Monday, March 28, 2011

Got Me Some ASS

I like racing games. I especially enjoy the ones where you get to screw someone by cutting them off (Ave Caesar, Powerboats, etc). So after I played Top Race for the first time, I knew I'd eventually add this to the collection. Not only is it a fun 6-player game with plenty of screwage, there is betting at multiple points in each race to add to the fun. Now of course, the version I played was the ASS edition. The name alone meant I'd have to acquire this particular version (the game has been redone in other versions as well as reprinted, just never as an ASS edition). I mean come on, the money says ASS on it (sue me, I have the brain of an 11 year old). So, I finally made a trade for this. The best part is - I'm trading a game I picked up at a garage sale for $1.25. Kick Ass.

That's Enough Ages For A While

Robert Bolan, Matthew Frederick, Nathan Winchester and I finished up another game of Through the Ages (online). After so many games, I wanted to see if the expansion set of wonders and leaders they offer changed the game. They do, but not enough. I've dropped my rating quite a bit on this one. As fun and interesting as this one is, it is just too brutal. There is already so much rich-get-richer that it is nearly impossible to slow down or stop someone when they get ahead. Couple that with the fact that if you get slapped once, everyone is likely to join in on stomping you into submission. With no chance to catch up and a strong likelihood of being beaten if you fall off the pack and you have a really long game that starts becoming less and less interesting. I really liked this game, but the more I understand it the less I want to play it. This last game, I felt I had made a mistake in the first couple of turns that was going to cost me (I took a stupid wonder). I ended up trying to focus a bit on military, which helped me to get to second place, but I wasn't even close to Nathan who killed us all again. In order to even be competitive in this game, I had to bash on Matthew at least twice and then on Robert at the end of the game.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

$20 Poorly Spent

Now, one could argue that any money is well spent if it means getting your child's attention for a couple hours. That being said, this particular $20 probably could have been better spent. I picked up the Island of Dread Runebound expansion last year and this was the first chance that Ashton and I had to play it. Basically, this expansion changes the game with a new board, new set of encounter cards and new endgame. There are also a set of heroes and a few item cards that can be used interchangeably with the main game. For the most part, you use the items, allies, etc deck from the base (and/or expansions you have) in conjunction with this expansion. Thematically, this isn't a terrible expansion (though the number of cards makes it very likely you'd be bored with it with a couple of plays). But, beyond the theme and such, this expansion has some issues. First off, it is much harder than the original. There are very few * spots that refill adventure spots. With just my son and I playing, it took us almost no time at all to get to the point where we had killed all the easy encounters and were stuck on the starting island. The choices were: fight the next harder stuff (very iffy), or travel by sea to another spot (also iffy as the sea encounters looked as hard as the medium stuff for sure). Once you break into the second level of encounters, you sort of skip a step (there are no 3rd level encounters). I guess for this game, they made the 4th level the 3rd, but the cards didn't seem to match this - they were hard as the end game ones in the base game. To top that off, to beat the end bad guy, you have to "find" the Island of Dread (easy-ish), and then beat a possible gauntlet of bad guys. If you survive long enough, you might get a shot at the Arch Villian (who is a reject from Arkham Horror), who first tries to make your allies encounters you have to beat first. After a couple hours, we gave up and both conceded defeat. Even with all the special items, my son said - "I'll never beat that guy". I'd be willing to play again, but only if we refilled EVERY spot on the board. As the expansion stands, one death (and the corresponding loss that accompanies it) makes it nearly unplayable and definitely less fun.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Return of Mike B (aka - Game Night).

Friday night was game night at Rob and Michelle's place with a nice surprise - Mike Bauerlein. Mike used to own a FLGS that we'd play at every Friday night in Mesa. Mike had moved to Missouri and he's moving back and so he and his father and daughter came by to join in the fun. I arrived ahead of the crowd, followed closely by Noah Antwiller. The two of us team up against Rob and Michelle in a team game of Ingenious to start the night off. I think this game plays best with four in teams and offers interesting gameplay in a relatively short period of time. It also mitigates some of the luck. We called the game near the end as Noah and I had done a decent job of cutting off Rob and Michelle so they couldn't score their lowest color.
Mike and his family arrived as did Matt Cullinan, so after the greetings, we pulled out Ra. Mike joined Rob, Noah, Matt and I for one of the classics. I don't seem to always do very well in this push-your-luck game, but in the first round I was willing to bid on a number of groups that put me at 5 Pharaohs - scoring me a guaranteed 5 pts each round. I spent the rest of game grabbing little bits of points and avoiding taking any loss of points. Rob spent most of the game pulling Ra tiles and hoping not to "Ra" out before getting something decent at the end of each round. In the end, I had the high score! Unfortunately for me, so did Mike. When we compared total suns (the tie breaker), of course we had the same score, so we settled for tie.
By the time we wrapped up, another load of folks had arrived - Nathan Winchester, Niecy Westmoreland, and Matt and Liz Longieliere. With a bigger group of folks, we broke into three games. I sat down with Liz, Rob, Niecy, Nathan and Mike for a game of Top Race (ASS edition).This is a great little screw-with-everyone race game (not unlike Ave Caesar, except with betting). Unlike the first time I played this game, I managed not to lose money on any of the races. In fact, I played ok. However, Rob ran away with the last two races and betting. I think I beat Nathan though, so it wasn't a total loss.
The three "Matts" were still in the middle of their Agricola game, so Amelia, Liz and I pulled out GemBlo. I had only played this once a number of years ago, but this is essentially a Blokus variant that plays 6 players. It was still fun with just the three of us, though it took us a little while to figure out what part of the board to use for three players. I threw most of my big and difficult pieces out early (playing for blocks as much as I could) and that helped me finish with only 7 stones worth of points and a win. The three of us then finished the night with a three player game of Alhambra. I was never in a position to get any purple buildings and my giant wall didn't seem to help me much. Amelia scored a ton of purple points the whole game and won by about 15 or 20 points.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Cost of Boxing up Combat Commander (and more)

I've received a few questions so to answer them all:
  • $12 - This is the box I used from Staples - it is really sturdy. I got clear with a "smoke" lid. Don't buy a cheap box.
  • $42 ($7 each) - I bought bead boxes like the picture. They have these at every Walmart I've been to (or had - I had to go to three to find the 9 I bought).
  • $18 - Ultra Pro Clear card protectors. I went with the clear ones to show off the different backs to the cards. I've never played the game without them, so none of the cards show any wear.
  • $4 - Counter Clipping Jig by Jesse
  • $2 - 200 count cardboard boxes 
  • $30 - Litko markers and smoke and blaze markers.
Now, that makes the cost around $108 for the parts that aren't the game. Dang. It doesn't seem that much when you buy it in small chunks. I had a few folks ask me if this solution will hold CC:E + CC:Med + CC:Pacific. The answer is - nope. This should hold CC:E + CC:Med + expansions (Paratroopers, Stalingrad, Normandy, Resistance!, and the stuff from C3i), but if you put 9 of the bead boxes in the box, there is no room for the cards. That's ok by me - Pacific is really its own game as opposed to all of the others which are really a set. FYI- the Pacific box top sits up about 1cm with three bead boxes stacked on the maps and rules.

    Sunday, March 20, 2011

    Boxing Up Combat Commander

    The goal: figure out a solution for storing Combat Commander: Europe and Combat Commander: Mediterranean. The problem: CC:Med takes up as much space as the original game, but isn't a standalone either - it is a full on expansion.
    After a little bit of internal debate, I finally decided that whatever solution I settled on for putting things together was going to take space. I had originally settled on a solution that had each faction basically in a small Plano box and the cards bagged. All of which sat on the maps and rules etc in their own boxes. Not terrible, but it meant having to always haul out two boxes and sifting through everything to find the things you wanted/needed for a game. It also didn't lend itself as a solution when you started adding in the small expansions and scenarios from C3i. The best solution I had seen on BGG was one guy (Chick Lewis) that used a file case to load all his stuff. I started here and looked at a number of different storage solutions for the chits before finally settling on some bead boxes. These boxes are clear, fairly flat, and hold 24 individual cases with clear screw tops. The chits fit well in them and are easy to find and get out - it is also easy to pull out certain ones (like the suppression markers, smoke, wire, etc) and have them sit off to the side without taking up much space. I got six of them and fit everything in with room to spare. Not sure the expansions have lots of chits, but if they do, I have space for them. With the cards, I decided to use a couple of the deck boxes I have floating around. Each holds three of the sleeved decks (perfect!) and the two boxes easily fit in the case. There is also sufficient room in the case for a couple of hanging folders for the maps, rules, reference cards, and scenario books. The box I purchased (Staples) also has a flip up lid on top with some spaces where I have put all my little plastic bits. So, this takes up a bit of room, but the system works really well. Robert and I pulled all our pieces out from this setup the other day to play and it was pretty smooth overall.

    Saturday, March 19, 2011

    Rush to Contact

    Outskirts of Hitdorf, Germany - April 6, 1945. After crossing the Rhine, leading elements of Company A, 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Regiment found themselves met by elements of the 62nd Volksgrenadier Division on the road to Hitdorf. Both side reported contact and immediately called for reinforcements.
    Robert Bolan came over to resume our battles in Combat Commander:Europe after a 5-6 month layoff. He had lost the last time we played and chose to play as the Allied/American forces this time around. The scenario laid out with minimal units for the Americans and Germans. I had luckily drawn my secret objective as the spot closest to me and least likely to be ever taken by my opponent, so I setup my group near the house on the hill and hoped to maybe pick of any approaching Americans before reinforcements arrived. Robert quickly used what he had to basically over-run the other objectives and was well positioned when it was reinforcement time. The Germans arrived quickly and all at once and I setup to lay seige to the American's position in the central part of the map. I used another group on the far East side of the map to race off the map for points and as reinforcements when Robert would get his next batch of men (the Americans trickled in over three or so time spots). For a couple turns, I used my men in high-ground areas and machine gun teams to try and repel the Americans. Robert was giving the West side of the map a wide bearth (no cover near the road to approach my machine gun) and so I chose to try and race more units off the map. However, Robert stopped them dead in their tracks and eliminated them shortly after. My other units were not seeing much success either and Robert kicked their ass with two rounds of devastating order cards. He was able to call in artillery on my mass of machine gunners assaulting his houses and then through a series of the most lucky events, I lost recover cards in consecutive rounds, keeping me from regrouping. Without the ability to fight back, he demolished the Germans and forced a surrender victory. I played this one poorly (should have forced Robert to assault my positions) and Robert had all the karma. Next round is my pick. We'll have to see what happens.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    El Grande

    This month at the work gaming night, I introduced my fellow gamer/co-workers to El Grande. We had exactly five - Robert Bolan, Ana Lopez, Danielle Reader-Jolley, Deborah Allwes and myself. I went over the game and there were a few confused stares. Probably partial due to a number of co-workers being a bit fatigued. Despite that, once we started everyone seemed to really like the game. I myself enjoy this one a lot - though I've only played it three times (once with expansions). I think this one seems hard to get to the table due to it seeming to be really best with five players. I could see it being ok with four, but not as good. At any rate - I started out with an early lead which I managed to hold onto the entire game. Not that everyone didn't make some moves at the end of the game. In the last round, everyone managed to knock me out of first place in every place I was going to score in - with the stupid Castillo. Luckily in the last round, there was a "score first place only" in every region action that accounted me a good sum of points which let me hold out. Ana managed to be within a few points - she was in second most of game. Danielle kind of mis-understood the scoring and didn't score well in the first scoring, but made up ground in the last two to finish in the middle of the pack. Robert and Deborah were fighting to avoid last, but Deborah managed to eck out two more points than Robert.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Through the Ages

    And yet another game of Through the Ages in the bag. I apparently learned something from the last beating I took at the hands of Steve Bauer. This online game was played with Robert Bolan, Nathan Winchester, and Matthew Frederick. The game started with my taking Homer - he's nice for some early points which is probably the amount I won this game by. The difference for me this game was two things: one, I NEVER got a mine upgrade. That's right, I played the whole game never having more than three bronze workers. I never even saw a mine upgrade card - the jerks I was playing with snatched them up as fast as they appeared on the board. This forced me to pay more attention to what I was taking and to play more efficiently than normal. It worked. The turning point for me was probably near the end of the first third of the game when I passed taking a swordsman technology. Saving my science points for knights and saving myself the cost of buying (and expending) swordsman helped immensely. As the game neared its end, I looked to have a pretty comfortable lead. Right up until Robert declared war on Nathan. Nathan DESTROYED Robert and garnered a reward of 21 culture points. Suddenly I wasn't sure I could hold him off. I grabbed Gandhi to earn points and built items solely gearing myself to generating as many last round points as I could. After the dust settled, I had managed to finally knock off Nathan from his undefeated streak. Nathan's "super science" strategy has been defeated (and not by uber military). Some interesting things to note:
    • Never upgraded my mine, nor had more than 3 bronze workers.
    • Never disbanded anything
    • Didn't build the Transcontinental RR (built a late Ocean Liner Service)
    • Didn't change governments until late in the game - switched to Republic 
    • Never had more than 2 military actions
    I'm not sure how much more of this game I have in me. It plays awfully tight and seems a little unforgiving when everyone knows the cards and pacing of the game. That kind of non-flexibility is ok in games that are shorter, but this game is pretty long to be that unforgiving. The other thing that is bothersome is that this is a rich get richer game. Fall behind and you are screwed. I still like the game, but its just about to fall out of my top 10 after nearly 10 plays.

    Saturday, March 12, 2011

    Return to Lipki

    I have returned to Lipki, Russia. The year is 1941 and I'm in charge of a German recon mission. On the other side? Erik Von Burg and the Russian army - out on a search and destroy mission. And this is why I play Combat Commander. Because it draws you into the story. But unlike some games that are all story and little game, there is plenty of game here. This was the first time Erik had played Combat Commander, so I went back to the beginning. Heck, it had been 5 months since I last played, so I had to go back and review the rules before Erik came over so I could remember everything. The game started slowly for Erik as he made a small mistake and had to regroup his forces in order keep his troops in command range of his leader. He made up for this by quickly taking out a small squad of Germans he ran into in the forest. I was forced to huddle in some buildings and try to hold out against Erik. I killed a couple of his squads, but it became a firefight across the road - with his side having a slight advantage with two medium machine guns. I contemplated moving a unit around to the west and then north to score some points for moving them off the board, but Erik managed to draw the Time! card over and over. He finally went through his deck and suddenly the game was over. When we revealed the objectives I managed to edge him out for the win.

    Random thoughts on storing Combat Commander

    Now that I have Combat Commander: Mediterranean, I've been considering the options for storage. Each of the Europe (base) game and Med fit in their own boxes using the Plano containers (pictured) I have now. Three of these (20 spaces each) and the card decks fit into the boxes with the lids either flush or just barely lifted. The problem is - CC:Med is not really a separate game - it is an expansion (and in some ways "completes" the base game). I could of course just use GMT counter trays, but six or seven of these will fill a box and require the cards and maps in another box. The other issue I have with the counter trays is that I'm not sure the lids won't just pop off and dump chits everywhere. I'd also really like to have all of the materials in one container. A lot of the published scenarios and tourney scenarios require both Europe and Med. Then of course there are the expansions :
    These will add to the bulk of maps as well as add counters. At this point it almost looks like I need a tackle bag solution like I use for Command and Colors: Ancients. The problem with this is that the Plano boxes are too big for the little chits. While there are lots of chits, they aren't so plentiful that I need the kind of space that the C&C:Ancients blocks require.
    This morning, I was over at Walmart looking at their tackle selection trying to figure out if I wanted to just use a tackle box and what might work. Then I wandered over to their craft section and there I found bead boxes. These smaller boxes are fairly flat and have 24 containers inside them (thus I'd need 5 to meet the current storage need and maybe a 6th for expansions. These aren't too bad for size (I'd still need some other solution for toting everything around, but the clear plastic should work pretty decently). The small containers have screw tops to keep the chits in. I'm kind of leaning this way if I can figure out a solution for keeping these and the cards and all of the maps and booklets together.

      Thursday, March 10, 2011

      Gaming With Nathan

      Nathan Winchester and I haven't played anything face to face in a while - its been busy for us lately. He just got back to town after being in Washington for training for his new job and he wanted to game. He stopped by after work and we had a little dinner and then played some games. We started the night with a couple quick games of Hive - including the new ladybug. Ladybug was interesting though not really a factor. I lost the first game stupidly and then we pushed in the second.
      Next up, we pulled out Caylus Magna Carta. This one is short and sweet and still interesting. This game, our setup had no food card and we didn't pay attention to build one right away. Nor did either of us build a gold and thus our game went by pretty quickly. I amassed a good amount of cash and then managed to get the card down that lets you buy the castle stones and purchased my way to a victory as quickly as I could. Of course, the last time we played we forgot an important rule - the player who collects the most building stones each round is rewarded with a gold resource marker. Well, we forgot AGAIN. That might have made a bit of a difference.
      We ended the night playing Louis XIV. I haven't played this in years, but obtained a copy in a trade a while back. This isn't a bad little area control game. It is interesting game (though the two-player version is slightly odd). I'm still not too keen on the end game scoring thing with the coat of arms, but it doesn't make the game bad. Nathan did manage to score a single point more than I did for a win despite my winning a number of CoA bonuses. I'd like to play this with three people (four was rough IIRC).

      Tuesday, March 08, 2011

      Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization

      Last Friday night was game night at Rob and Michelle's place. Matthew Frederick had indicated wanting to play Through the Ages face-to-face, the two of us sat down with Steve Bauer and Robert Bolan for a marathon game of TtA. We knew this would be a long game with four players and we were not wrong. Unfortunately, Steve has played often enough to know how to kick all our asses. And kick he did. Robert and I probably should have conceded about two hours before the end of the game (at least two hours). We learned a lot about the game (that had previously been essentially hidden from us by the online system we use for PBEM games. Of course, having more knowledge of the game hasn't made me any better of a player. Today we finished another online game and Nathan is now a stupid 6-0 in this game. I'm really on the fence with this one ATM. I like the game, but I just don't seem to grok it. I'm torn between wanting to figure it out and not wanting to play it anymore. I'll likely keep playing online and for sure I will not play it again F2F with four players (in fact, I won't play this with 2 online or F2F). Not sure how many more beatings I have left in me though.

      That Didn't Take Long

      Well, I found a copy of Battles of Westeros on an auction - unpunched for $40 (plus shipping). I'm not all that glad I get to glue the set, but at least I have nobody to complain at if it isn't done correctly.

      So now the real question is - what / how do I get rid of some things in my collection to make room for the incoming stuff? As I look around my collection I realize it might be time to sell off a few things. Indonesia, Bus, Keythedral pop out immediately as games I should sell. I'm on the fence about keeping C&C:Ancients. I like the game, but I'm not sure I need it. Worse case, I need to get rid of my copy of Exp #1. I should probably trade or sell off Battlelore as well.
      On another note - anyone have a suggestion for how to store the Combat Commander series? I'd just keep them each in their own big box, except that Europe and Med are really one giant game. I'd rather not have to lug both boxes around if I can figure something better out.

      Saturday, March 05, 2011

      New Games

      Despite the fact that fell in love with Battles of Westeros, it was not among those that I chose to recently order when my friend Dion Garner asked if I wanted to get in on his order. First on the list of things to get was Thunderstone: Doomgate Legion. For whatever reason, I had dragged my feet on getting this one. I finally pulled the trigger. I also finally got around to updating the online Thunderstone Randomizer I've been writing. I got Doomgate Legion encorporated (before I got the box). I also had to order a ton of new sleeves for the game. Well, it turns out that Thunderstone: Dragonspire came out this past week - I missed getting it into the order with Dion, so I just bought a copy (along with 400 more card sleeves) from the Game Depot. I have the game (and all expansions) sleeved now and I'm working on incorporating this latest expansion into the generator. I have to do the village and Thunderstone cards and maybe work in a couple of tweaks and I'll finally be caught up. Sadly, the fully sleeved game doesn't fit in any one box. The expansion boxes are fantastic for holding sleeved cards and AEG did a great job in printing dividers for all the cards - but even with leaving out all of the random game generating cards and a stack of disease cards, the game still took up the entirety of the Dragonspire box and half of one expansion box. I'm guessing the next expansion will easily fit in, but it'd be REALLY nice if they could figure out a jumbo box or something.
      The second game I had in Dion's order was Combat Commander: Mediterranean. I now have the three big boxes in the series and will start gathering the smaller expansions as well. I mentioned to Robert Bolan that I heard that someone was thinking about running a CC tourney at the Geekway and he said we need to resume our weekly games. We really do. This is such a good series and we both enjoy it a lot. I forgot all about buying more sleeves for this one. I'll have to get on that. I'll also have to run my butt over to Walmart for a few more small Plano containers for the new chits. I'm starting to think I need to just swap out everything in my CC:Ancients/Battlelore bag and keep all the Combat Commander stuff in it. I'm not real sure I want to do that, but it might be an option.
      The last little bit I got in Dion's order was the Ladybug expansion for Hive. I had no clue what this truly added to the game (and I didn't care in the least). Hive is a no-brainer for me and so was this. Turns out the Ladybug moves exactly two times ON other tiles, then once off. Sounds interesting.
      Finally - the last of my splurges was because of Dion, but not in the same order. When I picked up my games, he told me about Labyrinth: The War on Terror. I had heard NOTHING about this. No excitement, no reviews, nada. So what is it? On the surface, it looks a lot like a "modern" Twilight Struggle with the US versus the Terrorists. It is a CDG and Dion indicated that it was like Twilight Struggle in that the more he plays it, the better it has become. Twilight Struggle is really an excellent game that has held up really well for me. Nathan Winchester and I have always managed a couple of games of it while traveling to and from the Geekway. I looked at the box at Dion's and decided to get this by the time I got back to my place. I don't know if this will replace Twilight Struggle on our trip this year. I have a travel version of Twilight Struggle we play that is easy to do in places like an airplane. I'll likely bring Labyrinth along (unless the Geekway guys get a copy out there) to play regardless.