Thursday, November 10, 2005

Playing Catch-Up (Ketchup?)

It's been a while since my last post, for a variety of reasons. Partly travel, partly other things going on, no one good reason. Rather than post several entries that people are less likely to look at, and since most of my recent gaming sessions have involved a single "serious" game, I'll just cover them.

First up was the Central Tuesday session before Halloween, which was a pretty small turnout at Matt's. KC, Matt, and myself first tried out 3-player Meuterer (by the same folks who brought you Verraeter), which proved to not work as well as with four. I can't really put my finger on why this game didn't work well, perhaps because it was so obvious who was going to mutiny. Next, we tried out Australia at Matt's request, which had a bit of the same problem. While the (large) lead changed hands a few times, Matt got one really good opportunity to score, and that 22 point pad served him well at game's end. I like the game, but I think it needs four to work effectively.

The next session was with my wife and two friends at my family's vacation home in Central Oregon. The friends like games, although because they spent most of their time running to visit other friends, we didn't see them so much. We also discovered that the DVD of Amadeus we watched was the director's cut, clocking in at over three hours! However, we did get in one game of Barbarossa, the clay modelling game that has been taunting wargamers for years. The idea is to get other players to guess your model somewhere in the mid-game rather than early or late, so the trick is to make is not too hard, not too easy, but just right. Laura, the chiropractor, modelled a femur and a lung (!), her SO Carole modelled a birdbath and a gun (that looked a lot more like bacon than a firearm), my wife made a kernel of popcorn and Rapunzel, and I did a hot water heater and a plunger.

While there were several times that my wife stated that I was most certainly doomed (she would ask if she would use the hot water heater in the bathroom, and of course the answer is yes even though it "lives" in the garage), it was agreed that this was a very good game, and I look forward to playing it again. Perhaps the best four-player party game I own.

We also played a popular music trivia game called "Rock and Roll Odyssey" that my wife loves, but that I can't play because I tend to crush my opponents (playing in bands since 1975 does that). We played with me against the three women, and they didn't have to answer questions from the 50's or 60's. They won somewhat handily, although had I gotten the "name every Elton John single up to 1980" things would have gone much much differently.

The next session was last week's West Side Thursday, held at Mike's. I normally don't attend these, but I'd missed Tuesday's South session at Chris', so Thursday proved handy. Mike, Tim, and myself played Ted Racier's new Phalanx title, The First World War. Despite Racier's pedigree as a wargame designer (and the title), this is hardly a wargame, more like Schotten-Totten with some chrome. Each player takes one faction (Germans, Western Allies, Eastern Allies, or the poorly named German Allies), and tries to take ground on one of several "fronts". There are six game turns, each consisting of four plays for each faction, sixteen per turn in total. During your turn you can move forces from one front to adjacent fronts, move one or two units anywhere on the board, or fight on one front. Fighting consists of figuring your combat strength (lead unit, +1 for larger force in terms of units, +/- combat chits, + a die roll), and the smaller total side loses their lead unit and the winner takes the next city on that front's linear track. If you roll of of two "S's" on the die, you add zero, but get to draw a combat chit, some of which are less than helpful. If you've taken all of the cities, the losing faction adds one to their surrender total for that turn. If, at turn end, a faction rolls their surrender total or less (S's now are not zero), that side immediately loses and the game is over. Otherwise, you add up replacements and reinforcements and do it all again.

Mike showed us all his incredible prowess at skewing probability curves by rolling what I will conservatively estimate was 80% S's. As such, he lost battles constantly, and the Western Allies had a lot of units in the dead pile as the game went on. However, because of the addition of new units as the game goes on for the Allies, he did better and better, finally doing so well that he was poised to win the game against Tim's Germans and my Losers (urm, German Allies) on the final turn. However, I had one last chance to force an extra surrender point on the Western Allies in Italy, and Mike rolled a 1 on the last turn to lose the game. However, since Tim had four more VP than I (three is the cutoff), he was the Big Winner and I came in a close second.

I really want to like this game. It played pretty quickly, there weren't too many rules questions (although the rules are the usual Phalanx gibberish in spots, there is a very basic rules question I've had on Revolution for months that they refuse to answer for me), and while clearly being a euro rather than a wargame, it still kept the general flavor of this world altering conflict. Mike was particularly unhappy that the game came down to a single die roll at game end, although I like to term that sort of thing as "tension", and it is possible to try to try to prevent surrender rolls by simply not allowing the opposition to win battles that involve your base (or give them their own surrender points). It was very clear that we were all playing with sub-optimal strategies, as I don't think the Germans ever went after the Russians at all, and we weren't going after the city spaces that generate replacements as much as we might have. I definitely think that the Germans shouldn't have done the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in turn four, but waited another turn to keep the heat on in the east, but then again the German Allies were starting to suck wind.

In the final analysis, the general verdict was "Hmm." At two hours (including describing the rules), it's perhaps just a bit long. I'll have to try it with two or four players to see if there is a game here.

We also played a few hands of Take 6, which I haven't played for a long time. I like the game, but it gets old after a few hands when you realize that the game is playing you more than you playing it.

Whew! Only one more session report left!

This past Tuesday saw eleven (!!!!!) people show up at my place for Central Tuesday, including Lost Boy Mark whom we haven't seen in years. Michael and his son Alex also came, and I haven't seen either at a regular session in some time. We split up into two groups, with Matt, Mike, Chuck, Alex, Laurent, and myself retiring to the Temple of Conspicuous Consumerism (the family room with the big TV), while KC, Mark, Michael, Jim, and God help me someone who I simply can't remember (it was a lot of people) played Australia and then KC's Havoc game. We, on the other hand, played the Paranoia Mandatory Bonus Fun Card Game, Medici, and finally For Sale.

Paranoia is a role-playing game that has survived from the mid-80's to the present day, largely because the premise is funnier than hell. You are a Troubleshooter living in an underground shelter run by an insane computer that tolerates no threats to it's authority. Which means pretty much everything. The thing that made this RPG fun, at least in small doses, was that the GM (the Computer) actively killed players at will, spurred on by the other players who were hoping it wouldn't be them left as a smoking grease spot. Since you had five extra clones for each character, this wasn't as bad as it seemed. However, for those desiring long-term campaigns, the odds of advancing characters much past Orange clearance was pretty slim. And it made the game less fun when people lived.

Mongoose Publishing has dusted off this RPG, and has trotted out a companion card game, which I will refer to simply as Paranoia for the remainder of the report. In the card game, each player is a Troubleshooter with five extra clones, and your team (the other players) are all assigned missions. The missions usually involve everyone trying to inflict "wounds" or "treason" markers on the mission, although the person who inflicts the final wound usually gets to advance in clearance level. Since you don't want to set someone else up to get the advancement, which also determines the winner after several missions, players generally don't want to wound or accuse the mission, although once you've gotten any advancement you generally want at least one hit to keep from getting demoted.

At the same time, players are playing cards on each other to generate enough treason tokens on someone to make them a traitor, at which time you can safely shoot at them to kill off their clones. Players who are traitors at mission's end are executed, so even if you don't get them the computer will. There are also cards that you can play to defend yourself or create problems for others. When someone runs out of cards (you generally don't redraw during the mission), the mission is a success, or a number of other things happen, the mission is over.

This is a very wacky game, and it requires a certain amount of "buying into" the premise, just like an RPG. I thought it was hilarious, as did several other players, although at least one player would have preferred root canal. Six people may have been one or two too many, although there is no denying that the game's wackiness factor goes up with more people. As a midnight game at our gaming retreats, this may be good fun, although certainly not for more than an hour. Considering that the cards are fairly generic other than the title, graphic, and flavor text (which is often pretty unrelated), it relies upon the players to give it the sense of gleeful backstabbing and mayhem that made the RPG a survivor for more than 20 years.

After three missions, we decided to put Mike out of his misery and play Medici, the quintessential six-player game in our group. Alex was the only person who hadn't played, and (sadly) the only person smart enough to correct our pronunciation. Did I mention he turns 17 in a month? Smartass kids...

In a strange first round, few people got more than two advancements in a given commodity. Usually, people are pretty good at pulling in at least three of one good, but not in this game. Early draws of three different commodities forced this on us, and we finished the first round with a pretty close game. The second round saw Laurent doing well in Spice, the only person to hit the bonus point territory in that round, also unusual for us. There was a considerable amount of table talk, with Chuck leading the way (and some great smack talk between him and Mike concerning said amount of talk). It's a good thing we all like each other!

The final round saw Alex going for points more than commodities, and he did well enough to garner third with close to 100 points. Laurent rode his Spice Rack to 30 points and a win with about 107 points, while I was the only other 20 bonus point earner, but came in fifth at 93 when I couldn't pull two cloth at the end of the round. Chuck came in last with something a bit less than 90. This is always a great game, and even the dreadful Mayfair graphics can't sink it (ha!).

Chuck and Matt had to leave, so the rest of us played a quick game of For Sale, the Stephan Dorra game that plays in 15 minutes. In our game, most of the players made the classic rookie mistake of overbidding early, so I was able to score three of the top four cards for nearly nothing. Still, in the end I won by a fairly close margin at 70 points, with two other players in the sixties. This is a great game for the time spent on it, and the less spent the better in my opinion. With very brisk play, it is a gem. With a lot of deliberation in the early bidding, it becomes pedantic. Light, but very good short filler, and there are very few games that fit that need.

My fingers are tired now, so I will thank all for playing, and I will have more frequent and timely reports in the future. Coming up: a Saturday session at Tim and Carrie's, Mike's Thanksgiving Weekend Saturday session, a 2-player game weekend the following week, and a holiday session or three at year's end, in addition to the regular reports. Better start lifting weights with my pinkies!


Mike said...

My $.02:

Third World War: Frustrating to lose to yet another duff die roll (1 in 3 chance), and my general bad die rolling was enough for some amusement. Given how bad I was rolling, I was amazed I was still in with a shout at winning. Whilst it isn't a bad game, it isn't good enough to attract me for another try. Nice bits.

Paranoia Card Game: Needs the right group to be fun, and with the right group why not just play a decent game in the first place. The novelty/amusement factor wore off quickly. However, I'm not sure I'd prefer root canal over it...

Medici: Case in point. This was as much (or more) fun, and we got to play a decent game at the same time. Chuck is such a hoot to play with.

For Sale: The more I play this the more I go off it.

Thanks to you and Tim for teaching 6 Nimmt.


dave said...
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