Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Games & Me: Status Report Part 1

Greetings and happy holidays to all in blog land! Although I have found no time and/or inspiration the last couple months for my blog, I have managed to play a few board games. Most notable was my annual foray to Vermont with the wife and kids where I engaged in lots of gaming. My brother returned from Kansas and my cousins travelled from South Carolina to attend the family gathering, so they were all present for this most recent board game endeavor.

As I have probably mentioned previously, the family board game history is steeped in Risk, Monopoly, and Clue. These are the typical games we'd play at the thanksgiving gathering and despite being currently enamoured with a number of newer titles we still feel the need to at least dabble with the more familiar ones.

This time around Risk was the traditionalist's center stage for the holiday incarnated this time as a 6 player 3 1/2 hour monstrosity that finished with my brother the victor (one victory of many for Toph over the course of the week, I'll touch on that later.) We were dabbling with a bonus army variant for Risk card sets that awards fixed amounts for different types of sets as opposed to escalating set values. I'm not fully convinced this is a poor option, but I think it requires a change from our usual strategy as we suffered through a good 2 hours of status quo with four players remaining and seemingly no way to advance the game. Eventually I began to just randomly change strategy and become much more aggressive and unpredictable. Alas this methodology did not secure my victory, but it did break up the standstill and got things moving again. Perhaps another game using these rules would play more smoothly with a few strategic alterations on my part from the beginning. Or I could completely forget about all of this silliness by the next time I play the game (next Thanksgiving?) At times it did feel like we were on the brink of playing a satisfying game, but we never did quite cross over into that territory (and perhaps the fact that I LOST has tainted my opinion of the session. NEVER! Quiet, you.)

The Mrs. would most certainly claim the session would have had much different results had she played throughout the game. Unfortunately my daughter's stomach was a bit angry with her and emptied itself upon the bathroom floor and then later in the recliner where she was resting. The Mrs. graciously took her back to my mom's place where we were staying for the holiday and took care of her at the expense of withdrawing from Risk before the game had really even begun. My uncle took over for her with very poor results, so we'll never know how she might have finished. She will point to the previous evening where she went 2 - 0 in Puerto Rico and Settlers of Catan and state that her victory was all but guaranteed had she played out the game. Toph had a pretty good week though, I think he may have been due at that point.

A little more on Risk while I'm on topic. It seems that I go so long between plays of the game that I forget little details I've learned from past plays. One thing I remembered midway through this last game is that I find Risk much more enjoyable when using the random generation of starting territories rather than the player selected option. Although this would seem to add more chance into an already luck dependant game, it serves to set up a much less predictable early game. When players choose all their opening territories strategies are locked in early and most small continents already have a dominant presence by a single player. In the randomized version, each player ends up with armies in all sorts of odd places they never would have chosen and it is really up to them to sort out their strategy and find a way to make the best of a less than optimal situation. This appeals to me and I find it to be much more rewarding. I also think this could easily allow for more players to be eliminated in the early rounds, which would make for a shorter game as well. This is a good thing. Despite its many obvious (and already much documented) shortcomings, I do still enjoy a game of Risk on occasion (especially when it is considered 'tradition.') I simply need to hone our house rules to the point that they optimize the fun and satisfaction to be had with this classic (read: often boring) game.

More to come on some other recent plays.

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