Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Recent Gaming

As you may have noticed, much of my gaming thought of late has been dominated by Magic: the Gathering. Partially this is due to there being an active Magic group here in Canton, whereas it is somewhat difficult to find board game opponents.

The Mrs. and I have been playing lots of Magic, and she designed a mono Black deck. My two decks in operating condition are my partially constructed Jund Devour deck and my White Blue Black Elder Dragon Highlander deck, neither of which is very good, but are still entertaining to play against each other. Once I receive the final half of the Devour deck it should be pretty good, but we'll have to wait and see about that I suppose.

We played a game of Pandemic online last night with Tom on the normal difficulty setting and won fairly easily.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Too Hot For Gardening?

It's never too early to start complaining about the heat.

By any measure it is a beautiful day today, and certainly I need to get some yard work done, but boy is it hot! Also, the asparagus is up, so it must be spring for sure.

More garden pictures to come...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Devour Card Interactions

If you missed the card breakdown of my deck you can find it here.

The original central figures in the deck were the devour creatures:

Next, I needed somebody to feed to these guys, first creatures that don't mind being eaten, like these persist ones:

and this awesome new Jund creature:

and then cheap ways to get lots of little creatures:

Not only do these two cards play a crucial role in the overall deck design, they also work well together, since Goblin Assault tokens can be sacrificed to make Marsh flitter bigger.

So now we have new goblins each turn through Goblin Assault, Goblin Rogues with Marsh Flitter, saprolings when Sprouting Thrinax dies and every turn with Mycoloth, and a bunch of persist creatures that come back from the dead when they are eaten. All of these work great with the devour creatures, but there should be enough of them that some other cards that take advantage of lots of little creatures should be included too:


Torrent of Souls and Sarkhan Vol both pump up the token creatures for a big attack, while Nantuko Husk offers a very flexible way to utilize those tokens. Also, too powerful to resist is the combination of Sarkhan's middle ability with the Husk: stealing a creature, attacking with it, then sacrificing it to your friendly local zombie insect is just too much fun. Of course, if the timing works out that stolen creature could be consumed by one of the big devour creatures instead. One final spell remains unmentioned:

The life gain portion of this spell could be useful in some games but the real key is the damage portion. There will be times when my big devour creature will not be able to attack, or worse yet, my opponent will have something in play negating the attacks of all my creatures. In this case, Rite of Consumption lets me throw that 12/12 Mycoloth directly at my enemy and hopefully end the game.

So, I have a few decisions left to make here, which I'll get into during a later post. Deciding which land to include is one big project I've yet to tackle, so that will have to wait until then.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jund Shard Devour Deck

After drafting a Black/Red/Green deck (called the Jund Shard in the Shards of Alara block) in the tournament last week, I was intrigued by the potential of some of the cards and mechanics, especially the combination of very hungry creatures (Predator Dragon) with creatures that like to be eaten (Sprouting Thrinax).

After studying a number of Devour deck ideas online I feel pretty good about this one:

Creatures (28)
4 Safehold Elite
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Sprouting Thrinax
4 Sarkham Vol
4 Nantuko Husk
4 Caldera Hellion
2 Mycoloth
2 Marsh Flitter

Spells (8)
4 Goblin Assault
2 Rite of Consumption
2 Torrent of Souls

Lands (24)

This is a version of Steve Gargolinski's Supper's Ready deck, edited slightly for personal taste and to save a little money. I like the directions Steve goes with this deck and the many synergies present here compared with the rest of the devour type decks out there. I looked through all the new Conflux cards to see if anything would update this design, but nothing has jumped out at me so far.

Hopefully I'll have time tomorrow to post about some of the interactions between the cards in this deck.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gaming With Lucy

The Mrs. and I had Lucy over last night for board games, playing Settlers of Catan once and For Sale twice.

This was only Lucy's second game of Settlers, and although she caught on fairly quickly, neither of us put up much of a challenge to the Mrs., who won handily. This was one of those times where one player capitalizes on a few good moves and a few fortunate rolls to really build a dominant mid-game position. Truly she had this one in the bag very early.

Lucy won both games of For Sale, which makes her 3-0 at the game. She may have benefited from the Mrs.' attempts to defeat me, since the game seems to transmit strong effects from one player to the person on their left. So if I had to settle for a bad card, Lucy was probably getting a good one. Then again, perhaps Lucy is just a wiz at For Sale. Maybe in the future we will play around with changing seating order between games of For Sale and see what effect that may have on game play and results.

All in all we had a short but fun gaming evening.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Elder Dragon Highlander

I played Magic again last night, although there weren't enough players present to hold an official tournament. I played a bunch of games with Hans, some using one of my decks, but mostly using one of his. This introduced me to a very popular and powerful style of deck called Affinity. Affinity decks use artifact land and cheap artifact creatures such as Ornithopter, then play spells that have the affinity ability for cheap. Affinity reduces the casting cost of a given spell by one for each artifact that is in play. For instance, there was one blue spell Hans played that had affinity, a cost of 4U, and allows the caster to draw two cards. When he had at least four artifacts in play he only had to play one blue to cast the spell. Anyway, interesting deck type.

I'm not going to rush out and buy the cards for an Affinity deck anytime soon, however, since I'm guessing that would be an expensive undertaking. There was a format that people were playing last night that is absolutely something I intend to play right away, however. The format is called Elder Dragon Highlander, or EDH for short. Each player's deck consists of exactly 100 cards, none of which can have the same name (except for basic lands). One of those hundred cards is a legendary creature which acts as the deck's general. An EDH deck may only contain cards who's casting costs are present in the general's casting cost. Thus a general with a cost of 4UGB would limit the deck to only blue, green, and black spells and abilities. I remember some version of this variant was played back in the Kingdom when I used to play magic, although that version only restricted construction by the one of each card rule, and there was no general involved.

Anyway, this seems like a viable variant for me to play as I bet I have enough cards that I'll be able to put together a decent Elder Dragon Highlander deck. I'll keep you posted!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Pros & Cons of Buying a Deck

Since I've found out there are weekly Magic tournaments in Canton, I've been considering the possibility of getting a deck together so that I can play. Unfortunately, the format of most of these events seems to be Standard (Type II), which consists almost entirely of new cards. Since I don't have many new cards, this means no Standard deck for me. So, what are my options?

I could buy a bunch of Shards of Alara, Conflux, and whatever other sets are still in the Standard rotation, and put together a deck from them, trading any valuable cards that don't fit my strategy for those that do. To achieve a deck of significance in this way, however, is an expensive undertaking. I couldn't say for sure how many booster packs it would take to put together a competitive Standard deck, but I'd imagine I'd need at least a couple of boxes. If that's the case we're talking a minimum of $150-$200, and that's really not an option right now.

An alternative strategy would be to buy a ton of new cheap cards online, perhaps all commons and uncommons, and then put something together from them. I'm sure I could get something workable out of such a card pool, but probably nothing ultimately competitive, which would be my real goal for this exercise.

A final option that may not be significantly more expensive than this past one, would be to study a bunch of newer cards online, try to come up with an interesting and competitive deck, and then mail order all the cards needed. The advantages here are that I wouldn't be wasting money on a bunch of extra cards that don't fit into my deck. Ideally I would only buy cards that will make the final cut, and since I would emphasize inexpensive cards in my deck building process, I should be able to get a deck together for a fraction of the cost of buying a bunch of new cards randomly. At first glance this website about building Magic decks on a budget seems like it could be very helpful.

The negative side to this strategy is that I can't play test the deck as I construct it, and thus I could end up with one that doesn't really work that well. This would of course entail buying additional cards to fix my deck. A second downside here is that only having just enough cards for one deck means I could easily become bored and not really have much of an option to change things up at all. All this being said, this is still the most tempting of the options I've listed, and I think I could put together something fun to play for a very modest amount of money.

(Image courtesy Wizards of the Coast.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

This Week In Games - 4.19.09

Board Game Examiner finds himself in a debate about the state of board game podcasts today.

Also, he discusses the old Sid Sackson game, Maloney's Inheritance.

GamerChris reviews the game If Wishes Were Fishes. I'd never heard of this one before, but it does sound quite intriguing.

Board Game News has a rundown of what everyone in the blogosphere is talking about The Gathering of Friends 2009.

Also at Board Game News, Larry Levy posts part 1 of a compilation of all the games he's been playing these last 6 months.

The guys at the Spiel review two gangster themed games: Chicago Poker and Family Business.

Finally, Yehuda offers this excellent piece on the Eurogame revolution. It is quite informative both in the concepts covered and the examples used to bring those concepts to life.

Well, that's it for this week. Doesn't seem like I did much gaming this week, mostly just that Magic draft on Friday and a few online games here and there. I'll be in Vermont next weekend for my Mom's birthday, so no big game nights then either, although perhaps I can get Ben and Kelly to play some Pandemic or Dominion.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Shards of Alara/Conflux Draft

So I finally attended my first ever Magic: the Gathering booster draft last night. I had a lot of factors working against me especially

  • I was unfamiliar with both of the sets we were using, so each time cards were passed to me I had to read through each one and try to make sense of how some of them might work together, and
  • I had never played in a draft style tournament before, so although I knew the idea of what I was supposed to accomplish, putting that into practice is entirely more complicated.
Although drafting was a little slow going, I did my best to balance understanding the cards and making a good pick with keeping things moving along as to not disturb the flow of the tournament. I ultimately went with a three color deck consisting of red, black, and green. Really I had the core of an excellent red deck, but green and black acted more as fillers, not bringing a whole lot to the table. I'd like to think given another shot at a Shards/Conflux draft I'd do significantly better, but since all the cards were brand new to me I couldn't specify which cards I may have passed up that I should have picked to take my deck to the next level.

The Cards

Some of the cards I drafted:
  • Predator Dragon (3RRR, 4/4, flying, haste, devour 2) This is one of those cards that no matter how unfamiliar you are with drafting strategy or with the sets involved, it's impossible not to recognize its significance. This one is a game breaker for sure. That being said over three rounds and nine games it only hit the table twice, once it was killed immediately because I didn't have any creatures out for it to devour, the second it devoured three creatures to become 10/10, flying, haste and ended the game. As far as big red creatures go, this one may be even cooler than the Shivan Dragon, an old favorite of mine.
  • Hell's Thunder (1RR, 4/4, flying, haste, at end of turn sacrifice Hell's Thunder, unearth 4R) A cheap, very powerful creature. Doesn't have nearly the game breaking quality of the Predator Dragon, but for a much lower casting cost, and still nearly as difficult for an opponent to deal with. Also, it can lay in wait in your graveyard for an opportune moment to be unearthed and spring back to life, hopefully ending the game.
  • Resounding Thunder (2R, instant, Resounding Thunder deals 3 damage to target creature or player, cycling 5BRG, when you cycle Resounding Thunder, it deals 6 damage to target creature or player) A good direct damage spell that I could have envisioned being cycled instead of cast late in a game, but it never worked out that way.
  • Volcanic Fallout (1RR, Volcanic Fallout can't be countered, Volcanic Fallout deals 2 damage to each creature and each player) This has the potential to be a great card in a limited environment, mainly for the mass damage aspect of the card. That being said I never once used this one effectively.
  • Blood Cultist (1BR, 1/1, T:Blood Cultist deals 1 damage to target creature, whenever a creature dealt damage by Blood Cultist this turn is put into a graveyard, put a +1/+1 counter on Blood Cultist) This seems to be a good card that I used effectively once or twice. However, there were several occasions where I didn't have the chance to bring her out since my opponent already had a creature with a similar ping ability controlling the board.
  • Ignite Disorder (1R, instant, Ignite Disorder deals 3 damage divided as you choose among any number of target white and/or blue creatures) This seemed like it may be better suited to sideboard play, but since my deck was a bit light on removal I mainboarded it. The cost and effect are both excellent, playing it simply runs the risk of the card being useless if your opponent isn't playing those colors.
  • Sprouting Thrinax (BRG, 3/3, when Sprouting Thrinax is put into a graveyard from play, put three 1/1 green Saproling creature tokens into play) Immediately recognizable as great fodder for creatures with the devour ability, this also has a decent power/toughness for the cost, so long as you are playing those three colors, which I was.

So, how did I do? Not great. I lost my first two matches 1-2, then won my final 2-1. There were eight players in the draft, so the top four played single elimination from that point out, but I wasn't in the top four so I went home to hang out with the Mrs. for a while.

Though I didn't place well, I did have a lot of fun. This experience confirmed to me that drafting is an excellent style of play, and I'm certainly ready to try it again. I got a taste of both Shards of Alara and Conflux, and both seem like very interesting sets. Most importantly I met some new people in the area that are into gaming, so perhaps I'll ultimately be able to find some board game opponents as well.

(Image courtesy of TCGplayer.com)

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Couple Games

Last night I played one game each of Pandemic and Dominion on BrettSpielWelt.

The Mrs., Tom, and I played Pandemic on the heroic difficulty setting, and through finding two cures and eradicating Blumonia the game seemed to be well in hand. All of a sudden a nasty chain reaction was started that took us from two outbreaks to eight and ended the game. Black Plague was in an advanced state, with several cities infected with two disease cubes each. However, we were not making it our top priority since there were also two cities on the board with three cubes, albeit in slightly less dangerous areas. When an epidemic was drawn and Cairo picked as the new city to receive the Black Plague, Cairo came up as the first city on the newly shuffled infection deck, and Black exploded into a six outbreak disaster area.

Here's the question: the turn before we had flown to Santiago to remove a three cube Yellow Fever threat. Was that the right move, or should we have been lessening Black's influence even though there were no three cube cities there? Does one generally dangerous area warrant more attention that an isolated three cube city? Or perhaps Cairo being drawn in that situation was simple terrible luck and we made the right decision. I'm still not sure.

Tom and I played Dominion next and I tried an aggressive Chapel strategy, buying it my first turn and proceeding to weed out all of my estates and coppers. I then proceeded to buy silver, gold, a Market, and a Laboratory or two. The first several times I had the opportunity to buy a province I declined, choosing gold on each occasion instead. The Mrs. laughed at this decision, saying it was foolish and that I should be getting those provinces. Its' possible I waited a little to long to start buying VP cards, but I'm not sure. I did end up winning 29-24, but perhaps I could have won by a greater margin. There is a real sense of power in trashing all those seemingly good cards to make a very condensed and powerful deck. I'll have to try this one again and see if moving to province purchase a bit earlier works out better.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Little Dominion

I haven't played nearly enough board games as of late. Two days ago I played a game of Dominion with the Mrs. and a day or two before that played a couple of online Dominion games with the Mrs. and Tom.

The first online game was just Tom and I, and I won fairly easily, although this was only his third game of Dominion ever, so that would probably be expected. If I recall, he bought a couple of early VP cards that started to slow his deck down a little too much, where I waited until I hit that eight treasure mark and could start buying provinces. The Mrs. joined us for the second game and despite being hit early and often by the Witch, managed to pull out the win after heavy use of the Chapel to weed out many of her curse cards.

(Curses! A very unfortunate hand of cards. Image courtesy of Abstractite at BGG.)

Our live two player game was perhaps the best game I've played of Dominion thus far. Often I get bogged down by not having a very clear strategy and buying too many action cards that don't necessarily work all that well together. This time I bought more silver (and gold when I could!) and concentrated on Mine to upgrade my treasure and Laboratory to pull more gold and silver into my hand.

We included both new promo kingdom cards in our game, each of us buying an Envoy card and the Mrs. trying the Black Market. Envoy looks powerful at first glance (reveal the top five cards of your deck, your opponent chooses one for you to discard, you draw the rest), but unless you have an extra action from a Village or the like, any action cards drawn with Envoy are useless. So if the five cards are VP, VP, gold, action, action, the gold can be discarded to effectively neutralize the entire draw. The Black Market's utility hinges on what the other nine kingdom cards are in the game. One key added card could be huge, for instance being able to buy the only available Witch early in a game could be a game changing opportunity.

I've come to realize that I am so far from having a firm grasp on strategy in the Dominion base set that I really should be in no rush to buy the new expansion when it comes out! So perhaps I'll buy it right away and let it look pretty on the shelf for a few months as I give the the 27 kingdom cards I already own more of a workout.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Thinking About Goals

I've been thinking a bit about the best way to present my goals for the coming year, and really feel that my previous best example, though thorough, may be lacking somewhat in realism and focus. This is due to my goals checklist's aggressive nature--I'm simply listing too many things I'd like to accomplish in too many categories. These past set of goals may have given me some direction, but ultimately there was too much content and thus it was difficult for me to pay attention to them every day. What I need is something a little more concise, especially the daily and weekly portions which I intend to reference frequently.

Perhaps I need to think a bit more about how these different categories overlap, and how to best make progress in multiple areas simultaneously. Also, I need to do some thinking about some of the goals with which I don't seem to make much progress (patience with kids, daily physical activity). How must I frame these goals so I have a realistic shot at committing them to habit and following through with them on an ongoing basis?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Promotional Cards For Dominion

Recently I received my shipment of the new promo cards for Dominion that were distributed through Board Game Geek. It's pretty neat that Rio Grande Games decided to publish a couple of cards that were not widely available otherwise, and let lots of players share in the fun.

The two sets of cards are called Envoy and Black Market. In my first shipment I was accidentally given two sets of Black Market cards, with no Envoy to be found! Fortunately Kristine at BGG was very quick to make it up to me and I'm now quite pleased with two sets of each card.

I haven't been playing a lot of Dominion lately (except for online) so neither card has seen any play as of yet. Of course, I'm also looking forward to the soon to be released new expansion for the game entitled Intrigue. It promises to shake things up a great deal, but since I really haven't delved that deeply into the base set, it's really telling me I need to get more people into this game!

(Image courtesy Firepigeon at BGG.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

A little feed reader named Sage

I've been looking for a better way of keeping up with the blogs I'm following, and have settled on a nice little Firefox add-on called Sage. Sage is a simple feed reader that has an icon nestled in the upper corner of the screen that activates a sidebar containing all the feeds to which I subscribe. Some time ago I tried using a stand alone feed reader (I don't recall which), but it was somewhat tedious to keep up with because I needed to open a separate program.

As it stands now I can do almost everything right through Firefox--web-based email, feed subscriptions, blogging, television (through many sources, esp. Hulu), and Red Sox baseball (MLB.com, though I have to pay for it). I only wish there was a pod catcher add-on for my web browser to keep track of podcast subscriptions and downloading so I wouldn't have to fiddle with iTunes. I don't know that Sage is the best feed reader out there, but it is convenient, and it works great for my needs. If you use Firefox you should check it out:

Install Sage 1.3.9 | Visit the Sage Website


Designer: Donald X. Vaccarino
Published: Rio Grande Games, 2008
BGG Rank: 6
Age 10+
2-4 players, best w/3
Playing time: 30 minutes
Online play: BrettSpielWelt

Personal Stats:
Plays: 19 (5 online)
Personal Rating: 9/10
Board Game Progression Group: #4

My take on Dominion

A quick and very fun card game that centers on actually building your own personal deck of cards during game play. Your success at the game relies almost entirely on how you choose to build your deck and very little on how you play cards as you draw them. I enjoy Dominion because it is quick to play, easy to teach, and is customizable through the different cards you can choose to use in any given game and through the forthcoming expansions that will expand the set with many new cards. Dominion features a unique game system that you should definitely check out. Start with the first bullet point bellow to take a look at the game:

(Some of the card artwork featured on the sides of the Dominion box. Image courtesy of monteslu at BGG.)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

This Week In Games

Here's my second attempt at a weekly roundup of what's out there about board games. I renamed the post this time around because some of the links may be audio or video, not just text like my first post implied (What Have I Been Reading?)

Eric Martin discusses herd mentality in the media. Although this sounds like a negative, he considers when this trend could be good for board games.

Brain talks about Shogun, overview of play and some strategy tips. Comparison to Risk is not something i remember hearing about with this game, but does get me intrigued.

Josh at Pair o' Dice Games talks a little about what he likes and dislikes about Agricola. Being the #1 game on BGG means that lots of people will be trying the game, and of course not everyone will love it!

Josh also responds to a post at Board Game News about language independent games. I have mixed feelings about this trend, just like Matt Thrower at BGN. I wouldn't say symbols on cards rather than words makes a game more confusing, but they do make it feel a little more foreign and unfamiliar. Given the choice I'd still go with language dependence, but I certainly understand the trend in the opposite direction.

The guys at The Spiel talk about science fiction board games, providing detailed coverage of Galactic Emperor and Galaxy Trucker. I continue to enjoy the podcast a great deal, especially their step by step game overviews.

Board Game Examiner relates his recent experience with teaching the game Attika, and discusses how successful strategies playing against seasoned opponents may not be successful against new players.

Tom and Sam at The Dice Tower talk about their top 10 games from 10 years ago, as well as some ideas for drafting in games. I certainly think drafting (as found in Fairy Tale and Dominion) will really explode in popularity as a game mechanic in the next few years. I'm excited about seeing what heavy strategy games may be introduced with a strong emphasis on drafting, since Dominion is very light.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sizing Up My Collection: The Rest

The only games in my collection left to cover are the odds and ends: filler, party, and abstract games.

Party Games

Wits & Wagers
16 plays

This is a great game that works well with almost any group of people. There is a little strategy, but mostly it is a light party game and a lot of fun.

Say Anything
8 plays

Say Anything uses a few of the same mechanics as Wits & Wagers but comes across as a completely different game, almost a half-way point between Wits and Apples to Apples. Whereas Wits & Wagers forces quick play through its timer, Say Anything can drag a little if players aren't really getting it. The game definitely needs to be played quickly and not too seriously to be fun.

These two games have certainly convinced me that party games are a good idea, and I can see owning several more, though perhaps not in the near future.

Filler Games

For Sale
6 plays

Really my only filler (unless you count Dominion, which is close), For Sale features interesting decisions in a light, quick-playing auction game. The Mrs. doesn't like it, so perhaps it won't be useful as a filler after all. I wonder, though, if she would like any filler, or if they're just too light for her.

Abstract Games

6 plays

I like Blokus enough, but I have yet to play it 4-player where it is supposed to be very good. Still good with 2, but since neither the Mrs. or I are that into abstracts, it rarely gets played. I suspect that I may grow to enjoy it more, but I'll need many more plays and the right group of people.

Well, that does it for my designer board game collection. In the coming days I'll most likely think about these games a little more and put together an updated board game wish list.

Sizing Up My Collection: Light Strategy
Sizing Up My Collection: Heavy Strategy

Friday, April 10, 2009

Children's Games: Scrabble Junior

One of my new projects on Splitting Eights is to play through all of the children's and family games I own and talk a little bit about each. I'll be including any thoughts Abby has on the game as well, so between the two of us readers should be able to get a feel for what makes each game interesting and fun, or, as the case may be, not so much.

Scrabble Junior (The Disney Edition)
Ages 5+
2-4 players

Abby asks to play this game rather frequently. She likes that the board is two sided so you can alternate the sets of words to spell during the game, and particularly enjoys getting to collect the little scoring chits each time she finishes a word. She does get rather frustrated that each turn you have to pick new letters randomly and keep them even if they are currently useless in the game. Abby would much prefer to keep picking letters and putting them back until she draws the ones that are actually useful to her.

I'm still not sure exactly how I feel about this title. You do spell out words as the game progresses, so I suppose that is a good feature for children, but all the words are pre-printed on the board and thus players don't have to think about the spelling, they merely have to match the letters in their hand with letters on the board. Sometimes you'll be able to withhold playing certain letters so that your opponent cannot finish some words, but more often than not you'll only have a couple of legal moves and thus have to set up the other players to gain points. Through much of the game there is a feeling of not being in control, which is a bit frustrating. I'd like if the game could be more free-form, allowing players to create their own simple words (more like Scrabble), but I'm not sure how that would work when children and adults played together.

I'd say this is a middle of the pack kids game. Abby enjoys it and I don't mind playing it with her, but it wouldn't be one of the first I'd reach for if I were picking a game.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pushing Your Luck In Pandemic

Several weeks ago, Tom and Sam at The Dice Tower talked about their favorite push your luck games. Sam included several cooperative games on his list, and insisted that the very nature of coop games required pushing one's luck. I remember Tom didn't particularly agree, and I thought it was a bit of a stretch. However, while playing Pandemic online with Tom and the Mrs. Tuesday night, it occurred to me that the concept of pushing your luck in Pandemic is crucial to understanding the game.

The Concept

Pushing your luck involves making a series of decisions intended to improve your position in the game, all the while taking your chances that very bad things don't happen. I believe the example mentioned in the above episode to illustrate this concept is a simple dice game where each player takes turns rolling a die. On rolling a 2-6 you get one point and have the option of rolling again, on rolling a 1 your score is reduced to 0 and your turn ends. The first player to a predetermined number of points wins. In this case, each time you roll the die you will probably move one step closer to winning, but if you push your luck too far you might be wiped out and give your opponent a chance at victory.

Push Your Luck In Pandemic

So how does this apply to Pandemic? Strategy in the game centers on efficient use of role abilities, shrewd hand management, and perhaps most importantly striking a balance between board control (through treating disease) and cure research (especially through the share knowledge action). Since the goal of the game is to find cures to all four diseases, oftentimes it is tempting to concentrate on sharing knowledge and building up the card sets needed to cure diseases. Whenever players let even slightly dangerous cities on the board go untreated they are pushing their luck by betting that those cities will not be drawn from the infection deck and, more importantly, that an epidemic will not be drawn and plunge the world into catastrophe. The more I play the more I feel that it is better to be conservative and when the choice is a toss-up, to concentrate on board control first. Too many times we've thought "if we can just both get to Cairo and trade that card we can have the last disease cured in two turns!" All too often this results in an epidemic and complete disaster after one turn, and the game ends in defeat.

An Explosive Example

Imagine this scenario: you are part of a special forces unit making your way to a small village. You are presented with two problems: 1. terrorists have planted a bomb in the village set to detonate within the hour, and 2. a deadly mine field lies between you and your goal. Your only chance to save the village is navigate the mine field and disarm the bomb. Certainly you must balance how much time you invest in carefully avoiding mines with moving quickly enough to prevent the village from being blown to smithereens.

(In case anyone reading doesn't have sufficient experience playing army as a child, being blown to smithereens is what happens to you when you step on a mine, almost get hit by a grenade, are unfortunate enough to be in the blast radius of an atomic bomb, or any number of other deadly scenarios present in playing army.)

Though it may be tempting to just rush through the mine field to give your team the best opportunity to complete your ultimate goal, this will most likely end in death before even reaching the village.

Back to the Game

It seems to me that Pandemic's mechanics skew this balance to the damage prevention side. Collecting cards to cure diseases moves forward at a known rate: the players simply must find all the cures before time runs out (the player deck is exhausted), thus there is no imminent threat of defeat until the cards are almost gone. Disease spreading around the world does not unfold linearly like the timeline for cures, but rather in an exponential fashion. After an epidemic and a couple of unfortunate infection cards, a minor problem can turn into an outbreak chain reaction that ends the game. What makes individual problematic cities into major disaster areas is that tendency for the game to top deck those exact cards that are most dangerous over and over again. Often the worst possible cities are drawn during the infector phase, and while it is easy to attribute this to bad luck, it is actually the exact result the epidemic mechanic is intended to create! Sure, sometimes when you push your luck by emphasizing finding cures over treating disease it works out great, but more often then not outbreaks run rampant and the game ends in spectacular defeat.

Time to test this theory a little in my next few games.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sizing Up My Collection: Heavy Strategy

In my last post I reviewed the light strategy portion of my collection. This time I'll tackle a somewhat smaller set of games: my heavy strategy board games. What you will not find here are kids' games and 'classic board games,' the former of which will get studied in future posts and the latter, while I still do enjoy playing them occasionally, are not a central part of my collection.

Heavy Strategy Games

Fury of Dracula
5 plays (mostly 2-player with one 4-player game) I don't think this is best with 2.
8/10 Very initial rating, could certainly change w/a couple more plays.

Fury of Dracula features some very interesting mechanics especially those involving Dracula's movement system and his hidden trail. I like the deduction element here, but the real key to the game is the heavy theme. The game falls a little flat for me with 2-player simply because the theme feels weakened. Rather than a group of heroes combing the countryside for the elusive Count, discussing strategy, perhaps stumbling a little with miscommunication, sharing moments of both frustration and elation, 2-player is a bit more cerebral, chess-like if you will: quiet, contemplative. I just don't feel that sense of adventure when one player is forced to control all four hunter characters. Fury of Dracula needs several more multi player games before I can really rate it.

5 plays (all 2-player)

This one I do enjoy playing with two, although, as with most of my heavy strategy games, it really needs to see some plays with different groups of people for me to grasp where it fits within my collection. The farming theme is fun, and the worker placement mechanic works rather well here.

Puerto Rico
2 plays (both 2-player)

Just tried the 2-player variant this year, and it is surprisingly enjoyable. I love this game with 3 or 4-players, in fact it may be my favorite board game. I've probably played this one 20 times overall (mostly in previous years), so I know it is a great game and probably the key title amongst the heavy strategy games I own.

1 play (2-player)

Thus far I've not cared too much for Caylus. It is a very dry, quite heavy resource management game, and generally as I move through the actions of the game I don't feel as if I'm accomplishing anything, but rather just going through the motions. Caylus is a very well designed game from a technical standpoint, as there are many mechanisms that mesh together beautifully, and I can certainly see the potential for a great game here. It is certainly possible that I'm still overwhelmed by all the information and difficult choices in the game, and maybe, just maybe when I grow a little more comfortable with it I will enjoy Caylus much more. Thus, it needs more plays.

El Grande
0 Plays
8/10 Could certainly be higher with more plays.

I've only played this one three times total, two of which were 2-player learning games. So, although I think this is a great game, I really don't have the play time to get a good feel for it. I can easily see this being a perfect 10 game and a mainstay of my collection, but not until I start getting some of these heavier games to the table more frequently.

Where To Go From Here

Really there is a ton of potential for great multi player games on this list. With the exception of Caylus and to some extent Agricola, these all work much better with more players, so exploring these current titles will be plenty to keep me busy during multi player sessions. My next purchases in this category will almost certainly be focused on heavy games best (or only) for 2-players. Right now I'm looking at Twilight Struggle, 1960: the Making of the President, and War of the Ring, all heavy 2-player games. I'm not sure what the Mrs. will think of the card draws in the first two games and the dice in the latter, however.

Next up: party, filler, and abstract games.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fine Tuning

I've been doing some fine tuning here at Splitting Eights, and would be interested in any suggestions anyone out there might have for me, be it for change of formatting, topic requests, or idea for a feature the blog is missing.

Thus far I've begun to update my sidebar blogroll and some other minor details, including the addition of the 'add this' widget to the blog to make it easier to share on social networking sites (thanks for the tip Ben!)


Sizing Up My Collection: Light Strategy

I've purchased about ten new designer games this year so far (let's see...Pandemic, Dominion, Agricola, Memoir '44, Fury of Dracula, Wits & Wagers, Say Anything, For Sale, Neuroshima Hex!, and Wasabi!) This is in addition to several titles we acquired at Christmastime, so my collection has seen explosive growth through the first three months of this year.

It's been better than a month now since my latest influx of new games, and since I've been experiencing a little gaming downtime over the past week or so I figure it's about time to take stock of my collection and decide where to go from here. I'd like to sort through my board games and detail my opinions of each, estimate how many plays they've seen this year and whether I feel they've been underplayed, and size up how they fit into my collection as a whole. Ultimately this post should detail which games I already own that need to see more table time, and due to weak spots in my collection, which games I'd like to purchase later in the year.

For each game I will list:

Its title,
# of plays it's seen this year,
my current numerical rating, and
some of my thoughts on the game.

Core of My Collection: Light Strategy Games

22 plays (about half in person, half online) Hits the table enough.
10/10 I had rated this a 9 for some time, but it is just too good to not be a 10.

I've played Pandemic live with 2, 3, and 4 players, as well as solo and online. It works well in all these scenarios, although my favorite is 4 player live. More roles in the game leads to more interesting strategies, and more people playing makes for a more entertaining shared experience. An essential part of my collection, Pandemic makes it very likely I'll buy another cooperative game soon, as well as the forthcoming expansion Pandemic: On the Brink.

18 plays (vast majority in person 2-player, one 3-player, and a couple online) I'd like to get in more live 3 and 4-player games.
9/10 Just a little too light and quick to be a 10, perhaps.

Primarily I play this with the Mrs. as a 2-player game, and it works rather well in that capacity. I'd really like to teach this one to more people so we could get some regular multi player games going as well. Another essential game in my collection. Will be expanded by Dominion: Intrigue later this year.

Settlers of Catan
15 plays (mostly online)

A classic and one I still enjoy playing on a regular basis. Probably the game I would be the most worried about overplaying and getting sick of, Settlers has held up to many plays remarkably well. The Cities & Knights expansion needs to get to the table soon, we have yet to play an entire game of that.

Neuroshima Hex!
14 plays (3 in person, the rest online)

I really enjoy this one, but still have a lot of plays to log before I can cement my opinion. Live I've only played it 2-player and not many times. Online I've played with both 2 and 3-player, although with 3 it seems especially chaotic (in a bad way). I would like to play 4-player team mode, since that seems like it would be the best multi player scenario.

10 plays (2, 3, and 4 players) Scales fairly well to 2-player, but cleaner and more interesting with 4.
7/10 Needs more plays, especially with 4 players.

A game I enjoyed immediately, although I've soured on it a little, mostly because it is a bit more abstract than I'd like. I think it is a solid game, so I would like to get it to the table a bit more. Awesome components and clever mechanics make for lots of potential here, but I'm not fully sold.

9 plays (one in person, the rest online)
9/10 I love this game, if I played it more often I might rate it a 10.

Certainly one of my top games: simple to teach, lots of good expansions, potential to win through conservative or aggressive play. I need to find more opportunities to play this one in person, but it's quite enjoyable online too. I have yet to play the Traders & Builders or Princess & Dragon expansions nearly enough, and whenever I'm able to start getting this to the table more often I'll pick up the more recent Abbey & Mayor.

8 plays (all 2-player in person) I need to give this game a chance with 3 and 4 players as well.
6/10 A little too light and the mechanics don't mesh well. Also, needs more plays to cement my opinion.

A game I've played exclusively with the Mrs. I feel the mechanics are a little disjointed. The game is fairly fun, however, and I will seldom turn down a game if the Mrs. would like to play. I do need to give this a chance multi player as well. Has the potential to be a keeper, but the jury's still out.

Memoir '44
5 plays, all 2-player
7/10 Needs more plays.

Seems like a solid game, and certainly fun. I haven't played it enough to get a good feel for the system, and to see if the luck of the draw/roll evens out after a few games. Not in a rush to buy more war-themed games until I give this one more of a shot.

Carcassonne: the Castle
4 plays (all in person)

Played this one exclusively with the Mrs. She's not that high on Carcassonne in general, so it's unlikely I'll really break this one in until I have more 2-player opportunities with other people.

3 plays (all in person & 2-player)
3/10 Subject to big increase if I can manage to make it play quickly with less deep thought!

Thus far the weaknesses of Wasabi! seem to overshadow the strengths. While it seems that this should be a light fast-paced tile laying game with cool theme, thus far it has come across as plodding and dull. I think for this one to be fun it needs to be fast and light-hearted, but there is so much going here between tiles on board, tiles and recipes in hand, and special action cards, that it is tough to make quick decisions. The result is a game with light depth and heavy attitude--not a good combination. Obviously this is an opinion after very few plays, so I'll need to get this to the table more and try to play it in a way that will actually be fun.

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation
0 Plays

I rather enjoy this reimplementation of the basic Stratego mechanic. As in Carcassonne: the Castle, it doesn't get play time because my primary 2-player opponent doesn't care for it.

Summing Up

The core games in the light strategy portion of my collection are Pandemic, Dominion, Carcassonne, and Settlers of Catan. These are games that, for the most part, I've played often with a variety of different people and I very much enjoy. If I were only able to keep these four games and had plenty of people who were up for playing them, I would still be pretty satisfied.

The rest of the games here range from games I know I like but need to play more (Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, Memoir '44, Neuroshima Hex!) to games I somewhat enjoy but need more plays to determine if they're keepers (Metropolys, Carcassonne: the Castle, Alhambra) to the ugly duckling that has potential but thus far looks more like a flop (Wasabi!)

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Mrs. prefers heavy 2-player strategy games, so I'm leaning away from buying more light 2-player offerings. Instead, I'll probably look to pick up a few more good multi player games in this category. Also, as I mentioned above, another good light coop would be great; at the moment I'm leaning toward Space Alert or Ghost Stories. Finally, I will probably acquire a couple of expansions this year for my favorite light strategy games: Pandemic: On the Brink, Dominion: Intrigue, and Carcassonne: Abbey & Mayor. Neuroshima Hex: Babel 13 might make this list if the base game gets a lot more plays over the next few months.

Next up: considering the rest of my collection (heavy strategy, filler, and party games).

Monday, April 6, 2009

Best of Splitting Eights: 2008

Although my blog was practically lifeless last year, I still managed a few interesting posts.

Collecting the Super Nintendo highlights my interest in the classic video game console, and discusses where I fall in the battle between modern and retro gaming.

I discuss the classic E.R. Eddison novel in my post Mistress of Mistresses: A Classic of High Fantasy. This post provides a couple of examples of Eddison's stunning imagery and lists some prominent reviews of the book. I detail a few other books I'd like to read, several of which I have actually finished.

Finally I post my 2008 Goals Checklist, a thorough list of everything I planned on accomplishing last year, broken down by frequency such as daily and monthly goals. A mid-year progress report was also posted in July: Goals for 2008 Revisited.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What Have I Been Reading?

I've been meaning to start a weekly post to highlight interesting reading around the board game blogosphere, so here's my first attempt. I envisioned this as slightly more thorough, but since I really don't have that much time to be poking around online, I'll start small.

This is not a recent post, but GamerChris wonders what the heck does hobby game mean anyway? I've wondered the same thing at times. Is Pandemic really that much less accessible than Monopoly?

Smite over at d21 Gaming is waiting for a RPG revolution akin the the Eurogame phenomenon in board gaming. He explains a bit of what he finds appealing in Eurogames and outlines what that might look like in the RPG world.

Yehuda thinks that Blokus kicks ass. I own the game, but since neither the Mrs. or I are particularly fond of abstract games it doesn't often hit the table. I do enjoy it, however, and this post makes me realize I need to playBlokus more often (especially with four players).

The Spiel episode #74, "Can't We All Just Get Along?," reviews Pandemic and Ghost Stories, two recent cooperative games. Their treatment certainly highlights some similarities between the two, and now I am definitely leaning toward purchasing the latter. I also read the excellent review of Ghost Stories by GamerChris, and watched Tom Vassel's video overview of the game.

The Board Game Examiner reviews The Pillars of the Earth, the worker placement board game based on Ken Follett's novel of the game name.

Well, that's all for now. Soon I'll be off cooking for Tastes of Spring, the annual hospice benefit. We've had lots of reservations, so it should be a great success!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Blogging Momentum

I mentioned in my March 13th post that I was pleased with my recent blog output, but was unsure of the reasons behind it. Now that I have been maintaining an excellent blogging schedule for several weeks I've been giving some more thought to this topic.

Why I've started posting recently is fairly clear: in 2009 board games have established themselves as a significant part of my life. Games are one of the primary ways I enjoy relating to people, and thus are my favorite social setting. I've made more time to play games, which leads to a whole chain reaction culminating with blogging. Playing leads to wanting new games, which necessitates reading about games, then buying new ones, then thinking about them, and finally writing it all down.

What is perhaps not so evident is why I've kept up my posting so well since early march. Sure, part of this is that my reasons for blogging create a feedback loop. In the above list, each part of the process leads to the next, and finally writing about games on Splitting Eights leads to more playing and more board game thought. Bottom line is this: my blogging results in more thinking about games, and thus, more blogging.

This is not the whole story, however. I never really understood why, during my long absence from writing, I couldn't at least post several times a month on non-gaming topics. Certainly my life is interesting enough to have something to say! I've understood for a while that writing about games ultimately makes it easier to write more about games. What I just realized (and what any of you who blog yourselves already know) is that simply writing about anything leads to more writing. This is why I'm writing far more non-game related posts now in addition to the board game ones.

The important questions for me are these: why did I run out of steam in the first place, and how can I ensure that I keep up the blogging momentum this time around? I can't imagine I'll be able to maintain every day posting like I have recently, but will posting just three times per week still keep me engaged enough to continue blogging?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Goals for Spring 2009

I haven't thought about goals in quite a while, so I wanted to get a rough framework down for them here. Perhaps I'll start by mentioning a point or two in each category, then sometime in the coming week flesh out this post into a full goals checklist.


  • I've been doing a fair job with spending time with my kids, especially reading to them and playing board games with them. Still need to work on my patience.
  • Need to make more one on one time with the Mrs. Also more dates.


  • I've been meeting some new people, especially to play board games. Need to push myself to go to more social gatherings when possible.
  • I've been keeping closer contact with several of my long distance friends and family, which is great. I need to continue to enlarge that sphere.

  • I've been playing lots of board games, both in person and online. I still need to meet more people in the area who play games, and introduce board games to more people I already know.
  • I would love to attend a board game convention this year.


  • I'm not sure what to do in this category. I'm beginning to feel stagnant at my job so I either need to somehow mix things up a bit and find a way to push myself more, or find a new job. I'll need to engage in some deep thinking here very soon.


  • This is a tough category in this economic climate. I've lost a bunch of money on paper, especially in my retirement accounts. However, I've also been able put a lot of money away as the market has slid, so in the long run this will be quite advantageous. My only goal is to continue to invest at these great prices.
  • As far as emergency fund, I need to get get back to 10k since this summer could be light on cash for the family, and we need to have liquid assets available for any future changes of plans (Mrs. going back to school, relocating to new area, etc.) Ultimately my financial goal is balancing between taking advantage of great stock prices and maintaining a solid emergency fund.


  • I've been listening to lots of board game podcasts, and I'd like add some history and science ones to my list. Dan Carlin's Hardcore History is the first I'll try.
  • Reading has been on my back shelf for a little while now, but I need to bring it back to prominence, both for enjoyment and for intellectual improvement.
  • I'm not sure if writing in my blog counts as an intellectual undertaking, but I've definitely been doing well with it, and need to find a way I can maintain a steady output.


  • During the fall and early winter I walked to work quite a bit, which is a great way to get exercise. I need to place more emphasis on this activity this spring.
  • One reason for the importance of walking is that I have not made going to the gym a priority at all. It seems as if I don't have the time for it, though obviously I could make time if I really wanted. I need to decide if this is really essential, or if frequent walking is enough to stay fit.

  • I have done little to no spiritual exploration as of late. Last year I did meet with the local Mormon missionaries long enough to understand what they believe and where they're coming from. It's debatable whether their Church is even really a religious institution (many would call it a cult), but regardless is certainly not for me! I need to make the time to find my spiritual niche.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Gaming Roundup

I haven't played any games the last day or two, but the several days previous to that I played a handful.

One game of Dominion with the Mrs. Early it looked like I would take the victory due to my third turn buy of the witch and my ability to deal out lots of curse cards. The Mrs. edged in a few extra VP cards, however, and that was enough to tip the scales in her favor.

One game of Memoir '44 with the Mrs., a game she still does not enjoy very much. We played a scenario where all the Allied forces (me) were French resistance, and the Germans (she) had two special forces armor units that were worth an extra VP each upon defeat. I took this game fairly easily, with one devastating air strike early in the session.

One local game of Pandemic with the Mrs. and Lucy, played at the Normal difficulty setting, which we won. One local game of Pandemic with the Mrs. played on Heroic that we lost a turn before we would have won. Three online games of Pandemic with Tom (and Ben for one of them), two victories and a defeat, I believe.

Looking forward to more gaming weekends in the month to come, I hope! Now, however, I feel I need to cut back the games (especially online) to get a bit more sleep. Work is starting to get very busy.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Familiarity vs. Burnout

I find that I enjoy a game the most once I've grown familiar with it after repeated plays. There is somewhat of a breaking in process during which I read the rules, play a trial game to iron out any ambiguities, then over the course of time hopefully play the game with many different people. As I explore the strategy space of the game in question and build up experiences playing it with different groups of friends I gradually grow familiar with it, which in turn increases my overall satisfaction with the game.

Playing Them All is Not Enough

Many hobby board gamers seem to buy games at a much greater rate than they can play them. Recently this has been somewhat true for me as well, since I've purchased a ton of new games during the first three months of the year, the difference being that I have managed to play every one of them so far. However, I have certainly not grown familiar with the vast majority of my games, so although I've played every title I own I still feel the majority of my collection is vastly underutilized. My games are underplayed due to a variety of reasons: complicated games because most of my gaming friends are new to the hobby and I don't want to overwhelm them, multi player games because much of my game time is spent 2-player with the Mrs., and some games simply because I don't care for them as much as others and I haven't grown into them yet.

Building a Collection of Group Classics

Another part of this phenomenon is the concept of shared familiarity. When visiting friends it is nice to have a number of games in my collection that I can pull out and play with everyone already knowing the rules, everyone having a common history with the game, perhaps including memories of past victories and defeats, and thus being able to jump right into playing and having a great time. To get to this point each game needs to see a certain amount of table time with any given group of friends, and thus not simply becoming familiar to me, but also to the entire group. The game that falls into this category the most amongst my friends is Settlers of Catan. I've introduced the game to lots of my friends, playing it many times with the majority of them. Another game that is getting to that point is Pandemic. Lucy stopped by the other day for a quick game, and since the Mrs. and I have already played the game with her a couple of times we could set it up and jump right into saving humanity.

Now certainly there is something said for both learning and teaching new games, both of which need to be done before that common familiarity can be achieved, and I'm sure I'll continue to expand my collection. My goal, though, is definitely to have a vast collection of games, most of which have become familiar favorites throughout my gaming network of friends.

Walk the Line

An unfortunate correlation to this discussion is the risk taken as a particular game gets played many times that people will begin to get burnt out on the game. Certainly there is a fine line between familiarity and burnout, although since I own quite a few games it should be fairly easy to steer myself away from going over that line. However, I find that as I put in the necessary plays to grow comfortably familiar with a game, the Mrs. in particular is gradually getting bored with it. She has gotten to that point with Settlers of Catan. So when different people in a group approach that burnout point at varying rates, that could be a difficult issue to resolve. In this case, where I enjoy having a feel for much of the strategy in a game, she is primarily interested in learning new strategy and gets bored very easily as she gets to that point where she doesn't feel she needs to learn any more. I suppose one solution here is for me to focus on those games at which she is tiring when I play with groups that don't involve her. This, however, is rarely the case since I enjoy playing games with her and try to include the Mrs. in almost all my gaming activity.