Wednesday, August 8, 2012

WBC 2012: AAR

Well, I'm back from my annual pilgrimage to Lancaster, PA. After having to prepare for meetings today and tomorrow, I have some time to blog a quick AAR. Of course, the many discussions at WBC make me want to blog more extensively about some topics (ethics in gaming, for instance), but we'll see what chaos the school year brings.

I used to leave whoa early in order to get to the Wilderness War tourney on Wednesday. But the last few years I've ponied up a bit more and paid to stay on Tuesday night. So I usually arrive around dinner time on Wednesday, eat something fast and crappy (I'm looking at you, Wendy's!), then check in and get to gaming.

A change in plans this year was that we decided to stay on site for the con. I do have some quibbling, but, overall, I really enjoyed staying at the host. First off, we had room 206, which is now my favorite room in the whole place. It was about 3 rooms away from the lobby, as opposed to the last time Scott and I stayed there where I think we had to literally walk a quarter mile to get to the room. And, of course, it was better than staying off site.

My quibbles are few, the major one being that the bar no longer serves food! I loved getting a burger at the bar at off times, as opposed to eating the convention offerings (not bad, just not as good in my opinion). But this year, I lost that option.

I arrived on Tuesday night after a record setting drive of 2 hours and 15 minutes. I don't think I was going particularly fast, but I think my departure time (closer to 2 than to 4) really made a difference as traffic was light the whole way. I must have missed that New Oxford rush hour this year.

After arrival, Owen and I were invited by a young man (about 14 by my estimation) to play Stone Age. I am not very experienced at this game, but I have played a few times. One very nice thing was getting a chance to play with a veteran and getting to play a practice turn before actually playing the game. Got it. Take a farm on your first placement if possible. Due to some mistakes and some luck on rolls, I ended up jumping ahead in farms and, when we had to quit a little early (I would estimate about 3 turns left), I had a lead and was counted victor! A win! A very palpable win!

My friend Kevin then joined Owen and me for a game of Middle Earth Quest. Our little group has gotten way too good at Sauron so the evil one, this time being played by Kevin, absolutely crushed the forces of good. I blame myself for my ineffectiveness. Oh well.

After this, Kevin taught us Cargo Noir, which, while being totally in the Euro category, was not a bad way to pass an hour. Kevin won again.

On Wednesday, my cycle of scheduled open games began with a Space Empires 4x game against TJ. I'm pretty sure I've chronicled my change from tournaments to open gaming and my further change from open gaming to scheduled open gaming. Any way, TJ and Space Empires was first up.

It was my first time playing the game. I was a big fan of Stellar Conquest when I was in college (a LONG time ago) and I found this game an able successor. There was a great deal of bookkeeping in the game, but I did enjoy the customized ships and the discovery aspect of the game. Random initial placement seemed to have caused some problems. In particular, TJ's colonies all seemed to cluster around his homeworld, allowing his income to escalate rapidly to the point that, when I discovered his ships finally, he had built more ships and they were more technologically advanced. This could be an impediment to competitive play, but the experience of exploring and building fleets and colonies were quite enjoyable. I do have some issues with the whole 4x phenomenon (Eclipse, Twilight Imperium, etc.), and concerns with the end game (capturing an opponent's capitol planet), but I think that Space Empires actually is a simple game on the whole which plays relatively quickly. I will be giving it another play.

After Space Empires, I played a game of Kingdom of Heaven with my friend Paul. We played the intro scenario. I am not thrilled with the graphics on the counters, where the stylized "medieval" font is practically illegible to aging eyes. I also find that the CRT, which many times is used to balance out the crazy randomness of a straight die roll, actually seems to do the opposite at the higher levels. I also am concerned at the possibilities of having "dead cards," unplayable in any practical way, in your hand. But for some reason I did like the event cards and the entire feel of the game. I like the diplomatic rules and the harrowing rules which allow a smaller army to cause the larger one to attrit more often, a seeming necessity for the Muslim player. I also really like the variety of scenarios, including one pitting the Mamluks against the Mongols, a fascinating moment in history that I really cannot wait to play out. We were both inexperienced so my Crusaders quickly ran the Muslim armies off the board. Wait. Is that two victories in two days? Wait for it, my friends, you may see a trend.

TJ taught Dominant Species the Card Game to my son and some others while I talked my nephew through the confusing googlemaps directions to the Lancaster Host. After his arrival, we ended up playing a couple of quick games before turning in for the night. The first game up was Cargo Noir, which Chad won. then Owen, Kevin and I lost a game of Battlestar Galactica to Brian and Chad's Cylons. The most notable part of Battlestar (other than another game where all the humans died) was my inability to keep my eyes open. Kevin at one point noted that "In space, no one can hear you yawn."

Thursday morning started with Rune Wars, fast becoming one of my favorite go-to games. I find it the best balance between adventure/dungeon-crawl games and wargames. I like the six rune autovictory and the five year time limit. I also find that while it is easy to make yourself irrelevant (which I have done on occasion), it is also possible to fight your way back. Hemmed in by massive armies? Have your heroes go out and succeed in quests. Out of heroes? Build a massive army and take someone else's dragon runes. I also love the variety of ways to gather resources, both through expanding your empire and through carefully occupying key cities. Any way, the forces of the Uquar the Undying ended up winning in the end through finding a hidden passage through the careful building of armies and playing of tactics cards to go from 3 rune wars to 6 in two seasons. And guess what? I won! Again!

We followed this up with a quick play of Richard Garfield's King of Tokyo. Man, that was a fun game. It was quick, entertaining, a little funny, and very light. If it weren't so expensive, I might just buy it. It's based on Yahtzee with a nice system of spending on power cards layered into the game. But it is a lot of price for such short game play. Did I mention that I won this too?

The next game I played was one that is fast becoming one of my favorites. TJ, Tom the Tinker, John and I played a game of Imperial 2030. While I think I enjoy the original more (especially since there's an app for that), I do enjoy the interesting interplay of investing in a country and actually running it. This also takes care of the "gang up on the leader" phenomenon, this time by having the thematically odd investments in different countries. You can get ganged up on, but it is more important that you take advantages of your opportunities to invest in what will become stronger countries. The 2030 variant seemed to have less of countries changing hands than its ancestor, but the key continued to be investing, not military might. I ended up winning in a slightly controversial way (is a lie really a lie when you meant what you said when you said it but circumstances seemed to dictate that when it came time to honor the deal it no longer made sense -- okay, rationalizing much?). Wait. Is that three wins in a row?

We ended the night with a session of Last Night on Earth, my second game and, by far, the most fun I have played. The game is pure silliness. Roll for move. Lots of crazy card plays. An almost impossible situation for the humans. But if you ham it up enough and take it for what it is, it can be a real blast. My zombies won against TJ, John, Brian and Owen's humans. Highlight? Hard to say. Was it Johnny the former quarterback getting a death hug from the zombie hero Jenny?

Friday began as Thursday ended. With a win for me. What kind of surreal week was this? I played Successors against Larry, Chad, and TJ. The part of the game I most enjoyed was definitely the fact that we all came to the table playing a game we didn't know, but to which we had read the rules. No one was teaching and we all clarified points for each other. Honestly, I'd rather have all my learning sessions go this way in the future. Any way, I like Successors, but it definitely has some Bergish elements. Richard Berg has really great ideas that either end up being overdone in the rules or are cancelled out by other parts of the game that, in the end, make it unplayable. The mess that became Medieval was, at its core, a really interesting game, but it really needed more components and more playtesting. Successors is a much better game. Consider it the proto-Sword of Rome. I like the unique setup of having randomly drawn generals. I also like the extension of the Hannibal rules into a multiplayer format. I further like the tactics rating being the lowest number you can roll on each die in a 2d6 combat roll. Really! A LOT is right about this game. But then there are the parts that are just overcooked (as opposed to the undercooked Medieval). You have Victory Points you're tracking. Okay, I'm with you. You also have Legitimacy Points, indicating the perception of your fit to be Alexander's successor. Still with you. Layered on top of LP is Prestige, a number that you add to your LP in order to find the temporary legitimacy of a particular general  (as opposed to LP, which applies to an entire faction) when things like who the Royal Macedonians will fight for are figured. What? That's just unwieldly. Add to this the problems that all random setups have, that you may end up with a highly unbalanced setup. And, lastly, you really need to understand how powerful certain generals and certain areas of the board are before you start playing. I won with Antipater at 23 VP on Turn 2, but it was probably more due to an inability to recognize how powerful this general and his advantageous position in relation to Greece was. Still, I'll take the victory!

Next up came Slapshot, which I had just bought at the vendors. Well, it was only 23 dollars. Not bad as a fast paced random game, but it's a little too random and a little too long for me. I hope to pull it out during next year's hockey season and get my Munchkin-playing son to join Owen and me for a game, but beyond that, I don't see it getting too much playtime. Well, at least I got to play it. Owen won.

Next up, we were waiting for people to finish other games and join us, so I showed Owen and Brian how to play Dominion. I like Dominion. It's a little boring now that I understand that it's (almost) "all about the money," but I still enjoy it as a quick filler. I won again, but Owen played very well for his second time.

Next up came what I am willing at this point to call my favorite Euro, Dungeon Lords. This worker placement game really clicks for me. I have always seen Euros as building a machine then watching it work. Maybe you're building a shipping or building machine in Puerto Rico. Maybe it's a Province generating machine in Dominion. But I like the idea of my machine being one to crunch up the adventurers. I'm not very good at it after two plays, but I can't wait to play it again. AJ wins against Owen, Brian and me. He runs away with it due to his ability to amass awards at game's end.

We followed this up with a seven player Seven Wonders, another game I enjoy (largely because of how quickly it plays) and which I thought I wasn't very good at. But I won! Kevin made a little illegal play and undid it at the very end to give me the victory, but I'll take it.

We ended a very long day with a tainted zombie win in Last Night on Earth as Kevin and I defeated Joe, TJ, Owen and Brian, at least partially due to a rules misunderstanding. Oh well. At least it was just Last Night.

I also want to insert here the power of the nap. I forced myself on Thursday and Friday to take naps in order to nip the problem of late night dozing off at the table and it worked like a charm. It's incredible how much a one hour snooze can help when you stay up 4 hours later than normal.


Well, the last day of the con. We started off playing the sequel to Martin Wallace's Struggle of Empires, called (in German) Age of Reason. This changes some things fairly significantly. Now, instead of building armies, your nations have their military forces represented by cards. Also, instead of the tile draw, you can only have special abilities for the current war, then they become available again. I see this as simulating the nature of technology. One nation goes ahead, everyone catches up, then a nation goes ahead in another technological area. All the other nations catch up, and on and on it goes. Any way, I liked the new game. I can't decide whether or not I like it better than Struggle. It's certainly a different game, one that takes different strategies. For instance, you had better know how your forces stack up against others. The British will NOT get traction in the land-locked German States. And the colonies are where you make bank. Like I said, needs another play. Rick wins the seven player game as Russia.

And one more game. Dominant Species the Card Game. I had heard that this was a quicker Dominant Species. Well, after playing it, all I can say is "Did you play an early prototype or something?" This game had nothing from Dominant Species in it, other than the theme and the images. I ended up feeling that the special event cards really unbalanced the game. I will play it again, but I may try it without those events first. Joe won going away and I felt totally screwed by my cards. Oh well. There's always next year.

So, another great time at a great con. I hope that next year I'm ready to delve into tournaments again, but I will still balance that with scheduled open gaming. DonCon, as it has been called, is still my favorite convention, but I have some others on my bucket list. We'll see how they measure up.

Definites for next year: scheduling open gaming, staying at the Host, napping.

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