Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Blah Blah Blah

Hola! Time again for another installment of "Things of No Interest". Now that I've had a chance to play Through the Ages (albeit the neutered version), I noticed that I've played 9 of the top 10 games on the BGG. The lone missing game? #10 - Caylus. I have not played #11 either (Brass), but I just traded Atlantic Star for a copy of Brass. Here's the thing about Caylus - I don't care. I've played Caylus Magna Carta (which is Caylus lite) and it was fine, but not interesting enough that I need to play Caylus. It is just another worker placement game, which is again - ok, but do I really need to play it?
Speaking of trades, I managed to move a bit of the cruft from my collection in the recent math trade - lots of card games, for another core set of A Game of Thrones LCG (despite never getting to play it, I somehow feel compelled to collect the cards and build decks) and Burp. Burp is an interesting looking little dexterity game that should go over well with my wife and kids. Five unplayed (and never will play) card games for one doofy game I'll play with my family? Good trade!
Going back to Through the Ages - one thing we didn't like was the teeny tiny little round wooden bits. I thought that perhaps the game would be better served with some glass bits (and as it turns out, the original used glass). The game comes with something like 190 yellow pieces (which is 48 a person). I'm not ever playing this four players, so I think I can get away with just getting 120ish. Time to hit Hobby Lobby.
Also on the "upgrading" front - I recently grabbed a set of the Mayday Euro Trains from Tanga. I ended up getting 8 colors (if natural is a color). The trains are different shapes (as if that makes them more interesting), but the are lighter and thinner than the ones from Mayfair. That doesn't mean they suck, I'm just pointing out the difference. We'll probably use them for Ticket to Ride. Maybe UP.
At the start of the year, I created a list of games to get rid of. So far so good and my list is down to 13 (14, but technically I've committed to riding myself of one of those already). The urge to own every game has gone away, though I still have a chunk of games I have no urge to get rid of, yet never get played. If my collection burned down in a fire, I probably wouldn't replace a bunch of them. I should probably figure out how to rid myself of them someday. Someday.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Online Games

Had a chance to get in a couple of online games versus Nathan Winchester the other day. We started with a game of GIPF. Nathan managed to beat me pretty easily. Between not paying enough attention and just not seeing the board, I think I took all of four of his pieces before losing. We then moved onto Hive. Here things got more interesting. I (white) started out wanting to hold his queen down so he couldn't move it but I didn't want a repeat of our last game where we were stuck next to each other, so I didn't place my queen right after Nathan (black). Well, Nathan jumped on that and pinned my second piece (spider) down. It was looking a lot like Nathan was going to thrash me again, and I was simply doing everything I could to try and keep him from pinning me. The screen shot is a picture of our game at the critical point. It was Nathan's move, and he should have been two moves from winning, with there being nothing I could do to stop him. And then he goofed. For no reason that we can figure, he placed his beetle in the only spot that could help me. I jumped on that chance to move my spider and consequently, pinned four of his pieces. Suddenly, I went from being dead, to being in the winning position. Nathan tried to pin my pieces down, but he had limited options and I only need a couple of moves to finish the turn around. Nathan doesn't usually make mistakes like that, so I count myself lucky to have stolen this win.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Through the Ages

Well, I saw a post about Through the Ages being on sale a couple weeks ago, so I finally pulled the trigger. This is one of those games that has all the potential to be a hit with me - good word of mouth, good rankings from the BGG community, a following that loved it despite all the early quality issues and a designer that has shown repeated excellence. To top it off, it might as well have been called "Civ The Boardgame" (except that a huge suck ass POS already exists with that name) as it basically recreates the PC game experience. I have held off on acquiring this one for some time, as I wanted to wait for a "good" printing of the game. I've been reluctant to try and trade for it for exactly this reason. Early English versions of the game had numerous printing errors and poor quality components which were corrected both in fix packs and in later printings. However, the cost for the game was still ridiculous ($80) for what was mostly a bunch of cards. However, I was able to pick up the newest edition for $37-ish, so it was time to play. Luckily for me, Nathan Winchester is/was also a Civ addict and was willing to drop in to play it. Got out the game and since it was the middle of the week, we simply played the basic game to get a handle on the mechanics and since we didn't really know how long it'd take. The basic game was perfect - just the right introduction and length. Lot of feel for the game, interesting decisions, but didn't throw too much at us to induce AP. Nathan built himself something of a points engine with a couple of wonders, but never changed/upgraded his government, so didn't try for another building. I went towards a bit more infrastructure and was making lots of food and resources, but my few actions each turn limited what I could do. In the end, I banged out a couple of upgrades to help my score. Nathan had a pretty big lead, but I made up a lot of that in happiness score and strength scores. Ultimately, I came up two points shy of Nathan's 50 points. Today, I read through some of the advanced rules and now I'm really eager to try the advanced or full games. The corruption and happiness pieces are interesting additions to the already fine juggling acts you have to do, and the military cards sound like icing on the cake. I'm sure the next game I play will be really long, but I can also see where once you have a better feeling for it, the game speeds up dramatically.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Union vs Central

Nathan Winchester stopped by on Saturday night so that we could finally play Union vs Central (a winsome 2-player game). We actually started the night with me teaching him to play Thunderstone. I had just sleeved the majority of the cards and wanted to give it another go. We used the base set of village cards, but randomized the heroes and monsters. With two players, it was a bit different than 5-players - mostly because our decks got fairly large. We also ended up having the Thunderstone as the second to last card in the deck. This meant we faced and killed 28 monsters between the two of us (compared to the say 4 or so I killed the previous night). Still, it isn't bad as a two player, just longer than I expected.
After we sorted out and picked up Thunderstone, it was on to the main event of the night (and early morning) - Union vs Central. Union vs Central is basically a card game about building rail lines. Each player plays the cards in front of them as they build things from their deck of cards (each has the same 90 card deck). Like a lot of CDGs, the cards are used for multiple things. Cards come in multiple types - land (clear, rough, desert, hills, and mountains), land features (rivers and forests), trains, settlements (depots, town, and cities), and events. Also on the cards are the number and types of goods the cards can be used for when producing goods. Finally, you must use a card to lay track - the backs of the cards have a track on them. There are 6 types of goods in the game (iron, coal, wood, food, water, workers) and pretty much everything but certain event types cost you some amount of goods if you want to play the card. On your turn you can do one of 4 actions:
  1. Dump your hand for a new hand (useful when you need to cycle through cards trying to find a certain type of card)
  2. Produce - you gain the goods listed on a card as well as produce goods on any cards already in play that produce something.
  3. Move - pay to move each train you wish to move. This action lets you maneuver your goods from place to place. Each train can move once a turn (if you can pay to move it)
  4. Play a card - paying if required.
So the game is pretty straight forward. You need tons of goods because nearly everything costs some amount of goods to build - most things cost at least one of each type of good. Movement costs one coal and one worker and trains can only carry a load of six goods - this is critical, as you typically have to take along a worker and coal lest you strand your train once it finishes moving. So moving goods to the end of your line so that you can extend your track on future turns is basically what you are doing. If you can, you enhance the territory so that you are producing extra goods and making life easier on yourself. Of course, if that's all there was to the game, it'd be boring as hell. Oh no - about 1/3 - 1/2 your cards are SERIOUS "take that!" cards. And when I say SERIOUS, I mean the kind of card that make you want to punch the other player in the jimmies kind of card. Because it is such an arduous task to get the goods you need and move them about, and since train cards are in limited supply in your deck, losing the ability to move your train, or worse - losing your train makes your life pure hell. It also makes the game really long. The "short" game is played to 8 rail. After 4.5 hours of playing, I had 6 rail and Nathan had just finished his 6th (well, he finished his 2nd 6th, since I wiped out the middle of his track in a mudslide about 30 minutes before that). It was 1:30 in the morning, so I called the game a draw as I was dead tired.
So what did I think? There are one or two cards that are flat out unfair (worse than the dreaded Bear Trap in Twilight Struggle). The best way to describe the feeling of playing the game would be like playing Agricola. Your goal is to get through the 14 turns (at which point your farm should be filled out). However, the other players can do things to you, which cause the game to reset 6 turns. So, there would be a flood card that would kill all but two family members, take any goods you had, and destroy all but the first column of stuff on your farm board (BTW - that is no exaggeration on the severity of a couple of cards in UvsC). So, imagine trying to finish Agricola when someone can do that to you every couple of turns. And while it is kind of funny to do, it sucks knowing that is going to happen to you too. There was a one hour stretch where I frustrated Nathan to no end - everytime he moved a train, I killed his goods and left him without the ability to move any train he had. That or I just killed his trains. He had to cycle his entire deck just so he could get back to his train cards. On the flip side of that, I ended up cycling my deck to get the one card that could get rid of the bandits he played on me. The bandits were stealing my goods each turn and I couldn't ever get to a point where I could do anything. Once Nathan got his trains back and was ready to move the 8 billion goods he had stockpiled, I played the war card which destroyed all the goods on both player's boards (I didn't care as the bandits had taken all of mine). Not only did that set him back a bit, it re-stranded all his trains again. And so on and so forth - that's how the game is.
I won't say the game wasn't interesting or fun - it was both of those. However, after 4 hours, we each were only halfway to the goal. Whether we got tired of bashing each other or got focused on our own stuff I don't know, but we both knocked out the next two pieces of track pretty quickly. The economies of the game made it look like the last two track (to get to 8) were going to take a VERY long time to get out. Given the nature of the game and the length of time it takes, I'm doubtful whether or not this will get played more than once a year. A couple of other knocks on the game: it is a Winsome game, so of course the quality is a bit low. The card decks are nothing more than cardstock with black ink printing. You have to wonder how long they would stand up. The edition I got came with a set of 90 micro dice for the goods. If I had tried to play with those, I'd have killed myself or quit playing in 15 minutes. As it was, I had upgraded the dice to 12mm and it was still a bit fiddly. With six types of goods, I'm not sure chips or wood bits would have been any better. We got a lot better with them after 3 hours of practice, but it was a little annoying. I'm not sure I want to keep this one in the collection. I don't play a ton of two player games, and this one is long and vicious. I'm not sure I'd pick this over Twilight Struggle or Hannibal if I was going to play a really long two-player game. I'd have to really be in a patient mood to handle all the crap this game throws at you.

Game Night

Friday Jan. 15, 2010 - Gamer's Inn
The day started with the ending of an online game of Tikal between Nathan Winchester, Chester Ogborn and myself. Tikal is one that I haven't played in a while and it showed. Chester and I both missed a play one round and "gave" Nathan a very easy 9-temple early in the game. We were playing with the random draws and Chester seemed to get a large majority of the artifact tiles which I think helped him seal the game up. In the second to last scoring, he was scoring at least 15 more points from just the artifacts than I was.
The actual game night started out with me seeing and purchasing a game that had just caught my attention a couple of days ago - Thunderstone. Thunderstone is best described as a dungeon crawl / fantasy themed Dominion. Now I liked Dominion, but not nearly as much as other folks. It felt very much the same each time I played despite the various combinations of cards. In fact, the cards just seemed to make a game longer or slower rather than fresh and new. I have not tried any of the Dominion expansions, but neither did I ever want to. Thunderstone caught my eye and after reading about it and seeing the video review, I was intrigued. Much like Dominion, you build a deck from a common pool of cards. However, you build the card deck to fight the monsters coming up out of the dungeon. There are always three monsters (at different depths) coming out and if your hand allows you to beat one of the monsters, you can fight it and gain XPs (which are currency for upgrading your Heroes) and the monster card which then gives you cash and in some cases a bonus ability (like more attack). You also score VPs from the monster cards - at least they are often useful, unlike Dominion where the VP cards just clog your deck. The monster decks are randomly chosen, as are the hero decks. Then an additional 8 village card types (equipment and such) are chosen. I unwrapped the game and Steve Bauer, James Smyth, Noah Antwiller and Matt Cullinan (yes, it plays 5-players in the base set) joined me to try it out. The rules are pretty straight forward (especially since all of us except James have played Dominion) and we got down to the basics pretty quickly. If you hate Dominion, you will likely hate Thunderstone. I prefer it given the theme and slightly more interesting play. The game ends when you burn through the monster deck - you place a Thunderstone card in the bottom third of the monster deck which signals the end game. This means the more players there are, the faster you will get through the monsters. Noah wacked a large number of the early monsters, but Steve hit upon the right combination with his deck and ended up winning by about 6 points.
After we cleaned that up, Steve and Noah explained Hermagor to us. This was one that kept showing up in the AZ Gamer's top 3 ratings, which meant I needed to try it - so much so that I used it as the "base game" in a purchase I made with an online shop to qualify for a couple other discounted purchases. So what is Hermagor? There are two parts to the game: a somewhat complex auction/bidding round followed by a marker-placement-type round. While it isn't a bad game, it reminded me a lot of Thurn and Taxis. I'm a little surprised that this has such exceedingly high marks from the local group. Again, not a bad game, but I guess I had much higher expectations going in.
Nathan Winchester and Matt Longiliere stopped in and Steve and Matt C took off. Brendan Coffee also decided to join us, so Noah pulled out his copy of the Ave Caesar reprint. We ended up playing 4 races because apparently we couldn't get enough of screwing with each other - I swear a couple of fights were going to break out. What was readily apparent to Noah and I was the fact that this new version sucks. It is waaaaay too easy to finish. In fact, in a 6 person game, we never had someone run out of points. What fun is that. Well, it still is a laugh to clog up the track and make folks run to the outside, but there was no tension. I'll stick to Q-Jet thank you.


Sunday Jan. 9, 2010
Ashton wanted to play something and suggested Battleball, which we hadn't tried in a while. He has been watching football a little this last fall, and asked about throwing the ball. I took a look at the rules and turns out that throwing the ball is pretty simple, so we decided to include that in the rules. I had a good run of luck with the dice and managed a total knockout of three of Ashton's men in the first half of the game which led to my scoring two easy touchdowns. He was a bit sad, but he didn't really play poorly - it was just one of those days for the poor guy. It is too bad this game is out of print. It is a good bit of fun for a simple roll and move football game.

Game Night

Friday Jan. 8, 2010 - Gamer's Inn
This evening started out with Nathan Winchester and I grabbing a bit of Indian for diner before heading to the Inn. There were not a lot of folks when we arrived, but shortly after that there were 5 of us, so Noah Antwiller pulled out Power Grid and one of the new maps. Two of the guys hadn't played before, so Noah started to explain. While he was in the midst of that, we had two more folks show up. Matthew and Amelia were also supposed to be arriving shortly, so Nathan and I bowed out of the Power Grid game and settled down to play Hive. Things were going fairly well, until we discovered that the game was going to be a draw. The last piece played would end up with us both being surrounded. I suppose it is fitting we played to a draw and now I wonder - if you can't play the queen first, and playing it second (as we both did) results in an easy tie condition, what do you play for the first couple of pieces? I still enjoy this simple and yet intriguing game.
We finished and were then joined by James Smyth and Doug Oppedahl. I pulled out Khronos for us as I wanted to try this again and Nathan had wanted to try this. I explained the rules (very poorly - besides being tired, I just confused a lot of things). The game was entertaining, but by the sixth (of seven) rounds, we realized how muddled I had done the rules. We forged ahead (playing wrong) and we all want to revisit the game, next time playing it correctly. I'm not even sure who won the game - Nathan or James. I still enjoy the concept of this game and really want to play again. Also, despite playing it incorrectly, the game played pretty quickly with four players - faster than I thought it would.
We finished about the same time as the Power Grid game wrapped up, so Noah and his brother Miles Antwiller joined Nathan and I to play Chaos in the Old World. Nathan played Khorne and had no trouble at all beating us up round after round. Despite our best efforts to block him with our Chaos cards, his were highly effective and he won easily with a dial victory. Miles played Slaanesh and must have been tired, because he kept missing Noah and I's hints about how to kick ass (if he had scored more threat, he might have kept Khorne in check. I was Tzeentch again, but couldn't get anything going as everyone seemed to make a point of bashing my cultists. Noah was Nurgle, but couldn't come close to matching Khorne's threat tokens each round.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Samurai on MaBiWeb

I fired up a game of Samurai on MaBiWeb (as it seems I do at the start of each year). Eventually joining me were Chester Ogborn, Mike Garrett, and Mike Gingold - all skilled opponents. I ended up being first and with my initial hand went for Kyoto (the double area just West of Edo, the triple). I played fairly aggressively and started winning a good amount and variety of pieces. As the game wound down, I had the lead in hats and other pieces. Chester held the lead with Rice and the Buddhas being fairly evenly distributed (in fact we all finished with three of them). Unfortunately, the game came down to the very end of the board and neither Chester nor I could end the game on our own. The end game came down to Mike Garrett, who could win one of two pieces - a hat or a buddha. If he takes the hat piece, he and I tie for majority (ie nobody has a hat majority) and Chester wins as the only player with a majority. If he takes the buddha, Chester and I tie with one majority each and I win by virtue of more other pieces taken (6-4). So, Mike was put into the unfortunate position of kingmaker. He took the buddha and gave me the official victory. Despite that, I think this was more of a tie. Had we played face to face, Mike's choice would have felt less kingmaker-like (or I think we could have agreed to call it a tie).

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Games 2010

Well, 2010 got started when I invited a few friends over to get in a couple of games on the second. To start the new year I suggested we play Die Macher the "Daddy" of German board games (the first game in the BGG database). Joining me were Nathan Winchester, Amelia Boli and Matthew Frederick. Nathan arrived first and Matthew sent me a note that he and Amelia were running late, so Nathan and I pulled out GIPF. I have only played this little abstract game once previously against Nathan and apparently we played the simple rules. This time, we played the normal rules (which it appears just adds the double pieces to the simple game). Though I seemed to position myself well a couple of times, Nathan smoked me in short order.
Once Matthew and Amelia arrived, we setup Die Macher and Matthew started going through the rules. Having been through them now, I can see that the rules themselves aren't terribly complicated - there are just a lot of moving parts and steps to be taken each round. About halfway through the explanation I needed to see a turn being played and wanted to just jump in. We started the game and about halfway through the first election we all decided it would be a sample round and we'd reset the game to play. This was the best thing we could have done - if you have never played before, it is probably the easiest thing you can do to learn the game. In fact, if I had to teach this, I'd just setup the game and start playing, explaining the process and the possible impacts and choices you have. However, this is a deep game and just grasping the mechanics isn't enough - it is hard to understand the impact of each choice until you feel the flow of the entire game. We started slowly (with the rules and playing a whole turn for example), had some dinner and it ended up being most of the day before we finished our full 7 election game. Matthew and Nathan won the first election (something in the low-mid-twenties) and we over paid them for their victory. I was a bit surprised at how big an advantage that was (it was big seeing as how they earned much more money than they should have) and set my sights on the next election which was in the 50s and right before the biggest possible area (80). I reasoned I needed to win big to capitalize and position for the 80 in the third round. I did well and helped myself recover, but Matthew and Nathan ended up winning the 80 together. Amelia caught back up in the 5th election and I played really poorly in the 6th. I targeted the last election to keep everyone else from killing me in the National Issue bonus points, but nobody was going to catch Matthew. He won by close to 100 points. I was behind Amelia by 3 pts and Nathan was behind us by around 15-20. This was a fascinating game (which is hard to understand - "you liked a game about trying to win German Elections?") that is deep and each move impacts your game. Though it is a euro-game (lots of wooden bits and mechanics out the wazoo) the theme is not tacked on by any means. Everything feels like you are running an election campaign and it is really interesting. Unfortunately, it is also really long and not easy to teach. The Valley Games edition I have has an option for playing a 5 round (rather than 7 round) game, which I'd guess could be played in about 3 hours with players that knew the game. The full game probably runs 4-5 with 4 players. Definitely 5 hours with 5 players (unless everyone plays fast as hell, which I don't). Also, though the game is great, Valley made some bad choices in the art when they re-printed the game and it was hard to tell a couple of the cards apart (especially in the light I have in my dinning room). Those gripes aside, I'd like to play again, but I have doubts whether this will see me playing it again this year. Possibly.
We finished pretty late, but had time for something else so I pulled out my Treehouse pieces so we could try a game I've been wanting to play - Undercut. Undercut is a pure auction game where you bid your pieces (5 colors in three sizes) for more pieces. Each round, there are sets of pieces (each set being a randomly chosen small, medium, and large piece) and each player bids on one of the sets. Bids that are LOWER than other bids will win. The trick is - after you get pieces, if you have matching sets (same color one of each size - a tree, three of the same size and color - a triplet, or four of the same size different color - a quad), you must turn them in and score points. You don't want points and the values of the sets go up as each set is turned in. The game hinges on deciding when you can take pieces and when you can force someone else into taking something they don't want (just like any good auction game). The fact that the bidding is in reverse (lower is better) makes things interesting. It took us about half the game to grok, but it was really pretty fun (and short). Nathan managed to hang for the win while we all screwed each other (Matthew screwed himself).
On Monday, I managed to get a couple games in (sort of). I finished a game of In The Year of The Dragon online (MaBiWeb) with Chester Ogborn and Mike Garrett. Mike started the game going after the double dragon strategy. I went for the double dragon in the second round, but wanted to get the builder and some houses/levels going. Chester loaded up on the scholars and scored something like 9 points on them more than a couple times. I somehow managed 5 houses and 4 monks which gave me a huge number of bonus points at the end of game. Mike and Chester were close, but Chester finished by having to lose ALL of his people and he hadn't built up enough points to win before that. We were talking about the game a bit as we played (we had started this to see if I could get in a 5th playing before the end of last year) and I've decided to drop my rating on the game. I just don't enjoy it and there doesn't really seem to be a ton of different approaches to the game. After a dozen playings, I don't really care to play it much anymore - even online. I'd much rather play Notre Dame.
I also got to play a game of Pokémon with my son. This was my most played game last year and it is still quick fun. He started with no cards at all last year and now has close to a dozen decks which allows us a good amount of choices. I suspect this will quickly end up as the most played game of 2010 for me as well.