Monday, July 26, 2010

Blind Learning: Playing Unknown Games on BrettSpielWelt

I play board games on a very regular basis online via BrettSpielWelt (BSW), a German site with full implementation of a number of popular strategy games including Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, and Dominion. I've learned each of those four games in person and only later played the online versions. Recently, however, Tom and I have taken to a new strategy for gaming on BSW, namely learning games we've never played before by starting them up on the site and playing through them with no previous knowledge of the rules. For lack of a better term I've been calling this technique 'blind learning.'

The Games...

For instance, several weeks ago we tried the simple 2-player strategy game Drachenherz. Simply by observing what the game system will allow us to do and analyzing the results of our actions we have been able to decipher the vast majority of the game (actually, with this title we're pretty sure we understand the complete rule set without having actually read any of the rules.)

After Drachenherz we jumped into Atlantis, a somewhat more complicated eurogame. Tom seems to have understood this one a bit better than I as he defeated me both of the time's we've played the game. I understand the basic concept and goal of Atlantis, but it will certainly take me at least a couple more plays to fully understand the rules governing the game, and to then actually start to develop an effective strategy.

Our latest attempt at blind learning a game through BSW was a fairly basic worker placement title that has been getting quite a bit of praise lately called Stone Age. This game was significantly more complicated than Drachenherz, yet considerably easier to learn than Atlantis. I'm not sure if this latter fact is due to Stone Age being a simpler game or perhaps just more intuitive. It is also possible that Stone Age is simply more similar to other games I've played (namely Agricola, which also involves worker placement) and therefore easier to understand right from the beginning.

My Thoughts...

  • With blind learning alone I'm fairly certain it is possible to fully understand how to play any given game on BrettSpielWelt. Some details required to play the actual physical board game, however, may not be fully clear from simply playing online. The most obvious incidence of this phenomenon is in game setup. In Pandemic, for instance, the player deck of cards has to be constructed in a particular way that may not be fully understood with only BSW play as reference. The particular rules governing how many special event cards to include and how to select them, and when and how to distribute the epidemic cards seem to require some reading of the rules.
  • Combined with reading the actual rulebook after playing through a game several times, this method has great potential as a way to learn new board games before I buy. With the traditional way of learning a new game (buying, reading rules, playing through game to understand) it can often take a great deal of effort to comprehend how the rules translate into game play. Using this blind learning technique I can experience game play (though without fully understanding it) and only then read the rules to clarify what I've already experienced.
  • Blind learning a game on BSW is strategically much different than playing a game I already know. In a known game I begin the session with formulating some amount of strategy, which then gets honed and reworked as the game unfolds. In the first play of an unknown game on BSW the key to success is less based on your strategy (no knowledge of rules = no initial strategy) and more based on how quickly you can learn the basic rules of the game by paying attention to actions and results on the board. As some of the rules are understood some basic strategy begins to be employed based upon that limited understanding, and is drastically revised as game knowledge increases. The skills needed to succeed at unknown games are significantly different from the most important skills involving more familiar ones.
I do love the first few plays of a new game, and also greatly enjoy playing games tens and even hundreds of times fine tuning strategies and more fully appreciating the nuances of game play. The chaos, confusion, and ultimately the challenge of being thrust into a completely unknown game, however, is also a great deal of fun, and fits very nicely into the beginning of that game play progression.

Is this for everyone? Certainly not. But most people don't even really like board games in the first place. For me I'm excited to continue to explore blind learning on BSW.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Some Strategy in Carcassonne

I've managed a fair amount of game play over the past month, including ongoing weekly games online, a several day trip to Vermont while Toph was visiting from Kansas, and a few other odds and ends.

I've been playing a good deal of Carcassonne--3 games in VT (winning all 3 I might add!), a couple with my family (Abby & Link both enjoy the game), and a pair last night with Ben online.

Though I feel I am decent at the game I'm still developing a more aggressive strategy. It is altogether too easy to just go with the flow here and work on your features to score points. Though it is important to develop creative ways to score in Carcassonne, it is even more crucial to control the way the board layout unfolds as the game goes on. For instance, controlling how open and/or segmented the farms play out depending on if you're focusing on them as a central strategy or not is very important. It is easy to just let farms develop randomly as the game progresses, but a huge layer of strategy is lost when you do so.

When it comes to scoring points mid-game in Carcassonne (here I'm disregarding the farmer points scored during endgame), I see three levels of sophistication:

  • 1) Beginner When a player first learns the game they try to build big features and score as many points as possible for them.
  • 2) Intermediate As a player grows more familiar with the game he begins to appreciate the power of weaseling in on other players' features. That huge city your opponent has been building for the first half of the game can be completely neutralized if you can get one of your meeples into the action before the city is completed. This strategy is especially powerful if you can wait for an opportune moment and weasel in your BIG meeple to wrest full control of the city before it is completed.
  • 3) Advanced Even more powerful at times than the strategy in #2 is simply placing tiles near your opponents' features that make it more difficult for them to score those features. This strategy is particularly useful because a) it doesn't require you to tie up one or more of your meeples in the attempt to neutralize an opponent's feature, and b) rather than simply getting a share of a completed city as in #2, you can tie up your opponent's meeples in a feature that may never be completed throughout the duration of the game. This is huge, as it is crucial to success in Carcassonne to have a good flow of meeple placement--if you are not cycling meeples onto the board and then back to your supply you will almost certainly lose. If you can force your opponent to have 2 or 3 meeples on the board in positions that are nearly impossible to close, you gain a massive advantage over the course of the game.
So yes, I'm loving the game and look forward to playing it enough to get a good feel for the three expansions that I have severely underutilized--Traders & Builders, Princess & Dragon, and Abbey & Mayor.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Gaming in May

May was a bit of a down month (as was April, at least compared to the first quarter of 2010) as far as my gaming was concerned. The month featured a couple of big gatherings for party games, one at my brother-in-law's place in Vermont, and the other here at the Todd Residence. The former consisted of a big game of Time's Up won by the Mrs. and Emily, a couple of games of Ca$h'N Gun$ (the Mrs. and Mike the two winners), and a three player session of Ghost Stories in which Tom, Emily, and I emerged victorious (despite playing on Nightmare difficulty) The latter game night featured a nine player game of Pit (which I didn't realize until mid-game is actually only an eight-player game), and another session of Time's Up, this time with three teams of three. I liked the 3x3 configuration for this one, and amazingly enough the game ended in a three way tie at 40 points each!

The Mrs. and I had another couple over with their son to play games. After one big game of Dixit, the grown-ups attempted a play of Ghost Stories, but we had to cut it short due to lateness of hour.

The Mrs. and I played a couple of games while we were visiting my Mom's and we couldn't manage to recruit my sometimes lame gaming family to play anything. One was Ghost Stories on Nightmare which we lost in epic fashion, and my latest expansion for Carcassonne (Abbey & Mayor...thanks darling!), which the Mrs. won by a landslide.

I did manage to keep up a weekly online game throughout the month, so that is a big positive. At various times myself, Tom, Ben, Trevor, and Toph all participated. Most frequent game played in May was Puerto Rico, which I'm really loving despite really not being very good at it at all, followed by Pandemic. Everyone seems to be enjoying both games and I look forward to delving further into those two and adding to the variety as we continue our weekly meetup.

My final bit of gaming in May is my return to Magic: the Gathering. I played a fair amount about a year ago when Shards of Alara, Conflux, and Alara Reborn were the newest sets, and I built a couple of decks. Now I have the full Zendikar block to play with and there seems to be some pretty fun stuff in there.

I haven't had much of an opportunity to play yet, mostly I've been tossing around ideas and trying to come up with a fun standard deck to play, and I've been trying to sell off the more valuable of my standard legal cards before they rotate out and lose value. Really one of the tricks to maintaining the value of one's collection in Magic is to try to sell or trade cards while they still hold strong value, and acquire others that are either older and are poised to better maintain price, or are brand new and will be tournament legal for another year or two. I have certainly sold some cards I would rather keep this time around, but I can always reacquire them a year down the road once they're a lot cheaper.

Besides building a new deck for standard tournament play I've been working on two EDH (Elder Dragon Highlander) decks. This is a format that I love (from very limited play, of course, but I love the idea!), and it tends to be a very inexpensive format to play. Because of this I'm able to maximize the play value of my limited card pool and can convert a few expensive cards into a decent stack of EDH staples.

Looking forward to June, I intend to play a bunch of magic, continue my weekly online board game night, and get to playing a whole lot more strategy board games! Also, perhaps I'll write a little more often in this ol' blog. My fan is demanding higher output, so I'll try to write just a little bit more than I have these last couple of months...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Three More Games Off The List

Besides Chaos in the Old World that we got to the table just over a week ago, I've played a couple more of the games on my list.

Dave and I have played several games of Neuroshima Hex! over the last few days, with Dave undefeated thus far. The game can be frustrating because as you draw your army tiles often you don't get a good mix of units and action tiles or attacking units and modules. When you draw two of your five battle tiles in the same turn no good can come of it! There are lots of tactical decisions to be made in this one, but certainly poor draws can really take you out of a game.

Dave read about a variant where you separate the unit tiles and action tiles, then shuffle each pile and choose how many from each deck to draw from during the game. This would avoid much of the imbalanced part of the game and greatly increase the chances of drawing generally useful hands.

The Mrs. and I played a game of Alhambra this afternoon. Alhambra is a fairly quick-playing light strategy game for 2-6 players. It did win the Spiel des Jahres in 2003, and the Mrs. enjoys it, but it's never quite clicked for me. Half of the game is acquiring currency cards and using them to buy tiles, and the other half arranging those tiles in a way to build your own personal Alhambra. By purchasing and placing a majority of different types of tiles you score VPs that will eventually lead to victory (or not so much as was the case for me today!) After losing to the Mrs. today and to Dave a number of times recently, I'm starting to think that I have simply lost the ability to win at board games!

The (Updated!) List:

  • Through the Ages -- I'm slowly working through the rules for this one and taking notes to boot. Eventually we'll get this one to the table, but it's taking quite some time to digest the rules, and since there are three increasingly complicated ways to play leading up to the full game (and I'm only learning the simple game currently), this is a process that might take a while.
  • For Sale
  • Fury of Dracula
  • Scotland Yard
  • Puerto Rico
  • Caylus
  • Blokus
  • Memoir '44
  • Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Chaos in the Old World

Finally brought Chaos in the Old World to the table Saturday night. Dave, Monica, the Mrs. and I worked through the rules and made it through a couple of rounds before we called it a night. Armed with a better understanding of the rules, we met up again the next night, minus Monica, and played through a full game.

Dave & the Mrs. seemed to think poorly of the amount of luck in the game (because of die rolls as well as card draws), but I feel that the vast quantity of decisions in Chaos in the Old World more than makes up for this. One of the major benefits a board game gains by having luck elements is a need for players to adjust strategy as conditions change unexpectedly. This is certainly a quality I enjoy in games, and after one play I think there is an appropriate amount of luck present. (Though, of course, this opinion is subject to change, and certain other players in the room may strongly disagree!)

There is a lot going on here: players can win either by advancing their own personal victory dials to a certain level, or by achieving a certain threshold on the common victory point track. VPs themselves can be gained both through having a strong military presence in a region (by dominating the area), or by corrupting a region with one's rather weak cultist figures (eventually ruining a region and gaining large numbers of VPs). In Chaos, players must balance their personal victory goals with paying close attention to the other players' goals as to block them from advancing too quickly.

As in El Grande (another area control game), there does seem to be a disadvantage in building a strong early presence in the game, as the other players are very motivated to take down the leader. I felt in this first play I established myself a little too early as the leader and paid for that fact throughout the mid-game. Dave, through some good late-game die rolls and maximizing his victory dial bonuses, ended up the winner, but if one roll during the last turn would have landed differently the game would have gone an additional round and anyone could have been victorious.

I eagerly await our next play of Chaos in the Old World, as it is a deep and intriguing game, both very thematic and seemingly well balanced.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Five & Dime for 1st Quarter 2010

You can tell I've been serious about the board game hobby this year because for the first time I've been tracking my plays on Board Game Geek. The website has my entire collection listed, and each time I play a game I record the play and note anything interesting about the session and the winner and any scores.

One of the best aspects of this record is that I can tell which games I've been playing the most. One common way of tracking games played over the course of time (especially on an annual basis) is a 'five and dime' list that tracks the games one has played at least 10 and at least 5 times. Including face to face game nights, plays online, and head to head games with my daughter, here's my first three months (more or less) this year:

Carcassonne (12 plays)
Dominion (8 plays)
Ghost Stories (8 plays)
Pandemic (8 plays)
Ca$h'n Gun$ (6 plays)
Race for the Galaxy (6 plays)
Agricola (5 plays)
Dixit (5 plays)

That's a pretty good list that encompasses most of my favorite games. Time's Up: Title Recall would be the most glaring omission and that is sitting at 4 plays currently for the year. I do, however, think that something can be said for just those plays I've had during face to face sessions this year. So, stripping away games with the kiddos and those played online we get to this core list:

Ghost Stories (6 plays)
Dominion (6 plays)
Race for the Galaxy (6 plays)
Ca$h'n Gun$ (6 plays)
Agricola (5 plays)

The primary differences here are Carcassonne which I've played exclusively this year with Abby or online, and Pandemic which I almost only play online. This list is in some ways a companion piece to "The List" of unplayed games I wrote about several posts ago. Many of those games are fringe titles that need a specific group or a particular situation to find play time, whereas these on the five & dime list are the core of my collection that see play after play. We shall see how the two lists develop over the course of the next few months...

A Pair of Favorites

We had Zachary over last night for games. Ghost stories was first up and we took a crack at Nightmare level, the first to involve multiple incarnations of Wu-Feng rather than just one. We took out the first of four, but after that nasty black ghosts and a tough one two punch of Wu-Feng incarnations brought the game out of hand. I was impressed by the new style of play however, and look forward to our next go round.

The Mrs. retired upstairs to study and Zachary and I pulled out Dominion for a quick game. We used the base set with random kingdom cards. I tried a chapel strategy and was able to pick up a couple of gold early, but Zachary managed to stay right in step and when I had the opportunity to end the game with my fifth province purchase I had the feeling he would still be the victor because of having more estates, gardens, and duchies. I delayed game's end to try to get a step up, but he was able to keep pace and take the last province to boot for the victory. I think perhaps key to ditching estates early with chapel is to have some extra buys in the mid to late game to replace those lost vps with a few extra victory cards.

I'm looking forward to playing Chaos in the Old World this weekend for the first time, and have been reading and taking notes on Through the Ages as well, though I wasn't able to get it to the table yesterday as I'd hoped.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Back in the Saddle

After a full ten days absent from board games, I played a quick round of Pandemic on BrettSpielWelt last night with Tom. We played on maximum difficulty (Legendary), he was the Medic and I the Generalist. Medic was strong as usual, helping with board control, but the Generalist still feels weak, especially in a two player game. We were desperately in need of a role that would allow us to find cures more easily such as Researcher or Scientist, as the player cards were falling in about the least efficient manner possible.

We finally did find a lone cure four epidemics into the game, but were far far from winning when the inevitable disaster struck.

I'm exited to get in a game of Ghost Stories with Zachary and the Mrs. tonight, and if I can learn the game, perhaps Through the Ages this afternoon.

Friday, March 19, 2010

According to My Notes...

...I am ready to play Chaos in the Old World. Now I just need to feel better enough that I can reenter the land of the living. Hopefully that will be soon!

I actually found the rules to Chaos in the Old World to be very well written. The basic rule set has a number of different phases that are a little complicated, but the order of everything in the game seems very clear, and there are numerous examples detailed throughout the book. I remember being completely bewildered after reading through the Fury of Dracula rules (another heavy strategy game published by the same people as Chaos, Fantasy Flight Games).

Either these rules are better arranged or the game is simply not as fiddly as Fury of Dracula. I suspect a combination of each is responsible, but I suppose I find out when I play!

Boards, Cards, Etc.

Recently I've been trying to decide if there is room in my life for more than one gaming hobby.

Board Games

Certainly this is my primary interest in the hobby, and it's a fitting one if it's the only gaming niche in which I participate, largely because of its flexibility. I can pull out a board game to play when I'm alone and want a solitaire game, a two player game to share with the Mrs. or a friend, a strategy game for four or five, a party game for 6 or 8, or a handful of different titles to split up a very large group into 2 or 3 separate tables. A stack of board games can be thrown in the car and played with friends or family on a trip, or a game can tag along to a coffee shop or restaurant and be played over a drink or snack. There are even versions of board games online that I can play with long distance friends and relatives.

Collectible Card Games

CCG's, like Magic: the Gathering, are games in which you buy packs of cards and then build your own deck from the resulting card pool. Each player that plays constructs their own deck and uses it to play against others that have done the same. Magic is an amazing game, although keeping up with it is immensely expensive, and actually maintaining competitive decks would be even more so. Even so, the huge card pool that has been released over the years gives the game a huge amount of variety, the strategies are numerous, there are hundreds of different ways to play and thousands of ways to customize your style of deck and of play.

If taken just in a limited setting, Magic can fit in the board game world. I could simply take a stack of the cards I own and draft decks using that particular pool of cards with a number of friends, and then play. Magic is certainly best, however, when there is a large group of people playing in an area and many people building different types of decks and offering various styles of play. This is not really the case right now in Canton, so it's difficult for me to be involved with the game at all, though it has meant I've been able to fully concentrate on pursuing my board game interests. Ideally I'd be able to have some board game friends that were also into Magic so that I could stay plugged into that scene a little as well.

The Rest

I have given a little thought to playing a role playing game (RPG) at some point. I think it's something I'd devote a little time to if I happened to find an awesome group that inspired me to do so. I would say it is an ongoing interest of mine, but not something that I'd be willing to get off the ground myself. I did play a little Dungeons & Dragons long ago, but the group was not very interesting, and the DM not very ambitious.

I also rather enjoy video games, but I've now owned Okami for the Wii for a year, and despite loving the game, I just don't find enough time to play. Not that the pastime isn't enjoyable, I just choose to play the board game first every time.

Collectible miniatures have never really interested me all that much--they eat time & money just like M:tG, and I really don't have the same spark of interest in them as in collectible card games, so I think I can do without. I do have a Heroscape Basic Set, which is somewhat of a cross between board games and collectible miniatures, so I may end up pursuing that a little anyway.

Live Action Role Playing (LARP) is another part of the hobby I've never pursued, though many of my friends in the Burlington area did (and still do, so far as I know.) Not that the idea isn't quite intriguing, but I just don't see myself devoting that amount of time in another undertaking.

Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games (MMPORPGs) like World of Warcraft are immensely popular right now and I bet they would be a riot to play. They strike me as immersive and quite entertaining, but again, when played to their potential, these types of games don't really leave much time for other pursuits.

Well, that's probably enough babbling for now. Keep playing!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Board Game Reading

The Mrs. went out out last night, so I poked around a little on before I passed out. Sometimes I'll just follow links to random games on the 'Hotness,' a list of games that have been recently or frequently viewed on the site. This gives me a mix of the obscure and the well known, and makes for generally good information.

The games I perused:

  • "Rezolution: A Dark Tomorrow is a fast paced, cinematic miniature battles game set in an original science fiction universe, with revolutionary simultaneous play and story based missions. Players need very few miniatures to begin play, in fact a starter set contains all you need." Released 2005. This seems like it's a collectible miniatures game and I really don't want to get into anything else collectible (M:tG is enough!) It does sound like a lot of fun, however, and I wonder if it is actually a really good experience right out of the box or if you really need to develop an army through booster packs. Intriguing, but probably nothing I'll bite on.
  • Le Havre is a worker placement game by Ewe Rosenberg, and considered to some extent a sequel to his excellent Agricola. I read an incredibly long and thoroughly detailed review calling Le Havre "A Landmark Game." Besides making me very interested in the game (which it did!) the article references older games that the author maintains were stepping stones to this one, and insists that Le Havre is the best game of it's type, namely "resource game." (Resources are acquired throughout the game that can then be converted to food, used for energy, shipped to sell at market, or used in the construction of new buildings.) This concept of progress in game design intrigues me--some say that the obsession with the new is foolish and that games designed 10 years ago are just as good as those today, and then others, like the author of this review insist that some games built upon the shoulders of their predecessors make grand improvements and set a high water mark for the genre. In this case he generally seems to be referencing three games that he has great respect for, Agricola, Caylus, and Puerto Rico.
  • I watched Tom Vasel's video review of a fantasy adventure card game called Adventure of D. It seems like a pretty interesting concept--12 place cards are laid out on the board which represent the kingdom you are exploring, and each player has a character with different sets of abilities. During the game additional cards will be drawn, and each card has a host of different purposes, depending on the reasons it was drawn. For instance, some cards can be discarded to move to other places in the kingdom, other times you will find a magical item, and one part of each card details such an item. I love this type of mechanic in a game--where you have a common pile of cards you're working through, but depending on the situation the same card may be used for several different things. This really makes for a huge amount of game to be condensed into a very small deck of cards. I don't know that I'm going to rush out and get this one, but it does strike my interest.
  • Finally, I took a brief look at Time's Up: Deluxe, which is the original version of Time's Up (not the Title Recall edition), but with some cards from the two expansions mixed in and a nifty electronic timer to mark the turns. I might be tempted to purchase this at some point since it would give the game even more replayability and the timer would also be neat to have. My only concern is that we might not like guessing famous names as much as we do the titles in our version.
Maybe one of these days I'll actually play a game or two...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Gaming in Vermont

The family and I spent a largely sick extended weekend in VT, but did get a few games in anyway.

Ca$h'n Gun$

We weren't sure how Ca$h'n Gun$ would go over with my Quaker aunt and uncle, but decided to try it out. Game one featured five players and no super powers, as most of the participants were new to the game. Shockingly, I pulled out the victory! (My first at the game, I believe!) My brother Ben joined us for game two, bringing us up to a full compliment of six, and we added the super powers.

The most notable moment in the game was, I believe, round five, when there were about 15 bills on the table due to one impossible split-up, and one grenade detonation. Tara and I were the two that survived to collect that huge pot (although Ned could have used his super power to get a share as well if not for his misunderstanding of the timing of the power), and thus we had targets on our heads the remainder of the game. Everyone still felt I was probably the leader after round eight, but Darlene tied my final score and won since she had no shame markers to my three...

We also played Ca$h'n Gun$ with Tom & Emily, and despite only being a four player game it was still quite fun. We taught the game using two sample rounds with random bullet cards to introduce the basics, then read all the super powers out loud and jumped into the full game.

I like the two sample round teaching technique followed by the addition of super powers. There has been some confusion about the difference between phases and rounds and about when exactly super powers are to be used--I'll have to spend a little more time detailing those situations in the future.

Ghost Stories

After our play of Ca$h'n Gun$ the four of us jumped into a game of normal difficulty Ghost Stories. Emily was the only new player, so for the most part we taught as we progressed through the game. We kept up with the ghosts fairly well early, but as we neared Wu-Feng we were really overwhelmed by ghosts, having a completely full board for several turns before he arrived. We were able to free up a couple of spots, and the incarnation that appeared was Creeping Horror (4 green resistance, steals a die when he comes into play).

Emily happened to have two green tao tokens so she moved in front of him intending to set up another monk to take him down. She might as well take a shot herself, however, since she was right there, but she needed to roll greens on both remaining dice to pull off the victory. It was the perfect roll--two greens, high fives all around, and the win! I like the idea of moving up to Hell difficulty, but I don't know that we're quite ready for it--we do seem to be winning a high percentage of games at Normal, but the finishes always seem tight.

Time's Up: Title Recall

Later in the day we changed venues and added a couple of players: Mike and Sue. Time's Up was the game and though she and I did lose a match as a team the last time we played, the Mrs. is still the best single player at the game that I know. Thus it should come as no surprise that she and Sue took this one home, though Tom & Emily started to gain some ground in the later rounds. Ca$h'n Gun$ may be just as fun as this one at times, but nothing beats the Time's Up experience. Having to switch gears and be more creative as the rounds go by in the game really make for a rich experience, and one that I like to get to during any party game get together.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Final Menu for Tastes of Spring 2010

Hospice has sent me the final menu for their annual Tastes of Spring event on April 11th at the Lobster House in Norwood. Participants and their dishes:

  • John Sullivan: Seafood Newburg - Shrimp, Scallops & Lobster Newburg Nestled in a Buttery Puff Pastry Shell
  • Steve Maiocco: Grilled Pork Tenderloin, Mashed Red Potatoes with Rosemary & Olive Oil, Haricot Vert, and Minus 8 Vinaigrette
  • Nathaniel Todd: Maple Soy Glazed Salmon, Fried Rice, and Sautéed Ginger Vegetables
  • Nathaniel's Vegetarian Option: Pan Seared Tofu with Warm Spices, Eggplant & Cauliflower Curry, and Steamed Brown Rice
As you'll notice by comparing my entrees to my previous brainstorming post, I tweaked the salmon dish and added a vegetarian option since one of those is always needed to round out the menu. My only regret is that I can't make all four of the entrees I proposed since I'm excited about all of them!

Also check out the menu from last year which I posted on my short lived food blog. Turns out I can barely maintain one blog, so why would I aim for two? When I have food thoughts I'll simply post them here in the future...

Tastes of Spring is going to be a lot of work this year since I will have to both work alone and serve two entirely different entrees. I'm hoping that the final counts will leave my dishes as the third and fourth most popular so things don't get too crazy! Seatings are available from 11:30 am through 2:30 pm, and each meal is served with a cup of soup, a beverage, and a selection of desserts. I'm not sure what the cost is per meal this year, but it's generally around $30 and all the money raised goes to an excellent cause--if you live in the area I urge you to check it out!

Call 265-3105 for more information or to make reservations. If you'd like to learn a little more about Hospice, their website can be found here.

The List!

For some reason I feel that so long as it is reasonably possible to play through my board game collection over the course of the year I should do so--since I own about 40 games (not counting kids' or mainstream titles like Clue, Life, etc.) this is certainly an attainable goal, albeit one that I'll have to work at a little. I'll break this into two lists, first those games that I have never played, then those that I've played before, just not this year.

Never played:

  • Through the Ages
  • Chaos in the Old World

Not played this year:

  • For Sale
  • Alhambra
  • Neuroshima Hex!
  • Fury of Dracula
  • Scotland Yard
  • Puerto Rico
  • Caylus
  • Memoir '44
  • Blokus
  • Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation
Actually, that's not as bad as I had expected--only about a third of my entire collection has yet to hit the table, and the year is still young. The easy ones to get off the list will be the light multi-player games that I'm sure people will not mind trying--For Sale, Alhambra, Blokus, Scotland Yard. Also, I'm sure at least Dave and the Mrs. will be up for playing the heavier Eurogames--Caylus, Puerto Rico, Through the Ages (though I still need to fully learn the rules to this one...) Chaos in the Old World will come off the list as soon as I have a group of 3 or 4 willing to learn a new game, and Fury of Dracula will need one dedicated night and the right group of folks. The toughest ones might be the 2-player games that the Mrs. isn't clamoring to play: Lord of the Rings, Memoir '44, and Neuroshima Hex! I'm sure these games won't be that difficult to get to the table, but with so many other good titles in the mix and a number of group game nights (rather than 2 person sessions), they tend to be afterthoughts.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Session Report: My Week in Games

I must admit that it's pretty amazing that I need to consolidate a week's worth of session reports in one post because I'm simply playing so many games!

Games played this week:

  • Dominion (6 plays) I played Dominion with all sorts of people this week. I played one teaching game with Abby, two simultaneous games teaching several new players, a pair of 2-player games with Dave, and yet another simultaneous session in which we broke out a few of the Intrigue cards. I'm loving this game, but still feel as if my handle on strategy is fairly weak. I won two of the five games I played other than the one with Abby. The two games at one table system seems to work fairly well, though it has yet to play out quite how I expected. As players get more games under their belts and play proceeds more quickly, I envision games ending, players shuffling between the two groups, and then card sets switched out as desired. In this way players will get so see a variety of different cards and play against a number of different opponents over the course of an evening.
  • Wits & Wagers (2 plays) This one is fun and quick, and I'm glad I've been able to work in a couple plays of the game. I'm reminded, however, that it is very light.
  • Pandemic (2 plays) I recorded one play with Abby (our second game overall), and though she gets all the basic mechanics, much of the strategy is still over her head--perhaps not the best choice with her yet. Also, the Mrs. and I taught the game to a couple during their second night over for games. They enjoyed it for the most part but will probably get a better grasp on more advanced strategy in subsequent plays.
  • Race for the Galaxy (2 plays) Still loving this one despite Dave beating me in all three of the games I've played with him so far. Maybe I'm just not good at this one! So many hard decisions here to be made every turn--both in which cards to play and which to spend, and then which actions to select each round. I feel as if I have a much firmer grasp on the former, and not so much on the latter.
  • Time's Up: Title Recall (1 play) Best party game ever! Can't get enough of this one, it's the centerpiece of every party game evening we host. We have never, to my knowledge, played two games of this back to back, however, perhaps because it's a little longer than the other party games we own.
  • Cluzzle (1 play) I enjoyed my play of this on Friday. I respect the idea, the creativity, and the game system here, though I am pretty horrible at the game. I finished in last place. Again. Others I've played it with also seem a little lukewarm here despite doing significantly better in the final standings. Cluzzle still needs a few more plays before I can really decide what I think.
  • Ca$h'n Gun$ (1 play) Really enjoying this one since we added the super powers, although I'm not entirely sure that someone's super power has ever actually tipped the game in their favor yet in our plays. I'll have to pay attention to that the next time we bring it to the table. I need to run the undercover cop variant soon, but feel as if we should try the super powers a few more times first.
  • Say Anything (1 play) This one was fun as always--lots of laughter paired with creative answers. Say Anything is an excellent social game, especially with 6-8 players.
  • Ghost Stories (1 play) Our one play of this one was late in the evening, with many distractions and a little too much booze so it dragged a little. Ghost Stories really requires you to be almost fully lucid to make the most of it. We've played the last couple games on Normal difficulty (two on a scale of four, four being hardest), and that seems fairly appropriate. The next level, Hell, seems like it is going to be a decent hike in difficulty and we're not quite there yet, methinks!
  • Cheese Snatching (1 play) The cute and quick little push your luck kids game is still a favorite of mine (and the kiddos too!), and we played it yesterday before bedtime. Lincoln took this one 16 points to Abby's 14 and my 12. Apparently this is another one that I'm just not cut out for!
Well that's the last seven days in games. The coming week will probably be a little lighter game-wise since we'll be visiting family in Vermont and there will probably be fewer people looking to play games. I may aim for a gathering to get some party games to the table, however, with the family.

Monday, March 8, 2010

My 4 Favorite Types of Games

Honorable Mention--Kids' Games
One of my favorite ways to interact with my children is through playing board games. Why is this only an 'honorable mention' then? For the most part these games are difficult to compare to the vast array of games I play with adults since they are primarily designed for kids. So, though I may enjoy playing some of our kids games just as much as the other games in my collection, it is very difficult to rate them on the same scale.

Not only do we own a decent handful of good kids' games, but Abby is old enough now that I can play many lighter adult strategy games with her as well. If we only have time for a short game I'd probably reach for Cheese Snatching, a cute little push your luck game by Haba. If the whole family wants to play, either Suitcase Detectives or Chicken Cha Cha Cha would probably fit the bill. If it's just Abby and I and we have a little time to spend, I'd probably go for Carcassonne, which we both love and that title even scratches that strategy game itch.

4. Heavy Strategy Games Games in this category often have complicated rules, many difficult decisions, and take several plays to really get a firm grasp of the rules and a feel for some of the strategies involved. Though I admire the designs of all the heavy strategy games I own, they have been somewhat hit or miss as far as my enjoyment goes. I love Puerto Rico, Agricola, and Race for the Galaxy (RftG), but thus far games like El Grande and Caylus just haven't clicked for me.

Heavy strategy games tend to rely very little on luck so all the hard work and tough decisions that one makes along the way tend to culminate in an appropriate outcome--if you've played the best game, you are almost certain to win. Strategy games in general tend to function best with a small number of players, tending to play best with 2-4 participants (a number that does not function well for party games in general). There is a lot of work to be done in these games, but a good job is very well rewarded with victory and satisfaction. With the right group of players who have all played the game a number of times and each of whom is thinking independently and pursuing diverging strategies, these types of games have no equal.

There are a number of potential downsides to heavy strategy games, however.

  1. Many people don't want to have to think that much about a board game, especially if they are playing one to relax after having to think all day at work, and therefore it can be difficult to find people who will willingly play them!
  2. They feature very steep learning curves. The rules are often somewhat difficult to understand, and even once you have a grasp on the basic idea of how to play you still have little to no idea how to form an effective strategy. A couple of experienced players teaching one of these games to newbies will have a huge advantage, and it will generally take many plays before the playing field is somewhat level.
  3. Heavy strategy games are all about making many tough decisions and thus players must spend most of their time and energy during the game thinking. This tends to make for fairly quiet gaming experiences. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, of course, but often it is nice to have a more lively gaming experience.
  4. If you have a large group of people on hand you just can't play one of these games.
  5. Heavy strategy games tend to take a fairly long time to play, especially with a larger number of players and/or a number of new players. Agricola, for instance, plays in about half an hour per player--that's 2 1/2 hours for a five player game, plus time for rules explanation if it's anyone's first play. While I have no problem with this, it can be a hurdle to getting other people on board.

3. Party Games
These are essentially the opposite of heavy strategy games in almost every way, yet I like them just as much! My favorites (as described in my previous post) include Time's Up: Title Recall, Ca$h'n Gun$, Say Anything, and Wits & Wagers. Two that have potential but for which I harbor some reservations are Dixit and Cluzzle.

Party games have a lot going for them. They tend to be very highly interactive, easy to teach, generally accommodate large groups (at least 6-8 players), and tend to favor creativity or lighthearted fun over difficult decisions.

On the flip side, party games have a weaker connection between making good decisions and victory--quite often the victory conditions are just a guide to maximizing the fun factor along the way. If you're looking for a game that will challenge you at every turn and will culminate with a victory if you've had the best strategy or made the best decisions over the course of play, you should avoid party games! Also, the flip side of the 'accommodating large groups' feature is that party games simply don't work with two players and are not optimal for small groups of three or four.

2. Light Strategy Games
These are much like the heavy strategy games above, but tend to be somewhat more dependent on luck, easier to learn, have simpler strategies, and play in much less time. My favorites in this category are Carcassonne and Dominion, though I also enjoy a host of others including Metropolys, Wasabi!, and Settlers of Catan.

Light strategy games are a good middle ground between heavy strategy and party games. They are much more accessible than the former, and still have more strategic elements than the latter. New players have a better shot at winning than they would with heavier games, and really have the opportunity to have more fun with them almost immediately. These also tend to play in much shorter amounts of time than their heavier equivalents, so it may be possible to play two or three games in the same session as opposed to one.

1. Cooperative Games Though I really only own two games in this category (Pandemic and Ghost Stories), they are amongst my favorite games, and I do intend to add more to my collection in the near future.

Coops place much less pressure on new players than competitive strategy games since they don't force each participant to make all their own decisions and come up with their own strategy independently of the other players. It is also less important to give a complete explanation of the game before play, because there is no harm in teaching some of the rules as the game is played. This being said, Pandemic and Ghost Stories are both very challenging games that demand much thought for players to be victorious over the game, the pressure is simply off individual players to be fully responsible for the entire strategy.

These games succeed when they throw down the gauntlet and players have to brainstorm together to come up with creative ways to combine their abilities and game options to be able to deal with the situation on the board. These lively debates are the real core of the game, and it is possible for the session to suffer if a couple of the players just aren't into it. Also, some gamers might just not get the point of playing a game when there is no winner crowned in the end. For me, there is a place for each of these types of games, but most recently the majority of my favorite gaming experiences have been with cooperative ones, and thus they make the top of the list.

Anyone find it odd that my last post made a big deal about only being able to come up with lists of four, but I follow it immediately with a list of five? Lame.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My Top 4 Party Games

So I've been thinking of writing a series of 'top 10' posts, with the only catch being that I don't own or play enough games to be able to come up with a list of 10 for any particular category. Until I can remedy that minor detail, I'm thinking some lists of four might just do the trick (perhaps this means I'm currently operating at 40% of board game capacity?)

For My First List...Party Games!

I would classify most of the games I play and enjoy into two distinct categories: strategy games and party games. Some examples of popular games that would fit this mold: Strategy--Monopoly, Risk; Party--Cranium, Balderdash. Though I've felt in recent years that I lean heavily in favor of the strategy end of the gaming spectrum, recently I've been engaged by a handful of stand out party games. In no particular order:

  • Wits & Wagers The trivia game with a twist--you don't actually need to know any trivia to either win or have a great time! In Wits & Wagers you don't receive points by giving the correct answer, but rather by wagering poker chips on the answer you think is closest to the correct one. The game is quick, light, and a lot of fun. It can handle up to 7 individual players but also works well with teams so pretty much any number can join in the fun.
  • Ca$h'n Gun$ Right out of the box this game seems like it must be a blast to play--it comes loaded with six orange foam pistols. Each player takes on the role of a gangster and takes turns pointing their weapons at each other attempting to be one of the last one standing and thus earning a share of the loot. Everyone who survives eight rounds of mayhem counts up their total haul and the richest player wins! I was lukewarm on this one at first, but now that we've started playing with the more advanced rules (each gangster gets a super power: a secret special ability that will influence who they shoot and how they act) that add a much needed layer of intrigue to the game.
  • Say Anything If you've ever played Apples to Apples, this is somewhat similar but far more interesting. Players take turns drawing a card and reading one of the six questions listed, such as "In my opinion...If I could have a "BIG" anything, what would it be?" Each other player quickly writes an answer to that question, aiming to appeal to the active player's personality in such a way that their answer will be chosen. Players receive points if their answer is the one picked as the best, but there is also a betting mechanism that rewards players for being able to judge which of the given answers will be chosen. Like Ca$h'n Gun$, Say Anything is a game that needs to be played in a very lighthearted manner--it's important not to agonize too much over your answers, just write down the first thing that pops into your head and go with it, no matter how crazy (or the case usually is!)
  • Time's Up: Title Recall My favorite game of the bunch, this one is an amazing experience. Somewhat of a combination of Taboo and Charades, Time's Up forces players to communicate with their partners as the rules for what you are allowed to say and do change each round, moving from being able to say anything except the words on your card as hints, to the final round where no verbal clues are allowed at all. As the rules get more restrictive, players have to find more creative ways to hint at the answers on their cards. An amusing misleading clue in an early round can morph into a very useful hint in later rounds--and hilarity almost always ensues! Time's Up is one of the most interactive and creative game experiences I've ever had, and it is always fun to play. The only downside to this game is that younger players who don't have a large knowledge pool may have a tough time playing, as will anyone who is very reserved and isn't willing to get a little crazy or creative to get their message across.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Brainstorming for Tastes of Spring 2010

For the last three years running I've represented St. Lawrence University at Hospice's Tastes of Spring event at the Lobster House in Norwood. Thus far I've been collaborating with Justin Martin who cooks with me at SLU. Since he's moved on to another position, however, I'm going it alone this year. With the tight financial situation at the university they are looking to keep costs minimal so my menu choices need to be geared toward affordable ingredients.

As in previous years Hospice has requested several Entree choices from which they will choose one that they wish me to prepare for the event. My first draft looks like this:

  • Soy & Maple Glazed Salmon, Quinoa Pilaf, Gingered Chinese Vegetables
  • Balsamic Braised Chicken w/Swiss Chard & Tomatoes, Creamy Parmesan Polenta
  • Apple Dijon Roast Pork, Potato Gratin, Glazed Winter Vegetables
All of these options should be fairly affordable to prepare (I'll double check ingredient prices today at work to confirm this), yet involve delicious flavor combinations, and (I hope) sound quite appealing on paper. Each of these should also lend themselves very well to a good combination of do ahead cooking and last minute assembly, which is especially important since I have a limited space in which to work for this event.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Recent Gaming

Two weeks ago was Vegas Week when the Mrs. left me to my own devices. (My devices, in this case, were board games apparently!) Last week was mostly concerned with catching up on life and relaxing a bit, and thus almost completely devoid of games. This week threw us once again into a whirlwind of game nights--in some ways perhaps too many, but I refuse to complain about playing too many board games! What follows is a quick rundown of my last six days of board game mayhem:

  • I taught Abby Pandemic on Sunday. She was the dispatcher and I the scientist. Unfortunately the player cards didn't really fall our way and two consecutive epidemics spelled our doom.
  • Monday brought David (back from Italy), and Stacey over for a play of Agricola. Nobody really seemed to have their heads in the game and it was a little slow going at first. I made a couple poor decisions early that made it difficult to compete later on. David finished in first place this time with the Mrs. two points behind.
  • On Tuesday the Mrs. had evening commitments so I taught Abby and Lincoln Wasabi, a game that Abby had been asking to play pretty much since I bought it last year! My opinion on this one has been steadily on the rise, which may or may not be related to some recent victories... The trick here is to adopt the style of play that best suits the depth of the game. Wasabi must be played at a brisk pace--if the game bogs down with too much analyzing, the fun really drains out of the game.
  • Wednesday brought Stacey, Monica, Wannie, Theo, and Ana. Though I had originally envisioned a strategy game night, this one ended up with too many players, putting us into the realm of party games. Theo had been requesting Cluzzle the last couple times she'd been over so we opened that box for the first time, with Sarah and Wannie becoming a team to cut the group down to the required six players. The game was fun, but both my sculpting and question asking/sculpture guessing left much to be desired and I finished in dead last. Cluzzle awaits further plays before I'll pass judgment.
  • Thursday has been Zachary night of late and this week was no exception. He, the Mrs. and I played our first game of Ghost Stories in a few weeks, bumping the difficulty up from initiation to normal due to a couple of victories in our last games. This one didn't play out very well with the ghosts pushing us pretty hard most of the game. We did make it to Wu Feng's appearance, but only had one 'hail mary' shot at his defeat before succumbing to certain doom... The Mrs. retired for the evening and Zachary pondered which of my many games he'd like to learn this evening. Dominion was the final choice, and seemingly a wise one, since we had a lot of fun. We played the base game with the 'first game' recommended kingdom cards. Zachary caught on very quickly and ended only three points behind my lead at game's end. I definitely need to get this one to the table more often, as it is a quick play but still with lots of strategy and variation.
  • Last night brought Chris 'Bucky,' Jessica 'Joy Luck Club,' Stacey, and Ivan 'Mr. Shuffles.' We played our first game of Ca$h'N Gun$ with the super powers and had an absolute blast! I'd been a little lukewarm on the game up to this point, enjoying it enough in principle, but never really loving it. I loved this play! Super powers lend much interest and strategy to the game, but somehow the result was the same--Jessica was our winner. We followed with an amazing game of Time's Up: Title Recall (of course, almost every game of this one is a winner). The Mrs. and I were on the same Time's Up team for the first time, and ended up winning, though all three teams were excellent. Sometimes I feel this game works better with 8 or 10, but this session with six will be hard to beat.
This has really been a fabulous week for board games, and has me looking forward to the next one!

Monday, February 22, 2010

When the Mrs. Goes Away: RftG, Party Games, BSW

Race for the Galaxy

I taught David the game on Thursday, and it occurred to me that I'm really not very good at game explanation! I felt like I chose a very poor route to describing the game and realize now that I need to start coming up with a game plan before teaching any game. Luckily, David knows his board games and was able to stumble through the weak explanation and manage to learn the game well enough to beat me despite this being perhaps my 7th or 8th play to his 1st...

This experience also makes me wonder if I may let my guard down when teaching games. David also beat me in our first game of Agricola, though I suppose that was his second game overall, just his first in a year or two.

Race for the Galaxy is a space themed card game that uses similar mechanics to the legendary Puerto Rico board game--namely, that each player chooses a particular role at the start of the turn to determine which actual game phases occur that turn. For instance, if no one chooses the 'Settle' card, then the Settle phase doesn't happen this turn, and no one will have the chance to settle a new world.

Race involves lots of strategy, but is fairly quick playing. The cards are marked with a system of icons that take a little time getting used to, and the game explanation is a bit lengthy, but thus far I've been very impressed with the game and would love to start playing it more often.

Party Games (Friday)

We had a five person group over for more light-hearted games on Friday night. The glaring omission here would be Time's Up, which we still haven't managed to get to the table in 2010, though we love it so! The fact we had an odd number of players dissuaded us here, though there is a five player variant in the rules that we will have to try sometime.

  • Ca$h'N Gun$ People do seem to enjoy this one, though we have still only played with the basic rules which really do not interest me very much. Certainly next time we play we'll have to move up to one of the more advanced variants, either the one with the specialized player powers or the 'one of us is a cop' version.
  • Dixit I have enjoyed this game every time I've played it, but I'm still not fully sold. Dixit is creative, which I like, but it seems a little too subdued to be considered a party game. Not sure what niche it will ultimately fill, but I hope it does find a place because there is some potential here. Currently, however, I would reach for Time's Up, Say Anything, or Wits & Wagers before Dixit.
  • Dancing Eggs The kids' game that works better for grown ups made an appearance at the end of the night because it is just so simple to explain and quick to play. I even won this one because Sarah wasn't present and she always wins! The game is fun enough that I won't turn it down when people want to play it, but I certainly wouldn't suggest it myself...
Carcassonne (on BrettSpielWelt, Tuesday)

I've been playing a lot of Carcassonne lately, both in person with Abby and online with the likes of Ben, Trevor, and Tom. This session was with Ben and we played two games, each of us winning one of them. I really like the idea of playing this one online, but unfortunately it is hampered by the inability of players to look at their next tile during the downtime when other players are taking their turns. In face to face Carc this really helps the game move along at a brisk pace since you can plan most of your strategy between turns.

Pandemic (on BrettSpielWelt, Wednesday)

We've hit a bit of a rough patch with Pandemic as of late, probably because we haven't been playing it much recently. This time we played on Legendary difficulty (7 epidemics), players were Tom (Dispatcher), Trevor (Containment Specialist), and myself (Researcher). We were doing a pretty good job at keeping the diseases down, I dished cards to others to get the cures and we were able to construct several research stations. In the end we were two turns from victory when back to back epidemics hit and the second one landed in a city with a cube already in it next to a 3-cube city. Red ended with -15 cubes and we had probably 15 outbreaks as well...

Well, that just about does it for my week of gaming: 7 straight days of board games that helped me pass the time until my love returned from Las Vegas. Not mentioned were a number of games I played with the kids including Yahtzee, Heroscape, and Carcassonne: the Castle, all of which we enjoyed immensely. Here's to many more games in 2010!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

When the Mrs. Goes Away: Agricola

(Sunday, Monday, Saturday)

Agricola is a farming simulation game in which players take on the role of a fifteenth century farming couple. Your goal is to build and develop your farm to be the most advanced and well balanced one amongst those playing. Okay, so how do you accomplish this?

Agricola belongs to a category of titles called 'worker placement' games, which means, in Agricola's case, that each player takes turns using one of their family members (the workers) to claim one of many action spaces on a game board. When chosen, each of these spaces gives that player an opportunity to better his farm in some way. For instance, particular spaces might allow you to:

  • receive a load of wood (which can allow you to later build fences or an addition to your house)
  • renovate your home from a wooden shack to a much more prestigious clay hut!
  • add cattle to your farm (though you best have a fenced-in pasture to contain them, or at very least a cooking hearth to make use of them before they run away!)
  • plow a field, or sow some wheat seeds into an already plowed field
  • have a baby!
Each player begins a gaming session with exactly two family members--the farmer and their spouse. As the game progresses opportunities to grow your family will arise, allowing each couple to have up to three children who will naturally be expected to help out on the farm, and thus increase the number of family members available to choose additional actions on the game board. Hey, farming life is difficult--once little Tommy can walk, gosh darn it, he should be able to plow the fields and mend the fences!

Though Agricola is very much a thinking game with some very deep strategy, it succeeds over other games that may be so described in a number of ways:

  • The complexity of the game can be varied to a great extent. Some of the great variation and replayability of Agricola lies in the decks of cards that allow players to build 'minor improvements' and take on beneficial 'occupations' over the course of the game. These cards can either be omitted to simplify the game (useful especially when teaching the rules to new players), or upgraded to more complicated and interactive cards when players are ready to up the ante.
  • A player's progress isn't recorded in terms of generic 'victory points' (as in Caylus or El Grande) but rather in tangible farm improvements. It is especially helpful and rewarding for new players to see their progress advance by having a couple of fenced pastures, a plowed field, some sheep, or a new addition to their house, rather than 'oh joy, I now have 27 victory points!'
  • Agricola has a very strong theme that keeps players interested in the game. All the mechanics seem to fit the theme very nicely so it really feels like you are developing your farm:
  1. One grain sown into a plowed field nets you three grain over the course of several rounds.
  2. Owning a pair of any given animal results in a baby animal of that type at the end of each round.
  3. Adding a room onto your wooden house costs you five wood resources (for the walls) and one reed (for the roof).
  4. For you to increase the size of your family you first need to expand the size of your home.
  5. To hold more than one animal on your farm (one can stay in your house as a pet!) you need to build a stable or fence in pastures.
As I mention above, however, to succeed at Agricola you need to master a great deal of strategy. Those who have more experience at the game will generally have a great advantage over new players. The three games I played last week were all won by those who had played the game previously, and always by large margins. I had probably half a dozen games under my belt beforehand, and won two of the three contests. David, the only other board game enthusiast amongst the players, and the only other to have played Agricola previously, won the remaining game. Though the game has been a lot of fun to play thus far (and not just because I've been winning!), I would imagine Agricola will be even more rewarding once some other players get a few more plays in and really start to even the playing field.

Friday, February 12, 2010

When the Mrs. Goes Away...

Last week the Mrs. was out of town for a conference, leaving me with the unenviable task of filling the void created by her absence. A clever tactic from my (now distant) school days came to me suddenly--brainstorming is what I need! What are my options to pass the time during this long and arduous week?

Let's see...cocaine? Too expensive.

Strippers? Overdone.

Philosophy? What's even the point?!

Then it struck me--boardgames!

Boardgames will guide me through this desolate time of boredom and despair! With a little cunning, guile, and perhaps some of those creepy dolls from Coraline, I might convince enough friends, acquaintances, and unwary passersby that playing boardgames with yours truly is not, in fact, a total waste of time.

Stay tuned for highlights...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

State of the Union

Thus far in the new year I've played an unusually high number of games. Does this mean I'm satisfied with my gaming life? No. Does it bode well for 2010? Perhaps.

So what exactly do I envision as the ultimate goal here? What follows will be a brief rundown of the most important aspects of the hobby.


There is every reason to be happy with my board game collection moving into 2010. Last year saw probably a tenfold increase in the number of games I own, and I've acquired a varied and interesting collection of titles. Despite getting so many new games I've managed to play the vast majority of them, which is another positive sign--I know of many board game players who have huge lists of games they've yet to get to the table. I intend to continue growing my collection this year, and also hope to expand the ones available by getting more people interested in buying games.

The Scene

My goal as far as opponents are concerned is to organize a network of players that has a life of its own. Thus far I've been the one with the game collection and with the primary interest in games--I can occasionally find people to play, but I'm the one initiating the sessions, supplying the games, and teaching the rules. Now I have no problem with playing this role, but the more people out there actively building a game collection and looking to play games, the better. Achieving a certain threshold here will ensure there are a variety of players available with a spectrum of gaming interests, new games being introduced to the area, and a host of gaming opportunities ranging from large planned events to small spontaneous game nights.

I've begun to make some progress developing the local gaming scene, both by introducing games to new people I meet whenever possible, and using the systems at my disposal to create new contacts. Being an employee at St. Lawrence University gives me access to the campus wide email list. Using this as a resource, I've recently found a fair number of people interested in trying some new board games. On another front, I've been able to find a fellow board gamer living here in Canton who will no doubt be a great asset in building a local gaming group.


So, how about actual game time thus far? I've been averaging more than a game per day in the new year, from having big groups over for party games (Say Anything, Dixit, Time's Up!), to smaller strategy game nights (Pandemic, Agricola, Race for the Galaxy), to playing with long distance friends online through BrettSpielWelt (Carcassonne, Pandemic, Ghost Stories), to lots of game time with my kids in the evenings and weekends (Cheese Snatching, Chicken Cha Cha Cha, Carcassonne, Heroscape). Hopefully I'll be able to keep it up!

One final goal for my gaming life in the new year is to make it to a major board game convention, whether it be the Origins Game Fair or the World Board Game Championships. I intended to attend one of these last year, but this time I just need to make it happen.

2010 is going to be a great year!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Games in 2010

Thus far in 2010 I've had several opportunities to get board games to the table. I tried Pink Godzilla for the first time with Trevor, Ghost Stories online with Tom and in person with Sarah and Zach, and a bunch of party games with a group of eight.

Pink Godzilla

Trevor and I were able to meet up in Worcester, MA while I was attending a brief culinary conference at the College of the Holy Cross. He brought Carcassonne and Pink Godzilla, though we only had time for a play of the latter. The game pits players against one another as rival video game designers attempting to program the best and most elaborate titles. Although fairly light and quite random, there are a few interesting mechanics in Pink Godzilla, and enough strategy that I would gladly give it at least a few more plays. The powerful cards can certainly come up at times that makes it much easier for one player to gain the advantage, but there are tough decisions to be made as to which cards a player keeps in his hand and which he gives his opponent the opportunity to steal. An auction mechanic for the commonly available cards on the table also plays a part in reigning in the random aspects of the game.

Ghost Stories

I am up to perhaps 5 or 6 plays of this excellent cooperative title, yet have only been victorious once--last night with the Mrs. and Zachary. Though we seemed to be overwhelmed by ghosts fairly early in the game, we were somehow able to hold them off just long enough to get a chance to face Wu Feng, who happened to be the best possible incarnation for our situation at the time of his arrival. Zachary died just before the incarnation was drawn, but the Mrs. and I were both in ideal positions with the right mix of Tao tokens to secure victory. Tom and I have played several 2-player games of Ghost Stories but victory has thus far eluded us. I recently read that the 2-player game is the most difficult to win, so perhaps that is not that surprising. I feel that I've mastered most of the rules at this point, although there are still a couple of gray areas. Ghost Stories still feels like a very similar game to Pandemic, although very differently themed.

Party Games

The Mrs. and I hosted six guests last weekend for games. We played Bananagrams (the Mrs. and I for the first time), Pit, Time's Up: Title Recall, and Say Anything. I would say Zachary and Chris were the two best at Bananagrams (with Rosa close behind), and I was perhaps the worst, only really being in close competition for one of our 8-10 plays. Pit was frantic and fun, though very light on the strategy. We found that since the bear and the bull tend to pull scores down each round, that it actually takes quite a while for anyone to build up enough points to secure the victory. The rules suggested playing to 500 points, but since we were eager to play other games we cut that down to 150, which is a good thing since even that score took quite a while to achieve. Next was Time's Up which has become our favorite party game, although the Mrs. has proven to be much better at it than I, a fact further proven by her and Zachary mopping the floor with the rest of us at the game (although Zach himself is a theater professor, so he perhaps has a natural inclination to be good at charade style activities!) Say Anything rounded out our night and wasn't begun until past 11:30 pm, so people must have been having a good time to be up for yet another game that would take us into the new day to complete. As usual, the game did not disappoint. It is essentially Apples to Apples but with slightly deeper scoring and much more creativity.

Here's hoping for much more frequent boardgaming in 2010!