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.

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