, while I clung to a tenuous position in South America. Things were looking bad and a few scoring cards brought Jon to around -12 or so. I played a few vp cards, and a well timed "How I learned to..." to stabilize the VP situation, and began to go about the business of freeing Central America. This process took time and led to our late game rules question.

The situation in this example was this. Jon worked his hand down to two cards: The Olympics, and Five Year Plan. We were at Defcon 2, so he played the Five Year Plan, handed me the Olympics and said he was boycotting. The rules about who should be the phasing player are not 100% clear here, and not having an faq in front of us, we could not resolve the issue. Now knowing that the Olympics would not be triggered by Five Year Plan at all would help, but if it had been Drop and Cover, it would be nice to know who will be held responsible for causing the resulting armageddon.

Anyway, we agreed to continue the game with a caveat that Jon possibly had already won the game. I continued to pour resources into Central America, working hard to free Cuba and Mexico from their communist opressors. It was an arduous process, but finally, on the last turn of the game, I was able to install "free" governments in both of the hotly contested states, and thus ensured a victory for all of the God fearing free people of the world.

There were some interesting positions that happened in this game. India of all places was one of our most hotly contested territories throughout the whole game. So when I initiated the Indo-Pakistan war and won in the midgame, I was all of a sudden holding a territory in south central asia with 15 influence on it. The cows are mine!

I also learned that the middle east is just horrible for the US. I invested way too heavily in the muslim states and ended losing almost of my investments due to some very vicious mid game events. Anyway, still looking forward to playing again with some more rules being correctly applied.


Friday, April 28, 2006

There and Backpedaling again

Tonight started with Lord of the Rings, with the Friends & Foes expansion. Jacqui, Michael, Simon and me started on the intermediate level (Sauron at 12). After getting one of the worst runs of luck at Bree, we retroactively decided to start at 15. We took the beating at Moria as well, running up to seven foes. But we'd stacked it fairly well. By the end of Isengard, we used up a fair chunk of resources to end the board with no foes, which let us skip Helm's Deep, but draw four foes. Fortunately, with Gandalfs help, Mr. Frodo (the ring bearer) could defeat all four foes which let us skip Shelob's Lair and jump straight to Mordor. With almost no cards. By this point the corruption had become noticeable. We made a run for Eowyn and got her, which gave us all a much needed card when the Fields of Pelagir event hit. Then we were off to the races, and Michael's brave sacrifice allowed us to reach Mt. Doom, and Gandalf helped pull me back from the brink for the Dunk.

A fairly close game, and a somewhat lucky win, even after setting Sauron to 'easy.' I have to pull this out of the closet more often.

After that followed two obligatory Cash N' Guns game. In neither game did the Huggy Bear survive. The second game had a reasonable chance to end with everyone dead. With two cards left, Jacqui had two wounds and Michael had one. But Jacqui had two guns. Sadly, the perfect game did not occur, and Michael won with almost $200k.

Finally came a game of Ark. This time, I drew all of the cool "Drive out" animals and won handily. I'm ready to start playing with the "Drive outs let you add a 1/2 disc only" variant. They are too good, otherwise.

War! War! War!

Let's try a theme night this coming Monday. Bring games with war and/or conflict as their primary theme. If your really love building up instead of tearing down, well, I guess that's OK too. I hope to see a lot of destruction Monday, though!

I'll bring some or all of these:

- Midway (1/2 hr, 2 player card game)
- Hellas (<1 hr, 2 player explore & conquer)
- Ogre (<1 hr, 2 player slugfest)
- Hammer of the Scots (2-3 hrs, 2 player, blocks)
- Pacific Victory (2-4 hrs, 2 player, blocks)
- Battle Cry Redux (1-2 hrs, 2 player)

Can we get some multi-player games? Game of Thrones?

In the future we can try other themes:

- fantasy
- racing (maybe a bit thin)
- civilization building
- other?

Twilight Struggle 4/27

Heh this picture about sums it up for my childhood, legos and worrying about the Russians.

Just a future note for everyone. Apparently the Dragon's Lair closes at 9pm on Thursdays. Just a heads up. Anyway, Ben and Jon called their game of Twilight Struggle with the store closing, and as Ben had to get home, Jon and I headed to his place for a game or two. This was my first time playing the game and I can understand the hype.

Since I was a newbie, Jon let me be the USSR. Our first game didn't last long. My first turn saw both of us draw a ton of pro USSR europe events, while avoiding any of the similar US events. By the end of the turn, I was teetering on the brink of control of Europe, and when my second hand was similarly blessed with lots of european help and a Europe scoring card, Jon's fate was sealed.

We set up for another game. Again I was the USSR. Not drawing the bountiful harvest of Europe cards this time, I decided to concentrate more on Asia this time. The early war saw us seesawing back and forth as neither could gain much of an upper hand. There were a couple of cards that seemed to have extremely far reaching impacts from what I could see (sorry for not remembering card names, I really loved the theme and the cards do support that theme, but my memory is pretty much shot at this point):
The Fidel card that got me a foothold in Cuba.
The neutral card that lowers your opponents opps by 1 this turn to a minimum of 1
The USSR card that raises all your ops this turn by 1 to a maximum of 4
The China card
The US and corresponding USSR card that can totally hose the opponent for a whole turn if they can't roll below a 5 ever. When I got this one I thought I was ruined until I got:
The USSR card that lets them completely arrange the US's hand in the order the cards should be played this turn (this one was completely and utterly insane and had I been paying attention at all should have ended the game on turn 8 with global thermonuclear destruction caused by the US foolishly starting the Korean war)

We were pretty back and forth all game, until turn 8 when I got the last card on that list and the neutral card that lowered Jon's opps by 1 for the turn. So not only was he playing all the best cards for me, he was getting next to no points for doing so. That turn saw me take a commanding lead and on the next turn when I had both the Asia and Europe scoring cards, succesive plays of those during the headline and first phase brought me to -20 and ended the game.

I gotta play this again! My wishlist is very rapidly nearing the free shipping territory. Yay!


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Personalized Counters, Part 2

Further investigation of the personalized counter phenomenon has uncovered this site. As a die hard fan of Panzer Blitz, Panzer Leader, and Arab-Israeli Wars, I was completely blown away by this site. Pick a sihouette, change the ratings, name it whatever you wish, print, cut, and paste! Woo hoo! I can see some SABG-crewed tanks appearing in variant scenarios in the near future...

Sword of Rome: Game Planning Post

Get out your bronze polish and keep a wary eye out for those pesky Trans-Alpine Gauls! Rather than continue to hijack other postings with talk of a potential Sword of Rome game within the group, I thought I'd set up a specific posting to contain the discussion. Right now the potential players are Brian, Jon, Simon (maybe), Rob (maybe), and me. Perhaps someone can plant a pike in the sand and firm up the planning for this beast?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

ACTing up and Friday

Since we're slowly moving towards getting up a wargame or two, I figured I'd mention two invaluable resources -- ACTS and CyberBoard.

CyberBoard is a generic wargaming tool that lets you record a current game state. In fact, you can use to to move your pieces, roll some dice, and then send a game state file to your opponent.

ACTS is the automated card tracking system. As you can imagine, it tracks decks of cards. It also lets people keep a game journal and post.

Both of these are free.

A long time ago, I played a game or two of Paths of Glory via ACTS, using cyberboard. You could just use Cyberboard (it can now handle hidden cards) but this way you have a nice journal of everything, and don't have a zillion emails. Of course, you do sometimes get into the "Where is that Unit?" which emailing files fixes. (We emailed files every turn or so, just to double check everything).

ACTS has a fine range of games (Sword of Rome, Paths of Glory, and some others like Age of Renn, Republic of Rome). It's no substitute for face to face gaming ... but for the longer games that take forever, it's not bad. If you can figure out how to handle cards in Cyberboard, players can play in almost real time using Trillian (or some other IM ... or over the phone).

Personally, I'd rather get together, but after we get a game of Sword of Rome under our belt, a play by web game might be fun....

And... Gaming at our place on Friday! RSVP in the comments

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Personalized Counters

Call me a geek, but THIS is very cool. I wish more game companies would offer this option. I think I'd have to retire after winning the lottery before I would have time to take a serious look at the Advanced Tobruk System (ATS) series of games, but I like the way Critical Hit Games thinks.

Gaming at the Lair 4/24

I screwed up my chance to play a block game with Rob by not checking my email and by the time I arrived at DL around 4pm, Simon and Rob were about halfway into a game of Crusader Rex. Not being in too much a hurry to get gaming, I just chilled out and watched while waiting for them to finish. Brian and Jon showed up but since we were going to eat soon, we didn't start anything in the meantime.

Finally after they called it early we went and played the eat dinner game. Simon quickly won, and I came in super special last place.

Cash and guns was the first real game of the night. The premise is we have just robbed a bank and now we are dividing the loot. The negotiations involve pointing loaded and unloaded guns at eachother. The first game was just the five of us without the special abilities. Jon and my strategy of attempting to shoot each other every time didn't work well as Brian waltzed to an easy win. We used the special abilities in the second game, and although my dragon skin was never a factor, I managed to squeak out a win. Kendahl showed up while we were setting up for a third game and quickly picked up the gist of things (Brian and I gave him the old newcomers welcome with a gun in his face on the first round). Jon died as the result of him foolishly shotgunning the crazy guy with the grenade (me) and Brian pulled out the win.

By this time we had quite a crowd, so Rob, Dennis, Rick and myself broke off to try out Louis XIV. I really don't know how to describe the basic mechanic, but it was a fun game. Rick ran away with it, the rest of us were clumped at the bottom. We took a while to finish (sorry) and I don't know everything the others did but I do know they got in at least one more cash and guns game.

Next up since we had about a kajillion people now was Werewolf. The Werewolf group was: me, Simon, Jon, Rob, Kendahl, Josh, Rich, Rick, and Dennis. During the first game, I was the moderator, Rob and Josh were werewolves, and Rich was the seer. Despite the fact that the Seer never found the werewolves Kendahl proved to be a master villager, sniffing out Josh and Rob very early on. The mob listened, and the villagers triumphed.

For the next game Dennis moderated, Jon and I were the werewolves, and Rich was again the seer. Things started off horribly bad as Kendahl pegged both of us (me randomly he claims) on turn one. Somehow though we managed to get Kendahl lynched with some "doth protest to much" type of arguments. During the night Jon and I had trouble agreeing on a victim. Finally I relented and let him kill Simon.

During the day things went horribly bad. The mob mentality was still onto us because of Kendahls random accusations in the first day. I felt like the winds of fortune were against us so I joined in the anti-Jon comments. We ended up both nominated for lynching and our arguments were pretty much identical: If I were a werewolf don't you think I would have killed (Jon/Michael) by now? In the end Jon was chosen for death and I was alone.

Luckily though the taint of innocence was now on me, and although I could not pick out the Seer, neither was he getting on my trail. After some random lynchings and semi-random killings, it came down to the final four of me, Rob, Josh and Rich. Up until this point I had confidently "guessed" at the identity of the remaining werewolf, but here I was stumped. After some hemming and hawing, I decided that Josh certainly at least looked guilty. Rich seemed to agree with me, and I thought Rob was in the bag as he had been one of my supporters against Jon earlier. But he turned on me! Our easy win was thrown out with a 2-2 tie for the lynching. So during the night it was imperative that the Seer had to die. I decided on Rich as the most likely mostly by a process of elimination. If it was Josh, I still had a chance to convince Rob of my innocence since Rich had supported me in the previous vote. If it was Rob, I thought he probably would have checked me already and been more vocal about his reasoning in the prior round. So Rich the seer was eaten and it was down to the three of us.

In the end Rob had a choice to make to decide the game. He chose poorly and Jon and I pulled out the hard fought victory.

In the final game Jon moderated, Rich and I were werewolves (that sucked for Rich), and Dennis was the Seer. On the first freakin day Kendahl was all like "we gotta kill Michael just in case". No amount of pleading or cajoling would sway the mob and just like that Rich was all alone. It was gonna be a tall order going 1 on 6 and when the Seer picked him out the next night it was 100% over.

Finally, we busted out Formula De, a racing game involving different dice to deal with different gears. Kendahl and Dennis jumped out to an early lead, I maintained a pretty steady third position and the remaining 5 players (sub Ted in for Rick and Josh) clustered up, blocking one another from easily improving position. After the major turn, I pulled even with the leaders, and when we called it after one lap, I managed to barely beat Dennis to the finish line. I guess its an interesting idea, but I pretty much agree with Simon's assessment.

Cash and Guns was the big winner of night in my opinion. If it gets released in the US, I definitely need a copy.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

BGG Geek of the Week: Brian Bankler!

Now Brian is even more famous than he was before! Check it out: Here.

Congratulations, Brian!

I Have Returned!

Greetings, all! I'm now safely back from my brief tour of Pacific theater battle sites, e.g. Pearl Harbor, Guam, various locations in the Marianas. I've also now recovered from a hard case of jet lag over the weekend. Due to crossing the international dateline, my Friday was almost 48 hours long! Now that I'm back, I can't wait to start pushing cardboard and blowing up Meeples.

Being on the long jet ride from Guam to Houston gave me a great opportunity to catch up on wargame rulebook reading. I am now officially beside myself with excitement about For the People and WW2: Barbarossa to Berlin being reprinted. Paths of Glory seems as fun as Twilight Struggle with triple meat and extra cheese piled on top! I can't wait to play.

Alas, my true hope was that War of the Ring: Battles of the Third Age would have been released before I returned to the country, and my big preorder box would be waiting for my return with a yellow ribbon tied around it. Curses! It was not to be.

Unfortunately, I will miss the gaming session tomorrow (Monday) night. Being out of town for 2.5 weeks has left a ton of real life to catch up on, so I won't be back into full gaming form until next week. However, if someone would like to get together on Thursday night to play something, just shoot me an e-mail.

enlisting.... 4/24

Ben, where are you? You are usually the one posting these.

Well, I'm still on vacation until this Wed...meaning that I can be at DL at 6pm (or earlier) tomorrow.

I'll bring an armload of games as and 2 player.

History of a Gamer & Battle Cry Redux

I've been a gamer from days of yore. In high school I played the usual: Risk, A&A, the odd copy of an Avalon Hill game. In grad school I had a few years of chess obsession.

Believe it or not, the key event in my current incarnation as a gamer was the invasion of Iraq. This blog is not the place to debate US foreign policy, but military matters still dominate the news years later. For weeks and months before and after the invasion, I heard about the military, battlefield tactics and strategic considerations. It got me looking around for a way to play armchair general. I was looking for something with a balance between rules and detail (I would now say "elegant mechanics"), short play time, and decent solo playability.

Eventually my searches took me to BGG, as all such searches must. "Wow, what's this!?" I thought. I did some browsing, but at the time I was on a mission so I focused on war games. At the light end of the wargame spectrum, Battle Cry was getting a lot of buzz. Also, a guy named Chris Farrell was writting cogent, lucid prose about some goofy games with blocks. My local game story didn't sell any of those "block games" so Battle Cry it was.

Thus began the current phase of gaming. We all know the "game cycle." I got it, I played it, I loved it, I wanted more games. Kind of like drugs. Previously, I would have suffered through withdrawl and moved back to other hobbies, but a pusher had moved into my web neighborhood. I went back to the 'geek for advice. I picked up Ogre, and I dabbled with Wizard Kings, War of 1812, and Hammer of the Scots. Several Euros followed in quick succession: Puerto Rico, Carcassone, Pirate's Cove.

I moved to San Antonio in Spring 2005 where I knew almost no one, but not to fear: my pusher had connections. BGG got me hooked up with another junky named Rob, and in return I showed Rob the joy of blocks. We found Kendahl, then Ben. Now we virtually need name tags, and we get our game on every week.

One dark spot, however, was that as I moved through the blocks of war, Battle Cry seemed less satisfying. Too random, too restricted, not enough control. I hated to see an early favorite suffer.

Once again, the geek came to the rescue by connecting me with some great house rules. John O'Haver made a significant study of Civil War history, then made some major changes to Battle Cry, deriving his variant Advanced Battle Cry Deluxe Expanded (ABCDE). The main effect of the rules is to reduce range and make attacks less deadly. This tends to slow the game down, but also greatly improves the maneuvering.

I then combined this with an idea to restructure the deck into three parts. Create two identical decks consisting only of movement cards evenly spread across the three zones; each side gets one. The third deck has the rest of the movement cards and all the 'text' cards. After the first kill, each side always has 1 card from the special deck and the balance from their own deck. Keep discards separate and reshuffle when done. This change greatly improves your ability to control your troops. You are guaranteed cycle through cards across the whole field.

Taken together, this Battle Cry Redux is much more to my liking. The game is still fairly short (for a wargame), plays fast, is card driven. The luck factor has been tamed down quite a bit, but hardly eliminated. The first ~30 min of the game consists of maneuvering your troops with a few artillery shots being fired. Then the attacks begin, and shooting picks up slowly. After another few minutes combat is raging and almost every turn some one shoots. The ranks start to thin out. The attack may shift, or the defenders may counter attack, sometimes both happen on opposite sides of the board. As the battle starts to wind down, the 6th unit falls on one side or the other, and the game is over.

Good times.

That brings us to the present. When I first googled "Battle Cry", I never could have guessed I'd end up here. I don't know what's in my gaming future. I do know one thing, though: it's gonna be a lotta fun!

Get your game on guys and gals. I'll see you Monday night!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Pass me the Grey Poupon...

I had a very fulfilling first day of vacation today. I'm off for one week, but me and my wife are not planning to travel this time to save up for a Euro trip in July.

Still, it was a very fulfilling first day today. We went to the movies (watched Lucky number Slevin... very cool by the way), and on our way back she asked "do you want to play a game?". "Do I want to play games?! Me?! Well of course!" (I felt like saying, but held back, and instead gave a more composed...."meh, sure").

So then I had the dilema... do I pull out something "meaty" or something light? Do I press my luck? So I just took the plunge. I pulled out Louis XIV.

Much to my surprise, she enjoyed it! She actually won the first game (47 to 46). Then she even agreed to a second game....and played aggressively! There are a few things to keep an eye out for in this game, and it takes at least one game to discover the strategies (like all other good euros), so we had an even better second game. We played a LOT more aggressive the second time around and ended with a 63 me, 52 her score. I'll keep bringing it with me on Monday night gaming to try out a 4 player game.

So I think I finally understood her gaming issues. It's not that she's not a gamer. She enjoys games, gets involved, and picks up on good strategies fairly quickly. She just doesn't tolerate my.... eh.... obses... lets say passion, for games. And she doesn't like learning too many new games in one session. She'd rather repeat a complex game she already knows. So now I have a few options... from the lighter Lost Cities, and Carcassone, to San Juan and now Louis XIV (hmmm... she also enjoys Puerto Rico, Acquire, and Settlers....I've done well). Someday I'll be like Simon playing WotR with my significant other.... or is that pushing it? Time will tell.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Getting Your War On, the Blog, Friday

Based on Ben's post and the comments, let me just say that I'm completely ready to get some war on. This doesn't require a massive commitment of people, but it does for time. The most important part (as I was reminded so very recently) is to explain the rules quickly and start without going into every detail. Let people back up or just play the mistakes. Or if the rules are online, have people read them ahead of time.

Most wargames are nice in that they only need two. A few take more, and are even harder to schedule. Perhaps the long Memorial day weekend would afford us a chance to tackle a multi-player game of some heft. I've got 7 Ages ... on the CDG front, Sword of Rome plays four, and without a commitment I'm unlikely to ever get a chance to try it out.

On a less militaristic note, can we set up this blog to allow for guest comments? I've gotten a note or two from people from Austin (and elsewhere) ... I don't know how blogger handles it. My blog allows open comments for 14 days, then closes them (to prevent spammers from sneaking into your archives). Something like that should be fine, if possible.

And on a non-militaristic note, Jacqui and I are hosting this friday. RSVP in the comments!

A Board Gamer in the South Pacific

Greetings, fellow board gamers from a tiny speck near the equator in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Yes, I'm writing from the US territory that does not have a board game based upon it, Guam. The place I'm working is pictured above where I've been busy defending freedom for a couple weeks.

While here and in Hawaii, I encountered a tremendous amount of military history, and I'm consequently very interested in getting Empire of the Sun. The thickly jungled cliffs pictured above are literally littered with Japanes pillboxes, guns, bullets, etc., and the nearby Navy base has a completely intact Japanese two-person sub I was able to crawl on. On one weird note, the Navy base's housing is built on a mass grave of Japanese soldiers... holy Samurai Poltergeist, Batman!

Anyway, I've sincerely appreciated reading everyone's session reports while I've been out of town. An 8-person Bang! game? Wow! Fury of Dracula seems like it's a bust, but I'm confident I can help restore the luster of Duel of Ages when I get back.

Perhaps being on active duty in the military is affecting my thinking, but I'm anxious to play more wargames when I get back. I just P500'ed Barbarossa to Berlin and For the People. Also, Paths of Glory is inbound. Brian's review helped talk me in to that one... Yes, Twilight Struggle seems to have infected me with card-based wargame obsession. Speaking of Twilight Struggle, I want a rematch with Jon after my rather radioactive finish last game....

In the words of Douglas MacArthur spoken not far from here, "I shall return!"

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Session Report 4/17: Double-You Tee Eff?

I arrived around 15 minutes late to witness the tail end of a San Juan game, won by Michael by around 40,000 points. As the game was cleared, I heard the grumble, "At least it's shorter than Puerto Rico." This cheered my heart, as that's never been my favorite game either (I think there's an illusion of control; I once chose roles at random and lost by two).

Next up was Ra, which quickly budded into two games, with mine also occupied by Patrick, Ted, and Jeff (yes, I'm finally learning names so I'm showing off). Patrick expressed great enthusiasm for the game, but by the end of the rules explanation we learned that he had been playing a completely different game, which I shall call "Rhaa", and which might be fun to try sometime. In epoch one I sacrificed my future for four monuments, three pharoahs, two gold, and a god tile in a pear tree, for 13 points. Fortunately no one had a good second turn except for Patrick, who jumped from last to first in pharoahs. Patrick kicked into overdrive in epoch three, scoring in every category including highest suns. But I was left with the last sun tile with five Ras left to draw, and got enough monuments for a 42-38 win. Good times.

Now it was time for the ultraviolence portion of the evening, starting with 8-player "Bang!". After taking one turn, I had a "Final Destination"-style vision as soon as Simon's dynamite hit the table. Sure enough, it had my name on it, and Regenado Uno was out in record time. The next dynamite turned into the turn order marker for 45+ minutes, as Ted, Patrick, and Packrat Jeff whittled away the competition one by one. Still good, but definitely better with High Noon. I'm not sure how I feel about the green cards yet, either; not sure they added anything.

At this point I eschewed my own copy of Fury of Dracula to try something new: Duel of Ages, a game full of design decisions that I would label...curious. To wit:

- Oddly for a game with "Duel" in the title, there's practically no fighting for the first hour, as nobody but Spartacus could fight effectively without equipment. In fact, 80% of the victory points (and thus the game) revolve not around fighting each other, but rolling dice against a card.
- Rather than being pulled to the center where they can mix it up, the characters are constantly pulled to the edge of the map by the labyrinths.
- Since characters get a bonus in the labyrinth that matches their time period, the characters naturally segregate themselves, and the "Genghis Khan versus the Martians" matchups that seem to be the game's main draw rarely come about.
- A few of the characters evoked some personality (again, Spartacus), but most of them felt very flat. There was absolutely nothing to distinguish my Future Guy (his special ability was "+1 in every labyrinth"...yawn). And two of my other characters had special abilities that relied on very specific equipment, which I didn't even see until the last 15 minutes of the game. Otherwise, they are all just a list of very average abilities.
- There's almost no planning possible in attacking the adventures. If one is face-up (and they rarely are), it's almost certain to be gone by the time you get there, and even if it's not, assigning the right character will only gain you a few percentage points, as nearly every ability on every character was yellow, green, or blue (or rarely more significant than just sending the character from the right time period).

Surprisingly, the game felt almost identical in mechanics to "Candamir: The First Settlers", except that the latter game has much nicer components, more control, and (sadly) fewer satchel charges. We called the game with Ted having a small but growing lead, when he was having trouble managing an entire team of characters. I found that by getting all of my guys killed, I was having no such trouble.

With Admiral Dracula setting out to sea for the 8th time, the Fury of Dracula game was called as well, and the six remaining hardy souls gathered 'round for some Richochet Robots. I apologize for becoming insufferable (or, more insufferable than usual) at this point, but this game makes me hyper. I'm used to playing with RR savant and fellow BGGer Mike Mayer, who could slaughter us all with his left brain while humming the "Meow Mix" tune with his right, so I'm accustomed to setting the engine on Ludicrous Speed when playing this game. We played with a catch-the-leader rule that gave the point to the solver with the fewest points scored. The problem was that this was a particularly good group -- on only two out of 17 rounds was the optimal path found by only a single player. So we were pretty much guaranteed to have an N-player tie, where N was everybody but Michael.

Next week is the last week of classes for me, so I'm hoping to be more available for non-Monday gaming. I should also have probably mentioned this some time ago...

Homemade, baby. 8'x4' of casino-ish goodness. Anyone up for a game?

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Gathering

I've been reviewing the games over at my blog, but since people asked....

While I was in grad school, a friend was invited to the Gathering. He then got invited to "Bill Cons", long weekends of gaming at Bill's place in Baltimore. As I had joined Alan's "1200 club" (which pre-bought all of his games) I got an invitation to Bill's (where I met Alan). After I finished grad school, Jacqui and I went to the Gathering. We've both been back every year, until this year when Jacqui couldn't go.

The Gathering is just like dozens, or even hundreds of get togethers every year, with the notable exception that the host is one of the most important designers in the world. This attracts game companies and other designers of note. Some designers bring new games or prototypes, which attracts attention. So it's the 'first look' for a lot of games, which sets trends (right or wrong). I've seen plenty of arguements that the Gathering got this or that game wrong, and many of them are true. But any group of people who get together for a week to play games can be counted to have opinions and discuss them (at length). Ten years ago there were few web and print journalists writing up the games, but now with BGG, Rick Thornquist, etc, you get coverage and instant analysis.

For me the new games are the least of the draw (although it's certainly nice). Originally it was just the chance to play a ton of games, but I've spent the last few years playing new games for a bit, then retreating to old favorites (or longer games that are tough to play in a typical game night). People routinely spend hours just chatting. Playing prototypes sounds like fun, but a few years ago I instituted a "I don't play prototypes" policy (which I waive for one designer since he knows my tastes and only offers finished games).

There's no reason we couldn't do something like that. Everyone chips in a bit for a large conference room and we're off. [Jacqui and I have been talking about doing something like that, and we've done it before]. I've been to a dozen of these smaller group things and they're quite fun. You've been doing it with the "Let's all go to DL and play all day" days. It's just a matter of scale and media attention. (If we were the first people to play a new game, we'd get lots of attention, too). The Gathering started as a weekend with 20 people. It's just had time to grow.

I won't kid anyone that the gaming isn't fun, and new games are a big draw; but a good group is its own reward. As we all know.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Head count... 4/17

DL tomorrow

I'll be there at 7pm as usual

Will be bringing a couple of group games (including Bang with 8th player option) and Crusader Rex just in case.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Happy Easter: Hope and Games

On Easter Christians tell the story of a great come-from-behind victory. When all seemed lost and many on-lookers and kibitzers had declared defeat, a surprising move turned the situation upside-down and produced a surprising triumph. These are the kinds of gaming moments we all live for, and they are the stories we treasure and retell.

Your view of the Christian Easter story will vary with your faith, but all religions and cultures have stories of hope and rebirth.

As gamers we share this sense of hope: no matter how badly you lost, there's always another game waiting to be played. For gamers, like Christians, hope springs eternal.

Have a joyous Easter, and I hope to see you over the game board on Monday night.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Sess Rep

So we played quite a few games last night. Any night were I get to play 3 or more is always a good gaming night.

I got there at 7pm....just in time for a 4 player San Juan (Michael, Jeff and a new gamer, Richard). As I've said before, nothing like playing a game were no rules need to be explained.

Then we moved on to 3 games I had never tried (...sweet). First we tried Tikal. Very interesting. Cool mechanics. We had the same 4 players take on this one. It is very intuitive, fun, with many strategic options, and with just the right amount of luck. Of course, the fact that I wooped everyone does skew my view of this game. Hehe.... But seriously, it had some really cool mechanics that went well with the whole "exploration" theme. It could have probably been 15 minutes shorter (or maybe I was feeling pressure from some bystanders that wanted to play a big group game)

Then we tried For Sale with Jon and Simon added to the mix. This ended up being another auction game that has won my heart over (first one was Ra). Kendahl, mr auction gamer, you need this one (if you don't already have it). It just ooooozes psychology. Great fun.

And last but not least, at 10pm, when my brain was somewhat fried, we tried Ricochet Robots... what a game! is all I can say. This is the first time ever I've literally felt my blood pressure rise while playing a game. It was a real rush.... really really taxing on my neurons. I still stand my statement: this is a Euro-party game... Gaming-geek-euro-party game. The time pressure, the tension to be the first to blurt out an answer or try to outwit your opponents; this is what to me makes it feel like a party game (and that's not a bad thing! au contraire). Granted, it lacks that "universal" appeal that is standard in your run-o-the mill party games. It may be a little too hardcore for the lay gamer.

Another one for my wishlist.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

How the impossible came to be...

So something miraculous happened a few days ago that not until recently became a reality. Yes, I convinced my girlfriend, Dayna, to play "War of the Ring" with me...and she did. Now maybe for some of you fellow geeks (Jeff and Brian), you don't have to worry about getting your significant other to play deep, heavy, and long gamer's games. Sure Rob, Ben, Jon, and I can convince ours to join in a game of Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne every now and then, but games like WotR are simply out of the question. I bet you can just see their eyes glossing over in your mind at the thought of rules explanation. -But through sheer determination, reverse psychology, and trust I pulled off the amazing and lo, it was good.

I let her take up the reign’s of the Shadow since they have a simpler goal to reach and less stuff to worry about (the fact that they win 70% of the time was just pure coincidence…). I went over the rules in about twenty minutes just focusing on the basics and leaving out the detailed movement of the Fellowship in Mordor, what all the symbols on the hunt tiles mean, and so on until they actually came up. This proved to be a good decision as she quickly absorbed everything I relayed without losing patience or becoming overburdened with all of the exceptions and what ifs.

Clearly this game would be hers from the get go as sixes after sixes came rolling down on the Hunts and companion after companion ate the dust. To add insult to injury, I think I hit every single reveal tile in the bag, making the journey even longer and more painful. After finally reaching Mordor with the entire Fellowship (minus ring-bearers) succumbing to death before I got past Lorien and ten corruption on the track, I decided to look elsewhere for the win.

She had already taken most of the Elven nations and Rohan at the expense of the Roherum escaping into Orthanc. This gave me the crazy idea to take one more stronghold for that elusive Free People’s military victory. I moved Gondor to war and swung a massive force down upon Umbar but it was not to be. She saw it coming and played a card that allowed her to reroute her huge force at Minas Morgul to aid in the relieving of the siege.

While she sat at eight VP, I decided my only chance was a ring victory. I thought my odds were still decent at ten corruption because I had thrown in most of the blue tiles and she hadn’t added a single red. Alas, on the first draw the lidless eye mocked me with an insurmountable burst of temptation, turning the Hobbits to the Shadow and thus cursing the lands to ruin. So there I sat, languishing in the bitter taste of defeat most cruel.

I was really surprised by how well she did and disappointed in my weak Fellowship play. Perhaps I have been overvaluing rushing the Fellowship instead of playing it safe, sticking to the friendly stronghold creep with companions breaking off here and there at will. I wish I could say I pulled some punches, but I was militarily outclassed and fated by the inexplicably devious Hunt rolls.

The best part though was hearing the sweet words “I liked that game; we could play this again sometime.”

…Ah, there is hope for all of us…

Gathering of Friends

Say hello to Brian... at the Gathering of Friends convention. Photo from Rick Thornquist's website.

Ben is not here, so me then... 4/10 gaming?

Any gaming tomorrow? As always, I'll be at DL around 7pm. I'll bring a couple of group and 2 player games. BTW, I found this dice tower at BGG. I want one. And speaking of BGG, has anyone received or will be receiving one of these messages in their email accounts..... ?

Thank you for your registration. We have successfully received yourpayment for BGG.CON 2006.

Friday, April 07, 2006

First ever Mini (nano) Wargame Con

Jon and Ben played Twilight Imperium. Simon and I played half of a Lock 'n Load: Band of Heroes scenario. I felt like I was winning although we still had a good ways to go. Unfortunately we had to stop early because Simon had to leave (he never really said why.... probably intimidated by the military prowess of my german forces). Still, it was a great way to be introduced to the traditional chits/counters wargame. It is definitively very very different from block games. Like I said on the previous thread, there are lots and lots of variables and charts (and I realize that there are games with even more charts and variables) that modify everything you do in the game. It is a little overwhelming at first, but they do add a lot of flavor and tension to the game once you start to understand how they affect the game. You actually "feel" protected when your units are inside a building.... and interrupting units as they walk in front of your line of sight....and springing snipers out of nowhere with their super long ranges, and no mobility, to chip away at the enemies advancing forces....

We then broke for lunch to Taco Cabana where we spent about an hour talking about life (and then quickly switched back to games). Then we went back to DL to play a game of Columbia Games' Napoleon. It is a 2-3 player block game; Ben (England) and I (Belgium) teamed up against Jon Bonaparte in the battle of Waterloo. We were all kinda rusty with the rules, but we still managed to play a full game. Napoleon unfortunately was caught in a sandwinch between my Belgian waffles and Ben's English krumpets... Where the game really shines is in its unique battle system where essentially you don't have to destroy all of your opponent's units...only break their line to force them to rout. Not a game that I would buy at full price (Jon the bargain hunter got it for just $10), but would play again.

To add to Ted and Ben's thoughts on block games, another thing I like about them at least with Columbia Games's block games in particular, they all share the same basic mechanics and each game just adds a few new features to add chrome/flavor. This can be both good and bad; good in that new games are easier to learn (just focus on what's new and different), and bad because it all feels like the same game to a certain extent. I guess in regards to this last point, this is the main reason I found much much pleasure in Rommel in the Desert; it is VERY different from all the other CG's I own.

I encourage others in the group to try these games out. Playing with history can be loads of fun.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

David Lightman: What is the primary goal?
Joshua: You should know, Professor. You programmed me.
David Lightman: C'mon. What is the primary goal?
Joshua: To win the game.

David Lightman: Is this a game or is it real?
Joshua: What's the difference?

Gentlemen, I would like to extend an open invitation to all to our first Micro Wargaming Con on 4/7 starting at 10am at DL (or at Simon's ?).

I have received confirmation from a few of you.

The current list:
1. Ben
2. Jon
3. Simon
4. Me
5. Ted (?)
6. Michael (?)

If you want to join us, just drop a line here in the comments. We should be starting anywhere between 10-12 noon. I should be able to make it by 10am. We will only be playing wargames, so please, only show up if we would end up with an even number of players. You will be left out if you don't have a partner.

The goal is to try and have everyone play at least 2 differrent games. For those that have never played any particular game below, but would be interested to try it out, try to at least read over the rules online to expedite the teaching part.

Current games on the list:
1. Hammer of the Scots
2. Crusader Rex
3. Lock n Load: Band of Heroes
4. Wizard Kings
5. Rommel in the Desert
6. Bonaparte at Marengo
7. . . . . . (insert cool wargame)

Group games? Next Monday.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Optimal Fun: Game Complexity vs Number of Players

One factor seeming to have a strong influence on how well I enjoy a particular gaming experience is how well the number of players matches up against the complexity of the particular game. For the same game, too many players or too few can drastically alter the "fun" generated by the session. Certain games seem to scale rather well, having a wide range wherein playing is quite enjoyable. Others have smaller range while many have a very narrow sweet spot. Complexity can take the form of rules density, amount of decision making required, number of bits to manage, or even sheer length.

Thinking about this today, I sketched out the graph above. The ideal, optimum fun game experience is represented by the blue line. Above the line is chaos and frustration. Below the line is boredom and stagnation. The curve for each person sitting around a table definitely varies depending on factors such as individual preference (i.e., for group games, for instance), maturity, knowledge of rules, mood, downtime tolerance, complexity tolerance, and commitment to making the game work.

My thought is that games fitting most closely on the blue line when played will tend to be enjoyed more and hence played more often. Perhaps the 4-player Twilight Imperium 3 would be more enjoyable and less chaotic? Adding additional complexity and players to Shadows Over Camelot seems to have improved the game's fun factor...

Anyway, back to doing my taxes.... thoughts?

Rob The Desert Fox

Saturday Rob and I played Rommel in the Desert, a Columbia block game based on WWII in North Africa. This game is often cited as a classic, and I can easily see why. There are at least three great aspects to this game

Unit control: The designer really hit the sweet spot. You have a lot of freedom, but you always want to do a little more. The tension is great. I have found Battle Cry, M44, & Ancients to be a bit too restrictive, but Rommel seems to get it just right.

Supply: Watch your supply lines! Attacking and defending supply lines is crucial! Also, it's not good enough to have supply lines; you've got to have the supplies to flow along the lines. Supplies are controlled by your cards. While you have enough to get things done, it's far from infinite. You've got to carefully conserve your supply for just the right time.

Bluffing: Not only do you have the blocks and fog of war, but your supply cards are hidden, too. Furthermore, the amount of supply you allocate to a move is not revealed until afterwards. You can throw 3 supply cards (enough for a powerful blitz move), but use 2 duds. Your opponent, seeing this, might decide to withdraw from battle w/o a fight.

Rob and I played a quick learning scenario to get the rules figured out, then we took on a 2 hr scenario. I was the Axis and Rob the Allies. In this scenario, the Axis has a concentration position with a set of powerful elite armor. The allies have a much larger force and strong defensive position, but their army is very spread out. The axis must make immediate use of their concentrated power or be over-run by a zillion allies.

I was able to bring my elite armor into the front quickly with good success, and I pushed toward the fortress at Tobruck (sp?). Unfortunately, Rob was bringing up a bunch of units from the back field at the same time. We had some back and forth before the lines stabilized.

Rob commented that I had a "thick rear." Strange. Those words here were a great compliment meaning I was defending my backfield, but in another context that exact phrase...

Anyway, as the final turn loomed, I made a lunge with elite armor. The battle went pretty well, but at the end of my turn I looked at the board with horror. I had left my tanks too far out and they had tenuous, undefended supply lines! I hoped Rob didn't see it.

No such luck.

Rob made a blitz worthy of Rommel himself. He attacked a key position and brought my defense dangerously low, then swooped around behind my tanks and attacked the defenders again. I was saved from the Desert Fox only by luck: a single block held out with only a few CV left.

I surveyed the weakness of my position with dismay, especially considering that Rob had several cards left, and I only had 1 supply point. After considerable nail-biting, I finally decided how to re-inforce my position with my last supply card. I thought I might be OK, but I wasn't sure.

It was Rob's turn. He looked at the board, then his cards as he studied the situation.

Then he passed. He passed! He didn't have any supply either!

Talk about a surprise!

We were both out of supply, so we counted up points. I had won by attrition since I had more units surviving (elites count as 1.5 while all others count as 1).

What a game!

I bang you at DL 4/3/06

I got lost on the way there. Yes, I know I've been there a kajillion times since I moved here, but thats my story and I'm sticking to it. So by the time I got there, there were about 10 people ready to play board games. We split into a Duel of Ages group (myself, Ben, Ted, Chad and Jeff) and a Railroad Tycoon group. Before we got into DoA, I watched the setup and the start of the rules explanations for RR Tycoon. It looked like Age of Steam with better bits so I'm ready to give it a shot whenever.

I had high hopes for DoA after reading a few reviews this afternoon. I was somewhat disappointed to be honest. The color coding for relative strengths actually served to make things more confusing than necessary at least to me. I think numerical ratings for stats would be much more useful as all the calculations for squeak numbers could be made instantly without consulting a color coded chart (I'm a 5 against a 3? Then I need 9 to squeak). I thought the fiddliness of having to consult the chart every time we needed to check anything took much more time than should be necessary and with the end condition being a time limit really detracts from the game as well.

Ok, well there were positives. There is alot of flavor. There is a deck of what looked to be about 100 character cards available so there is going to be alot of replayability. The characters themselves have abilities that fall in line with their personality. So Brad "the slacker" either does a half assed job (squeaks by) or doesn't do jack squiggly (fails miserably). He also moves like a tortoise unless he is threatened by the proximity of an opponent at which moment he moves like a jackrabbit. He was actually very good for us until he didn't squeak by on a roll at which point he was banished to the far end of the board nowhere near an opponent and became as useful as a screen door on a submarine.

Our imposed time limit was 2 hours and we started off well enough. Our team (Ben, Ted and myself) held Brad in reserve at the beginning to allow more opponents to be placed on the board to help embellish his movement ability. We started going to explore the caves and we took a relatively commanding lead in the modern cave while the evil team took a commanding lead in the ancient cave.

Meanwhile Chad had a nasty surprise for us. One of his characters was the mole. At the end of every turn we had to take a quiz about his character and ... well a little different than that but he was highly annoying. I made it my secret motivation that the mole should die a horrible death but unfortunately we weren't allowed to do anything to him until he did something extroardinarily mole-like. Stealing our equipment was not enough to tip off our team of brain surgeons that something was amiss but when he tried to blow up our base some alarm bells started ringing in our heads. Finally, he had lost his totally unjustified diplomatic immunity and with time running out we gang-banged him into submission. It turned out to be an important gang bang since our mecha-armadillo got himself subdued by the horse lady with her zelda bombs. That would have left us tied in the characters department and lost us a victory point. (We ended up tieing in the gameso it was actually critical)

Ok, so it wasn't that terrible, and there was certainly some humor to be found within some of the things that happened. I suspect that after multiple playings the color coding becomes second hand like arithmetic and people will be able to say oh I'm purple against yellow thats a 5 to squeak. Still, why should there be this memory sub game required to speed up the game?

I definitely enjoyed the experience though and would be 100% willing to play again.

After that some people started talking about leaving, but the prospect of a quick Bang session convinced them to stick around. We played 7 handed: Chad was the Sheriff with as luck would have it Dennis and I his loyal deputies flanking him. Jon was the evil Renegade and Ted, Rob and Jeff were the outlaws.

The good guys got off to a great start. I managed to pick on Ted right away more because he was right next to me and Chad was on my other side than some stroke of genius. I also put out a dynamite since it would be unlikely to hit the Sheriff and if I survived would probably provide a positive result for our team. The real positive result of this was that Dennis, who had somehow drawn 3 Jails, managed to nail two of the three outlaws on the first turn and the Renegade Jon who had decided to avoid confrontation with the outlaws by pretending to be one of them. Things actually went relatively slowly, but the good guys kept getting the breaks: the dynamite blew up in Robs face and over the course of a couple of turns I picked up quite a few bangs which gave me the ability to launch a massive attack on Ted when he turned out to be evil. In the endgame it was us against Jeff and we had him in a partial lock with a recurring Jail k-k-k-k-killer combo. A ghost town roll by Chad gave him a glimmer of hope, but a timely saloon kept me alive to re-Jail him on my turn and reinstitute the beat down. He died shortly thereafter at the hands of our heroic sheriff.

I mentioned this before, and even though there was almost perfect information in this instance of Bang, I like the hidden role mechanic alot. Plus Bang has a pretty big humor factor built in automatically. Hmm, so my goal was to keep it short this week...and have more pictures. It seems like I did alright by that. And some people thought that "I bang you" may have a place among our taglines.


Monday, April 03, 2006

Gaming at Patrick's on Wed

I was looking for a picture of Condotierre but BGG is down and Google images failed me for the first time in my life. So, you have to just imagine the game there.

Anyways, come one come all, but prolly it'll just be Jon, Michael, and hopefully a guy I like to call Kendahl.

Wednesday at 7.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Or Forever Hold Your Peace...

Here is the final list for rotating taglines. Make your corrections, suggestions, additions, and removal requests while you still can. The final list gets emailed to Patrick on Wednesday.

'Eat, Breathe, Game',
'Blaming our losses on luck since 2005',
'So hardcore, we shove meeples up our nose for fun',
'Playing games and making friends since 2005',
'Got wood for sheep?',
'Taking turns in variable order since 2005',
'Doing our part to keep the cardboard industry alive',
'Runaway leader? Kingmake this!',
'Living and dieing by the dice since 2005',
'Leading the fight for equal Meeple rights',
'Meeples, Colonists, and Settlers welcome',
'Cry havoc and let slip the Meeples of war!',
'Because gaming is a lifestyle',
'So many games, so little time...',
'Making a mockery out of Monopoly',
'Alamo city is the new Essen'

Saturday, April 01, 2006

A Gaming We Will Go, Monday, 3 Apr 2006

"Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."
- Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon would have been an awesome board game player. Back to the Dragon's Lair Monday night for more board gaming fun! I'll bring War of the Ring, Twilight Struggle, and Duel of Ages. I should be there by 6 PM.

To Market, To Market, Jiggity Jig

In a mere week, I'm off to my yearly gaming convention (woo-hoo!). Apart from gaming, there's a flea market, where I'll unload some games that I don't care for. I haven't decided exactly what I'm taking, but I'm leaning towards the following:

  • Antike
  • Cannes
  • Valley of the Mammoths
  • Warangel
  • War of the Ring (shrinkwrap) [that's my spare Barnes & Noble copy]
And a few other random games that I suspect nobody locally wants. In any case, if you want to trade/buy any of them (or want any of my games for trade), speak up before they disappear.