Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunriver Wrap-Up

It's been nearly a week since the Sunriver 2010 Retreat ended, and time for me to wrap up how things went.

First of all, if you want a breakdown of all of the games I played, you can find it here. There are 27 entries, two of which are not actually board/card games, but a couple of them represent multiple plays of a game. I hit 30 games in three and a half days, including a long game of Mecanisburgo.

High Points: As always, the company. We had seven people present, which is not a bad number. I personally like to see eight or nine as it gives you a little more flexibility in terms of number of players (we were constantly in a 3/4 split with seven), but it was a particularly good group and we seemed to do a pretty good job of syncing up to mix up the players, although we weren't really trying all that hard.

Most Entertaining Game: Sticheln with seven the first night. Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe it was that everyone was so happy to be there and have the drive over with. Regardless, it was a hoot.

Game I Looked Forward To The Most: Tie for Alien Frontiers and Mecanisburgo. I'd put quite a bit of time into figuring out Mecanisburgo, even though there were parts I forgot and had to relearn on the fly. While the human factors and some poorly translated rules made this a more difficult game to learn than perhaps it should have been, at the same time this is a very cool game dripping with theme and you take every agent placement very seriously. It is not for the faint of heart, or for those who want a game they can learn quickly or play well in their first few games, but I agree with many of it's fans that putting effort into this game will reap rewards. Whether or not my game group will embrace it as I have remains to be seen.

Alien Frontiers ties because of the excellent buzz leading up to it's release. True to the buzz, it is indeed a much better Kingsburg, with the main difference being that you can get cards that allow you to control the vagaries of the dice to some extent. I felt that it was good with both three and four, although the downtime with four starts to approach the limits of my tolerance (although to be fair, this was a learning game for three of us).

Biggest Surprise: Getting through a three-player game of Le Havre in two hours. I have to admit, by Sunday night I was a crispy critter between the ears, and I was constantly surprised to find I had to make a decision every minute or so while playing this game. I made a few early decisions regarding high-value buildings, but then (as usual) I focused on the ship-building aspect of the game with occasional forays into culinary management. To have been only three points out of first place at the end was not only a surprise, but a delight. I'm not sure that the Le Grand Hameau cards added much, in fact they seemed to be either wildly powerful or largely a waste of time, but when you only get four or five of them it's really hard to tell as a full expansion.

Second place goes to Zooloretto Exotic, which was much better than I expected. Which is not to say it's a must-own expansion, especially at it's price point. It is, however, a very different take on the game that i found very appealing and would play again - very different from the buzz I'd heard that it was one of the less interesting expansions.

King of the Hill: The game genres that got a huge amount of play this year seemed to rely on either deck-building (Ascension, Thunderstone, Gosu, Dominion) or dice (Alea Iacta Est, Alien Frontiers, Lords of Vega$). I'd brought Heroes of Graxia with me as well, but it never saw table time. I'll have to try to grab Gosu in the meantime.

Weakest Games: This goes to Samarkand: Routes to Riches, which seemed to take longer to set up than it did to play, and Toledo, which didn't feel like a Martin Wallace game at all but rather a Caylus rip off with fewer interesting decisions and more randomness. We also felt that Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas needed a fix to what was a potential set up issue where someone's books could be placed close to the center compared to others, making it too important for everyone else to fight against them constantly. I'm not a big fan of games where you beat on the leader from the very beginning (Britannia excepted).

Favorite Non-Gaming Moments: Breakfast the first morning at Sintra, Dinner on Saturday night at the Grill, and playing Buzz! Quiz World for two rounds with the entire group. I'm always fascinated how people who play quiz games seem to take questions that they don't know the answers to personally - "How on earth would I know that?" Ahem, it's a *quiz show* game. You aren't supposed to know everything, you're supposed to know some of it. Like most multiple choice tests, you can improve your odds by getting rid of the one or two clearly incorrect answers and go from there, even when you don't know anything about the answer. Anyway, *I* had fun (although I also won both games, seemingly handily).

Worst Part Of The Retreat: As always, the trip home. We had good company with KC and Rita, but we went the long way home when we chose not to go over Mt. Hood during possible bad weather, and the Gorge was a car wash complete with one detour that surprised me by taking me through a surprising amount of Hood River when the right lane suddenly just got off the freeway. The trip home took about six hours total, including stopping for lunch in Bend and dropping off KC and Rita, which makes for a long day after a long weekend. I also made the mistake of booking myself up for the next three days, and by Thursday night (after two rehearsals, two game sessions, a shopping expedition, and sitting my granddaughter solo for several hours), I was toast. Note to self - next year, don't book *anything* for two days after getting home! After WBC West, make it four! I do not love getting old.

I do think it was wise to go to only one of these sessions per year. With WBC West, Chris' party at the coast, Lorna's party in Eugene, GameStorm, and what I hope to be a few more trips to out of town cons next year, we have plenty of chances to get out and game for a long weekend. Now I just have to remember not to hold the retreat when the first snows hit the passes...

Thanks to everyone who attended: Mike, Matt R, Alex, KC, Rita, and first-timer Greg. I hope all of you had a great time, and we'll do this again next year.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ramping Up For Sunriver

The leaves are coming down from the trees, so that means it's time for the annual Sunriver Game Retreat my group holds out in Central Oregon. This is an invite-only event that we originally held every six months, but with so many other weekend events in the spring (plus the creation of WBC West, our week-long wargaming nanocon), it's dropped back to once a year.

Those of you who read this blog regularly (and it has been anything *but* regular the last few months) know that preparation for WBC West with it's focus on wargames is an intense process that we literally begin in January for a May event. The "Euro" Retreat (which I will call the Retreat) is a much less involved process for many reasons, but there is occasionally some prep work involved. Here's a glimpse into the things I do (or try to do) in the run-up.

1) Who's Coming? Well, of course. I've learned not to start this too far ahead of time, as people tend to drop in and out. I've learned to ask simply if people are definitely coming, definitely not, or have a reasonable chance of attending. I've also learned to merge this with When Is The Retreat to try to accommodate as many gamers as possible. The Maybe's tend to be Definitely Not as time goes on, but to be fair a lot of the Definitely's change their minds and/or circumstances as well. The important thing is that at this stage we are simply trying to find the best date, as whether or not you attend is not as critical as with WBC West, where if you drop out at the last minute you are leaving a few opponents with no time to prep games (and worse, who have spent time prepping games they probably won't play now).

2) What Will We Play? Again, this is much more fluid than with WBC West, where prep time is so critical. However, it does happen to some extent. For both events, I've taken to creating a GeekList to allow everyone to post what they're interested in playing in a single location. This has the added benefit of using thumbs for people who are interested in playing something (as well as the comments). This year, I'm prepping Mecanisburgo, Container, and Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas, as these are all games that I have not yet gotten to play but want to give them a try. For the occasional game (Mecanisburgo) this means a larger than usual amount of prep as the game has so many interconnecting mechanisms, much like Android, and it's critical that someone at the table has a clue about how the game works if I ever want it to get table time again. That said, there is no schedule set in stone, although we've learned to play the lighter and more experiential games in the evening, just like at WBC West.

3) Who's Coming When? The Retreat lasts from Thursday evening through Monday afternoon, and not everyone stays the entire time. As a result, you want to be sure to have games that will support the number of people you have on the fringes of the schedule, and also make sure that the people who will be there have brought those types of games! For some of us, that's not an issue as we'll play nearly anything, but at the same time I'm unlikely to get some people to play, say, Robo Rally or anything equally wacky and I don't want that to be the only game I've brought on Thursday night when it's just two of us. Since it's a four hour drive from Portland, where most of us live, it's also nice to know when people will arrive so you don't have to worry about them until it's time to worry about them. If we get over six cars, then it's nice to have carpools heading out if people's schedules permit.

4) What Are The Rules? Over time, we've had something like 25 WBC Wests and Retreats at this house, so most of the old-timers know the drill when it comes to preparing food, using the hot tub and/or sauna, where things are, and closing up the house. However, it seems like there's always someone who hasn't been there before and doesn't know that after having people leave cases of Diet Coke (which almost no one in my family drinks) that if they packed it in, they need to pack it out. That we have two bins for empties, one for the ones that have a deposit and one for the ones we recycle (if it had bubbles other than sparkling wine, it's returnable). Things like that.

5) Who's Bringing What? In addition to making sure you have a decent selection of games for those fringe times where you have a pretty specific number of players, it's good to not have everyone bring their copy of Le Havre, if for no other reason than you have a better selection of games. Back in the day, everyone brought three or four boxes full of games, and there would be close to 150 games stacked up on every non-gaming flat surface in the place. Now, it's more like one or two bins at the most, and a lot of people don't bring much at all, so it's important to be selective about what you bring. It's also important to bring a good mix of fillers and meaty games too, as often one group will be finishing up a game and needs about 30-40 minutes before the other group is done. Unlike WBC West, the retreat is all about flexibility.

This year we'll have seven people, assuming no drop outs in the next six days. That's actually a pretty good number, as you can divide into various combinations from 2-5. Personally, I prefer 9 as it allows people to play almost anything, even three groups of 3, but 7 is still a good number. It also lets everyone get a bed except for one unlucky person, which this year looks like it will be Alex who will get a couch as he arrives last. Priority for beds goes first to couples and women, who get one of the two suites, then to me (because it's my family's house - I started out letting other people have the bedrooms and then figured that I was not nearly as selfish as I needed to be), then to people who will be there the longest or arrive the soonest in no particular order. So this year, KC and Rita will get a suite, as will I, then Mike, Greg, and Matt can choose from the three downstairs beds, largely assigned based on who snores the most as two of the beds are in one room.

Of the people attending this year, Greg is the newbie. For the Retreat, not for games! We're excited to have him out at long last, but I'm looking forward to the inevitable "Maze Of Twisty Roads, All Alike" comments that people have after driving around the resort for hours trying to figure out how to get where they're going.

Which reminds me, time to send out the obligatory "Rules" email to the group...

Should be another good year, we have an excellent group of people attending.

I'll do a writeup here, but will post the running game list (at least of the games I participate in) on the GeekList that I'll set up in a few days, just look for Sunriver 2010 and my username, dcooley, to follow along over the course of the weekend.