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!


  1. The Wizard's Tower has been high on my wishlist for a while. Our kids like Castle Panic, too, and it sounds like WT is just the ticket to revitalize it.

  2. Yeah, it's a good expansion...I think it makes the game much more interesting, and much more tense. Not sure I could go back to the standard game.