Sunday, May 24, 2009

Marathon Gaming

Saturday started with Ben and I breaking out FFG's 4th ed Talisman with the Dungeon expansion and the Grim Reaper tromping around. Scott, Travis, Michael and Tiffany showed up and while most looked at our game with bemused interest, Michael jumped in with a Dark Cultist and started loading up on craft. I had the Amazon (which Steve had guided to runaway victory the last time we played) and Ben had some fighty guy (the Gladiator? I can't remember). Once again, while Michael was becoming ever more crafty, the Amazon ran back and forth through the Dungeon and mopped up all the creatures, got some muscles, and ran to the Crown of Command for the win. The Amazon's ability to roll two dice for movement and choose one is much more powerful than it sounds. It opens up at least four spaces to land on each turn instead of the normal two, which is really a huge advantage since you never really have to go anywhere that is NOT productive. Plus, the Dungeon has a large complement of monster cards rather than just the events and places that come up in the main deck, so I think it provides a more efficient means of loading up on experience (and therefore ramping up stats) than the main regions. Still, I never once went into the Dungeon in our second game, so take that for what it's worth.

Travis, Scott, and Tiffany played Dune and I'm sure that the spice flowed. They can contribute their experiences in the comments section.

Brian and Jacqui showed up, and with Travis and Tiffany, they broke out Le Havre. (I heard that the game ended up with some playing pieces in Jacqui's clothes, so it must have been an entertaining game.) The rest of us broke out Battlestar Galactica and played with the Valley of Darkness variant ruleset (AKA the Human Meatgrinder in Space) that Brian linked to in an earlier post. It does a few interesting things:

1) It adds some new characters which got mostly favorable reviews (the character of Dee turned out to be surprisingly interesting, with both a Communications ability that was very useful and a Timid handicap that limits Dee to contributing cards to skill checks based on the maximum cards contributed to that point from any one source).

2) It removes Roslin's auto-scout ability, making her almost unplayable (her only advantage now is her card draw selection). I can live without Roslin in every game, but the handicap is pretty severe.

3) It nerfs Investigative Committee by moving the ability to "face up" the Destiny Deck cards to a blue strategy card instead. I like the handicap of the IC, but I think it was also put in with the aim of making blue cards more useful, and it still doesn't really do that, since almost no one draws blue cards.

4) It moves the sleeper phase to the middle of the third jump. A wash.

5) It adds a second crisis to the second point on the jump track. This was clearly the biggest balance change in the game. Two crises back to back without a chance to reload on cards is hard enough. The fact that ships activate but jumps don't make these crises almost sure wins for the Cylons every time. Again, the verdict on this was mixed. I think Michael didn't mind this change, but Michael was a Cylon both times we played (I know--who would have ever believed it?). Jon and I found it to be maybe a little too much of a beatdown. Time will tell on this one. I wil say that this one rule dimmed my eagerness to play with it again. Still, time will tell.

Both games we played were five-player affairs, with Ben, Scott, Michael, Jon, and myself playtesting the new ruleset. The Cylons won the first game in probably the bloodiest massacre I've ever seen in this game. Two Cylons (Michael and Jon, who sat next to each other) were dealt out on the initial deal, and both being Cylons from the beginning and sitting next to each other is already a pretty significant advantage for the Cylon side. With the extra detrimental crises and an extreme lack of jump track advancing crisis cards (I think we counted 7 advances out of 20 crisis cards played), the outcome was determined pretty much by the end of the second or third turn. (At one point, 14 light raiders were activated, with 6 of them taking out the cowering civilian fleet and 8 of them taking potshots at Galactica.) Frakkin' toasters.

The second game featured Scott and Michael (also sitting next to each other) as Cylons. Although the extra crisis each jump hurt the humans, the good guys almost made it to Kobol. But with victory in their hands on the last turn, the navigation computers were a bit off (the choices were a 1 jump when the humans needed 2, or a 3 jump that would have consumed all remaining fuel). Galactica stopped just short of Kobol, where the Cylons caught up to them and picked off enough civilian ships for another toaster win.

Travis departed at the end of Le Havre, and Scott, Michael, Jon, Ben and I played a second game of Talisman while Brian and his family played Quirkle (if I recall correctly). People came and went, with Brian playing the role of The Toad, Tiffany playing the role of Everyone That Had To Abandon Their Characters Due to Family Obligations, Michael trying desperately to teach spellcasters the error of their ways with a reflection spell (he finally taught himself the lesson of not healing someone else), Jon getting the quick heave-ho from the Grim Reaper, and me as the Prophetess building a pretty balanced character and turning Michael, my closest pursuer, into a toad while stepping through the Portal of Power into the Inner Region and winning by concession. The victory conditions get easier and easier--I think we're officially down to setting foot in the Inner Region as the auto-win. Again, Jon really really likes this game. Or he really hates it--I can't remember which.

The next game was Small World, with Brian, me, Michael, Jon, and Tiffany. Tiffany started out well with the Hill Wizards, but Brian came in with Diplomatic Sorcerers and cut off her routes of conquest. Jon got the pesky Ratmen and ran wild across the top half of the board. I got the Flying Skeletons. Skeletons move very slowly--they get an extra counter for every two occupied regions they conquer. This means they need four conquests to get two additional tokens every turn, which means twelve attacking counters each turn (two per region, one per the minimum occupier to count as "occupied"). Needless to say, this doesn't ever happen, so they essentially need help from the reinforcement die (which as a rule is very unhelpful--I swear five sides are blank, I just can't find them all when I count them), or they get only one extra counter a turn (assuming two occupied regions conquered a turn, which is doable). When you're forced to attack every turn to take advantage of your racial power, you don't make many friends, so you tend to lose at least one counter a turn, which means the racial power is pretty much a wash. Bottom line--I'm not such a big fan of the skeletons. (My first turn was 3 VP and my second turn was 5 VP when most other people were earning 7 or 8.) But I made up for them with the Merchant Amazons. An extra 4 armies when attacking and 2 VP for every occupied territory is nothing to kick out of bed. Again, they're another race that really has to keep conquering to generate VP (in other words, they can't play defensively), and they make enemies quickly as well, as witnessed by my getting knocked down from 7 occupied spaces to 1 occupied space between my turns and almost getting completely exterminated by both Jon and Tiffany.

Michael, meanwhile, played the game of misdirection perfectly, playing his defensive Trolls in a quiet area of the board and playing everyone off everyone else. With his Trolls too formidable and too unreachable to really attack (and only 8 turns to play, giving us precious few opportunities to bring new races onto the board), he squeaked out the win over Brian, 89-87.

While the others were Rock Banding and eating, Tiffany and I played another game of Small World to try out the two-player mechanic. I got fortunate with a Spirit race on the first turn (sticking around even with a second race in decline--invaluable at the beginning of the game, not so great at the end) as well as Merchant Amazons (again) and won the game. Brian reminded us that Vinci involves an auction for first turn, and I think this is probably a good idea, as our game largely came down to me winning the right to go first. I'll have to remember to try an auction next time.

Steve came by and we fiddled with a hi-def antenna with the Worst Instructions In The World (tm) because apparently Time Warner Cable's cables don't like rain. (The cable came on every time we started seriously reading the instructions to bypass the cable with the hi-def antenna, which was a little disconcerting.) We watched some basketball for a while then broke out Ticket to Ride: Marklin (Steve, me, Brian, Tiffany, and Jon) while Michael rooted on his Nuggets and provided us musical accompaniment with some of the more difficult Rock Band songs. The passenger mechanic adds another dimension to your planning in this game--not only is the dilemma one of "Do I draw cards or place my track," but now is also "Do I draw cards, place my track, or run my passenger?" I ignored the passenger mechanic for most of the game and just collected cards. Fortunately, everyone else fought over the short routes, leaving me time to pile up cards and lay down long routes without much competition. A fortunate draw of an already completed long route on the last turn helped me get enough points to win, although I'm sure that drawing tickets away from everyone else's routes helped me a lot more.

We finished the night by watching Kobe Bryant do a strange jaw thrust and a swan dive onto the court, the Lakers scratch out Carmelo Anthony's eyes, and Kenyon Martin inbound the ball to the wrong team, all adding up to a Laker victory in Denver to take back home-court advantage in the series. That was well over 12 hours of gaming. Thanks to all who came over--it was fun (well, maybe not for Carmelo).


At 10:24 AM, May 24, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael's comments from my placeholder, copied over to this thread:

Michael says:

To respond to your placeholder.

That BSG variant is unspeakably bad. There is no balance. Realistically unless someone chooses a horrible character aka either Boomer character, the cylons should NEVER lose. Even if there are no initial cylons. There is absolutely no incentive to remain hidden as a cylon as the stunted human progress will only need a minimum push to teeter past the brink.

The guy who designed that has absolutely no sense about how poorly balanced this is. Even the characters are ridiculously stupid. There is absolutely no reason to play half of them and there are several for which the opposite is true.

I agree with Ben. I won't play it again.

Full disclosure: I tried a couple of solitaire games combining this variant with the posted solitaire rules. It is UNWINNABLE with moderate luck. The extra crises and extra ship moves add up very very quickly. (Hint: The solitaire game is basically UNLOSABLE under the original rule set barring horrendous luck with the crisis cards).

At 10:54 AM, May 24, 2009, Blogger Michael said...

Thanks again for hosting. I don't think I pulled many punches in the above, but I also think I was 100% fair in what I said.

I know Ben agrees.

At 11:56 AM, May 24, 2009, Blogger Tiffany said...

I can sayt hat Talisman as the pinch hitter make up for slack character who has no clue what is going on is not optimal. I think I can take or leave the game as a whole.

The two player Small World wasn't bad. I just got all the OK race/skill combinations while you got all the fantastic ones. I do like Small World a lot better than Vinci.

TTR:Marklin was fun. A very different twist on the usual TTR stuff with the passengers. And we did all get clogged on one side of the board. Ah well.

Having now played Le Havre with 2-4 players I think I like 3 and 4 best. Something needs to be done to add more special cards or at least make them more easily accessible. Some of the promo cards do building drafting, and some of those buildings seem to border on almost broken. We shall have to see.

All in all it was a good day of gaming. Thanks again for hosting.

At 12:37 PM, May 24, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the benefit of Dennis when he gets back from jolly old England:

UFC 2009: Undisputed A Solid Hit, Industry Analyst Concludes.

At 12:44 PM, May 24, 2009, Blogger Ben said...

Now this is what I call a SESSION REPORT! Awesome job in capturing a wonderful day of gaming.

Even two sessions of epic bend-overage in variant BSG were fun. I have never hoped so badly to be a Cylon, picking Baltar both times to maximize my odds, but alas, the fates were unkind.

I enjoy Talisman. Its good, silly fun, in my opinion. Jon's double ones against the Reaper was a classic table launch moment. Despite being in the cellar most of both games, the highlight of my experience was finally slaying the Love Dwarf.

See you all in a few weeks...


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