Sorry to be so late with this. It's very hard for me to get an entry in at the actual event, seeing as I'm either gaming or inebriated. OK, sometimes I'm eating or showering. Life since I've returned last Monday has been kind of crazy, and I haven't even unpacked the games I took!
Anyway, here's Day 1, Thursday:
Lord of the Rings Living Card Game (LotR) -
I arrived around 12:15pm on Thursday, after a few people made the request that we start a little earlier and everyone was leaving pretty early on Sunday. After getting the car unpacked, I started checking out the house, spending some time figuring out what was wrong with the stereo receiver (bad speakers in the nook), updating the system software on the PS3, reseting the password again so that people could see Netflix movies (I have no idea how this got screwed up in two months, but that's what happens when you have a vacation home many people use), stuff like that. Around 4pm, Greg and MattG showed up, after a scenic trip through Lebanon, which by my calculations took them about 2 hours out of their way. Water under the bridge, time to game!
First up was LotR, which Greg had not played, I'd played a handful of times, and MattG had played many times. Matt had some decks set up, and chose the Hunt for Gollum quest. This first expansion pack has gotten some mixed reviews, with people being much more excited about the follow on expansions. That said, we considered that a good quest for Greg's first game.
It was a total walkthrough. I think I took four damage total the entire game, and that was on Gloin so I was trying to take damage. Part of the problem is that the encounter deck is primarily locations rather than enemies to fight, so we imply smacked them around and moved on. For our last quest phase, we generated 25 points on our side. Even the Clue cards came up quickly.
I have heard that the various quests are good with various numbers of players, and that certainly seems to be true. That said, I like the game quite a bit, and will probably pull it out more often to get in some good deck-building time for solo play (usually with two decks). I'm a terrible deck-builder when you do it in advance, so this will give me some chances to build this skill, although I eschew CCGs at this point, preferring the LCG concept by quite a bit, although my only other LCG is Warhammer: Invasion, which I'm not sure works as well.
Regardless, it was fun to play a new quest and get surprised by what we ran into, even if it was just another roadside attraction and tourist trap.
After finishing, Matt spent a little time deck building while Greg and I turned on the first NFL game of the season and we all enjoyed delicious beer and some of the worst delivery pizza I have ever had. The delivery person should have been tipping me.
Ascending Empires -
This game has gotten a lot of buzz. It's kind of a 4X game (Explore, Exploit, Expand, Excommunicate? - Not really sure what the four X's actually are but I know how the games go), but has a physical flicking component. Turns are very short, taking something like 5 seconds if you know what you're going to do, although movement usually takes more like a minute if you actually flick something. The game is relatively luck-free, with the exception of a semi-random planet distribution (you don't know what planets contain what resources until you land or scan them), and of course the vagaries of the puzzle board which warped almost immediately. I'll be getting plexi, washers, and door bumpers soon to fix that problem, although there's something kind of entertaining about trying to get over those seams.
The result is, in my opinion anyway, a really fast and fun game that encourages screwage and planning and even a certain amount of bluffing. One player felt that it was nothing new, but I am unaware of any table top 4X game that feels like this at all. It's almost simultaneous play and one bad decision can put you out of contention, as you will see below.
Our first game was with Greg and MattG, and none of us had played. The rules are pretty straightforward, although there is a fairly extensive FAQ out there already (and you'll want it - there are few rules for what happens when the ships get turned on their sides or roll or other wackiness). Since you get points for three things during the game, and the game ends when you run out of the point pool, similar to Race for the Galaxy, you are encouraged to do those things, which include advancing your tech trees, removing troops from a planet (mining), and beating your enemies' ships by outnumbering them within "range" as measured by a little piece of cardboard. The tech tree is particularly useful, as it allows you to get various improvements to your abilities, such as more troops placed at a time, longer range attacks, and gaining more troops and ships to your pool, so you really can't skip it. You also get points for wiping out items (anything that is a player color) from the surface of a planet by getting enough ships in orbit and wiping out the owning player's ships also in orbit.
However, you also get points for having colonies and cities, and cities also grant more troops and/or ships, so you want to be doing that too. And having occupied planets. And having cities in more than two quadrants. You don't get these until game end, however, so they are longer term goals.
By the way, hitting another ship with your ship is called "ramming" and it results in both ships returning to the players' supplies. At higher tech levels, you can get VP for being rammed, or for ramming, but usually it's a bad thing unless you gain more by removing the opponent's ship than you do losing your own ship (which usually costs two half-turns, hence a single cycle, not to mention getting it back into position).
In our game, I was focused on long term points, getting cities in all four quadrants and then protecting them as this is worth a total of 18 points (four for the occupied planets, eight for the cities at 2 points each, and six points for having them in four quadrants). Matt, on the other hand, was ship rich and looking to wipe out one of my planet's items, including a city, and he had the ships in position to do so. However, as I pointed out to him, he wanted to be careful not to ram my ship in orbit. And, of course, he did that very thing and I won the game on an errant flick.
Without question this was my favorite new game of the weekend, perhaps my favorite game overall. There are without question component issues - the board is going to warp, even in a very dry environment like Sunriver, even putting the tiles back in the plastic bag and sealing it. Even the player boards were warping. Frankly, the game needs a good quality particle board map, much like Carabande has, but that would add something like $40 to the retail price. Instead, I will be buying a small sheet of plexi to go over it, and affixing washers and bumpers to the planets so they won't move on top of the plexi. As I said, though, there is some charm to having a less than smooth path to the next tile. Alternately, I may consider having a particle board built and drilled and applying a sheet to make it look identical. I would be surprised if at least one enterprising soul out there didn't do this. Fortunately, the game is, IMHO, well worth the extra cost.
Last year we played a 7 or 8 player game of this the first night everyone was there, and we had a really entertaining time, especially the part where my wine (in a stemless glass, no less) ended up in the box lid with the cards we weren't using. Sadly, KC's copy. I was able to replace it and buy my own, and of course much was made of various alcoholic liquids getting into said box lid. Fortunately, the box lid survived this year unscathed.
I should mention that I brought a rather good bottle of Scotch (at least I liked it) and invited others to do the same, although it ended up being more "whiskey" (or in MattR's case, "whisky" as that's how bourbon distillers spell it) with the Irish and Bourbon varieties being represented as well. I have not been a Scotch drinker in the past, but I found the Ardmore label that I bought on a whim to be quite excellent, although I'm sure my compatriots all had their favorites.
The end result, of course, was that most of us were slightly drunk the entire weekend. Worked for me.
By now, Mike, Alex, and MattR had arrived (it was about 9 or 10pm at this point) and we were just picking up Ascending Empires, so nice timing.
In this particular game of Sticheln, Matt G had not played before, and it took him a hand or two to figure things out, but he did just fine in the end. I, however, had a massive brain fart in the third hand where I completely disassociated my pain color with what I was playing, and thought I was taking a mild chance when in fact I was setting myself up for disaster. The end result was that I was in last place for the entire game by quite a margin, although the game only lasted four hands as it was the slowest Sticheln game ever. Fun, but slow.
After four hands, we were all a little tired and I at least headed to bed. I know that Alex and Greg did some sort of draft variant for 2-player Race for the Galaxy, but I don't know much about it other than that.
Day 2 coming up soon!