Sunday, December 07, 2008

Salishan 2008 Gaming Retreat, Part 1

Two years ago, the threat of inclement weather for drivers trying to negotiate the Cascade Mountain passes between Portland and Sunriver convinced me to ask Chris to host our fall game retreat at his family's vacation home in Salishan on the Oregon Coast, making it our premier weekend after the leaves begin falling. This was the first year I was able to make it out, the last two years having seen conflicts with my choir performance schedule. 

Keep in mind that most of the gaming retreats our group has, including WBC-West, have been at my family's Sunriver vacation house, and thus I've been the host for almost all of them. While I have been to a gaming retreat at Salishan at Chris' place before, it was an extra addition to the usual twice-yearly euro retreats. Still, this was really the first *big* retreat I'd been to when I wasn't the guy in charge, and I have to say that it was a very nice change. 

We had a ton of people coming in and out over the time I was there, and I left a little early, both to get back for holiday events on Sunday and so that JD could get back on Saturday night (which we accomplished about 10 minutes before midnight!) Among the attendees were myself, Chris, Mike, Matt R, KC and Rita, JD, Ken R, Eric, and non-RCG folks (technically) Lorna, Ben C, Pahduma (hope I spelled that even remotely correctly), and Ken C. That's 13 people, more than we've ever had at Sunriver. I'm hoping that we can continue this tradition in the future at Sunriver as well, as the new faces spiced things up very nicely, although of course the old-timers are always nice to have around. 

First off, a huge thanks to everyone who prepared meals. They seemed to be relatively easy to prepare, and every one was delicious and allowed everyone else to get in a lot of gaming. We may try this at Sunriver as well in the future. I chose early not to prepare a meal, mostly because I felt that I could get the pass this once due to my previous retreat hosting duties. I have to say, while I love hosting, it is nice once in a while to leave a house without feeling like I've forgotten to make a bed or turn down the thermostat and leave it to someone else to do. Of course, those who stay until the end of the Sunriver retreats know the drill and it's gotten to be very easy to do, but the break was nice and increased my enjoyment of this particular session.

Secondly, a huge thanks to Chris for his incredible prep work, hosting, and general pleasantness to be around. He and I have very similar senses of humor (ironic, perverse, quick, occasionally biting but well-intentioned), and he's a joy to game and hang with. Special kudos to using a Geeklist format to plan gaming activities, similar to what we've done with WBC-West, but the first time it's happened for a more casual retreat, and the first time I've seen it done via Geeklist. 

Thirdly, a huge thanks to everyone who came. While I wasn't involved in every game, and felt that I stayed exactly as long as I should have (Thursday evening through late Saturday), there was a great vibe in the house, and a special shout-out to Pahduma for jumping into some incredibly complex games with a smile and a willingness to enjoy herself. This woman, who is not a native English speaker, took on Power Grid twice, as well as playing a Cylon in BstarG. Ben, from what I've seen you have a keeper. Everyone, however, was a joy to game with, and that's a big part of why Rip City Gamers is such a special group. The laughter was more or less non-stop throughout the entire weekend, not an easy thing to do with twelve people crammed into a house of this size - even at Sunriver it would have been a big stretch.

Onto the games. I considered a Geeklist, but think that the blog format is a better one in this case as no tracking is really required. In this first section, I'll cover our Thursday night game.

Thursday night was Mike, Chris, and myself after Lorna and a few others discovered they couldn't come out until Friday morning, so rather than Mike and I playing Warriors of God, it was the three of us playing After the Flood, one of Wallace's new titles from his new Treefrog imprint. 

AtF, despite the acronym, is not about a government agency, nor is it particularly biblical (as the name led me to believe). Instead, it is a typical Wallace game strongly themed on the ebb and flow of civilizations in Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent from the Sumerian period through the Assyrians. It is more or less the same scope as Chariot Lords, although clearly a much different game with different objectives. Chris called it a wargame, but I felt it lacked a strong enough commitment to the historical events rather than just a framework for a very nice Euro, but it was still a very intriguing title. 

You spend the game building cities in the Crescent area of the map, which gives you some Special Mutant Powers in some locations, but also the opportunity to score particularly good points by upgrading cities as well. The outlying areas provide places to exploit various resources, which utilizes a system of cubes and disks to represent various materials and produced goods. You get these goods through the use of placing workers on the board, which costs resources in and of itself, and then trading up. For example, you might use a textile good to place two workers in a space that has metal and wood. Wood is only good for upgrading cities, but the metal can then be transformed by workers in a Tool Maker box into a Tool disk, which can then be used to upgrade to lapus lazuli. You start with a set of grain and textiles at the start of every turn, and it is understanding how to leverage these goods that will determine the winner.

Complicating matters is the presence of the armies of expanding peripheral civilizations such as Egypt and the Chaldeans. Each of the five turns there are three different civs that can appear, each of which has a particular starting area (which you must have a majority of workers in) and a strength, measured in units (this ranges from 3 up to 12). You can increase the number of units by a Special Mutant Power and by paying resources. These armies can expand across the board, and they prevent trade by anyone except the army owner in spaces they go into. They can also destroy cities, fight other armies, and generally allow players to have their way, although they do have some limits. 

This was the first game of AtF for both Mike and myself, and I found myself short of resources to do what I needed to do in the first two turns. By the third turn, I was starting to understand how to allocate the grain and textiles so that I could produce the various goods necessary to improve my cities and get the really big points, although you can generate a ton of points through army expansion as well. Chris, of course, had played twice and that was a huge advantage to him. He knew how to crank the resource machine, and managed to field enormous armies nearly every turn. While the game can tend to have huge leaps forward in points for some players and not for others, Chris was clearly winning handily by the fourth turn, and while Mike and I made a bit of a run at it we simply couldn't catch up. I was making some astute plays late in the game (the use of Scribes to shift workers is particularly useful, especially late in a turn), but in a five turn game, it's difficult to compete if you've screwed up two of them. 

All in all, I like the game, although I wouldn't quite put it at the top of the pile just yet. For one thing, it requires exactly three people, and takes a good three hours to play (our game, including 'splainin', took four hours). There is a tremendous amount of thinking required, and about turn four I was thinking that for this much work I'd just as soon be playing a wargame rather than a strategy game. There are many things to look out for, and trying to cover all of your bases can become difficult. Still, this is a very good game from Martin Wallace, and I will almost certainly invest in a copy at some point when Martin has his website updated and you can actually order it from the store (Chris' copy was from a "buy these three games in a package" deal that was as much preorder as anything else). I definitely liked it better than Steel Driver, which felt like Wabash Cannonball but more involved (not as good a think as I'd have liked). I do feel that the title could be misleading, especially for Christians looking for a game that reinforces their faith - there are no religious or Christian elements in the game at all, not even Hebrews or going into bondage. In fact, it could be argued that the game "glorifies" many of the antagonists of the Hebrews - Assyrians, Babylonians, Hittites, Egyptians, all of the civilizations that went through the Eastern Med on their way to smack each other. Oddly, the aforementioned Chariot Lords *does* include the Hebrews, at least for a couple of turns. 

Of course, for me this isn't really a selling point (or not), just my take on a poorly chosen title from someone who almost certainly doesn't understand American religious habits. 

In my next post, I'll cover the Friday games, including a detailed description of Age of Scheme and Starcraft.

1 comment:

Uwe said...

Dug, Great Blog. I will cancel my cable subscription on your word! :) Happy New Year.

Uwe Eickert
Academy Games