Thursday, March 28, 2013

Dueling Blogs

Who thought I'd ever use this picture in the blog?
Cue the "Dueling Banjos" music....oh here you go...There's only 1 banjo!  Well, we had our weekly game night on Tuesday, and my buddy Paul Owen was there...and already blogged about it over at Man Overboard.  So two blogs about the same exact event...that's not too many is it?  In any case, Paul already beat me to the punch (I think he "Crenshawed" me...)...but I'm happy to report on the night as well, and offer my opinions on the games played.  (For the record, I'm the guitar player in that clip, and Paul is the banjo player.  Wait, bad things happened to the guitar player later...)

Watch out for the Daikaiju!
We were expecting a large crowd, possibly up to 8 players, but we got impatient waiting for the late arrivals, and 5 of us played Tsuro of the Seas.  This is the sequel to Tsuro, which I had first seen on Wil Wheaton's Tabletop.  The original Tsuro is a tile laying game, where the objective is the last person on the board.  Tsuro of the Seas takes the exact same mechanic, gives the players boats instead of stones, and adds in "Daikaiju"- sea monsters which can gobble up your ship, and also erase tiles that have already been played, which can potentially change routes on the board.  I picked TotS a few months ago when they had a copy on the shelf at my FLGS, Game Parlor Chantilly.  The great thing about TotS, is that if you want can leave out the sea monsters and play it just like regular Tsuro.  Which is exactly what we did on Tuesday.  When we first broke out TotS several months ago, it left us all a little disappointed...while luck of the tile draws is part of the original game, the sea monster element seemed to totally override any kind of strategy decisions and make the game entirely luck based.  No fun!  Now, as it happens, we had been playing it incorrectly those first few times.  We were rolling individual dice for each monster, which lent itself to a lot of fiddliness, and the crazy luck factor...particularly, it gave a bunch of extra chances for additional monsters to enter the game.  In reality, you roll ONE die per turn, and apply that result to all the monsters.  I have played it correctly as a 2-player with my wife, and it's MUCH better than our original plays.  But still, on this night we decided to play it as "regular" Tsuro...partly because we wanted a fast game as we knew we had more people slated to arrive.  We had a tense game, with the entire board actually filling with tiles, and Paul managed to hang on and be the last survivor. 

Here at Ad Astra, we prefer "Rocket Fuel"
With 2 more players arriving, for 7 total, we broke out VivaJava: The Coffee Game.  As Paul mentions in his banjo blog, we first ran across VivaJava when the designer, T.C. Petty III, was demoing his playtest version at the 2011 WBC.  I believe Paul had a few chances to sit in on further playtests, but that was my one and only game, before I picked it up this year at Prezcon (I'm sorry that I somehow missed the kickstarter compaign).  So, why, 1.5 years removed from my one play, did I pick it up.  Well, a couple of reasons.  First, I've met TC, and Chris Kirkman (head honcho and namesake of DiceHateMe games) and Chris' wife (and partner in DHM Games) Cherilyn (I bet I botched that spelling) several times since then...and quite frankly, I really like what they're doing as a new game company.  So, I want to support them.  Second, VivaJava is a non-coop (sort of) game that holds up to 8 players, and does it well...that's rare.  Third - and most important - that one gameplay at WBC had really stuck with was a game that I was dubious of at first (I'm not a coffee drinker, so the theme holds no great appeal) - but really surprised me with the innovative game play.

Note how far the red token is'd that happen?
So, what is VivaJava?  Well, it's a game about brewing coffee, naturally!  In this game, you're competing against the other players to gain the most "prestige points", mainly by brewing the "best" brands of coffee.  The "innovative mechanic" here is that on each turn you will likely have to team up with 1 or 2 other players in order to advance your goals.  At the beginning of each turn, you place your pawn on a map of the world.  This accomplishes 3 things - you collect a bean that was assigned to your space, you get positive or negative effects based on tokens on the board, and you are grouped with other players in a team for that round.  As a team, you have to decide to "blend" or "research" that round.  Research grants you 3 research points in order to advance along a number of research tracks, which will gain you benefits such as extra bean collection, being able to weed out your beans, investing in other brews, etc.  If you choose to blend, the team must cooperate to pull beans blindly out their "roasters" (cloth bags), to create "poker hands" of colored beans.  The better the poker hand, the higher that brew will rate, and the more prestige points are awarded to those players.  Players must discuss among their team a strategy on how to draw beans...judging the probability that certain players will draw favored beans.  Score also determines turn order each round.  Keep doing this round after round (likely teaming with different players each round) until one of several end conditions are met.

End game scoring...I'm the "natural" token  :(
In our game, Paul and I managed to explain the game well enough to get everyone else going, and once we playing, the initial confusion gave way to understanding.  The Youtube video I had watched the night before helped a lot!  As Paul mentioned in his blog, we had a variety of play styles in our game, including folks going long on research, but in the end the slow and steady pace of Paul's coworker Stacy won the game for her.  My first play of the published version convinced me I made a good decision in picking this one up - this is great for a larger group, with very unique play mechanics.  I really like the competitive/coop yin-yang of the game.  Other reviews have stated they think gameplay with lower numbers of players isn't as good, and I can see the logic there, but I need to try myself before passing judgement.

After VivaJava, we broke into two smaller groups, of 3 and 4.  One group played Navegador, which was my pleasant surprise at WBC this past year.  I realize now that I never heard how their game went.  Instead, I taught Paul, Tracy, and Tracy's husband Tom how to play Spartacus.  I've been talking a lot about Spartacus in the last few entries, so I won't do much of a recap here.  See "Man Overboard" for Paul's impressions - one of the reasons we played is that Paul had been really itching to learn it.  I will say this...Paul got right into the spirit of the bribery and backstabbing element of the game.  That aspect was definitely kicked up a notch over our last few sessions, and I think it made the game better.  We played the "normal" length game, where all started with 4 influence, and we ran a bit long, and ended early.  When Paul went for the win, he discarded all his gladiators, slaves and guards to get to 12 influence, but we were able to knock him back down.  In the final auction, I bid all of my money to be host...specifically so I could get the influence point for being host, and so I could invite Paul, who with no gladiators or slaves had to decline, thus losing an influence point.  I won via tiebreaker (which is supposed to be combat...but again, Paul had no gladiators...).  Really glad I picked this one up, and I'm looking forward to the expansion which will add more houses, and allow for combat larger than one on one. 

One last note...I had mentioned that last week I had played Castle Panic with my kids.  It's  fun little coop for what it is - a family game.  However, I had discovered that there was an expansion - The Wizards Tower.  I promptly ordered it from Amazon, and it arrived on Wednesday, and my son immediately wanted to play.  Wizards Tower adds, well...a wizards tower - which replaces a standard
tower, and allows you to trade in regular castle cards for wizard cards.  The wizard cards can have very lethal consequences for the monsters...which you need, because there's new monsters included in the expansion, many of which are doozies...particularly the "mega bosses", which can have up to 5 hitpoints, and possibly set your castle on fire.  Among new "normal" monsters, there are flying creatures such as gargoyles that can only be hit by archers and heroes, goblin cavalry which move 2 spaces, climbing trolls that ignore walls, and others.  I really think this expansion improves the base game by quite a bit.  I still doubt I'd break it out with my gaming buddies, but it's definitely a step up in complexity and decision making for kids that have gotten used to the base game.  So, I definitely recommend it if you have the base game and enjoy playing that.

Well, weekend plans are a little in flux, but I still hope to get to a Tabletop Day event...likely at the new game store I just discovered opened literally down the street from my house (OK, down and over...).  Until on!

Friday, March 22, 2013

An unexpected day of gaming

As usual, I was anticipating our regular Tuesday evening game night at the Game Parlor, when I got an unexpected email from my buddy Tom last weekend.  One of our Prezcon cohorts, Mike Senzig Jr. was coming up the D.C. area on Tuesday and staying through Thursday on a business trip.  Tom was thinking about tagging along if any of us would be willing to free up a day for some gaming.  Let's see...skip work for some gaming...SOLD!  I did have to work on Tuesday due to some offsite meetings I had setup, but I arranged for Tom to borrow my extra car, and meet us at Game Parlor that night.

Is five gladiators too many?
I got to Game Parlor a bit early and found Tom their perusing the rules of his newly bought copy of Spartacus.  Grant arrived within a few minutes of me, and I offered to run them both through a game.  We went with the "quick" game, starting at 7 influence each.  I was the first host for the arena, and invited Tom and Grant to send their gladiators in to battle.  I told them both that speed was critical, in order to win initiative, as well as move around the arena.  Grant may have followed that advice too much, as he sacrificed defense dice too liberally in the first attack.  Tom also had the gladiator (Onemous...something like that) that eliminates the other gladiator's special ability.  Tom won the first battle.  Our game only went about 5 rounds or so...and I'm learning that this game can end faster than you expect.  Be wary once someone gets to 9 influence or so.  Tom had slowly been building his stable of gladiators, slaves and guards, and used his Dominus (Solonius) special ability to turn in a horde of his retainers for 3 influence points.  I tried to use a reaction card to stop that, but we were unsure if using your house' special ability counted as a "scheme".  Grant was able to play a scheme to knock Tom back to 11, but he horded his money to ensure he won the right to be the next host, thus earning his 12th influence point.  I have a feeling we will see this game back on the table soon, particularly if Paul O. has anything to say about it.

Not our game...but don't they all look pretty much like this?
While we played Spartacus, some of our "regulars" filtered in, including Mike R., Carson and Brian 2 (gah, can't remember his last name right now....).  We were also expecting Mike S. to join us once he got out of his business meeting...but while we waited for him, we decided to play a game of 7 Wonders, using both the Leaders and Cities expansions.  We also decided to thrown in the Mannekin Pis and Catan expansion wonders, but no one drew them.  As it turns out, I forgot to shuffle in the Cities expansion wonders as well.  In any case, I had played with Leaders and Cities before, but not both in the same game.  Wow...there's a lot going on if you use both expansions.  It's almost like a different game from the original.  I think the expansions make the game better, as they open up even more paths to victory.  For my part, I went with the tried and true method of collecting blue cards.  Usually I pair that with military, but this time I stayed out of fact, in Age II I used a "peace" card to avoid military conflict altogether.  I ended up collecting over 30 points from blue cards.  My leaders, wonder points, and few guilds pushed me up to 69, where I barely beat Mike R. with 68, including 48(!) from science cards. 

It's Mustache March!
Mike S. showed up a little later, after an unfortunate GPS gaffe had taken him halfway to the location of the former Game Parlor in Woodbridge.  Grant took his leave, so we still had 6 players.  6 players is a bit of quandary.  Most games these days go up to 5 players, but once you get to 6, the options drop off dramatically.  While we debated about whether to split up, Mike R. opted to sit out, and we were able to get to the table one of my recent favorites, Hansa Teutonica.  I had learned this game last year a Prezcon, and bought it almost immediately.  This is definitely a "Euro Game", complete with wooden cubes...but it just may be the Euro with the most player interaction.  You are competing with other players to complete routes in medieval Germany (home of the Hanseatic League).  As you complete routes, you can establish offices ("kontors") in various cities, or at certain cities, improve your various actions that are laid out on your player board.  There is generally a rush at the beginning to complete the route that allows you to increase the number of actions you can take each turn.  VPs are earned by various means, including whenever a route is completed on which you have an office.  Someone will typically grab an office in that town which helps you increase your number of actions, since everyone is going for can be painful to watch that person gain VP after VP.  In our game, I made the decision to try and max out all my abilities (you get points for maxing them out), and to gain points on the "Coellen Table".  However, I only established one office until the very last turn, and that hurt me in the I didn't get many points from people completing routes on my city, and I got little to no VPs from having offices, or on my longest chain.  I continue to be enamored by this game, though.  Mike S., who was learning the game, came in 2nd to Carson (I think), who was playing his 2nd game ever.  So much for experience....

Please don't ask me to explain what's happening here.
Lastly, Brian introduced us to Ginkgopolis.  I'm not exactly sure what to say about this game...You're building a "tree city" by laying down can either build up or out, and depending on the cards you have, you get certain resources for doing that.  You can also play a card without a tile, just to get resources.  You score points during the game if someone builds over your tile, and by a few other means, but you do most of your scoring at the end.  In particular, you want to have control of "neighborhoods" of linked colors of buildings.  In the end, I pulled out the victory based on a 9-point card I managed to play, and taking control of a "blue" neighborhood on the last round of the game.  This is an interesting game, but I don't feel terribly compelled to get it to the table again soon.

So...that was it for regular Tuesday night gaming.  On Wednesday, I took a "staycation" day in order to get in some gaming with Tom.  First game we broke out was Arkham Horror.  I'd heard good things about this game, but had never had the chance to play.  Tom and I played a "4" player game, with each of use controlling 2 characters.  For those unaware, this game is set in the "Cthulu" universe, and your job as "investigators" is to go around town and try to prevent the "Ancient One" from awakening.  If the Ancient One awakens, you have to fight it to win, and Tom tells me that that is not a likely proposition.  The Ancient One is just a generic name for the final "boss monster", which you pick randomly from a deck of monster sheets...and the different Ancient One's can have different effects on the game.  Meanwhile, during the game portals to other dimensions will open...and the main way to win the game is to close a certain amount of portals.  These portals bring with them "minor" monsters which you may have to fight and defeat.  You can also pick up various items, spells, NPCs and such at the various locations around the town.  The characters appear to be stereotypes from different genre' our game, I was playing the film-noir type Private Eye, and a Professor - Tom had an Indiana Jones clone, and Traveling Salesman. 
Yeah...there's a lot of bits & pieces in this game...

We got a good start, closing 2 portals early on, and were getting lucky in that new portal cards listed sealed areas or areas where there were already no new ones were opening.  Unfortunately that didn't last, and at one point we were one new portal away from losing the game...but got fortunate, and were able to close the 6th portal to win.  Of course, we then discovered that we had been "cheating", and the Ancient One that we had draw had supposed to have been making it harder to close portals.  Oh well...perhaps he was feeling "off" that happens to the best of us.  All in all, I liked this game very much, and would definitely play again.  The one drawback is the length of the game...which should be no surprise, I had heard that it can stretch on.  Our game lasted about 4 hours...and we were playing at a fairly quick pace.  It felt about an hour or 45 minutes too long.  With more players (and if we'd been playing properly), it would have stretched longer.  So, set aside several hours for this one...  According to BGG, there's no less than 8 expansions for this game!  And with the sheer number of different Ancient Ones, and player characters, there's a lot of replay value here.  There are a lot of bits and pieces to this game...mainly cards.  There's probably 12 different card decks...but once you get the game going, it doesn't feel overly fiddly. 

Melf Pelts appear to be in demand

After a lunch break, we decided to break out the one game that might have more components than Arkham Horror -  Fantasy Flight's recent re-print of Merchant of Venus.  As mentioned, this game has a boatload of bits - mainly because this is 2 games packed in one - FF's revised rules (called the "standard game") and a reprint of the "classic game".  I had only played the classic edition at various conventions, so that's what I taught Tom.  I like this game quite a bit, and the graphic design of the board is great - but I'm not so sure it's at it's best with just 2 players.  I ran away with the game, but I was getting pretty seemed as if every civilization I discovered was buying what I had just picked up.  With 2 players, you are essentially getting 2 turns in a row every time because of the 1st player card passing.  This somewhat negates the whole "having to wait for unlimited trades" aspect of landing on a planet.  Also, with only 2 there's not as many people buying up resources, so there is not a ton of player interaction.  Tom made the observation that there was no way to really affect the other players was obvious that I was getting way ahead...but he had no way to knock down my net worth.  So...I'm not sure I would recommend this with only 2 players, maybe not even with 3.  It likely plays best with 4 (and if you provide your own bits,you can play with up to 6, I think - the old version you could).  I will have to try Fantasy Flight's new "standard game" to see how that stacks up - there appears to be more dials (literally and figuratively) to play with....
The galaxy of Merchants of Venus

Watch out for the trolls!!
My family came home soon after our MoV game, and while my wife was getting dinner ready, we sat down with the kids for a game of Castle Panic.  This is a light co-op game, good for playing with your kids that may get a little to distraught when they lose a game.  You are basically trying to survive a wave of monsters that are attacking your castle.  If you survive the game with at least 1 tower intact, you win.  We have yet to actually lose this maybe it's not quite hard enough.  But we had a good 8 year old son really likes it, and "gets" the game...planning ahead and helping with strategy.  My 5 year old daughter needed a little more coaching. 

After dinner, and getting the kids to bed, Mike S. came over and joined Tom, Becky and I for a game of Lords of Waterdeep.  I drew the lord that wanted piety and commerce quests.  On the first turn, I went to Cliffwatch Inn and drew the 25 point commerce quest.  I thought I was in good shape, and would complete it by the end of the 2nd round...and then Becky put a mandatory quest on me, which screwed me up for a few rounds.  Later in the game, there was a building which gave you extra points if you drew a quest and completed it immediately.  I got frustrated by collecting the adventurers and gold needed for certain quests, only to see someone else grab it or sweep the Inn.  In the end, I completed two more high value quests - an 18 pointer, and a 20 pointer, but I only had 2 other lesser quests...and I came in dead last.  I never built any buildings, and I probably should have gone after more lower value piety and commerce quests.  I also never completed any "plot quests", which give recurring advantages.  So, all in all, I had some bad luck, but I made bad decisions as well...I should have abandoned that 25 point quest when it became obvious I wasn't completing it quickly.  Oh well.

My farm, with my yellow farmers
One other note...earlier in the week I taught Becky Walnut Grove, for which you may recall I earned the champion plaque at Prezcon.  In her first game ever, she promptly beat me by 4 or 5 points.  Sigh.  I do like that game quite a bit's quick, and I think it scales very well to 2 players.  The only downside to lesser players is that there's less competition for spaces in the town, so that's not quite as tense.  But otherwise, it plays pretty similarly to a 4 player game.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Book Review - Ender's Game

Well, my subtitle to this blog does say "and perhaps a few other topics...", so today I thought I'd try my hand at a book review.  And I'm starting with one of the classics of the Science Fiction genre - Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.  I had not previously read Ender's Game, and this has been met with several gaping mouth responses and shocked "WHAT?!?!"  After I had finished the last book I was reading, I had nothing in my queue, and a conversation with some co-workers convinced me to give Ender's Game a try. 

Floating around weightless looks relaxing.

Now...this is my first book review, and I'm going to try and not have it turn into a long recap of the book.  For those of you unfamiliar, the book is set in Earth's future, where 2 invasions by the insectoid species known as "Buggers" have barely been repelled by the united forces of earth.  The earthlings for some reason have decided that the only way to defeat the 3rd invasion is to start producing genetically enhanced children and start training them from about the age of 6 to be fleet admirals.  The main protagonist of the book is Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, and we follow his progress as he is chosen to attend the prestigious "Battle School" and train to lead interstellar fleets. 

Warsaw Pact part deaux...this time with more hegemony
Ender's Game was originally a short story written in 1977, and expanded to a novel in 1985.  Card released an "updated" version in 1991 to reflect the changing political atmosphere (presumably the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union).  Still, the book seems a little dated.  Far from being a "united" earth, nations still exist and despite the Bugger presence, there is political and military friction between the various nations.  Presumable when the book was first written, the USA and USSR were still the main adversaries in Card's future.  From what I can tell, he just changed a little back story to say that in the future, the Warsaw Pact reformed...and thus the references he originally made to the Warsaw Pact are able to stay in the book.  No mention of China as a superpower (cough...Firefly...cough). 

In the beginning of my copy (digitally downloaded to my tablet), Card has a preface where he talks about how Ender's Game came to be, and includes several letters from folks who praise the novel as life changing for them.  He also has some scathing remarks for a "guidance counselor for gifted children" who read it and "loathed it".  According to Card, "the criticism that left me most flabbergasted was her assertion that my depiction of gifted children was hopelessly unrealistic.  They just don't talk like that , she said.  They don't think like that."  Some of Card's response to that includes "Yet I knew - knew - that this was one of the truest things about Ender's Game.  Because never in my entire life did I feel like a child.  I felt like a person all along - the same person that I am today."

Well, OK.  I read the preface before reading the novel, and that passage stuck with me.  And by the end of the book, I found myself agreeing with that guidance counselor.  We first meet Ender Wiggin at the age of 6 or so, and he has a run in with the school bully.  He ends up defeating the bully, but the rationale he goes through, and why he decides to decidedly un-six-year-old.  I understand it's the future, and he's supposed to be genetically enhanced to be brilliant...but no matter how "smart" you are, you need "wisdom", and that only comes with one thing - experience.  So, right from the first chapter, I found myself thinking "maybe that guidance counselor was on to something..."

This is also prevalent in a subplot about Ender's older sister and psychopathic brother, who are as equally gifted as him.  They both create fake online personalities and use them these personalities to manipulate world events, including a war between the west and the Warsaw Pact.  Again, I understand that these are genetically altered super-children...but their actions could hardly go unnoticed. 

Ask me about "relativity"
Now, I don't think the novel is bad per se.  There are some interesting parts, including the actual training in battle school.  And for a novel that was originally written in 1977, there are some amazingly prescient things - the childrens "desk", which they carry with them and log in to get homework assignments, and send messages...clearly these are today's laptops/tablets.  Locke's brother and sister's online personalities...they are clearly using the internet to spread their ideas.  I also found it refreshing with how Card dealt with travel between interstellar locations...relativity is in full hyperspace here.

Lastly, the ending of the book fell a little flat for me.  There was a not-so-shocking twist involving Ender's final "training".  And after that, the last chapter seemed to be a rushed info-dump on everything that happened subsequently. 

So, in the end I can't say that I was particularly impressed by Ender's Game.  Some of this, no doubt, was due to too much hype.  I have a feeling that if I had just picked it up and read it without any of the "OMG, this is the bestest book EVA" comments I had received, I likely would have enjoyed it a bit more.  I was still mildly interested enough to look into the sequel books...but it appears there's about a gazillion (technical term) of them, between actual novels and short stories.  No thanks, I'll pass.  I may sneak in the upcoming movie, though...just to see the battle school scenes....

Now, on to the next book in my queue.  In 1990, my freshman year in college, I picked up a nice thick doorstopper of a book called The Eye of the Word by a guy named Robert Jordan, who was best known for writing some Conan (the barbarian, not the TV host) books.  23 years later, and several years after Jordan's death, the 14th and final book in The Wheel of Time saga - A Memory of Light - is finally published.  The series has had some ups and downs - books 6 through 10 were mostly mediocre - but I'm looking forward to finding out the final fated of Rand, Matt, Perrin, Egwene and all the rest.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

More Gladiators...and building Kingdoms

What to do with all those gladiators?
Well, we had our regular Tuesday night "After School Special", and out came Spartacus again.  Brian had yet to play, so we broke it out with Mike R. and Carson.  We played the "standard" game this time, with each house starting at 4 influence.  This made the early game a little slower, as more negotiating needed to be done to play those mid-level intrigue cards.  The others had gone to 6 or 7 influence be the time I got around to gaining some.  I had 2 cards called "Sate Roman Appetites", which gave +1 influence to a Dominus with at least 4 ready gladiators.  I went a on a spending spree, at one point having 5 gladiators.  The stars of my stable were Gannicus and Varro.  Varro never fought a match, but his special ability gave me a gold anytime - during any combat - where 3 hits were scored.  He must have earned me 10-12 gold over the course of the game.

Gannicus vs. Theokeles
Gannicus was my star in the arena...or so I thought.  With stats of 4-4-4, he's the equal to Spartacus himself, and his special ability is that he wins ties as an attacker.  However, when brought to battle, he had to face Theokeles, from Carson's stable.  Theokeles is one of the promo cards I picked up at Prezcon, and has stats of 5-5-2 (but no special ability).  I had armed Gannicus with a net, which allowed  him to automatically win initiative once during the match...but I hardly needed it, rolling 4 dice to Theokeles 2.  However, the dice gods were not kinds to me...I don't think I rolled over a 3 the whole match.  Most bets were placed on me, and I still think Gannicus has the edge, being able to win ties.  But it was not to be, as Theokeles absolutely dominated.  Gannicus was lucky to escape with just an injury, and not be decapitated.  I was able to heal him, and he later triumphed in the arena.

Carson started to pull away, and with the help of Brian and Mike, I was able to knock him down a few pegs with an intrigue card.  However, a turn later, he was able to play 4 cards to shoot from 8 to 12 influence and win the game.  I was able to block one of his cards, but he had yet another.  Brian and I both has other cards that could have likely blocked the win, but we didn't get them out quickly enough.  Note to self...the end game can occur quickly. 

After Spartacus, we tried out Kingdom Builder.  This is an interesting game, in which there's a ton of randomization...including some of the rules!  The board is assembled using several random "sectors".  Several tokens are placed on the board, according to pre-printed images.  The board consists of 5 types of playable terrain (prairie, flowers, forest, crevasse, desert), and 2 impassable types (mountains, water).  On your turn, you draw a card, which will be one of the 5 playable types, and then you have to play 3 houses on that terrain...but you have to play them adjacent to previously played pieces, if possible.

Building Kingdoms
If you ever play next to a token, you get to keep that token and use it's special ability for the rest of the game.  The special abilities are randomized.  In our game, we could add a 4th house, move a house from one location to another, play on the board edge, or add a house to the end of a straight line.  The other thing that is randomized are the scoring rules.  These are randomly drawn cards.  In our game, we scored by having long horizontal rows of houses, a point per grouping of houses, and a point per house in the sector with the least amount of houses. 

I finished 2nd, behind Mike R.  It's an interesting game, a bit of an abstract brain-burner.  My first impression was "meh"...but I have found myself thinking about it somewhat.  It's not on my "must own" list by any stretch...but I'd definitely play again if it came out.

A few odds and ends...

I always pay my debts
On Saturday, I had the opportunity to drop in the Game Parlor when I dropped off the boy at a birthday party across the street in Chantilly.  I found Mike R. and his buddy Paul in there, setting up Triumph of Chaos, themed to the Russian Civil War.  That looked like a meaty game, with a lots of cardboard counters and a rulebook printed in size 8 font.  While he continued to set up, Mike encouraged me to teach Paul Battles of Westeros.  This game is kinda sorta related to the "Command and Color" series of games - Memoir '44, Battle Cry, Battlelore, etc.  However, I maintain that it's a step up in complexity, doing away with the left/center/right system of card play, replacing it with command and order tokens, used to issue cards from your leaders.  I taught Paul using the opening scenario, with Lannisters attacking Starks across a river.  We had to leave it after 3 of 5 rounds, and the outcome was still in dispute.  I don't think I (as the Lannisters) would have been able to achieve victory (capturing 2 specific hexes) in the 2 turns left to me.  In 3 turns, yes, my cavalry would have mowed him down...but 2 turns didn't leave me enough time to cross the river, I don't think.  BoW is yet another game I really really need to play more.  I think all but 1 time I've played, I've played that same opening scenario.

Jumpin to hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, boy!
On Tuesday, a very special package wave 2 ships for X-Wing that I had ordered some months ago.  Yes, the Falcon is as sweet as she looks.  I had ordered all the wave 2 ships (Falcon, Slave I, A-Wings and TIE Interceptors)...but when I was at GP on Saturday, I broke down and bought their last remaining Slave I as well.  Hey...the Battlefoam I ordered has space for 2 Slave I's, so I can't do anything less than use those spaces, right?  Of course, now I need more of the small ships to fill all those spaces as well....

Lastly...congratulations to Ben Rosset, who officially announced that Dice Hate Me games will be publishing Brew Crafters, which I reviewed the prototype of in my Prezcon blogs (known then as "BrewMasters".  Also congrats to TC Petty III, who is following Viva Java with a dice version

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Gladiators and Mysterious Lords

SNOW DAY!!!!!!

Got some extra time on my hands due to the "snowquestration" here in the DC area.  So, I figured I could sneak in another blog post.

Our local gaming group has been getting together after work one day a week for a while now...something we whimsically call the "After School Special" (remember what I said previously about acronyms....)  We've moved around the day of the week, but currently we try to get together on Tuesday evenings at the Game Parlor in Chantilly.  Tuesdays are good because the Game Parlor advertises that as their "board game night", so you usually get a bunch of folk in there, and if we need another player or two to round out the game, we can usually find a few.

Last night, due to various other commitments, only Mike R. and I were committed to showing up at the Game Parlor.  However, the last few weeks a fellow named Carson has been joining us, and sure enough he was there again.  We grabbed a 4th guy by the name of Mason and jumped into a game that I'd picked up on reputation - Spartacus: A Game of Blood and Treachery.


As mentioned in one of my Prezcon posts, I had picked up Spartacus based on reputation alone.  Or rather, I had put it on my Christmas list, and some member of my family was kind enough to get it for me.  I also attended a mini-demo at Prezcon, but the guy at the Gale Force 9 booth really focused just on the combat, which is only a part of the game.  There's much more to the game than that.  Now, the GF9 employee also explained that they had had a generic gladiator game designed, and only towards the end of the design process did they approach the producers of the Spartacus TV show and negotiate the rights to use the Spartacus theme.  I've never seen the show, but I recently watched a few clips online to get a feel.  This is an adult show, no question about it.  If you remember Lucy Lawless from Xena and Battlestar Galactica fame, she is in this show apparently playing the matriarch of one of the leading families.  And you get to see a lot more of Lucy than you ever did in Xena or BSG.  A LOT more. 

This adult content is reflected in the game - and I had heard about that in the reviews.  In fact, on the cover of the box is a printed warning - "Mature Content, Recommended for ages 17+".  I had flipped through the rulebook and cards upon first receiving the game, but didn't see any gratuitous nidity like I was half expecting.  The adult content mostly comes from quotes from the show.  In fact, when you open the box, there are quotes printed along the sides of the inner box.  One is from the character of Gannicus - "There's only one way to become champion...never fucking lose."  There were a few more examples of amusing - adult - quotes as we played the game.

So, if it's not just about combat, what is it about?  The idea is that you take on the role of a Dominus, the head of a house in Capua.  You're job is to lead your house to victory by amassing the most influence (i.e. VPs).  The winner is the person who can end a certain phase with 12 influence.  Now, we played the "quick" game, in which we all started at 7.  You can play varying lengths by changing what influence level you start at.  The game is broken into rounds, each of which has 4 phases.

Phase 1:  Upkeep.  This is the easiest phase, where you just perform some upkeep from previous rounds, and "balance the ledgers" - you get 1 gold income for each slave you own, and pay 1 gold for each gladiator.

Phase 2: Intrigue.  This is probably the heart of the game.  In this round, you play various intrigue cards, either to help yourself, or hurt other players.  Or both.  There are also cards to counter anything that is played against you.  The key here is that cards require a certain amount of influence to play.  If you do not have enough influence, you can negotiate deals with other players for them to lend you influence to play your cards.  These deals can be gold exchanging hands, maybe giving someone a gladiator or slave...whatever.  And of course, you don't necessarily have to honor the can immediately backstab someone if you like.

Phase 3:  Market.  There are a few sub-phases to this.  First is "Open Market", where players can trade and sell amongst themselves.  After that is over, comes the auction, where new cards are flipped up and auctioned off.  These can be gladiators, slaves, or equipment.  Lastly, you bid on the right to act as "host", which means you will host the next gladiator combat, as well as be the first player to act until the next Market phase.

Phase 4:  Arena.  This is the actual combat.   The host invites two houses to send a gladiator for combat.  This may or may not include himself.  Houses can accept or decline...although declining will result in loss of influence.  Houses that accept choose one of their gladiators, equip him if possible, and send him to the arena.  Combat is pretty simple.  Each gladiator has 3 attributes - attack, defense and speed.  Each number (from 1-5) signifies how many dice he will get for that attribute (red for attack, black for defense, blue for speed).  Initiative is determined by rolling the blue dice...winner gets to determine who will go first that round.  You have two things you can do - move and attack, and you can do them in whichever order you desire.  Combat itself is simple...when in range, you can attack and roll your red dice.  The other guy defends with his black dice.  Match the dice up, highest to lowest, "Risk" style.  However many attacks the defender did not block, he gets that many wounds.  Wounds are tracked by removing that number of dice from your dice pool, of whichever color you choose.  This of course, means your gladiator's effectiveness will decrease.  You cannot remove all of one color until you are down to 1 of each.  At that point, when you are attacked again, if you lose just 1 die, you are simply defeated.  2 dice, you are injured, all 3 dice, you are decapitated.  I should mention that at the beginning of the combat, all players can bet on the outcome, and whether there will be an injury or decapitation.  And at the end, assuming no decapitation, the Host can give the classic thumbs up/thumbs down for the loser (and accept bribes to do it one way or another). 

So, how'd our game go?  In short, I like this game quite a bit.  As mentioned, we started at 7 influence.  I think this tempered our wheeling and dealing a bit, as except for some really potent cards, by and large we all had enough influence to play most cards without asking for help.  I raked in a lot of money on the first round...but alas no gladiators came up for auction (you start with some "starting" gladiators and slaves...but they're a bit ho-hum).  Mason did get a javelin, which allowed him to attack from range 4 once per combat, using his speed dice as attack dice.  I hosted the first game, and picked Mason and Mike to fight.  Mason won with judicious use of that javelin. 

Next auction, "Dolor" came out...this was one of two promo cards that I got at Prezcon.  Dolor is a tough gladiator, with 5-3-4 ratings.  After some serious bidding, he was old to Mason for 11 gold.  In a subsequent auction, Spartacus (4-4-4) himself came out, and promptly bought him for 10 gold.  At one point, my Spartacus got pitted against Dolor...bets came out leaning towards Dolor, and I bet heavy on myself...and the promptly used an intrigue card to make Mason switch out Dolor for a lesser gladiator.  I had bet that I would injure the other buy, but I underestimated Spartacus, as I beheaded the hapless guy I was against.

I used an intrigue card to cause injury to Dolor outside of the pits, but then I had to send Spartacus to face off against another of Mason's gladiators.  This particular guy had the special ability to have ties go to the attacker.  During one attack, we rolled 4 ties, but those all turned to hits against Spartacus.  I made the mistake of losing mostly speed dice.  Speed is key, as he was able to dart in and wound me and then escape beyond my reach.  So, Spartacus lost a match.  In the subsequent upkeep phase, you roll to heal injured gladiators.  4-6 and they're healed...1 and they die.  I of course, rolled a "1", but so did Mason, so both Spartacus and Dolor perished.

The next gladiator I picked up was Gnaeus, who's special ability was "cruelty" wherein defeated opponents are auto-injured.  His quote was (adult warning) "I will fuck your corpse".  I never got back into contention after losing Spartacus but I did enjoy repeatedly telling Mike R. what I was going to do with his corpse.

In the end, Mason won by judicious use of Intrigue cards to gain 3 influence in 1 turn.  I definitely need to get this game to the table again soon, perhaps for a longer game.  And also, I need to break out the paintbrush and put some color on the minis that come with the game.

After Spartacus, we broke out Lords of Waterdeep, which Carson had never played.  I was happy to play, since I hadn't got to at Prezcon.  I had the lord that gives points for commerce and arcana quests.  I drew the 25 point arcana quest at the beginning of the game, and I picked up the 25 point commerce quest in round 3 or so.  I also completed the quest that gave me an extra 2 points per commerce quest.  Mike put a mandatory quest on me, though that really screwed me up for a few rounds.  I had just got to the point where I had the exact number of adventurers I needed to complete the 25 pt commerce quest, when he put the mandatory quest on me.  Which meant I had to spend time collecting those 3 adventurers, and that set me back.  I also had a couple of brainfarts, forgetting to complete a quest when I had the requirements...things like that.  In the end, I completed both the 25 pt quests, plus a handful of others, but Mason's completion of the 25 pt skullduggery quest on the 7th round put him in the lead for good, and I finished about 12 pts behind in 2nd place.

Monday, March 4, 2013

PREZCON - Part 5

Well, this should be the last installment of my recap of PREZCON 2013.  And I thought I was going to do this in 2 blog posts.  Ha!

Sunday is always bittersweet at seems to arrive too fast, and well...wait, I'm not sure there's anything "sweet" about it....just bitter.  There's kind of a frantic-ness to it as you try and squeeze in a few more games before you check out and hit the road.  There's several finals on Sunday morning, but there are typically a few heats left for some late starting game.  There's traditionally the last heat of Settlers of Catan before the head right into quarter/semi/finals.  But that's at 0800 - for God's sake, don't they know people have been up playing 2R1B the night before?!?!  There's usually RoboRally that morning, which I always seem to miss.  Brian swore he was playing that this year...didn't happen.  Lastly, there's a few heats of 7 Wonders on Sunday morning.  Two years ago, when 7W was the new hotness, I learned it on one day, and then advanced all the way to the finals (where, sadly I finished 4th.)  My luck hasn't been quite the same since, but I figured that's how I would spend my Sunday morning.  Instead, I talked a little to Ben Rosset during our Pitchcar session the night before, and spent Sunday morning having him demo his new design for me....


I first heard about this prototype game when Paul Owen returned from UnPub and raved about it in this blog post.  To quote Paul from that entry, "I am convinced that "Brewmasters" stands to outshine Agricola in the worker-placement genre".

Now, I work with a lot of military personnel, and if there's one thing you need to know about the's that they love their acronyms.  One that has been popping up recently is BLUF - Bottom Line Up Front, where they will give the "bottom line" of a briefing at the beginning, and then dive into the details.  So, let me give you the BLUF on Brewmasters - I agree with Paul's assessment 100%, I loved this game almost immediately, and I would pick it in a heartbeat over Agricola

Now, I apologized to Ben while we were playing, and I'll apologize again now for all the comparisons to Agricola, as I'm sure every designer wants their game to stand alone.  But I think a compare and contrast is very appropriate in this case.  I like Agricola quite a bit, but there a few bugaboos for me.  The minor improvement and profession cards can create an unfair advantage for a player depending on the random draw, and while blocking players from certain action spaces and having to always feed your family creates a certain tension...sometimes that tension crosses the line to outright annoyance.

But, how about Brewmasters?  In this game, you are the owner/manager of a small independent craft brewery.  Get out of here, Budweiser and Coors with your mass-produced watered down dreck!  Your brewery starts out pretty basic, with limited capacity to store ingredients and a modest production line.  You have two workers or actions (not sure what these disks represented - me, as the owner, and maybe 1 partner?) that you place on an Agricola-style board to take certain actions.  Once each action space is taken, it is blocked for other players in that round.  These actions include gathering certain ingredients, collecting money, etc.  Some of the squares will continue to gather resources if they're not used, ala some of the resource spaces in Agricola (there's that comparison again!)  However, after that, it is time to put your shift(s) to work in the brewery.  You start off with 1 shift, but can gain up to 2 more during the game.  On the brewery actions board, you can use the same actions as other players, or even use the same actions multiple times yourself (assuming you have multiple shifts).  And this is the heart of the action - where you improve your brewery, research new breakthroughs, and actually "process beer" (i.e. brew a new batch, and move anything else down the line to eventually ship).

I made sure to add a brewpub to my operation
Now, I should mention that in our game, Ben replaced one of the brewery actions (which was to grab a specialty recipe for your sole use) with instead leaving all recipes available to everyone for the entire game...with a +2 VP bonus for the first person to brew a certain recipe.  I should also mention that he has the beers split into 3 broad categories...ales, stouts and porters.  (The beer nerd in me wants to point out that beer is really broken down into only two categories - ales and lagers, and that stouts and porters are really types of ale...but Ben has put a lot of effort into this, and that may be unnecessary detail.  Or maybe a clever ploy for future expansions.).  In any case, you have to brew the basic "ale", "stout" or "porter" before you move on to any specialty recipes in those categories. 

Over the course of the game you can improve your brewery by adding more storage, increasing your production capacity, adding a brewpub, etc.  All players can add these things.  You can also hire specialty workers, establish co-ops with local famers, etc...but only one player can get each worker, etc.  These are like the professions/minor improvements in Agricola...except that they are out there on the table, available for blind hands of cards!

In our game, Ben coached me through some initial rookie mistakes (there's a lot to take in here), and in the end I ended up winning by a fair amount (though I'm sure Ben was experimenting with different things on his side).  It's not a perfect game, not quite yet.  The difference in our score was mainly due to me increasing 3 out of 4 research tracks to the end, which got me lots of bonus VPs.  I was able to do a lot of research, because in the last few rounds, I didn't have much for my 3 shifts of brewery workers to do...and I think this was somewhat of a result of that 4th brewery action not being in the game.  Although, looking back at Paul's blog, they seemed to have that issue as well.  So, I think Ben still has some tweaking to do here.

Is that a VivaJava Coffee Porter?
But, I think he's close...real close.  And Ben can't take my money fast enough to reserve a copy of this game.  At the end of our demo, he asked me a very specific question, about which decision areas I liked most in the game.  I hemmed and hawed a little, and don't think I gave him a very satisfactory answer...mainly because I was still taking it all in - I liked it all, dang it!  I've been thinking about it since, and I'm not sure I have a more specific answer.  I like the fact that there isn't hidden cards like in Agricola...and I like the fact that the brewery actions are always available.  There is still the tension of decisions like in Agricola, without the overbearing worry that someone else will take a key spot.  The theme really calls me to more than medieval farming (although Ben may have a hard time competing with little wooden animeeples in terms of visual appeal).  I liked the decision space between trying to brew massive amounts of basic recipes, or going for larger point-value specialties, and how to allocate your brewery improvements.

Not sure the next time I'll run into Ben, but I'll be eager to try Brewmasters again, hopefully with more than 2 players.  This is a good one....cheers!

Tobago, Shadows Over Camelot (The Card Game) & Spartacus

Somehow in all my blogging about Prezcon, I missed a few games that Brian and I played in open gaming.  Early on in the con, we borrowed Shadows Over Camelot - The Card Game from the library and tried it out.  I'm a big fan of the board game version, which really kicked off the current cooperative genre...particularly the "coop with a traitor" variant.  I had heard the card game had come out, and put it on my wishlist.  After one playthrough, I'm a little "meh" about it.  However, we only had 2 players, and with only 2 you do not play with a traitor.  This is basically a memorization game, where each player takes turns flipping cards from the deck, which represent different quests, and have point values.  When you think a certain quest is in the sweet spot of 11-14 points, you stop, and reveal all the cards that have been flipped.  If you're right, you get a "white sword", if you're wrong, you get a "black sword", or maybe several depending on how off you were, and what other quests had accumulated points.  There are some clever twists to try and prevent you from memorizing everything, such as variable point cards, and a "Morgan" card that made us count out loud as we flipped more cards (to presumably mess up any point totals we were trying to remember).  I'd like to try it with more players, but right now, it's off my "must own" list.

Tobago is clever little treasure hunting game.  Brian had learned it from the Selzig's, and sat down to teach me.  The clever mechanic is the gradual narrowing down of treasure locations based on cards drawn during the game.  I would categorize this as a light family style game, and while I wasn't head over heels for it, I would like to try it with more than 2 players.

A game I had picked up a few weeks ago based purely on description and reviews (thanks again, D6Generation) was Spartacus:A Game of Blood and Treachery.  Gale Force 9, the publishers, had a presence at Prezcon and were selling the game, in addition to giving demos.  In fact, there was a Spartacus tournament this year, but I had too many conflicts to try it out.  I did get a demo from the GF9, but I think he focused on the wrong thing.  He really focused on the gladiatorial combat - which from what I understand, is really a sideshow to the meat of the game, which involves political maneuvering, wheeling and dealing, and betrayal of alliances among the players.  Paul seemed to have similar thoughts, which he posted in this blog entry.  I'm still looking forward to getting this one to the table. 

Final Thoughts

Well, another Prezcon has come and gone, and I'm already counting down to the next one.  I'm a wee bit jealous of my friends Glenn and Grant who started on Monday...but I'm not sure I'll manage that until the kids are grown and gone.  I'm a little on the fence about my GMing experience.  I'm glad I did it, and I already volunteered to run Waterdeep again next year, but I did feel I missed out on some gaming time for myself, especially when it got to Saturday night.  Perhaps I can ask not to be scheduled on Saturday night...but I don't want to make Justin's job any harder. 

As for the other changes, I'm kinda neutral on the change they made to have the auction on Thursday night.  I usually had more time on Saturday to make it the auction, but I understand their desire to deconflict with the vendor hours.  And I'm not a big auction buyer anyway.  I think the change to have an open gaming area downstairs was a huge success, which led to less overcrowding in the main ballroom.

I can't have a Prezcon blog without talking about the loot I got.  From the auction store, I picked up Caylus.  On more than one occasion, including at Prezcon, I had heard Lords of Waterdeep compared to Caylus, sometimes being called "Caylus-lite".  So when I saw a copy in the auction store, I snatched it up.  As I mentioned before, I picked up a copy of TC Petty III's VivaJava in the vendor area.  For a while, I thought that may be it.  But then I succumbed to the Mayfair booth.  I picked up a copy of World Without End, the "sequel" to Pillars of the Earth.  This was primarily driven by my enjoyment of Pillars, and the same fantastic artwork.  But Mayfair also had a sale going on some game stock they were trying to get rid of.  Buy 1, get 2 more of lesser or equal value for free.  So, I picked up Amazonas, The Dutch Golden Age, and GangsterAmazonas I had looked at hard once before as a family game, so I pulled the trigger and picked it up, and selected the other two games based purely on theme.  I got $150 worth of games for $50...not bad, and if I really don't like them, maybe they can be yours at next year's auctions!

Well, I think that about it wraps it up for me on Prezcon 2013.  One thing that dumbfounds me is that we managed to miss out on playing Citadels, which has become our go-to late evening game.  Ah well.  I will mention that our car/travel issues continued right until the bitter end.  Somehow - Brian must have been regaling me with stories of his Julius Caesar adventures, I missed the regular turnoff on our way up Rt. 29.  We ended up coming out on I-66 about 15 miles further west than normal.  Ah could have been worse...I could have come home without a plaque!

What's up next?  Well, we have our regular Tuesday game night at the Game Parlor in Chantilly, so I'm sure I'll post about that.  I need to spruce up this blog with a better background, and more links and such.  And then I need to get working on that game idea.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

PREZCON - Part 4

Saturday morning left me with a in the 2nd heat of Walnut Grove, or the 2nd heat of Power Grid?  Now I was mildy irritated with the con, because it "officially" starts on Wednesday morning, and Monday and Tuesday are "pre-cons"...and yet the first heat of Power Grid was Tuesday night.  As far as I know, they give out plaques for everything on Monday and I'm not so sure what's "pre" about it.  In any case, I had a decision to make.  In the end, I went with Walnut GrovePower Grid is one of my favorite games, but we'd been playing it a lot at home recently, and there are some real sharks at Prezcon (***cough***Crenshaw***cough***).  Plus, since I was pretty sure I was making the final of Walnut Grove based on my first heat victory, I wanted to get some more practice at that. 

Walnut Grove

We had a 3-player game in the 2nd heat - myself, Kit, and another fellow who's name I've forgotten (I have GOT to write this stuff down!).  I had a pretty good game...too good, as it turns out.  I was able to do most of what I wanted, and I was able to get the bonus token that gives you points for resources.  I used that score 17 points at the end of the game, and blew away my two opponents by over 10 points.  And then Michelle Hymowitz, the GM, came over and explained that that bonus token was used only for goods in your barn...not ALL your goods.  Oh...uh...yeah...sorry about that.  My opponents were gracious, and insisted I keep the win, since we had all been playing thinking it scored the way we had originally scored it.  But we did a theoretical "what-if", and how would I have played it differently, and it turns out that Kit would have been real close to my score, and had a good chance of winning.  Since I was already in the final from my first victory, I happily conceded and asked that Michelle advance Kit to the final.


This was not our final, and they're using crazy expansions
Next up was the semis of Carcassonne.  We had a tight 4 player game.  I made an unusual move about 2/3 of the way into the game.  There was a farm that 1 player had dominance in.  I placed a token that allowed a 2nd player (not me) to share that farm.  I hemmed and hawed about the move, and I'm sure the original farmer wasn't happy with it, but the move completed a road and an abbey for me, which gave me back two meeples...of which I was short.  With my last tile, I was able to complete a 10 point city that I had sole possession of, which also connected to a small farm that I was in sole possession of.  That was enough to push me over the top, and advance me to the finals.

The finals were supposed to start at 1300, the same time as my next heat of Waterdeep.  But the winners of all the semi-final games were present, and were able to start at 1200.  Wow...what an intense game.  My first 2 meeples went down as farmers, so I dominated a field that already has several small "football" cities completed in it.  I had 2 abbeys going, and managed to complete a few football cities myself.  I was able to get a 2nd farm going where I had sole access to 4 cities.  Over the course of the game, two players managed to get 3 meeples in the original farm where I had had 2 meeples.  Near the end of the game, I had 4 farmers on the board.  One tile would have allowed me to connect everything and dominate all the farms on the board.  Unfortunately, that tile did not come.  Adding up the score, I ended up with 63 points...and the two guys who shared the large farm both got 64 points!  So, I finished in 3rd place by 1 pt.  As Carcassonne is such a popular game, I was able to pick up my 3rd place plaque for free.

Lords of Waterdeep

Next was my 2nd heat of LoW.  I had 28 players...15 of which were new to this heat, which gave me 40 unique players for the tournament!  That's quite a turnout!  I'll be interested to see where I "rank" overall.  When I told the convention organizer, Justin, he actually put his arm around me and said "I guess we did good, huh?"

So, I had 4 games of 5, and 2 games of 4.  Here was my opportunity to play...but I decided against it.  Not because I had an ethical epiphany...but I was scheduled to be in the Walnut Grove final in 2 hours, and didn't want to risk getting in a long game of Waterdeep.  Turns out I probably shouldn't have been worried, as all the Waterdeep games finished well in advance, but still...if I'd been playing and having to answer a lot of questions, it may have gone long.

As for tracking "Larissa"...she won at least one game, and should have one another.  A young woman named Elizabeth, who I had taught at the demo, had Larissa, and had completed the quest that gave her the ability to play where an opponent had already played.  So, in essence, they couldn't stop her from building buildings.  But, she became so enamored with just building, that she forgot to complete quests as well, and ended up losing by 5 or 6 points.

After the 2nd heat, I had to determine who had made the semis.  I had 11 different winners, and I figured I fill the bracket out with the 5 "best" 2nd place finishers to get 16 semi-finalists.  That would be 4 games of 4, and the winners would be in a final game of 4.  So, I started ranking people by percentage of overall score.  I did this for every game, and started ranking before I realized that the people in a 4 player game had an advantage in that they were only "splitting" their score 4 ways instead of 5.  So I went back and redid the ranking based on delta from the winner's score.  Next year I'm bringing a laptop and excel!

Walnut Grove

Well, after Waterdeep, it was on to the finals of Walnut Grove.  It was 4 player final with myself, Brian, Kit and Jack.  I saw that once again the bonus tile for resources was available, and decided to make that a center point of my strategy - which meant that I need barns to store as many resources as possible.  I took "neighborly help" at the beginning of the game, in order to help me pay one of the "taxes" in town...and kept it the entire game, paying it off at the very end of the game.  I was in fact able to build two new barns, and get the resource bonus tile, as well as the bonus tile for having fenced in pastures.    Jack went heavy on new workers, as he picked up the bonus tile for # of people.  In the end, when we added up the score, I finished in 1st with 27 points (I think)...3 or 4 ahead of 2nd place.  Jack was catching on to my strategy in the last turn or so, but I think I caught Brian and Kit by surprise.  So, streak ended in Conquest of Paradise, but I still got a 1st place plaque this year!


After Walnut Grove, Brian and went down to open gaming to give Zombiecide a whirl.  This was a kickstarter game that Brian picked up a few weeks ago.  Now, I should mention that I'm not a big fan of the zombie genre...I'm just tired of it, frankly.  It seems like it's been uber-popular for about 5 years now...and I'm just done with it.  But...I agreed to play the game.  We gathered another player, Amber, and gave it a shot.  The game certainly does reflect the zombie theme well, with hordes of the undead lumbering after you as you try to complete your goals.  But, to me it's rather fiddly.  There are a LOT of plastic figures to fiddle with.  There are two decks of for zombies, and one for items, that have the same exact backing...just different colors.  We kept getting that confused.  My other problem was that I was hitting "the wall".  Several days of little sleep, and intermittent food were taking their toll on me.  After an hour, I just looked at Brian and said "I'm done".  I went to get some much needed dinner.  He and Amber continued, and at some point Tom joined them.  Again, I'm not a zombie fan, but I would give this one another try, just to give it a fair shake when I'm not suffering from Prezcon-itis.

Lords of Waterdeep

At 2100, it was time for the LoW semis and final.  As I mentioned, I had wanted to get 16 people playing - the 11 winners and the top 5 2nd place finishers.  Well, not all the winners ever show up, so even if people were ranked lower than 16, I encouraged them to show up.  We had 11 total people turn out.  I saw Cindy, who had finished at best a distant 3rd in one of her games loitering around, so I invited her to round the group out to 12.  Then at the last minute one of the winners showed up, so we had 13 (I wasn't cold hearted enough to kick Cindy out at that point).  So, we went with 2 4-player games, and 1 5-player game.  I was going to take the winners and the top 2 2nd-place finishers to a final of 5 people.  In hindsight, I wish I'd separated the the semis into 4 games, even with some 3-player games, to get a final of 4 winners.  Well, lessons learned.

At this point, all the players had at least 1 game under their belt, and there was not much I needed to do.  Paul and Glenn joined me after a while for a game of Formula Motor Racing (see below) to pass the time.  Actually Brian joined us as well, as his LoW semi-final finished in 45 minutes or so (sadly, he did not advance).  

In 2 out of the 3 semis, the player with Larissa won the game.  Uh-oh...maybe she is a little overpowered?  In any case, I was able to get my 5 players together quickly.  Jack, who had been in the Walnut Grove final with me, asked if we could push the final to Sunday morning.  I declined, not knowing if any of the other players had conflicts...and frankly I didn't want to drag out my commitment any more. 

I don't think I had to answer a single question during the final...the players all knew the game pretty well at that point.  In fact, I got sucked into a game of Pitchcar a few tables away while they played.  Again, the player with Larissa won the final.  We had a bit of discussion after the game as to whether she was too powerful.  At this point, most people had flipped and thought she was.  I will say, though that the champion (again...I'm forgetting his name...) was clearly the most knowledgeable player in general - he had won all his previous games easily.  The suggestion to remove Larissa from the game was generally frowned upon, because that would take an element away from the're never sure who has what Lord.  There was a suggestion to reduce her bonus from 6 to 5 points, which I think merits some consideration.  When they recalculated the final score using only 5 points per building, the winner was only 2 or 3 points ahead of the field rather than the 8 or 9 he won by.

Wizards of the Coast is putting out an expansion for LoW this summer, and I'm eager to see if there are new Lords who score via different means.  Perhaps this will help balance out Larissa.

Formula Motor Racing & Pitchcar

As I mentioned above, Paul and Glenn came up to keep me company during the Waterdeep semis, and brought Formula Motor Racing with them.  This is a quick little racing game that I've owned for years, but never seem to get to the table.  Relative position is manipulated by card play, and the winner is whoever is in first when the card deck runs out.  Each racer gets two cars...and traditionally several races are played, with finishing positions giving you pts...whoever has most points after, say, 3 races is the winner.  We played on the one quick race, though.  Glenn was unfortunate to have both his cars knocked out early.  I couldn't seem to gain position (I was stuck with a bunch of cards for other color cars), and I think it was Paul who won in the end.

When the Waterdeep final started, Paul went off to demo his East India Company for some folks.  I got the Waterdeep finalists started...then wandered over to where a large Pitchcar track was being setup.  They had the works...jumps, ramps...I think it was estimated that they had one base set and 5 expansions.  So who were the "they"?  Chris Kirkman, of Dicehateme fame, and TC Petty III, designer of VivaJava, I had met before at the last two WBCs.  For the first time, I met Darrell Louder, designer of Compounded (which I had recently backed on Kickstarter) and Ben Rosset, designer of Mars Needs Mechanics and the forthcoming Brewmasters (more on that later).

They kindly invited me to be the 8th player in their pitchcar extravaganza.  I didn't want to be a bad GM, but my Waterdeepers seemed fine, so I joined in.  I may have been drinking while driving (shhh).  Starting from the last position worked out much better for me than it did in Formula De earlier in the week.  Fortunately I was able to get past the two younger racers that were ahead of me and doing an adept job at blocking Darrell.  By the end of lap 2 I was in the top 3, and in the final lap I charged ahead, passing TC and Ben.  I got a little nervous approaching the finish line and pulled what we in the croquet world call an "Aunt Emma", by hitting too softly, giving TC the opportunity to make a miracle finish.  But it was not to be, and I managed to win the race.  And then, like any good winner I made the excuse that I had to tend to my Waterdeep players so I didn't have to help pick up the track...

2 Rooms and a Boom

As pitchcar was winding up, and I was wrapping up the finalists in Waterdeep, a woman named Emily came up to and pitched a game they were playing downstairs called "Two Rooms and a Boom".  "Eight Minutes of the most fun you'll have at Prezcon" or something like that was how she pitched it.  Well, who could refuse that?

It turns out that Emily was with Clyde, our "Morpheus" friend from Resistance.  2R1B (how's that for an acronym) is another social game, like Werewolf or Resistance.  There's nominally two teams, one red and one blue.  On the blue team is the president, on the red team, the bomber.  The goal for the bomber is to finish the game in the same room as the President, thereby blowing him up...the President of course wants to survive.  Each player is given a card showing their identity, and team.  Then everyone is randomly divided into the two rooms.  While in your room, you can talk to anyone you want, even reveal your identity by showing your card.  A "leader" needs to be elected in each room, and after 3 minutes a timer goes off, and the leader sends a certain amount of people to the other room.  This continues for 3 rounds, each successively shorter.  At the end, the bomb goes off and we see if the President survives.

Sounds simple, right?  Well, then they start adding in other roles.  The doctor, who must get the President his pills.  The engineer, who has to arm the bomb.  And "gray" roles, who don't care about blue vs. red, they just have their own victory conditions.  Later on we added zombies and werewolves.

This is a fun game, but you have to be in the right mood, and the right beverages don't hurt.  I was up to 2:30 AM playing it, and I heard later that some teenagers arrived shortly after I left, and they were up until 5:00 AM.  When you start to add a lot of different roles, it just gets completely chaotic...but in a fun way.

Well, next up a review of my last day at Prezcon, and some closing thoughts....