Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Historicon Day 2 and 3

After a somewhat disappointing Day 1, I returned to Historicon on Day 2 with my 8 year old son, Liam.  We had gone to Historicon last year for the first time, and had a ball, primarily playing games intended for juniors, put on by the "H.A.W.K.S." - the Harford Area Weekly Kriegspielers.  This year was no different, as we played several games put on by them.

Warriors:Rescue the Kits

Sneaking throug the woods on the right flank
First up was a scenario based on the "Warriors" series of books by Erin Hunter.  Our game apparently recreated the climactic final confrontation of book 1, where the cats of the Thunder Clan attempt to rescue their kittens, stolen by the treacherous Shadow Clan.  There were 6 players, 3 to a side, each controlling 4 cats - Liam was on the Thunder Clan side, and we were informed that he was controlling "Firepaw", the hero of the book.  Liam's allies charged to middle of the field and engaged the conniving Shadow Clan in front of rock formation where the kits were being held.  Liam meanwhile, sent his team of 4 through the woods on the right flank, until 2 of the Shadow Clan cats broke off to engage him.  After a few twists and turns, Liam's 4 cats led by Firepaw started to get the upperhand against the 2 Shadow Clan cats.  The GM reminded the players that the goal was to rescue the kits, but Liam chose to battle to the end.  Meanwhile, his allies in the middle eventually got the upperhand as well.  At the end of the 2 hours allotted time, the game was not quite over, but it was clear that Thunder Clan would carry the day.  The game was a fun start to the day!
Firepaw leads the assault

Team Rocket's Gambit

That's a lot of Pokemon!
Next up was a game based on the Pokemon franchise.  Now, I know next to nothing about Pokemon, and Liam isn't a particularly big fan either...but I discovered that he knows more about it than I thought he did (I'm sure it's discussed at school quite a bit).  The GM, William Acheson, had a beautiful table set up, and dozens upon dozens of Pokemon characters on the table.  We had 3 players per side, and the goal was to control a portal of some type located on the top of a hill in the middle of the board.  I could quickly tell that I was in the minority in terms of Pokemon knowledge.  I think I offended one young lady on our team when I told Liam "I think you should move your racoons to the front".  From her, I got a very indignant "Those are NOT racoons - they're Zigzagoons!"  (I just had to look that up). 

Don't trample the lettuce!
I ended up getting drafted to play some characters, as there was one opening at the table.  So, I had to control my own pieces, as well as help Liam.  Why did he need help, you ask?  Well, even though this was billed as a kid's event, the rules were more complicated than any miniature game I had previously played.  Each turn was broken up into roughly 12 segments - Place orders (of which there were 7 or 8 order types) cast magic, reveal orders, "stand and shoot" fires their first, "charge" orders are resolved, "rush" orders are resolved, "stand and shoot" gets to shoot again, "advance" is resolved, "run away" is resolved, finally melee happens.  I'm sure I got that wrong, but you get the gist.  And for each of those segments, there were particular rules and dice rolls that had to happen.  Not to mention terrain effects.

The game was scheduled for 3 hours, and at the end of three hours, we weren't particularly close to a result.  The GM gave a slight victory to Team Rocket (not us, alas) due to the fact that they had people (er...Pokemon) on the hill, but I think given another turn or two, we could have pushed them off.  So, while I appreciate the level of detail of the table, and the work involved...I think this was a bit much for a true "kids game".


We had circled a lego pirate game to play next, but after 5 hours of straight play, and checking out the game, we decided to pass (it was being run by a gentleman who had run a similar game last year, which ended up being out least favorite).  So we took the opportunity to do some shopping in the dealer area.  I ended up getting talked into buying some starter sets for Wings of Glory (formerly Wings of War) - the WWI aerial combat game.  This turned out to be a bit prescient....  After checking into our hotel, we were deciding what to play that evening.  We had picked out a spaceship game, but before we went there, we wandered by one other table...

It was Beauty that Killed the Beast

Let me post the description here:

As Fighter Command orders your Long Island squadron to
New York City with a rendezvous point of the Empire State
Building, you wonder what is going on? When you check with
Flight Control about your target, they respond with “You will
know it when you see it” Kids Rule for 2 hours
Inbound towards the Empire St. Building...Wait..what is that?!?!

I think you know what's coming....sure enough this was a King Kong scenario...using the Wings of Glory rules, which I had just purchased.  The GM, Cliff Brunken had found the King Kong scenario on boardgamegeek.  Basically, Kong stood on a hexagonal Empire State building, and each turn rolled a die to see where Kong would go.  Kong had the same reach as the range of our guns, so we had to get in close...too close.  Oh, and we had to make sure not to fly into the building, or shoot Fay Wray. 

Get close...but not too close...
This game was the highlight of the Con.  First of all, Cliff made it super fun, especially for kids.  He made Liam the flight leader, and through some "GM's grace", made sure that Kong fell at the hand of our intrepid leader.  Second, Cliff really put some effort into the game.  Unfortunately, his aerial phot of Manhattan didn't get made on time, but his Empire State Building and Kong were great.  Wings of Glory doesn't have any plans that match the planes from the film (he was using the recent Peter Jackson version for models), so he had that model plane, at the same scale, imported from Japan and painted to the right specifications.  My only complaint was that by random chance, it was a little too easy for us to accidentally shoot Ms. Wray...but you have to do what you have to do to save an entire city.  My wallet is lucky that the particular vendor that carried Kong statues was sold out, or I would have likely bought one on the spot.

Dinos vs. Nazis

Himmler is about to be carried back to the nest.
My buddy Grant was running a Star Wars scenario on Sunday morning, but we were too late to get tickets for that.  So, instead we opted for another scenario.  It's 1945, Hitler realizes his only chance to win the war is to use a time machine to travel back in time and eliminate the enemy early on.  As he powers up his time machine, with his loyal minions nearby, a Soviet artillery shell explodes nearby, causing the time machine to travel back 4 billion year to the age of the dinosaurs.

Not looking good for Eva Braun and her bodyguard.

In this game, we played the dinosaurs, and our objective was to eat as many Nazis as possible.  They were worth various points, and we had historical Nazis, as well as film and TV Nazis (Col Klink, the eyepiece guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark).  I'm not so sure the game is balanced all that well, as some dinosaurs have it easier than others - but then again, Liam's Pterodactyls outscored my T-Rex - and hey, you're playing Dinosaurs eating Nazis, so who can complain?

Friday, July 19, 2013


So this weekend, I'm attending the big miniatures convention in Fredricksburg, Va - Historicon.  This is my second year attending Historicon - last year I went for one day only - Saturday - and brought my son, Liam.  We pretty much stuck to just kid friendly games and had a blast - but this year I thought I'd go down by myself on Friday, and take part in some more "adult" games (get your mind out of the gutter). 

I just got home from the first day, and I have to say that it was - overall - a very frustrating day.  I have come to the conclusion that I am a boardgamer first - and as we were leaving, I mentioned that to my friend Paul Owen.  His response - "funny you should say that, I just blogged about that myself."    Paul eloquently states what I think the crux of the issue is -

"I've mentioned before that I find miniatures gaming to be more about the physical instantiation of the game components that represent the game state than about the gameplay itself.  The length of time required to set up, play, and clean up a game represents a significant investment relative to the number and complexity of decisions that a player makes in that time - not to mention the cost of those components and the time spent painting and assembling them."
 I too, find miniatures games to be very visually appealing - but often at the end of a 4 hour (or much longer) game, I find myself thinking "why wasn't that as fun as I think it should have been"?   Part of the appeal of miniatures is the lack of a board - and the grids/hexes/spaces that confine board game pieces in their movement.  In miniatures, you can go anywhere and do anything, usually with the help of a trusty tape measure.  However, this can also be a detriment, as their is often vagaries that are not covered in the rules, or disagreements on measurements ("you are at 7.05 inches, therefore you're out of range!") 

Rules vagaries was a big part of my dissatisfaction with today's events, but by no means the only one.  First, I learned a very important lesson about Historicon - pre-registration is damn near mandatory if you don't want to be frustrated by lack of game choices.  Historicon is not the "must attend" event that Prezcon, and even WBC have become for me.  Therefore, I waited to just pay my fee at the door - in fact just a few weeks ago, due to some travel that my wife was doing, combined with potential lack of child care, I almost had to scratch Historicon off my list.  However, this is a problem - when I go there at about 8:30 this morning, the tickets for the first 6 or 7 games I was interested in were all gone.  I was getting pretty agitated, and finally snapped at the poor woman behind the counter - "well, what games DO you have?!?!"  I ended up with an 11:00 game centered around some minor skirmish in the American Civil War.  Later, I ran into my friend Grant Greffey, and he mentioned that he was in a 1:00 English Civil War scenario called "The Battle of Alford".

This sounded appealing to me, as I had noticed that in the description of me ACW scenario, it said something like "familiarity with Piquet rules is desired".  Also, the ECW scenaro listed room for only 4 players, while my ACW scenario held 8.  That's a thing I've discovered about miniatures gaming as well - those huge tables with a great big group playing look great...but it can get dreadfully bogged down, and you may only take your turn once an hour or so.  So, I try to limit my playing to scenarios with 6 players or less.  In any case, I swung by the front desk, and miracles of miracles, they still had a ticket for the ECW scenario, so I promptly traded.  The other thing about Historicon, is that if you pre-register, you can sign up for 2 games each day, whereas if you walk in the door, you can only get one ticket per day...leaving you scrounging around for openings in other games. 

Finally, at 1:00 we settled in for our game.  I was immediately disappointed with the battlefield - a simple green piece of felt, with some dirt scattered on it.  Not very exciting compared with some of the other visually stunning set pieces that were on display.  The GM allowed a 5th player in (so much for 4 players), and we took sides - both Scottish, actually, one loyalist, and the other "Covenanters".  The GM briefly described the rules - interestingly, they were running the same scenario three times that day, but using three different rulesets.  We were using a slightly modified "Renaissance Wars" ruleset by Saga.  Unfortunately - and this was also somewhat of an issue, I felt - the GM did not seem as well-versed in the rules as one would hope.  This led to a lot of delays during the game as there was hemming and hawing over various actions.  The game evolved into essentially, our two lines of troops crashing into each other, backing away due to morale rolls, and then crashing into each other again - now this may be what actually happened during that time period, but I found it a little dull after a while.  Grant and I (as the Covenanters) also had what could be called "craptacular" dice rolling.  I had the left flank of our forces, and was pretty evently matched against my counterpart.  In the course of one turn, due to some really bad dice rolls on my part, and really good ones on his part, my troops all but routed off the board.  A few more turns, and we conceded the game.

Our Covenanters prepare to advance on the Loyalists

Shortly after that, I departed to come home.  So, in an 11-hour day (counting travel), I got in all of one game.  Very frustrating.  But, tomorrow I return with my son, and I've already secured tickets to a couple of kid-oriented games.  So, I'm hopeful that things will go better tomorrow. 

One more thing that points to me being a boardgamer over a miniature gamer - at the flea market of the biggest miniature game convention on the east coast...I bought a Eurogame.  Hey, someone had an unpunched version of Le Havre they were selling for $30 - how can I pass that up?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Vacation Gaming

Over the first week of July, my family and I took a vacation to the mountains of West Virginia.  Joining us were my good friend Tom and his wife Kelly....and later in the week, their daughter Sarah and her husband Matt.  Tom is one of my oldest friends, and we've been playing games for almost that whole time, and this was no different.  We squeezed in a lot of gaming this trip, although we didn't quite get to all the games we brought along (ok, I was probably optimistic bringing two full rubber bins full of games...).  I'm not going to cover every game we played, because we played a lot of favorites, but I thought I'd talk a little about the games that were new to me, and my impressions of them.  I will mention that we took day trip on on the Cass Railroad...and I couldn't resist pulling out my phone and playing a game of the Ticket to Ride app...while riding a train.  Now that's meta-gaming! 

(I'm going without pics in this entry because I'm way behind, and already have some additional gaming to blog about...)

Last Night on Earth

 I've mentioned before that I'm not a big fan of the zombie genre.  I'm ready for this current fascination with all things zombie to come to a close.  I wasn't a particularly big fan of Zombicide when we played it at Prezcon, although lack of sleep and food probably affected me.  However, Tom had brought along a copy of Last Night on Earth and wanted to give it a go, and I agreed.   Unlike Zombicide, which is cooperative, this game is played with one side playing the human survivors and the other side playing the zombies.  There are several different scenarios, and the map is more or less randomly generated by picking from different boards and assembling.  Each faction has a deck of cards that they draw from in order to get resources, or enact events.

In our scenario, my human survivors had to get to the truck, and escape town.  However, to operate the truck, they needed to find keys and gas, and then survive one round at the truck with those items.  Now, as luck would have it, I drew a keys card at the very beginning of the game, and was lucky enough to have the gas station come up on the map not too far from my survivors.  3 of my survivors started in the center of town, with one at the farmhouse, on the opposite side from the gas station.  Since I had keys, and knew where the gas was, my survivors made a beeline to the gas station, and then back to the truck.  Tom, playing the zombies, got his own luck in several card pulls that essentially enabled him to get all the zombies on the board in the first few turns.  He also pulled a card that stopped me from performing actions for one turn, which ultimately led to his zombie horde overrunning me one turn prior to my escape.

Last Night on Earth didn't particularly do anything to sway my opinion on all things zombie, but I hesitate to judge the game too quickly based on a scenario where lucky draws (on both sides) seriously compromised the main flow of the game.  I never had to split my survivors up to go scrounging through different buildings...never really needed to use any of their special abilities.  I'm not sure this is a particularly "deep" game, but Tom made a good point that it is fun to step away from euro games and play something a little more frenzied now and again.  If you like zombies, this one may be up your alley...and it comes with a soundtrack!

Ticket to Ride:Asia

I've owned the Asia expansion for TTR for some time now, and I had played the "Legendary Asia" side, which is essentially TTR on a new map.  What I had not had a chance to do yet was play the "team" variant on the other side of the map.  In this version, you pair with a teammate, and you can share some of your tickets and train cards.  You don't share everything, and by rule you're not allowed to just blurt out to your teammate what you have hidden in your private hand.  I think this is a little bit of a problem at the start of the game, when you are choosing your initial routes - and there's not way to could end up with routes on totally opposite sides of the map.

Once the game gets going, I did enjoy this variant on traditional TTR.  Having a partner can be very helpful, as you take your turns back to back, and if you're on the same page, you can really start laying down routes quickly.  We managed to get this in twice during the trip, once as a 4-player (2-team) and once as a 6-player (3 team) game.  In our 4 player game, I played with my son Liam as my partner, and I continue to be amazed at how quickly he's picking up on games these days (sorry, proud dad moment).  We didn't win, but it wasn't for lack of trying, and as an 8-year old, he played as well as many adults that I've seen.  I teamed with my wife Becky in the 6-player game, and unfortunately we came in last by quite a bit.  Part of that was due to me drawing new tickets near the end, and keeping some I should have discarded because I read the city names incorrectly.  Grrr.  In any case, I really do like this variant, and it may make things interesting for those that have cooled on TTR in general. 

Dominant Species

I had heard of Dominant Species, and new it was highly regarded, but this was my first time trying it.  In this game, you take on the roll of one type of animal (insects, mammals, birds, reptiles, etc.) and you attempt to assert your dominance by multiplying and adapting to new landscapes as the map grown in front you.  You establish dominance in map hexes by being best adapted to the elements that are located a the corners of the tiles.  This is more or less a worker placement game, as you place your action pawns (APs) on various actions the side of the board, and then resolve those actions in descending order. 

On our first attempt at the game, 4 of us played only 3 rounds as we learned the game.  Fortunately for me, we called it short as it got later, because I started at the mammals, and I did not recognize the need to take the "adapt" action early enough to add new elements to my species, and when my one element got wiped from the board, I was in bad shape.  But hey...that's why you play a learning game, right?  The 2nd time we played this game, I came out with a narrow victory as the insects, when Matt - who had taken over the mammals from Becky - almost randomly chose some creatures to remove from the board due to an card he played on the last play of the game.  He took some of Tom's critters, denying Tom the "survivor" bonus in the last round, giving me the win. 

This game is very good...and very deep.  From 1.5 games, I can tell that there are multiple paths to victory...and you really have to be on your toes to form a coherent strategy.  I'm not doing it justice with a quick blurb in a blog entry focusing on multiple games played over vacation.  Suffice to say I'd like to play it some more...and with WBC coming up, and I can see myself swinging by the GMT booth for that convention discount....

Roll Through the Ages

Roll Through the Ages is a quick little civ builder game that I picked up on a whim at my local game store a few months ago.  Finally had a chance to pull it out, and I quite enjoy it as a "filler" game.  You roll a number of dice equivalent to the number of cities you've built (you start with 3), and get a number of rerolls each turn.  You use the outcome of the dice to build cities/monuments, buy civilization advancements and feed your cities...the more cities you have, the more dice...but the more you have to feed.  The game ends when all the monuments have been built, or when one player gets to 5 advancements.  In our games, we found that they took 30 minutes or less.  It's light, it's quick...and yet that civ builder feeling is still there.  I recommend it if you're looking to fill that niche.

Agricola:Farmers of the Moor

I'm a big fan of Agricola, but had yet to play the Farmers of the Moor expansion.  Tom, Matt and I sat down to play a round.  Even though we were playing with Farmers of the Moor, we still played "family style" (i.e. with no occupations or minor improvements) because Matt was a bit rusty on Agricola.  For the base game, I had been waffling for some time on whether I liked the full game of the "family" game better - I have just not played with the cards a lot, so I don't know them well, and I always feel a bit overwhelmed.  However, last time I had played "family style", I really came to realize how limiting that was, not being able to play minor improvements and occupations that will allow you to help feed your family, etc.  However, with adding the expansion, I was happy to not have to worry about such things this time around (in fact, my friend Paul Owen recently told me that he prefers playing Farmers of the Moor "family style" ). 

With a lot already going on in Agricola, I was afraid that adding more stuff would really cause a dilemma of how to use your family members.  As it turns out, they've added some action cards that allow you take the "moor" actions without necessarily using one of your farmers, and that's a big help.  Not only can you use the cards for "free" if they're still available on your turn, but you can pay food to use them if another player has already taken them.   We had a very close game, with Tom pulling out the win with 39 points compared to 37 for both Matt and I.  I nearly ran out of peat to heat my house, but converted to a stone cottage just in time (although I'm not sure that I realized you could use wood to heat your house...and we had the wood spaces getting up to 12+ pieces of wood at one point).  I'm eager to try this variant again, and see how adding the minor improvements and occupations affects things.

Pandemic On the Brink 

Pandemic is a favorite of my wife's, and I like it well enough - but we haven't played much with the On the Brink expansion.   To be more precise, On the Brink is something like 4 expansions in one.  We'd played with some of them, but one I really wanted to try was the "bioterrorist" expansion.  Becky, Tom and Kelly agreed, and I volunteered to be the bad guy (I have never been the traitor in Shadows of Camelot or Battlestar Galactica, so I wanted to try it out...although you're not a "traitor" per se in Pandemic).  Our first game did not go well - for anybody.  It was fun sneaking around the board and planting purple cubes, but the other 3 players made a concerted effort to cure and then eradicate my purple disease...thus eliminating me from the game.  Unfortunately for them, the "normal" diseases used their inattention to reach critical mass...and they lost in the "regular" way.  We played again a day or so later, and added in the "virulent strain" cards as well.  This may have been a bit much for the good they got a virulent strain that forced them to remove a red cube every time they passed through a city with a red cube in it.  I used that to plant a bunch of purple cubes alongside the red cubes, knowing that they were forced to deal with red first.  This eventually led to me being able to trigger a purple outbreak, getting all the purple cubes on the board, giving me the victory.  I liked the bioterrorist expansion quite a bit...although maybe that's because I was the bad guy!  But still, I think it spices up a game, that for me, had gotten a bit stale.