Thursday, May 23, 2013

Containing the Hive, trucking through the Heartland, and Innovating through history

After taking a break for a week (sometimes "real life" gets in the way....sigh) I was back at the Game Parlor this past Tuesday looking for some gaming action.  Actually, nearly all of our "regular" group passed on this week as well...with the exception of Carson, who was running late.  That left me looking to join in some games with other folks at the store.  Unfortunately, it seemed to be a low turnout in general...but just as I was considering leaving, a fellow named Darren with whom we've played in the past came in, and asked if I was looking for a game.

Tower o' beetles!
Since I knew Carson would be arriving at some point, we decided on a quick 2-player game.  Darren introduced me to Hive, a clever little tile laying game.  The idea in Hive is to completely surround your opponent's queen bee - with tiles from either side.  So, you have to be careful not so endanger your own queen with your own tiles.  At the start of the game, each player lays down one tile, and they must touch.  Your queen must be one of the first 4 tiles you place, and you cannot place where it touches an opponents tile.  However, once your queen is placed, your hive becomes active, and your already placed tiles can move - and they can move to touch the opponents tiles.  There are several different bugs, and they all have different movement rules...but the key rule to the game is that the hive can never split, i.e. you cannot perform a move such that a single tile, or group of tiles becomes separated from the main hive.  This leads to useful defensive strategies like hanging an ant off the end of a key tile of your opponent such that they can't move that tile.  Despite the kind of silly theme, this is an interesting and deep game, and very chess-like.

Breaker 1 - 9, anyone got leads on Smokey the Bear?
 Carson arrived after we'd played a few games of Hive, and I spotted something in Darren's collection that I've been wanting to try for some time now - Dice Hate Me Game's The Great Heartland Hauling Company.  In this game, you play the role of a trucker hauling various resources (pigs, cattle, corn, soy) to and fro across the "Heartland", trying to sell the goods and make a profit - game end is triggered when one player reaches a certain dollar amount (i.e. score) - which is dependent on the number of players.  The game "board" is going to be unique every time, as it is created by placing a number of cards around a central "anchor" card.  Each of the cards has a primary resource that you can pick up, and 2 resources which they will buy for an annotated price - some places pay more for certain goods than others.  In the basic game, you essentially just make a grid of these cards, but you can set them in any design you want, really (which can make it more difficult).  You navigate across the map, and manipulate the resources on your truck by means of a 2nd deck of cards, from which you are constantly drawing up to a hand of 5 (Ticket to Ride style, where you can draw from face up cards, or randomly from the top of the deck).

This map configuration was...challenging...
On your turn, you must do 3 things, in this order - move, take an action, and then draw up to a full hand for next turn.  In order to move, you either play fuel cards from your hand (in values of 1, 2 or 3 which allow you to move that many cards), or if you have no fuel cards, you can pay $1 per space you want to move, up to 3 spaces.  You can pass through a card with another player, but you may not stop there.  On your action phase you can do one of three things - pick up goods, deliver goods, or pay money to discard and redraw new cards.  In order to pick up or deliver goods, you must play a card of that good type - one card per good.  And you can not mix goods.  As the game goes on, goods will end up on cards where they are not the prime can pick those up, at a cost of 2 cards per good.  Now, I want to highlight what I think is the key mechanic in this game.  You MUST move BEFORE picking up or delivering.  What this means, in essence, is that you cannot deliver a good to a spot, and then on your next turn pick up the good that they are "selling" there, to then deliver to another location.  So, you have to plan several turns in advance as you collect cards in your had, and what route you may take.  To be honest, I don't know how I feel about this rule.  It sort of breaks the theme for that in real life, you typically wouldn't offload in one city, and then drive your empty truck over to the next city to load up on goods there.  I suspect that in original playtests of the game, you could pick up where you had dropped off, but I suspect that made the game pretty's definitely more strategic this way.

We played a 2nd game of "TGHHC", in which we used some expansion cards - two cards were locations that only bought goods, and didn't provide any - but they bought at premium prices.  The other cards we used were "truck stops", which were essentially cards that you could buy if you landed on them, which would allow you to break the rules of the game if they were in your possession.  For example, I ended up with a card called "sleeper cab", which enabled me to spend $1 to NOT move on a turn.  Unfortunately, I was never able to put that to really good use.  There are some other alternate rules that we didn't play such as road closures.  In short...I don't think I liked this game as much as I wanted to.  The whole thing about not being able to pick up in the same place as you just delivered was a real irritant.  On the other hand, I would like to play some more, using those truck stop cards...I think those push the game up a level.  And I really really liked the little 18-wheeler meeples (18-wheeleeples?) - I might have to pick up a copy just for those!

Moving into Age 3....
 Lastly, we played a 3 player game of Innovation.  In this card game, you are trying to build your civilization on various technical advances through 10 different ages.  There are 10 decks of card that represent the different ages.  You start with a hand of 5 (I think) cards, and on your turn, you can do one of the 3 things - "Meld", which is playing a card from your hand face up in front of you, on top of any cards of the same color, "Draw" - drawing a new cards equal to or possibly exceeding the highest "age" card you've played, or "Dogma", which essentially allows you to use the text of any card you have face up in front of you.  The cards are used for multiple purposes - they are used for their dogma powers, they all have symbols on them, which may allow you use another player's dogma actions, and they are used as points...which are then used to "buy" achievements - first player to 5 achievements wins the game.  The "dogma" actions are what really drive the game, and allow you to alter your various face-up cards, score points, screw with your neighbors (and boy can that happen a lot), etc.  I was really enjoying this game for about the first 3/4...and then it (literally) blew up.  Carson had fallen far behind.  Darren and I had multiple achievements, and he had none so far.  With much apologies, he decided to play the "Fission" card, which wiped out the face-up decks, and the points of every player on the board - and removed those cards from the game.  Darren and I still had our achievements, but with only a handful of Age 1 and 2 cards, and then leaping up to Age 8+, it was a strange climb back into the game.  It quickly became obvious that we weren't going to win by getting to 5 achievements, and the alternate rule is that when the Age 10 deck runs out, the person with the most points win.  But those higher age dogma effects get to be pretty crazy - one of them changed the winning condition to the player with the *least* amount of points.  And the "screw your neighbor" aspect ratchets up with those higher age cards.  In the end, Darren won by running out the Age 10 deck.  So...I don't know how I feel about this game...I want to play it again.  I think that the "fission" card may be a game breaker...but it did allow Carson to get back in the game (he actually tied for the win, but lost on tie breaker).  And I think those higher age cards may be a little too much "screw your neighbor"...but after one play, I'm not sure I can judge that so well.  There are games - like Dominion - that I knew after one play, weren't for me.  That's not the case with Innovation - I'm  a little wary...but I'd like to try it a few more times.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Puerto Rico and "The Adventurers"

Well, we had a whopping 9 people stop in for Tuesday night boardgaming fun at The Game Parlor.  With that many people (which was actually lower than we had expected), we split into two groups.  Carson, Mike R., Mason and Brian D. played Ground Floor (which I have yet to play), and several rounds of the card game Hanabi.  The early birds among us were going to squeeze in a game of Hanabi, but the rest of the folks arrived earlier as looks like an interesting card game in which you know everyone's cards...except your own.  The game is a cooperative endeavor to try and lay down cards of different colors in the correct order.  I'd definitely like to try it at some point.

In any case, our "sub-group" consisted of Mike BW, Tom, Traci, myself, and a fellow named Jeff who had wandered into the Game Parlor, looking for a game.  I decided to introduce this group to that old standby...Puerto Rico.  Mike, Tom & Traci had never played, and it had been a long time for Jeff.  A firm believer in "the burned hand teaches best", I set out to crush these a fun, socially acceptable euro-game way of course.

Heading into the end game....
By random draw, I was the first Governor, which meant I got an indigo plantation.  Now, one of my favorite strategies to play is what my buddy Grant calls the "Corn King" strategy...plant lots of corn, ship it for points, and use a higher end crop (tobacco or coffee to generate money).  I thought I could pull of the same trick with Indigo.  I was wrong.  As the first Governor, I pulled a fairly standard move, and chose to settle, taking a quarry.  From there, it took me a long time to build up my Indigo empire...needing a production building as well as colonists in that's far tougher to get those points rolling in than it is with corn.  I got my coffee going as well, and Jeff was the only other player in the coffee business...but by midgame I had an office, so I wasn't worried about getting shut out of the market.  Then game a couple of disastrous turns.  Jeff played the Captain role...and shipped his coffee...which meant I had to load my coffee on that boat...nothing left to sell in the market!  The Craftsman was played soon after, and I raked in 3 indigo, 2 coffee and a corn.  Next turn, when Captain was played, I had 3 people placing before me, and the boats consisted of corn(which was full), sugar and tobacco.  I couldn't place on any of the boats, and with no warehouse...I lost everything but one coffee.  We also had a turn where folks started taking the big buildings...a bit premature, I thought...and I opted for a wharf.  I never did get a big building.  Finally, the game ended about 3 or 4 turns earlier than a typical game, I think.  We had several rounds where 8, 9 or even 10 colonists got loaded on the ship...and lack of colonists did eventually end the game.  When the fog lifted from the island of Puerto Rico, I was left with 30, Mike, Jeff and Tom had between 32 and 36...and Traci had 51!  Shipping multiple loads of tobacco and corn, as well as 2 big buildings gave her a commanding win.  What was that about crushing the newbies?!?  I did learn a valuable lesson, that if I go for the "Corn King"'s best to use corn!

Here comes the boulder....
Jeff took his leave, and next up was The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac.  This is not to be confused with The Adventurers: The Pyramid of Horus, which is a "sequel" of sorts, but I think inferior to Chac.  This game is the "Indiana Jones" of board games.  As one of the adventurers, your goal is to escape the temple with the most expensive loot, while trying to avoid being killed by crushing walls, crumbling walkways over lava, a rickety bridge, a raging underground river, and most relentlessly...the ever pursuing boulder.  I was introduced to this game at WBC a few years ago, and love it - it's very light, very silly, and takes 45 minutes or less to play.  In fact, we got in 2 games of it. 

In our first game, I had the lockpicking ability, and tried saving it to use to pick up the "Idol of Chac", the most valuable treasure in the game.  Since it was everyone else's first game, most played conservatively, avoiding the lava, and just rushing for the exit.  I got sidelined at the rickety bridge getting that treasure (note that I have the 2nd edition, with includes a treasure on the bridge...I think this is a good thing, as it provides more impetus to actually cross the bridge.)  Mike BW managed to actually nab the Idol, and Tom, he and I made it out.  Traci did chance the lava after getting shut out of the wall treasures, and plunged to a fiery death.  As did her backup character, I believe. sad.....
The 2nd game was much more exciting.  Tom, Traci and I spent time among the crushing walls to study the glyphs for safe passage across the lava pit.  Mike made a dash for the wall treasures, and picked the locks on all 4.  The boulder was moving slowly.  I successfully made it across the lava pit, picking up several treasures.  Tom made for the exit, I think nabbing the bridge treasure.  I attempted to go for the idol, which I successfully recovered...however the boulder had picked up steam and was right on my heels.  I came charging around the corner, only to be caught by the boulder and squashed like a bug.  Mike and Traci had gone the river route.  Mike came out of the river with 9(!) treasures...but being loaded down, he was not moving fast.  Traci emerged shortly after him...only to be crushed mercilessly by the boulder.  Mike dropped 3 of his treasures to lighten his load, as he needed to move only 2 spaces to escape.  That meant that among the 5 dice to be rolled for movement, he only needed 2 of them to be 3 or above.  He promptly rolled, and got 1-1-2-2-4.  That meant only one move for him, right to the door itself...where it was promptly sealed by the boulder, using his crushed body as a nice gasket.

That was a fun game...and nice way to end the evening.  There are some rumblings to pull out Eclipse in the near future...which is something I've been wanting to play for some time....

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Shadows Over Camelot & The Walking Dead

We got together for our usual Tuesday night adventures, and like last week, we had 6 of us - myself, Brian G, Mike R, Tom, Traci, and Carson made a return appearance after a few weeks away.  Unlike last week, we actually brought some games that accommodated more than 5 players.  After some debate we settled on that granddaddy of co-op games, Shadows Over Camelot.  We also opted to play with the expansion, Merlin's Company.  Published in 2005, while it may not have been the first cooperative game, SoC definitely invigorated the sub-genre of co-ops, and was possibly the first to add in the "traitor" element.  Merlin's Company adds in some cards to be drawn as you attempt to travel between quests, which may be a hindrance or beneficial.

We randomly passed out loyalty cards, and also knight cards.  Alas, we were to fight against the dark forces without help from King Arthur himself!  We had a few knights bravely leave to search for the grail, Mike R. went to find Excalibur and I, as Sir Gareth, went to fight the marauding Picts.  Traci cast some suspicion on herself by remaining behind in Camelot for several turns and simply collecting cards.  Carson eventually joined me and helped me defeat the Picts, and after a somewhat long search, Brian claimed Excalibur.  That put a total of 3 white swords on the round table.  With many "despair" cards coming form the deck, the Grail looked to be lost at one point.  However, I had the "heroism" card, which added a white sword to any successful quest...that meant claiming the grail would be worth 4 white swords!  It took some time, but we were able to eventually find the grail!

The Grail has been found, and Merlin is warding off siege engines
Unfortunately, no one challenged Lancelot for his armor, and the Saxons overran our shores, which gave us several black swords.  At one point, we had 7 white swords and 4 black swords on the table.  Getting a 12th sword of any color would end the game.  But we were wary of the traitor, who if he remained unrevealed could flip 2 swords from white to black.  We also had a black card in action that would add an extra black sword to any failed quest.  Traci played a card that allowed the knights of Camelot to win the next tie...including the sword count at the end.  Mike R. was able to get rid of the "extra black sword card", and we were able to win a victory against the Saxons for an 8th and final white sword.  No one was accused during the game of being a traitor...well, no one was formally accused - there were certainly suspicious glances and mutterings about certain actions or non-actions.  But no one was confident enough to accuse a fellow knight of being a traitor...and for good reason - as it turned out, there was no traitor!  Battlestar Galactica tends to get the nod as the superior Coop-with-a-traitor game, but SoC is no slouch, and if you're in the mood for a coop game, this is a great game.

Next up, we pulled out The Walking Dead.  Mike R. is always quick to point out that this is the game based on the comics, not the TV shows (of which there is another game).  Basically, in this game, you are trying to be the first to successfully scout  3 locations on the map, based on location cards that are visible to everyone, and one secret location known only to you.  As you travel around, you leave hordes of zombies in your wake, and draw encounter cards, which can be zombie fights, or other tasks that require you to roll your dice pool.

It gets successively harder to scout each of your 3 locations.  In our game, Tom won in the end, although technically he "cheated", as he scouted the prison twice, and legally you can't scout the same location twice.  But that's OK, I think we were all ready for it to be over.  Now, I'm not a zombie fan(I really wish the whole zombie fad would star to die), so that's one strike against the game for me.  But that's not really what I have against the game.  It's fun in it's own way, but - and this is only my 2nd play - it can tend to drag a little.  By the time people have scouted their 2nd location, I feel like most people are ready to be done.  It didn't help that we had 6 players, which slows things down (although we allowed both Traci and Brian to "regenerate" after they were killed).  The other thing that is a little annoying is that it's impossible to plan for some of the encounter cards.  Sure, you can stock up on ammo and such to prepare for zombie encounters...but you may get a card that simply reads "you are successful at this encounter if you have the lowest amount of food - otherwise you fail". can you possibly plan for that?  But, as was stated several times at the table, this game is all about atmosphere and story telling, and not really about strategy and tactics.

The zombies are starting to mass...Atlanta is a (un)death trap!

I did my part to stimulate the economy and help my FLGS by picking up a couple of items.  I did my usual walk around the Game Parlor, not expecting to really find anything, when lo and behold, there on the shelf sat the new 7 Wonders:Wonder Pack.  I had no idea such a thing existed.  So, for $15 I snatched it up.  Apparently the new Wonders are the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge, Abu Simbel, and they have reimplemented the promotional Manekken Pis "Wonder".  I haven't looked at it in great detail, but the free beer has apparently been removed from Manneken Pis.  So, being committed to spending $15, I wanted to find something for at least $5 more to get myself a free ticket for the evening (Game Parlor charges you $2 to play there, which I think takes a little of the "F" out of "FLGS").  I couldn't find anything that I was interested in for that cheap, so for $35 I settled on Roll Through the Ages.  I've not played them, but I've heard good things about RTtA, and it's "big brother", Through the Ages.  So, this one was bought on reputation alone...and yet again I need to find shelf space for more games.  Sigh...I fear I'm going to have to ruthless about culling my collection soon.