Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ahoy, mateys! Thar be piratey gamin' ahead!

Well, we all know you can't write a session report about pirate games without using a wee bit o' pirate language.

Bright and early, Steve, Ben, and Tiffany showed up and we decided to start off with a little light piratey goodness to whet our appetites for the Blackbeard game to come. So we played Rum & Pirates. I first played this almost a year ago at Jeff and Amy's and thought that I needed a light pirate game as part of my game library and that this would fit the bill nicely. It's easy to learn, quick to play, and dripping with theme and high production quality. So our pirates marched around Pirate Town drinking in pubs, fighting the city guard, getting stung by scorpions in treasure chests, meeting piratey sweethearts, putting together treasure maps, and fighting over bunk spaces. In the end, Ben and I ended up tied for most pirate VPs. The first tiebreaker was fewest pirates of a player's color in the unemployment office (times are hard for these pirates, what with the economy and all), and I emerged triumphant, and rightfully so.

We then broke out the tour de force that is Blackbeard. This game is also produced with high quality components. The map in particular is beautiful. In this game, each player takes a turn sailing the high seas trading in cards either for favorable events or for action point allowances. Action points are used for sailing the high seas searching for and looting merchant ships, torturing hostages (it's not exactly a lighthearted game), attacking and plundering seaside towns, and engaging in general debauchery and revelry. During a player's turn, however, the opponents are constantly trying to put the hurt on the active player by playing event cards (as interrupts) and deploying pirate hunters and royal warships. If the active pirate can overcome these annoyances, they get money and notoriety. When they get powerful and rich, they can then sail into a port and retire, and their name enters into buccaneer legend (their notoriety and money translate into VPs). If a pirate retires or dies, you can draw another pirate from the pirate deck (there's quite a few pirate cards) and start another pirate career with the new one. The game ends when a timekeeping card in the event deck is drawn for the third time, so you need to "bank" your pirates as you go along.

The game has a rather steep learning curve. It's almost like trying to learn two games--the pirate game and the anti-pirate game. It took us a while to get rolling, but we eventually got some semblance of game flow. Tiffany started off on the VP track early, as her crew came down with scurvy and mutinied, sending her pirate to Davy Jones' Locker. Her pirate still entered into pirate lore (maybe not for all the right reasons) for which she got a modicum of VP, and then she was off again with a new pirate. However, her next pirate also met an untimely demise (I can't quite remember--was it a pirate hunter or warship?), and at this point she departed to attend to more pressing RL matters.

Steve, Ben, and I continued on and sailed the seas, bringing in the money and generally pestering each other. Ben's pirate finally took in a huge haul from a merchant ship in India and quickly found a friendly port in which to settle down and live his golden years. But soon after landing, his own crew double crossed him and Ben's pirate was arrested and put on trial for piratey crimes. At trial, though, there was insufficient evidence to convict and hang him. Ben's pirate skated and retired a rich man, jumping over Tiffany on the VP track and taking the lead. At the same time, my pirate was also doing quite well, and his notoriety attracted two pirate hunters who both tried to make a name for themselves by sinking him. Realizing his ship was too slow, he was forced to turn his boat to fight. Despite being outgunned, my pirate's credible combat skills led to two very close victories over the pirate hunters. My pirate became instantly famous throughout the Caribbean, and with his career made, he sailed into Port Royal to retire. As he did so, another pirate also decided to make a name for himself and tried to ambush and kill Mr. Instant Celebrity. But my pirate was just a tiny bit faster with his cutlass and emerged triumphant. Walking off into the sunset of retirement, he was heard to say in Ben's direction, "Won easily..."

Ben, Steve and I finished with Kingmaker. We are trying to convert this game into a War of the Roses campaign that will let us use the Battlelore combat system to play out the battles, and Steve has already developed the ruleset that we are going to use (although he wouldn't want me to point this out, don't forget that he is literally an award-winning game designer). So as an introduction, we played the basic Avalon Hill Kingmaker. A player wins this game by capturing and holding the last living heir to the British throne and crowning them King. Ben started by sweeping up the heirs to the throne and executing the ones that didn't amuse him. He finally sacked London and took King Henry VI, while I ran up to York and captured (and crowned) Richard of York and Steve went to Plymouth and found Margaret of Anjou. We generally stayed away from each other, as Ben and I were strong in our home regions but weak away from them, and Steve got on his boats and sailed away from the rest of us because his nobles didn't have the military strength to survive a battle with either Ben or me. With the game thus stalemated, we went to Parliament where I emerged with the win, as my nobles held the most influence in the House of Lords.

Perhaps one of the biggest differences between Kingmaker as it is now and the way we intend to play it is that, in the basic board game, you need at least a majority stack (more troops than the person you're atacking) to have a chance to win a battle. In Battlelore system battles, it is possible to win even though you don't have the strongest force if you manage to maneuver and roll well. This (and the fact that there is a campaign to connect them) should make the battles much more entertaining.

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At 10:19 AM, June 22, 2008, Blogger Brian said...

Wee bit o'pirate language?

Mateys, we be after their lucky charms.

At 12:03 PM, June 22, 2008, Blogger Tiffany said...

The session was fun. So sad that work and RL and moving had to lure me away.

At 1:57 PM, June 22, 2008, Blogger Ben said...

Blackbeard is almost the antithesis of elegant game design, with a different multi-step, dice-heavy submechanic for every major option in the game, but the new reference sheets make the game playable. Still, like other card driven games, the narrative produced as you guide your pirates through their careers is very strong and quite entertaining.

The game has built in solo-player capability, so now that I've digested the game rules fully I'm going to try a game or two in the coming week to see if playing without having to check the tome of knowledge every 2 minutes further improves my opinion.

Kingmaker was great fun, and Steve did a wonderful job of guiding Chris and I through a rules refresher. I can't wait to start the War of the Roses BattleLore campaign. Heck, we have the luxury of a Charles S. Roberts award winning designer setting it up for us! We'll have to see how many dwarf cow riders the Marshal of England rates.

In other news, Chris and I are looking at playing Master of Orion 2 real-time via the web very soon. I think I've edited all my config files and firewall setting properly now... Anyone else in?


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