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!