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….

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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).

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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.
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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.

Every Night is Game Night

After our brain-intensive game of Microscope on Friday evening, I was ready for some time to myself to decompress and for my brain to rest. So after spending some time blogging on Saturday morning, I headed downtown to hit up some thrift stores to see if I could score any good finds. I didn’t have much success – I found a new wooden puzzle for my housemates, and a copy of “The Movie Game”, which appears to be a cross between Monopoly and something even less strategic than Monopoly. I opted to get it anyway, though, because the box art is lovely, and the “Movie Game” and “Meeting” cards contain enough flavor text that it might be an entertaining look at the cares of a 1980’s movie agent.

I also bought a new mug on a whim. A few of the guys at Wednesday games have taken to calling me “Cookie”, after seeing a picture of me in all-blue cosplay and somehow relating that to Cookie Monster. I think they keep it up because I find it a particularly unflattering nickname. But then I found this, and decided that they could keep the nickname. It’s even one of my favorite colors!

It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, so I took a scenic route past the harbor and down the coast to join the Saturday games day for a few hours.

When I arrived there were at least four intense games in progress including Stone Age and Russian Railroads. Eventually some games finished, new people arrived, and we started a game of Alhambra. Which I handily and gleefully won. Winning games is a relatively rare thing for me, so I made sure that I took a picture to remind myself that I’m not always a loser.

I had just enough time before I had to leave for a book club to either a) grab dinner or b) play another short game. I opted for (b), much to my stomach’s distress. There’s always time to eat later, but time with friends is precious! Then the trick was finding a short enough game that I also wanted to play. One of the women suggested Harbour. I was hesitant but allowed myself to be convinced.

I’m not sure why I’ve never wanted to play this game before, because it turned to be excellent for its size and length. I would happily add this to a collection of portable strategy games. I also liked that because of the constant changing nature of the market, there wasn’t much point in pre-planning moves, and I could zone out a little bit between my turns. My brain was still a little fried from Friday.

I like to think that I’m fairly openminded about what games I play, but lately I’ve been wrinkling my nose at a lot of games. I don’t think that having preferences is a bad thing, of course, but I do want to be intentional about playing what other people want to play and not just always pushing for my own gratification. At yesterday’s game day a couple of the guys grabbed Star Wars: Imperial Assault and said they were going to learn it. “It was nice knowing you all,” one of them joked (presumably about the length of time and focus they assumed it would take) and I had a sudden pang of envy when I realized that I used to be that person who was always up for grabbing a game she knew nothing about except that it was intense. So, something to work on. I’m not sure why I’ve stagnated and become so negative, but I don’t like it.

Today, a bunch of us gathered for lunch after our church gathering, and then a few of the women wanted to go thrift shopping at a few stores I missed yesterday. So I joined them, and along with some wine glasses and a new dress, I ended up finding two more games that will probably require pleading in order to get people to try them with me: Bumper to Bumper, a racing game (which comes with little toy cars!) and Solarquest (Apollo 13 edition), a game of “space real estate”, which one reviewer on BGG says is “more than just space Monopoly”. I figure that with all three of my scores this weekend, if I manage to get a few plays out of each of them I’ll have gotten my money’s worth, and then perhaps I can find them new homes with families who will love them.

At lunch, one of the girls asked me how many nights a week on average I play games. To which another of them responded, “You learn over time that with April-Lyn, every night is game night.” And now they think I need a t-shirt that says “Every night is game night.” It’s not a bad idea…

One more thing: a water-carrying whale that we found at the plant nursery. I mean technically it’s a whale for carrying plants, but it could ALSO carry water. Probably not in space, though.

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

Ghosts and Gamblers, Shortstops and Spies

My Wednesday board games night meets in one of the event rooms of a local restaurant. Sometimes the banquet hall next to us is in use too, and because the two rooms are only divided by some windows and a doorway, the other groups sometimes get annoyed by our noise. “Other groups” mostly meaning the bicycle club, which I also call the Bike Gang in derision (I’m not sure anyone else is amused by this but I’m okay with entertaining myself). One week we arrived to find that they had pushed all our tables as far back towards the opposite wall from their room as they could, and they once tried to prove to the waitstaff that they spend more money than we do and thus should get preferential treatment. I try to be a gracious person, but the Bike Gang are our rivals.

Anyway, this was apparently supposed to be the Wednesday the Bike Gang met, but our waitress informed us that it looked like they wouldn’t be showing up this time and we could be as loud as we wanted. Good news, too, because half of us started off the evening with a lot of loud dice rolling.

Half our group split off to play Baseball Highlights: 2045, and after some discussion about what the rest of us should play, I suggested Las Vegas. I’ve been curious about it since I saw it being played on International Tabletop Day, but usually it’s not the sort of game to show up on a Wednesday.

I quickly learned that this is one of those games that involves lots of groaning, cursing, and trying to convince people that they really want to screw over *that* guy instead. Not that it did any of us any good. One good round and Brett had it in the bag. I never had a chance.

You can see there’s some fierce competition for that $50,000 and also for the $80,000 near the top. Sadly, I didn’t get either. I think I managed to get a paltry $100,000. This is why I don’t gamble.

We ended up calling the game an hour and a half in because not everyone was
having fun, and two more people had arrived who were waiting to join in a game. I would have been happy to keep playing, though. I think Las Vegas is exactly the sort of game my family back home would enjoy, and I’ll be looking into purchasing a copy for them.

While we waited for Robot Baseball to finish up, we started up a game of Codenames. Brett headed up the red team, as he and two of the other guys were wearing red shirts, and I took charge of the blue team, since we were all wearing blue tops (one of them was dark grey, actually, but close enough). It was like we’d planned it that way! Actually I was the one who insisted that Brett and I switch places so the colors would match… he rolled his eyes at me but agreed to do it anyway.

For the first few rounds, there was no contest – my blue team was wiping the floor with those red spys. Then I started to get careless with my clues (“Oz, 1” when both ‘witch’ and ‘lion’ were on the table) and red caught up fast. In my defense, I had no idea that “scrimshaw” wasn’t a common word, and I was lucky that they remembered enough about it to guess ‘ivory’.

Sometimes playing board games with a bunch of men cracks me up, because I get to witness conversation gems like:

“The clue is: Horror, 2”
“Hmm, horror. Well, ‘witch’ is something you might find in horror, there’s ‘film’, oh, ‘date’! Dates are horrifying!”
*murmured agreement among the other men at the table*

“The clue is: Dungeon, 2”
“Could be ‘cross’, like the crucifixion.”
“That didn’t happen in a dungeon…”
“Hm… Oh, ‘pass’! You can totally make a pass at someone in a dungeon.”

I don’t even know.

In the end, despite my mistakes, our team emerged victorious. Mostly because the red team guessed one of our words, sparing me the trouble of finding a way to connect “cross” and “time” without resorting to obscure theological words no one else would know, like “eschatological”.

Then it was time for more “what game should we play next” game! “More Codenames”, “Dixit”, and “Mysterium” were all brought up as suggestions. Since I had brought Dixit for the express purpose of playing Dixit Mysterium, I suggested that, and it was met with approval. The rest of the gang broke off to play some Evolution and Fuse.

I’ve written about Dixit Mysterium, and the game of “vanilla” Mysterium that followed (“Let’s play again!” “Eh, I don’t know guys, I need to sleep…” “Come on, you’re never going to get in 100 plays if you don’t!”) on my 100 Play Challenge blog . But, in short: Dixit Mysterium kicked our butts, but it was a worthwhile challenge that I’m sure will be attempted again.

Mysterium #13 – Dixit Mysterium

Mysterium #14 – Return to Normal