Monday, January 31, 2011

Salishan Gaming, Winter 2011

I've been gaming quite a bit, but most of my session reports are now in the form of "Games Played" on the 'Geek (I'm "dcooley" there if you're interested in following those sorts of things). However, I will continue to blog about larger events, such as Chris' gaming retreat at Salishan, a resort community at Gleneden Beach on the Oregon Coast (just south of Lincoln City, for those of you interested in geography). Chris' family has a very nice little beach house there, with views out over the bay and one very nice view of the surf from the loft. He has held several retreats out there, but this was only my third, mostly due to conflicts from music events such as choir concerts.

And this one was almost certainly my favorite. I did not play a single game I wished I hadn't, every game was fun even if I was not the winner (which is the case most of the time, both me not winning and me having fun even if I don't win), and the entire event, at least from my perspective, ran like a well-oiled thing that was well-oiled.

Particularly nice was the chance to play some of the long games that have come out in the last few months that have already seen table time, and get a better sense of whether these games have legs or not. In a word, yes. In two words, they have.

To be honest, all of these games were high points, with the possible exception of Tales of the Arabian Nights (new edition), which was simply good fun, if a little long on one occasion. Here they are in no particular order:

Power Grid: Czech Republic - This was a fan-generated map that KC has printed out on a printer/plotter to be very nice. I got the last ups on picking where my initial city would start, and surprisingly it was a better area than Rita (who had first dibs) got! That's what happens when you set up in the middle of the board, I guess. We also used some fan-created power plants and the "alternate" cardset, neither of which I'd seen before. I went for Garbage early in a big way, and kept my monopoly on it through the entire game. My only failure was that I was able to expand faster than my power plants did in the late game, and made the mistake of buying an intermediate power plant when it only added something like $8 to my take at turn end. The result - I ended up third in a three-way tie for the win, with Matt R taking the prize with the most money, and a handful of dollars behind KC. Argh. Nice map, although I think we screwed up by not playing a special rule about nukes in the southern part of the country.

Dominion: Prosperity - Having bought the kit that allows you to put the entire game (all five boxes, so long as you haven't sleeved the damned thing) into one box. It now weighs close to 20 US pounds, according to KC who apparently mails a lot of stuff and has a good sense of weight. I sure feels like 20 pounds. I brought it more for novelty than anything else, although I would have reconsidered after dragging the damned thing up the 70 steps to the main part of the house. Ken R, KC, Eric, and myself tried out the Prosperity expansion with the base set, having an interesting mix of cards generated via the iPhone app I have for this purpose. It turned out pretty well, although Ken (who apparently knew what he was doing) grabbed a Smithy early and roared to a win. I had two or three good King's Court/City/Moat combos that at one point ended up drawing something like 15 extra cards by the time I was done with the turn. Hard to keep track of those things after a while! I ended up with 41 points to Ken's 55, although had my Moats done a better job of stopping the Witches that kept showing up, I would have been a lot closer. My first real play with the game, and it may be my favorite expansion.

Red November - Why we don't play this more often escapes me. Perhaps it's the poorly organized rules that force you to do a lot of reading between the lines (movement, for example, moves the Ghost Marker forward, but isn't an Action for purposes of being in a room full of water). Made more fun by taking a shot of this blue vodka-based fruity drink that Rita had brought (and produced little or no buzz after my sixth shot - apparently my tolerance is up a bit from normal) every time you drank the grog. And I, starting out in the captain's cabin, drank it a lot. Enough that I fainted (in game, of course) twice. As with most plays of this hugely entertaining if wacky title, we died when things went horribly wrong after too many hatches were stuck once people were close to the 10 minutes left mark. Except KC, who had an Aqualung from the start and used it to escape a minute before the missiles launched (and at the 9 minute mark, one minute after he *could* escape!). Note to self - drink less in this game, as having eight event cards come up in a row is generally going to kick the crew's ass. Hilariously, both KC (who played) and Chris (who did not) independently said that "there's a lot of game in that little box," and they are right. My favorite semi-coop game with a lighter mood, I suspect this one is better still with the "a shot when you use grog" rule.

Dominant Species - A few people in Rip City Gamers have said that this game has too much luck of the draw at the end of the game, mostly based on the elements that come out into the various actions. They are wrong. All four of us (Matt R, Eric, and Ken C) agreed that this was a real winner in many ways, with a lot of deep choices to be made. Eric compared it to Die Macher, which several people in my group love and yet the game never comes out. Every time I play it I see new strategies and things to be aware of. Our play time was about 4 hours, but it was a learning game for two of the players so I think brisk play can knock 30 minutes off of that time. Unfortunately, there is a bit of min/maxing near the end of the game, but otherwise it's a blast and a half to play. Really, this is the standard for heavy Euro-style gaming. Matt rocked the end of the game as the Amphibians, doing an excellent job of scoring water areas at the end of the game, and *doubling* his points in the final turn and scoring round (and he was over 100 when he started). I had an early lead after getting 12 points off of the Fertile card, but had to get too many cubes on the board on the last turn and was doing well off of Survival points in much of the late game, so was identified as the leader to some extent. In the end, Eric had a nice run at the end to finish a clean second (but still a good 20-30 points behind Matt), while I completely stalled out and Ken pipped me by a point for third a good 20-30 points behind Eric. My favorite game of the weekend, no question, only made better by a *lot* of good bourbon. Did I mention I drank like a fish over the weekend but never got drunk? And lost 4 pounds?

SM's Civ: The BG - I love the PC version of Civ, although my heart is fondest of the original iteration (with the second coming in behind it). Sadly, the later versions, at least up to the fifth one, have had both bug issues on the Mac that have never been resolved, as well as way too much micromanagement (which the first did best). The board games, on the other hand, have been a mixed bag. The original Ragnar Bros game that inspired the PC version (at best) is far too long for regular play, much less trying to talk anyone in my group into, and the Eagle Games version was such a disaster that I don't think it ever got played. Through the Ages gives the best feel of the resource management side of the game, but there is no map and it's extremely abstract in most senses, especially in terms of combat. The latest attempt from Fantasy Flight, IMO, comes the closest to evoking the PC version, and has the advantage over TtA of playing four people and giving each player some individuality.

Our game, the last thing we played over the retreat, saw Eric and Chris playing for the first time, with Matt R and myself playing for the third or fourth times. Eric was Rome and Chris was China, so there was an immediate race on the Culture track between them, while my Americans were a little more vague. My initial Great Person, however, was Napoleon, so I concentrated on looking like I was going to be going for a Tech Victory while secretly planning to go for a Military Victory. I did not focus well enough on the Military, and was also a bit worried about the strategy as Matt got the Germans, but I did end up with two Academies and then drew a *second* Nappy Great Person when I edged up a few slots on the Culture track. At that point, I had far too many things to prepare to do to take out Eric's capital, including building up more units, getting the Samurai wonder that gives you extra points on your units, and getting a few more tech going to improve my units, stacking, and movement. By the time I advanced on Eric, he and Chris were well up the Culture track and things weren't looking too good. The surprise, however, was that Matt was collecting coins like crazy, and ended up winning the game with an Economic victory.

If I have a knock on the game, it is that it's too hard to see how well people are doing with their Economies. You can see the tech tree progress from across the table, same with the Culture Track, and you *definitely* know when someone is moving toward your capital. With coins, it's a lot harder to see if you aren't looking *much* more closely. I will definitely work up some sort of small scoring track that I can use to note where people are on the coin race.

A really great end to the weekend, which already had a lot of great games (many of which I haven't included here). I'm fairly sure I didn't win a single game. And didn't care. Thanks to Chris for hosting - as the guy who typically hosts at Sunriver, it's nice to let someone else take those chores on, as the final day can be very hectic (and in fact I rarely play games on the last day so that I can start closing up the house). Add in a really great group of people, and this was one of my favorite retreats ever.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

TotAN seems to be a three-player max if you're in *just the right mood for it.

Prosperity is absolutely my favorite Dominion expansion so far.

On Die Macher - most of its main RCG advocates/organizers are doing less gaming (or fewer Euros at least) in recent years: me, Dave, Chuck, Michael, & George. I actually know a few people outside of RCG that like it and are easier to schedule with so I managed to get it to a table twice last year. Not enough. I do still want to try Dominant Species.

Looking forward to checking out your BGG posts.