Party Game: Bowls!

October 29, 2009

About two years ago, our friend Rose introduced us to a party game we call Bowls! As far as I know, it’s not commercially available, although someone reading this may know of similar games (if so, please leave a comment). This game works very well with large groups of people (we’ve played it with as few as six and as many as 18).

Game Type: Party–a mixture of Catchphrase, Memory, and Charades
Items Needed: A large bowl, a fistful of pencils or pens, and several slips of paper (about Post-It note size).

Setup: Everyone sits in a circle. You’ll need an even number of players. The person sitting directly across from you is your partner. Each person takes a slip of paper and a pencil and writes down five nouns. They may be common nouns (dog, chair) or proper nouns (Darth Vader, Pope John Paul II). Fold your slip in half and set it in the bowl.

BowlsRound 1: The first player takes a slip out of the bowl. Start a 30-second timer. In the time allotted, the person must get his/her partner to say all five nouns on the slip in order. The player may only use words to coax the partner into saying the correct nouns. If the player accidentally lets a word slip which is part of the noun, drop the slip and grab another one. No rhyming is allowed, nor is spelling the noun out, or gesturing with one’s hands. If the player’s partner gets all five nouns in order, take that slip out of the bowl. If the timer runs out before all five nouns are said, drop the slip back into the bowl. Once the timer rings, hand the bowl to the next player. Go around and around the circle until all slips are out of the bowl. Each pair of players scores one point per slip.

Round 2: Once scoring for Round 1 is complete, put all slips of paper back into the bowl. In this round, you do the same thing, with one exception. When a player is trying to get his or her partner to guess the nouns on the slip of paper, he or she is only allowed use two words to coax the partner into saying the word. If in round one, you said, “Um, he was the last head of the Catholic Church and he was Polish!” you would now only be allowed to say “Catholic! Polish!” If your partner does not understand the two-word clue, too bad! You’re probably out of luck this time around. Take score at the end of the round.

Round 3: Once scoring for Round 2 is complete, put all slips of paper back into the bowl. In this final round, you are not allowed to use words or sounds. Instead, you must get your partner to guess each of the five nouns in order by pantomiming that noun. So for Pope John Paul II, you might make the sign of the cross and pretend to put a mitre on your head. Once the round is complete, score each pair. The team with the most points over the three successive rounds wins. If there is a tie between two teams, share in your victory.

In our circle of friends, we have some really competitive Bowls! players (me included!). This is a fun party game, and depending on the size of your group, it will take 45-90 minutes to play. Be prepared to laugh!

Here I Waver: Prostestant Perspective

October 20, 2009

As the title suggests, my endeavor into the religious aspect of Here I Stand didn’t go so well. But first, a little background.

I never even knew what a card driven board game was until my brother, Russ, explained them to me and piqued my interest. (Of course Sorry is a card driven board game, but nothing like this.) My gateway into these games was Here I Stand. I think this was really jumping head first into this new world of board games.

In the first game, I played as the French. That game didn’t go well for me after making several mistakes in the first negotiation phase and just learning how to play. My second go around, I played as the Ottomans. I had some success as a pirate, but Vienna just couldn’t be toppled. This time I wanted to learn the religious side of the game. Each play was using the 1532 tournament scenario, this game was the same:

Turn 4
I was dealt some mediocre cards, but did get Diplomatic Overture which gave me some bargaining power. I immediately teamed up with the English. As we played out the turn, I used my event to give the English a 2CP card and drew a 4 and 5 CP card – spent 7 to get 9. This was great! Unfortunately the Hapsburgs played an event which took that 5 CP card out of my hand, so the first turn was fairly uneventful. I didn’t gain in Reformation attempts, but didn’t lose either. The English scored a huge hand, Michael Servetus and Copernicus! Fortunately, he played Servetus for the CP, so I was able to use my home card to score one easy VP.

End of Turn 4

End of turn 4

Turn 5
This time I picked up Printing Press on the deal! I allied with the English, again hoping to score big in England with the Reformation. I also used this turn to take back the electorates. I was able to take one, but at the cost of two cards. With Printing Press in effect, I started to convert Europe to Luther’s teachings. I was up 3 VP this turn with a good chance of gaining 3-4 more in the final turn. However, the English now had a good lead after taking Paris! I couldn’t rely on help from them anymore without giving them a win.

End of Turn 5

End of turn 5

Turn 6
This time my hand was lousy – low CP value cards and nothing to help me debate or reform. I went fishing in the diplomacy phase, but only the English could help me with Printing Press. But he had the lead and wanted cards. The Hapsburg, Papacy and French were teaming up to take back Paris from the English, but they needed my help. They wanted me to give France a card draw in exchange for the Hapsburg not playing Erasmus or another card against me. I couldn’t take either deal. I would need all my CP and a little luck, but I had a chance of victory if I could get 4 VP. I figured I could take my final electorate, be +1 on cities reformed and gain one more VP somehow – possibly disgracing a Papal debater with Luther. As the turn played out, I took my final electorate, but it was again an expensive endeavor. Unfortunately, the Pope had some hot dice and lots of card. He forced my hand in the end game by calling a debate. If I lose the debate, I lose the game. I had to play my Here I Stand home card to use Luther in the debate. Luther still lost and with my card draw I picked up Edward VI. Not enough CP to debate and the reformation attempts failed. I lose two electorates and 5 VP from the loss of religious control of those and other cities to the Pope. Ugh…

End of Turn 6

End of turn 6 and the game

The End
It was a good game and I had a legitimate shot of winning until the final turn. I ended up with 13 VP, 4 behind the French, but it was actually a much closer game due to the huge 5VP swing in the last couple of card plays. Looking back, I think I made the right decisions in my diplomacy, but there were a few things I could have done better in my plays. I should have focused on the Full Bible translations to help win reformation attempts. The plus +1 modifier would have been helpful later in the game. Moving my army out to take the electorates earlier would also have helped in reformation attempts. Overall it was a great experience. I’m looking forward to the next game and hopefully my first victory.

The HIS Players

The HIS Players all in colors matching their powers. Apparently eating the captured enemy leaders is allowed when you take their capital.

No Coup For You

October 16, 2009

History may not be on your side, but that doesn’t mean you can’t win the Cold War as the USSR. With scoring happening at random intervals and half your hand trying to hurt you, strategy in Twilight Struggle seams to be anything but clear cut.

However, there is one strategy I would like to propose for the USSR to follow, never place influence in non-battle ground countries in Africa, South America, or Central America. The goal is to bleed VP from the US at the end of every turn when military ops are checked or limit US placing of influence.

As the USSR, coup down to DEFCON 2 at the start of every turn. This will get you your required military ops and hopefully another battle ground state. With no open non-battlegrounds for the US to coup, they will be forced to play DEFCON modifying cards for the event, Nuclear Subs, or War cards (which can lead to USSR VP if Flower Power is in effect) to set themselves up to gain military ops. By doing this, it will limit the amount of influence the USA can place throughout the world. Or the US may forgo playing the cards for events and instead allow their military ops fall behind. This is will keep influence tighter but allow of a swing of 2 VP to the USSR at the end of each turn.

The strategy isn’t without its pitfalls. Playing at DEFCON 2 is a dangerous game and open to the DEFCON Conundrum. But, assured VP at the end of each turn or influence off that map is nothing to scoff at.

Here I Stand Primer: The Hapsburgs

October 13, 2009

We continue our primer for newcomers to Here I Stand by taking a look at the second power to act in the action phase, the Hapsburgs. Again, I’m talking about the tournament scenario, and pulling the game map up might be helpful.


As the scenario opens, your forces are divided between four distant regions: Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, and Austria. You have the highest point total in the game, which makes you an easy target. In addition, you are the only power to start with some of your territory under the control of another power (Buda is Turkish territory). No doubt you’ve already figured it out–winning will not be easy!

Basic Openings

I will admit that the Hapsburg opening moves are not obvious and are the most dependent on how diplomacy plays out. However, keep some general considerations in mind. First, you are the defender of Europe. Whether the Ottoman onslaught succeeds or fails is based almost entirely on your actions (or lack thereof!). You’ll need to work to keep Vienna from falling to them. Some people prefer to build up a large force in Vienna itself, while others prefer to move a large force to Pressburg, Graz, or Linz and intercept the Ottomans from there. Deciding when to fight the field battle and when to withdraw inside the walls is based on what combat cards you’ve got, keeping in mind that the Ottoman player can lay down “Janissaries” at any point and throw in five extra dice in a field battle.

If the Ottomans aren’t applying too much pressure, it is possible to snatch up Tunis early. This takes some planning and costs several CPs (hey, it’s a sea invasion!) but success is assured if you can keep the Ottoman navy off your back with a strong naval force. This move is most commonly launched from Naples, but it could work just as well from Spain or Corsica.

Other players prefer to begin their first turn by retaking lost electorates in Germany. The Protestants have to split their resources between military and religious actions and their leaders are just plain awful, so marching a force from Antwerp into western Germany is pretty easy. Remember, each electorate you own grants you 1 VP and harms the Protestants greatly (their hand size is dependent on number of electorates owned). Also, the presence of your Catholic forces in these spaces will aid the Pope.

Last, some players go for Metz (independent), Calais (English), or any number of French keys. This is not always easy to do–Metz is almost surrounded by French and Protestant spaces, and declaring war too early on the English or French may spell disaster if someone else decides to beat up on you while your back is turned.

Negotiation Considerations

Keep this thought in your mind: “The Hapsburgs are the fulcrum of Europe.” You’re top dog, you’ve got a lot of resources at your disposal, and you’re trying to keep the entire continent from descending into utter anarchy. Those foolish rulers: why don’t they ever listen to the guy with “Holy” in his title? In negotiations it’s critical to get one or two of the four powers directly opposing you–that’s everybody but the Papacy–to agree to an alliance. Then you can keep the others on their toes! On the other hand, if it seems two or more powers are planning on teaming up against you, watch out!

Keep Your Eyes Open For…

I’ve only played the Hapsburgs twice (and won both times), but in watching other players take on the role of Charles V, one danger has become abundantly clear to me. Some people will become paralyzed by the multiple fronts and just spend cards to hold territory, never actually working up the VP track. It’s true that there are times when you just won’t be able to make military gains, but this doesn’t mean you don’t have options. If you have the CP in your hand, send an explorer AND conquest in one turn. Sure it’s a gamble, but there are very few cards in the deck that can cancel these entirely, and they can win you the game. In round 1 of the 2009 Here I Stand play-by-email tourney, I spent cards to resist Ottoman piracy on the first turn, took one electorate (moving me to 19 VP) and then got a successful exploration and conquest to win the game in the second turn. If people really aren’t paying attention, you can actually do this and win in the first turn of the scenario.

Its tough being Emperor!

It's tough being Emperor!

Last, use your home card wisely. Being able to “teleport” Charles and the Duke of Alva anywhere in Hapsburg territory is awesome. Doing so will probably scare the living daylights out of the enemy (especially if it’s the French, Protestants, or English!).  Many people  choose to move Charles to face the Ottomans, but then it’s a pretty equal match. Instead, think of teleporting him to Antwerp and charging after electorates, or any other number of fun places. Being able to spend the 5 CP right away is neat, because you can teleport, bolster an army with mercenaries, and then move it right away. Any of your small armies can become a force to be reckoned with once the Holy Roman Emperor shows up, and that knowledge will give your enemies pause.

Final Thoughts

I am sorry to be so vague, but in my opinion the Hapsburgs really have the toughest job in the game. You’ll be the great balancing act of the continent, and everyone is jealous of your armies, your number of cards, and your chances for an early victory. The wolf pack will do its best to drag you down, but through skilled diplomacy, military might, and a little of that “I’m the Emperor–don’t mess with me!” bravado, you’ll find yourself pack leader at game’s end!

I Want to Match Purple

October 7, 2009

As I’ve mentioned before, my wife and I enjoy playing board games together.  One of our favorites is Ingenious.  It’s a tile-matching game – a bit like dominoes – using a board.  There are 6 different colors that you keep track of their score individually.  The twist is that the lowest score of any color is your score.  (For example, if you have scored 14 points on blue, yellow, green, red, and orange but only 2 points on purple.  Your score is 2.  If you opponent scores only 3 points on each color, they win 3 to 2.)  This means you have to score on all the colors while trying to prevent your opponent from scoring.

The game is perfect for us.  It’s simple enough to allow us to enjoy a nice conversation, watch TV, or keep an eye on the kids while playing.  Yet, there is a good amount of strategizing (scoring versus playing defensively) to keep the game competitive.  It’s also a game where we are on completely even terms – we’ve each won about half the games we’ve played.

I got the game out a few nights ago for us to play after our children were in bed.  The next day, my almost-3-year-old saw the game and wanted to play.  My wife and I paused for a second, then said sure.  One of the first things my daughter learned were her colors and she can easily match them.  We were both thinking that this is a game that she would be able to handle.

After dinner we opened up the box and explained how to play.  To make it easy, we all played with our tiles face up.  My wife and I played first to show how it worked and then it was her turn.  She grabbed a tile and placed in on the board.  We told her she scored 1 point for yellow and her face lit up!  We continued to take turns.  When it was her turn, we would ask her what color she wanted to match then help her place the tile on the board.  “I want to match purple,” (her favorite color) quickly became the answer every turn.

She lost interest in keeping track of point totals on her score card and played with the little wood markers instead.  But she was having fun playing a “big kid” game with Mom and Dad.  My wife and I were also having fun.  We tried to play out our normal strategies, but would often get thrown off track by the “random” play of our daughter’s tile.  Once when I closed off a color that my wife needed, our daughter opened it back up by playing the exact she color needed!

The game was a bit long for a two-year-old’s attention span, but she finished the game with just a little prodding to take her last few turns.  My wife and I agreed that the “random factor” of her plays added a fun element to the game and we’re all looking forward to the next game.

Here I Stand Primer: The Ottomans

October 5, 2009

[Note: We’re playing Here I Stand again this weekend with a few new players. Joe requested that I sketch out some possible strategies for each side. As our least experienced player is going to be the Ottomans, I’ll start here and fill in the rest over the coming months.]

When we have new players at the table, it’s customary to offer them the Ottomans or French. While both offer plenty of fun opportunities, they are “rules light” powers because the religious game does not directly affect them. Of the two, however, the Ottomans are more straightforward–perfect for someone who is learning the rules. What follows is some advice for those new Ottoman players who are sitting down to play the 1532/Tournament scenario. (Feel free to refer to this map as you read.)


You begin play with the second highest victory point (VP) count, 16 to the Hapsburgs’ 18. As the game opens, your land forces are clustered around Istanbul and Buda. However, you are also in control of a powerful but scattered navy. Your time will be split between engaging in piracy, fleet actions, and taking keys.

Three Basic Openings

By spring deploying  troops to Buda, some Ottoman players opt for a swift and decisive victory at Vienna. This will most likely force the Hapsburg player to meet you in the field at Pressburg and/or spend his home card building up a defensive force. However, to ensure victory, you will probably spend your home card to get some extra dice in that field battle. If you win, you have hamstrung the Hapsburg player in the east, allowing you to make a later assault on Prague. If you lose, you have spent a lot of command points (CP) for little/no gain. I consider this your riskiest opening move. There are a lot of possibilities if you win, but if you lose you end up spinning your wheels a bit. This is the “Vienna option.”

Another choice is the “Tunis option.” Spring deploying a token force to Buda will most likely scare off the Hapsburgs. Consider burning a 5 CP card to put fleets into the Aegean Sea and North African Coast on the first impulse (2 CP). Then naval transport a decent-sized army to Tunis, an independent key (3 CP). Taking this key will net you a nice 2 VP without ticking off the Hapsburgs directly. Then you  can build up a fleet of pirates and raid the Hapsburgs, French, or Papacy.

A third choice is the “Venice option.” Through careful wheeling and dealing, go to peace with the Hapsburgs and declare war on Venice (a minor power). You’ll need a powerful navy to blockade Venice, but snatching up that key and threatening Italy might be worth it! Keep in mind that declaring war on Venice will allow the Papacy to intervene (2 CP), thus putting you in the Pope’s bad graces (but who cares, right?).

Negotiation Considerations

Never hesitate to speak with the Protestants and English. They don’t directly threaten you in any way, so you can usually work out some deals. The Protestants are “card hunting” for key Reformation events; if you have these, you may be able to get a random card draw from them or a promise to play “Foul Weather” or “Gout” on your behalf. It’s usually good to talk to the French too; if both of you decide to go after the Hapsburgs at the same time, you can make great gains and keep the Holy Roman juggernaut off balance.

I would also argue that there is a time when making peace with the Hapsburgs is a good idea! This agreement will allow both of you some breathing room to pursue other interests elsewhere (for you, Tunis or Venice…for him, electorates, Calais, Metz, etc.).

Keep Your Eyes Open For…

Because Here I Stand is a card-driven wargame, you obviously can’t prepare for most situations that will come up. However, you can stay on the lookout for opportunities. Tunis, Venice, Vienna are your three key considerations. If you ever see that you’ve got a good shot at taking one, go for it! Later in the scenario, the Hapsburgs may need to draw forces out of Italy to deal with threats elsewhere. If this is the case, feel free to nab Naples. If you can build up a strong pirate fleet, go a’raiding and just pick at whomever you feel needs to be brought down a notch or two. You may even be able to get something in exchange for going after a particular power (“Hey Martin Luther…what would you offer me if I agreed to raiding the Papacy?”).

Final Thoughts

Through careful use of pirates you can leech resources from your enemies. You will be tempted to use your home card in all sorts of situations; gauge carefully where it will do the most damage and let your janissaries do their worst. In short, playing the Ottomans gives you the perfect opportunity to play the “Boogeyman” of Europe during this period; enjoy it!

Settlers of Xbox Live

October 2, 2009

Settlers of Catan is the juggernaut of Eurogaming. I’m pretty sure it has infinity+1 different expansions, versions, and alterations. But one of those versions doesn’t have wooden dice, cardboard cutouts, or playing cards, in fact it is completely digital and found only on Xbox Live.

Catan was the first board game to appear on Microsoft’s digital download service for the Xbox 360 Arcade. And thanks to a promotion a couple years back I was able to download it for free. Now, it will run you 800 MS points which is approximately $10.

The game boasts the most sophisticated artificial intelligence of any Catan game to date and last night I fired it up to give the game another test. I played a 4 player game against three AI opponents–Alexander, Elizabeth, and Fredrick–on medium difficulty. I used the quick set-up option where the game places your first settlements in the optimal places automatically. From there it was time to press “A” to roll dice.

The early stages of the game included a lot of trading. The AI opponents, all named after historical figures, where happy to trade to get into a position to build whatever they needed. I used my early resources to connect my two villages with a road, gaining the “Longest Road” victory points, and upgrade them to cities thanks to all the stone I was collecting.

However, this launched me into an early lead and the once friendly AI turned on me like a pack of rabid raccoons. Every time a seven was rolled, the robber was placed on my territory and another card taken from my hand. But, I still wasn’t out. Thanks to buying development cards, I was able to play soldiers and move the robber off my land. This in-turn gained me the “Largest Army” VP and put me further out ahead.

But, as if robber trouble wasn’t bad enough, the new VP made me a bigger target. I now felt like a third world dictator facing an embargo, no one would trade with me. I tried offering 3 or 4 cards for just a single wheat, but was faced with a stern rejection on all fronts. I had to resort to port trading to get whatever I wanted.

Soon Alexander leaped forward with the “Longest Road” stealing VP from me. But I had an ace up my sleeve. Thanks to an abundance of brick and a brick port, I could buy and development card and turn my last village into a city, provided no one rolled a seven.

Luck was on my side. I dodged the robber and got a development card worth a VP. This bumped me up to ten, winning the game. The computer opponents were fairly good, but they came across as homogeneous. I felt more like I was trying to beat the game rather than beat three separate opponents. However, it was an enjoyable game and an easy way to get a fix of Catan.