Category Archives: Board Games

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.

Post-Con Recovery: Time to Introvert

Spent Memorial Day recovering from my weekend at Gamex. Gaming conventions are one of my favorite things, especially with friends. But after a few days of it, I need a day to myself to be anti-social and recharge my social batteries.
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I’d planned on blogging about the weekend’s activities as part of my decompressing process, but I just haven’t felt up to it. The day started off on a bad note when the next door neighbors decided to have friends and their kids over at 8am with little more than a fence between my bedroom window and them. So much for “I can drive back from L.A. late; tomorrow’s a holiday and I can sleep in as much as I need to!” I mean, I get it. The world doesn’t revolve around me and other people probably went to bed at a reasonable, responsible time for a Sunday night. I live in a responsible middle-class neighborhood now. But it does mean I was less rested this morning than I’d be hoping. I also stayed up an extra hour after getting home because I had lots of ideas for an RPG I’m brainstorming and needed to get them on paper. So there’s that.
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I’ll write a lengthier post tomorrow, but for now here’s some lists to whet your appetite.

Games played:
…and then, we held hands x4
Dice Heist x2
The Grizzled
Eclipse
Spaceteam
Quilt Show
The Extraordinarily Horrible Children of Raven’s Hollow (RPG playtest)
Mysterium
Once Upon a Time
Legendary Encounters/Alien

Games learned/101s attended (but not played):
Food Chain Magnate
Inhabit the Earth
Kodama: the Tree Spirits
Twilight Struggle

Games acquired:
Kodama: the Tree Spirits
King’s Vineyard
Once Upon a Time
Tsuro of the Seas (for my housemate)

Games I kinda regret not playing:
Twilight Struggle
Disposable Adventurer Gaming System (indie RPG)
Community: the (fan-created) Board Game? playtest
Haunted (indie RPG)
Inhabit the Earth
Synthicide

Passing the Buck

“It’s very simple. The ship basically flies itself. Nothing could possibly go wrong. But in the very unlikely event that it does…” So begins every mission briefing for a game of Space Alert, one of the most stressful tabletop games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. We were all old hands at it, so after a brief review of the rules for the advanced game, we were off on our ten minute voyage that should have been a piece of cake….

 Space Alert

And three games later, we still hadn’t won.

Space Alert is a 2008 game by Vlaada Chvátil. You may have seen me post about his game Codenames in the past, which has been spreading through my social circles like a flu. Or a wildfire. Or something else that spreads rapidly. If you’re active on Board Game Geek and haven’t heard of this game, you’ve been living under a board game rock. Just yesterday a friend I introduced it to earlier this month told me he and his wife liked it so much they went out to Target and bought their own copy, then introduced it to another couple who liked it so much that they bought it online before they were even finished with their first game!

But Space Alert is a different sort of game. It’s a timed cooperative game where you and up to four friends try to coordinate your actions so that all the lasers fire when they’re supposed to, all the batteries are recharged in time to power the lasers and shields, all the battlebots are discharged to the proper rooms to fight off invaders, and oh yeah, someone needs to wiggle the mouse so the computer doesn’t go into sleep mode again and doom us all. It’s chaotic and frantic, and inevitably something will happen to put a wrench in your otherwise perfect planning. Like, someone hits the A button (which fires a laser) on turn four when they were supposed to hit C (which recharges a battery). Or two people try to go down the elevator in the red zone at the same time, jamming it and thus delaying one person’s remaining actions by a turn. It’s hilarious, and frustrating, and perfect with the right group of people who like that sort of stuff (and who don’t lose their cool when things don’t go according to plan).

IMG_7356

Each game is randomized and narrated using a downloadable mobile app, and adding to the chaos was the fact that the other half of our gaming group decided to simultaneously play Fuse, a game that is also timed using a mobile app. It meant that the first hour of games night was pretty loud as the two groups attempted to hear their respective apps without yelling over one another. The restaurant must really like us if they’re willing to put up with us each week!

When we were tired of losing at Space Alert, we moved on to an even sillier game R. brought with him called Aye, Dark Overlord. Imagine Once Upon a Time, but with inept minions. One person plays the Dark Overlord, who sets the scene by playing a series of card and using them to describe a mission he sent his minions on. The rest of the players are said minions, and spend the rest of the game giving excuses to the Dark Overlord for why it wasn’t their fault that they failed at said mission, and then shifting the blame to another player.

I’m not sure whether the rules are bad or the rules-explainer was bad, but none of us ever felt like we had a firm grasp on how the game was meant to be played. So by the end, we just gave up on using the official rules and played as we saw fit, using the cards to craft amusing stories about failure and blame-shifting. Plans to fetch bottles of Scotch were foiled by tornadoes and walls and sea monsters, plans to bring a magical sword to an assassin failed because the assassin was actually on a floating city, and plans to retrieve parchment from a frozen mummy princess went awry due to a lack of proper winter clothing.

Conclusion: the concept of this game is great. Would play it again with either a clearer understanding of how the rules are meant to work, or with modified house rules to keep it running smoothly. It was fortunate that everyone was in a silly, open-minded and flexible mood. This was not a moment for rules lawyering.
Dixit

Finally, we finished off the evening with a game of Dixit, which I actually won for a change. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless. And thus ended a nice light evening of gaming, which was a relief before a con weekend. I will probably not get another chance to post until Monday, so enjoy your weekend! Play some games!

Gearing up for a Weekend at Nerd Central

This weekend is Gamex, a Memorial Day weekend tabletop convention in Los Angeles. I’m heading down there Friday afternoon after work and staying through Sunday, so I’ve started setting aside games to bring with me.

I already know that I’ll spend a good part of the weekend demoing games in the event hall and borrowing games from the sizable game library. It’s a great opportunity to try out games I don’t normally have access to and catch up on some old classics that I’ve missed. I’m also hoping to check out an indie RPG or two. There are guys that bring plastic totes full of their own games and need to transport them using wagons, hand trucks, or extra suitcases. Me, I try to limit what I bring to a single reusable shopping bag and what I can tuck into the extra space in my suitcase.

So far, the contenders are:

1. …and then, we held hands.

I picked this up at the last convention (Orccon over President’s Day weekend) after a recommendation from my friend Mike over at Innroads Ministries. I’ve had the opportunity to play it on two occasions – once when I bought it, and again on an afternoon a friend and I dedicated entirely to playing the two-player games that we don’t get to break out often. This is a game that I think would lose something if you focused simply on its mechanics and ignored the theme, and since I don’t know a lot of gamers who care much about theme, I’ve been holding back on bringing it with me to game nights. I think the con might be a perfect opportunity to take it out and see if I can get some strangers to play with me.

2. Mysterium

Because those 86 more plays aren’t going to play themselves, and I haven’t had the pleasure of watching complete strangers work together to solve the riddle of ridiculously vague clues in a while.

3. Spyfall

Not sure about this one. It takes up more space than I’d like for the amount I expect it will get played, which is maybe none. But it is a nice, light social game and I like that it requires a different kind of strategizing than most other games I have access to.

4. Cribbage

Thinking of just bringing my tiny travel board, although I’d rather have a three-player board on hand. You never know when you’ll find fellow cribbage lovers, but on the other hand, there are probably games I’d rather play given the option. One of these times I should join the cribbage tournament just to see what it’s like.

5. Codenames

This is such a great game to break out if you have a group of six or more and everyone is being indecisive, lazy, or worn out. I’ll probably take it out of its box, though – it packs up pretty tiny when you need it to.

6. The Great Dalmuti

Another light filler game that’s good with a group and good for a few rounds at least. Shouldn’t have a problem tucking it into my bag. I’ve only gotten to play it on one occasion since it was given to me in March, though – no one seems interested. I need to learn how to sell it.

Edit: 7. Eldritch Horror

I don’t get to play this nearly as often as I’d like, and since I’m not bringing many larger games, maybe I can make room for this one just in case some people are up for it.

Other games I was considering but that I don’t think will make the cut:

Parade – This is beautiful but I’m not convinced it’s a great game. Need to get more plays in but in the meantime, not going to bother bringing it.
Dutch Blitz – will I really find people to play with me? Uncertain. Maybe I’ll bring it anyway.
Dixit – Too many more interesting games will be available in the games library.