Tag Archives: twilight struggle

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

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.
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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.