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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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".
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.
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.