A Game by Any Other Name

Set a posting schedule for myself and I already broke it. I’d like to think that calling my dad for Father’s Day and spending the afternoon with a friend is a good excuse. But then last night night I have zero excuse except that Trigun has sucked me in again. I felt a little guilty… but not enough, clearly.

Saturday I made a challenge to myself: I wasn’t going to wrinkle my nose up at any game that was proposed to me, no matter what. I’ve been far too negative about other peoples’ game choices lately, which has limited who I get to play with. I also think it reflects poorly on me – it’s important to me that my gaming isn’t just about me and what I want to do, but rather about supporting community and inclusion by placing others above myself more often than not. Even if it means playing some games that certainly aren’t my top pick. As we learned with Monopoly, sometimes giving a game a second chance has its benefits.

I showed up about 40 minutes after the meetup started, which meant that everyone else was already engaged in a game when I arrived. So I parked myself at an unclaimed table, and took the opportunity to browse the rules for the Bohnanza board game. I haven’t played it yet – every time I think about playing it I decide I’d rather just play Bohnanza instead. But the fact that my eye keeps getting drawn in its direction means I should probably give it a try at some point.

While I was doing this, a pair of women I didn’t recognize walked in. They looked a bit intimidated, so I said hello, asked if they were there for board gaming, and they said yes, but actually they were hoping to play some cards. Part of me thought “Bleh, I want to keep reading these rules!” but I stuck to my agreement with myself and said I’d be happy to play – what game were they thinking of?

Melds for the seventh round: three runs
Melds for the seventh round of Shanghai Rummy: three runs

Their game of choice was a rummy variant called Shanghai, which BGG has listed as just Contract Rummy or California Rummy. As they explained the rules I realized it was a progressive set-building game very similar to Phase 10, and the fourth player who joined us just as we were getting started was familiar with it as Progressive Rook. There was some confusion as all four of us women reconciled the version we knew of the game with the version that was being taught to us, but it didn’t take long before we were all on the same page.

A set and two runs in Shanghai Rummy
Shanghai Rummy: A set and two runs, and apparently one “buy” that hand

The unique elements of this variant are the ability to “buy” a discard on someone else’s turn if the active player doesn’t want it, up to three times per hand and with a “penalty” of an additional card from the draw pile, and the ability to trade the wild card in someone else’s sets or runs with the card it represents from your own hand. I wasn’t entirely keen on playing such a long card game as my first game of the day when there were a number of other people I’d been looking forward to playing with, but it was nice to be able to welcome a few new people to our community, even if just for a few hours. Maybe next time they’ll be brave enough to try something new!

Shanghai Rummy: One set and one run
Shanghai Rummy: One set and one run

When our game was finished, a few more people had arrived and were hovering awkwardly at various tables. So I roped them in to learning The Builders: Middle Age with me. One of them was a brand new board gamer and opted to just observe instead of playing, so it ended up just being two of us.

Using my circular saw to build the Stables in a game of The Builders: Middle Ages.
Using my circular saw to build the Stables in a game of The Builders: Middle Ages. Not sure why there’s a circular saw in the middle ages…

The Builders was a fun little game, but a little over the head of our newbie gamer. He asked if everything we played in the group had a steep learning curve, and I assured him that we played all sorts of games, and also that everyone in the group was friendly and willing to teach games to newcomers. I was impressed that he showed up alone and with no board gaming experience! To demonstrate that some of the games we played were short and easy to pick up, and to hopefully entice him to visit us again, I grabbed a copy of Red7.

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Forgot to take a picture of gameplay so here’s the box

At first I feared I’d misstepped again and picked another one a little too convoluted for a newcomer. I’d never taught it before and I always get tripped up on how tie disputes are settled – I understand in theory but when it comes to specific examples I get confused. He started to get the hang of it, though – just in time for the game to end… and for him to win. laugh

overview of the board for Wildlife

Another group had just finished up their longer euro moments before Red7 ended. I’d been hoping for exactly that thing to happen since I hadn’t played a game with a couple of them in a while. Two people took that opportunity to leave, and what was left of our two groups joined forces to play a game of Wildlife, which one of the guys had just gotten in a BGG trade. Thematically and visually, it reminded me a little of Inhabit the Earth, which I’m really sad that I still haven’t had the chance to play! (I don’t have the funds to buy it, so I’m hoping one of our more obsessive collectors picks it up soon.)

Crocodile player card for the game Wildlife
My crocodiles in Wildlife. They’re apparently not Plains Crocodiles or Mountain Crocodiles…. yet.

Wildlife was an interesting twist on an area control game. Each player starts with a different species with different abilities in each of six terrain types. Over the course of the game, you can “evolve” your species to travel and/or attack in additional terrains. You can also steal abilities from your opponents, and each turn you are required to auction off one of the action cards in your hand in exchange for food (the game’s currency) – then the player who wins the auction gets to take that action immediately.

The final scores for Wildlife
Men in the lead, followed by the eagles, the crocodiles, the bears, and finally the mammoths

My crocodiles maintained a strong lead for the first half of the game, but my lack of solid strategy started to catch up with me and eventually they were overtaken by the sneaky eagles and the pesky men. There’s more strategy in choosing which cards to auction off than I took advantage of, and that among other oversights almost certainly cost me the game. I let several other players amass much larger herds than I should have, and also probably gave my opponents the opportunities they needed to break up my own herds. As you can see, we had a pretty wide spread of points, and I was right smack in the middle. I don’t feel bad about that at all. Looking forward to giving this one another try now that I have a better grasp of what the heck I’m doing.

Tomorrow is another Wednesday, and then this Saturday is the monthly event I host at my church building. That already has 14 RSVPs and several maybes, and I know that at least five people always put in their RSVPs at the very last moment. So I’m hoping we can beat our March attendance count of 19! (We had an amazing 52 for International Tabletop Day in April, and then in May took a month off so I could recover and my team of helpers wouldn’t mutiny.) I think I’ll continue my “no turning up my nose” challenge through the rest of the week to see what interesting adventures come my way.

Loan Sharks and Restless Natives

Came home from work this afternoon and my roommates plus a friend had just finished a up game of Robinson Crusoe. They had just died after being attacked by a band of cannibals… but not because they were eaten. After defeating the cannibals, they then starved to death. If only they’d been able to eat the cannibals…

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Rewind to last night. After Wednesday’s game of Monopoly Deal at games night, I was actually craving a game of Monopoly proper for maybe the first time in fifteen years. I wanted to find out if it was actually the terrible game everyone (including me) has been claiming. But I knew I’d have a hard time getting the folks at any of my local meetups to play. What to do? Enter my housemates. Or at least one of them. M was all for it; B was hesitant when we first asked him before dinner, and straight against playing with us when we brought it up again afterward. That’s fine. Two players was more than enough.

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I’ve been told that if you’re going to play Monopoly, you should do it with the rules as written and omit all the house rules people like to use. In particular, putting payments to the bank on “Free Parking” to be won by the next player to land on it. I was a little sad about that, since it seems like Free Parking is a useless space otherwise. Also I like unexpectedly coming into large sums of money and Get Out of Jail Free cards.

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At first, the game was super slow. Roll, move, purchase property, pass the dice, repeat. But then, as we started to collect sets and run out of cash, things started to get interesting. One rule I never even knew about was that if you decide to not buy a property you land on, the bank has to put it up for auction. There didn’t seem to be much purpose to this in the early stages of the game, and it was actually pretty annoying. But as available properties became more scarce and our funds ran low, auctioning turned out to be a powerful way to get inexpensive properties and/or drive up the price of properties M needed so that she would be forced to either give them to me cheap or go further into debt.

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Several internet friends told me after the fact that the orange properties are statistically the most valuable in the game, and while I don’t care enough right now to look up the statistics I will confirm that holding a full set of orange deeds and steadily building up houses on them was a key to my victory. That, and owning three railroads, and owning all the colored properties on the first side of the board. I was also saved by the foolish deal M made with me – the remaining orange property I needed in exchange for the remaining red property she needed, plus she would waive the rent for the next three times I landed on her red properties. Considering she was deeply in debt at the time, it was too good an offer to pass up.

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As a child, I always assumed that owning Boardwalk and Park Place were important to victory. As an adult, I never played Monopoly enough to question that assumption. Now I know that it’s straight not true. M owned both, with a house on Park Place, and I landed on it at least three times at $175 a pop. It hurt. But not as much as the $900+ rent she couldn’t pay when she landed on Tennessee Ave in the final turn of the game. I crushed her under my oppressive capitalist heel the celebrated my victory by taking a shower and going to bed.

Conclusion: Monopoly wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered it, and was actually a fun diversion for a few hours. It gave me a chance to hang out with M (and B when he wandered over out of curiosity for the last 1/4 of the game) and not have to think too hard about what I was doing.

Also, Free Parking totally has a purpose. Its purpose is to be a safe haven that means you managed to make it half way around the board again and don’t have to pay out to your opponents this turn. Similarly, being in jail can actually be a good thing once all the properties have been purchased. It’s three turns where you will probably collect some rent and not have to pay any out in return. Who knew a life of crime could be so cushy?

Is there a game that you either discovered wasn’t nearly as bad as you remembered it, or a game that you’ve dismissed out of hand in the past but might want to give a second chance?

All the Small Things

Warning: this is going to be an image-light post because my phone died at the beginning of games night last night. I managed to get exactly two pictures before we started our first game of the evening.

This was a night full of small games for me – I managed to get in six unique games, eight games total, over a period of four hours. Not bad! First up was Karuba. I’ve been wanting to try it for a month or so now, and B started bringing it regularly a few weeks ago. But each other time it came to the table I’ve been otherwise occupied.

Here is a picture of all my tiles laid out neatly in numerical order:

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And here is a picture of the explorer and temple meeples. I’m a fan.

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Immediately after this picture was when my phone died, so you’ll just have to use your imagination!

I liked this game. The combination of tile-laying, spacial puzzle, risk-management (should I lay down this good tile or spend it for movement points? Will I have enough movement left? Will the other players get ahead of me?) worked well for me. I wouldn’t want to make a steady diet of it, but I’d certainly play it again without hesitation.

While we played that, the other half of the room occupied themselves with a game of Monty Python Fluxx. I’m honestly surprised every time the more “hardcore” gamers play Fluxx – I’m not sure it’s anyone at our night’s favorite game, and even *I* wrinkle my nose up at it most of the time these days. It has its place – and that place is for playing in lines at con, playing late at night at con when your brain is tired but you’re not ready to give up and sleep yet… pretty much, its place is for playing at con.

This is the point where my memory of who played what when gets a little hazy. There was a long game of Panamax played off in one corner, a game of Evolution in the middle of the room, and on our side of the galaxy there were a half dozen shorter games, several of which I got to knock off my “to play” list. First up was Welcome to the Dungeon, one that I’ve been eyeing for months, but wasn’t entirely sure I’d like. “Press your luck” games can be fun, but most of the time they just irritate me. Welcome to the Dungeon turned out to be the former, I’m happy to say, although I wish it had gone on a little longer. I feel like just as we were getting the hang of it, it was over. Maybe if we were more devious with our playing we could have extended the game longer.

Next up was Monopoly Deal. I wouldn’t normally play this sort of game (ie games based on major game company franchises) but I’ve been more willing to give them a chance since I learned that Yahtzee Free for All is actually a pretty fun game. My mom sent me this one in her last care package, and I’ve been looking forward to giving it a try so I could report back to her. It was a success! It some of the parts of Monopoly I like (set collecting, demanding money from your friends) and none of the parts I hate (playing for much too long, landing on your opponent’s properties over and over and over again, hating your friends). Playing it also made me realize that I haven’t played actual Monopoly in maybe 15 years. My roommates and I may remedy that tonight so I can see whether it’s actually the terrible game I’ve been claiming all this time.

Since the rest of the room was still busy in their long games, the three of us kept gaming together, and found three more games we could all agree on – and they all happened to be cooperative! We played two rounds of FUSE, and didn’t win either of them. Although I think we would have won the second round if another restaurant guest hadn’t come over and said “Okay, I’m curious. What are you playing? It looks fun!” I think I did a pretty good job of chasing her away politely by saying, “We’re playing this game called FUSE where you have ten minutes to defuse the bombs in this deck of cards – and we have about four minutes left.” I would have loved to explain further but bombs are Serious Business. I did hold up the box lid for her to see, probably costing us the game but it made me feel less rude.

Two games of that was about all the stress I could handle, so then we moved on to a couple games of Mysterium (bringing my total count for my 100 Play Challenge up to a whopping 17). Turns out being a psychic in a three player game is even harder than being a psychic in a 4+ player game! Of course, we did play on hard mode, too, which made it even trickier. Winning one out of the two games felt pretty good.

To finish the evening off we played a quick 3-player game of Codenames, which we just barely managed to win against the dummy blue team. And that was that! Another Wednesday in the bag.

Now, I’m off to play Monopoly without the help of the “money on Free Parking” rule I’ve always played with. Wish me luck….

Gamers Gone Wild

I hereby vow to do a better job of sticking to a schedule. Here it is Wednesday, almost time for another gaming meetup, and I haven’t blogged about the weekend’s gaming. Plus I have these great Youtube videos I want to share!

On Saturday I took a leisurely drive up the 118 to visit friends in Moorpark who were throwing a “board games and relax” party. I was actually looking more forward to the “relax” part of that invite, as occasionally it would be nice to have a conversation with my friends that doesn’t involve resource management, rules manuals, passing dice, and negotiating treaties.

That… kind of happened. I did have some lovely conversation with one of their friends about indie roleplaying games, and I’ve added a whole bunch to my list of games to try: Lady Blackbird, World Wide Wrestling, Sorcerer,The Final Girl, and Night Witches. He invited me to join in their Apocalypse World game but as much as I’d love to, I think joining a regular RPG campaign isn’t a good fit for my schedule. We left with an understanding that we’ll make some one-shots happen at some indeterminate point in the future. Also he was super jealous that I had the chance to game with Vincent Baker once upon a time. If only I’d known what I had and taken more advantage of living in MA!

Because we were all gamers, there was no way we were going to have a get-together without some games getting played. While we waited for pizza we enjoyed a game of Aye, Dark Overlord. Which it turns out is a lot more fun when you don’t try to use too many rules and just enjoy blaming each other for being bad minions. “Well, you see, your Lordship, yeah, I was going to use my magic wand just as L told me to, but it turns out the wand was made from the wood of an ancient tree, and it didn’t have any magic power. So I sent K to the scorched desert to find a new one. It’s really HER fault the mission failed.” This needs to make its way to our game nights more often.

After we had filled our bodies with delicious pizza, Codenames was next to the table. My new RPG buddy was itching to try it out, and I am always more than happy to teach it. I think maybe I should have used that for my 100 play challenge instead of Mysterium!

After three rounds, we switched to Telestrations. I haven’t decided yet if I like it less or more than its big brother Telephone Pictionary, but in either form it’s a worthy addition to any game night. Adding to the challenge/hilarity was the team of father-and-five-year-old-girl. I wish I’d taken pictures of their artwork!

Once the kids had left, the rest of us settled in for some games of Fibbage. It seems like that has become the default way to end the evening at least half the time at our gaming parties. It is also the time that we are the most mature. Even if there hasn’t been drinking involved, most of the answers end up devolving to fart and booby jokes, because really, winning is secondary to getting your friends’ approval as the funniest liar and deep down we’re all ten-year-olds pretending to be adults. Also, somehow, T and K won a few rounds despite not even being there.

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Thus ended another night of gaming. I used to be super snobby about party games, and I’m glad to discover there are party games I enjoy that my friends also enjoy. Gone are the days when I have to cringe as yet another game of Pictionary, Charades, or Trivial Pursuit comes out of the closet.

Also, I promised some videos. First, the reasons that Heroquest is the best game ever made. It’s hard to argue with this guy’s logic. If it wouldn’t mean taking Heroquest away from a seven-year-old who’s really enjoying it with his dad, I might try to retrieve my copy from MA after watching this excellent argument.

Then there’s this French video that Stuart shared on his blog today. It’s funny because it’s all true, down to the confused reactions of non-gamers.

However, just once I’d like to see a video where the gamers are predominantly women and the non-gamers are men. Us ladies game too! And we have the same difficulties in communicating with non-gamers that you menfolk have. I don’t understand why more women aren’t interested in this hobby (and not just because their husbands and boyfriends drag them into it). I guess it’s the same reason that math and science are always struggling to find ways to get more women involved. It’s frustrating. Sometimes it would be nice to complain about resource management AND my nails to someone who isn’t going to simply be tolerating me on one or the other of those topics.

A Strange Game

Last night being Friday night and also the release of the first season of Voltron: Legendary Defender on Netflix, a couple of the guys and I grabbed some Chinese takeout and put Netflix up on our church projector screens while they did some work around the sanctuary.  I figured it was a  perfect time for me to catch up on my blogging.
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Sadly, I underestimated how distracting awesome robotic space lions would be, so blogging was only moderately successful and here I am finishing it up on Saturday morning instead.

Twilight Struggle was the first challenge of Wednesday evening’s games. While K refreshed my memory on the rules from the explanation he gave me at Gamex, the rest of the gang played a short game of Yardmaster, and then settled in for a not-short 7-player game of Caverna: the Cave Farmers.  Yikes.

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This game is not for the faint of heart.

T.S. wasn’t nearly as mechanically complicated as I expected it to be. Cutting my teeth on games like AgricolaEclipse, Twilight Imperium, and Kanban: Automotive Revolution made it a lot less intimidating than it would have been before those monsters. Not that it was easy or I came anywhere close to not getting completely crushed. So many things to keep track of! So many decisions! So much potential for mistake! So much opportunity for global thermonuclear war! (I kept wanting to make obscure War Games references but most people haven’t watched it as often or as obsessively as I have.)

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I opted for the strategy of making the rookie mistakes in my first game so I could see what would happen. So far I’ve learned to coup often and especially when I have the advantage (and before DEFCON drops too low), to not get too excited about non-battlefield countries, and to definitely not ignore Africa in the mid-game. That last one was what ultimately lost me the game – the US should not have been able to score 11 points in one go, but I was too busy trying to increase my standings in Central America to notice or care about the US domination in Africa.

Playing Vietnam Revolts early on gave me an early advantage in Southeast Asia. It didn't last.
Playing Vietnam Revolts early on gave me an early advantage in Southeast Asia. It didn’t last. K really fought to keep India and it went downhill for the USSR from there.

I was happy to discover that not only did I not hate this game – despite losing I actually really enjoyed myself.  I would happily play again.

Since it was 9:30 and the other seven weren’t anywhere near done with ultramega Caverna, we decided we had time for one more short two-player game before it was time to be responsible adults and head home to sleep. I saw that one of the guys picked up the chess-like game Onitama at Gamex, and I’d just learned about it on BGG earlier in the week. It claimed to take 15 minutes to play, which sounded exactly right.

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At first it seemed like 15 minutes was much too short an estimate for how much thought we were putting into our moves, but then the game ended suddenly when K realized he had me not in check but in checkmate. You win this time, sir, but next time I’ll be ready for you! (And will probably still lose, but whatevs.)

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Demonstrating his mad kung-fu skillz

When I first started in modern board gaming, my problem was finding enough good two-player games to play. I didn’t have a regular gaming group anymore, so it was just me and my then-husband. We played a lot of cribbage, Hacienda, and Munchkin (until I refused to play it with him anymore).  Now I have the opposite problem – so much of my gaming is in large groups of ten or more that I don’t get to enjoy two-player gaming as often as I’d like. Gaming in groups of 4-5 is great, but sometimes I’d prefer the intimacy of one-on-one gaming with a good friend, or as a way to know a new friend better. And there are so many more great two-player games available than there were in the mid 2000’s (or at least, a lot more that I know about now that I’m in community with other board game collectors).

Now that I’ve played Twilight Struggle, I only have two more games on my BGG Top Ten list to play! Turns out both of them are massive Vlaada games, too: Mage Knight and Through the Ages. (Technically the updated version of Through the Ages is also the top ten, but I’ve been told they’re similar enough that I can safely count playing one as having played both.) If only I were close enough to attend Vlaada Con

Nothing New Under the Sun

I’ve been following the Origins Game Fair 2016 preview and realizing just how often games just recycle the same themes. How many of the games we play involve space battles, farming in medieval Europe, high fantasy settings, or ancient ruins? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I love playing games that introduce an entirely new idea. The Gallerist may have been a difficult slog, but I’ve never played a game about managing an art gallery before! Games like Arboretum and Kodama: The Tree Spirits appeal to me because they’re entirely different in both theme and mechanics than anything else I’m familiar with. AndPandemic, a game about being disease control specialists, is one of my favorites (or it was until I burned out after 18 games ofPandemic Legacy).

So here’s my idea. Take the most boring job/setting/concept you can think of, and turn it into a game. Coin collecting (my numismatist father would be sad if he saw me writing that). Waste water treatment. Telemarketing. Watching paint dry.

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One of my nightmare jobs would be telemarketing. So here’s my pitch. The game is called “Cold Calling: The Fascinating World of Telephone Marketing.” You have a quota of marketing calls you have to make each day. But standing in your way are lots of different kinds of difficult people: people who lead you on for the sole purpose of wasting your time. People who argue and curse at you, lowering your morale. People who hang up quickly might actually benefit you, since you’d be able to get more calls in that day. Actually selling them a thing is just a bonus – your main goal is to meet and exceed your quota. If you fail to meet your quota three times in a row, you lose. Who can be the most successful telemarketer and get themselves promoted to Senior Cold Caller?

Now it’s your turn! Pick a boring theme you’ve never played or even seen a game about, and invent a game! Doesn’t need to be a good game, or even something you actually would want to play.

Humility, Community, and Communication

On Saturday I attended a friend’s wedding in the afternoon, but I also managed to make it to about half of the twice-monthly games day in Oxnard.

Since I showed up late, everyone was already in the middle of games. Once several of the groups had finished whatever they were playing, a few of them left and several more went off to grab dinner from the taco truck across the street. While we waited, the two of us remaining broke open my new copy of Kodama: The Tree Spirits.

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I won, and so I got to decorate my tree with the Kodama tokens. Cute game, and I liked the unique mechanic of growing your tree. I’m glad I added this one to my collection.

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Next up was my other new game, King’s Vineyard. We had some initial difficulties with misreading the rules and placing the kings way too far down in the deck, but once we fixed that the game made a lot more sense. I can see why this ended up in the flea market, but my main reason for buying it is that now we have two wine-themed games in my house’s collection. Seems like a good reason to have a wine-tasting-and-games party at some point! It’s also another pretty game. Not going to be great for color-blind people, though, which might be a problem.

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Around the time our game was finishing up, the other group was finishing their game of Star Wars Rebellion. One more person left, which left us with eight. Just the right number for one big game! But Codenames was vetoed, then Ca$h and Gun$. So instead we split off into two groups: I suggested that I wanted to learn Medina, and the other group played Orléans.

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I was in a weird mental place that day. As we played I thought “Medina is a lot like that Microscope RPG we played! You start out with a blank slate, not much idea of where to start, and no real idea of how the game is going to progress. Then as time goes on you start to see what kind of a city you’ve been building together.” The difference of course being that Medina is non-cooperative and cut-throat. It’s also beautiful. The designers really put thought into their component design and created an attractive as well as a challenging and enjoyable game.

I lost miserably, though. L, our young 21 y/o whippersnapper, is a pretty logical lad, and I should know better than to think I can win when I play against him. Or engineers and mathematicians. Of which we seem to have a lot. I was a philosophy & religion major – while I’m busy thinking about how interesting the various strategies are, everyone else is busy winning…

Medina was much faster than Orléans, so one of our brave party suggested some four-player rounds of Codenames, teams straight across the table.

My teammate and I have played Codenames and similar non-verbal clue-giving games together before and discovered that we think very differently. So, our pre-game conversation went like this:

Him: “Now remember, I’m an engineer.”
Me: “Uh huh. And?”
Him: “That means you have to think like an engineer when you give me clues.”
Me: “… I have no idea how to do that.”
Him: “… We are going to lose.”

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In fact, we won 2/3 of the games, and only one of those wins was because the other team guessed the assassin word. It required some extra mental gymnastics on both our parts, though, to not only think of good clues but ensure those clues that were also compatible with the way the other one thinks. At one point I actually opted to pass after my first guess: his clue was “soldier, 2” for the words “draft” and “dress”, and while I was leaning towards “dress” for my second guess, it seemed too unlike him to make the leap from “soldier” to “dress uniform”. Which is exactly what he had done, despite it not being his normal kind of clue, because he figured I would make the connection. Bit of a “Gift of the Magi” situation right there.

It was an educational game for me. Previously I had decided that he just wasn’t good at those sorts of games. We never seemed to be in sync and I consider myself to be a master clue giver. (Also super humble.) But what I realized was that I was being really arrogant and self-important in assuming that “thinks like me” is the same thing as “good”. I feel like a jerk. Sorry, dude.

It also got me thinking about the importance of humility to community. In the context of gaming community, it means realizing that different people have different styles of learning, play, and thought. Community requires a the humility of “my way isn’t the only way,” and a willingness to sometimes step outside your own familiar comfort zone to make room for others in a game. What makes a gaming group a community instead of just another social night is that we don’t always insist on our own way to the exclusion of others. We make adjustments. Sure, we can make our preferences known, but if we can’t be flexible and sometimes focus on the enjoyment of our fellow gamers over our own wants, we’re not being a community. At that point we’d be a clique, the same kind that most of us have some experiences with, and most of them negative.

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Speaking of humility, nothing makes one more humble than making jokes that fall flat more often than not, as usually happens when I play our last game of the evening, Fibbage. Our host decided he wanted to take advantage of his church’s projector screen before we left for the night, so the six of us who were left gathered in the sanctuary with our phones and played a few rounds. Fibbage is a great little game and it should be part of every party host’s game collection if you have the internet and smartphones.

Betrayal at the Restaurant by the Sea

On Tuesday night I was reminded the hard way that BoardGameGeek‘s blogging platform doesn’t have autosave…

So my session report for The Extraordinarily Horrible Children of Raven’s Hollow will have to wait another few days. I’ve been having trouble catching up to my normal blogging routine – even with the extra day to recover from Gamex, I’ve felt off all week. But that wasn’t enough to keep me away from my weekly gaming meetup at the diner by the sea!

First on the agenda was a game of Phase 10. We’d tried to play it before but ended up abandoning it an hour and a half in on phase 5. We’ve been determined to play it through to the end, and this was as good a night as any.

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Phase 10 is one of the games that I played with my family growing up, and I have fond memories of playing with my mother, my aunts, and my grandmother. My mother is at her most relaxed when we play something like Phase 10 or Skip Bo, which is probably where some of my love of gaming comes from. So it was heartwarming to have my friends play with me and enjoy it with plenty of laughter.

Even though it’s a rummy variant, the addition of “skip” cards makes it above all a game of alliances and betrayals. At first, the battle lines are drawn arbitrarily. Then, a leader begins to emerge, and the target becomes… no, not the winner, but usually the person who is most guilty of skipping other players. Rivalries form. Heated words are exchanged. Shrieks of dismay are uttered.

IMG_7440(Why make phase 6 with a run of 9 when you can go out with a run of 11?)

Near the end of the game, new alliances form: those who are determined to prevent the current leader from winning versus those who are simply ready for the game to be done already. Then someone goes out on phase 10 and it’s finally over.

I think it will be a long time before this one is brought to the table again, but eventually memory fades…

After Phase 10 was done, Matt broke out a new game he bought last weekend at Gamex called Deception: Murder in Hong Kong. I’m not sure how I feel about this one. In concept, it’s an interesting idea, and incorporates a lot of things I enjoy – non-verbal communication, mystery, accusing your friends of murder. In practice, it was much too easy to figure out who the murderer was. Either we got lucky, in both of our two games, the two murderers weren’t nearly as clever as they could have been, or we’re all just really good at these sorts of games after playing 12+ games of Mysterium and countless games of Codenames together. There are more advanced rules, so we’ll have to try those next time.

IMG_7442(Cards for the Forensic Scientist to give clues to the investigators.)

IMG_7441(Potential murder weapons and clues. None of the Californians knew what a mosquito coil was, which amused me greatly.)

In the time it took us to play these two games, the rest of the group played Karuba (which I was bummed to have missed), Panamax, Colt Express, and Suburbia.

I’d never heard of Panamax before, so I looked it up just now on BGG, and followed an intriguingly-titled link for Scarlett Johansson’s Quick Start Guide to Panamax. I can see it has cards and dice and a fair number of moving pieces, so that’s a good start. I like all those things. But the main reason I’m even mentioning this guide is the large amount of space it devotes to humorously addressing the question, “What the heck is medium-heavy?”

Weekend in my Happy Place

Feeling a little bit more rested now, but still feeling a bit drained from too little sleep four nights in a row. So far, no con plague though. I have a wedding to go to this weekend, so I’m hoping to keep it that way. Lots of water and vitamins and hand-washing for me.

Day 1 – Friday

Friday night was pretty quiet. After a relatively uneventful drive down the 101 and the 405, I made it to L.A. at about the time I expected, picked up my badge, met up with my roommate for the weekend, dropped my stuff off in the hotel room, and then settled down in the open gaming room with my convention program. I circled a number of RPGs and events and ended up attending almost none of them, as is usually the case. I consider it a win when I’m too busy enjoying myself to check out the scheduled events, though.

My main goal for Friday night was to make it for the playtest of The Extraordinarily Horrible Children of Raven’s Hollow, at least to observe – I was the third alt on the waiting list, so it didn’t seem likely that I’d actually be able to play. Turns out, they were willing to play with up to ten, and we had nine. So it worked out!

I’ll devote a separate post to that game – it was drastically different than the game I played at home with my friends a few weeks ago, and some very interesting things happened. It’s always fascinating to me to see a group of complete strangers gel together over the course of a few hours. Alliances were formed, hearts were broken, creepy little children got away with murder, literally. The game took some dark twists that I found less than humorous, but even that was fascinating. I’ll write more about that another time.

Day 2 – Saturday

Saturday morning I grabbed some breakfast then headed down to open gaming. Since most of my friends were arriving that morning, and the rest weren’t awake yet, I decided to set up …and then, we held hands to see if I could get any strangers to play with me. Zack Lorton recently did this at Geekway to the West, so I wanted to see what it would be like.

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It didn’t take long before someone wandered over, although it turned out to not be a complete stranger, but rather someone who recognized me from our Ventura County Tuesday meetup. (I was surprised, since I’ve only been to that meetup four or five times and didn’t think I was particularly social.) He went away to check on friends he had planned to meet up with, then came back over and said he had time before they started their game. So we gave it a try.

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The game went pretty well… and then it didn’t. We tried again, and we nearly won that one… but neither of us could find a way to make it into the center with our emotions balanced, our draw pile was running out, and eventually we were just stuck. Turns out that if you’re not playing with someone intent on making tongue-in-cheek comments about the theme as you play, the theme does get lost in play. But it’s still a great little strategy game and the added twist of not collaborating on strategy although it’s cooperative is still interesting, even if you’re not actively talking about relationships.

A few of my friends had come by at that point, and we popped up to the event hall for a Food Chain Magnate 101 to decide if we should say “okay!” or “Hell no!” next time M asks us to play. There were too many people crowded around the table and the GM’s voice didn’t carry, but I think I’ve seen enough to convince me I’d like to try it out. Also there was a dude taking notes in shorthand. Very cool. I’ve never actually seen anyone using it.

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 That afternoon after getting back from lunch in town with a local friend, I found a friend sitting by herself in the hotel lobby while her husband played a game of Star Wars: Imperial Assault up in the war gaming room. I had just checked Dice Heist out of the games library after being curious about it in the vendor hall, so we grabbed some fancy frozen coffee drinks from the cafe and cracked it open. We were busy trying to figure out whether the purple gem counted as a gem or an artifact when a man walked by, saw us puzzling, and asked if he could answer our question. “I make that!” he said, by which he meant his company did. The helpful AEG employee answered our question and we got on with our game. Only at con! Fun little game – I played it later with the boys after we were braindead on Sunday night. Not sure I’d get enough play out of it to spend the money for it, but definitely adding it to my wish list.
 IMG_7411 (Yes, those are doges playing poker. My favorite card in the deck.)

Later that night, my friend K and I watched a 101 for Inhabit the Earth (which looks great!) and then went looking for a game to play – J was tied up in an intimidating-looking 9-player game of Eclipse (which he won! Yay!), S & K were off at a dinner reservation, M was… somewhere? I’ve been wanting to learn Twilight Struggle for a while now, and I knew he was familiar with it. So we decided to check the ancient first edition out of the games library and head over to the war gaming room for a tutorial session for me before dinner. We figured after dinner we would return and actually play.

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(This is what 9-player Eclipse looks like.)

War gaming is a whole new level of nerd that I find intimidating, fascinating, and very male. Walking into that room felt like stepping into a foreign land. I felt like an invader and a brave explorer. Of course, no even batted an eye, and quite possibly they were the most chill gamers in the place. I guess you’d have to be, to play games that can last multiple days…

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(Apparently this is what modern war gaming looks like – why deal with tiny pieces when you can just play on laptops and a freaking big TV?)

So, Twilight Struggle. I feel like even going through a rules explanation was an upgrade to my nerd status, and I say that in the most complimentary, affectionate way possible. It was less intimidating than the first time I learned Twilight Imperium or Eclipse, come to think of it, but it was still a lot of information to absorb. I’m am really looking forward to playing a game, although I expect to be thoroughly trounced by whoever I get the pleasure of playing with.

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(Dinner, beer-by-the-oz, and great company at Zpizza – the perfect way to rest my tired brain cells.)

We ended up not having a chance to actually play, because after dinner we only had a few hours before the scheduled game of Mysterium I had signed up for later that night. So instead we tried out a few games of …and then, we held hands in some comfy chairs up on the second floor. And that was actually a much more interesting game for me than the games I’d played earlier in the day. My partner in that earlier game was basically a stranger, and so I didn’t care about his opinion of me very much. Also, we managed to engage in some light small talk as we played. K, however, played in complete silence once he no longer had any rules questions, and had a look of intense, unsmiling concentration on his face. It occurred to me that we’ve never sat in silence before – certainly never GAMED in silence – and it was WEIRD. I was paranoid! Was he unhappy with the moves I’d made? Was he unhappy to be playing this strange game with evocative title? I tried to start a conversation and he made a comment about enjoying the silence. It reminded me of every bad relationship I’ve ever had where our communication fell apart and my partner stopped listening to me. I was actually in a bit of emotional distress. It was very interesting.

We did win after our second play, and that was pretty rewarding! Then we headed back to the main event hall for the game of Mysterium, which I’ve written about on my 100 Play Challenge blog. It was amusing to play two games in a row where I wasn’t talking, though. Especially when I had a moment in our next game where I had to remind myself that it was okay to talk.

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Our friend J was in the second Mysterium game next to us, and when both games had dissolved, I dug out my copy of The Grizzled for one last game of the night. We broke open the whiskey that K brought and the cookies that J had baked, and set out to see if we could survive the horror of war. We did! and it was good. Thus concluded day two. I love my friends.

 Day 3 – Sunday
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Sunday all blurs together in a bit of a fog. There was breakfast, there was coffee (duh), there was bringing my luggage back to my car in the Hilton’s roasting hot underground parking garage, there was a game of Quilt Show with K and S, who made some very pretty quilts (and I admired K’s manicure), followed by another game of Eclipse which I lost miserably but enjoyed muchly. Need to play that game more often so I can actually start learning some strategy beyond “do random things and see what happens”.
 IMG_7430(Moments before I got my butt handed to me by the ancient dreadnought in the Galactic Center. I probably should have upgraded my dreadnoughts a little more before I attempted that…)

At some point we also played Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building Game, in which my character died but the rest of the team emerged victorious. I convinced (or perhaps told) the boys to try out the game of Once Upon a Time I had bought earlier in the weekend, and learned that they weren’t really excited about telling fairy tales. I thought they’d like it better than they did since they enjoyed Aye Dark Overlord the other day, but I guess accusing your friends of being incompetent minions is different.

M: “Once upon a time there was a fairy *play card* who lived on a mountain *play card* in a cave *play card* where she had been turned into a frog *play card*…”

Me: “You can’t do that! Only one card per sentence. You’re supposed to be telling a compelling story.”

M: “Ugh, okay, fine. ‘Once upon a time there was a fairy.’ Period. ‘The fairy lived on a mountain.’ Period. ‘On the mountain was a cave.’ Period.”

At that point, our brains were fried. We wanted to play more games, but the menfolk said that going up two flights of stairs to hunt in the games library was too much work, and none of us wanted to learn anything complicated. So, good trooper/sucker that I am, I volunteered to go up and send them pictures of any that looked good. One of them ended up joining me, we picked a few light-looking games, and returned to find K and M playing Spaceteam on their phones. So we played a round, made it to sector 8 before we went up in flames, and then called it a con.

Here’s my loot for the weekend (not pictured, the copy of Tsuro of the Seas I bought for my housemate.

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Another con in the bag. I am so grateful to my friends here, who welcomed me into their lives so readily less than a year ago, and to all the Strategicon organizers, who work tirelessly to make sure everything goes smoothly. As well as the hotel staff who put up with all of us weirdos three times a year.