Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Weekly Game Night - 7 Players -- Too Many?

Well, it's summer, and that means that I may actually have some time to blog.

This week's topic: a weekly game night with seven players.

With the summer, my son is free to join TJ, Tom Grant, Kevin and I for our weekly gaming sessions. I love having a son who is growing into a gamer.

Of course, Kevin's son is also home. AJ is a very established gamer. Kevin even jokes that AJ used to be "Kevin's son" at conventions, but that now AJ has eclipsed him to the point where he is now considered "AJ's dad." Another great addition!

And my nephew Brian is around. He's on summer break from UVA and he's oh so close to becoming a gamer. A must have.

And, I know this makes 8, but our next door neighbor, Isaac, is also available to join  us. One of Owen's friends, intelligent, loves games.

I think have too many gamers is a good problem to have. In general, that is the case, but when you have seven show up for a game night, it becomes slightly problematic.

Suddenly, we are desperate to find the right game. I am somewhat reluctant to split into two tables, but seven is so many.  Diplomacy would take seven, but, sadly, I don't own it. How about Struggle of Empires? Hmmm...I'd hate to play a game that is not really in its best light, especially one of my favorites.

So we ended up playing the following over the past two weeks (both with seven players):

1. Liar's Dice - my first experience with the actual Richard Borg design (I guess it's actually called Command and Colors: Probabilties?), but I had a great time. My wife and daughter, both non-gamers, were a little distressed by the noise of the dice cups (okay, actually the noise of the dice cups and the raucous exclamations and laughter that followed).  But the addition of the "star" spaces and the wild results themselves made this a much more interesting game than the Pirates of the Carribean version I had been playing. The simple mechanism the board uses to help you figure the probabilities is also an excellent addition. But this game is, sadly, a bit light for our game nights these days. Great filler, great family game (anyone got a copy for sale?), but not a go-to game for game night.

2. The Resistance - Says it takes 5 to 10, and, again, it lasts 15 to 30 minutes, but it's again an intense 15 to 30 minutes. The simple mechanics and required teamwork of voting people into teams and trying to make  sure each player is loyal to the cause (and, if you're a spy, to make sure the others don't figure out who's against the cause) makes for some very interesting late game (okay, 20 minutes into the 30 minute play time) discussions. An interesting situation arose in our game where two spies were on the same 3 person away team. Unfortunately for the spies faction, both spies played their "fail" cards. Suddenly, it became easier for the rest of the Resistance to figure out who was loyal and who was not. One of the spies should have ducked, playing his "success" card, while counting on his fellow spy's play of the "fail" card. Educated guessing is at the heart of any game, and this simple game gets to that core. Truly fun, truly interesting (I actually want to try this with the expansion some time), but, again, a short game not worthy of filling up a 5 hour game night.

3. Seven Wonders - I'm coming around to thinking that this is an excellent design, particularly for larger groups (I realize this puts me about 3 years behind the curve). Simultaneous decision making and playing make for a quick game where number of players has little effect on game time. This game also has one of my favorite things in the gaming world - multiple paths to victory. Another thing I love in games is improvisation. I like being able to make educated guesses and having the ability to make some assumptions (such as "AJ is playing for the green cards" - seemingly a safe assumption in any Seven Wonders game), but I also love the way that a game can throw something unexpected at you, forcing you to adjust your strategy. So, multiple paths to victory combined with forced improvisation? You had me at "hello." But, again, a short game that really can only be played so many times in a row.

So where does that leave me? In short, it leaves me with two many players for one table. We're a bit crowded (especially with Seven Wonders), even to the point where in Resistance, I could not figure out who the third spy was! (It was Isaac, who had inadvertently outflanked me when we did the "eyes open" reveal, and what are you going to do, exclaim, "Wait, wait. Let's keep our eyes closed a few minutes longer..."?). So, in the future, we'll probably be splitting into a 3 player game and a 4 player game.

That, of course, presents a new problem --when you divide into 2 tables, is there always an "A" table and a "B" table? Hmmm...

Possible Future topics - six player games, zombie games, ASL, Polis

Monday, February 11, 2013

New Year's Resolutions Revisited: What Counts?

Okay. A couple of my game-related resolutions are already causing me consternation:

The resolutions in question are as follows:

1. Play 12 new games.

2. Record all plays in BGG and record 100 plays over the course of 2013.

Let's take the second one first.

There are two main questions I have here. The first is "Do games like King of Tokyo count?" Tough one. Certainly these games are fillers and are not ones I take seriously (until last session when I won two games in a row -- suddenly this games seems much more strategic!). But I have two main reasons for counting these. The first is simple. I'm new to recording games and was curious whether I would actually hit the century mark. I want to hit 100, so I count them. The next reason is perhaps a bit of a cop out. I have dedicated some amount of my gaming time to this and it does involve a board so it counts. I play games for three reasons: to appreciate the way the game's problems are solved by the rules, to enjoy the company of my friends, and, finally, to win (not my number one concern, mind you!). The game definitely takes care of the first two. The game captures the fun yet unrealistic silliness of giant monster movies. And it also allows us to yuck it up quite a bit. So, the verdict is...count it!

The second question is "How do I count games like Descent?" We recently started a Descent campaign (an item on my gaming bucket list!), and we were able to make it through the introductory scenario (Ettin -- dead!) and through phase I of the Castle Daerion adventure. So, how do I count that? Is it one session of the game, kind of like a roleplaying session? Or is it two scenarios, each one counting as a play? And add to that the fact that the second scenario we played was really only half of a larger scenario. Or is each chapter its own adventure? We talked about this one. I was going to count each chapter as one play, so that night, I would have recorded two plays. Tom Grant says each adventure is a scenario, so go for it. If you played two ASL scenarios in a night (a loooong night), it would count as two plays, right? So why not Descent scenarios? But TJ, always ready with an answer, made the possibly valid point that the scenarios had two chapters, so the scenario wasn't a play until both chapters were completed. Fair enough. In Descent, the first chapter has an effect on the second chapter of an adventure (whether that effect is significant is debatable). Also, at the start of chapter 2, you are forced to keep the damage you attained at the end of chapter 1. Hmmm...that's a fairly strong connection (until, of course, my healer character casts what I like to call "rain of neosporin" -- feel my soothing wrath!). So I guess they both have a point. At the end of an adventure's second chapter, you lose the damage and fatigue. Seems like a breaking point in a scenario. So, the verdict? Two chapters count as a play! Right after this posting, I'll go and change my plays for that night from 2 to 1.5.

Now for the new games. The question here is "How do you count expansions?" I have been playing War of the Ring with the Lords of Middle Earth expansion. Is that a new game? Generally, I would say how much does it impact the play of the game? Let's look at two expansions that have hit my table since Christmas.

First up, the Power Up expansion for King of Tokyo. In this expansion comes the new character Pandakai. Okay, not much there. But the evolutions are pretty significant. It makes the hearts doubly useful, but most importantly it puts a lot more power into the game. Three hearts are not that hard to get, and now my Cyber Bunny is pimped out pretty early in the game and is fighting pimped out giant apes and mechanical dinosaurs. This is, in the end, a significant change. The game becomes longer as players choose fewer Victory Point dice and fewer claws in lieu of hearts. And every roll ends up with an exception and a bump by the end of the game. I don't think this is, in the end, a good change. It's kind of like hitting too many home runs in baseball. Sure, when the game was juiced, a lot of runs were scored, but the best games, the classics, were still the 1-0 pitchers' duels. Power Up adds too much power to a game that is defined by its lovable simplicity. And that significant a change definitely counts as a new game.

Second up is Lords of Middle Earth. The Balrog is back! The Lord of the Nazgul is back! Elrond! Galadriel! Cool new dice! But, in the end, this expansion is not nearly as significant as the old Battle of the Third Age expansion for the original War of the Ring game (well, not the Richard Berg original, but you know what I mean...). The dice end up being in play for a somewhat limited time(because they are eventually "replaced" by the regular dice of the Witch King and Gandalf the White), and only one can be used per turn. So there is a minimal expansion of each turn (advantage to the Shadow Player as more actions only means that the Fellowship's moves become just that much more dangerous). The Balrog is so brittle as to be almost unuseable. He does a nice job of clogging up Moria, though. In the old expansion, the seige weaponry had a huge effect and could really change a game. And the old game had those battle games (another bucket list item). So, what's the verdict? For The Battle of the Third Age, count it! It's new enough that the seige weaponry can really ruin your day if you don't prepare for it. And those Corsairs can be pretty interesting, too. But for Lords of Middle Earth, while it adds a dash of spice to one of my favorite games, it does not change the recipe enough to count as a new game. So the verdict here is no, not new!

Well, everything clear as mud now? Some future topics I'm considering are: Descent Second Edition comments (you might call it a review), Andean Abyss comments (same), Mage Knight: The Lost Legion expansion, and a one day at Prezcon AAR.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Thank you, Alan Poulter

In a recent news update from CSW, I was disheartened to learn that Alan Poulter, who ran the site for twenty years has decided to step down as webmaster. I want to say that web-grognards was boardgamegeek before there was a boardgamegeek, but I don't have my facts straight to back up such a claim. I can say, however, that web-grognards was a place for wargamers long before we were welcome on boardgamegeek.

I first encountered site way back when I was a young teacher in 1994 or 1995. It was in the heady early days of the internet and it was powerful - in the site's primitive text-based format - to see that there was a community of wargamers out there, that I was not alone.

The site really was a database, very much the way that boardgamegeek is a database today. But this database was for wargames. It was hard to navigate. It was not particularly well organized (for instance, reviews, replays and variants were almost haphazardly placed in game's listing). There were even some games on there that didn't seem like wargames and some surprising exclusions. But it was awesome. Derk has described unlimited access to BGG as "trying to sip water through a firehose." That's what web-grognards was for me. I was gladly sipping through the firehose.

I could never get the contest. I spent most of my time working through the alpha listing of the database or clicking somewhat randomly on the many options available for the site. I registered for the opponent finder sites (to this date, no opponent has "found me" this way, although I did find one or two short term opponents). I searched the  facebook myspace geocities-style pages that it linked to and found, many times, the first steps toward finding extremely useful information. I'm pretty sure it was where I found my 90's gaming obsessions, including ACTS, AboveTheFields, and The Diplomatic Pouch. And I'm pretty sure that's where I first discovered that the World Boardgaming Championships exist (forgive me if I didn't understand yet that it was more con than sporting event - my first trip I expected to be a spectator!).

So, passes to a new webmaster. I have to admit that CSW and BGG take up almost all of my wargame surfing these days. But I just want to thank Alan Poulter for all of his hard work. I learned that other people played games, that they loved the hobby enough to obsess about it, and that I could read their obsessive collections, creations and writings.

So, Alan, thanks again...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Resolutions 2013 (Gaming and otherwise)

If you really knew me -- you'd know that I am one of the many people who make New Year's resolutions. If you really really knew me, you'd know that I am one of the few who actually follow through on them. I went from someone who hated running to someone who runs 3-4 times a week (sometimes up to as much as ten miles) due to a resolution. I lost seventy pounds due to a resolution. I like to call this "being goal oriented." My wife calls it "being obsessive." Either way, I can do a resolution.

So here are my resolutions for 2013:

1. Enter all game sessions on BGG - In short, I just don't do this enough. I know some who will enter all of their sessions, including electronic games on their iPad. I'm not going to do that (yet). I plan on logging and correctly dating all of my face to face play sessions for 2013. I think it would be cool to look back at this point next year and see what I played and when. It might reveal a bit too much about my gaming tendencies (in short, I haven't been playing wargames as much recently), but, for a year, I'll try it.

2. Play 12 new (to me) games this year - This has been a resolution each of the past two years and it has been easily achieved. I love discovering new games, especially rich and original new games. Games discovered in 2012? Andean Abyss, Mage Knight, King of Tokyo, and God's Playground to name a few (probably should write more on this later, huh...). So an easily achievable one here.

3. Have 100 face to face plays this year - I've never kept track, but I think this is easily achievable. I log about one session a week with some lapses. Let's call that 40 sessions. Many of these end with more than one game played. Let's estimate that at 20 more sessions. There's Pseudocon, WBC, Micropseudocon, and possibly Prezcon. I'll estimate an average of 5 sessions at each for 25 more sessions. I'm up to 85 without counting playing with my son Owen or my family. I also have probably low-balled the convention estimates and the "second game in an evening" sessions. I think it will be close, but I think I'll get it done.

4. Play the following games:
a. Descent Campaign - Oh, I'm intrigued by this one. I've enjoyed the few sessions we've had and I can't wait to play the game in its true light, the campaign. And I'll almost certainly acquire the expansion.
b. Star Trek Fleet Captains - I love Mage Knight. And I tried to get this one played, but really was not ready for it. So while my first abortive plays seem to indicate that this is no Mage Knight, I am curious. I have to get over my irrational hatred of those damned stat-wheels at the bottom of the figures.
c. The War of the Ring expansion Lords of Middle Earth- obtained (and the obsessive side of me acquired the Treebeard figure), now must play it. It is my precious...
d. Mage Knight with the Lost Legion expansion - Did I mention how much fun I've had playing Mage Knight? Well, consider it mentioned. An expansion can only expand the fun, right (yes, I'm intentionally ignoring expansions such as King of Tokyo Power Up and the incredibly overrated Cities and Knights of Catan...)
e. Full ASL - Yes, I need to play this. This is the one resolution I keep failing on. I. must. get. my. son. trained. in. this.
f. Tide at Sunrise - obtained at the MMP end of year sale. Short rules. Nuff said.
g. Kingdom of Heaven - Played once at WBC. Interesting time period. My son is interested. I should be able to get this one on the table. When did 32 pages of rules become long?

5. Write twelve blog entries. I feel like I have things to say. I also feel like my need to say them right cripples me. Time to get over myself and find some time to write.

6. Design a second prototype game - "Second?" you ask. Yep. We'll see what happens. The first is kind of a fantasy roleplaying dungeon crawl game. Without the dungeon. Or the characters. Oh, hell, I'll just have to keep working on it. (One problem is that this market is getting decidedly glutted. I may have to re-theme.)

And, since  you're all my closest friends, here is a glimpse at the other resolutions:

7. I have a weight goal for the year. If you really really really knew me, this would be no surprise. The fact that I'm not going to share the number would also not surprise anyone.

8. I will read every day toward my goal of reading every book selected for inclusion on the AP Literature Free Response Prompt. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! Right now, I'm reading All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren. It's pretty damned good.

9. Finish a short story. I have one. It's pretty close to being finished as a draft. It will need a major rewrite.

Well, that's it. Here's wishing you all a Happy New Year!