Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Taking Stock: New Games with the In-Laws

I was lucky enough to receive lots of great new games from the Mrs. this year for Christmas. (You really are the best!) I also picked up a couple games from my brother Christopher who got me in my family's secret santa.

I'll delve into all of my new additions soon, I'm sure, but of immediate interest are those that should be a great fit with my most frequent gaming group--the in-laws. Thus far our favorite games seem to be those that are interesting, interactive, not too heavy, and are great with five players--The Resistance and Cosmic Encounter, for instance, both work pretty well.

There are three new additions to my collection that could be ideal for this group:

  • Panic Station. I'm hoping that this one fills a niche similar to The Resistance. One player starts as the alien host and tries to defend his hive against human exterminators. The two twists here--the humans don't know which one of them is the host, and the host may be able to infect the humans to force them to switch sides and join forces with the host player. We played for the first time on Christmas, but we got many rules wrong so the game we played was not anything like the actual game.
  • 7 Wonders. This title is a light civilization style game that can supposedly handle up to seven players quite well. I'm hoping my love of Through the Ages translates to a much lighter and quicker playing civ game, especially since we can get all five of us involved.
  • Space Alert. I've been thinking this one could be an excellent fit for our group for a while. We haven't played any fully cooperative games together, and since Space Alert is quick, lively, and can support five players I think it might work beautifully in this context.

I've also been meaning to introduce a few of my heavier strategy games to this group, including El Grande, Puerto Rico, and Shogun, and some heavier thematic games as well, such as Fury of Dracula and Battlestar Galactica, but those are all longer and more difficult to teach than the above three, so all in due time!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Board Game To Do List

Finish learning my new games so that I can be prepared to play them when the opportunity arises.

  • Shogun Finish reading the rules, then either browse a FAQ online or play through a practice round depending on how difficult the game seems.
  • Battlestar Galactica I've read the rulebook to this title twice already but I certainly don't have a firm enough grasp on how the game works to be able to teach it. I definitely need to play through several rounds on my own to understand Battlestar enough to get it to the table.
2) Get the most complicated games off my list to the table.

I will need to review the rules to both El Grande and Puerto Rico before introducing them to a new group.

3) Brush up on the rules to a few underplayed games that I'd really like to focus on in the coming months.

  • Netrunner I loved this game back in the day but it has been so many years since I've played it that I really need to reread the rulebook cover to cover. I have two decks assembled that I could try playing with right away, but it may make sense after relearning the game to sift through all my cards and create some new ones. This will allow me to better understand some of the individual cards as well.
  • Chaos in the Old World A combination of area control and combat with some clever mechanics, Chaos has only hit the table two or three times and I certainly will need to brush up on a number of details. I'd definitely like to see this one played five to ten times this coming year.
  • Le Havre This is a fairly new addition to my collection that has seen only one play, a shortened learning game with the Mrs. Le Havre may be slightly weighed down by being best for three players--it seems we generally have four or five at the table. Despite this, I have a feeling I will love Le Havre and I'd like to give it a full trial--ten or more plays next year.
4) Delve more deeply into Lord of the Rings: the Card Game.

I've now played it twice solo and would like to get at least one more play logged to familiarize myself with the cards and mechanics before I involve any other players. In the near future I would like to buy a few more adventure packs and start to dabble in deck building with more than one sphere.

5) I would like to continue to pursue the construction of the two Magic: the Gathering cubes on which I've been working.

The commons cube should be fairly easy to finish, I just need to order a bunch of cards that I'm missing from an online store. Since they are all commons I should be able to complete it for a pretty small amount of money. Once I have a working cube, Magic will be another option to play with the in-laws, as Jean, Tom, and the Mrs. all know how to play and Mike could probably be convinced to jump in if we were all up for a big session.

6) I recently posted a list of a few games I was looking forward to purchasing, but I really need to examine my collection and decide what types of games I should buy.

I'll delve more deeply into this topic in a future post.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The List: November 2011

Four more games off the list...

Games Off The List

  • Bang! Played this with the in-laws while Emily and Jon were visiting. A hidden role game somewhat akin to Werewolf and The Resistance but less free-form as players must play cards to accomplish their goals in the game. Somewhat promising after two plays but I do have some doubts.
  • Alhambra Played this light Euro with the Mrs. recently. In the past she has had her way with me in this one but we reversed roles this time and I dominated the game. Still not crazy about Alhambra, but I'd be willing to play it again in the right circumstances.
  • Metropolys The Mrs. and I played this one with Emily and Jon, and it went over fairly well, I believe, with all participants. We played the introductory game since I was teaching new players, and it is certainly better in its full format. Metropolys has an interesting auction mechanic that sets it apart from anything else in my collection and I do enjoy it quite a bit, though it is hard for it to see the table since Stone Age and Ticket to Ride fill a similar niche and are very popular.
  • Scotland Yard Played this one with the in-laws. Mike took on the role of Mr. X and did have a chance to pull out the victory, but us detectives closed the gap and tracked him down. He could have played his hand more aggressively early and almost certainly shook us at that point, but he played it a little risky hoping to give himself a major advantage later in the game. We enjoyed our session and do intend to try it again with a different Mr. X.
Two months ago, when I first started following The List this year, it was 16 titles long. This translates to four games per month through the end of 2011, a pace that I've managed to match thus far. Many of the eight remaining games, however, are fairly heavy, and two of them (Shogun & Battlestar Galactica) I've never played before and will be difficult to learn and get played. I'm confident, though, with a bit of a push we should be able to fit all of these games in before January. Perhaps an all-night New Year's Eve gameathon to wrap it all up could be arranged?

Games Never Played
  • Shogun
  • Battlestar Galactica
Games Not Played This Year
  • Carcassonne
  • Carcassonne: the Castle
  • Blokus
  • Puerto Rico
  • El Grande
  • Wits & Wagers

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The List: October 2011

I've made good progress on my games to play list so I thought I would post a quick update.

Games Off The List

  • Merlin's Company hit the table during our last game night, and was quite easy to pick up. Shadows Over Camelot is a fairly simple game and the expansion only added a little bit of complexity. I'm fairly confident this will get played again soon as Merlin's Company seems to add good things to the game.
  • Lord of the Rings: The Card Game looks very promising. It is a combination of the deck building in Magic: The Gathering, the co-operative game play of Ghost Stories, and a unique quest/adventure system that is very interesting and thematic. I played the first quest scenario in the game (Passage Through Mirkwood) partially with Abby's assistance. At first the game didn't seem to be all that difficult but near the end enemies really started to pile up and we won by a very slim margin. Looking forward to many more plays of this!
  • Memoir '44 I played with Mike several weeks ago. We both enjoyed it but I'm not sure if there will be many opportunities for use to play the game as usually there are 5 of us and not 2! We do at the very least need to replay the first scenario on opposite sides one of these days...
  • Say Anything we played three weeks ago at game night, and again with the in-laws more recently. It is a solid game, and fun, but I find I'm generally not that interested in party games this light anymore. Time's Up and hidden role games like Werewolf & The Resistance are much more substantial and satisfying in party situations.

Games Never Played

  • Shogun [Have yet to read the rules for this one.]
  • Battlestar Galactica [Read the rules almost twice through. I really need to play a solo walk through of the game before bringing it to the table, however, as it is quite complicated!]
  • Bang! [Read the rules to this and it looks quite simple. We will play it the next time we have 5-7 players.]

Games Not Yet Played This Year

  • Alhambra
  • Carcassonne
  • Carcassonne: The Castle
  • Metropolys
  • Wits & Wagers [Next party situation I'll try to get this to the table.]
  • Blokus
  • El Grande [Thinking of trying this one out with our 5 player family group.]
  • Puerto Rico
  • Scotland Yard [I feel like this one will work with the Mrs. & the kids.]

Monday, October 3, 2011

Game Night 10/1/11

Attendees: Nicole, Ivan, Jessica, Tom, the Mrs., and I

Game Played: Shadows Over Camelot (with the expansion, Merlin's Company)

This was our first play of the game in quite some time since it had become too easy for the loyalists to win and too difficult for the traitor to have an impact on the game outcome. We added Merlin's company for the first time which spiced up the game in a variety of ways, most significantly with the addition of the possibility of a second traitor. The expansion suggests only including a second traitor card with 7 or 8 players, but even with 6 this time we wanted the chance for 2 to liven things up a bit. We decided on 9 loyalty cards total, 7 loyal & 2 traitor--in retrospect we should have gone with 5 loyal & 2 traitor to guarantee one enemy player, since the resulting game had no traitors and thus was far too easy again!

This was Nicole's first play of the game and we at first suspected her as a traitor simply because she seemed overwhelmed. What we didn't really account for is getting thrown into a game of Shadows for the first time with experienced players and the expansion is in itself enough to have this result. The Mrs. and Tom also seemed to suspect me early, and it is true that my opening actions did fit into a high suspicion mold. I had a large hand of cards (after drawing for my two opening turns at Camelot) and still did not have any clear advantages to any quest, which is definitely a sign of a traitor. Also, the quest I did undertake first was that for Lancelot's Armor, which is a very beneficial quest for a traitor to win as it only adds one white sword to the round table and gives a traitor multiple opportunities to hurt the loyalists through stealthy black card play. In my defense, I think my early game moves were the most advantageous ones for me to make to help further our cause, but they did cast some doubt on my loyalty at the time.


The game was still enjoyable despite being another easy win, people seemed to like the new travel cards which injected some additional drama & uncertainty into game play, and some of the other new card additions (such as the variable value fight cards and the new witches black cards) were fun as well.

Thoughts On Our Next Play

Next time we will definitely guarantee one traitor and have the possibility of a second. Also, when we have a new player at the table it would be very helpful to simply deal them a face up loyal card so that they can concentrate on learning the game system without the confusion of trying to play the role of the spoiler! This is certainly what we should have done for Nicole this time, but we lucked out when she wasn't dealt the traitor card. Next time we play Shadows, keeping these thoughts in mind, plus the travel cards and other expansion additions, I feel like the game could vault back into heavy rotation on our play list. We shall see.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Wishlist: Top 5 New Games

Should I refrain from thinking of new games that I want until I've actually played all the new games I currently own? Probably. Will I listen to reason and do so? Certainly not!

Some of the titles on this list have yet to be released and the others have been only recently published. Despite this, however, they all look amazing and I need to have them soon!

Top 5 New Games on my Wishlist

  • Nexus Ops is a game I've had on my radar for quite some time. It has the reputation as a Risk-type game with a shorter playing time and more forced aggressive feel, which sounds like a perfect fit for my tastes. I've played the game once with Dave, who owns a copy, and though I wasn't blown away by it I'm convinced with a couple more plays, perhaps multi player, it will be a keeper. I would especially like this for Thanksgiving time when I get to play with my brothers, as it is light, aggressive, and tactical.
  • Panic Station is the latest semi co-operative game with hidden traitor/hidden team mechanics. Somewhat in the same vein as Battlestar Galactica, The Resistance, and Shadows Over Camelot, Panic Station should be an excellent fit for our game group. The basic premise is that players are boarding an abandoned space station and trying to destroy "the hive," basically the control center of an alien parasite that can take over human bodies and inhabit them. During the early part of the game one of the players secretly becomes "the host" of this parasite and begins to work against the human team by attempting to convert them, one by one, to be infected as well. The human players never quite know who to trust and the paranoia factor, apparently, is quite high.
  • A Few Acres of Snow is a game that combines a somewhat similar deck building mechanic to Dominion with an area control/map style board game that is somewhat akin to a war game. The mechanics here seem really cutting edge and interesting. Though I love Dominion, the game is certainly very streamlined to showcase the base mechanic in the game. A Few Acres of Snow really gets creative and fleshes out some of the ideas in Dominion to make a whole new type of game. The downside here is that it only accommodates 2 players and I don't have that many opportunities to play those types of games. Generally I only play 2 player games with the Mrs., so if she really takes to the game it will be a hit, if not it will end up like Memoir '44, largely unplayed and sitting on the game shelf...
  • Star Trek: Fleet Captains is a brand new Star Trek themed game with exploration, direct conflict, and a ton of variability. The early reviews of the game emphasize that the actual game play is amazing with a ton of theme and interesting mechanics. The major downside, apparently, is that there have been some problems with broken components and the cards/tiles included on the game are on pretty thin card stock which has disappointed some early buyers. I am really intrigued by this one though it has an unfortunate player count as well--exactly 2 or 4 players can be in on any one game, which is a small downside though the option for the 4 player game makes it far more likely to hit the table than A Few Acres of Snow.
  • Summoner Wars: Master Set is the latest edition of a game that has been getting very good press ever since its release. This is basically a tactical miniatures game that uses cards instead of minis. What makes it great is that it has pretty simple rules and comes with 6 different army factions, one of which each player chooses to control during the game. This lends a fair amount of replayability, especially because many other armies are already available to add to the game and future ones will continue to be added as well. This is also a 2 or 4 player game, however I envision playing this one with Abby so it could still see significant play at my house if she enjoys it. The game is suggested for 8 or 9 years and up, so I feel like it could be a good fit.
With so many of these games that I'm considering being tactical or combat related I really need to start getting some of the somewhat similar titles I own to the table to make sure I have the appropriate audience to make them successful. Neuroshima Hex, in particular should be a good indication if I can make Star Trek, Nexus Ops, or Summoner Wars work with my game group. This list could, of course, have been a lot longer than it ended up being, perhaps some of the next 5 games I'm interested in buying would have been better suited to my group. Panic Station is the one here that I'll stand behind as an almost certain success given our group's past interest in the genre.

I'll delve a little deeper next time and share some of the other games topping my wishlist.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cavemeeples & Taoist Monks, Oh My!

There are two strategy games in particular that I have been both 1) craving and 2) playing frequently. And yes, I'd like to be playing them right now! In fact, I'd be up for playing either one three times in a row right now. Seriously.

Stone Age and Ghost Stories are both 2008 releases, which, as it turns out, was an excellent year for board games. The Mrs. is reasonably interested in playing both of these games, which is also a huge plus for me!

  • Stone Age is a worker placement game for 2-4 players. In this type of game each player starts with a collection of pieces (the 'workers' in 'worker placement') that they take turns using to claim spaces on a common board. Those board spaces then give the player that claimed them a particular bonus or the ability to use a special action of some kind. Other games in this genre include Age of Empires III and Agricola(another game I particularly enjoy). Stone Age is a great fit for many people since it is pretty straightforward to explain and easy for a new player to pick up, but it really has a great deal of strategic depth that I still have only begun to explore after my 13 plays. Until recently, this was one of those games that I have greatly enjoyed despite my very limited success at it (Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization being the most extreme case of this!), though I have shown considerable improvement over my last four or five plays. Stone Age is a game I've been thinking a lot about lately, considering ways of tweaking my strategy and thinking of how to handle certain situations in the game. As an aside, the playing pieces for Stone Age are often called 'cavemeeples,' a clear reference to the first game to have little wooden pieces meant to resemble people (mini people = meeples), Carcassonne, another game of which I'm quite fond, and incidentally also on the List.
  • Ghost Stories is a co-operative game in which players take on the roles of Taoist monks attempting to protect a small village from waves of evil ghosts, demons, spirits, etc., and ultimately defeat their leader, Wu-Feng, who has risen from hell to torment the innocent villagers. Each monk in the game has one of two special abilities at their disposal to lend the team in this goal, and it is critical to the players' success to find creative ways to combine those abilities to win the game. Ghost Stories is highly thematic with excellent, though somewhat cartoon-like art, very challenging (though the difficulty can be increased in subsequent games as the players' skills improve), and extremely satisfying when the team can pool resources and get just enough luck to defeat the incarnation(s) of Wu-Feng. The game is great in almost every way, though I feel like the greatest of its features is how varied the play is each session. There are 10 different incarnations of Wu-Feng, and the players don't know which one (or which four in the higher difficulties) will appear until late in the game. Every time Ghost Stories is played the ghosts will appear in a different order, the village tiles will be randomly arranged, and each monk may have an alternate player power. All these plus the ability to make the game almost impossibly difficult if you are so sadistic to choose to do so, makes Ghost Stories a gem of a game.
Care to play?

Strangely enough, as I review all the raving I've just put down about these excellent board games, I realize that neither one is in my top five favorite games of all time. Perhaps I should be writing a top five games list...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Game Night 9/16/11

Attendees: the Mrs., Ana, Tim, and myself

Game: Stone Age

Tim's first play of the game, Ana's second. I was the pretty clear victor by mid-game, though the Mrs. wasn't feeling well and thus played to speed up game's end when she could. I focused early on agriculture, love shack, and end game population multipliers on the civ cards (5x10 bonus just on those).

Tim mentioned several times during explanation that the game seemed really complicated, but relaxed considerably after the first round when it became clear that the basic system was really pretty simple. As I mentioned recently with Memoir '44, even fairly basic designer games seem overwhelming at first simply because so much information needs to be imparted during rules explanation. Usually (this is the case for both of these games) all the mechanics fit nicely together and the game as a whole jells over the first few rounds of play.

Both Tim and Ana seemed to like Stone Age, and the Mrs. and I, who have played it quite a bit, still enjoy it considerably (well, I do anyway, I never know quite what she thinks of games, as she generally grows weary of them more quickly than myself!). Amongst strategy games that I own, Stone Age has been the most commonly played by our group, and I must admit I've been considering the possibility of having a Stone Age tournament staged over the course of a few days. There are certainly more than eight people who could participate which would lead to two qualifying games of four players with the top two finishers from each game advancing to a final match. I'd like to think I came up with this idea simply because so many people have been playing Stone Age, but I'm sure it will be suggested that it is due to my recent improvement at the game--I've actually been winning a fair amount after losing the vast majority of my early plays...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Spies & Wolves

Sure, there are lots of games I need to get to the table because I haven't played them in a while and some that are newly acquired and have yet to see play for the first time. There are, however, a handful of games that I've been craving lately, titles that I'm constantly looking to set up and play.

The first two I'll mention are somewhat light party style games but they both feature a conflict between an uninformed majority and a more organized and knowledgeable minority secretly working against the common good.

  • The Resistance I love this game! The Resistance is a social deduction game in which the players are secretly either a member of the Resistance trying to carry out successful attack missions against an oppressive government, or they are secret government operatives, "the spies," attempting to sabotage said missions. Basically it is a game of lying, bluffing, deduction, reasoning, yelling, screaming, fighting, and the list goes on and on... In my mind the only downside to this game is people tend to take the in game conflict a little too personally and tempers can get a little out of control. Despite this, The Resistance is pretty much my first choice when the question is asked "What should we play?"
  • Werewolf Another social deduction game, less tense and confrontational than The Resistance, but excellent in different ways. In Werewolf, many of the players are villagers, but a few of them are secretly werewolves who will pick off the innocents one at a time during the night. It is up to the villagers to discuss amongst themselves and attempt to deduce who is a werewolf, then lynch one person every day. With a little luck and good reasoning hopefully the chosen one is a wolf and not a simple villager! Werewolf is a great game largely because of the huge amount of different secret roles available to be played--some on the side of the wolves, some on the side of the villagers. Some roles (like the Seer) allow the player to get a peek of another villager's identity, some (like the Bodyguard) allow the player to protect another villager of their choice, some (like the Lycan) simply appear to be something different than they actually are, just to muddy the water a little more. Also a strength of werewolf--the game can reasonably accommodate more than 20 players at a time.
Next time I'll delve into a couple more games I'd like to get to the table much more often--the strategy games Stone Age and Ghost Stories.

Monday, September 12, 2011

First Play of Memoir '44 in 2+ Years

I got in a quick game of Memoir '44 the other day with my brother-in-law Mike. Though the game seems fairly simple in my mind, as I progressed with the rules explanation and all the little details about movement, die roll modifiers, terrain, victory conditions, etc., Memoir began to seem overly confusing and overwhelming even to me, the teacher! I feel like there is only so many minutes of explaining that can be done before a game naturally starts sounding overly difficult.

This time I kept the explanation as short as I reasonably could, although I did have to supplement that description a couple of times during the game to bring up rules I had missed (and actually forgotten about completely myself as I hadn't played this one in so long!). Setup of the game board did take a little bit of time as well, as Memoir '44 is a scenario based war game. Each time the game is played one scenario of a series is chosen, and each has completely different terrain and troop placement at the onset of play. One thing I should mention in reference to the rules explanation is that the opening scenario of Memoir '44 (Pegasus Bridge) does do an excellent job of simplifying things as only infantry units are used, thus allowing a game teacher to fully skip the details of artillery and armor units. After a couple more plays a scenario with these more complicated aspects can be added, and at that point their abilities will be in the context of the already understood game system and will be quite easy to digest.

Back to our game... The board was arranged and the basic explanation out of the way, so we jumped into action. The game has two basic driving forces: command cards, which indicate which units each player can control during their turn, and dice, which determine the outcome of combat between units. Both randomized cards and random rolls of the dice do lead to some frustration in the game as there can be very large swings of fate due to luck. This certainly was at least a slight issue for Mike as he had a couple of fruitless turns where he could not roll a hit on the dice. Since I had warned him that this was a possibility he seemed to take it in stride.

There was a fair amount of drama in our first play, with no obvious leader through much of the game. Finally, with us each one medal away from clinching victory, I played a card that allowed me to target any one of his units on the board (luckily for me there was one with only one figure remaining) and I disposed of it for the win. The Memoir rules recommend playing two games in succession, playing one scenario, then reversing sides and replaying the same scenario from the opposite perspective. Many of the scenarios are naturally imbalanced due to being based largely on actual WWII battles, so playing both sides of the conflict is needed to determine who did a better job in the scenario. As we were out of time, our replay of Pegasus Bridge will have to wait for another session, though I do feel that he enjoyed the game enough to play it at least a few more times, so that is good news!

Oh, and as a side note, that's two more games off the list, Say Anything & Memoir '44...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Game Night 9/9/11

This week's game night was our largest yet, with 14 attendees total. Half of us played a quick game of Say Anything while waiting for the other half to show. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, though the game is very light. I sell Say Anything as a more creative & interesting version of Apples to Apples, which I feel is a fair comparison.

Once the majority of players had arrived we jumped into Werewolf, since the game plays so well with large groups we felt that we should be sure to get a game or two in. In retrospect, I really wish we had been able to play some actual strategy games, but since the Werewolf games went very long, we didn't have the time for anything else. Next time we'll either have to start with strategy games or just make sure our sessions of Werewolf are much more concise! Giving this situation some further thought, I feel that there were two primary factors contributing to our overly lengthy and occasionally frustrating Werewolf games.

  1. Though Werewolf is increasingly interesting with higher player counts generally, once you get up to 10-12 people in the same room playing the same game the general vibe becomes increasingly chaotic and it is quite difficult to keep players on topic. Looking at the Ultimate Werewolf instruction manual, it is suggested that the moderator choose a length of time for the first day of of play (perhaps 10 minutes), and if that time is exhausted without the villagers agreeing to lynch someone night immediately falls with no one dying. The warnings of time running out should be enough to get players to make some decisions, and even if the standstill continues and night falls, the game is still progressed by the wolves (quickly!) killing a villager. This day length could easily be extended to every day if necessary, and I think it is an excellent idea.
  2. The other big delays with our Werewolf plays last night were due to uncertainty as to which scenarios to use with the number of people playing the game. At one point we had a scenario picked out and explained and then we realized that our player count was wrong and we needed to start over. The rulebook has several suggested scenarios, but very few for our typical group sizes. Before our next game night I'll need to put together several scenarios for each group size through a reasonable number (perhaps 14 or 15). This way we can just count players, pick one of the preselected sets of roles and play.
Though my impressions of Werewolf have been gradually getting more positive over the last few months, and the sessions last night were pretty interesting and enjoyable, the game is certainly not firing on all cylinders yet. The above fixes will hopefully get the game to the point where we can concentrate more on the actual strategy and interactions of the game itself and not be distracted by confusion and chaos. I'm already ready for another go, although I really want to play Ghost Stories, Le Havre, Stone Age, and Battlestar Galactica too! Too many great games, too little time...

Friday, September 9, 2011

The List: September 2011

I've been playing lots of games lately and have been thinking about blogging, but somehow that just hasn't translated to actual posts!

Back during my last flurry of blogging (oh, almost a year and a half ago now!) I posted The List of games in my collection that I had yet to play that year. I stopped paying attention to that after a while (wait, that doesn't sound like me, does it?), but I'm certain I never did get them all played. I feel that an updated version of The List is an excellent place to take stock of my collection as well as what games our group has been playing and which ones need to hit the table soon.

Games Never Played

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
Battlestar Galactica
Merlin's Company (Expansion for Shadows Over Camelot)

Games Not Yet Played This Year

Memoir '44
Wits & Wagers
El Grande
Puerto Rico
Say Anything
Scotland Yard
Carcassonne: The Castle

It will take some work to get all these games played, not because there are a lot of them, but rather that a good half of them haven't been played for the very good reason that they are an awkward combination of number of players and lack of popularity. Some examples:

  • Memoir '44 (2 player only, the Mrs. hates it, maybe too complicated for Abby still, though she's probably my best bet with this one),
  • El Grande (best with 5, some of my core group don't like the game),
  • Blokus (not that popular with anyone I know, including myself, though I may be able to get one of the kids to play with me),
  • Puerto Rico (somewhat heavy, yet quite a ways down the list of heavy games I want to play--for instance, Chaos in the Old World, Agricola, Le Havre, all competing for the same time).
I'm sure I can fit Say Anything and Wits & Wagers into some large group setting soon, the Carcassonne games I'll probably be able to get Abby & Link to play, and Alhambra and Scotland Yard could both be good family games so making those a priority for the four of us to try together should get them out of the way.

I definitely envision getting all the never been played games to the table over the next few months:

  • Merlin's Company will get played the next time people are up for Shadows,
  • Shogun is best with 5 and I think I'll be able to rope the in-laws into playing it (perhaps this could be said for El Grande as well),
  • Bang! could be another hidden role hit, I just need to read up on the rules,
  • the only thing delaying Battlestar Galactica is getting the right group together with 4 hours to spend learning it, and
  • The Lord of the Rings I see as a game for Abby and I so I'm sure as soon as I learn it she'll be up for playing.
I have no doubt I could get all these games played this year, the only question is whether it is worth it to pursue this goal when it may lead to fewer plays of games I do love already. If I can get half of them played quickly I'll probably decide it's worth a little push to get them all in, but only time will tell.

Next up on Splitting Eights: What games do I actually really want to play right now? Also, When in the world am I going to get my next The Resistance fix?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Is it Getting a Little Too Cool in the Shadows?

So, Shadows Over Camelot.

At first this one was a big hit with our group and we were playing it any chance we got. If we only had three players we wondered "Is the game really that bad with three? Surely we can make it work!" If we had a group of eight we would wrack our brains to figure out how we could still get it to the table with an extra player.

Really, this was just shy of obsession!

Lately, however, Shadows Over Camelot has started to lose steam due to two seemingly related problems:

1. Our group must have a pretty good handle on strategy in the game, as most recent games have been landslide victories for the loyal knights.
There is little worry of defeat and therefore no tension in the game. Our last play we implemented the squire rule (wherein each knight starts with no special power, each only earning one after the successful completion of a quest), and the game did seem to get slightly more difficult, but not as much as I would like. However, adding difficulty to Shadows Over Camelot by taking away special abilities would seem to have the side effect of making the game less interesting and fun for the loyalists, so I'm not convinced that is the way to go at all.

I have recently purchased Merlin's Company, which may boost the difficultly of Shadows enough to make it engaging, but since the expansion adds both new difficulties and new abilities, I feel the net result will be too close to a wash to effectively add enough challenge to the game. The concept of the second traitor in Merlin's Company does have some potential, however, and perhaps adding that aspect could swing the game in a good (rather, evil) direction.

2. It has become increasingly clear that the traitor, while hidden, can only have a very minor negative influence on the game. Since I personally feel that the hidden traitor is the mechanic that makes Shadows an interesting gaming experience, if that role becomes irrelevant I can't see maintaining an interest in the game. Part of this is that there are few decisions a traitor can make that hurt the loyalists without being readily apparent to everyone at the table. For the most part the traitor either does something helpful, and stays undetected, or does something dastardly, and immediately gets accused of being the traitor.

Occasionally the traitor can draw a mercenary card and manage to fail a Saxon or Pict quest undetected, or play a really nasty Lancelot face down, shrugging it off as weak and ultimately sending the quest to defeat, or manage to gain control of Lancelot's Armor or the Grail, thereby depriving the knights of those artifacts' powers. These opportunities don't really seem to come up that often, however, and oftentimes a hidden traitor must be satisfied with holding a few useful grail or special white cards in their hand unused, and simply remaining undetected until game's end when he can flip two white swords to black.

Some Thoughts and Questions

*I'm aware that many consider optimal traitor strategy to be to clearly disloyal from the outset by simply placing siege engines every turn. Though this is certainly a valid strategy and quite powerful, I find having the traitor revealed early to be counter to what makes this game interesting in the first place--the probable existence of a *hidden* traitor.

*I would also like to note that typically we play Shadows Over Camelot with six or seven players, which may very well be one of the primary reasons the game seems so easy for the loyal knights.

*Obviously playing Merlin's Company, especially with the possibility of two traitors, could be helpful in fixing this game for our group, but I'm not sure if it will be enough. Certainly we will have to try this soon and see how it impacts play. Would simply taking the second traitor possibility and adding only it to a game make the traitor role more interesting?

*Is it possible that simply finding ways to make the game harder (squire rule, no Merlin special white cards to start, fewer white cards in opening hand, etc.) will increase the relevance of the traitor role? Certainly any way to make the game more difficult for the loyalists will make a traitor victory more likely, but will it make his decisions more interesting and meaningful during the game?

*Recently I've thought of a way to possibly make the game both more difficult for the loyalists and more meaningful for the traitor. I began by thinking about how useful it is for the traitor to have Lancelot's Armor even before he is revealed as the traitor. Being able to choose the worse of the top two cards and pretend that it was the better of them certainly gives the traitor an opportunity to impact the game. What if everyone had to do something of this sort every turn, thus ensuring that the traitor has a chance to do so? This led me to think of the progression of evil phase in general--it is pretty clear that unless an important quest is on the brink of defeat it is almost always the proper decision to take a black card rather than add a siege engine, lose a life point, or take a punch to the family jewels (the other three choices during progression of evil, obviously ;)

What if each player that chooses to draw from the black deck must draw three cards and either 1)play one special black card from the three and place the other two cards on the bottom of the deck, or 2)play exactly two standard black cards from the three and place the third on the bottom of the deck. To me, this solution is very attractive in so many ways:

-choosing to place a siege engine even early in the game may not be seen as obvious traitor behavior as drawing black cards is more dangerous than usual,
-more black cards come into play making the quests more difficult to complete victoriously but with some choice involved to allow loyal knights to temporarily avoid the worst situations, and
-the traitor is given more choices and a greater ability to cause damage to the loyal cause without clearly outing himself.

The three biggest possible downsides to this house rule that immediately come to mind are 1)all players must make more decisions and thus the game duration will increase, 2)some other parts of the game may have to be edited somewhat to be consistent, for example Sir Percival's peek at the top card special power may be too weak when he must draw three/play two instead of just drawing and playing the peeked at card, and finally 3)this rule *may* make the game more difficult than desired.

Ultimately we'll just have to try this house rule out a few times if it appeals to others in my group, but I would love to hear some feedback on what others think about it. Does the game simply work great right out of the box for you? Have you house ruled in other ways to make Shadows play better?

It is possible, of course, that this is just not the game for our group. The Resistance implements the hidden enemy/team idea very, very well, and I still have high hopes for Battlestar Galactica which I own but have yet to play. I hope that we can find a way to keep Shadows Over Camelot in regular rotation, however, because I do love the theme and the basic idea behind the mechanics.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Game Night II

Our second formal game night took place yesterday evening. Turnout was lower than the first go round as a number of people had to cancel last minute for various (nefarious?) reasons. The six of us have been crazy about Shadows Over Camelot of late so that was our clear first choice of game. I've been very high on Shadows thus far, but this session struck me as rather flat. This may, of course, been partially due to my lack of effectiveness as traitor, leading to my almost embarrassing defeat.

Is Shadows Over Camelot getting too easy?

I'll admit, my enthusiasm for the game has been dampened slightly after last night's session. As the traitor I felt I never had a great opportunity to crash the knights' party--largely because they were completely kicking evil ass the entire time! Not sure if our group is getting better at the game, it is altogether too easy with six players, or if the loyalists simply had an unfortunately (for me!) uninspiring mix of black cards during the game. Of course, it's altogether possible that I do simply suck as the traitor, but even if that wasn't the case I don't think I had a realistic shot of victory.

Quote from the game:

"I don't think there is a traitor. If there is, they really suck!"


Perhaps we need to ratchet up the difficulty by using squire rules (each player needs to win a quest before activating their special power) when we have 6 or 7 players. Or, we may still be communicating too directly and need to restrict strategy talk much more than we have thus far.

A Sliver of Hope?

There was one point late in the game where the siege engine total reached nine, only three away from an evil win. Looking back, this was clearly the best opportunity for me to reveal myself and make a play for the victory. I considered this move at the time but I felt it was a long shot at best as the knights were not being pressed anywhere on the board and had at their disposal almost limitless resources for fighting siege engines. As it turns out this long shot was probably my best chance to turn the tide during the game but I am almost certain it would not have been successful, and at the time it seemed a better strategy to bide my time and hope that a better opportunity would present itself.

Probably revealing myself immediately upon starting the session and placing a siege engine every turn would have focused more pressure on the loyal knights, but that strategy seems much less interesting than keeping hidden waiting to pounce at a moment of weakness. Ah well, perhaps I'll try that next time--it would make for an interesting and vastly different game experience to have that traitor vs. loyalist direct confrontation over the course of an entire play.

Anyway, our tendency to make Shadows into a three hour game meant that it was our only play of the night, so some smaller strategy games will have to wait until next time.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Introducing Game Night

Recently I've begun implementing a new organization strategy for board game sessions. In the past the process went something like this:

  1. Decide what variety of game I'd like to play. Type will determine the number and type of players I'll invite to participate. Heavy Strategy vs. Light Strategy will often involve a different set of people, and if Party Games are the thing a larger group will need to be summoned.
  2. Invite friends and await response. Actual turnout is critical to implementation of the Gaming Plan. If the appropriate type and number of players can attend, The Plan goes as intended. If condolences are extended, however, the session will either have to be postponed or the content adjusted to those that do show.

This is clearly the top-down approach to game session planning, and though it does often lead to an enjoyable time, there are many instances where guest lists have to be adjusted or different games need to be selected to fit the group.

My new strategy is to plan a game night to which I invite essentially everyone I know that 1) has shown any interest in board games and 2) lives within reasonable proximity of my house, and then commence to play whichever games happen to fit the needs and desires of those that can attend. Advantages to this method are legion:

  • I don't have to limit those invited due to particular gaming plans. The plans are made after people show up and we can determine exactly which titles will be best. 3-4 players probably means a strategy game, 5-8 may mean a party game or splitting up for a couple of strategy games, 9-12 could entail a big game or two of something that handles large numbers of people, like werewolf, followed by some smaller groups playing smaller games.
  • It doesn't put pressure on anyone in particular to attend to have a successful outing. If I invite 3 people to a game night and 2 can't make it, obviously this will derail plans. The basically limitless invite list means that for any given game night a number of people may be busy or out of town and the event itself goes on without missing a beat.
  • It is virtually impossible for me to involve everyone I know who may be interested to regular micro gaming sessions. Game night allows me to invite people who are not in 'the inner circle' (wait...there is no inner circle!) and keep them involved and interested in the hobby. One of my gaming goals is to meet and develop a local group that has a life of its own--ultimately other people independently interested in games, with their own collections, and hosting their own game sessions. I'm still a long way from that Utopian dream, however!
  • Finally, (though I'm sure there are many other nuances that I cannot, or will not, fully enumerate here) game night will hopefully become a regular occurrence that anchors my gaming life. Good company, lots of games hitting the table, and new players being introduced to the joys of board games will hopefully be a hallmark of game nights far into the future.

The Mrs. still doesn't fully understand why I like the concept of a big meet up for board games, but perhaps this brief discussion can better illuminate my motivations. Well, that's all for this time out--happy gaming!

Monday, May 2, 2011

My Games of Spring 2011

Early 2011 has been very sparse on the gaming front, as regular boardgaming has yet to materialize. My strategic energies have largely been focused on fantasy baseball and the construction of my Magic: the Gathering cube, a collection of a few hundred fun cards that can be drafted into decks and played on the fly. This is a way to play Magic that essentially creates a board game out of it--everyone involved comes to the table with nothing and builds their own deck from the common group of cards that gets presented to them. I've wanted to organize my cards in some way similar to this for a long time but only recently found guides online explaining clearly how to do so. Hopefully another month or so of trading will result in a cube that is complete enough to play.

Fantasy baseball is always good fun, though my team this year has had a very bumpy opening. I've picked up several pitchers off the free agent market that have completely tanked after joining my team. This has resulted in my team holding onto last place in both ERA and WHIP in my league and pretty much knocked me out of contention for the top few spots. Hopefully a few more weeks of strong performances will start to get me more competitive. My hitting is doing pretty well and I've filled some holes in my line up with free agents that should be productive moving forward.

Neither magic planning or fantasy baseball is enough to really scratch that gaming itch, so hopefully I'll actually start getting some magic games and some other strategy boardgaming in soon--I still have high hopes for this to be an amazing gaming year! [Despite, of course, all of the accumulated evidence to the contrary to this point in 2011... I try not to let evidence get in the way of a happy thought though, so I'll continue to ignore it for now.]

As always, thanks for reading, and hang in there until my next post which should be titled something along the lines of 'My Gaming so far in 2012.'