Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A post about gaming

Once upon a time, there was a blog about gaming. And then something altogether unforeseen appeared on that blog...a gaming session report! Who would have guessed?

On Monday evening, Brian and I played the de rigueur game of waiting for other people to show up (also known as Race for the Galaxy). Brian got his developments going and beat my settle x 2/ military strategy. I dropped four military worlds on the last turn but still wasn't that close. (Still, settling four worlds in one turn was fun.)

Pat, Ann, Sean, and Tiffany all appeared and we pulled out Brian's copy of Shadow Hunters. This is a hidden role and hidden team game along the lines of Werewolf with some of the item manipulation of Kutschfahrt thrown in. Everyone gets a role card and is either a Hunter (good), Shadow (evil), or Neutral (neutral). Hunters win when the Shadow team is dead. Shadows win when the Hunter team is dead. Neutrals each have their own victory condition, which include things like "You win if you are the first character to die," or "You win if you acquire five inventory items" or "You win if you kill any character after two other characters are already dead." Action cards come in three flavors, Church (heal or prevent damage, take an extra turn, favor good characters), Cemetery (increase damage, attack more characters, favor evil characters), and Hermit cards. Hermit cards are used to gather information about roles. They each have a character type (Hunter, Shadow, or Neutral) and an action, and the person who draws it reads it silently and then passes it face down to another player of their choice. If that player is a character of that type, then the recipient must complete the action on the card (things like "Give an item to the person who gave you this card" or "Take 2 damage"), thereby revealing part or all of their identity to the person who passed them the card. If the recipient is not that type of character, then they simply state "That card doesn't affect me." Interestingly, one evil character (named "The Unknown") can lie about the Hermit card and is not obligated to respond to the card even if it says "Do this action if you're a Shadow character," so that can kind of throw things a bit.

Every person rolls a six-sided and four-sided die and adds the values and moves to a location with that value listed on it (each possible sum is listed on one and only one location). The location you move to gives you a possible action for that turn, things like "Draw from the Good deck" or "Draw a hermit card" or "Heal a point of damage" or "Take an item from someone else." After executing the power of the location they moved to, a player may then attack any character that is at their location or a neighboring one. This is accomplished by choosing someone and then rolling the d6 and d4, with the damage given to the target equal to the difference between the two dice. (Needless to say, there were a few zero damage attacks at inopportune times).

Each character can also reveal themselves and use a special power, things like "Damage someone else once per game" or my favorite, the Vampire: "When you damage someone, heal yourself at the same time." But once you're revealed, expect the other characters to come after you, because chances are that most of the players in the game will want a revealed character dead to help satisfy their victory condition.

So the six of us got in two games of this, and it was a lot of fun. It felt like a more structured, shorter Werewolf (perhaps Sean can attest to this better than I, since I think he's played Werewolf a time or two). While table talk is not prohibited, our games had a little less bargaining and negotiating than in a typical Werewolf game. (That would probably change if Michael was playing.) My favorite mechanic is that information about roles that is revealed with Hermit cards is gathered only by the person passing the card rather than the whole table, so it requires some conjecture based on who has elicited actions from whom and how they're acting now towards that person. Items are fun but not overpowering, although you HAVE to use items you have if you can, and that can lead to some mildly tough choices (like I had with the machine gun that lets you damage ALL characters in your attack range rather than one target of your choice...but you HAVE to damage all characters if you choose to attack--you can't choose to attack but NOT use the machine gun if you have it). Plus, the good deck favors good characters (and can hurt evil ones) and the evil deck favors evil characters (and can hurt good ones)...so is the person who just chose to draw from the good deck actually a good character? Or are they just trying to make everyone else THINK they are?

Bottom line: definitely worth several plays at least. Knowing how we like our hidden role games, our group should enjoy this for a while. There's an expansion that will be published by Z-Man that will add more characters and items--details are on their front page. My minor concern is that after a few games it may get somewhat easy to guess who has what character (especially the neutrals because their win conditions are so specific and end up eliciting behavior and choices different from the typical good/evil character actions), so the added cards should help with replay value.


Then we pulled out FITS. This is Tetris without the lateral movement of the pieces. Everyone has a playboard and the same pieces in their inventory. Each piece in a specific color, though, is unique--there's only one square, one L with four squares, one 3-square straight piece, and so on. But every player has one square, every player has a four-square L--you get the idea. A deck of cards, each card with one specific piece on it, gets turned over one at a time and everyone picks up that piece out of their inventory and either places it at the top of their board and slides it down into place (no moving it side to side once it's on its way down), or passes and discards the piece. Once every piece is played or discarded, each player scores their board, with bonuses for completed rows and penalties for uncovered spots in the board. The kicker is that there are as many spots on the board as there are squares making up all the pieces. Discarding a five square + piece is guaranteed to leave you with five uncovered spots at the end (-1 point each), but placing it may actually render spaces under the symbol inaccessible and cost even more points. In practice we seemed to discard the + with some regularity but almost never any of the others.

Everyone plays four rounds, and each round's play board is different. The first round is just spots. Cover them up, get points. Leave them open, lose points. The second board has some spots replaced by numbers. Leave them uncovered, and that spot is worth positive points rather than the usual -1. The third round has positive AND negative numbers. Numbers left uncovered score that many points, positive OR negative. The last one has paired symbols. Leave both members of a pair uncovered, score +3 points. Leave just ONE of the members of a pair uncovered, however, and you score -3 points.

Overall this was enjoyable as well--it plays quickly, the concept is easy to understand, and it has the requisite amount of frustration to make you want to try again. Too bad there are only four playsets, so only four people can play at once. Potentially, someone could buy another set and we could play 5-8 people at the same time as well--perfect for those times where we're all sitting around and can't decide what to play.

Brian's friend Kevin then showed up and Pat and Ann departed. We then pulled out Say Anything. As Brian succintly put it, this is Wits and Wagers with phrases instead of numbers. It basically involves one player asking a question and then everyone else writing down possible answers to that question. Once those answers are revealed, the person asking the question secretly chooses the answer they think is best. Then everyone places bet tokens by the answers that they think the questioner picked as the best answer (like W&W, everyone has two tokens--you can put one on one answer and one on another, or put two tokens on one answer). The questioner reveals their pick and the bet tokens are scored. Go around twice (so that everyone has asked two questions) and you're done.

It's a social game that gets its humor and challenge from people knowing something about the other people playing rather than about obscure facts like Wits and Wagers. As Kevin noted, this put him at a fair disadvantage, but he was a great sport and still did really well. This type of game is ok but not really my cup of tea. I tend to like trivia games like Smarty Party rather than more open-ended games such as this. A fair number of the questions were not really that funny, and one of them was a bit uncomfortable--Sean's question was "Name something I would never do, even if my life depended on it." Well, two of us said "Hurt/kill your children." Ok, good times! I mean, it's the obvious answer for anyone with kids, but it wasn't particularly enjoyable to write it or bet on it once revealed. Your mileage may vary.

We got in one more game of FITS with Kevin, Brian, Tiffany and myself, and we went our separate ways, with me still getting home in time to watch the second half of the Brett Favre show.

Ok, folks. Gaming has been hard to come by recently (we missed a Monday at Dragon's Lair? Really? When was the last time that happened?), and as a result, this blog has been dying a slow death. I miss hearing from some of the old regulars. Time to pick it up and drop in every now and then with a post or two. I'm likely going to host this weekend and will put up a planning post by Thursday evening with the specific date (maybe earlier), so that'll be a good chance to at least get an RSVP in and let us know who is still alive.


At 6:58 PM, October 06, 2009, Blogger Ben said...

Great report!

We should have plenty of content during / after BGG Con (e.g. won easily...).

I would encourage everyone to post your general thought and musings on the hobby in addition to the standard issue planning stuff.

At 8:31 PM, October 06, 2009, Blogger Brian said...

I'm voting for an all day Sunday gaming (although I probably can only make after lunch). The full weekend is OK, too.

There are a fair number of variants for Shadow Hunters out there (and lots of variant characters). Right now the only thing I'm sure of is that I'm going to remove the Hermit card that forces your opponent to show his character. Where's the fun in that?

Also, after looking at the forums, table talk is allowed, with the exception that you can't reveal hermit cards.

At 8:37 PM, October 06, 2009, Blogger Brian said...

On the very very minor chance that anyone cares, there's a sectional bridge tournament this weekend. (I'm in Austin Fri/Sat, but may play Sat or Sun night, and maybe monday, although I'd need to find a team. I had been hoping monday would have gaming, though).

Incidentally, if people want to learn to play, I'm willing to teach. Ideally four of you would be interested and have a set time. (The best way to learn is just to start playing for a few hours at a time and asking questions as they arise).

At 8:38 PM, October 06, 2009, Blogger Brian said...

Or you can take free lessons on Friday nights ... see http://www.tcdbc.com/

At 10:47 PM, October 06, 2009, Blogger seanp said...

Shadow Hunters was a blast to play - I'd happily play it again, even though the innocent bystanders (Neutrals) feel very impossible to win with -- that may be a function of playing with 6, but I don't think so - and it seems like once the players are really familiar with goals you could spot the goal-seekers a mile away.

The key to Werewolf is discussion, interrogation, reading people - deduction, certainly, but a lot of induction and learning when to believe your hunches. This game has a lot of deduction, but not much bluffing or discussion... Perhaps it could, but it doesn't foster it by default.

This doesn't steal my heart away from Kutchsfart, but was plenty of fun and very original. I think with play that the default strategy of "hurt everyone equally" won't be the best way to start - it will be interesting to see how this one evolves.

At 6:12 AM, October 07, 2009, Blogger Ben said...

"Steal my heart away from Kutschfart..."

This will be a song on the SABG: The Musical soundtrack, with original cast recording, of course.

At 7:53 AM, October 07, 2009, Blogger Rob said...

I played Shadow Hunters in Houston early this year. I was a girl.... prob the weakest character in the game? Anyway, one of the shadow characters figured me out quickly with one of the question cards, and just PUMMELED me. I was the first character to get one of these cards, so nobody felt comfortably supporting either side of the conflict (the table was full of newbs too).

That's all I remember about it, but it seemed very fun from the sidelines... after being quickly eliminated.

At 9:08 AM, October 07, 2009, Blogger Anne said...

I got a kick out of Shadow Hunters. I really need to work on Daniel's Scream.

Re Bridge: I'm not averse to getting back into some bridge games, I still have some books in a box somewhere, too.

If there be weekend gaming, Sunday is best for me.


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