Monday, November 28, 2011

Recent Board Gaming - Lots of it!

I've had a lot of time to play games lately, including several new (to me) ones, and decided I'd share my thoughts and experiences with y'all.  Enjoy!

Thursday 11/17
Some friends invited us over for Indian take-out and games.  Here's what we played (all games with 4p).

For Sale (3-6 players)
This was my first play of this classic filler game, and it was a remarkable amount of fun for such a short game.  We busted it out while giving the take-out restaurant time to get our order together, and it proved the perfect length.

The game is composed of two halves, each of which revolves around a different auction mechanic.  In the first half, people are bidding on the rights to the best of a pool of properties (one for each player), and as players drop out of the bidding, they pay half of their current bids and take the lowest-valued property in the pool.  Once all of the properties have been sold to players, the second half begins.  In this auction, a number of checks are revealed (one for each player), and all players simultaneously (and secretly) choose one of their properties to sell.  All properties to be sold in the turn are then revealed, and the highest value property sells for the highest check, lowest for the lowest check, etc.  The player with the most money (checks plus leftover cash from the first half) wins.

This is a great fifteen minute game for some light fun, and it would work great as a family game.  As you'll see in some of my later plays, this is good fun even for non-gamers.

Dixit (3-6 players)
The winner of the SdJ for 2010, this game is a bit like Apples to Apples or Balderdash, but with art.  Each player receives six cards with some very whimsical and surreal art (imagine some sort of Dr. Seuss/Salvador Dali collaboration).  On your turn, you place a card face-down on the table, and give a clue.  This clue can be a sound, gesture, word, phrase, sentence, or basically anything else you want.  Each other player then submits face-down a card from their hand they think will match the clue.  These are shuffled and flipped face up, and all other players must guess secretly and simultaneously which one was submitted by the current-turn player. These guesses are then revealed.  The catch in the scoring is that if nobody (or everybody) guesses your art correctly, then they all get points, and you get nothing.  Thus, the goal is to submit clues that are sufficiently vague that some will be lost, but not so obscure that you're the only one who has a clue.

We played this while eating dinner, and had a great deal of fun.  It's a bit light for my taste, and it needs some more art.  With the right group and some expansions (which do exist), it looks to be good fun.- just don't expect to get too deep into it.  Another great one for non-gamers.

Arkham Horror (1-8 players)
After dinner, our host decided he was in the mood for some serious gaming; while we only got through a partial game, I was glad we got this one to the table.  I'd been itching for an Ameritrash dice-fest for a while, and Arkham Horror delivers on that front.  My wife had never played Arkham before, and so while it took some explaining, most of that could be done on the fly.  We seemed destined to lose, as our Eldritch God of choice was requiring us to muster 8 clues to seal a portal and we continually found ourselves falling behind, but we'll never know for sure.  We had to pack it up when the night got a bit too late.

If you want a more detailed description of the game itself, you'll have to look elsewhere - it's a little more complex than I care to go into here.

Saturday 11/19: Game On! Game Day
This day of gaming was hosted by the duo behind the Game On! Podcast: Cody Jones and John Richard.  The podcast is based in Indianapolis, and so, living in Lafayette, I was definitely in range to participate in the day of gaming.  Many thanks to them for putting it together!  You can see a list of everything that got played here.

Small World (2-5 players)
As I walked in, a group of three was looking for more players for Small World.  It's one of my favorites, so I jumped at the chance.  And proceeded to get my butt handed to me, coming in 3rd of 4.  I got some sweet racial/special power combos (including Marauding Skeletons!) but that made me a bit too conspicuous to the other players, who took any chance they got to prune back my empire-building.  I had a blast.

Alien Frontiers (2-4 players)
After finishing Small World, I suggested we play Alien Frontiers.  They had all played before, so we jumped right in.  This is one of my recent acquisitions, and it's quickly become my favorite euro-ish game for four players.  Players are competing to be the most influential in the settlement of a new planet, the planet Maxwell.  It's mechanically a combination of worker-placement (in the form of dice, which represent your ships), with area control elements when dropping your colonies on the planet.  The retro-sci-fi theme really resonates with me, and the game is really very tight, with the lead changing several times in the final few turns.

Alien Frontiers manages to give excellent strategic choices, while preventing the brain-burn of games like Agricola by having the values rolled on your "ships" each turn restrict where you can place them.  For me, it's providing a satisfying amount of strategy-gaming, while being accessible to lighter gamers.  I love it, and can't wait to see what the Factions expansion (which I backed on KickStarter) has to add.

Tumblin-Dice (1-4 players)
Following Alien Frontiers, I drifted for a while, watching some guys play Dungeon Run and seeing what was going on.  Then I saw Cody teaching Tumblin-Dice, and knew I had to get in on that.  This was an incredibly light dexterity game that was very fun.  Players toss dice down along a terraced track, and get points equal to the value of the die times the multiplier of the step it's on.  But it's not scored until the end of the round, leaving the chance for other players' (or your own!) dice to knock yours around to different steps and faces!

I played twice and lost horribly each time, but enjoyed the heck out of the whole process.  Highly recommended, and I need to see about tracking down a copy.  This looks like it would be great for family events and kids as well.  I would have loved to have it a Thanksgiving.

Crokinole (2 players)
Cody then taught some of us the classic dexterity game Crokinole, which is apparently quite popular in Canada.  I managed to eke out a victory in game one, and then got a string of good luck to run away with game two.  I'd love to acquire a set, but the wooden boards and pieces cost a pretty penny, so it's not in the cards at the moment.

Crappy Birthday (4-8 players)
My opponent then invited me to participate with his group in a game of Crappy Birthday.  I reluctantly allowed myself to be persuaded.  This was a mistake.  Crappy Birthday is like Apples to Apples, minus the fun! You get cards with terrible or quirky birthday gifts on them, and each player submits what they think is the worst present from their hand to the person whose turn it is.  That player then chooses.  You get points if they take yours.  I only lasted three turns before I couldn't take it any more.  I know others like it, but I found this game to be absolutely dreadful.

Trans Europa (2-6 players)
After that dreck, I was in the mood for a new game that wouldn't leave a bad taste in my mouth, and found someone willing to teach a train game.  We decided Steam might be a little too long for our current mood, and settled on Trans Europa.  In this game, players are assigned randomly and secretly five cities from five different regions of Europe, which they must connect via rail.  Rails can be laid along lines of a predetermined triangular grid, and each player can lay two sections of track each turn.  The first player to connect all five cities wins the round, with a vicious scoring system that causes other players to lose points based on how far they were from finishing their connections; the game ends when a player reaches zero points.  If this sounds a bit too easy and a bit too random, that's because I haven't told you the twist - all players' track is identical (it's all black).  You don't care who connects your cities, so long as they get connected.  This means that you're constantly trying to piggyback on others' work while concealing what your true destinations are and avoiding connecting cities unnecessarily.

We finished our game in about half an hour, and I found it quite enjoyable, though not a home-run.  I ended up winning by a comfortable margin, so I that may color my impression.  It's about the same difficulty level as Ticket to Ride, but it feels much more cutthroat, which would scare away lighter gamers.  I'd give it a recommendation to try before you buy.

For Sale (3-6 players)
I then suggested to the group that we play some fillers while others were finishing some games, and brought out For Sale.  It went over well, and though the group thought it was a bit light, they enjoyed it.  I had a blast playing it (again) despite losing.  The final scoring was tight, with all five of us finishing within a $5k range.

No Thanks! (3-7 players)
Another classic filler, which I think I've discussed on the blog before.  This one has an even easier rules set than For Sale, but can be played more cutthroat than For Sale, and this group proceeded to do exactly that.  They even gave the game the ultimate compliment of requesting a second play immediately after finishing the first!  The first game was spent learning the strategies, and so had a wide scoring spread (though I, the experienced player, lost by a decent margin).  In the second game I eked out a one-point victory, as others failed to assemble the straights they were hoping for.  This one is a great (short) game for gamers and non-gamers alike.  I recommend it for everyone's collection.

Kingdom Builder (2-4 players)
My final game of the day was my first play of the so-new-it-squeaks release from Donald X. Vaccarino, the designer of SdJ 2009 winner Dominion.  Kingdom Builder seems to be a light Eurogame, but appearances can be deceiving.  In this game, a modular board with regions composed of hexes of several different terrain types is assembled, and then the players settle it.  The core mechanic is that each turn you draw a terrain type card, and are then required to build three settlements in that terrain type, contiguous to one of your previous settlements if possible.  Throughout the game you can acquire special actions by building next to specific landmarks (i.e. build an additional settlement on the end of a row of three preexisting settlements).  The scoring system is rather novel, and lends itself well to replayability.  There is a set of 15 kingdom cards, each of which propose different scoring rules.  You select three at random during setup, and they determine how points will be awarded at the end of the game.  In our case, we had one area-control-like goal that awarded points for having the most and second-most in a "sector", one that awarded points for waterfront settlements, and one that awarded points for each horizontal line you had a settlement on.  There are also four castles on the board that you can get points for settling adjacent to.

My opinion of the game is somewhat mixed.  It starts out as a light Eurogame, but as the turns progress it begins to feel heavier and heavier, until on the final few turns your actions are extremely restricted.  This leads to the turn being reduced to a solvable problem, and you feel the intense Agricola-like pressure to play the optimal turn, because you know you can find the optimum if you think hard enough.  Combine that with how easy it is to build yourself into a corner with a combination of poor early-game planning and bad luck, and I don't think this is the game for me.  I'd play it again of someone asked, but I won't seek it out.  This was a bit of a disappointment.

Following that, it was time to call it a night and head home.  (Well, okay, I made a stop to swap my Lord of the Rings LCG set for Shadows over Camelot on the way home.)

We hosted Thanksgiving this year, and had lots of family around for the weekend.  My wife's entire immediate family, plus grandmother and cousins, as well as my brother, all descended upon us for the duration.  Twelve people in a 2 bedroom apartment is a tight fit, even in one as comparatively spacious as ours.  (No, not everyone slept here.  Most had hotel rooms.)  It was a blast, but I'm still recovering.  As I'm somewhat known in the family for my board gaming hobby at this point, it was almost required that I bust out the games with everyone around.  And, well, nobody had to twist my arm to make that happen...

Wednesday 11/23
7 Wonders (2-7 players)
The family all came to town, and after the elders and tired people retired for the night, we were left with seven people in the mood for a board game.  What do I have for seven that takes about an hour?  7 Wonders, of course.  This being my third play, I've mostly internalized the iconography on the cards by now.  Two of the non-gamers found it to be a bit much, but even they managed to play reasonably competently.  My brother, who had never played before, managed to trounce us all by virtue of a good military, a lot of blue VP cards, and some good luck in the final round.

Thursday 11/24 (Thanksgiving Day)
After we finished cleaning up from our turkey and carb feast, it was time for some relaxation.  Some of us just sat around while others decided it was game time.

Betrayal at House on the Hill (3-6 players)
While I was busy relaxing, the rest of the family was busting out this old favorite: Betrayal at House on the Hill.  (This is the older Avalon Hill printing, not the recent reprint with so many component issues.)  The game is a straightforward Ameritrash game that is actually mechanically quite similar to Arkham Horror.  The players begin as explorers in a haunted old house.  They wander all over, revealing tiles and building the house as they go, all the while encountering freaky events and omens.  Eventually the Haunt is triggered, and one player (determined by how the triggering omen and location) turns traitor.  The heroes are given one book, and the traitor another, and they separate to strategize.  Each team knows their own victory condition(s), but have only what gets revealed by gameplay to guess at what the other is trying for.

Two of the non-gamers got roped in and while they seemed to enjoy the first half of exploration, once the haunt happened, they quickly got overwhelmed by some of the fiddlier rules and poorly written objectives.  In this scenario, the traitor was trying to go "Alien" on a poor hero and breed giant spiders in his abdominal cavity (eeeew!).  The heroes needed to (1) free him from the web, (2) destroy the eggs inside him, and (3) get someone out of the house.  The poor egg-laden hero was killed, which seemed to render goal (1) really, really, stupid, but the rules failed to address whether he could be abandoned or needed to be carried out.  The family for whom this game was already a favorite still enjoyed it, but it failed to win any converts.

Dixit (3-6 players)
Following that overwhelming game, they decided to do something a bit simpler for the non-gamers, and brought out Dixit.  This one went over extremely well.  I think at least two people left with the intention to buy themselves a copy, and it got so raucous at one point that I couldn't even hear the conversation I was trying to have.

Sentinels of the Multiverse (2-5 players)
Having just gotten Sentinels of the Multiverse for my birthday, I was eager to try it out.  I convinced two of the guys to sit down and give it a run with me.  Sentinels is a cooperative card game where players take on the role of comic-book style superheroes to battle a villain with dastardly intentions.  Each player gets a fixed deck corresponding to their hero of choice (we went with Legacy, Absolute Zero, and Tempest), then you choose an environment (Megalopolis) and villain (Omnitron).  This villain/environment combo was supposed to be easy, and so we chose it for the first play.  The villain plays mechanically, so you don't need a player to actively control it.  In the game the villain gets a turn (play a villain card and then do anything the villain's character card tells you), then each hero gets a turn (play a card and use a power from one of your cards in play), and then the environment gets a turn (play one environment card).

While this turned out to be a fairly easy opponent, the game itself is awesome.  The theme is all-encompassing and it really feels like you're acting out a comic book.  The Omnitron is ravaging the city!  It has mechanical drones everywhere!  Watch out for the falling monorail!  The Tempest uses his weather powers to damage all the drones at once!  It was great.  Unfortunately, without going into a three-page essay, I can't give much more detail on the game than that.  Because each hero, villain, and environment is so individualized, describing this game would be so idiosyncratic as to be unhelpful.  If you want more, I suggest oyu go read this review.  Suffice it to say: fun!

For Sale (3-6 players)
We played this one late at night, when we were all a little too tired to do anything complicated.  The non-geeky non-gamer cousin loved it, and we all had a good time.  Again, it only took about 20 minutes, including teaching.  I'm really liking this one.

Friday 11/25
This is the traditional post-Thanksgiving Christmas-cookie baking day.  I took on a logistical support role (i.e. errand boy), while competent bakers did their thing.  As cookies were being frosted and then left to dry, it was time for gaming!

Wits and Wagers (3+ players)
I corralled five others to play my first game of Wits and Wagers, and they all seemed to love it.  This trivia game presents questions that can only be answered numerically.  Each player (or team) submits an answer, and the answers are ordered on the playmat.  Players then bet on which answer they think is correct, with answers at the ends of the distribution paying better odds than those in the middle.  The answer that is closest without going over is the winning answer, and that slot pays out winnings, as well as awarding the player who submitted it.  After seven questions, the player with the most chips is the winner!

We played two games, with my brother and I each taking one, and then I left the game while they continued to play a couple more.  It wasn't quite as big a hit as Dixit, but it seemed to scratch the trivia-game itch without the tedium of Trivial Pursuit's category crapshoot. After all, in W&W you can always just bet on the answer submitted by the person you think should know the subject.  (I do have to lodge a complaint, though.  One question asked how many elements were on the periodic table, and the answer given was clearly incorrect; they said either 110 or 111, and there are currently 112 named elements, with a few more having been discovered but just numerically named up to 118.  Not sure how that happened.)

Sentinels of the Multiverse (2-5 players)
This time we had a five-player game, with Ra, Bunker, Legacy, Wraith, and Tempest battling Grand Warlord Voss in The Ruins of Atlantis.  It was again intensely thematic, and our choice of environment proved fortuitous - the kraken kept eaten the bad guy's minions!  I think it's a bit too easy with five heroes, but it was still a ton of fun - enough so that I've already backed the Rook City expansion on KickStarter.  The replayability of the game with so many heroes and villains to choose from looks to be immense.  The only complaint is that the box doesn't contain any HP tracking mechanisms, which are required to play.  I recommend a pile of d10s.

Memoir '44 (2 players)
My brother was looking for something confrontational, so we pulled out this two-player war game and I taught him how it works.  He was confident in his ability to beat me and so, despite my warning that the introductory scenario was quite unbalanced in favor of the Allies, he took the Axis side.  He proceeded to lose, but no worse than the Axis usually does in that scenario.  After that, bedtime.

Saturday 11/26
Small World (2-5 players)
I'd promised my brother-in-law that we'd get a game of Small World in, after having taught it to them last Christmas, so we pulled it out and got a 5 player game going late on Saturday.  Two had never played before, but they learned fast.  Again, I made myself too conspicuous, getting a few good turns early (leading wit Stout Ghouls helps in that regard), but getting cut back fairly quickly by the others.  It turned out to be a runaway victory for the brother-in-law, as his first race of Commando Trolls proved too hard for us to root out in decline, and he racked up a lot of points in the mid- to late-game.  I still love this game, even though I'm winning much less frequently now than in my first few plays.

The next day, everybody shipped back out, and the wife and I collapsed into a much needed day of relaxation.  My gaming itch has been well and truly scratched of late, and so we'll see how much gaming I get in the near future.


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