Friday, November 24, 2006

Block Mania!

Chuck came over the day after Thanksgiving for our more-or-less monthly day of wargaming. We weren't quite sure what we were going to play, and ended up playing two of Columbia's popular "block" games. These games use wooden blocks instead of cardboard counters, and the blocks stand on their sides to conceal not only the unit, but it's current strength as well. The games range from recreations of the various theatres of WWII to such under-appreciated topics as the Scottish rebellions of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. On the table today were Liberty, a fast playing ACW game, and my first playing of what is perhaps the most venerated block game of all, East Front, covering the Great Patriotic War (as it is known in Russia).

Chuck and I have played Liberty before, and like most of the more recent block games (Hammer, Crusader Rex), it seems to hinge quite a bit on one or two battles or the luck of the draw with incoming units (in this case, when the French come in). However, there were a few new rules that were supposed to "fix" things (something that hasn't worked so well for CruRex, apparently), so we decided to give it a try. I was the evil Brits, Chuck the brave Americans.

I started out with an attack into Charleston by sea on the second turn that managed to kick the Americans out of the coastline all the way north to Norfolk, with only one American supply town in the interior at Ninety-Six. As the game progressed, I managed to take New York (then lose it), take Hartford, lose Boston, and take Ft Ticonderoga. I was building up the points, but it was clear that I was going to have to make a push in the north if I wanted to win with just a few turns left. I made a big attack into Boston with units from both the north and the south, including two fleets. However, Chuck picked that time to roll like a maniac and I ended up losing almost the entire force (including all three fleets and Howe, one of my leaders). He then rolled for French entry, and it was clear that the British were done in the Colonies.

We had a very nice (if lengthy - I don't think Seasons and Regions had staffed for a busy day) lunch, then back to give East Front a try. Chuck thought he might have a pretty good chance of remembering how to play, but we decided to walk through the Edelweiss introductory scenario, which is more of, well, a walkthrough to get an idea of how the game worked. We realized that you don't actually *play* the scenario until we'd gotten through the whole thing, so we set up the historical Barbarossa scenario and took a couple of player turns to give me an idea of how things worked. I learned quite a bit about how to use HQ units to the best advantage, choosing when to blitz, etc.

I'm quite taken with this game, as it combines a strong puzzle element with very fast moving combat while still preserving the logistical, organizational, and attrition elements of combat on the Eastern Front. The only real problem is that the game can take a long time if you're playing more than a six month scenario. We're talking about trying out Kursk next time we play this title.

Thanks to Chuck for coming over and giving me a good dose of block madness!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

World of Warcraft Solitaire (w/ Expansion)

I'm a big fan of WoWtB, although only (so far) using the solitaire rules on the 'Geek. I picked up the new expansion last week and was looking forward to trying it out, so I set up a "two-player" solitaire game and gave it a shot.

The expansion adds a few cards to pretty much every deck in the game, as well as a new "blue" quest deck (with rewards for killing independent monsters, mostly just an annoyance in the original game) and a "Destiny" deck that's more or less another event deck (but one you can tailor based on which overlord is in the game). The biggest change, however, has to be the additions to the character decks, both the powers and abilities - each character now has almost twice as many cards to give a lot of choices for tailoring development. Some classes are much more powerful now, perhaps too much so, but as I only played the base game five or six times, I didn't really get a good grip on what the changes were.

For my game, I played two Horde characters, the bull with a gun and the cow that's essentially a druid. I know that in the computer game all of these classes have specific names, but in the boardgame they don't come up much, and in fact are only mentioned in passing in the rules - even the player mats have names and icons but no class titles. This was an interesting choice, as these are the two "nature" characters, with one able to morph into critters and the other having pets. I also chose the Overlord that you have to find on the board (he has five dummy tokens and one real one), which I think makes for a more interesting game because you have a pretty tight time limit.

Sadly, my first game went wrong when I got about an hour in and realized that I had the wrong decks with the wrong characters! Since there's no reason to look at the card backs once you get going, it's not too hard to do if you don't know the classes well. As such, I decided to start over, which was OK with me as the Druid character had a rough first battle. If I have a complaint with the game, it's that a bad first battle basically kills two turns out of fifteen, which in a time-limit game like the solo game is can make the difference between winning and losing. If it happens twice, you might as well start over. On the restart, the Druid wiped out her first opponent in one roll. I'm not sure how to fix this, other than to give a "mulligan" roll at game start that can only be used in the first roll of the first battle for each character.

One thing that I found myself doing more of in this game was using the two characters in tandem in the mid to late game. Normally, with all of these tokens to discover around the board, it's smart to send the characters to the various areas to find out where the Overlord is hiding, but in this case there were two good reasons to do so. First was a group of three Scarlet Crusaders in the NE corner of the board next to an Overlord token, which made good sense to go after together as multiple critters are almost always hard to beat with a single character, and three is very difficult because they rack up such a high attack value. Of course, the second my characters beat them, the replacement quest put an independent ogre on the air lane space, although fortunately there was an event giving XP for killing it.

From there, they went to the SE corner of the board, partly for the decoy marker, partly to kill a boss generated by a destiny card (these cards only last for a certain amount of time, so you need to get to them quickly if you want the benefit) that dropped the overlord's threat value (the number you need to roll on a d8 to hit) by one for each character that helped kill it. As such, that lowered the threat value to 5 from 7, which doubles your chance to succeed. Overlords are very hard to get hits on, so this was a no brainer, plus there was another quest in that space. From there, the Druid went to the central area of the board while the gunner continued south to finally locate the overlord in the SW quadrant.

With only a few turns left, I got both characters up to 4th level, did enough training to get the best powers I could, loaded them up and refreshed their energy and health, and off they went to kill the overlord on the final turn of the game. It took two rounds, and in the process I lost one character and the gunner's pet tiger, and left a single health on the gunner with just enough damage to kill off the overlord. To my mind, that's exactly the result I want - a close game where I'm not sure I'll win or lose, but I just make it.

As for the expansion, I like the destiny deck, especially if it improves my chances to kill the overlord. The fact they only last for a period of time is a good idea, although in some cases I'm not sure if the critters generated by a specific card are supposed to stay on the board once the card expires. The blue quest deck, which gives you "bonus" cards (mostly items, sometimes XP) for killing independent creatures, even if you lose the battle (if there's more than one, for instance) is better than nothing, although I think that the optional rule where you don't take the card if there are no independents of that type should also include the card being removed if there aren't any of that type in play at any time - I ended up with cards that were useless for most of the game.

I can't really speak to the new additions to the items, event deck, and quests, although it seemed there were more chances to get items from the goblet deck, usually if I see more than one or two things that involve these in a game it's unusual. I do like the increased options for the various characters, which to me is the meaty part of the game. Being able to choose a path for your character's development is the fun part, and what gives the game so much replayability.

There were rumors of another expansion in the works, but there is nothing on the FFG website anymore, and it's running into 2007 now. My guess is that this game is nowhere near the success that Descent or Runebound is, so they want to sink their money into those areas. I think that's probably OK, as the other options are different critters (there are already 15 or so in the base game) or character classes, and there are enough of those as well. I could accomodate a few more critters, but the two Plano boxes with bits are pretty full, and more cards would create a problem with storage to fit everything into one box.

As a whole, I'm happy with the expansion, especially for the price, and it will keep this game fresh for me for quite a while to come. Sometime I'll have to try this out as a four-player game (or two playing four characters), it really is a blast.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

CenTuesday session, 11/21/06

Another Tuesday night, another night of gaming. I've missed the last two regular sessions because of the Sunriver retreat, so it was nice to get back to a regular schedule. Not that there will be anything regular with the holidays coming up...

I really wanted to try out the new 1910 expansion for Ticket to Ride, and Jim, Liz, and Matt joined me to try the Big Cities variant, which uses tickets from both the 1910 and original sets, but only those with one terminus in Chicago, New York, Miami, Houston, Dallas, LA, or Seattle. You pick four of two tickets at the start of the game, and when you draw tickets later you pick one or more of four, so there is a lot of motivation to draw lots of tickets.

Unfortunately for everyone but Jim, everyone picked tickets on the west coast, so Jim had the entire Eastern Seaboard to himself. In fact, he drew extra tickets for his first action, while Matt and I grabbed the single link connection between Portland and Seattle. Things got worse for me quickly as it became apparent I wouldn't be able to simply "drive" down the coast to LA and then head east to Houston, and I ended up running a line due east from Seattle, then south to El Paso, branching out to both LA and Houston. I got 'er done, but it took a long time. Meanwhile, Jim was drawing more tickets and keeping two or three of them at a time.

My next ticket draw only gave me one viable additional route (to Atlanta), and the next got me up to New York, but with only four tickets I was not in the running for the win, much less the 15 points for most tickets. The other thing I needed was to stretch out my longest route, but when Matt played his last trains to beat me by one point, I was forced to make a ticket pull for my final turn to try to get some points, but all I did was lose 10 points as none of the routes fit my track. As it was, Jim got over 100 points for his routes at the end of the game, and Matt was a good 20 points behind for second, with Liz and I another 20 points back from there. Had I been able to snag longest train with that last turn instead of tickets, I'd have come in second, but it was clear early on that Jim had this one walking away.

Jim's strategy of drawing trains early was a good idea, but getting the only runs on the east coast for most of the game were a bigger advantage. I think that with this particular variant, it is better to just go for short tickets and forget longest train and efficiencies, a strategy I'll try next time.

Meanwhile, Michael, Peter, Alex, Ben, and Carey played Mission: Red Planet in the other room. Opinions varied from "OK" to "needs another playing" to "fun". Definitely one I'll keep an eye on, and the art may be enough for me to buy this one.

At this point, we both ended about the same time, and about half of the players headed for home. Matt, Michael, Carey, Ben, and myself stuck around to play Vegas Showdown, the surprising AH title of building a hotel/casino. I was the only one who had ever played before, but aside from some rules confusion over how you place rooms on your playmat, the game is very easy to teach.

I got off to a strong start, mostly because of some very fortunate card draws (it was good to have a fancy restaurant early). I also grabbed the Table Games room early, which gave me the chance to buy the High Rollers Room early. In the late game, Matt made a bluff bid that took him out of the running for the 5-Star Steak House (and gave it to me). On the penultimate turn, I noticed that lots of people were bidding on the premiums (as the basics were gone or almost gone), and so I guessed that there was a good chance the game would end soon, and I was right. I used my turn before to hook up my two sides and fill the Hotel side.

In the end, I'd managed to get both of the bonuses for revenue and population, but Matt was surprisingly strong (and had seven poins for diamonds, where I had none), and we ended up tying for first place! Sadly (for him), the tiebreaker was money, and I had $20 left over because I'd renovated the turn before. I'll take a squeaker win anyday.

We'd also gotten the chance to try out Ben's new Wii system that he kindly brought over. This truly is a revolutionary system, and while it won't necessarily win over hard core gamers, it is astonishly easy and intuitive to use. Ben and I tried out the boxing game that comes with the sports games bundled with the basic set, and what a hoot that was. Bobbing, weaving, undercuts, it's really hard to explain how different this system is without actually showing it to someone. I'll definitely pick one of these up, but probably not until after the start of the year when the channel starts to fill up again. Very cool!

Thanks to all for coming, and we'll see you next week!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sunriver Retreat, Fall '06, Day 3 (and 4)

By Day 3, the games start to blur together (actually, that starts happening within hours of arrival for me), so most of these reports are kind of short.


A lot of people leaving early because of snow in the passes, but we got in some early games. I taught Tempus to Matt and Ken, and managed to keep forgetting the city rule myself, but I’d taught them well and we played a clean game, right up until Ken forgot that you don’t get VP at game end for hexes with mountains! We had an interesting map, with one long lake in the middle and a small peninsula in the north that no one went to until Ken took sailing and planted a couple of quick cities up there. Ken and Matt were doing well with cities, but I had a four hex advantage over Ken, and Matt and I took the 3VP bonus. Final score was 23, 22, 21, with me sneaking in for the win. Interestingly, almost no combat in this game, largely because Matt managed to get down to only three hexes with tokens late in the game and was protected. I could have screwed Ken but good by moving tokens by sea right next to a space he was prepping for a city, then playing Government and building a small city there, but I went after another adjacent space instead and lost the combat. In the end, it didn’t matter.

In the other room, everyone else but Alex and Liz (who left after they got up) played an aborted game of Kronos, and Space Dealer again. At that point, the three Amigos (Ken, Matt, and Tim) decided to try to beat darkness as well, and off they headed for home.

The Merchant of Amsterdam

Dave 1,177, Doug 1,150 with KC and Rita in the rear. I suspect I could have won with a bit more caution in the bidding. I know a place that has this still in shrink, I will probably have to pick it up since it’s out of print and a game I’ve enjoyed on two separate occasions. KC and I had a couple of “close” bids on the Dutch clock that had some controversy, but on the first KC was more firmly in the center of the clock, and in the second I’m certain I was there first (I thought KC had picked up his hand immediately, so I picked up mine, then found out he thought he’d gotten there first. However, I remember hitting nothing but clock with my fingers, and I don’t think it affected the final score much (in fact, I suspect I would have been better served just letting KC win it, although that would not have changed the standings at all.

I am totally picking this one up after two good games. I understand people worry about the Dutch clock breaking (and, I think, rightfully so), but it's a great auction game that I need to pay more attention to as far as how much things are worth.


Hm, who could have won? Hint: Dave.


Beat out by Dave (again), an interesting game with some lucky draws for me. This game is all about getting a payout relatively early to allow you to finance more purchases. If you miss that payout and have no money for the rest of the game, it can be a long slow slog. Still, my favorite Sackson game.

Rum and Pirates

After dinner out (and a very pretty drive through the winter wonderland that was Sunriver that evening), we returned a bit burned out and tired to play this wacky title. This was my second playing (we played with five at Matt’s a few months ago), and the fun was still there, although our fatigue and some rules misunderstandings were leaving KC and Rita a bit befuddled. I moved out to a very strong lead, mostly because Dave’s rum wasn’t providing him with much help in an early bid for a strong set of saloon tiles. To make things worse for him, I won the 8 point “leftover pirate” raffle at the end of the round to take a very strong early lead.

However, things went a bit more slowly for me as the turns went on, and while I was picking up points, it wasn’t nearly as good as KC and Dave were doing. I got an 11 point map early, but avoided them (and the love-letters) after the first turn. I did, however, invest heavily in rum, which helped me out in a couple of occasions. However, my rolls finally failed me at the end, and Rita got the final leftover first place points. Not enough for me in any event, as it turned out that KC was spanking us rather soundly. I did squeak by Dave for second with a single point, however.

All of the fun in this game is in the roll offs and using the rum to try to influence the rolls. There is nothing as entertaining in the game (or as frustrating) as watching someone use four rum counters to make nine rolls and fail to beat a four. Unless it’s you making the rolls. In my first game it was Chuck, in this game it was Dave. I’m still a bit worried that the game will be boring after a couple more plays, but for now there’s a very good chance I’ll get this to play with my family.

Fortunately for all of us, KC and Rita started to get into the spirit of the game at about the 3/4s mark. This game is not too exciting if you aren’t treating it as a big dicefest and rooting for the underdog, but by game end everyone was getting into the spirit of things.


I will be honest and say that I have avoided Tichu in the past, mostly because KC commented some time ago that Gang of Four was Tichu. What he meant was that Gang of Four was a cut-back version of Tichu, which unfortunately I took as meaning a reprint, and I was not a fan of GoF. Fortunately, we got the chance to play this game, and it was this specific game that is almost certainly the high point of what has been the best Sunriver retreat ever.

After explaining the rules and playing a practice hand, we got going. Both sides started out strong, but two hands with me bidding Tichu and failing (both due to very strong hands on Rita and Dave’s parts, and a lack of understanding that holding the Dragon is a really good idea when you call Tichu), saw us fall far behind, something like 250 to 750. Things looked bad, but we battled back, and ended up scoring almost 700 points to their 130. For the final hand, I called Tichu with the Phoenix and the Dragon, a four stepped run from 10 to King that included the Phoenix, and things looked very good. I managed to get one of the two lower pairs out, but then Rita dropped a bomb on me and I was very worried. However, she next played a full house that I was able to beat by converting the Phoenix from Queen to King, played the remaining Queen to draw out the Ace and take it with the Dragon, then played the remaining Jack pair to go out. KC managed to go out next, and we went out with a bang.

This is my favorite partnership trick taking game now, hands down. It may be my favorite game period. Every hand is interesting, unlike Bridge where a good half of the time you are watching someone else run their cards. I’ve certainly had entire nights of bad hands, but even in Tichu you can root for your partner and the play is fast and always interesting. The passing of cards makes it even more interesting. This one I will beg borrow or steal at the first available opportunity. Woohoo!

Day 4

Time to get ready to go, but it’s easy work with four sets of hands and only two loads of laundry to do.


An under-appreciated game of Australian mythology and building necklaces from wooden craft pieces. Or something.

To be honest, I’ve decided that “taking off” day is a bad day for me to be involved with gaming. By then, I’m pretty wiped out, thinking about closing the house up, and otherwise distracted, and the last 10 or so last minute games for me have all been 2’s on the “fun” scale. Nothing so much to do with the game, just that I’ve got so many things to do and think about that I’m really not in the game at all. Hope I remember this next time…

All in all, this was a very successful Sunriver retreat for many reasons. While there were a few things we could have improved, in all the retreat went extremely smoothly. People tended to all get up at the same time, go to bed at the same time, kept the kitchen relatively clean, kept the recyclables separated, used the drink fridge in the garage, all the things you hope they will do. As such, I got to enjoy gaming as much as anything else, and am looking forward to the next retreat.

That said, I think that this will be the last Sunriver retreat in the late-October / early November timeframe. Weather is just too much of an issue, and now that we have so many people going to Essen and/or BGG.con it just gets more and more problematic. We actually cancelled the retreat a year or two ago in this timeframe because so many people dropped out.

What I am going to suggest instead is a retreat at the beach at Chris' place in the winter. The Coast Range is a much easier drive for most of the year compared with the Cascades, and the time of year should be more conducive to attendance. On the other hand, Chris' place won't hold nearly as many as Sunriver will, but we may consider renting an extra location nearby.

It is possible that I'll hold a Sunriver retreat in mid-September, but that will depend completely on demand. Given that WBC West will probably happen in late August (much nicer weather than the hot hot hotness we had for the first half this past July), I'm suspecting that it will take a *lot* of demand.

Regardless, thanks to everyone who attended this year, and thanks for making what is probably the last fall retreat the best one ever.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sunriver Retreat, Fall '06, Day 2

Saturday dawned bright and early, with all of the folks sleeping on couches (Tim and Ken) getting up about the same time as everyone else. After some friendly morning banter, the games began.


Funny story – Dave asks if Rita would mind playing a game that involved providing internet porn as a theme, and Rita gave a resounding no. So it was with great glee that Matt, Dave, and myself found ourselves in a game of this title where Rita not only provided internet porn, she was a pioneer in the field! Go Rita!

X.Net is about starting and growing your own ISP, except with content. Sort of like AOL back when that seemed like a good idea. You build servers that allow you to provide content in a variety of areas (Art, Cooking... hey, I thought this was about the internet!), as well as build your user base and affect demand to some extent. All of this is done with cards, and the cards are also used to pay for improvements, like in San Juan.

X.Net is an interesting enough game, although with very weak components and poorly written/translated rules. However, I found it to have too much downtime, confusing to play the first time (I had one rules misunderstanding or dumb play after another), and a bit too much length. You are also somewhat beholden to whatever cards you draw, and I found myself with few options on more than one turn because my hand cards didn't match what was in high demand. I suspect it would play better with repeated play, although I would be astonished if it ever saw time with the same group again. Dave won walking away with over 120 points, while I came in second with 83 in a tight race for the bottom.

Power Grid

Despite Dave giving "the look" when someone suggested this game, we had a five player game with Matt, Dave, Rita, Alex, and myself. It was Alex's first game, but he had a slight advantage in being the only person building lines in the northern part of Germany. I started on the Western edge of the board that tends to get a bit crowded, but somehow I managed to get to seven cities without having to "jump" any cities. BTW, we didn't play the southernmost section of the board.

After what may have been the cleanest game of PG I've ever played, I was the only player to hit 17 powered cities, largely because I had a very good buy of a 2 oil plant that powered 5 cities fairly early on. Our game stalled a bit in the middle when all the “under” plants in the teens and low 20’s started showing up, but everyone took that time to get their networks caught up. At one point, Matt was the Garbage King, Rita had the nuke plants, Dave was the Coal Meister, and I was the Sheik of Oil. I did not have a single turn where I discovered I was short from what my plan at the start of the turn was, a huge surprise for me. I do have to give props to Rita, who kindly allowed me to take a seventh city at the end of the 1st phase for cheap, a difference that almost certainly gave me the win. Props also to Alex, who came in second with the tiebreaker over Matt and Dave in his first ever game, with Rita only one city behind.

Fury of Dracula

Saturdays at Sunriver tend to involve longer games, at least for me, and next up was a very long game of Scotland Yard, erm, Fury of Dracula. Or it would have been, but we agreed to play for a set amount of time (until the other table got done, mostly so that we could mix up the tables a bit). I got to be Dracula (my preferred role, as well as a good position to be in if you are the only person who has been Dracula before), while Dave, Rita, Matt, and Alex played the hunters. I was doing OK. I’d been “caught” once when I went after Lord Goshdarnit in the first night, although three continuations had foiled my evil plans. At the same time, Dave located my New Vampire who was on the second space of the hidden movement track, and he got bit. Sadly, no new vampire for me, even with Dave bitten. I chose to run to sea afterwards as the hunters were converging on my position, then went east to Varna, where I was again busted, unfortunately during the day, in Bucharest. I did escape, but by that time it was time to quit. This is a fun game, but it’s a bit on the long side and we spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out exactly what happened after our combat that ended with three continuations.

Atlantic Star

Trying to break up the monolithic gaming groupings of the day, KC, Rita, Matt, and myself took on Atlantic Star, the rethemed version of Show Manager (which I own). Biggest advantage of the new game: smaller box.

I have learned to begin with a mediocre cruise (or show) that you can later use for a loan, while KC and Rita didn’t. Still, I seemed to have trouble finding cards that were even passably acceptable early in the game, and ended up shifting from one cruise to another in mid-ocean, and finished every cruise with two cards in hand. Still, I managed to snag some great scores at the end, while KC’s last cruise, which had an incredible score, was so far ahead of everyone else that it seemed a huge waste. In fact, it was, as Rita’s big score on the 5-star cruise was enough to beat my second place showing.

This is such a great game, and we were able to play and answer rules questions even without having English rules and no German speakers! I was worried that this would not play well with fewer than six, and indeed the cards are not as tight, but I think that may make the game better with the “dummy” cruises.

Arkham Horror

Dave and I are very fond of this cooperative reprint, and we played with Ken, Alex, and Liz. Yog-Sothoth was the Horror Beyond, although we never saw it. We had quite the rough start when I was faced with an open gate in the very first space I moved to and faced a Shoggoth right off. I failed to evade until I’d gotten through all of my three clue tokens (and two extra dice per token!), and then got sucked into the gate and ended up with most of my sanity gone by the time I got through.

On the plus side, Alex was a very effective Professor, although he had trouble with anything with Magical Immunity. Liz ended up devoured when she was lost in time and space (one of Yog-Sothoth’s mutant powers), and later in the game Ken and I, double-teaming a gate and passing the clue tokens back and forth as we went, lost his sanity and had to restart as well. However, we kept drawing gate spaces where there were elder signs in place, and thus never really felt like we were in trouble other than when the experiment at Miskatonic U went terribly terribly wrong and there were a bunch of critters running around the streets (with a bonus appearance by the Shoggoth).

In the end, though, we only filled up half of Yog-Shothoth’s doom track, and the final hour of the game was largely anti-climactic. Liz kept things interesting by constantly drawing Other Worlds cards that gave her heart palpitations, but the real fun was to be had with those playing Guitar Hero, which Dave and I tried out after we finished. Dave now is seriously considering buying a PS2, the game, and a television (which he doesn’t own) just to play this game. Our favorite tune: YYZ. DAH-duh-DAHHHH-DAHHHH-DAHHHH-duh-DAHHHH-DAHHHH-duh-duh…

Games not played by me: Space Dealer, Yspahan, Sceptre of Zavandor, 6 Nimmt!, and Tichu to 1000 points. Dave also got in another test game of his game with some new blood.

All in all, a very good Saturday for pretty much everyone, although Dave might have preferred something other than Power Grid. Thanks to Matt for his retro iPod full o' great tunes!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sunriver Retreat, Fall '06, Day 1

We arrived very late on Thursday – to be accurate, very early on Friday, since I had an accompanying gig until 8:30pm. I was very tired from travel and the resulting compressed schedule earlier that week, so I took KC up on his offer to drive, and the four of us (Dave and Rita included) headed out to Sunriver. Unfortunately, the iPod somehow disappeared between my car and Sunriver, so no tunes for now. Not quite sure where it is, perhaps it was taken by…

The Thief of Bagdad

Dave was taking a while to get up, so KC, Rita, and myself tried out this Essen release as a three player game first thing in the morning. This was to be only one of two Essen releases I played at the retreat, which was a bit of a suprise for me - I'd expected to see quite a few of these sorts of games, and while several people

The game is quite tactical, with the board changing so much between your turns that it makes almost no sense to plan ahead, even with three players. Even so, I found myself enjoying it quite a bit, with trying to figure out how best to stop other players from getting their thieves into the palaces on the cheap. A particularly popular move is to move a thief in a palace you aren’t going to win under the cloak of one of your guards.

I suspect that a good strategy is to work on several palaces at once, giving you a much better chance of your cards being of use. We spent several turns passing to get the wild cards, but I think that if you are trying to get a lot of thieves on the board you can catch up very quickly. And, in fact, KC won in a surprise move, taking two treasures in three turns.

Res Publica

Dave finally got up, but was in need of caffeine, so KC, Rita, and I played Res Publica. This is a pretty basic trading and set collecting game with a development angle. You start out trying to collect sets of people cards, five of which at the end of your turn will get you a city. While you always get to draw a people card at the end of your turn, the cities allow you to draw technology cards as well. There are five suits in both people and technology decks, each with 12 cards (so at game end at least two of each will be unusable). Five tech cards gets you monuments, which are much more valuable than city cards, but that start decreasing in value as the game goes on.

The trading mechanism is interesting – you say what you want or what you have to offer, and the other players fill in the other half of the deal. If you agree, you trade cards. It’s possible to offer an “or” trade (I’ll give this or that, or I’ll take this or that), or even just offer a certain number of generic cards without revealing what they will be). The trading is actually kind of dull

I started out strong, but got stuck at the end of the game with four useless architecture cards and Rita came from behind to tie me. Of course, there was no tiebreaker (this is the lame Avalanche Games version) so we shared the win.


Next up was Zing as we waited for some of the early folks to start showing up. Also known as Die Sieben Siegal (Seventh Sign), this is a trick taking game where you try to predict what tricks you will take in what suits. You can also take the “Zing!” token instead and hope that people take tricks they didn’t expect.

I only lost three tricks the whole game, two on a hand where Dave’s singleton in blue totally screwed up my plan. Dave ended up winning with –4 points, Rita with –8, and me with –9 despite two “perfect” hands. Distribution will kill you in card games, and while I like this game quite a bit, I have to admit that I prefer to play more hands to get a more even distribution of wonky hands. On the other hand, Zing! does not punish you for having a weak hand, as Bridge or Pinochle does.


This is a Simply Fun game where you take a sequence of letters and form them into as few words as possible as quickly as possible. It might even be a fun game, had we not played with Dave who called the base number of words on every single round and went unchallenged. I consoled myself by trying to find the most interesting words that I could rather than even try to take on The Machine.

Thurn & Taxis

I’ve played this one a couple of times, and still manage to completely screw myself with my first route. I always go for the Lodz – Pilsen route, then follow up by moving down to Salzburg, but then try to build up routes in Baiern. As a result, while the other players are snapping up the points in the west, I end up working very hard to get anything in the east and failing. I like the game, but this last time out it has started to sour a bit for me. I will play a few more times, this time shooting for the western or southern points first to see if that will help - it's clear that you must concentrate early to do well and shoot for short routes when possible to maxmize getting the regional points.

In our game, Rita won rather handily, while I managed to sneak in for second by taking the first 7 carriage while getting the third place points for “one in every region but Baiern” and won the tiebreaker with KC by taking the “end the game” point.


We usually don’t play games that revolve around deal-making and screwage, and in fact I myself tend to not like these kinds of games. So it seems strange that I not only suggested this nasty little Stefan Dorra game, but it was one I had actually bought.

The basic idea is that you are sending your various professionals (two of each kind, and it matters not in the least what the actual types are) to the other players castles, where you spend time, money, and effort trying to convince that player that you should get the job over someone else. You can promise anything in the future, but any money you promise (other than future payouts) must be given up front, before the hiring player decides who to take.

I was doing OK on deals, but not so good on income, while Dave was doing just the opposite. In the end, it came down to whether Rita decided to give Dave my $6000 position and/or giving me Dave’s $10,000 position. Despite Dave being poised to earn nearly $20,000 more than me if things stood as they were, Rita swapped us both and sure enough, the difference of $12,000 was enough for me to win. Of course, that really put Rita in the role of kingmaker, and I have to admit I’d have done the same thing.

While I don’t know that this game will come out very often, it was more fun than I expected, and it certainly beats many of the other games of this type (Chinatown, Quo Vadis) in terms of elegance (plus the box is a lot smaller).

Dave's CAG

This is Dave’s computer-assisted party game, which I will avoid discussing on the off chance he chooses to publish it. Suffice it to say that I typically suck at word games, although I did better than the game we played at WBC West where I never won a single round. KC ended up winning when the color he needed to win kept coming up in the final round despite Matt trying to change it several times. I should note that Dave acted as MC, otherwise we clearly would have been toasted.

On the way home, it occurred to me that the reason this game doesn't sit well with me is that, unlike light games, it not only ignores extensive knowledge, it actually puts the person who has a broad knowledge of a field at a disadvantage. Sorry to be obtuse, but I don't want to give away how the game works. We discussed this issue over lunch, and Dave claimed it as a feature. Me, I don't see any point in a game that punishes me for being well rounded.

In The Underground

This is a new Essen release, published by Rio Grande in the US. Think Ticket to Ride, but in the London Underground, and you are trying to get a person from a small selection of starting points to ending points with as little walking and train changes as possible. We played with five, and I found it to be extremely tactical, with little chance to plan other than noticing which stations hadn’t been drawn yet. While I love the board (a stylized map of the Underground, apparently licensed from the authority that runs it), it was too long, required 18xx-like parsing of the board to determine shortest routes, and too tactical for the length. Not one I’ll buy.


I played Overlord to Alex, Matt, and Liz’s heroes. This was my first “real” playing, although I’d played Doom before – it was the first for everyone else as well. The older I get, the more interested I am in cooperative or semi-cooperative games, and less in games where it is every person for themselves, although there is certainly room for both.

We played the first scenario, which is supposed to be pretty easy. In fact, it was pretty much a cake walk for most of the dungeon. The only monsters up until the final room that made more than a temporary dent were those with piercing abilities. Every Undying critter died, and I rolled quite a few misses when I did have good creatures. Even so, I managed to take both Liz and Alex’s characters down once each, with a shot at Matt’s had I been smart enough to keep a Quick Shot card for the boss giant to use.

However, the real fun was the traps. Pits, falling rocks, forcing players to attack each other, exploding chests (all but two, in fact), and even turning Matt into a monkey. In fact, I very nearly killed the monkey had not one of the two spawned sorcerors’ whiffed a point blank attack. Sigh. Still, the power that made the traps extra deadly definitely made the game more fun for me and actually ended up adding a good amount of tension as to whether or not they would survive in the final room.

In the end, they won with seven conquest tokens, had I taken Matt out it would have been three, a single trip through the deck (probably had I also built the power that increased the Overlord card draw, I suspect that saving up points for powers early is a very good strategy). This is a scenario intended for players to win, there are three glyphs that allow them to get bonus conquest points and go back to town frequently. I did learn that it’s critical to go back and train, gain skill cards, and buy treasures (especially gold treasures, those things rock). Good fun, even if it did take five hours including teaching (which took less time than setting up the board, even with a Plano box organizing most of the pieces it still takes forever). I’m looking forward to the expansion.

By now it was 1am, and time for this guy to head for bed. Liz and Alex delighted the rest of the company with Guitar Hero 2, good fun for everyone who didn’t want to go to bed (about four people, I think).

There were several other games played in the other room, including the Cheapass titles Vegas and Big Idea, plus a Euphrate und Tigris game.

All in all, a very good start. As I lay in bed falling asleep and listening to the laughter coming from those rockin' the house upstairs, a big smile slowly spread across my face.