After Turkey Day Gaming

I convinced Lisa to go with me to the annual CABS After Turkey Day game day and after we got home Lisa said, “Well…I have to say that was fun”. The room was packed with about 100 fellow board gamers enjoying games and several gamers selling used and new games in a flea market. I noticed my friend Bob was reading through some rules and had to go in a short amount of time so Lisa and I sat down and played about half a game of Hacienda. He’d received a copy of the game as a freebie from the Buckeye Game Fest but hadn’t had a chance to crack the shrink yet.

After Hacienda, Lisa and I moved over to another table and one of Lisa’s fellow preschool teachers who was there with her grandson joined us. Wanting to play something light and easy to teach I grabbed FITS from the game library and we sat down for a bit of Tetris-like play.

Keeping in the same light theme, I taught Lisa’s coworker and another player TransAmerica. As you can tell from the image above Lisa never left the engine house and blew as all away as we all tied for the “losing” spot past the “end of the line”.

Next up, I taught everyone Oregon, a light tile laying game. It’s not all that difficult to learn but after you’ve played a few games you get a sense of the value of different items like gold mines, chaining extra turns, jokers, and group scoring. I won but that’s not saying much given that it was pretty new for everyone else. Oregon may look like a lot is going on but it is a relatively simple game.

To close the night, we played Dominion and as usual, Lisa won. The witch and spy were very active and Lisa’s was getting lucky pairing up her Throne Room with the witch making many of us grab two curses every time (I ended up with 8 by game end). I had moats, and chapels trying to shed cards but could never capitalize on getting rid of anything.

As I was talking to a few people, Lisa played a couple of quick games of Quoridor with her coworker’s son. I had a great time and greatly appreciate the effort CABS puts into these special days. I even walked away with an in-shrink copy of Amyitis I won in a free raffle. I’d like to say we should make it a regular after Thanksgiving family event but I think we’ll play it by ear. Our kids were glad to be at home (do we have to go!!!!) so maybe it’ll be just something Lisa and I do….but I can easily live with that.

Never Liked Battleline – Hello Gheos

I recently traded away a copy of Battleline that I’ve had for years and just never got into it. For my 9 year old, hardly played copy I got a like new copy of Gheos that although it’s not considered as good a game it at least supports more than two so it should get played more. In such a small package, Gheos comes with area control, influence, hand management, tile placement, battling, timed scoring, screw your neighbor, and more. Looking forward to my first real game.


After playing three games of Tobago at Great Lakes Games, I immediately put it on my wishlist. I couldn’t wait for Christmas so I ordered a copy using my gift certificate along with Long Shot figuring while a box is getting shipped I might as well put another game in it 🙂

Tobago comes with a clever three-part, double-sided board that you can mix and match to vary the layout of the terrain tiles. Once chosen, little “clamps” lock in the pieces so they don’t shift during play. When constructed the board depicts various terrain types (i.e. mountain, beach, forest, stream, prairie, and lake) surrounded by ocean. The terrains are broken up with a hexagonal grid and various items are scattered on the grid during setup (i.e. huts, statues, and trees).

The game also comes equipped with two decks of cards (i.e. treasure and clue) and numerous cubes used to denote possible locations of treasures. Each player takes a set of “compass roses” (small cardboard chits), a small wooden truck, and a number of clue cards. Player are attempting to collect treasure cards that denote differing amounts of gold (victory points) and to do so they must determine the location of treasures.

When the first clue card is placed next to a stack of cubes beside the board, it establishes the initial locations of that color of treasure. Clue cards use iconography to indicate the location of the treasure (e.g. next to a tree, in a lake, in the mountains, not on the beach, …). Subsequent clue cards played for that color must restrict/narrow-down the location of the treasure and once the treasure locations are reduced to a single cube, the first player to drive his truck to the hex containing the cube can claim it.

Each time a clue card is placed, the player places one of his compass roses on the card and when the treasure is found (the finder gets an additional rose), treasure cards are pulled and a card drafting mechanism is used to payout the individual players that had roses on the cards. There is a little bit more to the payout mechanism than described but the gist of it is that if you invest more in finding the treasure (by placing cards), you’ll have more attempts at gathering gold during the payout.

After a treasure if found, the statues produce an amulet (a cardboard chit) on the first beach hex touching the ocean if you draw a straight line from the eyes of the statue and follow the hexes. The statues then turn clockwise to face the next side of the hex. Amulets are collected to give players additional abilities that they would otherwise not have, like performing multiple actions on a turn, removing a cube of choice from the board, etc. Having lots of amulets is a good thing and one picks them up by driving ones truck to their position.

The game ends when the treasure card deck runs out and the player with the most gold wins. The game is relatively light but takes a bit of spatial skills to envision how the iconography of the cards reduces the location of any given treasure. There are times when cubes are not placed on the board because there are too many locations. When this occurs, it may take several clue cards to reduce the number down to a point where it’s worth putting cubes on the board. Until this time, you have to be able to mentally picture where the cubes would be by just looking at the progression of clue cards.

The production quality of the game is top notch. The statues are very over-produced but really make the game look great. They are a bit fiddly with making sure you have them pointing in the appropriate direction at all times (don’t bump the table). The trees are made of the same resin material as the statues and trucks and huts are wooden.

I greatly enjoyed playing and I’m glad I picked up a copy for playing with family and friends. If you get a chance to play it, let me know how it goes; I’d love to hear what you think of it.

CABS November 13, 2009

I snuck in some time yesterday to attend a bonus, “adult-only/13+”, gaming night at CABS. It seemed like it was lightly attended but at CABS that means there may have been only 70 or so people (a standard CABS game night can draw 100+ people). I’d love to attend their after turkey day game-fest but we’ll have family over from Indiana and my time has been accounted for.

I took a few pictures with my new cell phone (Motorola Droid with the 5MP camera) but I’m not impressed with the results. It may be 5MP but the crappy optics make up the difference. I’m just too used to my trusty 5MP Canon G5.

I’ve had Attika on my wishlist for a very long time but, I know…I know, I’ve never played it. Bob and I played it two-player (supposedly the best number to play it with) and it lives up to its reputation. It supports 2-4 players, however, I suspect that 4 would be a bit chaotic. Attika is a relatively simple tile laying game where a small number of landscape tiles form the beginning of the board and players build on top of them from their own personal sets of buildings (the colored disks). Players are attempting to be the first to build all their buildings or connect two of the raised buildings (temples?) in an unbroken chain of their own buildings.

The landscape tiles depict various types of terrains (empty, water, mountain, field, forest) and each building played has a requirement on the number of adjacent terrain types necessary to build the disk. If there are insufficient terrain types surrounding the building location, players can make up the difference by playing cards they’ve collected over the course of the game. Costs can also be reduced by building disks in a specific connected order. I really enjoyed the game and I’d be proud to have a copy in my collection. It might be a bit heady for Lisa but it would be worth the effort to location a copy.

Our second game was A Castle for All Seasons. Bob had played before and owns a copy but I’d never tried it. It’s not that good for 2 but we gave it a shot. I’d agree…with two it’s a bit lame. I can tell the game could be quite good with more but there’s just not enough interesting interactions going on. It felt like we’d only just got started when the game was over.

Castle features the simultaneous role selection mechanism from identical decks like Mission Red Planet coupled with some Stone Age worker placement/resource gathering mechanisms. Throw in a touch of short game and end game scoring strategies and you’ve got a 60 minute game that would be good ender for a game night. There’s not a lot of heady stuff going on but the simultaneous drawing of cards steps up the meta-gaming a notch trying to outguess your opponents in playing some cards.

Bob and I finished out the night with a quick “standard” game of Dominion. Bob grabbed a thief but never was able to capitalize on it. My Throne Room and my Workshop kept coming up together in the same hand and there were several turns where I was able to pull in 3 silvers. By midgame I had an unbeatably stacked deck of money that allowed me to churn through the purchase of victory points to end the game in short order.

I stood around the library cabinets for quite a while trying to decide what to check out. I thought long and hard about Attika but I instead opted for an oldie but a goodie basic family game TransAmerica. Noah, Lisa, and I played it two times back to back and I’d be surprised if we spent 45 minutes total playing both games. About half way through the first game we realized we’d been scoring the missing double track links incorrectly but after that game Lisa called for an immediate replaying and as luck would have it, Noah won again!

TransAmerica is a fun little, light, game of randomly drawing 5 differently colored cards that name cities spread out across the United States. You job is to be the first to build track to connect all of your cities. You can only build track on the line that can be traced back to your starting pawn so eventually players merge lines to take advantage of other players expanding their networks into areas that get them closer to their goals. Most rounds ended with people only needing one or two links to complete their 5 cities but we did have some killer rounds where we were a long way off.

It’s a fun little game…probably not something I’d keep in my collection but it’s a nice change of pace to get the family playing a game together.

Great Lakes Games 2009

I attended the 7th annual 4-day Great Lakes Games board game convention this past weekend (actually Thursday through Sunday) and had a blast. I was elated to receive the invitation and couldn’t wait to go to what I hope becomes a yearly event for me. Dave VanderArk runs an awesome convention attended by numerous board game designers and roughly 100 hard-core board gaming enthusiasts from all over the midwest.

My first game was Power $truggle. I wasn’t particularly fond of the game but many must be given its high rating on BGG. I know Mister Cranky (above) was getting pretty cranky about the shenanigans put on by his hidden arch rival. Players vie for 4 out of the 6 available victory points and the first player to obtain them is the winner. The theme of the game is based in moving workers from departments up into department heads, board members, and at times the chairman of the board. Numerous mechanics play out on the departments portion of the board using a majority control mechanism. Heading some departments allows players to control the order of randomly drawn cards that dictate the length/actions performed each round. To gain the appropriate VPs, players are going to have to diversify across multiple departments or become ruthlessly cutthroat with other players. Bribes for control of various aspects of the board are built into the rules. There are some interesting things happening in the game but nothing to write home about.

Next I played a five-player game of Small World. I’ve said quite a bit about Small World in other blog entries so I won’t go into detail here. Small World is an interesting game but my interest level is waining relatively quickly. There’s only so much flying orcs and pacifist carnivorous gophers can do for you.

Next up was At the Gates of Loyang. The Evett family was sitting down to read through the rules to the introductory game and they invited me to learn along with them. The entire game, including learning, was long at 4 hours. A second playing wouldn’t take near as long but I suspect 2 hours isn’t out of the question. I liked the game and think it would be my preference over Agricola. I found Agricola overwhelming given the sheer volume of cards with text on them. I found that many options entirely mind boggling. Loyang also has a fair amount of text based cards but it’s more manageable since only a few are active at any one time.

Players play the role of farmers sowing crops into their fields attempting to grow and harvest goods of various types in order to meet the demands of regular and occasional customers. Farmers must meet the needs of the regular customers (think feed your people) every turn or they start getting upset. Producing product for your customers earns you money and you use money to buy victory points. The game has an interesting mechanism that allows players to buy a victory point at the end of every turn for $1. However, you’re allowed to buy more but you have to pay the amount for the value of your position on the track. For example, if at the end of your turn you’re sitting on position 10 on the track. For $1 you can advance to position 11. But to advance to position 12 would cost you $12. If you wanted to advance from 11 to 13, you’d owe $25.

Scores are very tight and after the 4 hours, the winner won by 1 point, I tied for 2nd, and the 4th player was one point behind. I liked the game and would definitely play again. Is it something I would buy for myself…probably not as I can’t see it getting played more than a time or two at most.

After Loyang I wandered around the room and sat down to watch a couple of guys finish up a game of Tobago. After watching them play for a few turns I think I had a pretty good hang of it and they were willing to playing it again immediately adding me to the mix. As it turns out, Tobago was one of my most favorite light Euros of the convention. The bits are great. The board is well made and the game play is surprisingly good. It definitely will be picking up a copy for my collection.

Tobago is an adventure/exploration themed game (thinly themed I’ll grant you) where players drive their little trucks around a hex based map in an attempt to pick up amulets and arrive at the one location where a treasure is buried. Numerous treasures are uncovered in a game and when one is found players enter a payout phase that favors the player that invested the most in narrowing down the location of the treasure.

Cards are played containing iconography that indicates where the treasure can be found. For example, the card may indicate that the white treasure can be found in a hex that borders a lake. A subsequent card may narrow down that the treasure is not next to the biggest lake. Subsequent cards my exclude mountains hexes, or distance from trees, etc. until the number of valid locations is reduced to a single hex. We found the iconography a bit difficult to decipher at first but it proved a non-issue after a few rounds of play. All in all, I greatly enjoyed both times I played and can’t wait to teach it to others.

As it turned out, one of the players I was playing Tobago with, was the guy I was buying my grail game from: Tal der Könige. He offered to teach me the game and to get in one last play. We set up the board for three and ended the game in a tie for first. I nice fitting for his last play and my first.

The game is an abstract battle of pyramid building. Several lots of chunky cubes of various colors are drawn randomly from a bag and put up for auction. Players bid chips with values 0-4 (several are zero but only 4 contain the values 1-4) and the winners of the lots collect the blocks. Players then move two special pawns by secretly programming their moves across the board by writing down the movement on a card in erasable marker. The pawns are moved (some may get denied access if a pawn gets to a location before another pawn) and then builder pawns are moved around the board. Finally players place the blocks they just purchased onto the pyramids they control. Pyramids vary in the number of victory points awarded upon completion depending on what number of colors are visible and the arrangement of varying colors. Unfinished pyramids can be stolen and there is a relatively healthy stab you in the back element to the game. I like the game but given that it’s a grail game, I don’t have to justify it to anybody but myself. However, now that I have my grail…I thinking I should probably choose another grail don’t you think?

Three teenagers were looking for someone to play a game with so I sat down and played Dixit with them. Dixit is a slightly gamier form of Apples to Apples. Players hold big cards in their hands depicting various images (they look like hand painted watercolors of various objects real and imaginary). If it’s your turn, you choose a card and state a word or phrase and lay the card face down on the table. Each player chooses a card from their hand the best represents your word or phrase and also places it face down on the table. The cards are shuffled and turned face up in a row and mentally numbered 1-N. Each player then uses one of their numbered chips to choose the card they think is the “correct” card. If you choose the correct card you get a point. For each person that chooses your card (and it’s not your turn) you get a point. And for the player whose turn it is, he only gets a point if some but not all players choose the “correct” card.

Dixit is better than Apples to Apples in my opinion because it’s the players who are doing the choosing rather than the judge. There isn’t as much laughter and ridiculousness but it doesn’t get old near as fast.

Three of us were looking for something to play and I suggested my copy of Valdora. During setup we hooked another couple of people so we played with a full compliment. I like Valdora. It’s a relatively simple pickup and deliver game with a bit of interesting mechanics thrown in to drive players to compete for specific deliveries. The faster people deliver the faster the game goes. The cool wooden “book” holders just can’t be beat.

I played FITS a couple of times during the convention. FITS is a very light, take your lumps game of sliding randomly chosen Tetris-like pieces down a ramp trying to cover and/or leave uncovered markings on the ramp. Leave the positive spots uncovered and cover up the negative spots and you’ll do well. That damned plus-sign shaped piece should be burned!

Matt Evett introduced me to several nice filler games and Cities proved a nice diversion. Each player possesses the same set of number squares depicting 4 terrain types and a few meeples. A primary player throws out 8 random tiles from the set of 24 and then flips up three. Players choose the same three tiles from their numbered stacks and arrange them in a starting position (they can much touch at the corners but not orthogonally). Then the primary player flips up a tile, everybody locates the same tile and you place it orthogonally on your “board”. You can then optionally choose to place a meeple on one of the terrain types depicted on the tile. The size of you board is restricted to 4×4 so at the end of the game you will have placed 16 tiles. Points are awarded for contiguous blocks of terrain types occupied by meeples and other various ways of having meeples look out over water north and south, etc. but in general you place a tile, place a meeple, and hope for the best. Good quick filler. Nice to grab when trying to align a couple of tables or finishing out the night.

My favorite “gamer’s game” of the convention was Hansa Teutonica. The game features no random elements and perfect information which makes the brain burn deliciously. I lost horribly in a four player game but it was the only game that had my brain churning for hours afterward working out how the game ticked. The theme is non-existent but to describe it without the theme is difficult. Each player possesses a “desk” where they mark the level achieved in various aspects. I can’t even remember the real names of the areas but suffice to say that advancing any area along its “track” is good. You take actions placing wooden cubes and discs onto the roads on the map and once complete you either create and/or increase dominance in a connected city or you take the special action afforded by the city (increases the tracks on your “desk”). You’re trying to build and maintain a dominance in your network of cities across the board but watch out because others can attack you kicking you off partially completed roads. However, sometimes that’s not a bad thing. The game features mostly end game scoring but points awarded early in the game trigger the end of the game once 20 points have been earned by a player. After 20 points have been awarded, then all of the bonus points get added in and the most points wins. It may not look like much from the picture but I’m itching to get a copy of this.

I attended a Teach you Tichu class Saturday morning that was really great. Tichu is a informal 4-player card game that is heavier than Euchre but lighter than Bridge in my opinion. It my initially feel l a trick taking game but it’s not. It’s technically speaking a “ladder” game similar to Lexio but with much more going on. We only had a chance to play a few rounds with coaches walking around the room and I didn’t get a chance to play any more that weekend but I would enjoy learning more about the game.

Ted Cheatham must have felt bad for trashing my butt in Hansa Teutonica because he sat down and taught me Expedition. Expedition is an older game that features locations on a map and three colored arrows that indicate the movements of a traveler across the globe. You have several hidden destinations as well as a few known destinations that you need to drive the traveler to. Player take turns manipulating the traveling arrows in an attempt to visit all of their assigned cities. It’s a light game but still fun.

After Expedition, Ted taught me a cooperative game called Der Hexer on Salem. I’m not a huge fan of coops but this was one of the funnest times I’ve ever played a game. Players move about the town of Salem and with the help of a witch, they try to gather goods from different locations necessary to rid the town of monsters that keep coming through the open portals in the town. Each turn monsters and even cards are turned up that keep everyone on their toes. You must work together to close the portals expose the Old Ones and narrow down who the last Old One you must defeat while closing the final portal. Monsters keep ruining your attempts to stop them as well as moving a marker towards certain death.

Ted said we were doing pretty well for about the first half of the game but then our luck started turning and the monsters were getting the upper hand. We battled back and finally got in a position to kill the final Old One and close the final portal. On the final move of the game, one of our players that was strategically placed to close the last portal died after going insane leaving the final portal open and killing us all. We let out a huge roar from our table to let everyone know we’d been killed. Der Hexer on Salem was quite fun.

I managed to get in a game of Dominion Seaside but we ended up not playing some of the new “seaside” bits but we did have some of the duration cards that last more than the current turn. I think I won the game but it was a bit messed up at the end because I missed counting the points in my discard pile when the third deck was exhausted so we had some of the cards packed up and points summed when I realized that I’d not counted some 9 or so points.

I played three quick games of Finito! with Matt Evett and his wife near the end of the night on Saturday. Finito! is really a mindless puzzle exercise of dealing with mixed up discs on a numbered board. A player rolls dice and after placing your discs you try to get them in order in the least amount of moves. I saw mindless but it was better than not playing a game. Great for closing down the evening.

I managed to play in an 8-player game of Long Shot. I think I like Long Shot better than Winner’s Circle. I like that you can bet additional amounts of money as the horse race progresses. In addition you have the option to purchase specific horses which nets you additional money if they win place or show. Players amass cards throughout the game that can help you obtain money, steal cards, adjust the placement of horses, etc. With 8 it took awhile to get back around to each player but it was still pretty fun. I like it enough I might try to pick up a copy.

And finally, I played a great filler called Scripts and Scribes. David Van Sweden taught me the game and I immediately taught it to another group. Not 30 minutes later I was back at it teaching yet another group. The game is a very simple set collection game where players hand out cards through a process that places cards in players hands but also creates a deck of cards to be auctioned off in the second half of the game. A single 6-sided die with a value of 3 is placed on a card depicting each suit and players will be granted the number of victory points shown on the die if they have collected the highest summed value in each suit. Some cards all players to manipulate the value of the die and others allow players to pay for auctioned cards. After the last card is won, players show what cards they have in their hand, the majority holders for each suit is determined, and the points awarded. You can play a game in 15-20 minutes but there’s a lot going on there. I wish I could get my hands on a copy but that may be difficult.

That’s about it. I had a completely enjoyable time at Great Lakes Games and look forward to next year. Too bad I have to wait that long. In the meantime, I need to get in some games…I’m having withdrawal.

Analog Game Night – November 2009

We met at Keith’s house this month for the November, 2009 installment of Analog Game Night. We thought we’d have 7 which usually causes us to break up into two tables but a last minute “can’t make it” brought us down to 6. I was a bit worried that I’d only brought a few good 3-5 player games but Jared bailed us out by bringing Bootleggers and Bob was backing up with TransAmerica as was Keith with I’m the Boss and King of the Elves.

We decided to give Bootleggers a go since we’d not played that before and I was pleasantly surprised. It took us about 4 hours to play given rule reading and our normal methodical pace but I was surprised at how fast it went.

Each player acts in the role of a mob boss managing the production stills that generate crates of hooch. To sell your hooch you need to invest in different sized trucks to ship them to the speakeasies that are open for buying. Players also vie for the controlling interest in the speakeasies by placing influence “gangsters”. There is a pecking order as to who’s trucks of crates will sell before others and the speakeasy doesn’t necessarily buy all that’s for sale. Crates of hooch that sell grant the seller cash as well as bonuses paid out to the majority stakeholder in the speakeasy.

Players vie for turn order by simultaneously placing a uniquely numbered card. Higher numbered cards go before lower numbered cards but the higher the number the more you pay to play the card. Going early gives players dibs on the numerous “action” cards that are on display each round as well as a “buy a new truck” card. The “action” cards come in several flavors but in general they’re good for you (e.g. get a new hidden still in the woods, roll more dice for hooch production, get a “gangster” for placement into a speakeasy, etc.) or a “thug” card which is usually used to attack or modify the rules of engagement (e.g. place a hit on a rival gangster, steal an empty truck, take majority control of a speakeasy for a round, etc.) The game also features a negotiation phase where players can attempt to rid themselves of crates the can’t or are choosing not to load onto their trucks. Players are free to negotiate whatever terms for the transaction but there’s no guarantee that the players stick to the agreed deal. They are gangsters…if you remember and stabbing each other in the back is, well, part of the territory.

The game is relatively random and there are a lot of opportunities to screw your neighbor but that’s the game and with the right crowd it’s fun to play the role of putting the hit on other mob families. I knew I was in a losing battle for dominance in any speakeasies so I went for the all out production route and bought a large fleet of trucks and had lots of production capability usually producing 12-15 crates of hooch every turn. In the end, my sales were just driving up the bonus points for others and I couldn’t keep up and come in near the end of the pack.

Bootleggers is a fun game if you’re in the mood for some gansta-fun. The game has some great production qualities with the nice plastic trucks and gangsters. Copies of the game are currently inexpensive and relatively easy to find.