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. 

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