The three of us were joined by Eric, and we pulled out Dominion, a game that uses the best elements of CCGs, and played the most entertaining game I've gotten in of this title yet. We used random card decks that included Gardens, the Witch, and the Thief, along with Moneychangers, Markets (they seem to show up in everything), and a few other things that escape me right now. At about the 2/3rds mark in the game it occurred to me that Gardens were a better buy than 2VP cards, and getting very close to being a much better buy than Provinces (which Chris was snapping up at a rapid rate), so I started grabbing every Garden I could, with Eric trying to take the others. However, I didn't think to take the cards that let you discard cards, so I was stuck with my Curse cards at the end. I also had 59 cards in my deck (Ack!), so my Gardens were only worth 5 points each instead of 6. To Chris' great disgust, we ended up tying for the win. Hee hee!
I neglected to mention a playing of Hanging Gardens, a game that Rita taught Pahdame and JD and I. It's a cute little tile collecting game with a fairly clever semi-solitaire point generation system that saves it from being meh, but saves it in a pretty big way. You get to draft cards that are divided into six sections, and one to three of those sections has symbols in them. You must place the card on your existing cards so that the symbols lie on top of other cards, but the blank spaces can extend out. Once you get three or more symbols connected orthagonally, you can place a marker on that group and pick a tile from another draft pile, based on how many symbols are in your set. The tiles themselves also form sets in varying ways, and the point is to score as many points as possible when the card stack runs out. IIRC, JD, Pahdama and I all scored 29 points and matched on every tiebreaker so we all shared the win. Cute, quick, and the card placement section has enough depth to it that this would make a good filler, although it's a bit component heavy for what it is. The board in particular seems kind of gratuitous.
After all of this gaming and then dinner, it was time for Ben, Ken, and myself to try out Starcraft: The Boardgame. I suggested this because I've more or less lost interest in most multiplayer strategy games in the vein of Twilight Imperium and Axis and Allies, and wanted to give this title a try before selling it off. I'm very glad I did, because this game is much better than those other two for a couple of reasons. First of all, the map scales to the number of players and can be connected via "z-axes" that allow you to more or less prevent any part of the board from becoming a fortress with a single way to get there. Second, you are limited to choosing four orders to assign to various planets over the course of a turn, which you place in a stack on each planet, all players sharing the same stack. If I place an order on Planet X, then Ken places an order on top of it, when we get to the Execute part of the turn Ken's order is executed before mine will be. There are only three orders, but the timing is really crucial. It also means that you can surprise another player by playing a token on a planet they have a base on as your last placement and they may not be able to react to it, so turn order is important (although it shifts rather than using an auction mechanism).
I have to tell you that this game is a bitch to explain. I must have spent a good 45 minutes on it, and that was with Ben helping me out. And I didn't even *get* to combat. It was insane, and a couple of turns in I was feeling that this was a game that wasn't going to see more play from me. Once we started mixing things up, it did get much more interesting, and we found that it was pretty easy to beat back the leader only to get beat back yourself on the next turn. There are various timing elements in the game to keep it from taking all night (although we did spend a good 5 to 6 hours playing, but mostly because of unfamiliarity), and I'd imagine that three knowledgeable players could cover this within a couple of hours. The sad thing is that I can't imagine that we'd ever have three knowledgeable players unless it was Ken, Ben, and myself.
I played one of the Terran factions, and discovered that the units got expensive quickly, even compared to the other two players. We had two resource areas go fully depleted early on, and mine was a gas source, so a good half of my units, mostly the powerful ones, never got built, although I did pretty well with combat. Ken's Zergs looked almost unstoppable, but a combined Protoss (Ben)/Terran campaign did the trick, although we were *one* card away from Stage 3 and a Protoss victory through his special victory condition. On the next turn, Ken and I went after the Protoss and I very nearly met *my* special victory condition, but couldn't attack the sixth resource area I needed because I belatedly realized that Ben had built air defenses and I had to attack from the planet itself (which I could have done had I realized this and added a second Movement action to that planet).
At this point it was after midnight and time to stop. I think we were probably a turn or two away from finishing, and everyone agreed that we'd done what we set out to do. The game is much much cooler than it appeared at first blush, with the game flowing pretty easily once we started getting through all of those nagging rules questions that required digging through the 48 page rulebook. My god, they are a mess. Still, we all felt it was pretty good, with the very strong caveat that we would not be too thrilled to play a game at a con with people we didn't know, whether they knew the game well or not (I could see major arguments breaking out over tiny rules issues), and it was a difficult game to teach (although I can see ways to streamline it now that I've gotten a game or two in). Major kudos to Ben and Ken for sitting through our play session, and I think they both walked away with the same impression I had - good game, tricky to get on the table. This one I'll keep, and hope that it works well for two players (unlikely, as it's too hard to beat someone up once you've been beat up yourself).
That was it for Friday. The next and final report will cover Saturday in it's entirety.