Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunriver Euro Retreat 2011, Day 3

Day 3 dawned much as Day 2 had, with me surviving far too much alcohol the day before in pretty good form. Don't worry, by Tuesday all of that imbibing had caught up with me, so much so that this past week I have consumed exactly three drinks total in a full week, and all of them in social settings. I even avoided ordering a beer at the Arts Institute graduation ceremony I attended, perhaps the first one I've been to that included a no host bar. Very strange to see so many people lifting beers to their fellow students during graduation.

But I digress.

Saturday saw the largest number of games for me, but still a fairly small number in some respects considering how short some of these games are.

Merchants & Marauders -

I'm not fond of games with Wild West themes, and pirates are actually also fairly far down the list in terms of my preferred milieux, but there's something appealing about actually playing a pirate-themed game. That the games never really come close to being as satisfying as I'd like is a bit of a bummer, but that's true of so many games. Still, M&M has so many very cool bits and so much theme, I was hopeful it would make for a good game. Jury's still out there, sadly.

M&M is unusual in that you aren't locked down into being a pirate, and in fact with some of the captains you draw you are actively encouraged to be a merchant. That was the case for both MattG and I, while Alex took the piratical route. Sort of. I think we ended up raiding exactly one merchant the entire game, and Alex spent most of his time avoiding the Spanish largely because the Spanish spent the entire game at war with the English and Alex was English. We did end up with five NPC ships on the board, my French ships being the exception.

To make matters worse, I started near a good mission and drew lots of Goods cards that were in demand at nearby ports. I also had the captain that lets you ignore storms, and we had storms about every two and a half turns, including the first two. That really hobbled my competition and I went to town. I think my opponents should have immediately gone after me once it was clear I had a head start, but it was a first game for Alex and Matt, and my second game (first was two-player with similar results for the pirate player). I ended up getting Glory all over the place with Rumors and Missions and high-yield trades, plus I successfully discovered Treasure Island and headed for home.

And it was in my home waters of Tobago that we ended up experiencing the combat system in depth when both of my opponents finally came after me and my huge sack of nuggets. Wait, that came out wrong. My vast treasure. Better. Alex was driven off with minimal damage to my ship, but Matt actually managed to board me. Sadly, I'd shot up his crew pretty badly and they were repelled, with me getting even more gold. Kind of an anti-climactic ending, and that kind of sums up my feelings about the game.

Understand, I like it. I see tremendous promise in it. But I don't think the game "works" until you have players who know it well enough to see when another player is in need of a beatdown, especially before they grab that larger-scale ship that's so much harder to take on, which I did fairly early on. As such, being a relatively long game, it's hard to drum up enthusiasm for a game that we'll need to play a few times to get in a group that has far too many game choices already. Which suggests that yes, there is a point where you can have too many games.

By now, Chuck had arrived and the 18XX game was still in full swing (as it was for pretty much the entire day), so it was time to brave the depths of space after having braved the depths of Havana's brothels...

Death Angel - Space Hulk Card Game -

Boy, if you think M&M has garnered mixed reviews, you should see DA. People love it the first time, then start to hate it later because it's so brutal - one bad die roll and you're out half of your team, and one more and you're sitting on the sidelines. I can empathize, but then the game is supposed to be pretty short and sweet and much more of an experiential ride than a truly competitive game. No question the game is dripping with theme, not to mention gore dangling from the claws of the Genestealers as they smacked us around badly.

I think part of the problem was that we were trying to maintain the theme by not discussing who would shoot when, as you can't attack in two consecutive turns (you really can't do anything consecutively in this game), and so there was little fire coordination. The rules state that you are supposed to play your action card secretly, and we extrapolated this to mean we also chose them secretly. That definitely makes it harder to win with more than three people playing, as you only get a single team.

The early game went well, except we weren't taking advantage of the door at the first location and we had drawn more than half of our spawn cards as major spawns, so there were areas with more than five Genestealers, including the door. In the second location, no door at all. We didn't make it past the second location. [Note: If you play Activate actions at the door, you will reduce the number of Genestealers that follow you to the next location. Somehow this didn't register with people when I explained it along with the rules, but I'm pretty sure it's stuck since then. I was trying to move up near the door, but we moved too quickly because so many blips turned into GS's so quickly.]

I actually like the game, and think it would be a good filler, which was it's role for this particular game. Alex went on and played it solitaire twice, beating it handily both times. I also think we did not have an optimal set of four teams, drawing them essentially randomly.

At this point, MattG and Alex took a break and Chuck and I pulled out the game that I was perhaps most keen to play during the weekend...

A Few Acres Of Snow - 

Sadly, it was also the biggest disappointment by far for me. Here I was expecting a wargame with a deck-building component, which was really much more of a hand-management component because the card set is always the same. Chuck suggested that a good start for the British was to deny the French the independent Settlers cards, which I did, but he pasted me anyway by placing all of his houses. There was one siege that failed, started on Chuck's part, and aside from that there was almost no conflict at all other than a single raid. I did not understand that I could invade Nova Scotia, or I definitely would have done so early.

I chalk most of this up to a combination of not fully understanding an effective strategy and some unfortunate card combinations (like waiting the entire hand for the card with the Cart on it to advance further south and prevent Chuck from filling in all of the Great Lakes region so quickly), but in the end the whole thing felt so "meh" that I've gone so far as to cancel my preorder with the local store. While I am a huge fan of Steam and Age of Industry, to be honest pretty much every Wallace game that's come out recently (except London, which seems to be a game most devotees don't like) has fallen very flat for me. Like Knizia, I think Wallace's best days are behind him and he's taken to simply putting out games as a moneymaking operation. His forays into serious rules expansions (Steam Barons) was an utter disaster, with six people unable to see how you could do much better than where you started at, and while I hear Gettysburg is supposed to have learned a lot from Waterloo, the latter was another game that I looked at and simply didn't understand what all the fuss was about.

It's not that I dislike the game, it's just that absolutely nothing about it grabbed me, and I loved Wilderness War. The period is very interesting to me, especially at the strategic level. I felt absolutely none of the era at all, it was dry to the point of desiccation, and by all appearances the game was going to devolve into a small set of strategies where if one player did this, the other would respond by doing that, and the vagaries of the deck (even with reserves) would determine the winner. I'm sure I'm doing the game a disservice, but quite honestly if a game isn't going to grab me at all on the first play, it's not going to get much in the way of a second chance. Biggest disappointment for the weekend by a mile.

By now we were getting ready to go out for dinner, but there was time for a quick game of San Juan with Chuck, MattR, and Greg.

San Juan w/ Treasure Box Expansions - 

For a period of about 18 months, San Juan was our "summoning" game, the one we'd play at the start of the evening while waiting for the tardy players to arrive. We could get through a game in about 10-15 minutes, and it was always interesting. Then we tired of it (or people started showing up promptly) and it went back on the shelf. When Greg suggested trying it with the Alea Treasure Box expansions, I was happy to see what changes it brought.

As it turned out, the game pretty much plays the same, but I think we would have been better served playing part of the expansion instead of all of the parts. The game was fun, but it lacked the elegance of the original. I especially didn't like the extra occupation cards that seemed to favor the person who got to pick an occupation right after they came out.

I ended up going for a Guild Hall strategy that worked to a point, but made the mistake of going for screwage instead of building up my own engine early with a Guard House that limited everyone to six cards per turn. I don't know that it helped that much, although there was much grumbling. I scored 12 points with the Guild Hall, but not nearly enough to win with whoever won.

Somehow, I'm rather proud of the fact that I had to remember that I'd won Merchants & Marauders, and could barely remember who won even a couple of the other games I played. Sunriver is never about the winning or losing, it's almost always about who you play with, just like life in general. And no question that the company was fantastic as always.

After a delicious dinner and drinks at Hola!, a Mexican/Peruvian place that has taken over the Trout House's old space on the Deschutes River, we returned for the final gaming of the evening, which meant that Alex was going to take us through a game of Dungeon World, an indie RPG.

Dungeon World - 

I love RPGs, but I mostly love GMing over being a player because I have to think on my feet and come up with a lot of characterizations for NPCs. This time, Alex was the GM (I GMed his first RPG experience at the age of five in Sunriver, so very apropos) taking us through a very cool system that encourages roleplay directly, which I liked quite a bit. This was a fairly simple dungeon with relatively few encounters but all were meaty and entertaining. My character was a hot female elf wizard with a bit of a checkered past and some real problems with authority and Muslims. As you can see, I veered wildly from reality in some respects (problems with Muslims, being hot, being female, being an elf, being a wizard, having a checkered past) and sticking with my own personality in others (problems with authority). Since I rarely play as a character, I decided to go, in the words of Tropic Thunder, "full retard," meaning that I embraced my character fully. The Scotch didn't hurt either.

Many thanks to Alex for GMing the group, which was deliciously dysfunctional in a roleplaying sense, and to the other players for running with each other's dramatic choices. It was good fun.

At that point, we were nearly done with the weekend, but one more night of rest before the denouement...


Matthew said...

Thanks for another great retreat, Doug. I hope to make more of these.

I ended up playing Ascending Empires twice and enjoyed it quite a bit. If I end up buying it,(I know several people who enjoy it), I will come up with some kind of board solution as the current production seems not quite worth the price of admission.

My game of the weekend was C&C: Napoleonics; a full game with Mike and 3/5s of a game with Alex.

The spirits sampling and socialization were tops as well.

Greg W said...

1865 Sardinia was this morning. Brain melting fun. :) I ended up trading for a copy. :D Matt had the most cash at the end but Mike overcame with higher total share value. Loans trashed my primary stocks so I came in a distant third. I really like the San Juan expansion. I could take or leave the event cards, but I really do like the new buildings. Played 7 Wonders with Mike and Ken whilst you all were hamming it up in the dungeon. Then Mike and I played three games of Ascension afterwards. Made for a nice finish to the day.