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.

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