Monday, November 30, 2009

Blah blah blah

Random things that have passed through my head recently (about gaming):
  • My son asked to play Heroscape. I kinda want to play, but the desire to set it all up and have to put it away later is much much lower.
  • Cult of the New count so far this year is around 60 games thus far.
  • I played Sunken City with my son sometime or other, but I have apparently lost that play. I went back and added a play on some random date in Oct. I wonder how many other plays I've forgotten to add
  • Forgot to add Khronos and Magna Grecia from Friday night...
  • The new Steam expansion sounds pretty cool - new maps and a stock variant to the game. And yet... When I find something I like, I don't feel like looking for something new. That's why it took me forever to even try Steam. I like Age of Steam, so why would I need to try something else - I KNOW it won't be as good (and while I liked parts of Steam, I still like AoS better). I like Chicago Express, so why would I need another stock game? And yet, I'm intrigued. I'd like to know if I can scratch both the AoS and CE itch at the same time.
  • I got a set of dice off ebay - something of an upgrade for the micro dice that came with Union vs Central. I have nearly enough for a second set. I need to play this game and see if it is worthy of a card upgrade.
  • I ordered my BGG Secret Santa gift like a week ago from a Canadian company (since my target is in Canada) and they had shipped the gift out in like an hour. Awesome. The gift was wrapped (at least it was supposed to be) and included a small note about how Santa lives in the warm weather, not the cold North. I sent A Castle For All Seasons. I was able to get the Winter promo cards from Rio Grande for $4. I'll send those out with a card when I get them from Jay. That is about the extent of the clue giving and so forth I'm up for :)
  • I got my Secret Santa gift this last week. Two really - a game and a card game. I peeked under the wrapper to see what the game was (so I could update my wishlist appropriately and so I can figure out trades and such up through Christmas). I didn't "unwrap" it though - it sits under our tree ATM. I didn't look at the card game. I was guessing it might be Gubs, but the box is more "double deck" sized (ala Tichu or something). Gubs was the only card game on my list, so either they re-packaged it, or I truly have a surprise.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Game Night

Friday Nov. 27, 2009 - My house. I hadn't intended to play games this Friday night, as my wife was going out and I was watching the kids. However, I got a call that Matthew Frederick and Amelia Boli were in Mesa, so they stopped by for a little gaming. We started out the night with Khronos, which Amelia had played a few years ago, but was new to Matthew and I. I've had this one for a while now, but hadn't got it to the table yet. Though the rules make sense for the most part, the concept is somewhat fourth dimensional and can take a little bit to wrap your head around. It is quite an interesting game with a unique theme - essentially, you control a pair of time travelers that can move between three eras (might, faith, and reason). There are three types of buildings which can be built and depending on where, when and what size they are when built, can effect a "ripple" through time - thus changing the face of other boards. In once sense, this is an area control game played on three boards. Of course, the time effects keep it from being that simple. I found it to be pretty interesting, though a little bad luck (and poor planning) kept me from doing better at the end of the game. I do like that the way you can change the buildings by doing something in the age of might or faith and it allows for some tricky planning. Though I understand the game, I might have a harder time teaching it. I'd like to give this another go though. I was actually thinking that an online implementation of this would be super, as it would make things easier to see - it was sometimes harder to "see" what your changes might do. Also, three seemed a good number for this game. It is supposed to play five players, but I could see the downtime being an issue as there is almost nothing to do when it is not your turn (though it is still interesting see the boards all evolve. Amelia won with 29pts, Matthew and I were close to each other with him having 22 and I had 21.
After Khronos, we decided on another "new" game in Magna Grecia. This was another game I've had sitting on my shelves for quite a while. This game is about building a network of roads, cities, and markets. Each round a tile indicates what actions a player may take, and the order that they will take them in. In this way, the players should fairly, though randomly, have the same number of firsts and lasts in the turn order and everyone is allowed the same amount of actions. You build up a network and try to make yours the "most important" by connecting to other places. You can piggyback on other players' places, but typically this costs you more than it does for them so you won't make as much. It was an interesting game, but it probably plays better with four players than three. In our game, Matthew and I were in early competition with each other and it somewhat left Amelia alone until later in the game - at which point she was able to take a lot of points from Matthew. I finished a distant third at 26 points to Matthew's 37 and Amelia's 42.
Despite my rather poor showing, this was a fun evening and I got to play a couple new games. I'd definitely like to play Khronos again. Though probably not part of the "regular" rotation, it's unique mechanics call for at least an occasional chance to hit the table.

Game Night

Friday Nov. 13, 2009 - Gamer's Inn. I must be getting old. It used to be that I'd want to hit the game night as early as possible to get in as many games as I could. Now I'm satisfied with getting in a couple of new games, or a decent old favorite. This particular Friday started with Nathan Winchester and I grabbing some Indian food. That has nothing to do with gaming other than I wanted a decent dinner more than I wanted to go play something dumb. At any rate, once we got to the Gamer's Inn, there were a number of folks playing games, and one table where someone had setup Android and was waiting for folks to join her. That didn't hold much interest for us, so we sat down and Matthew Frederick, Matt Cullinan and Amelia Boli joined us. Since we had five and I'd heard that was the ideal number for Oasis, I pulled that out and Matthew and Matt explained the game. The game is pretty straight forward and along the lines of Ticket to Ride in terms of difficulty (not surprising as it is an Alan Moon game). Like TtR, there is a decent amount of subtle depth to the game, which meant of course that I was not going to come close to winning. Matt was the first to place his camels, and since I was the second person to do so, I chose to cut him off. Amelia and Matthew then followed suit and cut me off, which was the beginning of the end for me. As is also typical in games where everyone bashes me - Nathan quietly did his thing and ended up killing us by a wide margin.
After Oasis, Nathan bailed to join Dion Garner in some game that nobody had played or read the rules for before. And though I like playing with Dion, I do not enjoy trying to learn new games that he is explaining/reading the rules to - especially a new Wallace game. So, Noah Antwiller sat down in Nathan's place and we agreed to play Atlantic Star. Atlantic Star is a card game where you are picking cards to try and make 4 different "sets". There is a limit to the cards you can hold before you must turn in a set, and sets that are all the correct color earn a bonus. And of course, your sets are competing with the other player's sets - the higher valued sets of each color score more points. We screwed up early on and didn't take out the first couple of sets turned in, which I don't think had an overall effect on the game - it definitely helped me out by a factor of NONE. This was my first playing of this and it showed. Matthew was the only player behind me - because he screwed himself up thinking one of the routes had an 'F' component (when it did not), and he had to screw his longest route. I ended up with exactly half of Amelia's points when we totaled it all up and she was declared the winner. This is actually a bit lighter and is probably a good gateway game. If there was one universal complaint about the game, it was the theme. Everyone else at the table has played Showmanager before (Atlantic Star is the remake). Everyone also agrees that the Showmanager theme is vastly superior to the "making cruise ship routes" theme of Atlantic Star. I didn't really care, but I can certainly see where the Showmanager theme would be much more interesting, as I hardly noticed or thought about the theme here at all.
After our cruise lines game was finished, I pulled out Chaos in the Old World. I really wanted to give 4-players another go. Matthew, Noah, and I were joined by Greg Perschbacher. I explained the game in about 10 minutes and off we went. Matthew and I both chose to play factions we hadn't before and so Greg was Khorne, Noah was Slaanesh, Matthew was Nurgle, and I was Tzeentch. About halfway through the game I realized a couple of things. Tzeentch starts slow and the hits harder towards the end of the game with loads and loads of point - evidenced by the zero points I had through half the game. I was very near corrupting three zones, which would have scored an enormous number of points for me. Nurgle is an early game faction - they need to score early and often before their zones get corrupted. Khorne is Khorne - they need to hit everyone. Period. Slaanesh needs to avoid everyone. Noah managed to keep Khorn off his back and was making a killing on the dial. After he had double dial'd a couple of times, we ganged up on him to slow him down, but he finished the game off around the 5th turn with another double dial move that none of us could match. I really enjoy this tactical game. Despite the fact that the Old World cards can really turn the game in favor (or out of favor) for a faction really quickly, the game plays so quickly that it doesn't bother me at all. Our playing was a whopping 75 minutes including setup and rules explanation. I've found playing three different factions to be fun and didn't dislike any of the ones I've tried. I'd happily play any faction in a future playing.
After Noah whipped up on us, we finished the night with a quick game of No Thanks! I took a couple of low cards and teens early on, then got lucky and connected almost all the teens together. This was enough for me to pull out a win. Overall a good night, playing two more of my games I hadn't tried before and playing two other quick yet satisfying games.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Random Game Thoughts

Random gaming thoughts while I wait on builds and stuff.
  • I can't decide if I want to play At the Gates of Loyang. I've heard that is is better than Agricola and Le Havre. I've heard it has way too much downtime and AP. I'm pretty cyclical in my playings - I'll get out of playing heavy and long AP games, then get bored of fluffy games and go back. My recently played slate is fairly non-heavy (Chaos in the Old World, Atlantic Star, Oasis,, easy version of Steam, A Castle For All Seasons, Notre Dame), so maybe I'm just in a "lighter" cycle ATM. Right now, a brain burner would be ok, but sitting around waiting does not.
  • Since I published my "unplayed" list at the end of September, I have played 7 of the 73. Not bad in under two months (really only 4 game nights). There were also three other new games (and one new expansion) that I've tried that weren't on that list.
  • Still on the radar: Khronos, Imperial, Shogun keep calling. And Senji. And Union vs Central.
  • I've now played Chaos in the Old World three times (once at each of my last three gaming sessions). This is a little rare for me to be able to get a game out and get it played each session. It is nice though - I'm plenty happy to report I like this game a lot and have found that other than the first game, this game is really pretty quick. This last 4-player game I was in really finished in about an hour after we explained the game. It is interesting - each faction not only plays differently, but is paced differently. Slanesh and Khorne have a steady feel to them. Tzeentch starts slow, but can really come on when the areas get corrupted. Nurgle needs to jump out of the gate early before the populous areas disappear from the board. The only problem I have with the game is that the Old World cards can really tip the game. Everyone has to understand this and really work together to bash the player that has an advantage. In our last game, there were no heroes on the board to slow down Slanesh and that player had two turns of awesomeness, which was too many. Other than that, this is good fun in a short amount of time.
  • I lied - I have one other complaint. In three games, at least two of the cultists have had their standards broken off. Cool looking - yes, but the flimsy little things were never going to last. That's obvious. Why did they bother with that design?
  • Mayfair is releasing an "upgrade" set of locomotives for Steam - for $25 ($20 at an online retailer). That's about $0.14 for each little wooden train (which is not terrible). While I'm happy with the disks, I know that the market for upgrade bits has taken off a little (as evidenced by Agricola). Now, I'm all for the little bits upgrades, but really - $25?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Where to Roll the Dice

Ok, a little while back, I saw a post on the BGG about a free dice tower. I sent off a reply and was one of the lucky ones, so I'm finally getting around to talking about the tower in full. First off, the point of a dice tower is two-fold. First the thing should "roll" the dice such that it would be impossible for someone to cheat. Secondly, it should keep the dice confined so that they aren't flying off the table or across the board and disturbing the pieces. Beyond that, a dice tower is really just for show. So, how well does the cardboard "Dice Turret" work? It works well. The cardboard is sufficiently thick and scored such that folding and assembling the thing is pretty easy. The instructions are a bit hard to follow at first, but the designer put together a youtube video that shows how easy the thing is to assemble and it really was. It handles a load of dice well and keeps everything in play (though I didn't drop a D4 nor a D20). All in all it works well. Should you get one? They cost $10.99 including shipping. If you don't have a dice tower and play games with dice, this is a good choice. It's white cardboard, so you can decorate it however you like. Measurements are: Tower - 8 1/2" H x 3 5/8" W x 3 5/8" D, Tray - 9" x 4 1/4". Basically, not too big and not too small.
If you don't want one of these, what other options do you have? Well, you can just get a dice tray. I have one of those too - a tray from Deluxe Yahtzee that I picked up at Goodwill. This works fine for keeping the dice in place, but isn't as cool as a tower (and technically would allow a "dice handler" to cheat - not really a concern for me). If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I've made a couple towers from foam core. I liked these - they are pretty easy to make and sound pretty decent. I went out and bought a sheet of foam core to see how much cost and effort it would be to make one again. The tower I made was large: Tower - 10" H x 4.25" W x 4" D, Tray - 10.24" L x 4.25" W. Though my dimensions aren't much bigger, the size difference is a lot. The sides are taller too, which I found to actually be a disadvantage - its harder to see the dice. Cost-wise, my tower cost about the same or slightly more (foam board, felt pad, toothpicks, texture paint) and it took me much longer to put together since I had to measure everything, cut it out, poke holes, etc. Is mine "nicer"? Sure, but again, there is a level of effort that a lot of people just don't have in them. Also, the design of my foam tower is such that it doesn't come apart. A lot of towers come off the tray and rest in it, making it easier to tote around.
There are a couple of other commercially available towers that I know of. Blue Panther has a couple of wooden ones you can get. The under $10 one has almost no tray to speak of - I think I'd skip this one. Their other is about $13 wooden guy measuring 7.75" high by 3.75" wide by 3.75. I'm not clear if you have to assemble this one or not, but the price doesn't include shipping (unless you are buying $150 worth of games from B&B). I might order one of these to see what it is like. Chessex still makes a clear plastic dice tower for around $15+. I've seen this one and while it certainly works, I didn't care for the way it looked (it looked cheesy - please forgive the slight pun). It was also dinky. There are some expensive custom ones you could go for - wood, legos, etc. I'm not going to get into those at the moment. Anyway, for the Dice Turret, if you are interested, you can find them for sale on the BGG. They sound nice, work well and are really pretty quick and easy to put together.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Age of Steam vs Steam

After my session report from Friday night, Mike Garrett (aka The Fonz) said, "I'm trying to understand why you like AoS better. Steam seems to be superior from your description." Fair enough. Except that it isn't. But before I explain why, I want to point out that we played the BASIC rules for our game of Steam. The standard game has an auction for the actions / turn order. This is important, because the first reason that the original Age of Steam is superior to Steam is the auction / turn order mechanic. I like auction games, and the auction in AoS gives the game a lot of its tension. The players that manipulate the auction well typically do well. If you mis-manage the auction (spending for an action that nobody else was going to take, paying too much for early turn order, etc), you will lose the game. That's all there is to it. Ok you say, but you can play the auction in the regular Steam rules. Yes, that is true, but the other thing about AoS that has been lost is the shares. In AoS, the shares haunt you the entire game. You do not want to take out money before you need it, because you'll pay for it the rest of the game. Combined with the auction mechanic, there is a lot of tension in deciding if you should take that extra share. The Steam share mechanic allows you to get money at any time and you have the ability to pay it back almost immediately. I understand why they did it and it works out ok, but it makes the game much more soft and forgiving. Sorry, but I like AoS for its utter brutality. I don't need a dumbed down version so my wife will play this with me. She'd hate either version and I wouldn't enjoy trying to play either of them with her anyway. Now, that is not to say that I wouldn't play Steam again - I'm 100% sure I will. It does some things really well - like the good production and population of goods on Urbanization (almost to the point that Urbanization is retardedly overpowered now). I like the split point and income tracks, but the missing shares takes a lot of bite out of the game. And Steam isn't perfect. Haters like to point out that it bothers them that they have to run a circular route to make 5 or 6 hops when they can make a short run that is closer but makes less money for them - this hasn't changed at all. And I hate to admit it, but I really think I prefer the track counting in AoS to the simplified connection counting In Steam. On the flip side, I appreciate that Steam is much more manageable time wise. So there you have it - it isn't that Steam is superior (except for the production thing). I liked it and it did some things well. Some people could see those changes as making the game better than AoS, but I see it as watering down the original to make it more palatable for the general gaming populace. I'd still rather play the original. If there was only 90 minutes left in the night, I'd be happy to play Steam and scratch that itch. Given the right group of players though, I'd be more inclined to play the superior original.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Game Night

Friday Nov. 6,2009 - Gamer's Inn
Headed over to the Inn to meet up with Mike Gingold, Bobby Warren and the regulars. Noah Antwiller got there about the same time and the four of us sat down to start the night with a game of Tichu. Bobby and I roared out to the lead with a couple good hands and some terrible ones for Mike. We then missed two Tichu calls and Mike and Noah were running away with the game. It finally looked grim as they needed only 15 points for a win while we were still at 510. However, Bobby and I then went Tichu 1-2 and pulled ourselves up to competitive. The last hand saw us manage to grab 90 points, but we couldn't go 1-2 for the win and came up short.
After that, we had six of us (Matthew Frederick and Amelia Boli showed up) so we played a quick game of Liar's Dice. Noah was out first on the second call of the game and a couple turns later, it was my turn. Mike and Matthew made it to the end and Matthew finished with the win.
Next up for the night was a four player game of Steam using the basic rule set. Mike, Matthew, Noah, and I sat down to the German side of the board. Having not have played Steam before, I wanted to see how the basic rules changed the game. Essentially, Steam varies from Age of Steam by a couple things. For one, you take 'shares' out at the point you need money - you do this by moving your marker back one spot for each $5 you need. This one thing makes the game a little less stressful, but also speeds things up a lot. Second, when you move a good, you must either score on the income track or score victory points. This is normally not a tough decision, but near the end of the game, you have to balance out your spending or you can give up critical points. In the basic game like we played, you pick an action, and that determines the turn order for the next round. The "better" actions also cost money in addition to pushing you to the end of the turn order next round. Finally, the best change is the goods. Rather than random, there are sets of three goods in piles. When you choose the goods action or urbanization, you pick which goods pile you want. This is the best change of all of them and adds back a nice piece of strategy from a simplified version of AoS. Overall, it was good and faster than AoS. I'd rate this pretty high and I though I like AoS better still, I'd definitely chose this for a quicker AoS fix. I even managed to win this one. Charles:55, Noah: 50, Matthew: 48, Mike: 40-something.
We ended the night trying a three player game of Chaos in the Old World. Three player definitely changes the dynamic a little and I have to say that a second playing shows how fast this game can be. Mike, Matthew, and I finished in a little over an hour including explanation of the rules to Matthew. I was Slanesh, which meant I was trying to lay corruption in areas where there were noble markers or hero tokens. I was nailing huge sections, while keeping Matthew's Khorne forces from killing me. I ran the dial around very quickly and won. I think for three players, the game would be better without Khorne, as I was able to easily limit Matthew's ability to kill anyone.