Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Game Night

Friday May 21, 2010 - Rob Smolka's House
I headed over to Rob's for a bit of gaming, hoping even to teach and play a little Combat Commander. That didn't end up happening, but I got to try a whole lot of new games this night. We started out playing Take It Higher. Joining Rob and I were Noah Antwiller, Bobby Warren and Jeff Claussen. Rob was the only one to have played this version (I believe Bobby being the only other person to play any version of this series) so he explained the 50,000 ways in which one can score in this game. Basically, like in the other Take It... games, everyone places the same hex with different color lines going through it. The goal being to complete lines of the same color to score the points for the line x the number of tiles in the line. Unlike the others, the center is either silver or gold. If you complete a row of gold, you get X number of gold points (10pts) for each. If you do the same for silver, you get silver (9pts). You can also play a rocket for the color line you just completed. Each player has a line of rocketes - the more you complete, the bigger your possible bonus is. I say possible, because you only get the bonus for the lowest rocket space you open up. So if you clear all the rockets at the end of the line, but never the first one, you score no bonus. So each time you go to place a tile, you are frozen with a bazillion options. Other games have worse AP by far, but there is just a lot to consider each time here - maybe a little too much for this kind of game. Didn't stop me from winning though. Final scores were: Jeff 308, Rob 494, Bobby 438, Charles 507, Noah 0 (he wiped his board and didn't count).
We continued down the train to newsville by riding the Orient Express. Noah has been bringing this for a couple weeks now, trying to get us to play it and we finally caved and indulged him. Us being Matthew Frederick, Amelia Boli, Rob and I. This is an older murder mystery / whodunit kind of game where there are clues available to everyone. On your turn, you roll and move to different parts of the train to gain knowledge. Then you roll a die and on a 1 or 6, ONLY YOU get the clue, otherwise everyone gets it.  So basically, everyone is trying to solve a logic puzzle but some people gain clues others don't. Rob guessed early (he wasn't enjoying the game at all) and Noah and I guess a couple turns later. We were both correct and "won". This was ok, but really just random luck helps players win.
After our murder mystery, we broke into Rob's Animal House Liar's Dice set and made a lot of noise. The fraternity players were: Gary Passmore (Robert Hoover), Bobby (Bluto), Noah (Pinto), Matthew (Boon), me (Otter), and Matt Cullinan (Flounder). Making plenty of noise, we knocked out Bluto then Boon. Then Pinto fell and I was out shortly after. Flounder and Otter went head to head, but Flounder had the dice and won.
We finished the night out playing a game of Diamonds Club. Bobby, Matt C, Rob and I played, with me being the sole newbie to the game. This is your standard "collect a bunch of one thing to buy a bunch of other things" game. The interesting portion of the game is in trying to collect the stuff. There are a couple of paths to victory, but it helps to play it once to see any of it - yeah, I finished way in the back. Scores were me 43, Bobby and Rob 58, Matt 59. Rob professes not to care for this type of game, but likes this one. It was ok, but not something I need to own. It is a lighter engine game, but an engine game none the less.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

PBEM Olympic Standings

Medal count after 4 events






PBEM Olympics - UR Game Over

Hmmm, apparently I haven't been keeping up on posting the BEATINGS Nathan has been giving us in UR. Suffice to say, Nathan swept the event. I'm not sure if Justin ever did read the rules or just kind of played it by feel. Regardless, Justin threw this game off a bit and likely helped make Nathan's life that much easier. The final tally was Nathan - Gold, Chester - Silver, Me - Bronze.

So, none of us had played this game before this. And what do I think now? I gave it a 6. It has some cool ideas, but it has issues. The players all need to be on pretty even footing. Much like PR, a weak player will really swing things to one player. Once you gain momentum in this game, its hard to take away. The games are too short to recover. Also, turn order seems to be pretty advantageous. I was last in 3 of the 4 games (and third in the other) and it meant picking starting position last on the board - not good. Nathan of course was first or second in each game. I built a copy of this game and played it two player with Nathan - I liked that a little better, but at the end it drags a little with two. I'd be willing to try this again with some house rules, but online? Probably not unless I was teaching it or really bored.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

PBEM Olympics - Amun-Re Game 3

Our third game of Amun-Re was the closest yet. Justin seemed to have a wad of cash until the last round, when he went all in for his last chunk of land. Unfortunately for him the payoff was last place. Chester wound up beating all of us. I made the most points in the first round, but was so cash poor the whole game that I had pretty much zero chance in the second half of the game to do anything. Final scores:  Chester: 46, Nathan: 40, Charles: 37, Justin: 33. We head into the final round pretty wide open for the medals (except for Justin). I pretty much need to place in first or second to win a gold. Last place would give me a bronze and a third gives me no worse than a tie for silver. Time to get my game face on.

PBEM Olympics - Fearsome Floors Game 3

The third game of Fearsome Floors was more of the same - I sucked and got killed a lot while Justin and Nathan used my people as human shields/sacrifices. Chester was able to get out a guy before me and thus conquered me for third place making it so that I am thus far shut out of the point standings. The good news? I get to pick the next game. The bad? I'd have to win the next game while Chester finishes last in order to glimpse a tie for bronze.Given my amazing record thus far, I don't think that is going to happen. And again - for those keeping track, Daniel Karp didn't die - I got him out just before the game ended.

Games Played Recently

Friday 14, 2010 - Game night ended up at Rob Smolka's new place this week. I brought over a couple of games that I knew he and Michelle (whom I still have yet to meet) didn't have that I was hoping to play. Nathan Winchester and I headed over around 6:00ish and were the first to arrive. Figuring it wouldn't be long before folks started showing, I pulled out Samarkand: Routes to Riches for the three of us to try. For the record, having ten families differentiated by colors is probably not the best game to pull out when players have color issues like Rob does. He figured it out, but there really is not much else that helps you tell the families apart (unlike say the new printings of Ticket to Ride). At any rate, as soon as I got done explaining, Noah Antwiller showed up, so I explained it to him and we were off and running. As expected, Noah drew really well and did really well. I drew cards all over the map, which would have been ok if the players controlling the families had ever gone and taken the goods I had. Final scores were: Nathan 53, Rob 53, me 57, Noah 70. 
After that, a number of folks had arrived, so we broke into two groups. I pulled out Steam Barons which I knew Noah and Nathan would play. Somehow we conned Matt Cullinan into playing with us and off we went. We played the US side of the map (which forces players to start on the Eastern side and work West). Nathan started a company and ended up investing heavily in it in the mid-game. His choice to go with one company rather than diversify hurt his standing quite a bit, and by the end of the game his diversification was too little too late. Noah had chosen a good set of routes for his companies and I left him alone in one of his companies one turn too many since my company was doing well, but not as well as his. Scores were pretty close with me at 109, Nathan 78, Matt 101, Noah 111. I'm now on the fence with this one. I really enjoy stock games and I like the familiar AoS/Steam mechanics for building and moving goods. However, this game is all about the timing - make a mistake and you are probably done (much like Age of Steam). The unforgiveness of the game isn't what I dislike - its the length. A three-hour game with no margin for error can drag on a bit. Even AoS - which I love - sometimes gets to be like this for me, which is why I've been leaning towards Steam a bit when given the choice. This is still a good game, but you have to be ready for a longer ride.
Next up was Oregon - something new to me. Matt chose this one and noted that it only had one flaw - the board was static. Well, after playing, I'd have to say that's not the only thing wrong with the game. So the deal here is: there is a board divided into a grid. Players have a couple cards in their hand that allow them to place in a couple of the 25? 36? areas of the board. Each grid area has 6 spaces that allow for different buildings to be placed (they must match the correct geography), or a meeple. Placing meeples scores you points and occasionally additional benefits. Occasionally, if you can get a building by your meeples, you'll score those points too. So what is wrong with this game? The same thing that's wrong with Samarkand and Amun-Re. If you get good cards, you are likely going to win. Matt and Noah both had bad draws and Nathan and I benefited greatly every time they played, because we had the right cards to do so. This isn't a bad game, but I'm not sure why Matt thinks its all that great. The final scores were me 72, Nathan 72, Matt 61, Noah 66. Tie to Nathan
It was getting late, but Nathan and I finished the night playing a little 2-player game of UR. I had built a set from some wood tiles I had and using dice rather than cubes (which works well, but is hard to track your totals). The game was a bit back and forth for a while and in the end, Nathan had two choices and chose the wrong one and took the wrong tile into his hand. I beat him 44-40.
Over the weekend, my son asked to learn a couple of new games. Not sure if he'd get it or not, I taught him Thunderstone. I set up a random assortment of cards and explained the game. For the most part each turn I asked him the same thing: how much attack do you have? If he had enough attack, I let him know what he could kill, otherwise I let him shop freely, making no suggestions on what to buy. On occasion, he'd get greedy and buy something instead of taking the kill, but for the most part did the right thing. Which of course showed one of the flaws to the game - if the cards come up right, you will do well. Ashton's choices of things to buy made a lot of sense, and his deck was doing well. For me? I'd get tons of attack, but no light, then in the next hand, I'd get three flaming swords and two torches, but not a hero. I was constantly short of being able to attack the monsters and its showed in the final scores. Where Ashton had 70 to my 59. The game went on a bit long (the Thunderstone was the LAST card) and I think Ashton was a bit bored at the end, but he didn't quit.
I also taught Ashton how to play Nexus Ops. This was the first time he'd played a war-ish game that was Heroscape, so the entire experience was new. He did pretty well - trying to work on his secret objectives and easily figuring out the purchasing. What he didn't realize was that HE HAD ALL THE MINES. My early explorations only turned up rock striders, which let me get a load of cards via the Monolith, but I had no cash. Ashton had three dragons on the board before I could slow him down. This was the first time I played two players and I'll say this - you have a lot more money. I met a lot of goals and picked off his guys that were alone and beat him 10-7 (we only played to 10). He wants to play this one again for sure.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Combat Commander - Cold Front

Staritsa, Russia, December 30, 1941 - When winter hit Eastern Europe with its full fury in late 1941, the German 26th Infantry was just one of many Axis Divisions halted more by the extreme weather than the stubborn Russian defense.
In the final weeks of 1941, the 31st Soviet Army - part of the Kalinin Front under General Yushkevich - received a large influx of Siberian troops. Clad in quilted jackets and fur hats and inured to the cold, they led many small-unit actions up and down the frozen front. One such attack took place near Staritsa, Northwest of Moscow, as the German troops of Infanty Regiment 18 were fighting to stay warm in their trenches.
Robert Bolan came over to renew our Combat Commander:Europe series. He chose to continue into the scenarios and scenarios #5 - Cold Front - presented a small troop of Germans trying to outlast the cold-hardened Russians. Robert chose to play the attackers (Russian) and setup first. The map setup such that I chose to try and force Robert to come at me from two major choke points: through a marsh or over a bridge. I setup my heavy machine gun in a trench near the bridge to chew up any troops he sent that way. The other troops were positioned with a light machine gun to handle the marsh. Robert started the game throwing some Russians at the marsh, which was slow going, but mostly ok due to my limited ability to really take a bite out of his troops. I couldn't get my heavy machine gun to bear down and kill anyone either. We quickly discovered that these Russian troops were much tougher than earlier scenarios. Unfortunately for Robert, when they matched up head to head with an overwhelming force, the Germans prevailed.
After I eliminated a couple of squads and a leader, Robert changed tactics and ran a load of troops for my unprotected back line. Points in this scenario were doubled for exits, and Robert was looking to erase the lead I had. With time disappearing, I too moved troops towards the back line (since I had eliminated the resistance on that side of the map already). We both got our troops out safely which meant the score didn't change. What did happen was I got reinforcements - three times! I brought in artillery, a leader, and a rifle squad. We both brought in our escaped troops for reinforcements as time ticked towards the inevitable - an easy win for me. I held nearly 22 points in advantage while Robert had another series of bad roles. But fate would play her hand against me. Robert "rolled the dice" and went melee against my heavy machine guns and we tied! He eliminated my big advantage. I had my reinforcement troops again marching to Robert's side of the map, but at the last minute, swung them around and into a building to chew up his rear forces. Unfortunately for me, Robert had more advance orders and achieved what was unthinkable only moments before - a surrender victory. Reducing my army to the end of my surrender track, I was forced to congratulate Robert on a stunning victory.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Geekway to the West 2010 - Sunday and Wrapup

The last day of the Geekway went quietly. Nathan Winchester and I had a flight at 2:00, which meant leaving about noon. We had no real plans, but Nathan and Jason Easley had a Crokinole match to be played at some point. We found Steve Wicklund wandering about and decided to try and get something played with him until Jason and "My Little Pony" could show up for their Crokinole match.

Since there were exactly three of us and I couldn't find End of the Triumvirate in the library, I went with the three-player standby: San Marco. Steve had played before but needed a quick refresher and then off we went. I was still a bit tired, but this was a good wake-me-up. For once, I wasn't in the lead of this game after two rounds and thus was able to team up with Steve to BASH Nathan in the third round. It was pretty tight down the line, but Nathan did manage to hold on by a single point to finish the game with a win.

San Marco is one of the best three player games out there. It technically plays four, but I have yet to play it that way. The game is a simple area control game, but the genius of the game is the actions that are available each round. Random cards are drawn and then sorted into three piles by player A. Player B then chooses  a stack and executes their actions. Then Player C does the same. Player A (the divider) gets whichever stack is left over. Then the roles switch and you do it some more. A number of actions in the game can deliver points to other players, so when playing three ways, its almost always best to give the losing player points. Thus games are typically close. Three is always an odd number for gaming, but this is one game I have for exactly that number.

After San Marco, Nathan and Jason sat down and got their rears handed to them in much the same way Justin and I did by the My Little Pony team. While they were playing, The Game Nite store folks showed up to their booth with a couple of copies of Bisikle. Bisikle is a game I had heard about and was interested in. Basically, it is a dexterity race game - similar in idea to Pitchcar. The biggest difference being that instead of a puck, you are flicking a ZBall - a marble with a unique internal mechanism of weighted ball bearings which allow for some unique controlled shots. Anyway, I had done some looking and the game runs about $40 online (plus shipping). However, Game Nite was also selling it for $40 - 15% off! With tax, I got the game for less than $40. Justin wondered what I was buying and I explained it to him and he went ahead and snagged their other copy. I was quite pleased. A good way to wrap up the Geekway.

One thing I forgot to talk about - the trade table from Saturday. I had brought out 4 games that I hoped not to bring home: Hoity Toity, Gulo Gulo, Tales of the Arabian Nights, and Hamburgum (which I got off the trade table LAST YEAR). Steve heard I was dumping Hoity Toity and asked for it, so I sold it to him. I was selling Gulo Gulo to John Davis, so for the trade table I had Tales and Hamburgum. I hoped to move Tales as it is insanely heavy and I didn't want to ship it. Hamburgum is really a long box, so shipping that wasn't ideal either. As it turned out, Hamburgum was a pretty early pick - before Tales! With an early pick I quickly scanned the table and decided to go with a package deal of Amyitis and Municipium. Shortly after that pick, I got choosen again and went with another combo of Lost Valley, Space Dealer and Castle Merchants (Castle Merchants becoming my yearly donation to the game library). Sadly, I missed Paths of Glory on the table or I'd have likely taken that instead of one of the packages. Oh well. With my new bundles of games and Bisikle, I still came home 3-4 lbs lighter in games.

Nathan and I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare (especially since the plane was late coming in). We finished up our game of Twilight Struggle we had started Friday morning - I was able to really jump all over a load of points in the fourth round while there was nothing Nathan could do.

And that's it. That was our Geekway. As usual, we didn't play 2/3 of the things we wanted to. I did get to play a number of new games (though for the most part they were disappointing this year). I got to play some old favorites, though no really big games. Oh well. This was one of the smoothest Geekways yet. Unfortunately, neither Nathan nor I won a door prize nor a play to win game - again, oh well. Next year they may be adding another day and expanding the space. I hope so

Geekway to the West 2010 - Saturday

Saturday at the Geekway is the most hectic of the days - there are a lot of events, more people than the previous day, and the realization that you are running out of gaming hours. Nathan Winchester and I started off the day grabbing some coffee (come to find out that there was FREE coffee at the hotel lobby) from Starbucks.We started earlier than Either the Easleys or the UP crew, so we looked over the Play-To-Win table trying to figure out what to play during the day. There was the Crokinole tournament of course, as well as a desire to get in a longer game, but nothing really hit our fancy. And so it was that we ended up playing Ra: The Dice game.

As Nathan and I looked at the Play-To-Win table, a nice lady by the name of Kathleen Gardner saw we were going to play and asked to join us. She had played before, so we hoped that would help with the rules, though she claimed to not really be able to teach it. Michael Silbey wandered by and offered to teach it while he waited for his group to show up for Here I Stand. He quickly explained and we rolled and finished up in short order. Nathan won with a 49, I had 42, and Kathleen 33.

Ra: The Dice Game takes the original game of Ra (a good game) and replaces tile draws and the auction with a Yahtzee style round of rolling special dice. In other words, takes all the good parts of the game, and makes it dumb. The scoring is similar, but really? That's what you keep from Ra - the scoring? The game is well enough made and short, but when will a game be good that has a name like "The Card Game" or "The Dice Game"? Never? Apparently the trick to making a good alternate version of a game is to not include the words "dice" or "cards". Heard of Caylus Magna Carta? San Juan? Roll Through the Ages might be the exception - it should have been called Through the Ages - The Dice Game.

After Ra: The Really Boring Game, Nathan and I grabbed Samarkand: Routes to Riches. After setting up the bazillion pieces and reading the short (really short) rules, Nathan and I started playing a two player game. Nathan won 66 to 55. I had no clue he was that far ahead of me - I really thought the game was closer than that. Steve Wicklund and John Davis were ready to join us in playing something and since we already had the game half setup and it was a Play-To-Win game, we decided to reset and play 4-players. Again, the rules took no time and we got the game going. During the Geekway, I had only two real rules: #1 - Beat Nathan and #2 - Beat Steve. I failed at both this game. Nathan 56, Steve 46, John 37, me 45. I think John wandered off to play Dominion and Jessica Codr was free to join us, so we reset the board for a third playing (we were enjoying the game a lot). This time I put it all together and did much better, finally scraping out a win. Nathan 53, Steve 50, Jessica 44, me 55. We decided that we'd hogged Samarkand long enough and returned it to the trade table.

Samarkand: Routes to Riches is a Queen Games remake of an original Winsome game. Queen gave it a nice treatment (as they did with Chicago Express). They also changed some things - more families and introduced the cards and goods to put an element of luck in the game (because apparently a family game has to have luck in it). Essentially, there are 30 some odd goods spread over the board and families as well. The families are going to create trade routes to the good and become more influential as their routes meet up with other families. Players get an "interest" in the family by marrying into the family. Of course, there is a payment to do so - the payment varies for each family - typically the more goods and more likelihood of connecting to other families makes a family more costly to marry into. Each family has two children, so two players can marry into and help control each family. When a player connects two families for the first time, they get a bonus of two points and everyone in the connecting family gets $3. Everyone in the family being connected to gets $1. At the end of the game, if you hold a goods card where one of your families have a route, you score a number of points (even more if the goods spot is where the family's routes meet). And therein lies the rub - the luck of the draw. No matter what cards you draw, it is not hard to get control of a family and get their route to the good. However, goods on the edge of the board mean picking a family that is not as likely to meet other families. Being the one to make families meet is HUGE - 2pts and $3 (more if you are in both families) is a chunk of points and players will be running family routes into each other a lot to try and make cash and points. If you keep drawing poor cards while someone else draws cards for the goods and all the goods are near one family - that player will do much better. Now, the game is interesting - and fast! Turns are short and really the whole game is 30 minutes or so (plus 10 minutes more to set it up and tear it down), so it isn't bad. It falls into the weight of Ticket to Ride, but much shorter. You can almost see the brutal ancestry of the game and Nathan and I kicked around a couple variants to try to mitigate some of the luck. Frankly, the 2-player variant that the rules provide is really good. This won't see the same itch to play that Chicago Express has from me, but it isn't bad.

Next up was our first match of Crokinole. The Droids Ur Lookin 4 (Justin Easley and I) were taking on My Little Pony (DJ Kenel and Joel Jodeloh) - last year (and I believe this year's eventual) Champions. The first game was not great and we were down 1-0 before we knew it. The second game was much tighter as Justin and I started playing well. I made a miracle shot at one point, clearing three pucks from the center while making a center shot, but then the board cleared and DJ sank two center shots and put us away. It was really a good game and if we hadn't just SUCKED in the first game, we'd have had a shot as we were playing pretty well after that. My Little Pony would go on to trample the Nathan Winchester and Jason Easley team (Pull My Finger) on Sunday as well.

After being killed in Crokinole, I apparently really wanted to get killed by Jason and Justin in Chicago Express, so I talked everyone into a game of it. Nathan won the initial red share, I took blue, Justin yellow, and Jason green. I don't remember a lot of the game except that I was too tired to be playing this. I believe that Nathan ended up getting the second share of red (or we decided two payouts for Nathan was enough) either way, everyone colluded to KILL red and red got blocked before it got very many trains on the board. Regardless, Nathan and I don't seem to be in the same class of Chicago Express players as the Easleys and we finished way behind them. I had 53, Justin- 96, Jason- 91, Nathan- 79

Chicago Express is a brutal exercise in auctions and playing the other players. It is a stock game with no luck and typically requires players to work together over short bursts of the game to make money or stomp other players. The actions / mechanics of the game are pretty simple, but the options and their ramifications are deep and unforgiving - something a lot of people don't like. This takes a few playings to understand (apparently, the 14 games I've played isn't enough). What I enjoy about this game are the tough choices and the speed - the game typically only last about 45 minutes. 

We had to break in the middle of CE for Jason and Nathan to play a game of Crokinole, so during the break, Michael Silbey grabbed me and we played a quick game of Campaign Manager. Since I had half a clue this time, my deck was better, but not better than Michael's. Oprahpalozza was killing me slowly. Luckily it ended about the time Nathan and Jason were finishing up.

At this point, my brain hurt, so we grabbed something requiring less brain power - Kingsburg. This with the expansion were on the Play To Win table, so we took advantage. We only played with the new building card from the expansion, but from what I remember of trying the game out before, this was a big improvement. Jason explained the rules and then went for something of a builder strategy - unfortunately for him, he rolled the worst I've ever seen. I on the other hand had a hot hand for the dice and did pretty well - which was a good thing. After the first attack, all the remaining attacks were FULL STRENGTH. I had built up pretty good defenses, so it wasn't typically an issue for me. I also built in nearly every round and the building bonus in every season helped me to the win. I had - 35, Nathan - 33, Justin - 30, Jason - 24.

Kingsburg is a dice game - more complex than To Court the King, but similar in that dice earn you things which can be used in combination to purchase buildings which give you various bonuses. After a number of rounds everyone must have enough defense built up in the round to fend of the (random) attackers. If you don't, they bash you. So, in effect it is a rich get richer game. I'm not sure how you'd ever catch up if you lost a round (unless everyone was losing rounds). This isn't the greatest game in the world, but for a dice game, its better than most. Players all roll at the same time and place in rounds, making the choices more interesting and with more interaction than most other games of a similar type (To Court the King, Airships, XX the dice game).

After Kingsburg, Nathan and Jason went to play their first Crokinole match (the aptly paired Pull My Finger vs GoldFinger). I sat down with the UP crew (Steve Wicklund, Matthew Steele, Jessica Codr, John Davis) to play a little Liar's Dice. Unfortuantely, the only place we could find table space was in the game library tables, next to two poor souls playing Horus Heresy. The were referring to the rules enough that they didn't fully know the game and I'm sure having a table of folks right next to them playing Liar's Dice didn't help. Luckily for them, I made short work of everyone except Jessica. It came down to the two of us with 4 dice each, then we went back and forth to 1 die and I finally forced her to choose and she lost to my masterful (lucky) rolling.

Liar's dice is a straightforward rolling the dice and guessing how many dice counts everyone has. For me, the appeal is the loudness of the game coupled with a bit of light bluffing. It isn't a pure mathematical exercise, though it can be with the wrong group. What I really like is that this game expands to pretty much any number of people if you have a cup and 5 dice for them. 

 After a bite to eat, we sat down to play the game I'll vote for as worst game of the Geekway 2010 - Castle Panic. This is a co-op game where the players are trying to defend the castle against a horde of constantly advancing enemies. Except that it sucked with 6 players (Nathan, Steve, Jessica, Matthew, John and I). I'm not sure it would have been more fun with less, but at one point I had to get up to go to the bathroom and on the way back, I stopped to watch Werewolf and Piratenbillards. It still wasn't my turn when I got back - only two players had gone. On my last turn, I took Steve's advice and was totally selfish (which I recognized was going to lose the game for us unless we got totally lucky). Surprise! We lost and got to stop playing this. I blame Steve. I also totally had more points in kills than anyone else, so I won (but I played, so I lost).

This is not a great co-op game. Players have reason not to help the others (better we all lose than me let you win) during their turns. It is also really really random, so like Joshua said - the best move is not to play.

After Castle Panic, we broke up a bit and Nathan and I sat down to teach Steve how to play Torres. Steve got the game almost right away, but Nathan and I know a couple of mean tricks that you have to defend against. Of course, being brain dead and tired, I let Nathan get one off against me and couldn't recover - I was close, but chose the wrong power card (got mixed up) and couldn't score near enough points to stop Nathan. At least I beat Steve. Torres - Nathan 280, Charles 271 Steve 261. After Torres, we called it a night.

Torres is one of my favorite games. I really love the spatial aspect to this game. It also really rewards good planning and clever play. A lot of people dislike the abstract nature of the game and don't grok it. That's really too bad, because this is a really good game.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

PBEM Olympics - Amun-Re Game 2

Our second game of Amun-Re is now official. This game was a lot tighter and really down to the wire. Chester made a huge money grab early in the game and used the intimidation factor to get what he wanted. In the last round, he threw a huge wad of his cash into the offering and made the gods very happy, but he may have overspent. He finished third in the final cash total, and in letting Justin get second, he slipped behind me by a point to finish 3rd. Given my fairly mediocre performance in this game, I was ecstatic to finish 2nd. The last two games of the series should be really interesting. Oh, and Nathan won. Final scores: Me-42, Nathan-47, Justin-35, Chester-41

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Geekway to the West 2010 - Friday

The Geekway officially kicked off on Friday morning 8AM. Nathan Winchester had some breakfast at the hotel and then geared up for a day of gaming. I had a group of old co-workers who were coming into town for the convention that I was planning to game with at some point. Also coming were the Easleys (Justin and Jason) and a friend or two of theirs. We had a laundry list of games we wanted to play and got a few in, but not nearly enough of them. As I noted in the previous post, Nathan and I started the morning playing some Twilight Struggle (did I mention that I won that game on Sunday?) while we waited for other folks to show up. The Easleys got to town first.

Justin Easley and his friend John Davison sat down with a copy of Thunderstone from the play to win table and asked me to teach them. Nathan and I cleaned up Twilight Struggle. After cleaning up, the four of us played a game with a random assortment of cards. For monsters I think we had Enchanted and both Undead types. For heroes we had Dwarves, Chalice Questers, Thyrians and the Outland Warriors. Despite the heavy undead, the Chalice Questers didn't seem to be the favorite hero - in fact no one group seemed to be more popular. There were loads of weapons in the village - I know this because I went there a lot in the first half of the game. I typically was short one point to kill a monster and had to go buy something. Nathan on the other hand had loads of killing points and was making trip after trip to kill monsters. Nathan easily won with 31 points. John had 26, Justin (who got the Thunderstone) had 18. I finished with a weak 17.

I like Thunderstone. I like it better than Dominion at any rate. The whole make a deck and play with it mechanic is cool, but in Dominion, it bores me to tears. At least in Thunderstone the theme is there and there are choices. The only choice in Dominion just feels like - do I buy A or B? I also like that Thunderstone will play 5 people out of the box. It feels like most die-hard Dominion fans prefer the Alpha game, but I personally think Thunderstone shows there can be more to the game than just an economic engine. I don't think this is the perfect game by any means - it is very possible to get a hard set of monsters vs what is available for heroes and village equipment. This doesn't make the game harder per se, just longer. And of course, there are the setup and teardown issues - but you have those in Dominion too.

After Thunderston, John left to go play Runewars (I think), so Nathan suggested we teach Justin Chaos in the Old World. With only the three of us, we left out Khorne, gave Justin Slaanesh, and I began the rules. 5 seconds before we could start, Aaron Bianco wandered by and inserted himself into our game, which was slightly annoying as - A) We hadn't asked him to join us and B) He didn't know how to play. However, in the spirit of the Geekway, we all made no protest and I explained the game again. Aaron either got it immediately, or he didn't want to ruffle feathers asking questions and we were off and running pretty quickly. I was playing Nurgle for the first time and did a pretty good job of staying in the running for a long time - even getting a couple of double twists of my dial. Aaron figured out Khorne after the first turn and began beating the crap out of us. After six rounds, Aaron only needed a double dial twist to win, so we ganged up to prevent him from killing anyone. We moved units, protected everyone and prevented him from getting many cards out. I felt a little bad - we weren't bashing Aaron for any other reason than trying to prevent him from winning, but all we really did was hand the game to Justin who broke the 50 point mark that same turn anyway. Justin already had a point lead (over Aaron no less), so he won easily.

Chaos is a great game. It is pretty fast to play and has interesting choices. It has four factions that play very differently and interact interestingly. It has a good mix of euro-like mechanics and Ameritrash ones too. It is multiple ways to win and for the most part requires players to work together to slow down the leader. It has a couple small flaws: the cultists are too fragile, the game is so well balanced that a new player can throw the game to someone too easily (though this is true in lots of games), and the Old World cards can really hurt or help one player. These flaws are pretty small when you consider how quickly a game can be played and all of the interesting choices the game offers. If you like the flavor of Euro+Ameritrash, this is one of the best.

After Chaos, we found Jason Easley and played a practice round for the Crokinole tourney later in the Geekway. Justin and I teamed up again as "The Droids UR Lookin 4" and Jason and Nathan decided to play together this year as "Pull My Finger". Both of us ended up with a bye in the first round (purely random and having nothing to do with skill), but we wanted a chance to practice. The tourney goes by "fast" scoring rules - both teams score all points on the board, top score after one team tops 100 points, best of 3 games. Games typically go by pretty quickly and I think everyone really enjoys the games. Two locals bring their boards to the event (I believe both are Hilinski boards), so there is plenty of playing the weekend over. We played twice on Friday at various times and The Droids UR Lookin 4 split games with Pull My Finger. The World Championship of Crokinole is held in Canada each year, but the most fun is to be had at the Geekway!

Crokinole is an exceptionally good game, but falls into the "equipment" category of games - meaning you have to have the right things to play. Crokinole boards are not generally easy to find nor are they inexpensive. Though you can find some mass market boards if you look hard enough, the BGG favored boards are Hilinski made and run a minimum of $200. They are worth every penny and look like wood art. The game itself is deceptively simple - players take turns trying to flick a set of wooden disks into the center of the board. If an opponent's piece is on the board, you must contact one of their pieces or you piece cannot stay on the board. Besides the general dexterity requirements, each board plays significantly different depending on lots of factors - the polish of the board, the material of the pegs, etc. This is a game that the whole family can play and will play. It may look or sound simple, but is a blast to play.

After lunch, Justin and Jason were involved with playing Greed Inc, so Nathan and I sat down to try another Play To Win game - Campaign Manager 2008. This is a slickly produced two-player game that captures the feel of trying to get McCain or Obama elected. The cards are full of flavor text and generally this game is well done to the theme. I'd play this twice during the Geekway and I hate this game. The first time, when I played with Nathan, neither of us had a clue what we were doing. Unfortunately the first thing you have to do is DRAFT a hand of cards to play with for the entire game. Well, not knowing what that meant, Nathan and I drafted poorly and the game drug out for what felt like forever. I could see where the game might do better after one play, but I didn't want to bother trying this again (though I'd play it Saturday with Michael Silbey). We finished up and decided to move along. For the record, Nathan led Obama to victory.

Campaign Manager is a slick little card driven game where you are trying to get your candidate (McCain or Obama) elected. Each side has a deck of 45 cards - 15 are in play for each side during a game. Though the flavor text is different, each side has the same deck of cards (Obama has Oprahpaloza, McCain has the Guvonator - both cards do the same thing). After drafting cards, each side selects two states to start the game. Then the players try to win the four states that are in play. Each state leans towards economics or defense as the key issue. Each state has two key demographic groups (one is in play, the other is the minority). You don't have to win over the whole state, just the voters who are caring about the state's key issue. Cards let you grab undecided voters, voters in the majority or minority issue (whatever that may be at the time for a state), swing the issue one way or another, etc. When you win a state, it is immediately replaced with another state and you keep going until one side or another has enough votes for a win. The problem for me was that you have to play it once to get a feel for the flow of the game. After that, you likely are picking cards that are similar to what your opponent is picking - since the cards are all the same. So yes, the game is balanced, but can be unbalanced by the player's picks. Since the game is back and forth, if one player picks poorly, you get slow death. On the surface, it sounds fun, but really it wasn't. There are much better two player games out there. And for the record, despite the box art, there is no coloring involved (frankly, the game might have been more fun if you actually got to color each voting district in the US map).

After the world's most boring game of politics, I pulled out Steam Barons for Nathan, Justin, Jason and I. We've all played Age of Steam before, so the rules were pretty straight forward. I made a big point of telling them they couldn't really play it like either Chicago Express nor Age of Steam. We began and Justin immediately drove one company (nude) into the ground. He should have taken his profit and dumped it, but instead held it a turn too long. Nathan and I operated lines in different areas, with Jason operating in between. While I tried to buy into different operations throughout the game, Nathan mainly cornered one company. Late in the game, I was able to power two companies up the stock chart to catch up to Nathan and during the final reckoning, it turned out that I made $2 more than Nathan. We think that Nathan and I made the exact same amount in the last round, so Nathan failing to buy into my company cost him the game. Nathan didn't think my company had access to the goods it would and this error was all I needed. Final scores: Nathan 107, Charles 109, Jason 74, Justin 52.

Steam Barons is Martin Wallace's expansion which adds two new maps to the base Steam game. In addition to the new maps, a new rule set and new parts have been included to play what is essentially a very different game than Steam. Steam Barons borrows the rules for building track and moving goods that Steam uses, but otherwise is nothing like Steam. The game is a stock game. Players may buy each company's initial single stock and then control the company during the game rounds. In order to get operating cash, a company must issue shares (which players may purchase during an auction round in future rounds). The person with the most shares does all the operations for the company - building track and moving goods. Companies that make a lot of money moving goods will pay a dividend and possibly a bonus to the CEO. After the movement of goods, each company is ranked based on their RELATIVE performance to the others. If everyone does ok (or poorly), there won't be much in the way of changing stock prices. However, if a company performs better than other companies and there is a lot of variation in how companies did, the stock price will rise (or drop if they are on the other end of the spectrum). I've heard the game compared to 18xx "lite" - I don't know as I haven't played an 18xx game, but this is about the most complex stock game I've played and I like it a lot. I especially like that it isn't just a complicated Age of Steam or Steam or Chicago Express. It is really different feeling from other games I've played and I'd like to play it more, though the length (3 hours-ish) will scare off some folks.

After diner, I wanted to hook up with my friends from Union Pacific who had come out to the Geekway, so while we waited for them to finish what they were doing, I introduced Nathan to Battle Line. To ensure that he'd play this one with me in the future, I let him kick my ass in it. Twice. Both games I'd start out well, but couldn't get the cards I needed in the end. I'm not sure if I was committing too early or just had bad luck, but I sucked. Twice.

Battle Line is a remake of the classic Shotten Totten, except that the cards suck. Seriously, these are cheap-ass cards. That aside, the game is basically 3-card poker. Both sides are trying to win 9 flags by playing their best 3-card poker hand, one card at a time. Pretty simple and fast playing. There isn't much to see nor expect here and yet the game has its share of entertainment value. There seem to be a vast assortment of card games where you are playing cards to your side in various stacks to try and win (Battle Line, Ballon Cup, Lost Cities, Pecking Order, etc) and this one is better than a couple, but doesn't stand out from the group either. If the cards were the same high quality as those in Combat Commander: Pacific (some of the best cards I've seen), then this would be a worth game to the collection. As it currently is, I'm not sure this one screams out - "own me".

About once a year, I find a reason to play Ca$h and Gun$ - the Geekway is the perfect place for this kind of game. There are lots of my friends around, this is a great break from the brain-burning stuff I tend to try and play, and its always fun to point an orange foam gun at somebody (in "kill shot" style). So, after finding my UP friends - Steve Wicklund, John Davis, Matthew Steele, and Matt's girlfriend Jessica Codr, Nathan and I sat down with them for a late night game of Ca$h and Gun$. After explaining the rules, we began play and I was making a small fortune. Unfortunately, I mixed up my cash pile with the rest of the money and we had to start over. Things didn't go as well for me in the "second playing" and though I did ok, I finished in the middle of the pack. Matthew snuck out with a wad of cash and street cred, but Jessica would find herself shot a few too many times. Despite playing this game, with the group, they would later get smoked by me in another bluffing game - Liar's Dice.

Ca$h and Gun$ is a take on the classic Tarentino movie Reservoir Dogs. Thieves have robbed a bank and are attempting to negotiate a split of the funds while using their limited ammo to "influence" each other. Basically, each round players will play a card that says "click" (nothing happens), BANG! (I shoot you) or BANG BANG BANG (one card - quick fire) face down then simultaneously point their guns at someone. Then you have to decide whether the people pointing guns are you are bluffing (in which case you back out of the round and get no share of the money) or you stay in and hope you don't get shot. Get shot too many times and you are out of the game. Survive and you earn a share of the loot for the round. Simple and a total hoot to play - with the right group at the right time. When you are sitting there quietly and suddenly half the table points a gun at you, it is both hilarious and intimidating. A really fun game, but not one with much in the way of legs. This is really a game that probably only should come out a couple times of year at best. At yet that couple of times it happens are great.

After the gun pointing, the UP crew got serious and we played some - Union Pacific. We played with unlimited UP stock and random (per the instructions) distribution of the dividend cards. Unlike the last couple of times I've played this, the cards actually were well distributed (probably because I made other folks do the shuffling). I started with the Orange company, which should have done alright for me - moreso because I didn't see another orange stock until LATE in the game. However, after the first track I added, I didn't have another card I could use for it until - LATE in the game. I made sure to have a load of UP stock and was doing well after the third payout. Then Jessica killed all my interests in three companies and when the last dividend hit, all I made was basically UP (and orange which never went past 3). Nathan, who had pretty much disregarded UP the whole game until the last scoring was well in the lead. Final scores: Nathan 93, Steve 69, Charles 84, John 67, Jessica 71, Matt 89.

Union Pacific looks a lot like Ticket to Ride when you first pull it out - a map of the US with spot where you place plastic trains of various colors. That is about the extent of it though - UP is a stock game. Players chose to either take shares in companies OR increase the value of a company each turn and basically take an option in a company. The Union Pacific itself is present as a set value company that grows in value as the game progresses. As far as stock games go, this one is ok, but I prefer much of the newer breed of the game. Union Pacific lacks the kind of control I desire in a stock game. For a lighter Euro game, it is too long for the return. If I hadn't worked for the Union Pacific company I'd have likely traded this one away years ago. As it is, I keep this one in my collection and it gets played about once a year because someone has interest in playing it, but I'm not the one usually suggesting it.

And thus ends day one of the Geekway 2010. It was about 1:30AM and we had another full day ahead of us, so we all called it a night.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Geekway to the West 2010 - Thursday

The Geekway to the West is a gaming convention in St. Louis, MO. Started 6 years ago and hosted in Jay Little's basement, it has grown into three days of 250 crammed together in a hotel to play games. Jay Little has moved on to Minnesota and a position with Fantasy Flight Games, but his Con lives on. Nowdays, Christopher Darden and Jay Moore have taken and grown this beast. This was the first year the Con moved to a hotel for 24-7 (3) gaming and the venue was pretty decent. Once again, Nathan Winchester and I roomed together and I played most of my games with/against this guy. There were a lot of familiar faces (and of course some new ones). Lots of games, though it felt like less new games than in the past. This year I think I'll go with a short session report/summary and then comment on the game. The story begins on Thursday April 29th.

We started the gaming off playing some Hive at the airport while we waited for our flight (after getting some coffee of course). I made some silly moves and deserved to lose the first game. I blamed my lack of coffee and we went again - this time I trounced Nathan in short order.

Hive is an abstract, but one where the theme helps a little in "describing" the goal (protect the queen) and how the pieces move. It looks nice and the pieces are the right size and feel. Beyond looks though is a great two-player game. It is fast and challenging and is better almost every time I play it (win or lose). There is one expansion piece out that is interesting enough that it is worth adding, but the game is fine without it.

Next up after we split games of Hive was Taluva. We'd play this once at the airport and twice more at the hotel after we arrived in St. Louis. Much to Nathan's chagrin, I won all three games. I can't recall for sure, but I believe I dumped temples and huts in two games and dumped towers and huts or temples in the other. The tower thing was odd to me - I almost never play them in a two player game.

This is another good abstract game (with some kind of tacked on theme). This one is great with 2, 3, or 4 players (worst with 4, but ok) and plays pretty differently with each number. Two-players is a back and forth bash fest. The first one to flinch loses. Most two-player games (and three) are short and have interesting choices. I also really enjoy the spatial feel to the game and it is nice looking to boot. Good game!

Last year, I put together a travel board for Twilight Struggle and I brought it along again this year for Nathan and I to get in a rematch. We drew for sides and I ended up as the US again. I can't even begin to explain how, but I had a pretty good run of cards. The dice? Not so much. For each "1" that Nathan got in the Space Race, I rolled a "5" (and he rolled a 1 each time he tried the Space Race). But the Space Race was all Nathan could get going. I made huge inroads into Asia (and Southeast Asia) and scored a ton of points. As the US, I managed a crazy win in the 4th round! We'd start another game Friday morning at the Geekway so that we could try out the Deluxe version of the game (of which there were two copies on the Play-To-Win table and of which we won neither). The Friday game only made it through two turns, but we finished Sunday at the St. Louis airport. We switched sides and I got to play the Red team finally. I again abused Nathan and had a 14pt lead going into the 4th round. In the 4th turn, I had a SWEET hand of cards and scored point after point and won about halfway through the round.

Twilight Struggle is a really, really good game. It is nearly exclusively driven by cards (there are a few dice rolls) and is the most thematic game - everything about the tension and cards and geography really give this game the flavor and feel of the Cold War. It is a longer games, but it is really interesting the whole time you are playing. Are there flaws? One or two cards feel imbalanced, but overall this game is top notch. In fact, the game gets better and better the more you play it. Knowing the cards and when to play them is the key. The deluxe version with the mounted board is really outstanding and worth every penny.

After we got checked into the hotel, Nathan and I grabbed some diner and then went back to the room where we played a couple of games of Taluva and then I taught him Fjords. This is yet another abstract game with some kind of tacked on themes about vikings claiming farmland or something. We played two rounds (of the three) with Nathan killing me, but then broke to see if the folks setting up could use a hand with anything. After we got back to the room, we played the final round and I made an astonishing comeback which gave me enough points to sneak away with another win.

Fjords is nice little two player game that feels like a mix between Carcassonne and Hey! That's My Fish! The game plays in two parts - laying tiles to build the island, and then a land grab. The first part is the more interesting of the two, though that doesn't mean that the choices are all that interesting - they are less interesting than those in Carc. The interesting part is in seeing the island grow and take shape. The rest of the game doesn't really have many decisions left to make. This one is ok, but nothing special and if anything feels a hair too long.

Interestingly, my game of the Geekway is a game I didn't technically play during the Geekway. After helping to get the games unloaded for the game library, Chester Ogborn, Michael Silbey, Nathan and I sat down to play a game Chester pulled from Chris Darden's collection. Neue Heimat. Neue Heimat is a brutal little auction game played over three rounds. During the first round, Chester was astonished time and again with our (poor) play and finished the first round with NEGATIVE 17 points. I make note of this key fact, because I lead in points after the first round. I was also firmly targeted in following rounds and thrashed. Chester was not and he managed a huge comeback win. Nathan immediately looked up the game and I sent an email to chilispiel to see about acquiring the game. The inquiry turned up that the cost was about 32,00 € and another 30,00 € in shipping to the US. With current conversion rates - about $100. Dang.

Neue Heimat is a brutal little auction game played over three rounds. Players all start with a set amount of money - the money is the entire economy for the game (ie no money comes into or leaves the game). Each round, players bid on a piece numbered 1-6 in 6 different colors. The first player to acquire a color in the round will own that color for the rest of that round and score if his piece is on the top of a "finished" stack (the stacks being houses). Whether he scores positive or negative points is the tricky part, as the player's stack only scores positive points if it is finished (has a roof) in a neighborhood that is complete. If all the stacks in a neighborhood are unfinished, they will score negative for their owners. Each round on their turn, a player picks a block or a roof for auction. The auction then goes once around and then the player has the option to pay the high bid to the bidder and take the piece OR take the money from the bidder. The payer then takes the piece and places it on the board. That's it (mostly). Brutality wrapped up in simplicity. Scoring well is a game of chicken and cooperation with other players - but only if you can't just control the auctions.