Monday, February 02, 2009

Whole Lotta Gaming

Mike and I (along with KC, who was meeting Rita at the event) drove down to Lorna's big gaming event in Eugene, OR, on Friday morning. I'm fortunate to have my sister living down there, and she's happy to let us stay at her place, which is about five minutes away from the venue, and there was room for both Mike and myself. 

Lorna puts on a great party - lots of giveaways, contests, breakfast food, and a good group of people that seem to come from as far away as Walla Walla, WA. If you've never heard of it, they have awesome onions there. 

I won't do an exhaustive list of games I played, as a) it wasn't that exhaustive, and b) I'm not at all sure I could remember all of them. There were some shining (and not quite as shiny) moments throughout the weekend, and here they are:

Android - My first playthrough of this monster "experience" game, with five people at my house last month, was a bit of a mess. I had not yet fully learned the game, and so spent most of my time looking up rules, and after five hours we'd gotten through half of the game. This time out, we had three people (at my insistence, although to be fair only three people showed up to play), and I had a session under my belt. The result: 45 minutes of 'splainin' the high-concept sections of the game, followed by a three hour complete game session where we actually finished. Really. I'm pretty sure that every player adds about an hour to game time, and while people need to be fairly aware of what the other players are doing because of the chance to play Dark Twilight cards, for the most part it's all downtime. Three is, I suspect, the sweet spot. 

I did forget a couple of rules, but to be honest, this game is so involved and has so many subsystems that it's not a huge surprise. Both Lorna and Kevin felt that they had gotten about as much information as they could during my explanation, and that it really required playing the game in order to get to a point where it would be a more immersive experience. Me, I was so busy checking the details that I again didn't get as into my character (I was Floyd) as much as I would have liked to. 

And that is really the rub in this game. To appreciate it, you need to really get immersed in the backstory, which is extremely rich, as rich as any game that isn't backed by a franchise (Bstar G) or literature (Lovecraft) can be. There is a ton of flavor text, but most of the time you just skip reading it because you want to move on to other things. However, reading it ahead of time would make the characters really come to life, but when you're learning that's just a bit more than I think people are willing to do. I like this game a lot, and think it's a very deep game with lots of options, but you need people to play who are into it to make it really successful.

That said, the game moved along quickly, and while I struggled to get my Twilight card shifting done correctly, and felt like the plots were kind of ignored (especially handing people bad baggage), it was four hours that moved along very quickly. Considering that the four-player game of Le Havre I played the day before (and that will be the *last* four-player game of Le Havre I play - see below) took just as long and was painful rather than fun, I think this is one I'll try to get out at weekend and retreat sessions. Only with three, though.

Le Havre - While I suspect the jury will be out on this game for a little while because of all the options that people can take, I really like it. Except with more than three. I played two games, one a three player with KC and Rita, and a four player with Greg, Murray, and Aaron. The three player game I felt as though there was tension as to whether or not I could use the buildings I wanted to use, and I felt like I was on top of things the entire game. In the four player game, I did one dumb thing (didn't convert a clay to brick, not realizing that you can use brick as clay, and ending up wasting a cycle as a result to generate more brick), and got completely screwed up. One thing about this game, if you forget that you need to have a particular resource (such as, oh, money/food to pay for using a building, or to pay interest), you can get into some serious trouble. Forgetting that I could have sold a building to generate money, which I absolutely would have done had I remembered the rule, didn't help. As such, Aaron was exactly where I *had* to be for the last seven or eight turns, making it a particularly frustrating game for me. Greg finished behind me, mostly because he never did build a ship to mitigate his food situation, but otherwise it was perhaps one of the least satisfying gaming experiences I've had. At the same time, the three player game was great, and I did quite well. Perhaps with four or five you must be considering two or three (or more) different paths you can take if you don't get what you need, but to be honest I really think the problem is that you have two (and occasionally only one) cycle in a turn to generate food, and the result is that you spend a lot of time in the late game doing just that unless you've been able to get your shipping going. 

Red November - A coop game in a tiny box and a lot of controversy on the 'Geek as to the rules. Here's the thing - we had to look up exactly one rule. We didn't play everything correctly the first time, but I had it all figured out by the time we finished. It's just not that difficult a game to get *if* you do a run through and do a little study ahead of time. I could teach this in 10 minutes now, and play a four-player game in less than two hours easily. We ended up dying right at the 10 minute mark because so many timed destruction events popped up at once. We were using the Less Lethal Dying rule, which was good because my only slightly inebriated gnome managed to faint in the missile room, putting me out of the action for about 15 minutes while everyone else ran around like crazy. One note - if you have time to take care of a problem, take care of the problem right then. Don't think, "Oh, we have *lots* of time!", because you don't. Not really. Where Ghost Stories is simply brutal and unrelenting, this game is hilarious and unrelenting. Read the rules *very* carefully (note that using time to move is not the same as using time to perform actions), and you'll have no problem at all. Recommended.

Lightning: D-Day - I'd planned to sell or give away this game at some point after George and I tried it a few years ago and found the rules lacking. Lacking actual rules, as it turned out. In truth, the game is pretty fun once you get the FAQ and find out how things work. I wanted to give it one more go after reading a few reviews online saying that the FAQ cleared many things up, and so I ran a quick solo runthrough of a couple of turns, and Mike and I played later on. While I won handily (I'd been pushed off of a couple of beaches, but three reinforcement cards late in the game saved my bacon), I think this is a very good lunchbreak game, and I'll be getting the Midway and North Africa games as well now that I understand the parts I was missing. Good light 30 minutes of war-themed fun.

Roll Through The Ages - This is one of the new Gryphon Games titles, produced by Funagain and distributed through FRED. It's a civ-building game, but using dice, a heavy wooden board to track your resources with pegs, and a huge pad of scoresheets. The game weighs more than Around the World In 80 Days, and takes up one eighth the space! You roll the dice, choose to reroll a couple of times if you wish, and then feed your cities, build monuments and more cities with workers, and get more resources to build developments that give you special mutant powers. The wooden dice are a bit of a problem (I can see them wearing over time, although you could put stickers onto any dice and fix them), and God help you if you play against someone who can't immediately see what combinations they want/need, but I could see this being a fun game to travel with, so long as you have room for the wooden resource trackers. I've seen Cribbage boards with less mass than one of the four that comes in this game! Otherwise, a cute little multiplayer solitaire effort with a place in my admittedly oversized collection.

Waterloo 20 - Alan Emerich is a name well known to gamers as both a developer and a teacher (his Rome On 640k A Day hint book for the original Sid Meyer Civ PC game set the standard more than a decade ago), and he has a DTP company that puts out small wargames called Victory Point Games. Make no mistake, these are truly DTP games, and if you expect polished GMT-style components, you'll be disappointed. However, this Joseph Miranda title (the 20 refers to a game series where there are 20 counters in the game, which I suspect means "per side" unless you aren't counting things like dummy or breakdown counters) was very engaging and a lot of fun. At $20 a pop, which was enough to buy three AH wargames back when I got interested in them in the mid-seventies, I was impressed enough to decide to pick a few up myself. One note - morale plays a huge role in the game, and spending the morale points early to boost your combat chances should be done sparingly. As it was, both Andy and I were pushing the bottom of the barrel on the second day of the battle, and I ended up rolling a couple of exchange results that sent me through the floor. This game is easily playable within 60 minutes once you know the system (Jena 20 is the other I'm aware of), and there is a lot of game considering the ultra-low counter density. 

There were other great games (TtR Card Game, Manoeuvre, Aquaretto, Pompeii, and I'm sure at least a few more I've forgotten), but those were the highlights. While I didn't get lucky with any of the raffles (I was surrounded by people at my gaming table with swag on multiple occasions), I did manage to snag a complete and unworn (other than the box) copy of France 1940, the old AH shot at the campaign. I'd had a copy in high school, but sold it when I got out of college. It was nice to put my copy of Quest for the Dragon Lords (unplayable, from what I could see, or at least so luck-driven as to be unplayable in RCG circles) and get this back in return.

Thanks to Lorna, Bryon, Funagain Games (who put up a bunch of prizes), and everyone else who helped put this weekend together. As someone who hosts nanocons at Sunriver twice a year, I know how much work it is just to get *that* far, much less rent a venue or run giveaways. Very impressive work!

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