Impromptu Gaming

I got an opportunity to attend an impromptu night of gaming with a couple of guys from CABS last night (Jeff Chunko and Alan Monroe). I was fortunate enough to be able to attend while Lisa volunteered to shuttle kids from baseball, to piano lessons, etc. We met at Alan’s house which is way the hell southwest of Columbus out in the sticks of Galloway, OH.

First up was Railroad Tycoon designed by Martin Wallace and Glenn Drover. I’m ashamed to say, I’ve never played a real ‘Train’ game and I was excited to learn. I have studied games enough to know that ‘Train’ games are not just games containing trains. Ticket to Ride nope… Stephenson’s Rocket nope… In fact, it seems there really isn’t a clear definition. This Geeklist of Train Games should give you a good sampling of how the genre is divided.

I quite enjoyed playing Railroad Tycoon even though I’m so very bad on my first playing of any game. I’m one of those people that has to have a dog bite them squarely on the butt before I understand that the end that makes all the noise is dangerous. By the end of the game I began to understand how multiple connected routes are very important and which routes you strive for is very dependent on which colored cubes you’ll be able to ship along those routes.

The game has a degree of randomness to it that I didn’t expect as new cards are turned up. At the beginning of each round, you bid for turn order and not knowing what cards are available and how important they are really hamstrings a new player. Being new you also have no idea how tight money is going to be and I was very hesitant to get into a bidding war bidding on something I knew nothing about. In the end, it was fun and the production quality is top notch. The little buildings that you place on the cities that have been emptied of cubes serve no functional purpose other than eye-candy but it does make the board look exceptionally nice at the game end. The board is divided into three separate sections forming a HUGE(!) playing area.

As a closer, we player an older space-themed game called Andromeda designed by Alan R. Moon. The game consists of a board depicting seven planets, each with satellite moons. Each player holds a hand of cards. Each turn finds players trading cards to other players in an attempt to collect melds of cards depicting the desired planets. After the trading phase, players show melds of three or greater allowing them to move cubes from Earth to one of the planets, upgrade technology, upgrade their hand limit, or (the funnest part) select a random cube(s) for placement on the satellite moons. Each moon is worth points of decreasing value so you want to garner the higher valued moons first. The cube selector is a little gimmicky but it looks like a one-slot ash tray. You cover all of the cubes on the planet with the selector, stir (not shaken) and then pull back allowing cubes to be ejected from the little slot. If your cube comes out on your selection, you get to place it permanently on a moon. If it’s another player’s cube, then they have to return to Earth.

I understood this game from the beginning but for the life of me, I could not get the melds I needed when I needed them. I was also relatively late to the table in understanding the importance of maximizing technology upgrades so that I could benefit from the rounding up on the number of actions you can take for each meld.

Thanks for asking me to join you guys. I had fun. Okay…it’s late and I’m off to catch some sleep.


Origins Preregistration

Origins preregistration for its 32’nd annual gaming convention held here in Columbus Ohio, is now available online and I just booked my Fri/Sat ticket. I can’t wait to be exhausted from playing games. If you see some guy walking around in a stupor looking to play a game…then that might be me. On the other hand, it might just be one of the many thousands of people walking around in a stupor looking to play a game.

CABS – 05/05/2006

First off…sorry for the late posting on my CABS meeting last night. It just wasn’t in me to start a posting after getting home at 1:30am. This morning I had to help out with coaching Sophie’s fast-pitch softball team and get Noah down for his baseball practice.

I arrived a little late last night to a packed house of gamers. The CABS meeting space at New Market Mall is coming to a close and they’re looking for another place that can support 100+ gamers two to three times a month. I returned the copy of Carolus Magnus I had checked out from the library and since it looks like I might have to wait to get plugged into a game, I dug through the library cabinets looking for a good game to introduce to the kids. I settled on Fossil since I had vague memories of it being good for kids and adults but that it was one of those games you either like or hate. My plans are to try to give it a shot this afternoon if I can get Sophie to clean her room…

Jeff Wolfe was involved with a game of Shadows Over Camelot and they needed another player to fill out the roster so I jumped in for my first play of the game. Shadows is a cooperative game where everyone is assigned the role of a knight and you work together to win quests, fight battles & dragons, and search for the Holy Grail. The game is full of negotiation as you work together to defeat the game. On each turn, you must play out the game’s event which ranges from laying siege engines near the castle to drawing and playing a ‘bad’ black card. After playing the game’s turn you play out your heroic action in an attempt to help your fellow knights to victory.

You heroic action might include battling invading armies, destroying siege engines, fighting a dragon, attempting to recover Excalibur, etc. As you play, you’re always looking for ways to aid your fellow knights but you have to be careful because there may be a traitor among you. The traitor is a knight, chosen at random, who is trying to sabotage the game without being obvious about it. He must try to appear as if he’s helping out but his real goal is for the other knights to lose. As luck would have it, I was chosen as the traitor which is difficult on your first playing of the game. In the end, the game was won by the other knights but I also was not revealed as the traitor and I came very close to purposefully revealing my role late in the game by making a false accusation of another knight but the siege engine count fell back to low for me to make my move.

Shadows was my first playing of a cooperative game like that. I was left with a mediocre feeling. I’m not sure if it’s just not what I was expecting or that I went into the game with the mindset that I wouldn’t like because of what I’d read on BGG. I’m glad I played though and I like to keep an open mind. With most games though, I’m willing to play several times before making any rash decisions.

Next up was Flußpiraten designed by Walter Müller and Klaus Zoch. Flußpiraten is an odd cookie. The game is themed as a pirate game in name only. The play and even the artwork is not very piratey. Your job, as one of the colored groups of pawns, is to jump in boats and sail up the river to the end where you score points based on the position of a rotating color wheel.

On your turn you decide to either move one pawn or attempt to move a boat. If you move a pawn, you roll a single D6 and move one pawn that exact number of positions. You can only enter the boats from the docks in the harbor or from a few special spots in the middle of the river. When you’re in the river, you have the opportunity to jump into a boat with only one passenger if it lands on the spot where you’re standing.

If you attempt to move a boat, the two players represented by the pawns in the boat perform a rock/paper/scissors move by placing one of three items in their hand (a D6, nothing, or a small stick representing a club). You each secretly choose the item and then expose it simultaneously. There is a little chart that depicts all of the pay outs. Depending on who chooses what you may get kicked out of the boat, you might be able to sail forward (if you roll an odd number), etc. In this fashion you cooperate (or not) to move the boat up river towards the end. Boats can drift backwards in the current and there is always a cut throat aspect to trying to score by yourself by kicking people out of the boat unless you can guarantee that they’re not a threat on the scoring chart.

I felt the game was overly long for what you get out of it and with 6 you really have to keep the game moving as it does bog down.


Gaming to live, or living to game: that is the question

To apply the message from a recent homily to my life as a gamer is, at first blush, ludicrous and somewhat pathological. However, our priest’s message solidified what has gotten my proverbial shorts in a bunch.

My current level of gaming, or lack thereof, has had me feeling mildly depressed. I enjoy playing games with friends and the jovial atmosphere it creates. I enjoy the banter and the childlike enthusiasm. If I’m being true to myself, I have to also rank highly the feelings of escape from the pressures of the humdrum of everyday life. Engaging a group of friends in playing several different games over the course of many hours (and even days) is an intense experience on a personal level.

Our priest described a religious retreat he was on years ago. The retreat sequestered a group of like-minded individuals for a weekend filled with introspective games, activities, and prayer. The men and women in the group, although hesitant at first, emerged days later changed. Some argued that it changed their lives forever. Many came away with feelings of renewed vigor, euphoria, and the desire to retain that feeling. Most spent the next few days and even weeks trying to push away the intrusions of everyday life in valiant efforts to keep the ‘high’ going. Even years later, several in the group attempt to organize reunions and parties to share old times in the hopes of regaining even a faint shard of the special experience.

The priest mentioned that, at first, he to wanted to retain the ‘moment’. He wanted his life to be that experience. He tried to push away the ‘living’ part of life for the ‘lived’ part of his life. He could tell that his level of happiness was degrading in a vicious cycle of desire for the better times but he wasn’t sure how to correct it. His epiphany came when he realized that instead of spending all his time and energy trying to live his life as a protracted retreat, he had to dissect the retreat into smaller chunks and incorporate each of them into the fabric of his life.

Can you see where I’m going? My monthly game nights with close friends and my semi-monthly gaming with CABS, although not good enough to rank as a ‘religious experience’, are nonetheless very special. I have a good time and I enjoy myself. However, I’m still left with wishing it would have been better. I long for some lost gaming special time and I’ve been expending energy trying to regaining that. Instead, I think I need to relax, live life for what life brings and figure out how best to incorporate smaller, special gaming nuggets into the important aspects of my life like how to be a better father, a better husband, and a better friend.

Gaming is good…but life is better.


AGN – May 2006

Hmmm…where do I start? I know, thanks for hosting Paul. As always, I had a good time.

First up, I introduced Hansa designed by Michael Schacht to Mat, Ken, and Paul. Hansa is, strangely enough, one of my more favorite games. Many if not most gamers, classify Hansa as dry but that’s such a nebulous term. Regardless how you classify it, the rules are simple to understand and the game unfolds in a very non-chaotic manner. The ‘screw you’ aspects are kept relatively low although consciously moving the boat to present a barren landscape for the next player is an important part of the game. On the negative side, there is really not a lot a player can do when playing with four to prepare for their next turn. In general, I think the group liked the game and would play again but it’s not something you get out and play all the time.

Mat had to leave after Hansa since his young son is sick but as luck would have it Tim and Keith arrived to give us a five-some for the next game.

Keith chose Maharaja: Palace Building in India by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling. He had no memory of playing the game before during our AGN Late Show but as you can see, although physically present, he must have not been mentally sharing the playing area.

Making up for the lack of ‘screw your opponent’ moves in Hansa (or falling in line with the strong theme of the evening depending on your perspective), Maharaja is big on messing with the best laid plans of your opponents. The game was an extremely protracted exercise in making mistakes. There was a lot of palace building out ahead of the positioned Maharaja which triggered pitched battles of governor track movement. I bungled late in the game by not choosing to build my final palace on my action disk…DOH! In the following and final round, Paul built his final palace, Keith messed up like I did and didn’t build his final palace, and Tim and I built our final palaces. Tim eked out a 1 dollar victory in the tie-breaker against me (!!!). Man…I love to hate this game.

I think most in the group feel that the game is too long for what you get out of it when play is slow. Maybe I should throw an egg timer in the box and limit the think time to that. I’ve played the game in other situations and faster play does make the game more enjoyable. Ken expressed the opinion that he’d rather win a game from strong logic than chaotic happenstance or backstabbing but you have to take that with a grain of salt given that he’s still bitter from a roup gang up on him during a game of Diplomacy some 10 or 12 years ago.