Sunday, May 09, 2010

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.

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