Mid Week Gaming Session

January 28, 2010

Every other Wednesday, while our wives/girlfriends are at book club, the guys get an opportunity to hang out for a night of gaming. This week was no exception, however only David and I were able to get together. But this gave me an opportunity to teach him a couple of games and play another he’d only played once before. Below are 3 mini session reports from our mid week gaming session.

Mid Week Gaming Session

Mid Week Gaming Session: Small World, Ingenious and Tobago

We started off with Tobago. I ran him through all of the rules while I set up the board. Then we ran through an example turn of play and treasure distribution and then got started on the real thing. After a few turns back and forth, the first treasure was ready to dig up near me. I hadn’t contributed to it though and it was on the opposite side of the island from him. I opted to let him waste some moves to drive over and get it himself. A couple turns later I had dug up the treasure I was working on. I scored 5 treasure cards while he watched. The next treasure was split equally. He finally made his way over – picking up a couple of amulets on the way – and scored his 4 card treasure.

The next treasures that we dug up had both of our markers on them. After another split treasure was dug up, and after he grabbed a big treasure card, the first curse hit. We both had amulets so no harm was done. One more split treasure was dug up safely. The next treasure was all mine. I looked at 5 cards and none were cursed. I shuffled in the extra card and flipped up a 4 treasure. Nice. The next one was not so nice – curse! Again an amulet protected me from losing any cards, but that one hurt me. David had been stockpiling amulets and some good play at the end allowed him to get the lion’s share of the last treasure.

Final Score: Rick 38, David 50.

Next I brought out Ingenious. This one was also a new one for him so we ran through the simple rules as I set up the game. We were playing in a couple minutes. We each built on the same half of the board until it was full. We were pretty close on all of our 6 colors. I did have an advantage though: I had 1 or 2 more orange and blue than he did and those colors had been closed off. Realizing this he put those colors back into play. He spent the second half of the game playing catch up. I scored the only Ingenious of the game on yellow and was then able to score on my lowest color with a double red tile. The game was over before his last two plays, but the final score was close.

Final Score: Rick 11, David 9

Small World
It wasn’t too late so we decided to break the tie with a game of Small World. David had one game of this under his belt already so we were able to set-up and get down to business right away. He started out with Marauding Trolls. This combination allowed him to spread out quickly but still have good defenses. I chose Merchant Skeletons for my first race. They spread out a little more slowly but they scored well each turn.

He put the trolls into decline after 2 turns while I kept rolling with my skeletons. He next chose Hordes of Wizards and this is where the game really took off for him. The trolls had 1/3 of the board while he could expand the wizards on another 1/3. I abandoned my Skeletons (in hindsight a little too late) and then grabbed Underworld Ratmen. I started to make a dent in his Wizards and Trolls, but not nearly enough. He was able to score 20 and 15 coins on turns 6 and 7. He went in decline on turn 8 and only scored 4 coins. It was my opportunity to spread out my Ratmen on the newly empty regions.

The last few turns went miserably for him. He chose Berserk Dwarves and rolled zeroes 7 consectutive times! I grabbed Alchemist Kobolds on the final turn and was able to make up a little ground, but it was too little too late.

Final Score: Rick 85, David 106

Although only two of us made it we had a great time. It was good being able to to teach a game to just one person at a time. Especially when the game is the same in terms of rules and fun factor with 2 people as it is with 4+. Any other fun games that scale equally as well?

Inside the Box: Tobago

January 16, 2010

Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.

I first saw images of Tobago posted on BoardGameGeek and I instantly had to learn more about this great looking game. Tobago is a treasure hunt game. Each player narrows down the location of any of 4 possible treasures on the island. Once it is found they drive over in their ATV and raise the treasure. It’s been a hit with everyone I’ve played with and, like I’ll explain, looks great.



The box is of standard quality and does the job. The cover art shows an Indiana Jones-like character and his companion hunting for treasure. It gives a feeling of adventure.

Inside the box is a plastic insert that holds all of the components – most of them neatly in place. There is a spot for the amulets, palm tree and statue tokens, cards and board. My only complaint with the insert is the large bin that holds the rest of the small bits and tokens – which there are a lot of and need to be sorted each time you play. I highly recommend picking up 8 little plastic bags to store the 4 player and 4 treasure tokens in separately.

The board is actually 6 pieces: three double sided sections of island and three clamps. This allows for 32 different island layouts. The clamps do a nice job of holding the board together and also serve as a place to set the cards and amulets while playing. The island itself is made of hexes that are broken into different terrain types: lakes, mountains, jungle, etc. Most of the hexes are very simply done with just a few little details, like shells and crabs on the beach, that add some interest.


Rules, Set-up Guide/Player Aid and Cardboard Tokens

The set-up guide is clear and concise. The rules on the other hand are cluttered. There are plenty of examples of game-play and diagrams of how things work, but these immediately follow each basic action and make the game seem more complicated than it actually is. The first page could have simply listed the basic rules and actions while the other pages cover them in more detail with examples.


Clue Cards


Treasure Cards

There are two small decks cards. The clue card deck consist of symbols that show where the treasure can or cannot be. In the image above, the top left card shows the treasure is not in a lake while the top right tells us the treasure is within 2 hexes of a statue. The other deck makes up the treasure. Each card has a certain victory point value, from 2-6, except two curse cards. The meaning of any card can be determined clearly from the effective illustrations.


Player and Landmark Tokens

The tokens are where this game shines. They really did a great job of paying close attention to detail with these. There are 5 different kinds of tokens included in the game:
Site Markers:These are small wooden blocks of 4 different colors: black, gray, white and brown. These are used to note the possible locations of each of the 4 treasures on the map.
ATV: The all-terrain vehicle (or ‘jeeple’ as I’ve seen it called) is the player token. These wooden tokens have been painted in four bright colors which are easy to distinguish. There is a windshield and front grill painted on the ATVs which give them a great look. You can’t help driving these around the island as if they were actually traversing the terrain.
Huts: These along with the palm trees and statues act as additional landmarks in the island. Simple, wooden, brown shapes, but effective.
Palm Trees: These are great tokens. They are wood and carved beautifully. Notches in the trunk give it texture. The details in the palm leaf make the trees come to life.
Statues: And the best token in the game are the statues. As well as being another landmark, the gaze of the statue is where amulets wash ashore to the island. These are ceramic and give the statue weight. The texture and color make them feel like they were carved from stone centuries ago.

Other than a few minor criticisms of the rules and storage, this game looks amazing. The game is fun to play, but I think part of the appeal is the great game components. They make the game fun to look at the get your hands on.

Gaming on the Go: Guatemala Preview

January 13, 2010

Gaming on the Go is a feature about boardgames and travel.

In a few days, I’ll be headed down to Guatemala for the first time, leading a group of students on a service trip. The past months have been all about getting passports ready, transportation arranged, and fundraising coffee sold, but as I start to pack for the trip itself, I think about our free time (and gaming). We’ve been told by the volunteer coordinators at our service site that things get pretty quiet at night, and we are encouraged to bring along cards and small games for entertainment.

Fully aware that my group consists of senior (17-18 years old) boys, I’m opting to bring  rules for some simple but highly interactive card and dice games. Here are my choices:

  • Mafia (known commercially as Werewolf) is a basic interaction game in which a group of villagers attempt to discover who is secretly killing them off one by one. I used to play this with my campers when I was a camp counselor–good gory fun. I greatly enjoy playing the Narrator and just watching the action.
  • Cribbage is small and versatile–you can play with partners or individually. A few of the other trip participants are bringing boards down too, so there’s the potential for a tournament over the course of the week, on the plane ride, in airports killing time, etc.
  • Dirty Clubs is a very simple trick-taking card game that is equally fun with five or ten players. At the start of each round, you wager how many tricks you think you’ll take based on the power of the cards in your hand. Bid over or under the actual number of tricks you take and you lose points. Lots of tension in this game.
  • Ten Thousand (known commercially as Farkel) is a dice game in which players simply roll six dice, determine which ones score them points, and then opt to pass or keep rolling dice. Stretch yourself too thin and you’ll get nothing. I was introduced to this by my in-laws, and it fills a certain niche: an incredibly simple game that a seven-year old could play that allows you to hold a conversation about something else while playing.
  • Pacific Typhoon is a WWII-themed trick-taking game from GMT. I just got this for Christmas, and have quickly found it is easy to learn but hard to master. Lots of opportunities for backstabbing, with a theme they’ll find accessible and interesting.

It’s amazing how much you can get out of a deck of cards, a cribbage board, a set of dice, and a very small gamebox. Hopefully these will provide some evening entertainment after a long day of physical labor. I’d love to hear about your favorite travel games; leave a comment below.

Holiday Gaming Binge

January 6, 2010

This year I took off work between the Christmas and New Year’s holidays to spend time with family and friends. As a result, I got a lot of board gaming in. From the 23rd to the 28th I played 26 games (4.3 games per day). On the 31st I hosted a game day to ring in 2010 and racked up 7 more plays. I thought I’d share some of the highlights of the gaming binge:

Tobago: I first saw pictures of this game on BoardGameGeek and instantly knew I had to learn more. The pieces are amazing (an “Inside the Box” should be coming shortly) and the reviews stressed the “fun” of the game. The highlight of my plays so far was the surprise curse! We had divvied out 1 treasure (5 cards big) and then a second was found (7 cards big). The first 12 treasure cards can’t be cursed so I was explaining to everyone (while we were examining our potential share) that this treasure was still “safe” but after that it may be cursed. As soon as a finished speaking I flipped the first card up and it was a curse! My mouth dropped. How could that be? Then I realized the first treasure was 6 cards – not 5! I’m sure my face was red.

Small World: I also received this as a Christmas gift along with the Cursed and Grand Dames expansions. Fortunately, all the games of this played out much better than my last play. There were two SmallWorld highlights in one game:
1 – My frugal brother-in-law is always getting great deals on things because of his bargaining prowess. It was funny to see him predictably always pick the “cheapest” special power/race combination – especially when it gave him a few coins along with it.
2 – We also had one combination randomly occur that gave everyone a laugh: Wealthy White Ladies

Twilight Struggle: Russ brought along his newly acquired copy of TwiStrug and I helped my little brother, Brad, play a game against him. Brad got consistently good hands – a rarity in this game. Russ got consistently poor hands often hindered by 1 or 2 scoring cards. Brad also had the dice gods on his side as he hit every roll and Russ had miss after miss. I think it was only turn 5 (or maybe 6) that Brad won a automatic victory with 20 points. He was ready for another easy victory. The next game was more typical and I taught him a lesson: beating him by 10VP in final scoring.

Texas Hold’em: Our family played two games of Texas Hold’em. The first with no money that I was skilled enough to win. For the second game we all threw in $5. I was unlucky and was knocked out in 4th place. (Notice how I was “skilled” when I won and “unlucky” when I lost.) My wife went on to beat Brad for 1st place – he didn’t catch the ace he needed. While we cleaned up, I put was putting the cards back in the pack. That’s when I noticed the Ace of Spades still in the pack. We had played the entire game a card short! Needless to say, we all took our money back.

New Year’s Eve: This was our first ever “Day of Gaming.” We started playing the first game at 10:00 AM and the last one finished a little over 12 hours later. Over a dozen people playing a wide variety of games and as many as three games going on simultaneously. We also made up a scoring system to keep track of plays: each game played got you 1 point + 1 for each person you defeated. Of course this was criticized harshly as it was completely unfair to everyone: coming in 2nd or 3rd place in a large group game win netted you 5 or 6 points while a hard earned 2+hr war game win only got you 2. But there was no prize for first place so in the end no one cared too much. Although I will say I ended up on top with 18.5 points in 7 games!

Looking back 2009 was a good start to my board gaming hobby. What are your highlights of 2009?

Holiday Haul

January 4, 2010

Between Christmas, my birthday, and a preorder, my board game collection was bound to grow. Here’s a quick run down of what I got:

Twilight Struggle Deluxe Edition – The MoV favorite and popular two-player card driven war game get’s GMT’s deluxe treatment. This means a beautiful new cardboard board, 7 new cards, and a heavier constructed box. I preordered this when it was first announced, so to finally have it arrive on my doorstep was a nice early Christmas gift. Look for thoughts on the Chinese Civil War rules in the future.

Ghost Stories – This was a bit of a gamble and a self-bought birthday present. Ghost Stories is a kung-fu horror themed beat-the-box game. The art and production values of the game are fantastic. I’m really happy with board game producers getting in on new printing technologies and turning out better looking games. I’ve played a few sample turns and the game looks interesting. I’ll be putting together an “Inside the Box” for this game and hope to post play experiences soon.

Dominion: Intrigue – Dominion is quickly becoming the game I get to the table the most, so it was nice to unwrap this present from my little sister. Intrigue introduces some new interesting new card combination and can be combined with Dominion to allow for 5-6 player play.

So how’d I fair? Or more importantly, how’d you fair?

2009 Personal Retrospective

January 2, 2010

A year and a half ago, I followed the lead of Jason from the Point 2 Point podcast and declared a “Summer of Victory.” At the urging of my dad, I kept a spreadsheet of all games played between Memorial Day and Labor Day to see if I could declare victory by the summer’s end–and I did, winning 57% of the games I played. Eventually, the spreadsheet became known as the “Margin of Victory” record, and the fun I had keeping it updated eventually led to this blog.

I managed to keep a record of games played throughout all of 2009, and after a bit of number crunching, now present my 2009 personal retrospective:

Games played: 158
Wins: 73 (46%)
Losses: 86

Average time between games: 2.3 days
Best game month: August with 24 games played (due to the WBC)
Worst game month: March with 7 games played

Two player games: 50
Two player wins: 28 (56%)
Multiplayer games: 108
Multiplayer wins: 45 (41%)

Most regular two player opponents
1. Russ (13 plays, 10 wins)
2.  My brother Mike (12 plays, 8 wins)
3. My wife Sara (7 plays, 4 wins)
4. Joe (6 plays, 1 win)
5. My dad (4 plays, 2 wins)

Most popular games of the year
1. Cribbage (18 plays, 12 wins)
2. Manoeuvre (17 plays, 6 wins)
3. Twilight Struggle (13 plays, 10 wins) and Catchphrase (13 plays, 6 wins)
4. Small World (12 plays, 3 wins)
5. Here I Stand (9 plays, 2 wins)

Games played for the first time: 15 (9.4%)

Having crunched all the numbers, a few things surprised me. First, my overall win record is better than I thought it would be, especially considering I won only two games at the WBC! Also, I was astounded at how much Manoeuvre I’ve played, especially against my brother Mike. Last, I can’t end this post without mentioning how Russ needs to bring his “A” game this year!

Tell us about your gaming breakdown in 2009 in the comments.