Category Archives: Game Night

Nope, still losing…

 

by April-Lyn Caouette

After swearing I’d post after each games night… I’ve now missed two. Not out of perfectionism, but plain forgetfulness.

The highlight from Wednesday was that I got to play two of my favorite games with people who hadn’t played them before: Puerto Rico and Alien Frontiers. Puerto Rico is one that I gave away when I moved to California, and I was glad to find someone else who owned a copy they wanted to play. It’s one of those classics I think everyone burned out on long ago but still stands the test of time. I think my favorite part of it is that while there isn’t a ton of direct player interaction, you do need to pay attention to what your opponents are doing. Sometimes the best move is to make a move that will block your opponent from scoring more points than you. Too many euros are glorified games of solitaire. I also like that victory points are hidden, so at some level you need to keep track of how many points your opponents are scoring as you go. Are they making lots of shipments? Are those chips in front of them all fives or all ones? How much trouble are you in, really? It was a joy to be able to share this game for the first time with a friend who is no stranger to Euro games.

Then on to Alien Frontiers, which the other J hadn’t played before. Honestly my favorite thing about that game isn’t the game play at all. It’s the components. The artwork so accurately reflects the golden age of sci-fi cover art that it was inspired by, down to the colors they used. I love the mechanic of rolling dice and placing them as workers. And the only thing that would make the little plastic colonies from the Upgrade Pack better is if they were tiny snow globes I could shake between turns to keep myself entertained.

Saturday I played my brand new copy of This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us, which besides having an entertaining title is a great little filler game. Also had a chance to play another game of 7 Wonders Duel, which I have decided I enjoy a good deal more than 7 Wonders. Although I’m also feeling the itch to add 7 Wonders to our regular rotation again for when we need a 7 player game. I was sick of it for a long time, but I think I’m ready to play it again.

This weekend the Ventura County Strategy Boardgamers are hosting two consecutive Thanksgiving weekend gaming days: FATDOG (Friday After Thanksgiving Day Of Gaming) followed by DOGCAT (Days Of Gaming Continued After Thanksiving), which I’m hosting at my church building. I will do my best to NOT forget to post about those two events!
Source: GitNG @ BoardGameGeek

 

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.

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

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?”

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!

How Humanity was Saved by Giant Space Whales

I want to say interesting things about last night’s game of Microscope RPG, but honestly what I *really* want to do is go hit some thrift stores before games day this afternoon and women’s book club tonight. I’m going to write up a narrative of the history we built when I have more time to devote to it, but for now here is the broad outline of the history we created. Hopefully this will leave you curious and wanting to know more!

The Fall of Galactic Civilization

Named characters/places:
Lem Empire
Mongol Empire
Jay Edwards, scientist
Mary Parks, scientist
Officer Jackson, campus security
Peter, Mary’s finance
Leslie, Mary’s colleague
Danny, a five year old child
Malak, mystic
Isabelle, revolutionary, descendant of Jay Edwards
Ogadeh
Dina, lives on Mongol Prime
Dr. Stalinov, research scientist
Pedro, badass lab assistant
Rosie the Gorilla
Servitas, a planet
Cervantes, revolutionary
Janet, pilot
Stefen, commander


Allowed:

Magic
Interspecies Genetic Engineering
Space Whales
Empire
Environmental Destruction
Secret Societies (of humanoids, not of space whales)


Disallowed:

Religion
Nuclear Weapons did not cause the fall
Mythological Creatures
Faster than light travel
Superheroes (ie one person cannot singlehandedly save/destroy civilization through superhuman means)

Period One (dark):

Civilization is on the verge of collapse

Event (dark): Humanity mines the last warp crystal

Scene (dictated, dark):
Q. What happens when a galactic cruiser (The Titanic) runs out of fuel?
A. A catastrophic implosion, known as the “Great Implosion”

Event (dark): Great Implosion consumes Earth’s sun (dark)
Event (dark): The Great Implosion causes water to become scarce

Period Two (dark):

Water is so scarce it becomes a highly limited and valuable commodity

Event (light):
A team of valiant explorers travels into the center of the Great Implosion

Scene: (light)
Q. What does Mary Parks see in the Great Implosion that she writes into her notebook?
Setting: An exploration vessel traveling into the Great Implosion.
Characters: Mary, Dr. Stalinov, Janet, Stefan
A: The secret to (creating) water.

Event (light): Jay Edwards investigates a water-purifying animal (light)

Scene (dark):
Q. Who betrayed Mary?
Setting: Leslie and Mary’s lab.
Characters: Peter, Leslie, Pedro, Time, Rosie the Gorillia
A. Leslie and Peter

Scene (dark):
Q. How did Jay Edwards manage to steal Mary Parks’ ideas?
Setting: Mary’s bedroom/house. Characters: Officer Jackson, Leslie, Peter, Jay
A. Jay Edwards takes Mary’s journal from her bedroom during a homecoming party.

Period Three (light):

Mankind grows, having become reliant on Edwards’ space-faring purifying class of humpback whales

Event (light): Jay Edwards is imprisoned for treason
Event (light): Jay Edwards pioneers/discovers Mind Travel/Communication (while in prison)

Scene (light):
Q: How does The Mind work?
Setting: Jay’s prison cell, Leslie’s office, The Mind, Mongol Prime.
Characters: Guard, Leslie, Doctor, Jay, Dinah
A: Can only be accessed while sleeping/meditating; requires focus to interact visually with others; can affect into physical reality while in The Mind, but requires training/practice/skill; physical space inside the mind is a gray, formless void, much like fog. Language barriers still exist.

Period Four (light):

An era of creative expression flourishes as Mongols and Humans share idea via The Mind

Event (light): A Mongol shares his technique for removing traumatic memories
Event (light): The Great Implosion, which sucked most of the water from the galaxy, is contacted by the multitude of the mind, creating a dwarf planet that houses the Cave of Power (…. huh? I guess it was pretty late at that point…)

Period Five (dark):
The First Galacitic Civil War

Event (light): The people of the planet Servitas isolate themselves via The Mind
Event (dark): An ancient secret society known as the Falling Star rebel against what they consider to be the tyranny of The Mind
Event (dark): The creation of the mental dagger used by Isabelle to kill the Great Khan

Period Six (dark):
Lem Empire scours dissenting planets

Event (dark): The Lem Empire (“Lempire”), via the Mind, diverts water whales from Servitas

Period Seven (dark):
The New Mongol Empire nearly reconquers the galaxy

Event (dark): Mongol Prime mysteriously vanishes and only one person remembers it ever existed

Scene (light):
Q: Why does a five year old (Danny) remember Mongol Prime , which disappeared when he was one year old?
Setting: In a cave of power in some indeterminate place. Characters: Time, Danny, Malak, Jay
A: Jay Edwards (who is trapped in the pool inside the Cave) can project memories into people’s minds

Event (light): Death of the Great Khan
Event (light): The Mongols elect Jay Edwards’ descendant as their new Queen

Scene (light):
Q. Why did the Mongols elect Jay Edwards’ descendant as their new queen?
Setting: In a mental/astral space.
Characters: Unnamed general, multitude of generals, Isabelle, Khan
A. Isabelle killed the Khan, then his highest ranking general, and showed supremacy over the horde

Period Eight (light):
Mankind returns to its primitive roots

Event (light): Cervantes, last member of the Falling Star and the last one to know of the mental dagger, uses it to kill himself.
Event (light): The Lem Empire is intentionally, methodically disbanded from inside
Event (dark): Primitive man discovers long lost notebook

Gaming Can Save Lives

This article from Ars Technica is a great personal narrative about one man’s struggle with deep depression and how the board gaming hobby has helped bring him out of the darkness.

I have suicidal depression—and board games saved my life

This is the part I found the most fascinating:

“Board games give me something that little else does. They give freedom within a constructed framework; players are given the social space to bounce off each other like carnival bumper cars, while remaining safe and bounded. Everyone jockeys to achieve something—whether to become king, to solve the puzzle, or to save the world. The objectives and rules form a kind of joyous arena in a 1990’s-style Gladiator gameshow where the players and walls are covered in brightly colored padding. In your game you might be trying to brutally murder another player’s character, but the game will always make sure that everyone is having fun, that everyone is safe. Every rule is a safety net, letting you walk the tightrope without fear. To someone terrified and unable to deal with social situations, this web of gameplay and rules can be an unbelievable gift.”

This resonated with me – one of the things I appreciate most about the board gaming Meetup group I’m part of is how our events are welcoming to newcomers. All of us are socially awkward weirdos of one shade or another, but once we get over the initial hurdle of welcoming a new person into our midst, and they get over the hurdle of taking that first step to show up to a new place as a stranger, it’s easy to involve them in a game and bring them into the fold. The rules and boundaries of board games make for a safe and structured social encounter. No small talk needed beyond “Hello” and “What kind of games do you like?”.

When I’m having a bad day, sometimes it’s a relief to know that no one will expect me to talk about my bad mood, my worries, or my stresses. Around the game table, none of that matters. My friends will accept me exactly where I’m at and then we’ll put aside everything to immerse ourselves in a game or two for a few hours.

On the other hand, though, sometimes I do want to talk about what’s going on, and that’s where I struggle. Game night can be so focused on the games that there’s not much room for depth of relationship. It’s almost a taboo to start conversations that take away from the game playing. Anything more than light banter is a distraction from the real reason we’re there, and I find myself longing for deeper connection with these people I spend up to 13 hours of each week with.

I’d love to hear from other people about their experiences with depression and board games, or depth of relationship in gaming groups/game nights.