Monday, July 31, 2006

WBC West Part 3

Saturday morning broke like a car crash for me. I'd had about six times too much wine playing ForeWord (note corrected spelling, Dave), and I was in no shape to spend five hours getting my white Japanese ass kicked by Chuck in Empire of the Sun, so we chose instead to give Shifting Sands another try, this time with me in the role of the Brits and Chuck playing the Italians and Germans.

The game started out pretty much like the last one, with the Brits taking Tobruk, the Italians taking Khartoum, and not a lot of movement in Libya. I was very aggressive in getting the Italians out of East Africa with the South Africans, despite Chuck bringing in the second Italian division, the AFR. Playing The Ethiopian Campaign early was a very good idea, as I'm learning that this game is all about efficient use of OPS.

I also was premptive in putting an Indian division in Iraq in anticipation of the Revolt, which I smashed in a single attack when Chuck stacked three BGs in Baghdad. I also sent up a British armored division to Jerusalem in anticipation of playing Exporter (which allows attacks into Vichy Syria), and was able to take out the French before the German mountain division could arrive.

To make things worse for Chuck, I drew the Barbarossa card early - which forced me to hold it and a Malta Convoy for a turn, which made his life difficult by taking away RPs. I've come to the conclusion that the fight over Malta is critical in this game, and while you won't necessarily win by taking it, you are very unlike to win if you don't, especially as the Brits. With so few but strong units, it is nearly impossible to kick the Germans out of Libya if they can keep replacing their units (there are so many Italians that it really doesn't matter much). As such, playing the right cards at the right time is critical, which is why I think the increasing hand sizes are so important. Even more important is the ability to get the Malta Convoys out, which stops at the beginning of 1942 with the Siege of Malta, as they limit the Axis to six cards and limit their ability to manage the deck.

By the end of 1941, I had driven the Axis out of the Near East and East Africa, and the next step was to take back Tobruk and start moving west, and I finally had the units to do it. For a long time, I sat with three divisions guarding the Egyptian frontier, and I suspect that the Axis needs to make a big push during that time. Giving the Allies distractions in the sideshows is important, but it is equally important to give them another distraction in Egypt. Neither of us did this in our games, and while I managed to win our first game without this push, I think it's critical against an experienced Allied player.

Here's why: there is nothing forcing the Allies to play the Torch invasion, and the only thing making the German panzers run out of El Agheila (which is a very tough nut to crack) is the risk of losing even more VP spaces in Tunisia. In fact, I didn't play Torch, putting Tobruk under siege and trying instead to take Tripoli for an auto win. I managed to finally kick the Axis out of El Agheila (I finally took Tobruk in the last turn with Supercharge), but only after taking lots of losses and only on my final card play of the game. Of course, I'd forgotten that I could stack four units in a space thanks to Monty, which may have moved things along a bit better for me, but it was still a tight game. For even more tension, Chuck had the Italian Fleet card in his final hand, and considered playing it for the VP he'd need to win. Of course, I'd drawn the Med Fleet, so I was kind of hoping he'd play it and save the risk of yet another botched roll (I don't think I rolled more than 25% of my combat rolls over 3 the whole game, although Chuck did roll a 6/1 combo in my favor at a critical point).

Things I learned:

VP are critical. Never lose one due to Event Card play if you can avoid it.

Fight for Malta. This is not China in EotS or North Africa in BtB. It is a critical fight, and the RP/hand limit rules make it so.

Force the issue in Egypt as the Germans. You'll be on the border anyway, and your supply doesn't get any worse. However, you better have RPs, as you'll lose the attrition war if you don't. When the Spitfires show up, if you aren't on the verge of taking Malta, that's when you start the long slow retreat. You *want* the Allies to play Torch in order to win, as Tunisia will eat up OPS, and they have no reason to do so if you're backed up in El Agheila at the start of 1943.

Understand the ramifications of card plays, particularly the Malta series. I missed a chance to play a Malta convoy right before the siege of Malta, and Chuck missed the chance to play RPs before Barbarossa. In 1941 and 1942, it pays to play a RP card if you can as the Axis before the Allies can take away the opportunity with their card play.

Don't be afraid to play high value cards for events. There are a ton of cards in this game, and I never have felt like I needed to finess a card like in the early game of PoG (play the Blockade for RPs in the first hand, or hope you see it again before Limited War?) In Sands, it is a non-issue. In fact, I was playing events to get them out of my hand in the late game, as I wanted to be sure to get certain cards after the 1943 shuffle.

I wasn't sure how I liked the game after the first play, but I'm sold on it now. While there are some fiddly rules and conditions that come and go in the game, as far as strategy goes things seem to be very straightforward and thus less confusing for people who haven't played CDGs before. Rules complexity is one thing, a complex operational/strategic situation is another and often more difficult for the novice.

Chuck and Jodi went out for dinner just as we were getting to 1943, so we actually finished the game early on Sunday. In the meantime, Dave and I did our traditional rib dinner, then came back to play Settlers Card Game with the Barbarian expansion. All I can say about this game is that I think I've learned not to play Dave in this game, as I never win. I had the worst deck to draw from in the beginning, and it never ever got any better for me, even with building cities early. Dave drew every decent action card in the game, and hardly a turn went by when he wasn't stealing resources or cards or screwing me over in some way, shape, or form. The "fun factor" is quartered when I'm playing an expansion I'm unfamiliar with and have no idea how the various combos work. This was my second least favorite game of the week.

The final game of the night was three hands of Circus Flohcati, in this case my first time out with the Rio Grande edition. And what a surprise to learn that two of the action cards have different rules than in my translated German edition. Dave hates this game, by the way, but I love it and Jodi will play it, so off we went. In the end, the score was something like 165-164-163-161. I lost.

Chuck and I finished up Sands the next morning, then we pulled out his Labors of Herakles design next. Labors is based off of Titan, using a slightly modified board. By the mid-game, I was hating life, mostly because I felt that I was constantly being put in situations where I had no decisions to make. We made a couple of small suggestions for changes to give more choices (using movement cards instead of rolling dice, for example), but I think that there's a pretty cool little game in there and I hope Chuck keeps at it.

By now we were starting to get things put away and getting ready to leave, so we played Scepter of Zavandore (or something, the fonts used in the game were problematic), which Dave compares to St. Petersburg, a game he claims to not like because it's so dry. I'm not even going to try to describe this game other than to say that there are mechanisms that force players to constantly be starved for the resources you need to get lots of VP, and each player has a slightly different starting position. There are some "civ" advances (spells in this game) that are completely useless as far as I can see, and others that are critical. As such, my overall feeling was that every turn you knew you had to spend a certain amount of money for stuff, and the better you sequenced what you bought the better you did. That, and that Rubies are far too powerful in this game - not going after them will guarantee you lose the game. Dave, of course, won handily while I snuck by Chuck by one point for second.

And that, as we say, was that.

It was nice to be playing lighter fare in the evenings, and I'd like to continue that practice in future WBC Wests. In fact, we even considered running a multi-evening RPG next year, although that's very much up in the air. Regardless, I felt much less fatigued over the course of the week than last year after so many full days of wargaming.

Another thing I learned was that in some cases it is definitely better to have a strong sense of how the game works before playing. Empire of the Sun was very difficult to play because we were constantly looking up rules, but that's Mark Herman for you. Gettysburg was very frustrating, largely because the rules assume you know how to play already and this partcular block game is very different from other Columbia titles. However, most of our games were things we'd played before (and I'd taken a stab at a Shifting Sands "delta" document ahead of time, so it was easy to teach). Knowing the games well helps eliminate fatigue, and next year I'll definitely attempt playing games ahead of time, even if solitaire, just to gave the system in my head better. Rules are such an issue for so many wargame companies these days (Columbia, Avalanche, Decision, Gamers, just about everyone but GMT and Multi-man) and fatigue such an issue that homework from at least one of the players is really important.

It was also nice to have the same set of players over the entire week. I think it would be cool to have four next year, as you can choose an opponent for the day and not worry about sequencing to mix up who you play against as we do at the Euro retreats. I almost prefer WBC West to the RCG retreats in that sense, although having eight or more guys playing a wide variety of games over a long weekend is really rewarding in other ways.

Big thanks to Chuck for driving, I know I was about as wiped out as I could be by the time we got to my house, and he still had to drop off Dave and get home, at least a hour in the surprisingly heavy late Sunday night traffic. Once again, I blink my eyes on Tuesday night and it's a week later and I'm back to the grind.

May the Crunk be with you!

Friday, July 28, 2006

WCB West, Part 2

When we last left our heros, Doug was kicking Chuck's tush. Sadly, that was to end in a blaze of, well, something.

Wednesday night was a game Chuck had designed (and is still working on) that I won't go into, but it involves moving around the map collecting various gems that you can combine, then going to another place where you play Can't Stop (in essence) to get something that matches, and the more gems and other things you get the more points you get. I won because I figured out early that you want to get one of all six options, while Chuck couldn't win the Can't Stop part. Then Dave showed us Siena, which is better left undiscussed (I gave up at midnight after nearly 3 hours).

Thursday morning, and Chuck and I played the World's Shortest Game of Royal Tank Corps. This is an area activation game along the lines of Breakout Normandy and Monty's Gamble. The Germans have to take about four turns of brutal slammage before they can really do anything other than stave off the British assault (the milieu is the attack on Cambrai in WWI), and I made a couple of small tactical mistakes compounded by Chuck's spectacular resupply to his artillery units, and it was clear after two turns that things were going to go badly for the Germans, so we agreed that this game was best conceded by me. I think I successfully predicted this result, though, in my previous recap. I will definitely need to solo this game a couple of times to see what the Germans need to do to survive more than a few turns, it really is an astonishingly grim game for them early on.

We decided to play the first day of Columbia's take on Gettysburg. Most Columbia games are more operational or strategic on scope, so playing a tactical game is interesting to say the least. The game is unlike many of Columbia's offerings in that units can attack adjacent spaces (up to three spaces away for artillery) before anyone even moves, and then the rest of the units can move, but don't enter spaces with enemy units, although they may attack into those spaces. Fire and melee are both heavily restricted in that only a single unit may fire/melee across a hexside, so it's important to get a flanking position to attack. After one day, the Confederates (me) had taken Gettysburg itself, Seminary Rigde, and Benner's Hill by the first day, although we had not extended the line on the left up into the Peach Orchard or up to the Round Tops. Our result (in what was clearly a "test" game) was a draw.

Chuck felt that there weren't any "big" battles in this game, unlike most Columbia games, although I'd have to say that the scope was so different that any sort of breakthrough would be unusual and would require more attrition that we'd generated. I really liked the supply system that differentiated between HQs at different levels of command, it made for a very interesting game in my book, even if nothing really "big" happened during the game. It only took about three hours for one day, and that included digging through the typically miserable Columbia rules.

As an aside, I will say that I've met Tom Dalglish (pronounced "dog leash"), and he is clearly someone who doesn't understand why people don't "get" his rules system. I would strongly suggest that he use extended play examples in his rules that demonstrate how the system works, as the rules were very unclear, especially if you are used to the typical operational area movement game such as Hammer of the Scots or Crusader Rex. Also, if you are going to use the "margin" method of play notes and examples, leave out actual rules from the margins as people don't look for them there. This is a very good game once again made unnecessarily difficult by a poor ruleset. Which is a shame, because I think this may be my favorite block game so far (and I am not a fan of ACW). I'll have to play a full game, or one that starts on turn 2 to get a better sense, though.

Chuck's wife Jodi was due to show up soon, so Chuck and I played Pizza Box Football, the Smashmouth version (simple time management, but a full four quarters). I took the Seahawks and Chuck took the Pack (both '94 versions, the '95 season hasn't come out yet, at least as far as I know), and I rolled significantly better than Chuck. After dinner, Chuck and Dave played a little Zopp, which is a fun Crokinole-type version of air hockey. Good fun with lots of smack talk all around. I lost to Chuck in the one game we played.

To close out the evening, the three of us played Merchant of Venus, the old AH chestnut that plays like a train game. Dave went for the Freighter strategy with Red and Yellow drives, I went for a Transport with just Yellow and taking Fares along in the extra space, and Chuck took a Clipper early on that became a Transport later. I edged Chuck for the win when an extra good became available at the place I was sitting at, then got my fare into the Galactic Base when I was able to roll 20 movement points in two turns just in time to beat out Chuck when he learned he couldn't just sell his ship parts for the win. About as close a game as I've played, as Dave was a turn or three behind both of us. Good fun, and the first worthwhile game of MoV I've played.

Friday (today) was the day that Chuck and I took on a "big" game, in this case Empire of the Sun. Last year it was Barbarossa to Berlin, the CDG that takes on WWII from 1941 on. EotS is Mark Herman's PTO game, with similar structure (the Japanese simply try not to be completely obliterated), but this one is hex-based and a much different animal. Herman does great games with rules that drive me nuts - he uses 20 words to describe what should be done in 5, and so the ruleset is difficult to parse. When I got the game, I spent hours reading it, even my wife noticed that I was spending a lot of time getting the game down.

When it comes down to it, the game is very interesting, although I have yet to see the Japanese do well enough in Burma to justify a strong China strategy. We left off in the game at 1944, with Chuck's Allies having just taken Bangkok (although with heavy losses), and the Americans just getting back into the Philippines. Particularly notable was an attack on Commonwealth forces just north of Bangkok that saw two 18-12s and a 9-12 vaporize with a lucky roll on Chuck's part (and about half of the Japanese fleet vaporize at Truk around the same time). On the other hand, I have used ever Weather card, sometimes twice because of discard pile scavenging due to Inter-Service Rivalry recovery cards, to slow the Allies in 1942 and 43. We tabled the game around dinner time and plan to pick it up on Saturday.

For evening games, the three of us pulled out Arkham Horror, the reissue of the old Chaosium title. I have been lukewarm on this game, as it doesn't solitaire as well as World of Warcraft, and just doesn't have the same level of immersion for me. However, our game was good fun, although a bit easy - we never felt like we were up against the clock as the Mythos cards kept putting new gates in areas we'd already sealed. The terror track never got above 0, and we did a good job of busting up monsters - I think Chuck took about 20 points in monster pelts alone. Me, I kept losing my sanity, which was annoying. Dave loved the theme and overall play, and hopes to play it with his daughter once she turns 5 or 6. Eek. Still, this was clearly a fun little puzzle game for three, certainly better than I expected given past experience. One thing that really helps is someone that understands the basics, my previous multi-player game was a mess because I was trying to learn it while playing, which is a bad idea.

Last up for Friday was a game of Dave's called Foreword. This is a computer-aided party game where you try to think of a name of a movie (or song, or whatever) that is as close to a randomly-generated name on the computer as you can think of. I suck at these sorts of game, as my brain shuts down in this sort of relationship - at one point I was trying to think of a movie name when we were supposed to be thinking of a song title! Still, the fact that you can choose your own categories and the short length save this one.

Chuck and I plan to finish up EotW tomorrow (just five turns left, ack), and I hope to get in a little Great War at Sea with him before he leaves for a romantic dinner with his wife, when Dave and I will almost certainly play Hannibal or Twilight Struggle. Sunday is up in the air, although we don't leave until 4 or 5, so we should get in *something* during the day.

These "retreats" always go far too quickly for me. Sometimes I think that I could just live in a house with six other gamers and just play for months. Sometimes OCD works in your favor!

Part three to come...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

WBC West, Part 1

Lookit me, I'm blogging the WBC West!

I'm only impressed with myself because I am notoriously bad at blogging from a gaming event. Today, though, I am motivated.

I should mention that our wargaming retreat, which we call WBC West because we figured it was much cheaper and just as much fun to go out to Sunriver in a three hour drive instead of flying across the country and getting the Funky Wargamer Convention Smell in our clothes and hair. We're growing like crazy, today we were at a 50% increase in attendees compared to the same point last year! OK, one more person. But it's a start - the Pacific Northwest is not known for it's wargaming population like the mid-Atlantic Coast is.

Dave, Chuck, and myself arrived at Sunriver Tuesday afternoon around 5pm, got our stuff unloaded, and Chuck and I jumped right into Shifting Sands, the new MMP CDG on the North African campaign that came out in the last couple of weeks. I've had this game pre-ordered since, I sh*t you not, June of 2003. To say it was "anticipated" is a bit of an understatement.

North Africa and Rommel must have at least 100 published wargames devoted to the topic, perhaps more than any other besides the Russian campaign of WWII (although the Battle of the Bulge and the Napoleonic Wars are close seconds). What differentiates this game is the inclusion of the entire campaign, from the first Italian incursions into Egypt in 1940 through the Torch landings and the evacuation of the Germans via Tunis in 1943. In addition, it also includes the Levant, the Horn of Africa, and even Chad. Really.

As far as similarities to other CDGs, the closest in terms of rules is Barbarossa to Berlin (BtB). Armor can convert from movement to attack, units can (and very frequently are) in Limited Supply, which forces one OPS per unit in a space when attacking. There are quite a few fiddley little rules for the various side-theaters, and unfortunately these are not collected anywhere useful (although every combat card is listed on the player aid). Another big difference is that the player's hand get bigger and bigger as the game goes on, so playing lots of CC's becomes more and more doable - at game end, you have 10 cards per hand, and play six of them as OPS/RP/RD/Events. That gives you quite a bit of flexibility in what you play, and minimizes the possibility of bad hands, which I applaud. It also gives a definite feeling of how the campaign ramped up over time.

Chuck took the Brits and I took the Itailians to start. Italy starts with a very strong position in East Africa, and I was able to drive the Brits out of Khartoum in the first turn, triggering an Egyptian revolt. My entire strategy in the game was to force Chuck to fight lots of little annoyance battles in the sideshows rather than go after the Italian divisions in Libya, which are extremely brittle (thing Austro-Hungarians in Paths of Glory, but lamer). As such, there was a small amount of activity in Libya, but the Brits got no further than Tobruk and spent until late 1942 in a Sitzkrieg with the Italians and a couple of panzer divisions. Chuck discovered through an Ultra play that I had the 88mm Flak Guns card, which allows the defender to fire first, and he didn't want to lose too many units. While the Allies are stronger than the Italians, and the Germans are better, but don't have many units, it is important for the Allies to push hard in this theater, and I was able to drain enough OPS to other areas (such as Iraq and Vichy Syria) that by the time he got around to making the push, time was becoming a factor.

When the Torch forces landed (there's an entire setup of about 20 units when this card gets played, to simulate the opening moves from each side), I was pretty sure I was dead. There were so many big strong US units and all over the place that I figured Chuck would run over me in minutes. When he played Patton to get the -1 US drm removed, I figured the next card was Vulcan and I could count on him chewing up my units in no time flat. But Vulcan never came, I spent the cards to take Malta without much effort (I held Herkules and Air Support, just in case, for two turns while I waited for Ramke's paratroopers to show up). At the end of 1942, when Chuck still hadn't seen Vulcan and we had to cycle the discards into the deck, I knew I had an excellent shot. In fact, we were thinking that I had locked up the win until we recounted and discovered that if he kicked me out of Africa entirely he would win by a nose.

And then, in the next to last turn, I played U-Boats on Chuck, limiting him to 6 cards in the final turn, making it tougher to get Vulcan, and that was it.

We had a lot of questions, and it was clear that Malta with it's two VP and potential loss of Axis RPs is critical to the game, as it should be. All in all, it is a very promising game, although it did take us six hours to finish to completion (I'm hoping for maybe four, myself). This will be a title I play at least a few more times, although the disappointment of Twilight Struggle and it's balance issues is still fresh in my mind. It was, however, nice to see that the general historical flow (other than no back and forth in Libya/Egypt) was there. Nice work, Mr. Rinella.

We interrupted Sands to play World of Warcraft: the Boardgame in the evening - Dave had been playing Blackbeard solo and doing other things, as he needed more relaxation than anything else. We did the cooperative version published on the 'Geek, although this was the first time I'd done it with three players instead of solo. We started around 8:30pm, jumped right in with me explaining as we went, and finished with an easy win over Nefarian by 11:30pm. I didn't like the game as much, especially when there was a battle or two inbetween anything of consequence happening with me, but I still think it's a great solo game. I'm really looking forward to the expansion, although I suspect this will affect the solo version to some extent. Dave and Chuck stayed up playing M:tG, but I decided to hit the hay.

We picked Sands up on Wednesday morning, and finished by noon. Chuck wanted to try out his Down in Flames campaign that utilized some of the Italian planes from GMT's Fighter Pack, and things went well until the last two missions. I had a 15 point lead, enough for a marginal win at that point, but with two missions left anything could happen. It did. I drew a handful of In My Sights cards, including the dread "Fuel Tank Explodes", and this with a Pilot with an Ace counter. That was it for Chuck's main fighter and pilot, and my bombers devastated his airfield, doubling my points while Chuck got zip. At this point, I was likely going to win a decisive victory, but fortune can flip back on you in this game, and Chuck had a bombing raid for the last mission.

Of course, I had the same card, and used it on one of his bombers immediately, and chewed up the escorts as well. Chuck ended up scoring nothing in that mission as well, while I added another 30 points. This was an unusual situation, to be sure - getting the killer card twice in a row at the perfect moment is easily a 1 in 1000 chance, but I'll take the win.

It was mid afternoon by now, and since we were trying to play three-player lighter fare in the evening to avoid burnout and involve Dave a bit more in the gaming, so Chuck and I finished up the wargaming for the day with a rousing game of my favorite wargame of all time, Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage. These games can often hinge on incredible streaks of luck, but in this case I played a very clean game as the Romans. Chuck made a strategic mistake in sending Hannibal down into the heel of Italy with no control of provinces, and a combo of Nero and Marcellus defeated him and removed him from the game. Chuck made some plays for Sardinia, the Tarentum region, and even a push by Hasdrubal to get into northern Italy, but my final hand had three campaign cards and I was able to repulse every move he made. When both Mago and Hasdrubal were effectively eliminated from the game, he conceded. This one I'll take full credit for.

Four games, four wins (although one was cooperative). Tonight we play one of Chuck's games, and tomorrow we take on Royal Tank Corps again, which Chuck soundly spanked me in last year. It will be nice to see him crush me like a grape for a second time!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Night of 1000 Aghrrrrr's

I will go on record as saying that the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie may well be the last mass-release movie that I will ever go see in a theater. 20 minutes of ads, another 20 minutes of loud trailers, followed by 2.5 hours of very impressive effects and not much entertainment. At least King Kong had Naomi Watts doing acrobatics in a slip.

So it was when Dave decided to make our Central Tuesday session pirate-themed that I was a bit concerned. For those of you who have blissfully avoided the film, there is the world's fastest game of Liar's Dice, now being marketed as "Pirate's Dice", so a gaming night may have seemed like a good idea.

And you know what? It was.

While Dave, Matt, Alex, and Liz played Corsairs, the out-of-print title more commonly known as "Pirates of Produce," Ben, Chuck, George, and myself played that wacky pirate game Wyatt Earp. Think of it as pirates on horses. This was a strange game - the first round saw most of us earn something like $3000 each, a pretty small number for this game. In fact, it took four rounds to finish. In the first round and last round I was drawing sheriff card after sheriff card, the only benefit of which was that I was able to stymie Chuck's attempts to grab the increasing cash piling up on Bob Dalton. By the fourth round, Dalton had yet to be poached, and had $11,000 sitting on him. By the end of the round, he had something like $15,000, but it wasn't enough to help me as two other players took their portions of this rich bounty, me buckos. In the end, Ben won handily with $33,000, with Chuck in second with $27,000. George beat me out for third place by $1000 at $24,000.

Corsairs was still going strong (and everyone having a good time from the sound of it), so we played Liar's Dice, Speed Edition. We used wild 1's and also the variant that when the bid is exact everyone but the guy who was called loses one die. In fact, this knocked me out of the game. With this variant, it isn't enough to avoid having to make a risky bid, in fact you should be forcing the next guy to have to call - at least that way you have a shot at making the next first bid and if you are dead on you are the only one not losing a die. Ben's luck didn't hold out, and George's goalline stand against Chuck failed when he forgot that in this game, you can *lie*. When it's you and one other guy, your best bid is one 6 (maybe one 1).

Corsairs was done, and Alex and Liz had to leave to get their beauty sleep, so Dave taught (and moderated) the new Alea title Rum and Pirates. Or maybe Pirates and Rum. Dave's bad pirate accent in explaining the rules of what can only be called an anomaly for Alea had me heading to the fridge for not one but two beers (I rarely drink at these sessions, I save that for after everyone leaves). To be honest, after Dave had described the game, which consists of moving the captain around to get a wide variety of types of spaces that mostly end up with people getting points, I figured it might require three beers.

And what was truly amazing was that this game was a blast. I still came in third or fourth, despite a very strong showing in the mid-game. Chuck's blowing of three straight rum counters to reroll a dice-off and never getting higher than a three in seven throws was the stuff of legends. However, as Dave said in his recap, I can't help but think that like Piratenbucht, Bang!, and Puerto Rico, this is one of those games that we love the first time, like the second time, and consider burning after the third playing. Definitely a late-night game, although the dice offs are a lot of fun (hint: give everyone a dice cup of their own, it saves a lot of time).

I can't even tell you who won, but I think it was Chuck.

This is one I doubt I'll buy until we get three games under the group's belt that are equally fun. We'll see how that works out, especially since Dave is the only person who owns the game right now!

A great night of gaming, thanks to Matty G for hosting. Next week is at Mike's, although at least three of us leave next Tuesday for what we respectfully call "WBC West", five days of gaming at Sunriver. I hope to report from the field, although it's mostly about the gaming, not the typing!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sou Tuesday Session, 7/11/06

Since George had come to my place for games the week before, I figured I should make the effort to get to his place in Newberg in return. For those of you familiar with the Portland area, Newberg is (in good traffic, meaning about 3am) a 45 minute drive from the downtown Portland area. At 6pm, it's more like an hour or more. I have this rule, you see, that I would like my gaming experience to be at least twice as long as it takes me to get to said gaming experience.

On this particular night, I violate the rule rather badly when I misread George's directions to take the "scenic route" and took 90 minutes to get there. I wasn't in the best mood when I got there, for which I apologize to George (and Mike and Matt (non-group Matt (ooh, nested parentheses!))). Anyway, I was a good half hour late, and to make things worse everyone thought that I was bringing two more people with me.

Once we were all there, we tried Antike. I played this game at Chris' a few months ago, and felt like I had no idea of what was happening. I got the idea that you have to sequence your moves on the rondele, but actually knowing what they were supposed to be was a bit of a trick. In this game, I started out making at least three or four mistakes, but I kept my focus and ended up winning rather handily.

The way to win Antike is by figuring out how many of each victory point pile everyone will get, then go for the remainder points. For example, there are nine "5 city" cards. With four players, that means two cards each, but with one left over. As such, you want to get to 15 cities before others. The same applies to sea areas controlled. Temples destroyed really only starts to become an issue in the late game, and advances can be spread evenly.

Making things easier was that we were on the Med map, and I was the Phoenicians. You know, the guys with the spear and magic helmet on their picture, and not much else? I started out going for mostly coastal areas to get both the sea areas and the city points, which worked pretty well. I do have to admit that a couple of things helped me out. First, Mike didn't go after me as he probably should have after Matt and George mixed it up a bit. Second, George put a temple in the Athens area of the map, and I had several areas very close to this space. When I took the +2 sea movement improvement, I was well prepared to take this in a single swift move. In fact, I had maybe five or six meeples (as opposed to seaples, the ships) on the board at most.

In the end, and I'd gotten my sixth temple down far behind enemy lines, I had three city VP, two sea areas VP, two temples VP, one advance VP, and then I moved eighty billion ships into George's area with the temple and won. The only way I think anyone could have stopped me was by someone else taking out George's temple, or by a concerted effort against my temples. In an unusual move for me, I didn't let people know that I'd be able to take George's temple out the very next turn (you need extra MP to perform a "conquest move"). As such, the end of the game felt a little stolen for me, and thus not very satisfying (although I'd played very efficiently).

Here's the thing about Antike: everything is part of what in computer lingo is called a pipeline. You have to plan everything out a couple of moves out, because your marker is unlikely to move more than three spaces on the rondele in a given turn. So you need to do a couple of other things in between, so really what you're working with is five pipelines: one for temples, one for advancements, one for building meeples/seaples, one for moving meeples/seaples, and one for building cities (which requires all of the different commodities, and thus feels a bit differently). On the down side, it becomes pretty deterministic in the endgame as you can't *lose* VP.

As such, by getting as many of the static points early, then temples and busting temples late, I avoided allowing other players to get points off of me. While I wasn't winning in the advancement points, I was even or ahead in every other field. I built cities very aggressively, with only one meeple (the rest seaples) on the board, building two or three or four cities every chance I got. Once I was getting 10 of a commodity and couldn't lose any of my existing points, the game was effectively over. There was one key move when I chose to delay a turn and reinforce my front line to protect myself from Mike, the game was over. Had he gone after me a couple of turns earlier, it might have been closer.

I'm not a big fan of games without tension in the endgame, even if it is a result of mistakes by other players (especially George's temple, and especially no one else going after it). I like wargames, but the best ones (like Hannibal) come down to the wire and often hinge on one final battle. These are the games I remember for years and tell others about. So far with Antike, I'm not going to remember much other than I felt like I got away with something.

Mike had to leave at this point, so George pulled out a great little party game from Simply Fun Games called Take Your Pick. One player is the judge, and they deal out three cards to each of the other players. Each card has two complimentary phrases on them, such as "Messy" and "Neat", or "Ginger" and "Mary Ann". One of the two items is circled on the top half of the card, the other circled if you turn the card upside down. You pick the side you think the judge will prefer, and get a point for each correct guess you get. If you get one wrong, you no longer can get points from that judge, so it pays to call out the choices you think are slam dunks (Iraq, anyone?) first. You play an equal number of rounds, and the person with the most points is the winner.

This was an interesting game to play with someone I barely knew, in this case Matt. However, just from a couple of hours of gaming, I was able to guess surprisingly well. What else is interesting is that you have to occasionally think hard about which of the two choices better applies to you, so there's a little navel gazing element as well. This is my favorite party game since Times Up, and I'll definitely need to get a copy to play with my family when a longer game isn't in the cards.

Thanks to George for hosting, despite my crankiness. George has a beautiful home, but it is simply too far out when it takes me 90 minutes to get there and back home for three hours of gaming, so I will only be going every once in a while.

Next session is at Matt's (group Matt) next Tuesday. I, for one, will be there.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Back In Black - CenTu 7/6/06

My last posting was about a month ago. Since that time, I've been on two trips, including a trip to Iowa. Somehow, I've survived.

The other problem I've had is that I'm pretty unhappy with Support for the Mac is poor at best (the editor, for example, contains no easy buttons for simple things like bold or italicized text when I use the Mac's Safari browser. I also have trouble with getting access to the site.

Hard to complain about a free service, I guess, but it's been enough of a pain that I'm going to be switching over to a .mac account and authoring in iWeb, but I don't know when that will happen. Sometime soon, I hope.

Not that I haven't been gaming over the past month. I got to play several games at my family's Sunriver retreat, but the only really interesting games were a very close game of Ticket to Ride: Europe that ended in a tie, a prototype game of a friend's prototype, and a couple of hilarious games of Time's Up, perhaps the best party game ever. Between trips was a very slow game of Clippers, played with four new (and relatively young) players at the South Tuesday session a week ago.

But it took until last night at our slightly delayed Central Tuesday session for me to really enjoy a set of games. Nine folks showed up, a surprise for a night that we slipped out two days to accomodate the July 4 holiday. New members Alex and Liz (my nephew and his fiance), Mike, and George played Caylus in the Temple of Conspicuous Consumption, while Tim, Carrie, Chuck, and Alex's visiting friend Dana played a series of games: Modern Zeiten, Titan: the Arena, and Zircus Flohcati.

Chuck bought Modern Zeiten for me a few years ago, and I've had such trouble "getting" this game that it hasn't come out much. I really wanted to give it a try, and I knew Chuck would be here, so out it came. Note: Chuck claims this purchase on my behalf was because he likes zeppelins, and not just the Led type.

MZ is pretty straightforward rules-wise, not so simple to play. The game revolves around players moving along a track containing 30 spaces. Each space corresponds to a 5x6 grid of commodities in one dimension, and cities in the other. A turn consists of turning over a random number of commodity cards put up for bid using a set pool of money. The winner gets the cards, and gives the bid amount to the other players, similar to Traumfabrik. The winner then can choose to either draw a couple more cards, or play down some commodity cards on the table so that they have more of one type showing than anyone else. They then move their marker to any space along the track (forward direction only) that hasn't been claimed and that matches one of their majorities. They put a deed on that space, and also on the matching space on the grid.

Making things interesting is the stock crash track. Once enough commodity cards are laid down, whichever commodity has the most shares showing are discarded from each player's display. Being the person who forces the crash has a big advantage in wiping out large numbers of cards in the right circumstances, and knowing when you can do this (and when you should) can be a big factor in trying to win the earlier auction, as that person goes first of the players around the table in playing shares.

At the end of the game, there are a few ways to get points: getting to the end space is worth 1, as is having the majority of shares showing in each commodity. Having the majority of the markers on the grid in a given row or column is worth 3 points (for columns), and 1-5 points (for rows). You also get three points for having the most money. As such, players typically shoot for specific cities and specific commodities, but the cards don't always cooperate. In our game, the end result was exceptionally close, with Dana scoring 11 points, and Tim, Chuck, and myself scoring 10.

This was the first time I'd really enjoyed playing this game, and now that I've "gotten" it, it will come out more often. Note that with five players, every play is critical, as there are only six or seven turns before the game ends.

Caylus was still running in the other room (and would do so all night), so we pulled out Titan: the Arena. My usual game of T:tA results in ending up with cards at the end of the game that I really can't use, or don't want to. Not this game: I got four Titan strength cards early, and kept getting Warlock cards (my secret bet and second critter), not to mention four spectators. I also had the opportunity to kill two critters, so I was really hoping I'd manage to win this one.

Sadly, I made one really dumb play at the end of the game. With the Titan and Warlock still in the last round, and faced with losing the Warlock, I foolishly ensured the survival of the Warlock instead of playing the 0 Spectator on the Ranger. Tim was able to kill off the Titan, knocking my points from 15 to 10. And 10 was not quite enough: everyone had made their secret bets on either the Troll (a survivor) and the Warlock! The final score was 11-11-10-10-8, with Tim beating out Carrie by having played a card more recently than her.

Finally, we played a quick game of Zircus Flohcati, a fantastic and fast game of set collecting with elements of Chicken. We had an awful lot of sixes and sevens getting knocked out in draws, which seemed to be Chuck's strategy. I, on the other hand, never seemed to get the good cards, and despite a trio I ended up with only 38 points, not anywhere close enough to beat Tim's 51. Everyone else was pretty close to Tim's total. At least I was within a point of winning on a couple of games. Even so, ZF is perhaps the best underplayed quickie game in my collection, and I'll have to bring it out more.

Three games, three classics, three great contests. I hear Mike snuck in for a late win in Caylus, a game I've got to play again sometime. Thanks to all for attending! Next week we return to our usual Tuesday session, although I'll be going to a friend's birthday game-day on Saturday, and so will have another report in the next few days.