The Jaded Gamer

Opinions, not always positive, on the gaming world.

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33 plays and still getting spanked...

Alec Chapman
United Kingdom
Lincolnshire
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Chris and I brought out puzzle strike yesterday evening and it would be an understatement to call this a one sided affair.

I got whitewashed three-nil despite my best efforts.

I played with Setsuki for the first two games (vs Chris playing as Val), a pretty tricky choice in my experience as all of her abilities are double edged swords. One is the only free double crash gem in the game, but gives you two wound tokens every time you use it. Luckily another of her chips gives you the ability to turn these wounds into unblockable gem attacks (but at half the rate you obtain them) and the last lets you set up for an attack by putting a gem from your hand into your own pile (very risky).

It's a character against my instincts. I like to take my time and build up to the fancy stuff, but something made me get very aggressive from the offset. The classic problem in puzzle strike is that every successful attack apart from the winning one (clearly!) gives your opponent more ammunition to fire back at you. I got this balance badly wrong.

He was already the victor at two-nil so I ditched character to my favourite and old faithful, Geiger. He is my favourite thematically anyway because time travel is just cool, but in the upgrade pack he finally fulfilled his potential. The Future Sight chip is my absolute favourite in the game, giving you two extra chips and the ability to save any two chips for the next hand.

Today, Geiger's awesome chip cycling abilities were wasted as I yet again got overaggressive and handed Chris (as Grave) the chips he needed to win.

The games went on a while (a sign of equal skill between players) but I never felt I was doing anything but staving off the inevitable.

Luckily, Puzzle strike is still great fun even for three time losers like me.

I will rise again, and shout "It's Time for the past!" only to add "not that past though; one where I won!"
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Sun Mar 11, 2012 12:53 pm
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More Mah Jong, less dry

Alec Chapman
United Kingdom
Lincolnshire
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Today’s game saw the end of our third full game and another victory for me as my opponents were unable to score the very low points necessary to overturn my slender lead. Final score was
Alec: 20
P:16
G: -12
DB: -24
 
An interesting judgement call came up in my last hand of the day (Hand Two of Game Three).
At one point, with two sets already made (chicken ones, but I was leading, after all), my active hand consisted of the following tiles:
 
9C,9C 7B,8B,9B 7B,8B
(C=Characters, B=Bamboo)
 
I drew a tile that led to an interesting conundrum, the third nine of characters, making a concealed pung BUT jeapordising the overall plan.
 
It’s difficult to know exactly what the right thing to do is in such a situation. After all, I have two other pairs that may pay off, but the previously discarded tiles situation is crucial when making a call of this kind. I can’t remember the exact count, but I did know that the crucial nine of bamboo was definitely still out there (and hopefully not in the dead wall). What I actually did was go for “two identical sequences” and resulting 10 points and therefore discarded the third nine (a win on the alternative resulting chicken hand would only have been one point).
 
This is a crucial point – if you have self drawn something that completes a set you are under no obligation to declare this and lock it in, unlike the situation where you have claimed someone else’s discard.
 
As it happens, the very next player won on a self draw so I could not complete this hand. It was more upsetting than usual because the last tile required, the nine of Bamboo, was sitting in the living wall awaiting drawing (sometimes you just HAVE to check) so I’m comfortable I made the right call, despite it feeling unintuitive.
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Fri Mar 9, 2012 4:58 pm
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The Noble Art Of Wall Building

Alec Chapman
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While Mahjong tiles are nice to play with (and far preferable to cards for me) it does necessitate a different approach to the problem of the shuffle.
 
Since this is the oddest and most ritualised part of the game, I thought I would cover it a little here for anyone interested (and so I can send this description to anyone interested in playing in the future so they know this in advance.
 
It would be possible in theory to simply randomise the tiles and pick at random, but the shuffling is actually done in the following manner, an upshot of which is almost total inability to cheat or stack the deal (which would completely break the game):
 
1.       The tiles are mixed by all four players in the middle of the table (known as the “twittering of the sparrows”, for the noise the good sets make)
2.       Each player makes a wall in front of themselves, 17 tiles long and two tiles high.
3.       These four walls are pushed together to form a square (or other four sided shape, depending on the country)
4.       The wall is broken – a pair of tiles is selected to be the first draw by rolling two six sided dice and counting each wall in turn (a total of 3 on the dice would mean the wall opposite the thrower) then rolling another two dice and adding this total to the first. This total is the number of tiles from the right hand side of that wall the start tile is.
5.       The deal (and play) goes anticlockwise, each player taking a pair, starting at this break, until they have twelve tiles in front of them. Then the first player takes the next single tile AND the top tile from the pair two stacks away (which he would take in a minute anyway), and the other players take the next single tiles. The first player jumps ahead like this in the draw to speed things up.
 
The back end of the wall is usually split off (the “dead wall”) to remove some tiles from the game (so you cannot be certain if the tile you need is available) – I believe this usually totals 12 or 14 tiles. This is equivalent to the Haggis in Haggis for example. We play with a 14 tile dead wall, but I need to reread the Zung Jung rules to see if this is correct.
 
Now the game is set up. This sounds long winded but is actually an excellent method of shuffling almost impossible to cheat, since you do not know where the game will start and only have shuffle control over a quarter of the pieces. It doesn’t take much time at all once you get used to building the walls.
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Fri Mar 9, 2012 4:23 pm
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The first steps on a long road...

Alec Chapman
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Game 3 ever of Twilight Struggle and my first time playing as the USA.

Luckily to avoid a quick loss I was playing against a new player and reaching him the game - this was Chris (see Regular Opponent no 1: The Co Host) who let his dictatorial tendencies take over and was happy to play as the USSR.

As a first time teacher of the game I am struck by how easy this one is to teach. Dr Evil may have said "I don't know phases" but this is a world domination game with a really well defined process, and I LOVE well defined processes.

Nevertheless, and this is likely to be me affecting him more than anything else, there was not a single realignment roll made during this (five turn) learning game. The defining moment was the turn one coup in Italy he pulled off, gaining immediate control and playing a Europe Scoring on the very next action round to take an early lead.

Pakistan was another bone of contention, with control changing hands before being wrestled about for quite a while as he protected his holdings in Asia (he was pretty dominant here tbh). An attempted invasion of India by Pakistan proved unsuccessful and I was unable to turn things around.

From my point of view I learned a couple of interesting things from this play. Italy requires urgent protection if possible because of a low stability rating, something I had never considered. Also, I have recognised the trouble Muslim Revolution causes for the US. You can't give up on the Middle East, obviously, but you're going to get munched in Iran and Iraq a couple of times at least.

I also felt that I conceded the initiative in Central America much too easily, allowing him almost free rein (except for Mexico). The Middle East and South America was where I was more successful, with Africa reaching a virtual stalemate.

The new player of course loved this game (he loves his political history so that's a no-brainer). It's so easy to pick up and hard to master I think we'll be exploring it for many more sessions.
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Thu Mar 8, 2012 10:53 pm
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Game 10: Twilight Struggle

Alec Chapman
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And so we come to the end and an enormous admission.
I've built a loophole into my pact.

I am allowed to obtain new games ONLY as gifts or trades, and I'm just not allowed to spend any money on making this happen (so no postage costs allowed!).

So it was that a game I've wanted for so long has dropped into my lap. Goodbye to a copy of Tannhauser I never played, hello to Twilight Struggle.

But how is this possible, you may well ask?

It just so happens that my erstwhile opponent, Sorp222 also runs a store and since I was going over to his anyway to play games I managed to persuade the recipient of said bloated, unloved euchronic game from my shelf to pay cash to Paul instead of me and, as a result, a shiny new copy of Twilight Struggle is mine.

(There's a pre-bought travelcard justification for the travel that I won't say any more on)

Anyway, I see this as the completion of my collection for the moment and a magnificent folly that essentially locks me into, I estimate, three years without game purchases while I play the arbitrary three figure number of games of this and Tigris and Euphrates.

So why was the obtaining of this cold war 'em up so important to me?

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

In Twilight Struggle, well known as the 'geek's number one game, you play as either the USA or USSR and attempt to control the world through well timed political actions, coups and influence while attempting to make the most of events that occur along the way.

If you don't know the game at all I strongly recommend you check out the many great reviews of it on the game's page. The way I think of it is as the kind of game where you think you're about to get destroyed at any moment for the whole length but, crucially, your opponent does too!

Many a time I sat there through my three previous games and thought "all of these cards are bad" only to see a similar thought written on the face of my opponent. It's how you make the most of what you've got that intrigues me and makes me believe that I will enjoy this easily for 100 plays.

Why does it fit the system? Well, it's because the experience of growing into a good TS player is a labour of love - there are several distinct stages of learning, I understand. From exploration; through discovery of crucial cards; to probability judgements and eventually, hopefully, understanding.

And I also love the theme. The whole cold war in an evening? I'll consider that well worth the £0.00 I paid to get it.

So that's it! All ten games are chosen and the challenge to myself well begun. Will I succeed? Stay tuned and find out.
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Mon Mar 5, 2012 11:05 pm
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The worst general in history...

Alec Chapman
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Lincolnshire
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is me. It's hard for a man who loves rolling dice and blowing things up to admit, but I just don't get war-games at all.

Latest example of this is Sekigahara: The Unification of Japan, a game with what I will call an "ingenious" combat system for the simple reason that I couldn't make head nor tail of it.

Your forces are hidden from your opponent and can only be activated if you have the cards in hand to "motivate" them. On top of this is the potential that if your opponent has a card to impose a "loyalty check" on you and you do not have another card of the same type, your forces betray you and fight for the other side.

This happened to me in three consecutive turns and there wasn't really any way back.

I was utterly crushed in half the playing time and we had to call it as a victory for my opponent;
Paul Lister
United Kingdom
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Who is one of my favourite foes.

Important caveat!
In fact we had missed the consolation prize that you receive, in defeat, more cards for your cause - presumably your forces become more dogged as the news gets worse.

I'm not going to lie. I then cheekily claimed a draw, but in all seriousness I would never have won this game in a million years, certainly not the eight turns provided.

I do not think this game is totally beyond me and with this experience behind me I should do better next time. And there will be a next time. At this point I would say i am intrigued.

The general point is that I always think one should be prepared to throw away your first game of a system, particularly one as unusual as this one is to me. It's an interesting mix of hand management, bluffing and point to point area control game - should be right up my alley despite appearances.

Who else has played this? What did you think?
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Mon Mar 5, 2012 10:11 pm
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The first week (or so)

Alec Chapman
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It may well be time to take stock of where I am.

Game 10 is still a little up in the air. Trying to source it from a couple of places so can't be sure if any of those options will actually work out.

As for the other 9 games, here is today's play count:

1 Cosmic Encounter - 35
2 Tigris & Euphrates - 2
3 Puzzle Strike - 30
4 Tichu - 4
5 Haggis - 2
6 Summoner Wars - 4
7 Mr Jack - 10
8 Small World - 8
9 Mah Jong - 17

Things can't be expected to move on much in a week, but I'm very confident about Jack, Jong, Puzzle Strike and Cosmic, a bit more concerned about the rest. While Small World was fun in the single game format, will there really be enough interesting in the game to keep me coming back for 100 plays?

I have regular and promised opponents for most of these games, but Summoner Wars and Small World could be a problem and will be the ones going to family gatherings, long lost cousin reunions etc to maximise their chances of getting played.

Tichu and Haggis seem to suffer from themelessness (!) when being sold in the crowds in which I roll these days, but I reckon a good session or two will ease the butterflies in the stomach about them.

The elephant in the room here is the 98 remaining plays of Tigris and Euphrates. It's a game that deserves considered play and not resentful fitting in of the requisite number of games (as with all the ones on this list), but to quote Spinal Tap's manager, "its appeal is more selective" than the other games on the list. I'm hoping for very loyal Knizia-philes to come out of the woodwork and pledge to show me how this is done!

I want to ensure I balance which games I am playing to ensure I don't get into a rut, with strategically placed plays of other games to keep me in the loop to a certain extent.

(Any friends from LoB who want to join me and
Martin G
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Bristol
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in Mah Jong should let me know, too!)

Well, finally a request:
If you've seen the rest of the list and read the criteria, what do you think my game 10 should be?

Keep playing your games, folks.
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Thu Mar 1, 2012 11:43 pm
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Regular Opponent 1 - The Co Host

Alec Chapman
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NOTE: to anyone waiting for game 10 it is a little up in the air and dependent on a particular trade going through as to which one I go for, so watch this space!

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

On this website, theres a lot of talk about the games, but I'll talk about my history with some of my more regular opponents, too, to break up the flow of cardboard related facts.

My number one most played gaming opponent is my ex-housemate and co-host of the movie podcast I do. His name is Chris.

Me and Chris have known each other for, woah, almost 13 years!

At university our gaming was limited to WWF No Mercy on the N64 (still my favourite wrestling game ever) and copious far too long games of Talisman at the dining table with our other male housemate, Ian.

He's been there with me through many a trial and is, by any objective measurement, a terrific human being. He's not on the Geek so I can be reasonably effusive without making him uncomfortable, something it is all too easy to do.

In terms of modern gaming, we used to have a regular meet up every tuesday to work through the campaign book for Commands & Colours: Ancients before physical distance got in the way following a move on his part. He was better than me at that game and is currently proving to be a frustratingly capable opponent - at both Mr Jack and Puzzle Strike especially. It was he who, after what I can only assume was a bump on the head leading to unwarranted generosity (I am a legendarily bad present giver and deserve poor treatment) bought me Puzzle Strike for my birthday last year.

It was an inspired move.

We see each other frequently, at least recording a podcast every week when we don't get to play games, and know each other pretty darn well. This makes games between the two of us truly experienced affairs, while retaining the aura of friendship as well.

It was Chris who walked straight into my trap in C&C: A and faced an onslaught from all my elephants, only to see me roll not a single hit, wiping me out on the next turn.

It was Chris who shared my fate in the game of Arkham Horror we played that lasted half an hour (we had a lot of bad luck) and therefore less time than it took to set up.

It was Chris who, with me, watched in horror as Diego (my smallest cat) destroyed a meticulously arranged Battles Of Westeros board and set up, who forayed into D&D just because I was interested (creating the now legendarily delusional Cecile Of Bois) and has agreed to help me reach my 1000 games target.

To all people out there who have someone like this to game with. Treasure them and look after them, in gaming as in life a good friend is worth their weight in, well, friendship! That's much more valuable than gold.
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Tue Feb 28, 2012 10:14 pm
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hanging in the balance

Alec Chapman
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Mah Jong at lunchtime and we are comfortably fitting in four hands of it every time at this point.

Following a single Kong for P in the first hand, G, desperate for the sweet smell of victory, settled for two chicken hands (rubbish hands worth a token one point). I had not really got into the game at all until my fourth hand - and since I was behind in points went back to basics.

A triplet of any one dragon is worth ten points and if you draw a pair of them the likelihood of the other players discarding them is pretty high so you can obtain a significant return for not an enormous effort.

The rest of my hand was cursory, to say the least, but it was enough to give me the lead at the halfway stage.

Current Standing:
Alec 23
P 3
G -9
"Dead Ben" - The dummy hand -17



I'm very pleased that my regular opponents, G and P are really getting the hang of the relatively complex discard claiming rules, so i thought I would explain them here.

The simplest way to win is to draw the final tile you need yourself, but in certain circumstances you can claim your opponents' discards too - in Zung Jung scoring, the big hands will cost extra points to anyone who discarded the tile claimed for the win, encouraging more skilful judgement of the odds and risks of every discard you make.

So when can you steal your opponents' tiles?

Simply put, the rule of thumb is that you can claim a discard to either complete a set or to win. Let me explain in more detail because it gets a little tricky. The order in which I will explain it is also the order of priority, if two or three players claim the same discard. 1 is the highest priority and 4 is the lowest. Ties in this priority are broken in turn order.

1) Mah Jong AKA Winning AKA Going Out
- you can claim any discard at all to complete your final sequence of any kind, or pair.

2) Four Of A Kind AKA Kong
- If you have three of a kind in hand and an opponent discards the fourth, you can claim it for a meld, skipping all players in-between and continuing as if you had just drawn from the wall. Any players in-between you and the discarder are skipped.
- Important note - if you have already melded a triplet and someone discards the fourth tile of that kind, you MAY NOT meld with it. This is because otherwise your opponent will have a tile they KNOW they should not discard and therefore it's a case of hand your opponent some points or hold onto a potentially useless tile and lose your chances of winning.

3) Triplet AKA Pung AKA Pong (hee hee!)
- You can claim a discard from any opponent to complete three of a kind, making it your turn to discard (i.e. you skip forward to your turn)

4) Sequence AKA Chow
- You can claim a discard from the immediately preceding player ONLY. You cannot claim sequences from anyone else unless it is to win. The rationale behind this is, presumably, that sequences are far too easy to create if you can claim them from anywhere.

I hope this clears up any questions some people may have.
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Mon Feb 27, 2012 8:13 pm
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The shape of things to come

Alec Chapman
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Right then, I'm starting to get down to business on this.

Saturday night, following a hideous trip to the cinema we played three games of Mr Jack and one of Small World.

Strictly speaking, one should play Mr Jack as a "first to three" type of game since it gives both players a shot at playing both roles twice, but three games in a row seems to be how much embarrassment I am willing to take.

In game one things were pretty dicey. Chris (as the investigator) had it narrowed down to three suspects and was closing in inexorably on the true villain, though it should be noted that at no stage in this game does it not feel like you're about to get discovered.

But suddenly, the unthinkable happened. We alternate dealing the character cards, shuffling and laying out half of them for choosing between. For some reason, some may call it police brutality, Chris instead dealt four alibi cards. This broke the game, and he had to forfeit the first round.

Game two and I was in the slightly less stressful position of investigator. This game turned on an outrageous fluke that left a very annoyed opponent. I looked at the board situation and realised that I could not eliminate inspector Lestrade before my opponent could escape with him. This meant I would have to accuse someone or lose on the next turn, or so I thought. I accused Jeremy Bert, because I had a feeling he was being set up as the beneficiary of a potential Lestrade bluff.

Thing is, Lestrade could never have escaped, because he was visible. In Mr Jack, Jack can only make his escape if he is out of sight (obviously enough) and Lestrade was stood next to a light.
A rudimentary error of logic left me essentially tossing a coin and it was pure luck that meant I was right.

Game three was a straightforward victory for Chris as his investigator made short work of eliminating all the other suspects and using Sherlock Holmes to eliminate one of the last two.

So strictly speaking I won the night's Mr Jack confrontation 2 games to 1, but neither victory was worthy of great praise.

Small World was a three player affair - Mrs Algo joined us and promptly destroyed the world with her Peace Loving Ratmen (a great choice as first player) and Pillaging Pixies (a super excellent alliterative combo).

However, I kept up the pace with my Flying Amazons and Corrupt Skeletons before taking a crucial and game winning second decline to take over the Fortified Homunculi.

Chris did not have a good game and didn't even count the points his Merchant Tritons, Barricade Wizards and Seafaring Ghouls (a poor second decline choice, IMHO) got for him.

Final score was

Alec 129
Kitty 113
Chris DNC

I enjoyed this game immensely and the 16 point gap does't really reflect how much my third race turned defeat into victory.

I could get used to this!
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Mon Feb 27, 2012 7:11 pm
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