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Loofish Ramblings

My thoughts and ponderings on games and gaming, including lunch time sessions, couple and family gaming and thoughts on the games that are catching my eye.

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Back to Middle Earth

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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Last year, I came to the conclusion (on the back of the number of games I was playing) that I like playing solo games. Some of my most played games of the year were solo, like Onirim and Ghost Stories, plus some of my favorite game plays of the year were playing Merchants & Marauders and Firefly: The Game solo. One game I bought specifically to play solo was The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. I played it a lot, my most played solo game of 2014 and I only played 2 scenarios. That gives you some idea of how tricky it can be to win - some of those plays were the single sphere decks running through the first and easiest (but by no means easy) Passage Through Mirkwood - I played with each deck 3 times each and even got a couple wins. But the ratio was of win:loss was heavily in the loss's favor.

Now the third scenario in the base box is the hardest and most folk say it is for all intents and purposes impossible playing it solo with a single deck, as I had been doing. Plus some other comments from BGGers led me to the great revelation - I should play this two-handed, with 2 decks and me running both, as it is both easier and a more rewarding experience. Now I don't usually like doing this, I don't care much for the 2 player variants that have you run 2 boards. It starts to feel like work. But I did used to play some of my decks against each other in my CCG days (playing Legend of the Five Rings) so this would be a hark back to that. So I resolved to pick up the rest of the rules relevant to playing the game with 2 players and try this game out that way.

That was the turn of the year and I haven't play this or any other solo game since.

The reason for that is the best one, that I have been playing games with other people. My soloing really got started because my wife was working odd hours a lot, I had down time but found playing games on the computer just not as engrossing as pushing around the real cardboard counters. But while there was someone to play against, I would do that.

Well, my wife's latest vocational adventure has her off at odd hours again and I decided it was really time to follow through on this pledge to return to Middle Earth - and this time with some extra help.

The extra rules are not really that much, there is a designated start player (who is the target for enemy engagements when that is enforced) and there are a couple of abilities that play with the distance between the two parties - Ranged allows you to attack an enemy engaged with another player, Sentinel allows you to defend for another player. But the groups Quest together so a lot of the meat of the game is the same.

So I head back to the Passage Through Mirkwood, the first and easiest scenario with the 2 decks I already have, both built from the ones at the Halls of Beorn. A Leadership/Lore (Aragorn/Denethor/Theodred) and Spirit/Tactics (Eowyn/Gimli/Thalin).

It went quite smoothly. We had a lot of questing power and Aragorn and Denethor take care of the forest spider. Weirdly, not many other creatures come out, a couple of treacheries and quite a few locations. Which were building up and raising the threat level we needed to advance the quest but then the Northern Tracker showed up, then things started to go very well. We pushed through to the final part and went on Beorn's Path - no Ungoliant's Spawn to fight, just Quest. Big nasty orc arrives, but then the next turn (the 5th) Gandalf does a sneak attack, smacks the orc dead and then the combined questing power, enhanced by Faramir, blows way passed the 10 we needed (I think it was up to about 21!). We won on the 5th turn, no one dead, barely a scratch on us.
Leadership/Lore 33 threat, 0 dead, 2 wounds = 35
Spirit/tactics 34 threat, 0 dead, 3 wounds = 37
4 victory points for the orc, 4 round = 108

Buoyed by this success, I decided to give the Journey Down the Anduin a try, same decks. My initial draw was OK but lacked a real plan for the troll. The 2 sneak attacks and Gandalf meant I was keeping it - plus the steward of Gondor. In contrast to last game, there were a lot of enemies - a pair of Misty Mountain Goblins initially, but a big orc and of course the troll waited in the staging area. Things looked up a lot when I drew the forest snare. We dealt with the goblins (and Thalin was amazing this game, seeing off the eastern crows about 3 times). Gimli took a couple of hits though, which made him mighty but vulnerable. And my healing was not coming out. The treacheries hit, quite a bit of damage around and before ensnaring the troll (brave Gondor Spearman), the spirit/tactics group had a rising Threat. Gandalf sneaked to damage the troll then fight the orc with Aragorn, Denethor holding him off. Then Gimli and his fellow Dwarf Axehand finished off the troll and we were on the river in part 2. We maintained a degree of control here, engaging and dealing with enemies as they appeared, but a few locations clogging up things. We did have quite a few allies, including Faramir so some powerful questing was happening, and Eowyn had a boost to her will, but a 16 point quest is quite a lot. We did a big chunk of it, then the brown lands with a 6 point cost showed up, getting in the way. I resolved to push through, leaving the spirit/tactics guys to engage any enemies, the leadership/lore allies and heroes tapped out to get as much will into the quest as possible, each boosted by Faramir. The threat from the staging area was pretty high, so a big push was needed, but a treachery (despair) hit and Gimli was lost. We completed the quest - just! - but that moved us into the next phase, and that had consequences, new enemies to defeat and we got the orc chieftain and the marsh adder. And they were not going to wait to be engaged. An earlier treachery had wiped out the 1 health allies (luckily a Daughter of Nimrodel had healed Eowyn right before she died) then the last 2 enemies to defeat and complete the scenario were attacking. Aragorn and company had to engage the Marsh Adder and we lost both Denethor and Theodred in quick succession. The other group were down to a spearman, a rider, a dwarf plus Thalin and Eowyn. Fending off the orc chief, who gets stronger after each attack was costly. Lost the spearman then the dwarf, the orc was hurt but not down and we had less ability to hurt him now. The Adder was defeated, Aragorn leading the charge, but he then looked across at his friends and allies, the orc chieftain growing in furious power. They did not have enough to defeat him if they defended, but if they did not defend, then they lost one of the heroes and they did not have enough to defeat him anyway. Aragorn knew what he, a Sentinel, must do. He put himself in the way of the orc charge and despite his staunch defenses (boosted by the power of Lorien), his wounds were too great and he fell under the orc's blows. But his sacrifice was not in vain, for Thalin, Eowyn and the rider fell upon the chieftain and did just enough damage to defeat him. They had won, though the cost was great.

L/L: 30 threat, 3 dead (28), 0 wounds = 66
S/T: 45 threat, 1 dead (11), 3 wounds = 49
11 points of enemies vanquished

10 rounds completed (+100) = 204

And that was me enthralled.

So, I had had my warm-ups on the familiar. The whole point was to tackle the one I couldn't play single handed. So, breathing deeply, I took on Escape from Dol Guldur with the same pair of decks. Thalin was the one captured - certainly not the worst outcome. A good start: Snowbourn Scout took care of one of the opening locations, holding Gandalf's Map, so Eowyn acquired that. A King spider and Dol Guldur orcs had the other 2. The early game with less resources and only one ally per turn, it felt hard to get things done, Gimli and Denethor defended stoutly though it was hard to clear the deck of enemies, but a few things went our way: the spirit contingent drew a lot of their handy events - the when revealed effects of caught in a web were blocked, some damage was avoided. Slowly but surely, the quest was pushed along, with the hummerhorns in the staging area the main concern as the threat for Eowyn and co creeping up. We got past the Necromancer's Pass (though it cost us the Citadel Plate) and got control of the engagements, despite not many real fighters and defenders. The Gondoran spearmen defended and Aragorn was called upon to help out Gimli, so the dwarf could attack. Spiders and Orcs were killed and the first part was completed. We got a good chunk of the 2nd part done with the help of Faramir - Steward of Gondor was out and helping a good deal with resources. A sneak attack from Gandalf was a big help here too. Aragorn got caught in a web but the Miner arrived to help out with that, Erebor got the Citadel Plate back and with Thalin back with the party, Gimli was able to equip that. We just had the small matter of that Nazgul to deal with and the hummerhorns - but Gimli took that damage and was made very mighty. Denethor was able to keep the Nazgul at bay, we got enough quest power to complete that large amount of questing done, with all the objectives in our possession too. A daughter of Nimrodel was vital to heal up Gimli a bit but then treachery struck and we lost her. Time was short for him and more treachery hit the questers, Theodred perished then but we were nearly there if we could just defeat the Nazgul. Aragorn and the Gondor spearman wounded it. We quested, the orcs that showed up looked to stop us finishing the final part, but Radagast's Cunning allowed us to get those final progress tokens on the quest then Gandalf and Aragorn combined to finish off the Nazgul. We were sorely wounded but we had escaped from Dol Guldur to tell the tale.

L/L 40 threat, 1 dead (8), 5 wounds = 53
S/T 42 threat, 0 dead, 12 wounds = 54
5 vp from enemies, 9 rounds completed = 192

This was a really engrossing game, I was surprised by how long had passed when I looked up, found my cold cup of tea and that it was time to get kids to bed. I was profoundly happy to successful make it through the scenario, though this nagging feeling that I did some small things wrong persists. But the experience is what makes it, and there I have no doubts.

Photos from Surya, bkunes, cesquintero, dimitrisasp - thanks!
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Thu Jul 23, 2015 2:13 pm
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Still the King

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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I wasn't quite sure what my next post was going to be, I had a couple of topics in mind but sometimes you need that little something to grab you and say "write about this!"

Then I played Dominion for the first time in a couple of years and I had my next post.

I first played Dominion in late 2008, we would have regular lunch games at work at the time and this appeared one day. The reaction at our table was similar to the one happening at game nights all over and I quickly got my own copy and just played it (actually resisting all expansion enticements) all through 2009 but as the year turned, it had started to wane just a bit and I only played it the once in all the first half of the year. Then, that summer my wife went off to the UK with the kids and I was going for the 2nd half of that trip, being not actually able to take 5 weeks off. While they were away, I went to a game night at the FLGS, it was just after GenCon and a tired but elated attendee had come back clutching Dominion: Prosperity. We played it twice that night, just Prosperity cards, and it re-energized my enthusiasm for Dominion, taking my beef with the game (it had become a rather straightforward race for provinces and there are only so many combinations of 8, too many games ended 5-3, you get the idea) and destroying it completely with Colonies and Platinum. Just those 2 cards were enough to fire my excitement and it went to the top of my wish list. As it turned out, it was not until Christmas I got the expansion, along with Dominion: Seaside. We played 6 games of it Christmas Day and then January 2011 is still the record holder for most game plays in a single month and by far the most played game was Dominion. It was my first game to reach 100 logged plays. And then, after Superbowl 2012 (during which we played Dominion instead, my wife won our 5-game Dominion Bowl series 246-238), the box sat on the shelf, untouched and unplayed.

I asked myself when I started writing this why didn't it get played in all that time? I think it is a combination of things, a cycle that had temporarily played itself out and we had moved onto to other things and other games. But the thing that stopped it coming back out was what as a chemist I call the activation energy, how much effort it takes to get it back out and sorted out and ready to play again. Dominion's rules overhead is negligible but the whole sort out this and pick which of these. Once it is out, it almost demands multiple plays in a row, if nothing more than to justify all that effort in setting it up. And so it lingered on the shelf until my wife, playing around on her iPad, found the Dominion app, played a quick game or two and mentioned she'd like to play it again.

I took a completely random set-up, without regard for cost, set or anything. I obviously included the platinum and colonies, I don't understand the written rule about sometimes including them, but as it happened there were quite a few cards from Prosperity, including the Bank, the Counting House and the Vault. It was a really good set, cards from each pile were bought at some time in the games we played. One particular game from this day I want to discuss but to give it its proper context I will briefly touch upon what happened in the 2 games prior.

The setup was Cellar, Ambassador, Worker's Village, Feast, Caravan, Bazaar, Counting House, Laboratory, Vault and Bank. In the first game, I had glanced at the Vault and didn't quite get it (it has been a while) and I set about building up my economy with silvers, card draw, some extra actions, working up to Gold and then buying those VP cards. My wife did see its use and demonstrated it, discarding her less useful cards for money and spurring on her economy and that gave her that edge to spur her to a pretty close win, 54-48. In the second game, I decided to use the one card that neither of us bought in the first game, namely Counting House. Counting House is fun because it is contrary to most Dominion instincts, because you actively want coppers in your deck to power it. But coppers are clunky and slow. This set did have a lot to mitigate that though, the worker's village with extra card plus extra buy, cellar to cycle, vault to discard caravan and lab to draw more cards and bank to make them worth more in the hand. A good turn with a counting house can be a really good turn. My wife went the opposite way, abusing the ambassador to hone her deck to a waif of a thing and burning through her deck in a single turn. My economy was slower but more powerful ultimately but by then she was down to a honed deck and was buying a province or colony a turn. The game ended on provinces (with 1 colony left as well!) and neither of us were sure who had won. After counting, it turned out the humble estate, the 1 VP card you start with, that my wife had given me as part of honing her deck with the ambassador, had just won me the game by a single point, 62-61. It was a brilliant game.

Then my wife wondered aloud what this would be like if we added in the gardens?

The gardens are another VP card that scores based on the size of your deck. It would synergize so well with counting house, especially with the extra buy of worker's village in play. So we did it and it was madness.

Go on, take another copper...

Of course, we both went flat out to go for a counting house strategy. Naturally the main thing you need is a counting house (cost 5) but the first few turns, my wife kept coming up with 4. So she bought a string of worker's villages. I got the first counting house and was setting up the engine, too busy to think of the consequences of that opening. I had the best of the early part of the game, nabbing a couple of gardens and a province and even a colony. Then my wife had a series of turns that would obliterate me completely.

Firstly, she had a decent discard pile when she drew into her counting house. She had played a string of worker's villages, dumped her hand with the vault, then drew back all the coppers with the counting house, which joined the bank in her hand to give her 32 gold to spend. With multiple buys, she bought all the rest of the gardens in one go. Then on her next turn, she drew another counting house, picked up all her coppers again then reshuffled her deck by drawing the last card of her deck with the vault (a very clever play, I thought, keeping all her coppers in the discard pile rather than her deck). At this point, I thought the pain was over, but then with her new fresh deck, the whole thing happened again, a village fueled drawing of cards and extra actions, another monstrous turn. I was like a boxer that had taken too many punches, too stunned to fall, too befuddled to do anything except play out my cards until the inevitable moment when she bought out the last colony to end the game.

We counted up.

Now I had a decent score. a few colonies and provinces, a couple of gardens. 56 points is not terrible as such. Until you looked across and saw what she had. Poignantly, she just crossed the 50 card mark on her last turn, making her gardens 5 points a piece, she had 6 of those, 3 estates, 3 duchies, 4 provinces and 6 colonies. 126 points.

I was rather floored and awed by all this. It was remarkable. I had to get up and walk around (though I did that in the middle of the game when she drew that 3rd counting house, though I did so in mock outrage. But really, another one? Come on!)

As a post script, my wife did persuade me to try the same set up again. After a few minutes, my card gamer brain kicked in and I started to wonder if you could race and beat it. All CCGers know that speed kills. So after a suitable recovery period, I sat down and played again, she again went for counting house and I very deliberately did not, picking up a couple of caravans and labs and grabbing ambassadors to just grind all the fat out of the deck. One thing I did that amused me (even if no one else finds it funny) was that with 2 ambassadors, I could hone it quite fast but with a 3rd, I could then use that on the other 2 and hone it a bit more. So I did that, giving her a pretty useless card. As I was honed, she was powering up, then I churned through the colonies (with a couple silvers, couple golds and a platinum, I was comfortably making 11+ gold a turn, drawing through most of my deck in a turn). Her engine was turning and I knew it had to be fast. I thought I had done it when she hadn't managed to get a multi-garden-buying turn, my last turn a colony and a garden which took me to exactly 20 cards. But when we counted, she had managed 4 colonies to match mine and that extra estate I had given her (in an eerie symmetry to the earlier game) was the difference in a 44-43 win for her.

Despite all the fun I have had with Star Realms in the last few months and the various other deck builders I have tried over the years, this single glorious afternoon of gaming confirmed to me what I already thought - Dominion is still King of the Deck-Builders.

Photos from monteslu, punkin312 and onethinline - thanks!
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Fri Jul 10, 2015 2:01 pm
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Halfway Through the Year

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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June's plays picked up with 37 plays, in no small part to the addictive qualities of Star Realms. Many months, 7 plays would be enough to take the top spot but the return of Guildhall to our table (both as a group game at game night and our head-to-head mega-Guildhall games) was surpassed by the quicker playing and easy set-up of Star Realms - and the way we can just play one more game before we go to bed.

First plays were thin on the ground, I got a first play of the King of Tokyo: Power Up! expansion, which I have only owned for like a year - it seemed we as a group had had enough of giant monsters just as I got it. But I played it with the family, my youngest got to be the giant panda and it was a lot of fun (though he lost, so he may want to go back to his old standby of Gigasaur...). I also bought and played Snowdonia, a game that has been in and out of my shopping cart a few times but the continued enthusiasm I see around the Geek for it convinced me it was worth my time. We tried it out, we both enjoyed the play, perhaps me a little more, as I could see the possibilities a bit more (my wife was a bit tired, but not so tired not to play and indeed win!). There was a moment where we were looking around the board wondering how we were ever going to play out all our cubes then the event cube came out, the government workers completed a bunch of stations and it was suddenly 2 turns at most from the final reckoning. Expect to hear more from me on this in future posts!

That play of Innovation was a good one too, Innovation is a game I have struggled with, one that should be right in my wheelhouse, cards with unique powers, comboing off each other, but it has never quite gelled in my brain. Finally, I think I made a break-through with this play, a really fun game, I started strongly (I played Metalworking first turn, drew out 6 cards in a row with castles on, taking that achievement and then the first scoring achievement next turn!). Then a key moment, my wife with a strong board but less points and a hand full of cards was invited by my physics dogma to draw 3 6s, with the proviso that she would lose all her cards if any matched in color. I didn't think she would, she is not a big risk-taker at the best of times, but she did, she pulled it off then she scored a huge number of points with one of her own cards next turn and suddenly she could win by just scoring achievements! Then I managed to prevent that and it went to 5 achievements a piece and a race to score one of the special ones, I was a turn away from all 5 colors at 8+ when she splayed all her cards up or right. Wow, it was fun.

Last thing to mention: we put all the cards from Jambo and Asante together and played. It sort of worked, but the game was weird, prone to streakiness and empty turns. It made the things that kinda bug me about both of those games worse without making the good stuff better. So not recommended - in fact, my wife wanted to work on a variant version that does use both sets of cards - the 2nd game we played was part of that effort and it might work out.

Game Qty
Star Realms 16
Guildhall 7
Asante/Jambo 2
Tales & Games: The Three Little Pigs 2
Basari 1
Innovation 1
Java 1
King of Tokyo (with Power Up!) 1
Lords of Waterdeep 1
Mamma Mia! 1
Qwirkle 1
Snowdonia 1
Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game 1
Wyatt Earp 1

At the halfway point of the year, I thought it might be cool to see how gaming is going and adding it up just now I have 207 plays so far (compared with 170 in 2014), which quantifies my feeling that we are getting more games in this year. Most played (no surprise) is Star Realms with 46 plays, pretty good given I didn't pick it up till March. 3 other dimes for the half year: Guildhall, last year's champ Rat Hot and Animal Upon Animal.

New games in the collection: Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, Jungle, Animal Upon Animal, Rhino Hero, Star Realms, Spyfall (only browser version!), Asante, Apex Theropod Deck-Building Game, Snowdonia and (not yet played) Rampage.

Games left the collection: Machi Koro.

So that is 10 (physical) games added and 1 subtracted.
I got some of my unplayed expansions played, still waiting for the chance to play Coup: Reformation, but got all the Hive expansions played and just played King of Tokyo: Power Up!. Still a couple to go - Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 2 – India & Switzerland is the longest unplayed, while More Buildings will probably be added next time we play.
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Fri Jul 3, 2015 2:59 pm
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Learning Online

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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There are so many games out there, with more arriving all the time, it is sometimes hard to decide which you would like to add to your collection. In theory, you would try them all before you commit but that is often difficult (and someone had to take the plunge and buy it untried!). So the prospect of trying an electronic version in lieu of the cardboard one is appealing: learn the game, with the computer helping out with the rules, the shuttling on the pieces and the final scoring and you get a feel for the game. It seems like a good bet.

It is certainly true it gives you a feel for the game but not the whole experience. Which makes sense for publishers - if you could get it all in an online play, why even bother getting a physical copy? You can muddle through that first play, not really knowing what you are doing, but it is easier to remain in that slightly befuddled state, making perfectly valid moves without really knowing what your strategy is or understanding the goal of the game. Because the computer does all the behind the scenes work, you don't need to and so you don't look hard into that black box and work out where all the wires go. You can just push buttons and see the lights come on.

So ironically, though a computer can really help with making a complex game playable, it is the simplest games that work the best in this format. Ticket to Ride has a wonderful interface but it is immeasurably helped by the game being simple enough that you can see everything on the single screen. Hey, That's My Fish! is even better online because it takes care of the most annoying part (setting up the
board) while the game play is so simple that it is clear what is happening. Compare with Agricola, a game I love dearly, but in order to play online you have the cards on one tab, the major improvements on another, your farm in one place, the other farms either a tiny graphic or another click away. All those things you can take in with a glance around the table become just a little bit more difficult.

Of course, I knew Agricola before I ever played an online version. Russian Railroads is highly touted here on the Geek, has won awards and clearly has many admirers. When it appeared on Yucata.de, I was very excited to play it. But I had not played it in real life, so I went through a series of games, trying to learn it but never really understanding it. I joined a tournament that was run to introduce the game - seemed like a good way to learn. I can move the pieces around, I have a passing knowledge of the main strategies, though not as such the wherewithal to successfully pull them off. Mostly what I got from the tournament was the realization that I don't know what I am doing.

This is a big difference in playing online against face-to-face. When you play around the table, you can watch what other people do as a matter of course, you can see what they do that works and doesn't work. You can much more easily see potential problems coming and things you need to do before they do. Playing online, it is a premeditated thing to look at what someone else just did and even then in some games it is hard to work out what exactly occurred. So it becomes hard to grow your skill at the game.

I will contrast my Russian Railroads experience with another game I recently learned, Space Mission. It came up as the winner for the BGG Game of the Week. I like that as a way to remember to play games I haven't played in a while but also as a spur to seek out how to play games you might be curious about but hadn't tried (which reminds me, I still need to learn A Few Acres of Snow...). So Space Mission won and I had no idea how it played, so I joined one game of also-newbs and it was OK but I also took up the offer of another player Liallan who taught me the game. And she really went the extra mile (in fact several miles!) to give me a run down of the game. It is a set collection game: you travel from planet to planet, you might need to play the right card to jump there, to scan it or to develop it (just matching numbers with the planet) but you pick up tiles from the planets which make sets which score in different ways. And this continues until enough planets are cleared of their goodies, then all the different ways you score are added up and a winner is determined. That sort of scoring, not unlike Russian Railroads, can be obscure and obtuse, but with a good teacher it was much easier to see what was going on. Which is another thing you can easily get in a face to face game, the ability to discuss the game (even if none are experts) and so often you don't get much of in a game played online.
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Thu Jun 25, 2015 2:10 pm
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Revisiting

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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Ahead of a recent game night, I asked our host if there was anything he wanted me to bring. "That D&D game," he told me, "and that card game we learned the same night."

It has been something of a running theme for our game nights that we play a new game, all like it and want to play it again, but our meet-ups are infrequent enough that actually getting around to doing so can be tricky. For the little, quick games it is easy - No Thanks! and Parade have slotted into game nights without issue - but anything more substantial can be tricky.

The other part of the problem is remembering how to play them. "That card game" we learned before was Guildhall. We were due to be joined by a fifth, so playing the 4-player game first seemed like the optimal move. Our host Rick had played this once before, a while ago. His wife Kristi had learned it the same night but played it one time since, but she looked at it uncomprehendingly. "Are you sure I've played this?" she asked as I laid out the cards. But that is almost a running joke, because they all know I can produce the date, time and final score. However, after a little while, the penny dropped and she did remember. In fact, she did well early on, the first to complete a guild chapter, but it was pretty even, Rick was technically in last place with regard to points but he had a guild chapter he was sitting on and it was nicely poised. Then our 5th player Tom showed up and Rick was getting distracted by some other things so he had Tom sit in for him. Dropped in like this in an unfamiliar game (he had played it once before), I thought he might struggle but he proved made of hardier stuff, making some good plays. I must have been doing well too, because one turn, each other player took something (or assassinated something) of mine, but perhaps that was right as it moved into the end game, Kristi on 15 points having spent her chapter, my wife a bit behind her, then Tom and me, when I completed 2 chapters in quick succession then ended my turn. And with what was available in the middle (including one 5VP card) I would cash in on my next turn and win. Well my wife couldn't do much about it and Kristi couldn't either, but Tom stood tall and grabbed that 5VP card, denying me the chance to get it myself. Then he flipped over the next card and it was another 5VP.

We pondered the possibility of a quick filler before moving on, but Kristi had been awoken early that morning by children so time was ticking on how long she could last. So it was the D&D game, Lords of Waterdeep next. Our first time with 5, things were tricky early on, hard to get things going. But sadly for her, Kristi began to flag and, though she tried to keep playing, after a few rounds, she called it a night and dropped out. So the four of us continued, or rather 3 of us played and my wife gave us all a lesson on how to play. She was the Builder Lord and possibly key to her win was the first building she bought was the Palace of Waterdeep, making the Ambassador available. And she grabbed that guy with great regularity - and the rest of us did not do enough to stop her (plus she scored if we went there - it would really have been better to have not let her buy that building in the first place). So she bought 7 buildings during the game, plus she managed to complete a number of quests - 2 of which netted her more than 20 points. I managed enough points to be first among the rest, quite happy that I had made a better showing than last time I played with more than 2, when I had somehow unable to adapt to the more restricted availability of everything. Despite their losses, both the other two expressed their enjoyment of the game and, as they pointed out, at least they beat Kristi who had only scored 15 points all game. I left my copy of it with them though so she might get to play it when not dead on her feet.

Then Tom, aware that his infant child would be awake early the next morning, made his excuses and took off.
So we were down to 3 again. So Rick went to his favorite 3 player game list and came up with Basari and - my choice - Wyatt Earp. This turned out to be a great game, our host put on the Eagles' album Desperado, which I didn't realize was a concept album, set in the Old West. It really added to the atmosphere of the game, as we rounded up outlaws, furiously photographing them and sending Wyatt Earp out to flush them from their hideouts. The first round, my wife pretty much just played out her hand, it was done in next to no time, though she only took a slight lead into the next round. There I ran down Butch Cassidy on my own, pulling down quite a hefty reward, giving me the edge. Round 3 was a long one, we went all the way through the deck and reshuffled. Rick had a ton of cards, my wife put a hideout on Doolin' Dalton but I could not draw a Wyatt Earp to get rid of it to save my life. I did get a Hideout of my own and I worked out I could shut her out of the Billy the Kid reward and still have it pay Rick and I. It came off and when the round finally did end, Rick gained the most cash, but critically I crossed the $25,000 barrier and no one else did. Which makes me the one riding off into that Tequila Sunrise.


We weren't quite done, so Rick and my wife were both up for the other game Rick had mentioned, so with some reluctance, I played Basari. For those that don't know it, a game of second guessing, you either play a card to collect gems (according to the space you are currently on), get points (again, according to the space you are on) or roll the die to move round the track. The round ends when someone makes it all the way around, with points scored for most gems of each color and 10 points for making the full lap. If everyone plays a different card, then everyone does their action, but if you match, then the two have to negotiate, paying gems to the other in order to take the action. The other two fought more over gems, while I concentrated on grabbing points and making the lap, collecting only the yellow gems. My wife dominated the gem collection but trailed in points, Rick juggled it well, ending the round and I just made it on the die roll at the end. My wife moved up during the second round though, maintaining her gem dominance and it was pretty close going into the last round. I maintained my yellow superiority, by my wife took off like a rabbit round the board and I think if she had ended it one turn earlier she would have won. But that extra round enabled Rick to get enough red to overtake her, she got the most in green after we clashed on the last turn and I gave her a bunch of green to let me take points. But when the points were tallied, Rick had it by a point and I have to admit I quite enjoyed it. Once in a while, with the right people who are really trying to suss out what the others might do and not just playing randomly.

And that was that for another fun game night, with the theme of games we have come back to having played them recently. And it turns out that is a pretty good thing to do once in a while.

Photos today from AEGTodd, fabricefab, RitzzCracker, EndersGame and SlikkRikk - thanks to all of them!
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Fri Jun 19, 2015 1:48 pm
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Some Recent Plays - Asante, Biblios

David
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DURHAM
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A couple of my recent plays got me thinking about these games in a new light, what one might call blog-worthy material.

The first were a couple of plays of Jambo successor and regular guest on this blog, Asante. I was pretty excited by all the new shiny and in particular by the change to the market so small markets didn't basically decide the winner. The new holy place cards, which you give to your opponent when you play a utility card, were interesting and I liked that balance of do I play this because then they get this free thing. I was not so sure about the part where if you are replacing one of your items because you already had 3, you get the card instead. On one hand it makes you consider the holy place you want as well as which item you want to replace but it is also rewarding you for fortuitously drawing all the utilities while your opponent got none.

This sort of leads into my new second thoughts about this game. One of the themes through the new set of cards and powers is more card draw. Cards were in desperately short supply in Jambo, you got one a turn, maybe another if you got a power working. In Asante, cards are still fairly difficult to get but there are more ways to draw, several people cards that allow extra draws, the strong box which allows you to spend I think 3 actions for 2 cards and my personal favorite, the meerkat nets you 4 if your opponent draws anything extra on their turn.

So we are playing and I am struggling a bit, while my wife has the strong box and is basically abusing it, keeping her hand size high, with a defensive card ready if I try and grab it or make her discard it. She absolutely destroyed me, by like 30 gold and considering you only need 60 to win and start with 20, that is quite the pasting.

So we play again and she gets that strong box again, this time with the sacred jewelry which allows you to get back a couple of actions, so using the strong box is now not so expensive. I do better, managing a few sales and scraping along - I think I even made 60 gold this game...but again her huge card advantage meant she had control of the game, and it was only once she has passed 70 on her final turn that I got up to 60.

It is something of a double-edged sword - there are cards in there that help you overcome a card shortage but the one with all the cards is more likely to draw them and thus more likely to maintain that advantage. Similar to the Holy Places rules - if you get all the utility cards, you are likely going to start grabbing the Holy Places on your own play rather than from your opponent's play.

I don't know that there is a "fix" for this, it is more just an observation and that there can be something of a runaway (or at least dominant) leader. Perhaps one of the cards that rewards a dominant leader (the Colonist, which gives you cards, money and wares if you have more in each than your opponent) was a bad idea and should be nixed or just removed? It plays pretty quickly though, so maybe that is just the nature of the territory, lots of different cards with variable powers, you are going to get games where someone gets the 'right' combos and the other player flounders a bit. Now I wonder if it will be made better or worse by combining the Asante cards with the Jambo cards?

The other game is also one I have talked about before and it is something of a resolution of the ongoing saga. The game is Biblios and I like it quite a bit, the two phases of the game, the deciding what to do with your draws in the opening phase and setting yourself up to do well in the second half auction. However, my wife had not really taken to it. I had almost traded it a couple of times but we gave it another chance, it still was not quite clicking for her. Her problem was the secret majorities: I have so many points in (say) the blue cards. Do I have enough to win? For me, that is part of the fun of the game, because ideally you win by a point so can you push it, get something else or dump one blue for a gold auction? But for her, it was confusing and frustrating because she could not get her mind around what the relative value of each color was and where she was in terms of the majorities. She would say that she could play the game but you might just as well play with a monkey playing cards at random.

So it was rather a surprise when she asked to play it again. We did but the familiar pattern emerged. I thought it was an intriguing battle - she had gathered a lot more brown cards than I thought, I had a ton and figured I was safe, dumping one for a gold card, but then I ended up just winning brown by a point. She abandoned red and orange completely (though she won the other 2) so I won those plus brown and the game. But it was not the most satisfying victory, she was clearly all at sea with the valuations and wasn't enjoying it.

Then in the post game discussion, she proposed an idea: what if she could see the cards that were not in the game? Obviously a huge advantage but perhaps the handicap we needed so we could play a competitive and more satisfying game. We tried it. In a 2 player game, 21 cards are missing, so you have no way of knowing just what the distribution is really like. But having that information enabled her to play with a good deal more insight and see how the game works, getting her head out of the fog as it were. It was a much more competitive game and, importantly, she enjoyed playing it a lot more. Once again, a key moment turned on the 4 brown - I had put it in the auction pile thinking to buy it when it came out, saving money to do so. But when it came out, my wife out-bid me and thus won brown. That led to an odd end-game where my big money cards I had saved ended up being spent on lesser valued things and she was out of money altogether, so the last few bids ended up being discarded because we were both broke. But that brown bid, plus her dominance in red and saving that one orange card to take the 1 point it was worth combined for her to take the win.

I don't know if this handicap will be like training wheels and at some point she will just say I am not playing with that extra information any more or, perhaps more likely, we will only play it every now and then and she will need her handicap to remember how to play again, but it has solidified Biblios as a keeper for me.

Photos from Asante by W Eric Martin & baltaistehws, from Biblios from kherubim & kadus. Thanks!
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Thu Jun 11, 2015 1:57 pm
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May Review - Supine to Murine

David
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DURHAM
North Carolina
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As I talked about in my last post, May has been pretty quiet month, but there was a bit of a rally over the holiday weekend and, in particular, the last weekend of the month. So in the end, it didn't look like that much of a lull, with 29 plays of 15 different games. The breakdown looks like this:


Game Qty
Star Realms 11
Asante 2
Biblios 2
Fluxx 2
Mice and Mystics 2
Rat Hot 2
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small 1
Draco Magi 1
Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport 1
No Thanks! 1
Parade 1
Spyfall 1
The Train Game 1
Ubongo 1


But even a cursory reading of that would indicate that it would have been a much quieter month without Star Realms, which holds it place as our go-to game at the moment and 'most played game of the month' for 3 months in a row. My wife played it even more than me, as she taught it to my eldest son as well. He was pretty thrilled to win the second game as well (though there was some coaching involved). She went as far to proclaim it her favorite of the genre, supplanting Dominion. A big statement, especially as it is usually me doing the set-up - the one area that Star Realms is truly and objectively superior.

I think I will leave comment over most of the other games for a later post, but I will mention Mice and Mystics. My wife has a nice job, pet sitting and dog walking and the like, a role she is eminently suited for, as she loves meeting new animals. One of the jobs was staying overnight with this little dog in his own house. So I had a Saturday night without my regular game partner. Well, I said to the kids, you guys are going to have to step up and I think it is about time we finished that game we started at Christmas. (And it turned out it was the Christmas before)

That game was Mice and Mystics. I got it for their Christmas present when it came out, in 2012, as a sort of follow up to the beloved HeroQuest. We finally got it to the table the following Christmas, played out the first tile front and back, stepped into the Kitchen Tunnels and decided to take a break there till next time. I was sort of hoping for the eager chatter and excited request to play it again, but in the end it took me saying we are playing this tonight. But they did both sit down without complaint and got into it. There may have been some running around the room when the centipede got shot by Filch. Despite the little rules the game seems to have, we kept it going, with me using my DM skills to fudge over things that held up the game and just keep it flowing.

When my wife was home the next day, my eldest gave her the blow-by-blow account and then the eager asking and excited request finally started - we played Chapter 2 on the Sunday evening, all the way through and successfully too. I will note that my kids are much more proficient with dice than me - I think I rolled cheese for the bad guys almost every time, so they took that over and it was much less of a problem. Uncanny.

So I think we will be playing that a bit more frequently in the remainder of 2015.

But while my face-to-face plays were pretty quiet, I did get a decent bit of online play in. As I think I mentioned, I took up playing at boiteajeux.net again, played through a couple of YINSH agmes, compared The Castles of Burgundy interface with Yucata's (probably a case of which I learned it on, but I like Yucata) and am playing of course Agricola. (Incidentaly, I can't find any stats about games completed other than the email I got - do you have to pay to get that kind of thing?)

Most of my play is on Yucata: 78 games finished this month. For once, Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age didn't win, pipped by Glen More. I think I am better at the multi-player version of both games for some reason - I went 1-4 in a set of 5 2 player games of RTTA but topped the league in the semis of the 3 player version. I will also mention some of the less talked about games, I have been learning Founding Fathers (a game I didn't really expect to enjoy), rediscovering Arkadia (and remembering why I liked it first time around) and also had a great teaching game in Space Mission from Liallan, I got practically a qualification in playing it by the end, she was really great at answering my questions.

Game Qty
Glen More 10
Roll Through the Ages 8
Thurn & Taxis 7
Hanging Gardens 5
Targi 5
At the Gates of Loyang 4
Firenze 4
Port Royal 4
Two by Two 4
Arkadia 3
Maori 3
Pompeii 3
Balloon Cup 2
Hey That's My Fish 2
Palaces of Carrara 2
Stone Age 2
El Grande 1
Founding Fathers 1
Jaipur 1
Just4Fun 1
R-Eco 1
Rattus 1
Russian Railroads 1
Space Mission 1
Thunderstone 1
Vikings 1

And what is coming up, you may wonder. Well we have a game night Saturday night and this arrived yesterday:


That's right, some Diablo II. I'm officially playing games released this century! Can't wait.
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Thu Jun 4, 2015 2:09 pm
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Springtime Lull

David
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DURHAM
North Carolina
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For the first 4 months of the year, we were going at a great clip. I had managed at least a game a day all year, a couple of great months. April just barely 30 plays, but still a lot of good game time.

Then May arrived. Two-thirds through the month and I only have 10 plays, with none of the game much more than fillers - Spyfall has the most game time just because we played multiple rounds all in a row.

I can pinpoint the moment of the shift, it was when my wife looked out into the garden and despaired that it would ever be tamed again. After weeding and mulching and working hard on it last year, to look out at it now after a period of neglect (also known as winter), it was depressing to see how much the weeds had not only crept back in but had taken over. Time to concrete it over and paint it green? No, indeed not. We got to work, clearing the weeds and bringing a semblance of order to our immediate surroundings. I have to say it is looking a lot better.

Plus there is the inevitable work and school routine, work has been especially busy of late, a deadline fast approaching. Busy days don't make for a good evening time playing cerebral board games. A lot of nights, I just have dinner, catch up a bit on BGG and then go fall asleep to an audio book. My wife jokes with me that I find it so easy to go to sleep in this way: "Chapter 1 once upon a zzzzz."

Anyway, my spare time is limited and so is my energy and I am not getting as much gaming in. This is where the part-time gaming of Yucata and Boiteajeux come in, slipping a few turns in so you still remember what game boards look like. And learning a few games along the way. I have to do a post on the games I learned recently.

As one who logs plays and looks at such stats when I get the mind to do so, it does bug me slightly that I'm not getting the game time I "should". But I am trying to remind myself, it is a lull, not anything more than that. The long weekend coming up, that should give me some relaxation time, with some gaming opportunities. Even if there probably will be some garden spade work as well. Some changes coming too, my wife has a new job for a pet sitting agency, dog walks and the like but also includes staying with the client's pets overnight at their home. What am I going to do with my main gaming partner out of the house? Though she is already suggesting games to play online live so we can keep in touch. She has also been getting the kids to spend more time off their computers. That means they have been playing some board games together, including the classic Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs (see my avatar). So they might let me play if I am good.

So it might be a bit of a lull, but I think it all right if I sit back and enjoy the day lilies.

when we moved into our current house there were purple day lilies everywhere, but now we have a bit more variety, like this one. Like a spark of fire growing in the garden.
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Fri May 22, 2015 1:56 pm
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Luck of the Dice

David
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DURHAM
North Carolina
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We had some friends of ours come over for dinner and games recently. One of the games they brought was Cosmic Wimpout, which is an old school dice game from the time before electricity, a pass the time type game in which you roll a set of 5 dice, scoring points in various ways with something of a push your luck aspect because if you don't score more points on your roll, you lose all you have gathered thus far. But also it has a forced luck push because you can't stop until certain parameters have been met - you have to 'clear a flash' and you have to roll again if you scored on all 5 dice. One rule that probably wouldn't make it passed the first play test now but probably seemed cool back then was that you can't make your first score unless it is at least 35 points. And that is pretty tricky to achieve, what with the arcane rules about when you can stop and such. It was their hang out game when they were first dating so they rather like it. I mention this because you have to love a game in which you can end the game still stuck on 0 points because you never could quite get in the game - and then say you would play it again, ever.
Bam!

Right after that game, my wife suggested Zombie Dice. And I kid you not, the first roll our unlucky friend made was 3 shotguns, one of which was on the green die. Moreover she did that exact trick again later in the game, but at least she didn't end the game on 0 - she got 1.

It got me thinking about dice games and the luck of the dice. I had such bad luck with dice in certain games. I had some friends into Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, games with buckets of dice. Any reasonable statistician would posit that any roll should give a number of successes, with enough dice being rolled here that things should conform to the probabilities. But somehow I would, game after game, defy those odds and get slaughtered repeatedly, even when against all chance I had managed to get myself into a good position - which was rare because everyone else seemed to know the system way better than I did. I even picked up the tyranid/genestealers faction because if I got to combat, those genestealers (or Jenny-stealers as my wife Jenny would call them) would roll 4 dice each to attack. So all game I would be taking hits from their ranged weapons, maneuvering, maneuvering, waiting for my big moment, then finally my horde of ravenous beasts would descend upon a squad of hapless space marines...and then totally fail to do the expected damage. It was a bit discouraging.

My other favorite dice rolling misery story was a game of Pirate's Cove (I think it was that game, it was long enough ago that I didn't keep track). I don't even really remember the details of why I was going what I was doing. Attacking something? Splicing the mainbrace? Something piratey. I needed a 4 on 2 dice. I rolled snake eyes and that was my turn over. My next turn, I get to try again and I roll a 1 and a 2. My fellow players were all suitably aghast and impressed with my remarkable talent.

You might have guessed that playing Risk was not one of my favorites either and you would be right. The tales of great defenses against all odds were usually someone else with the stout defender...defending against me. But at least those games didn't last as long as they might against a more statistically aligned player.

I moved away from dice heavy games into the world of Euros for obvious reasons, but somewhere along the way I made my peace with the dice. Perhaps it helps most of the dice I roll these days are not simply numbered 1 through 6, but I have no such horror stories to attach to my games of Eclipse or Merchants & Marauders. Missed rolls for sure, but nothing that stunning, that unexpected. And when I look at a dice game coming out, I no longer have that palpitation. Even with something like Catan, where it is sort of traditional to complain about the dice not going your way, it is usually someone else doing that (though I have done it in the past).

And a post-script, since writing about our friend with the epic bad dice luck, last time they came by, we played a silly little dice game called The Train Game. You roll these special train dice, you need an engine and a tender then if you have that, you can score for your cargo. There is a bit of push your luck if you get the double engine train and putting a caboose on the back to complete the train is often worth a good amount of points. It is highly random but the dice are cute and the price was right. Opening round, out of the 4 of us, 3 of us struck out, not making any points, while she scored over 30 on her first roll. And just when it looked like my wife might steal the game with a late surge, our friend made another big roll to take the victory by a point. So if you are patient the dice will reward you.

Thanks to the photographers, KSensei, van00uber, A skinned math nerd, thalescnm and PzVIE!
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Tue May 19, 2015 1:58 pm
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Shadow Feast!

David
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North Carolina
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Our recent bit of spring cleaning unearthed a few things. Old RPG characters, the Wraith (RPG) adventure I wrote for a con at Georgia Tech, a poster of Usagi Yojimbo of all things. And a pile of notes from a series of Shadowfist games we played.

For those unaware, Shadowfist has rather an important place in board gaming, for it is this game (and its sister RPG) that Zev of Z-Man Games first appeared on the scene, in a bid to rescue the game after its initial publisher Daedalus Entertainment went out of business. It was one of many CCGs that followed in the wake of Magic: The Gathering, but it had a certain style and excitement about it, its back story based on wild Chinese martial arts movies, with all kinds of characters from serene Chinese monks to killer robots from the future. One whole sub-faction is based around ape-based puns (the Orango Tank, Battlechimp Potemkin), it was both fun and funny, with lots of action. Of all the CCGs we played, this was the one that my wife liked the most.

The game revolved around the control of Feng Shui sites, places of power. Playing these gave you power to use to do stuff on your turn. The characters would join you if you paid the power cost, but the more powerful ones would only join you if you had the proper resource symbols in your play area (including discard) - so the tougher characters would only join your team if you had some connection to their faction. There were of course lots of special cards events and equipment you could use and the timing of these things was important to learn if you wanted to play at a higher level. But the thing about Shadowfist was that you could play a lot more casually, beat up on each other and not worry too much about timing issues.

We had played the game for quite a while, with cards from the Daedalus times and then the game was resurrected by Z-Man, with 5 pre-set starter decks for each of the 5 main factions in a set called the Year of the Dragon. If you didn't want to build decks, these things worked pretty well. Our YotD decks are still as they were when I bought them, though we have a few other decks that have been tinkered with over the years. And it was after playing around with these new decks and pitting them against each other for a while that the idea of the Shadow Feast came up: which deck was the best? Who would win if you fought every deck against every other in a best of 3 battle? We had 12 decks built, that was a lot of games, so we divided it up, 6 each, my wife would play her chosen deck against all 6 of mine, then she would switch. We played through 4 out of the 6 completely and I could give a summary of every game (I worked through the play logs, which were what I do here for every game, but on paper instead) but that is not the purpose of this blog post, more to share some of the little bon mots that we wrote after the games.

* Her brilliant strategy of winning paid off

* Nasty nasty D picked on poor sick J

* She didn't get any Feng Shui Sites of her own, so she took mine instead

* Red Monk, Blue Monk ... Dead Hood

* 9 Fighting might not have been enough for J but it was too much for me


(Notice that it was her winning more than her share there...which I put down partly to her skill and partly down to me trying things and trying to build my own decks with my own quirky ways - like that Hood deck.)

And then there are the tales of back and forth and hard-fought victories, games decided by the turn of the card or by a single point of power. And those types of games are the reason we kept playing it. Because when we came back to it more recently, it was frustrating to encounter that bad draw that made the game either one-sided or just slow and dull. That is less of a problem in a multi-player match, where the slow starter can be left alone while the fast starts mess with each other (or defend the slow starter to stop the other player getting an advantage). But we played it predominantly 2-player and then the game's bad draws would make themselves felt - and Shadowfist has two ways to get a bad draw, making it more likely, as you need a source of power in order to buy things (usually Feng Shui Sites) and the resource-giving characters that enable you to buy the more effective and efficient characters that push things up a notch and make it a properly ding-dong battle.

Despite that, if you can get a game going, this was really a blast to play (and a lot of fun multi-player too, one of the best for that format). And looking back over these games brought back a lot of fond memories...and of my wife kicking my ass repeatedly.

Photos by laiernie, binraix, bengkohn and Rokkr - thanks to all!
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Tue May 12, 2015 1:43 pm
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