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LOBstercon Nov 2012 Blog Post 5 of 5

Alec Chapman
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Day 4: Journey after journey

It's always a shame to realise that a fun experience is about to come to an end, but important to make the most of things as you do.

Also, I have been working off my Played Games list and the dates associated all through writing these posts - only to realise now, at the end, that I was date accurate - that is to say that some of the plays took place at midnight to 2am on the relevant days, before bed, rather than in the exact order I have described them.

For example, the enormous 7 player game of Cosmic Encounter played on Saturday night - Sunday Morning is logged on Sunday.

As a result, perhaps, of the epic game with the Filth Flare, Poison and the Pygmy I was a little nervy about playing with so many players - finally remembering the four planet variant and all agreed to this lower score target. I drew the Warpish and we had some interesting powers around the table such as Parasite (Ian)and Hate (Martin!) - the latter of who everybody was terrified of but actually got totally nerfed by a cosmic zap and running out of cards to use his power with as a result. This game was probably most notable for Martin's flare that gave him a colony for everyone who lost their power. Since most of the players (including him) were locked together on 3 colonies and needed just one point to win this being a four planet game he could have used this and won when in the final fight Ian used his Parasite ability to jump in with Jon and attempt a cheap victory, losing his power immediately afterwards with only one planet (and, incidentally one ship) remaining.

I know what you're thinking. Easy victory for Martin, right?
Wrong.
Ian slipped his ship onto the cone quietly and without drawing attention to the action - this was in the hope that Jon would not notice and backstab his proposed negotiation partner, Kester, handing Ian a zero effort joint victory. As a result, this quiet action meant that Martin did not spot the move and did not play his card. Only realising his error when Kester and Jon overcame every instinct of the weekend and shook hands on a win. His reaction was... shall we say... not positive (but only in terms of being annoyed with himself!).



I think from now on, with more than five players I will always use the four planets variant. It was just a lot more fun and the stakes rose at a better rate in my opinion.

OK, last thing Saturday night and since this was also the day of Die Macher and Dungeon Lords, I was feeling a bit brain fried. Enter the change of pace and Mah Jong. We used Zung Jung rules, and a seven pair hand made the difference as I came out the winner in a two player, two dummy game (with Martin joining for one hand) with Chris. I can't remember much else about it since I was to all intents and purposes already asleep.

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

After a lie in (I spoiled myself by missing breakfast and spending an extra half hour in bed) we went back over to the venue - we planned to leave mid afternoon, or when Chris thought he wouldn't be able to drive back any later without falling asleep at the wheel, whichever came sooner.

For the second time in two days, my day included a game of Tichu. Despite using a random assignment of partnerships, I ended up paired with Scott again - I can only imagine his disappointment! Chris was once again playing to my right and his partner was Amanda.
This game was very different from Saturday's. Scott and I roared out of the gates with a couple of successful Tichu calls and before long had an enormous (700 point?) lead. In this game I felt I managed to track the points a bit better - up til now I had always just concentrated on my hand and helping my partner rather than the actual points content of the trick. Of course, going out first and/or second is crucially important but I started to get the sense that the destination of the points cards is something you can control. On one occasion I gave up a potential trick win with the dragon to force Chris to take the -25 points associated with the Phoenix (obviously leading him to believe the Dragon was with his partner), only to quickly grab the lead with the dragon shortly after - sending it the other way and concentrating on slowing Amanda down (so we would get the 25 points and leave them with the -25).

Also, I started to play harder on the ones where there were points available and take fewer leading risks with these cards in my hand.
Of course, these are only basic strategies I am sure, but this is one of the aims in my concentration on the 10 games in my list - to improve my understanding of games beyond the veneer of, for example, "just go out as quick as you can". While I am far from adept at manipulating the eventual direction of the tricks' point scoring cards I can see how this could build into one of the more satisfying aspects of the game.

Eventually, despite a quite cracking Grand Tichu call from Amanda in the games latter stages and not because of Chris' failed Grand Tichu on the very next hand (which was only bid because Scott and I were on 965 points) we managed to come out comfortable winners.

Tichu is probably a fantastic example of the frustrations I have had at LoB. With all the new games with shiny components and nested mechanics, it's easy for a superb card game like this to be ignored by many and not taken up by new players or played enough for people to see its true value. Of course, if London On Deck kicks off I may get to play this more and certainly would look to do so.

Once Tichu was done with I was looking about for something to play with this guy -
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Which is easier said than done because while we get on really well, he hates almost every game I love.

Luckily, we found a copy of Tales Of The Arabian Nights, a pseudo-game that includes putting on character voices and a sex change spring. Definitely about the point at which our venndiagrams overlap!

So along with Chris and two others we set about explaining the rules to this mutual pastime (I hesitate to call it a game) to the new players and as is traditional everyone knew the full turn procedure in about five minutes.

If you don't know Tales of The Arabian Nights I will endeavour to explain both the game and why I like it. The game (and I will call it a game from now on as it is a recreational pastime with a competitive element) consists of a lot of cardboard and a great big book known as "The Book Of Tales" that contains everything that can and will happen to your little cardboard stand up figure throughout the play.

Your turn consists of moving to a space on the board and having an "encounter" there determined by a combination of a Card (saying you meet, for example, a Wizard) and matrices in the book of tales, rolling dice to establish an adjective (i.e. rolling will determine whether you meet a "great wizard" or an "evil wizard").

You then use what are almost certainly the best player aids ever designed (ironic given the non-gamey nature of this) to determine your response. Each type of matrix or encounter has a letter assigned to it, which is in turn associated with a set of responses. So, with the Wizard described above you could have options as disparate as "Aid", "Grovel" or "Rob" each leading to a different paragraph in the book of tales.

These paragraphs (and there are many, many of them) describe the outcome of your action. Of course, there is a little bit of translation required to read them out in an engaging way - most of them describe "the other" and you have to translate to "The Evil Wizard", and while you may have chosen to "drink" in response to the Great Storm, rest assured you are more likely to catch some rainwater on your tongue or drink a magic potion than do the literal drinking of an entire storm you may have intended.

Also, doing funny voices for the other characters is mandatory, but seems to have been left out of the rules. whistle

And since the outcomes of the paragraphs depend on things you may or may not possess, on skills you may or may not have learnt etc etc it is an extremely random game - not one for long nights with Wallace auction lovers or strategic minded people. The scoring and win conditions are so absurdly un-gameable as to be beyond any form of strategy.

Just play and have a good time - this is why I like it so much. It doesn't pretend to be more than it is or to deliver a classic gaming experience. It is just plain silly fun and sometimes that's exactly what you need.

My subsequent insistence on playing what I can best describe as a spectacularly incompetent game of Bunny Bunny Moose Moose was probably what signalled the need for us to go home - though I did play a couple of hands of R, which bridged a small gap between deciding to go home and a group finishing with my copy of Bausack.

So as we hit the road, what were my thoughts on the event itself? Obviously the gaming was great. The LoB crowd are a bunch of legends, but with the addition of the massive gaming area available to us at the hotel and the availability of the town of Eastbourne to get away from things (and the beach being just over the road) I think this stands as a truly superb way to spend a long weekend. I heartily recommend it and to any games groups who have never done something of the kind - look into it! I guarantee it will be great fun.

If any of you have managed to get through all of my blog posts, I hope you enjoyed them. Thanks to everyone I gamed with all weekend and to everyone i didn't, I'll be happy to lose to you next time!
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Tue Nov 13, 2012 5:21 am
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LOBstercon Nov 2012 Blog Post 4.5 of 5

Alec Chapman
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I apologise for the half number, but after the epic description of our play of elect-em-up, Die Macher, I decided discretion was the greater part of valour. It's possible that you think that 5 hours of German politics is all you need for one day's gaming? You would think wrong.

Here's what else we got up to afterwards.

Tichu: Scott agreed to help me out with a 10:100 play, along with Chris and another gent called Richard. Thanks guys! Luckily we managed to get back into this game as a competitive partnership before the call for dinner happened thanks to a my first ever successful face to face Grand Tichu call.
I've made the call before - everybody gets desperate or excitied - but I recall being (very unluckily) bombed or unexpectedly trumped every time I had done so previously. This understandably makes me very reticent about taking the risk on our partnership's behalf unless a long way behind.
In this game, as you can guess, we were a long way behind and despite one very odd decision (namely to pass an Ace to my partner while receiving another in return) that made ridding myself of the 4 in my hand after the 2 quite challenging. Luckily things worked out and we got back into contention. Sadly this game was curtailed while we were still behind, but it served as a great reminder why I enjoy it.

Puzzle Strike: With everybody else at dinner, Chris and I played two rounds of this wacky combo builder. The puzzle chips were randomly drawn and there were plenty of attacks with only one blue chip available. In this circumstance the draw of characters can be decisive. I drew Rook and won easily using his Gem inflation skills and timing a couple of major 4 gem crashes alternating with combine/attack chains. Then he requested (as per multiple game rules) that I change characters - unfortunately for him I drew Argagarg, the attack specialist and butchered him again, raining gems into his pile far quicker than he could deal with them. Midway through this game we were offered teaching, by Jeff, of...

Dungeon Lords: Of course, I took him up on this immediately for two reasons.

1. Vlaada Chvatil. Galaxy Trucker, Through The Ages and Space Alert are three of my favourite games by this wizard of design, and I had heard good things about this one too. Since I have played most of his games and enjoyed them, this one had been on my radar - especially since it gives you the opportunity to smash up some irritating camp heroes.
2. Jeff. Despite both being fixtures (though in my case an increasingly absent one) at LoB we'd never met. Bizarre. This needed to be fixed and in the way that only playing a two hour eurogame with an evilometer can.

Luckily, Jeff knew the game like the back of his hand and despite Chris and I staring in ignorant impotence at the (extremely well explained) training scenarios like five year olds having their ice cream witheld until they answer all the across clues in the Times Cryptic crossword on a Sunday afternoon, a little bit of his training managed to penetrate our Die Macher fogged minds.

And so onto the game. We were joined by a fourth player of course, who i don't know if they are on BGG so I won't talk too much about them - but was excellent company in the way that only someone who repeatedly tells you they will lose can be (she didn't lose, either, if I remember...).

Now - Dungeon Lords is like other Vlaada games in that there are two distinct acts in each round. In Space Alert there is planning and resolution, in Galaxy Trucker there is building and flying (read: exploding). Unlike those examples where a frantic and desperate free for all is followed by something more structured, Dungeon Lords is split into a simultaneous worker placement game (building your dungon, hiring monsters etc) and a subsequent step by step hero bashing game using what you already built/hired.

Let me talk about the negative factors first - while by all accounts the rulebook is hilarious, there is an awful lot of front loading required on the rules to make the game playable. Also, I had a niggling feeling that there should be more options for the budding dungeon masters than a random trap or one of two randomly drawn rooms, but I am entirely sure that this would introduce too long a play time for a game of this type.

So onto the good stuff. As usual, the components are excellent and do their job admirably. Especial kudos is due for the imps being actual imps - the oddly shaped minions aside I found exactly the right balance is struck between functionality and theme.

And the gameplay is good too. The worker placement mechanic feels inherently higher stakes than the old fashioned "you place one, I place one" school and therefore I found it more compelling than, for example, Stone Age for this reason. It also has the added bonus of reducing AP time while the next player soaks up the implications (geddit? IMP-lications?) of your last placement. YAWN.

The evilometer is pure genius and it is the manipulation of this that managed to ensure I was visited by no wizards or healers for the entire game, only picking up a thief in year two after I had altered my method of hero munching to a very technical "Golem and Demon just punch them as hard as they can" strategy. Because of my canny use of the evilometer...
Spoiler (click to reveal)
I KNOW! I did something gamey! Watch out for porcine pilots!

I managed to only have the thief - who incidentally cancels trap damage - after discarding my last trap on "monster pay day", a day when i also fed my witch to the Demon, making my outgoings virtually nil in useful terms, the goblin and the witch being wholly superceded by the Golem's repeat attacks before I fed them to the Demon. I can only imagine what they thought as they entered the room with their "payment" only to find out they were the centrepiece for an all night buffet!

And so my Golem and my Demon wiped out the year two adventurers in short order, meaning I had only lost three bits of corridor throughout the whole game and since I had invested in rooms with bonus points for both the Golem and Demon, as well as for each title I received I ended up winning...
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Wait... I won? Yes reader, I know it's hard to believe, but I won a proper game of something. Have a lie down if it's all too much for you.

...by a considerable margin, obviously as a result of going against every natural instinct in my body and thinking about points scoring above all else.

I am usually a really bad winner so I attempted to keep my rising pride in check and went off to lose at something to restore the status quo.

Bausack: After a day with a play of Die Macher and another of Dungeon Lords in it, I decided (after a couple of dexterity plays of Riff Raff - a game far too average to write about) to indulge in another couple of plays of this wacky fun time. Bausack is a big bag of seemingly pointless wooden shapes, and enough different games to play with them to keep you diverted. We played both the auction variant and the building chain variant. I won neither so I knew we weren't entering the end times. While I like the actual building part of the building chain variant, I have to say the actual choosing of parts was a little bit drawn out. I do like this game a lot though, and knowing the parts well is a distinct advantage since I have experience of trying to be balance most of the parts on most of the others.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Top Tip! It's all about surface area down towards the bottom and having a place to put little tricky bits (in the egg cup, gaps in the building etc)


So Saturday turned out to be our most serious gaming day. This is the great thing about a major con style get together - you can experience the length and breadth of gaming and STILL have half a day left over at the end.

I'll post the final day's playing and my thoughts as a whole tomorrow. It's not much of a spoiler to say it is an entirely positive review!
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Mon Nov 12, 2012 1:44 am
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LOBstercon Nov 2012 Blog Post 4 of 5

Alec Chapman
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Day 3: I may be the junior partner in this coalition, but at least I'm in government

By Day Three, Saturday, I think our hostess finally realised that Chris and I, rather than sharing a twin room out of mutual attraction, had instead taken what could best be described as "an extreme economical step" and booked a room together out of cheapness.

She seemed a bit less interested in us and what we were doing after that.

So, as I said in my last blog post, we had signed up for the monstrous eurogame of eurogames - Die Macher.

Now, if you aren't aware of Die Macher I can hardly blame you - it sounds pretty dry being about the way German political parties are elected and the importance of coalitions to that process; it lasts five hours; there are no explosions.

Because Die Macher is a serious game, I wore my reading glasses. Seriously. For two days of gaming I hadn't even put them on once until now.

All these negative and sterile sounding things that should be tempered by a simple statement: the game is awesome. Just freaking awesome.

Now, a few caveats.

First, the group should all get along and be good humoured. Holy cow I'd hate to play this game for five hours of passive aggressive sniping.

Second, the group should play at a reasonable speed and take breaks at the same time. This way a long game doesn't become an endurance exercise. I am pretty sure that in my previous game I jumped up a couple of spaces at the end (finishing, I think, third?) purely because the relevant opponents were close to expiring from mental exhaustion.

Third, don't get drunk. You will lose.

In this particular play only Soren and I had played before, and several years before at that so the loooooooooong rules explanation had to be gotten out of the way first.

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

One of the friendliest aspects of Die Macher and therefore the easiest to get your head around is that it is essentially a series of contests over area control, albeit with a multiplier in the case of voting. This is also its weakness of course - you are essentially doing the same 12 step(?) process six times.

The thing I like most about it is that you can affect the future - so if you have a low chance of winning in the current election you can easily gain yourself an improved position on the next. BUT! you don't know the whole future, there being some hidden information right up until the end - it can be a risky business, betting on a future election!

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

So in what ways can you gain points in Die Macher? It's important to keep these in mind because I didn't really follow the rule of scoring points in my first game, getting bogged down in enjoying the process and not really achieving any of the game conditions.

So... the ways you score points in this game are as follows:

1. Winning seats in elections
2. The number of party members you have (plus bonus points for the first and second highest count of these)
3. Sending media control markers from elections you won onto the main board
4. Matching National Issue Positions at the end of the game

So how can you actually achieve these? Well, I'll take them in turn.

1. To win seats you need votes.
You can gain votes through multiplying the number of party meeting cubes you paid to assign to the election by your current popularity in the region. (Popularity = Opinion score + matching issue positions - different issue positions)
You can also gain votes by sending one of your shadow cabinet members to get them - these are basically an identical deck for each party made up of powerful cards you can also use to get media control of an area, make an issue a "key" issue (doubling its value) etc. The more options on the card, the more expensive it is.

2. Party members are obtained by sacrificing an opinion poll or a potential party donor. There are also extra members available to those parties whose issue tableau matches the national board after each election. I hardly ever did this, hence why I had so few party members for much of the game.

3. You can move a media marker from an election you win (either alone or in coalition) onto the "national board". The early election wins get you more points on here - presumably because this story is out there for longer or something equally exciting. shake Neglect this aspect at your peril and also realise that in order to do this you have to have a media marker in the region to start with! Whoops cry

4. Throughout the game you will be trying to pander to local populations by switching your position on key issues at recent presidential candidate speed (bit of satire!). However, while this is all well and good, you will get a bonus number of party members (and at the end of the game, points) for keeping the national issues board in mind. To clarify what the hell an issue is - it's just a red or white card signifying whether you agree or disagree with particular policies such as GM crops (represented by the classic cuboid tomato) or defence (represented by a ridiculously unhelpful set of mini pictures) etc. You have a tableau in front of you with five of these (there are seven different ones in total so two of them are considered neutral) - representing your party platform. It is important that you balance the needs of building party members against the need to win local elections. This is central to the way the game works.

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

If this sounds like a lot of moving parts, you will probably not enjoy the fact that all of these interact and all of them are affected by other aspects.

An example interaction: as well as giving you the ability to score points for victory in elections, numerical superiority in the media cubes additionally give you the ability to change one of the issues in the region - either to a contradictory one or perhaps to one that was not present in either white or red form before this change.

An example of an additional part: Opinion Polls - your popularity in a region can benefit or suffer at the hands of opinion polls. You bid for control of these and then decide to publish or not. If you publish you can move the popularity of a rival down, or assist a coalition partner or even, if you're like me - only bid for ones where you come out smelling of roses.

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

I don't want to go into much more detail than this. You should be able to tell whether you would enjoy the game from these little details. It should be noted that like many modern games, the turns are multi stage and each player gets to do one stage before you move to the next, so there is very little downtime.

This is probably what is so exhausting about Die Macher. You are playing for five hours. Not playing for one hour and the others for the other four. Because of the way the parts interact most things you do will affect somebody's decisions - even if just that they give up on one election and move to the next.

We did not explore the coalitions aspect until half way through. There simply had not been any cards played that would make one happen.

This changed in election 6. Soren and I realised a mutual benefit of working together. Die Linken and Die Grunen (played by the two people at the table named Chris) had a coalition that looked unbeatable. I was sitting in dead last and Soren was probably in second. While I had played the elections reasonably, my national positioning had been poor and my party was quite small. In trying to regain some lost ground I had paid the price for a large external donation - a lot of my very few members had quit the party in disgust. It was pretty clear I was languishing in last place and something had to be done.

It made the most sense for Soren and I to combine our efforts, steal the election victory in number 6, get the media markers and favourable issues positions onto the national board. As it turned out, we annihilated them in the end, both of us getting the maximum number of votes before I realised I had not bought media in that area (ARGH!) which cost me several points though these would, in the end, prove to be moot.

We stormed the election in such style that we both gained 48 points and with a victory in the next election, Soren assured himself of a hefty victory. Did I kingmake? No. Because in the joint effort and due to our control of the issues board I secured myself a very creditable second place from dead last.

Sympathy has to go to the CDU/CSU who got everything blown off the issues board and replaced with contradictory positions just before the end, which cost him goodness knows how many points (I think around 80) - but politics is a cut throat game.

Final Scores:
Soren (SPD) - 351
Alec (FDP) - 288
Chris M.1 (Die Grunen) - 273
Chris M.2 (Die Linken) - 262
Richard (CDU/CSU) - 208

I wholeheartedly recommend this game to anyone going into it with open eyes and an open mind about the time and mental investment. It was perfect for the LOBStercon format and I reckon I'll try t again at the next one.

If you made it through all this I was going to include the rest of the day's gaming in this post but have reconsidered. Look out for post 4.5!
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Fri Nov 9, 2012 5:00 am
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LOBstercon Nov 2012 Blog Post 3 of 5

Alec Chapman
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Day 2 - Today's Front Page Headlines: Junkie Babies and "Anya"

So after a very agreeable breakfast in the company of our misled, but increasingly aware hotelier we returned for our first full day of gaming. Chris went off with others to play Robinson Crusoe, and I got some other games played.

Innovation is a game I've wanted to try for ages. I'm a sucker for quick playing pseudo-civ games (such as URUK) and the splaying and the fact that the cards are all different made me very interested in it. I am pleased to report it lived up to my hopes, though the scoring system and achievements are a bit beyond my ken right now. The various cards symbols and dogma probably don't really call to mind the sorts of things that the titles do e.g. "Archery", but one game isn't enough to know for sure. The process was fun (and that is the main thing) and I only lost by two points thanks to the aforementioned Archery scaring Martin a bit - but it was all luck at this early stage.
I would be happy to get this game in a trade or for Christmas, say, but I don't think I would play it enough to make paying cash money for it worthwhile - even if the 10:100 stuff didn't ban me from that anyway.

Next up, Martin had picked up an astonishing bargain in the form of Extrablatt at Essen and this game was great fun. You build sections of colour giving "stories" various sizes and trying to get the largest area of each colour and largest story of each headline. It is also possible to double up on a headline if there is a photo token available. There is a system for hurting your opponents by, wait for it, placing adverts for prostitutes (both male and female, ladies) in their papers.
A reprint was supposedly on the cards, but is in development hell apparently - though I would expect the prostitutes to be replaced with other adverts (for boring things like chocolate bars and oranges) which I think would ruin most of the jokes we came up with, but people are very sensitive on some subjects.
Again, this is a game I would play again but I would not want to own it - even a reprint.

I believe this is the point I went off and had some lunch. Not sure I can remember the main course, after the enormous chocolate sundae I ate immediately afterwards.

Today was the day I got my first couple of plays of Cosmic in. The main game today was extremely long (c. 2 hours I think) thanks to the presence of the Pygmy, the Poison and the Filth flare that kicks people off planets making points scoring very difficult. It also featured the first of JonD's wins (he won 100% of his Cosmic games, the b-----d!) when he stabbed Martin for the win while pretending to negotiate "just to get it over with". Great play.
I think this day also featured the game where the Winner got ripped to pieces and where we all decided that the Dictator is a terrible alien. He wasn't fun to play against and according to Jon wasn't fun to play as, either.
Obviously I adore Cosmic so I won't indulge my propensity to waffle on about how amazing it is.

Indigo was one we tried after coming back from Pizza. It is not very good, being a sort of alternative to Tsuro but with shared points scoring areas for board pieces rather than relying on last man standing rules. Essentially it is very average and is definitely the worst game I played all weekend.

Villa Paletti was my most played game (6 plays!) and was also played by lots of people over the weekend. I would say it was a huge success. Essentially a tower building game where you want your colour of pillars to get as high as possible, it has a pretty neat set of considerations that start with redistributing weight to free up your pieces at the bottom, continue with placing them somewhere they will not get trapped in future, all the while considering not only the balance of the structure, but which pieces contribute to its centre of gravity. I am not sure about the way it chooses a winner and there is a sort of first player advantage. Add to that the various different rule sets meant I had to come up with a middle way on challenging new floors being played (i.e. I'm pretty sure you can only move your own pieces, but at some point only other players' pieces can be moved). Despite its possible shortcomings as a deep strategy game(!) the dexterity element is compelling.
Only one game (one in which I was not involved, of course) made it to the top level, only to collapse when one player tried to place the final piece on top of another piece. Kudos to those players - though I doubt you were being as cruel as my games were!

Libertalia is, however, a game I can't see the attraction of. Ostensibly a game of pirate ships it seems more of a bidding game with an extremely irritating tiebreak mechanism. I don't want to be to judgemental since with only three hours sleep due to hail storms(!) i was pretty much collapsing with exhaustion during this one. I think I came last, but I don't really mind. Didn't like it - not looking to play it again. Oddly Indigo was less inspiring but that'll be because it had zero impact on me rather than a negative one.

However, as you can see, the attraction of a big get together like this is all the different games you can play and all the different people you can play with. Every single opponent was fun to play against (even the Zendo master from hell was a fun person) and great company. I only saw the good side of the hobby all weekend. Partly perhaps because of this particular group, maybe because of the games I chose to play - I like to think however I got a fair representation of the group actually.

The night ended with a fateful agreement - Soren, Chris and I would fulfil our commitment to play Die Macher, the 5 hour game of German elections, starting at 10:30 the following morning. To see how we got on (considering another 2am finish) check out my next blog post!

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Thu Nov 8, 2012 3:04 am
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LOBstercon Nov 2012 Blog Post 2 of 5

Alec Chapman
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I am blogging all week on the excellent experience I had with London On Board down at LOBstercon in Eastbourne.

This is blog post 2 and, perversely, is about day 1.

DAY 1 - It's Napoleon vs Beowulf

Chris and I were planning to come down at lunchtime before his employer stepped in and made him go to a lunchtime meeting, meaning we couldn't leave London until rush hour, so we crawled along all the roads listening to Frank Zappa and Alan Partridge (one after the other. They never collaborated, sadly).

Best line from I, Partridge on the way down?
Quote:
"You effing b---h" his eyes seemed to say, I imagined.
Our twin room was just round the corner, at the Sea View Hotel, and we got the distinct impression that the owner thought we were a couple, advising us on a lovely place for dinner and then suggesting a walk along the beach. She was 100% lovely and 200% wrong, but it's nice to be appreciated. We spent all of 10 seconds in our room before grabbing the monstrous bags of games I had brought and heading to the York House to get started.

I had it in my head that since we were so late and dinner was pretty much starting that we'd have to concentrate on a two player game early on. Sure enough, everyone was already playing games when we arrived.

The slight error was that for our first game I had selected a monster 10 a side game of Duel Of Ages.

For the uninitiated, Duel Of Ages is a really simple system that goes on forever if you let it. It's core mechanic - comparing colours on a chart and then rolling less than the given target number on two dice - is so simple as to be insulting, and it is a monumentally fiddly game with loads of slightly different areas to score (all of which using that one core mechanic).

It only gives you any pleasure at all if, like me, you love the concept of Napoleon's team vs Robin Hood's team - of Attila The Hun riding a mountain bike and firing a bazooka at a Martian Flying Saucer.

But to reiterate. All that has to happen in your head, mostly because you're just rolling dice and trying to roll below a target number. For this reason we did not actively invite other gamers to join in. if they'd specifically asked, I'd have happily given up half of my team (keeping track of ten tiny, very similar chits is not that easy) Your average eurogamer would last half a turn I would think before running away screaming.

Unfortunately this and the fact we decided to spread out over three tables in the vast and empty downstairs area (mainly so I would not have to shuffle the fully expanded equipment deck, which got a table to itself) made us seem a little aloof on arrival, which we really weren't. I think we were just a little spaced out from the three and a half hour drive. Sorry to anyone who got the wrong impression!

In any case, in the game I went against my normal "smackdown" game plan (grab all the strong natural melee characters and kick ass asap) in favour of one where I had two characters whose core special ability was to give bonuses to others -
*Napoleon gives extra movement to colonial characters but is made of glass. I stuck him in my HQ and since I had four other colonial team members he was invaluable.
*General Gavin gives a bonus to honourable characters. I let him be more mobile and in fact he got the first kill of the game, sniping flicker on overwatch after grabbing the Spencer Carbine from the vault.

Having taken a casualty, and being behind in the modern and colonial labyrinths, Chris' team concentrated on stealing my lead in the royal tournament (which Sir Gawain and Grunt achieved easily) and dominating the future labyrinth. Beowulf used his almost unmatched melee skills to tear Billy The Kid (or Kidd?) in half, before getting punched in the face by Mick The Lion - who gets to match his opponents skill anyway, costing Beowulf any advantage.

In the end, the difference was the Ruins, where I took an early, and unbeatable lead. Final score was 3:2 to my team white, after two and a half hours.

There were a lot of dice rolled and I hesitate to recommend the game to BGG's typical user as it is a little random and old fashioned. I love it, though.

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

Then we played four rounds of Zendo, a game that I was recommended by several people.
They were right, of course, it was a great game - I already have some rule ideas (unoriginal, I am sure) I want to try out next time and will definitely be playing that again. I think everyone got so annoyed at the prime numbers rule they all went to bed.

Well either that or it was 1am already. I forget.

So it was a low key start to the proceedings, the highlight of the evening being Chris' accidental flirting with the waitress at the Chinese round the corner. We'd popped over to grab some food before kicking off the game of Duel Of Ages proper after setting it up.

Because we wanted to get back - partly to play the game but also because I was nervous leaving my stuff in the empty downstairs room - we sprinted through dinner and asked for the bill pretty quick.

The waitress asked "do you always rush?"
Chris replied a la Bond - "No... some things are worth taking your time over..."

What a legend.
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Wed Nov 7, 2012 1:33 am
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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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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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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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