Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Salishan 2011 Retreat - Thursday through Friday

Chris held his annual Salishan gaming retreat this past weekend, and it was a hoot and a half. Attending at various stages were Chris, myself, Greg, Mike, Ken R, Ken K, KC, Rita, Jeff, and Matt R.

A big part of what made this retreat special were the metagames that Chris had come up with. We had three in all: an Ascension (iOS) tournament, a Magic: the Gathering sealed deck/booster draft tournament, and an ongoing "rewards" program for doing various things, such as taking a walk on the beach, making someone a drink, winning a game (or coming in last). Chris gave out "Brooks Bucks" for these things, and at the end of the retreat we had an auction for stuff that people had brought, including a few very special things. I'll go into more detail on the auction in the second post.

Because I had a choir rehearsal on Thurday evening until 8:30pm, and Matt had a company party downtown that same night near my rehearsal, we didn't get out of Portland until around 9pm, and then we stopped in Sherwood to grab some groceries for Matt's meal prep. At Sunriver (my hosted retreat) I expect people to feed themselves for breakfast and lunch, and dinners are largely "go out" or "I make Costco lasagna". At Salishan, someone is always making a meal, largely because there are not a lot of close-by food options that are good. I brought an excellent Italian chili recipe I got from one of the Silver Palate cookbooks that I'd made in advance, plus some cornbread I prepared on Friday night. 5 BB for preparing a meal!

We arrived about 11:15pm, and while I was pretty tired I was massively energized by the news that the Ascension app for iOS had been updated and the expansion cards were now available for purchase. After doing my happy Ascension dance and preparing a couple of Old-Fashioneds for people (more BB!), Matt and I dove into the app for a bit while Jeff, Greg, Ken, and Chris finished up their game.

Once they were done, we all played a round of Train of Thought, a cool word association party game where you have to start with a word, add two more, then other people shout out guesses of what your second card's word is. You then pick one of those words, following it up with two more and go through the process until someone guesses the word. Both you and the correct guesser get a card which counts as a point, and you continue until the timer runs out, then the next person starts a chain of words. I grokked the process after one round and managed to win the game with 7 points after all of us had played the Conductor. I liked this game quite a bit as I do well with word association games, and this one encourages a lot of cleverness in what clues you give. Recommended as a gift, btw.

At this point, it was closing in on 2am, and with so many early risers in this group I knew it was time to get some rest. I had the upstairs loft that I shared with Mike, who was only sleeping there on Friday night, and I had my earplug earbuds, so his snoring was not an issue for me. Hope that was the case for him as well!

Friday was the "big" day for games, at least in terms of numbers of games played. I personally got in six different games, including one long game, Urban Sprawl, which kicked off the festivities. I had been very interested in trying this with three after my initial foray up at BottosCon in early November with four, and was hoping that the downtime was not bad - game length really doesn't change, but your involvement in the game is smaller with four, and many people are saying that four has too much downtime. I think that was at the very least a reasonable assessment from my first game.

I've discussed US in an earlier post, so I won't go into the details here. I will say that I had a much better idea of what to do in this game, but the arc went much the same way - player gets a lot of offices, other players work hard to get those offices away from first player, people score lots of points. Matt was the guy who ended up with a lot of offices in the midgame and during that period he created a lead that was very hard to overcome, nearly lapping me at one point. I made a strong end-game run that, had it happened before the final elections, would have put me within 20 points of Matt, who scored over 250 points, but as it was I was a lot closer to 40 points behind, with Ken further back than that.

I normally like to play a game several times before making a judgement on it, but in this case I think that I have to go with the general perception that the game is too chaotic for it's length, and even with three players there isn't enough going on that's interesting. I compare it to a solitaire game where a significant portion of the player's turn is administrating the AI - doing things on behalf of the system that don't involve any decision-making. In US, even though it's not solitaire, you can spend easily half of a turn (or more, if you don't do much) handling events, elections, etc. While the game is not total chaos, as some have unfairly said, there is simply too much time spent admining the AI and not enough making good strategic choices. I was disappointed enough that I stripped the sleeves from the cards and used them in a new game I'd bought on my way out. When I got home, US went on the sale/trade pile, a first for a Chad Jensen game for me. It simply won't see any table time with my group, and it's not compelling enough for me to hang onto for the future. As my other friend Chris said, "What a disappointment," but this time I agree.

The next game up was a four-player game of Team Asia for Ticket to Ride. This is perhaps my favorite version of this game, although I think that most games where the double routes become singles with a smaller number of players tends to "break" the maps to some extent. It's not bad in Europe, where you can lay down stations, but it's harsh in the other games and this is no exception. That said, it was a very cool game, although I think my communication with Jeff as my partner was partly to blame, while KC and Rita got a lucky set of ticket draws at the end that let them clean up.

The partnership works like this: You can't talk about your cards or the board (which I did not find to be an issue), but when you draw two train cards one goes in your hand and one on the card tray that you and your partner can see. Tickets work in a similar fashion, and you can place two tickets from your hand onto the tray as your turn if you wish. You can use cards from hand or the tray as you see fit. Teams play one person right after the other. There are also tunnels that have a large number of cards that are revealed, sometimes as many as six, so you better be ready if you need to dig. We had one route at the very end of the game die because we drew four cards that were locos or matches.

While I enjoyed the game, at the same time I was looking forward to trying it with six players rather than four. And I did, but not for a couple of days.

Next up was a quick game of 7 Wonders (four player, with KC, Rita, and Jeff). I did well, but not enough to win. As we closed in on dinnertime, KC pulled out Castle Ravenloft, which was perfect to allow me to start cooking. Because of some surprises (such as discovering my wife had frozen the chili and that I needed to mix the cornbread batter) I was not terribly involved in the middle part of the game, but it was clear that things were going just well enough for the party to advance toward Klak and his wacky machine. Once everything in the kitchen was more or less resolved, I got back to the game to find that we had just located Klak. I immediately used my Dagger Barrage and did quite a bit of damage to the machine *and* Klak, but my crit hit was unfortunately on one of the evil Red Shirts rather than a critical target. Everyone else missed pretty much every roll they had during their turns and KC's Dragonborn character died, which according to the scenario, lost the game for us. Still, a huge amount of fun for the parts I was there, and I'm glad I have this and Wrath (Drizzt seemed too much like more of the same, but I may pick it up at some point anyway).

After dinner, we played an excellent game of Elfenland with Mike, Matt, KC, and Rita, and while I had exactly *three* tiles that helped me that were played by other players in the *entire* game, I did pretty well, ending with 19 points at my home base. And I took third behind Rita and Mike, who had 3 and 1 cards respectively! My last hand I drew three raft cards when I had zero water routes I could use, and that killed me more than anything. Still, this is a very entertaining game, although every time I play we seem to use a different ruleset than I'm used to (the old Game Cabinet translation).

The end of the night was Red Dragon Inn, a wacky game of drinking your fellow adventurers under the table. I was Fiona the Volatile, and I think I must have set a record for passing out - I had three turns before the Alcohol hit the Fortitude, dude. Matt ran out of money after a few more turns, and Chris and KC fought it out, with KC running out of money but Chris running out of Fortitude, and in the end it was Chris who bit the floor before KC hit the stables. This is a great late night closer that takes 20-30 minutes and I will make more of an effort to get it on the table.

I ended the evening with a late night stroll to the beach to listen to the surf, which was cold but pleasant with cloud cover but a full moon. The night before had been completely clear, and I'd wished I gone out that night. A great end to a fun day.

I should mention that by this point I was up to about 18 Brooks Bucks, largely by making drinks and dinner and for bringing alcohol. I also made several Monte Carlo drinks, which is an Old Fashioned with Benedictine instead of simply syrup, and served neat rather than on the rocks. A great autumn/winter drink if you don't mind it being a cold drink in the glass, but warm going down.

Next up, Saturday and Sunday.

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