The Jaded Gamer

Opinions, not always positive, on the gaming world.

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Tigris gets off the ground and Diplomacy goes electronic

Alec Chapman
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Yes, I came in third place and misjudged an external conflict pretty badly, but in the 97(!) games of Tigris yet to come - GULP! - I am sure I will improve my performance.

My buddies also let me play through a game of Tichu, which was without doubt the most one sided game I have ever played in. It was a comedy of errors from Paul and I, coupled with some excellent play from our opponents.

We eventually conceded defeat after going 1000 points behind.

I put some of it down to bad luck, though. Every time I Tichu'd I got bombed. This took the wind out of my sails, somewhat. Nevertheless, it was great to be underway with every single game on the 10:100 list at long last.

------------------

Diplomacy has caught my imagination and despite a forbidding sense of exclusion to friends playing it together online I have started two games (a four player interface and rules learning game & a full game) with my buddies.

Given the partially understandable strictness with which these sites are run (though a more obvious instruction for using the site would be useful), I am hoping that playdiplomacy.com will appreciate the completely open way I have said these are games that friends are playing. We do not intend to start troubling the ranking system.

I have spent two very enjoyable evenings writing the first round of missives to my fellow players. The four player set up is unfortunately not a fair one, but for the purposes it was created it will be fine.
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Mon Apr 30, 2012 10:53 pm
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Sometimes, an excess of wind is a good thing.

Alec Chapman
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I beat my best ever Mah Jong hand last week with a small three wind (NNN; EEE; SS; B567; B4 triplet), one suit and honours collection worth a gorgeous 70 points in Zung Jung (from each player, so 210 points were due)
 
This was the first time; however, that anyone has got stung by being the discarder of the tile used to win. In these cases, in Kwan’s Zung Jung rules, the two non-discarding players losses are capped at 25 points apiece, making the discarding player responsible for all points above that (160 in this case). OUCH!
 
As it happens, I had been fortunate in achieving a self drawn nine tile straight in the previous all chow hand as well, for 35 points (x3 for 105) so took a commanding lead after the second hand.
 
Two other notables from this lunchtime. First, our fourth player who had previously been seconded to another department was finally back so all seats were filled. Secondly, this made it possible to complete the very first game we had started months ago which had been sitting there with seven of its eight hands completed for all that time. I was only able to build an all chow hand in the remaining round (coming tantalisingly close to two identical and three similar sequences) and got 5 points for my trouble which was unable to match the very first Dragon Pung from January.
 
If there’s one thing I have learned from the experience so far of playing Mah Jong (initially with Chinese Classical rules before moving onto these), it’s that sometimes the form factor can make the difference. I think there’s no question that if MJ was played with Cards, I would probably never have played it, or at least would have tried to teach these guys Tichu instead of Mah Jong (I may do that later anyway) and therefore missed out on the highs and lows of the hand builds I have seen so far.
 
That initial hand of the day, where I came so close to taking 50 points (for an all chow, two similar and three identical sequence hand) and nicking the game was a bummer when the proximity of my opponents to victory forced me to cash in at the lower value. This was so galling that it made the achievement of 315 points in the next two hands all the sweeter. Especially since it meant I whitewashed the session.
 
The contest continues.
Current scores are
Alec 3 games (best hand 70)
Gerard 1 game (best hand 20)
Pete 1 game (best hand 10)
Ben 0 (Chickens only).
 
Overall Points (completed games only) are:
Alec 138
Gerard 50
Ben -16
Piotr -38
Dead Hand -134
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Tue Apr 24, 2012 5:10 pm
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Diplomacy, or "don't ally against your wife"

Alec Chapman
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I had a crowd of friends over this weekend to play games and test out the first edition of the horror movie drinking game rules.
 
Following a week of intense negotiations, Diplomacy was tried on both days with varying success. As an earlier blog post suggested, a couple of people expressed concern about the game so I took up Scott’s excellent suggestion of just trying it for an hour to see if we enjoyed it. Actually, we played for longer than that in both instances (We played to the end of 1904 in both, taking around 2.5-3 hours). All negotiations took place in the room and mostly at the table, though in Game two the two alliances (Austria/Italy & England/France) passed notes with vary degrees of secrecy. England made the mistake of writing his on the back of his order sheet, so we all just read them while he held it up during the resolution phase!
 
While talking about order sheets, I highly recommend the ones in the file section here on BGG designed by Jakob Silk as once I had given these out and showed a sample order being written it all got considerably easier. We were also able to fit several years on each in the early parts of the game so they’re even better than it appears at first.
 
I had a few problems with rules – the actual rulebook went missing during day two and so I couldn’t definitively answer the questions about moving from one side of Sweden to the other and one side of Greece to the other. Help with the specific fleet movement rules about places such as these would be great! I’m really confused about fleet movements into and out of coasts in general. If I take Spain with a fleet, I realise I can’t exit from the South to the North, but can I exit into any of the Southern Seas (I think Gulf Of Lyon and West Med)? Help appreciated.
 
So how did the attempts go?
 
In day one, with just five players, I drew Austro-Hungary and for reasons of encouragement did not make any moves towards Russia early on, since it was being played by a rare gamer who I anticipated being vulnerable to taking such things personally in the first game (and knowing they would concentrate on Germany and Scandinavia as passive targets) as they don’t have quite as long a history of betrayal and counter betrayal by members of this group as the rest of us. In the five player game, Italy and Germany are neutral and passive so there was no harm in butchering them. I went through Italy and after a couple of hours we felt we had the game down and resolved to try again with seven players the next day. Nothing particularly exciting happened in this game, other than an excellent level of banter and enjoyment.
 
Day Two’s game started slowly for me since I drew Italy and failed to persuade Austria and Turkey to let me convoy to Greece to get my fifth supply centre. The player who drew Germany got utterly wiped out quite quickly and Russia (being played by the same player as the day before) was looking in deep trouble. Neither had made any allies. This is obviously a crucial part of the pre-game negotiations that we, as brand new Diplomats, didn’t work on enough so it felt to these players that they never stood a chance when maybe they could have worked together. Particularly I thought Russia should have set up their fleet on the north coast rather than on the Bothnia coast for more manoeuvrability – perhaps they could have built a mutual convoy system to take the fight to England.
 
It does strike me that Germany starts in a horrible position and absolutely needs to work with someone else (I want to say Russia or England?) – Sadly England and France had made friends and just totally butchered them.
 
As Italy I had terrible trouble getting the fifth supply centre. Since I had reached a non-aggression agreement with Austria-Hungary, we co-ordinated the taking of Marseille by my Piedmont based army (started in Venice). I used my support from the Gulf Of Lyon and was successful thanks to his cutting of defensive support from Spain while France was otherwise engaged – in this case with the dying remnants of Germany. I was very concerned at the possibility of a back stab from Austria into Rome or Naples and this kept me from being too brave while he was in and around the Tyrhennian, keeping an Army in Naples in case of invasion and not letting my fleet go too far. I eventually persuaded him to accept Portugal as his prize for helping me move on into Spain
 
Sadly, by this point Turkey had come to the same conclusion as I had on Day 1; that complete invasion of Russia may lead to the gaming equivalent of mutually assured destruction and so was encroaching on Austria and Italy’s borders. I built a fleet in Venice to combat the potential threat and my westward expansion plans of giving Portugal to Austria while taking Spain for myself were in tatters.
At this delicately poised juncture at the beginning of 1905 however, peace was declared for time reasons (there had been a delay prior to game start).
 
While neither game was entirely successful from a general enjoyment point of view, I feel I got a lot out of them. I knew neither was going to get to the end since it would have died with this group without the majority still being involved so I wasn’t disappointed on that score.
I will definitely play again and everyone seemed to have fun at some point in each game, though the player who was England and then Germany did not particularly like either power.
 
That being said, I concluded that face to face is not the best way to play it. The length of time the game takes combined with the problem of player elimination for hours at a time renders it unsuitable for this particular group. I think we could all play it by email or on a client instead, with very few problems arising. A couple of these particular players would probably not be interested, but I’m certain I could find others if necessary.
 
Also: If you (Italy) are going to gang up with someone (Austria) against your wife (France), best not to leave your horrid notes lying around for her to read post game. Whoops! While she had an ally in England my complete ignoring of her offers of mutual non-aggression were rendered even less becoming when she found out we were going to wipe half of her forces out within the next year! Hate to think what would have happened if we’d actually gone through with it.
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Mon Apr 23, 2012 12:56 pm
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Hey You! Want to be a winner at a reviewing contest?

Alec Chapman
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Howdy! If you're anything from the sort of reviewer who looks deep into a game's soul and comes away with a deep understanding to a guy who is keen to share a long term favourite game , you need to enter the linked contest.

There are several compelling reasons to do so.
1. There are big freaking prizes! Not small ones! BIG ONES!
2. It is adjudicated by some of the most exciting judges in BGG history.
3. I am also a judge.

It is all part of the loose movement (easy, innuendo fans) towards the establishment of a solid critical structure for gaming, but you don't have to be a Cult Of The Slow member to join.

All game reviews welcome with the proviso that they must be newly written and you must have played the game at least ten times. We're after deeper insights and tales of discovery.

Hit us up here and shout "I'm In" from the rooftops!

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/793054/voice-of-experien...

Edit: Punctuation fail.
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Fri Apr 20, 2012 11:27 pm
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I was born (and continued) a ramblin' man

Alec Chapman
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A few waffles from me today.

Is it too much to ask that there's a big "new blog post" option at the top of my screen?

Anyway. I got to thinking today that everybody is looking for three ideal gaming partners. People who will be interested in everything that you are and will never turn down a game based on a single busted out performance. Then you can play and play and play forever in perfect harmony - so long as you're not playing Diplomacy.

(oh, fellow Mecanisburgo fans, why can't you live next door?)

But then I realised. That's freaking dumb.

I know I talk about too much variation in the games played, but I do not believe in fighting variety in opponents. Sure, I may only want to grab cosmic encounter for tonight's session, but I don't give a monkey's who I play against, unless they're the nutters who play with all the flares, techs and moons etc AS WELL AS two powers each - in my experience the single most likely way to kill the game stone dead for new players.

And I do enjoy teaching games a lot more than I enjoy learning them, oddly. Maybe I'm a freak in this regard given the responses to my earlier missives. There are certainly a lot of folks out there who love a good learning game. Give me another opportunity to give a crash course in galactic backstabbing over that any day.

I don't know if I've said it here before but I'm a good process design fan. I actually get riled by poorly defined processes and have always been capable to cut through the fluff to get to the actual process (though somewhere along the way the secret to winning eludes me).

So a moment's pause to reflect, then, on the importance of meeting new players to me and a resolution to get to London On Board more often to meet them.

A

(Contest post will appear tomorrow. No sense in being like London Buses)
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Thu Apr 19, 2012 11:17 pm
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Diplomacy! Denied!

Alec Chapman
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A lot of this has to do with the worst ever gaming experience of my life (4 hours of BSG where not one person had fun) rendering me barely trusted by my non-gaming buddies.
 
It just so happened that in an astonishing stroke of good fortune the number of people interested in a game day next week is the magic number 7. .
As any aspiring backstabber knows, the number 7 is the key to getting a proper game of classic negotiation and erstwhile backstab-athon Diplomacy played.
 
So I go into the process of trying to sell the game. I call it an essential gaming memory they will treasure, I call it fun, I bring people’s attention to the ability they have to get me eliminated in two turns, but no dice. The problem is, when you’re reliant on six other players the likelihood that one of them will have doubts is very high (specifically Mrs Algo, specifically “Divide and Conquer”). Especially since I’m always brutally honest about the games I introduce – in this case mentioning its length and its lack of luck. I don’t want to mislead anyone!
 
I’ve even tried anthropomorphosis, since the game is Chris’ (see Regular Opponent 2) and has never been played - I likened the game to a lonely child locked in a cupboard who hears a massive party being planned for its birthday, only to remain locked in his cupboard while everybody outside has a great time. Even that didn’t work.
 
I just KNOW this game would be a success with my I’m the Boss, Perudo and Shadows Over Camelot loving buddies.
 
However, like many of the games on my 10:100 list, its positives will not be immediately apparent – probably only coming into its own in the third round of orders. Experience has shown me time and time again that once someone from this bunch has decided to take against a game, nothing short of a miracle can turn them round. I’m not sure I have the balls to try it.
 
So, BGG Blog Reader – should I give up? Should I just surrender? What do you think?
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Fri Apr 13, 2012 5:36 pm
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Mosmic Mencounter

Alec Chapman
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I taught it yet again (I must have taught more than twenty people this game), and played my F2F Cosmic games 36 & 37. Puzzle Strike kept off the most played ever spot as a result.
 
It was a curious game of Cosmic involving an opponent playing the Visionary yesterday. As the Loser (declare an upset before playing cards, losing side wins), I thought I had a good chance of pulling out a win by getting rid of the attack cards, play negotiate when none left and declare upset to automatically win if they play an attack card – good chance for your final colony if you can bluff well and manage your hand. I didn’t reckon with the Visionary forcing me to negotiate two turns in a row on my first round after I drew his colour on both occasions. It made sense to join with him to get to two points, but since his next move was to force another negotiate it felt a little dull for the opening bouts of my favourite game in the world. With my negotiate cards gone and an unlucky cosmic zap I came horribly last. Visionary won by forcing a negotiate vs. attack card situation. Sadly, the loser does not win the whole game when coming in last place. Especially since I had just six ships left (three on colonies).
 
The next game was made up of, weirdly, five aliens beginning with M. Perhaps as tribute to Matthew who joined us for it. The cards were shuffled since I rarely use flares with new players (therefore, ever) so this was a product of the weird way probability works.
 
I had more fun with the Mite (demand the opponent discards down to three cards at random or gives you a free colony) in game two, though I imagine it is pretty rare that a colony is preferable tribute when the alternative is so much preferable despite the random discarding being a real pain. As it was I was hampered in my card destroying attempts by being up against Mimic (match the opponents hand size), Mind (look at your opponents’ hand) and Miser (has two hands of cards). Matthew’s Mirror was less well matched and Mite really causes them a problem since the random discard could be the crucial 08 that becomes an almost unstoppable 80. I also used a well timed morph to smash his attack. Mirror HATES the morph card. In the end, Mite and Mimic joined forces to win.
 
Then we had a bash at Settlers. Oh how I blow at this game. Despite having upgraded to a city next to a 10 brick, I think we rolled it once. Going to take a less risky manoeuvre if I ever play again, but I’m not particularly hankering after this one any time soon. The best moment of the game was hearing about how my copy looks retro and then realising it is almost six years old – bought from Hamleys on a whim and leading me to BGG. Awesome.
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Wed Apr 11, 2012 6:49 pm
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Is your non gaming partner a crayon rails fan in disguise?

Alec Chapman
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And finally, on Monday evening my wife and I rolled out Empire Builder. She tells me she likes it because she loves maps and it doesn’t involve directly smacking each other in the face since even with the honeymoon variant there are often ways to diversify.
 
A quick word for anyone who doesn’t know Empire Builder. It’s the one where you draw with crayon onto the board. Yes, directly onto the board. It’s the wanton pseudo-destructiveness of this that got Mrs C to try it the first time. Once you have your track you can run your very abstract pawn from town to town, picking up the goods they produce there and delivering them where your demand cards tell you, balancing the cost of building the required track against the income you will get from this and future deliveries.  Repeat until rich.
 
She’s never legitimately won one of these games before so it was with some relief that she finally managed to come out on top yesterday, making her crucial delivery just one turn (actually four mileposts) in advance of me. I always find it amazing how close the ending of this game is, and since I have a massive soft spot for its central crayon based building mechanic I will happily play this one despite it usually devolving into a race to the finish line at twelve steps a turn for a few interminable rounds.
 
I do have some caveats.
1. I like this game mainly because my wife does. It’s a gentle, semi serious experience and not hardcore game fare by today’s standards until you reach the extremely experienced level of knowing the decks and best connections etc. I do not intend to reach there and the pickup gamer would not either as UI find the game is simply too long and repetitive for, for example, one hundred plays to be viable.
2. Whoever put six players on the box is insane. With two players we’re talking two to three hours and with more players you can probably add on another hour for each. I’ve played it, in Eurorails form, with three and four with fun results, but by the end of the four player game I was flagging like a hitchhiker in a hailstorm.
3. Black and Yellow are poor choices for a player colour. The yellow crayon only shows up in direct sunlight and given the potential playtime and time of commencement involved you will not stay in such light for the duration. At several points yesterday it felt like Mrs C was chugging along on invisible track! The black crayon causes problems of obscuring and looking like part of the board art. I used purple with the black counter. A much better choice.
4. Older versions just aren’t as nice as recent editions. I have an older copy of iron dragon and its component limitations render it even less attractive – all white counters with pictures only and no words (fail!), poor cardstock and the old style card art is less user friendly and discourages me from even trying it at this point. I hate to be a snob about such things, but since I’m going to be looking at this functional board art for a long time the rest of the pieces being a bit more polished makes the latest editions of Eurorails and Empire Builder a lot more enjoyable – I would only purchase versions of this quality in future.
5. I bought great big washable crayons for two reasons – first, trade value stays up if the original crayons are intact (this point is now moot since I dropped the games and they both sport major dings); second, they draw thicker lines and you can see them that much more easily.  I recommend this approach wholeheartedly.
 
 
I would recommend any of the games above for similar groups – even crayon rails is especially good for partners who want to feel a bit of the buzz of planning a long term strategy but without the searing need to fight tooth and nail for each small step towards it. If you’ve never got your partner into gaming perhaps this could be the game that does.
Is having a less good time yourself worth it if it gets your partner gaming? I think so, though your experience may vary.
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Tue Apr 10, 2012 4:31 pm
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Knights and Bosses

Alec Chapman
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As well as trying to act as a social secretary keeping an old university crowd together ish, with all its pitfalls and stresses (not least the podcast it led to), I make it my mission to try and use gaming as an antidote to the structured, boring parts of my life and, where they are interested, other peoples’ lives as well. It was by this method that I started adding other games in between the sessions of Zombies!!!, which was never my favourite game system anyway although we would usually have a good laugh for the first hour of each play. There was a semi-regular period three years ago where a group of five or six of us met up monthly for what started as “Friday of the Dead” (Zombies!!!, Zombie movies) became “Saturday Of The Dead” (same, but with additional Say Anything) and morphed into “Day Of Fun” (board games and computer games, with movies when eating). Then two of the guys moved to the states and things got away from us somewhat, adult life got in the way, we got lazy etc etc.
 
Various things sit differently with different people:
*Settlers and Formula D (“Dice Hate Me!”),
*Cranium (“Go, Team Sofa!”)
*Say Anything (What is the best T-Shirt Slogan? “I put porn on my expenses and all I got was publicly humiliated”)
While these all had their place in the route to gaming acceptance by my buddies, one game sits head, shoulders and helmet plume above all the rest. That game is Shadows over Camelot.
 
In a major reunion of the old crowd (sans the two in the USA) this weekend it got rolled out yet again, making me hit a quarter century of plays.
 
It’s hard to say why this game became, and remains, the one key component in our gaming weekends. I do have my suspicions though.
 
Let me explain the game quickly for anyone that doesn’t know it already. I’ll be brief.
 
A semi-co-operative game, in Shadows Over Camelot the players are knights of the round table, tasked with facing the not inconsiderable forces of evil that are invading or poisoning the land. Both evil and good are represented in SoC by cards (black and white) and in each round, the danger is scaled by having each player assist the cause of evil before they can do anything themselves to combat it. At the time this was a reasonably unique approach, made even more fun by the rather genius introduction of a traitor mechanic – something that I absolutely adore.
 
This traitor cannot openly harm you – nor would they wish to since they are rendered all but impotent by exposure (well, they’re a pain but nowhere near as dangerous). The life of a traitor in SoC is one of quiet contemplation and judicious timing. While you don’t want to be obviously hindering the knight’s progress, you do want to be making a difference wherever you can, and pouncing on the opportunity to win as it arises.
 
The joy of being the traitor is heightened by two things. First, all discards are face down, meaning that your burning of the crucial “dispel” card to keep a horrible permanent effect in play is not spotted until later. Secondly, there are certain ways you can set the team up for a fall – doing heroic deeds to win their trust, gaining the Holy Grail or Excalibur that could make the difference between winning and losing later and then refusing to use it at the crucial moment. I remember at least two games where an undiscovered traitor took great pleasure in refusing to use Excalibur to prevent a game losing card or choosing the definite loss via Lancelot’s armour. Choices on cards give you the opportunity to refuse to take the beneficial path at crucial times and watching the loyal knights’ faces fall.
These are the moments the traitor lives for.
 
Yeah, it’s probably more fun as the traitor – but unlike Battlestar Galactica I actually enjoy the teamwork of combating the rest of game when I am a loyal knight. This is particularly the case when your abilities nest well – for example, when Arthur passes Galahad a special card because he knows it can then be played for free, leaving him his whole action to use somewhere else. The unlikely joy when you finally beat the Holy Grail quest or, even more rarely, the dragon.
 
So why do I suspect it does so well with my friends? They clearly like the traitor mechanic, coupled with the shorter playtime (BSG was an absolute disaster) and there’s a massive dose of already knowing the rules. That being said, the most important thing is that we do have a massive store of good memories from the twenty odd plays we’ve had before, and this speaks as much of the people as the game. Great stuff.
 
 
Another new game taught this last weekend was I’m The Boss. A game my wife basically refused to play when I was explaining it, but immediately asked to join after watching the first playthrough.
 
This game is again mostly about how the gamers at the table play it, rather than the rules, which as anyone who knows anything about me will tell you is my sweet spot for gaming. Someone calls for a deal. The value of this deal is set by the space the pawn is on at the time and the stage the game is at (a deal worth £8,000,000 early on could end up worth £20,000,000 later). Once we know how much money is up for grabs the calling player (The Boss) starts to negotiate with the rest of the table for the necessary prerequisites to make the deal happen. These prerequisites are the six investment dynasties represented by the family cards. If you have one of these cards in front of you it can be used to get you in on the action – so long as your opponents don’t send the crucial negotiator on holiday! There are lots of other ways to spike a deal too, or in the right circumstances you can take control (“I’m The Boss”) and start playing hardball.
 
The game is all about shouting, threatening or in a pinch you could always politely negotiate about how much you want to help make the deal happen. Or you could just destroy the deal completely. It’s really up to how people want to play it. A nice group is preferable, with people who don’t just form cartels or offer ludicrously cheap investors without good reason.
 
We ended up playing three times in a row. It was that much fun.
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Tue Apr 10, 2012 4:28 pm
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Summoner Wars Tip 1: Don't roll ones and twos

Alec Chapman
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Aside from a minor blip in logging plays that saw my 6 plays split over two titles, the simplest thing to say about my Summoner Wars experience so far is that I absolutely suck at it.

I've really only played against two opponents, Joe and Chris, and my record is 1-5. I don't like having such a poor record at any game and more than any other this is the reason I am forcing myself to play it that many times.

Usually I lose at Summoner wars because I get draw pile fever and run out before my opponent does. This is frequently because I lose units extremely fast. That's not uncommon in summoner wars, of course, but have this uncanny ability to roll 1s and 2s that serves me well on the space race in Twilight Struggle but far worse in card battlefields where an imbalance of luck can be catastrophic. You really want to have the same rate of success as the other player to have a decent chance.

The simple fact is that if you have nothing but bad luck in Summoner Wars you will definitely lose. If you have set up three attacks and roll no hits on any of them, only to be answered by three kills next turn from your opponent (and the resulting magic gains), you're going to have a hard time.

It's rare such a thing can happen of course, with the chances of missing at 1/3 per dice. I just got annoyed when two turns in a row I gave the Jungle Elves archer champion 5 dice to attack Chris' Archangel, only to roll three misses both times. That's 3/5, natch. As this colossal failure was answered by a Vanguard massacre of my poor little elves and lionesses and looking at my empty draw pile, I conceded.

Sigh. I know I blame this partly on luck, but the poor skills to run out of cards two turns before your opponent play a massive part, too.

Luckily SW is fun enough and short enough for me to be willing to go right back into battle next time. I'll just try to not get the draw fever again!
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Fri Apr 6, 2012 5:58 pm
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