Metro Game Day IV: Recap

October 19, 2010

We had a smaller group this time, but we had fun and got several plays in on Saturday. So, as promised, below is a list of the games that were played:

Space Hulk: Death Angel
John was the first guest to arrive at Game Day. While waiting for the others to arrive I taught him how to play Death Angel. John safely avoided rolling a 0 the whole game on Brother Claudio’s attack which helped us make our way to the last level. However, my team was dropping like flies. On the 4th level we – and by we, I mean John since I was out of it at that point – entered the Genestealer Lair with 3 marines. They didn’t stand a chance.

Alas poor Claudio...

A mid-game rule check while playing Death Angel

Power Grid
By the time we finished, Russ and Lily had arrived and my wife was done nursing the future space marine so we broke out a 5 player game of Power Grid. This was the first game for my wife, so after a rules explanation we dug into powering Germany. Lily took a lead early on and held onto it for most of the game. My wife and I took a slower approach and trailed while Russ and John duked it out in the west. Shortly after Phase 3 hit the Cold Fusion plant came out and there was a fierce bidding war between Russ and Lily. The plant finally sold for ~$105 to Lily which allowed her to power 15 cities at the end of the game for only 1 coal or oil! But John and I also made it to 15 and because of our more frugal bidding, with more money. The final tally was John with $40, me with $36 and Lily with $18. This was by far the most enjoyable game of Power Grid I’ve played. We all took our turns fairly quickly which helped move the game along. And having 5 players meant there was always active bidding and a struggle for resources and cities. This game is really growing on me.

I still can't believe I only lost by $4!

Russ and John enjoying themselves while my wife takes a better look at the board.

Blokus Trigon
After the intensity of Power Grid, my wife had to duck out with the kids for birthday party. So the four of us remaining played a quick game of Blokus Trigon. I got my first victory of the day winning with 9 points to Lily’s 12.

Cosmic Encounter
By the time we finished Shannon had arrived and was ready to try a game of Cosmic Encounter. The Clone, Pacifist, Chosen, and Filch aliens all attempted to conquer my Miser’s planets. My horde contained the 40 attack, an artifact and the +5 reinforcement card! The game was full of silly attacks, zaps and alliances so we all had fun. When 4 of us were at 4 points, my Filch brother attacked my empty planet. I defended with my 40 to prevent him from winning but he of course had an artifact which turned everything into a negotiation. We decided at that point to end the game as shared rulers of the galaxy.

Crusader Rex & Blokus Trigon
Russ and John had enough silliness and moved onto a more serious game of Crusader Rex. With my wife and kids back, I took a break to watch the kids and this game for a while. Russ and his Saracens had some hot dice at the start of the game, but John’s Crusaders put up a good fight. They duked it out for quite some time while the four women (John’s wife joined us for the evening) played a game of Blokus and the kids and I ate dinner. Lily pulled off her first victory of the day in Blokus.

Shadows over Camelot
The Crusade was still raging when the four ladies and I decided to team up against everything evil in Camelot. We drew more cards than people for alliances so it was unknown who the traitor was or even if there would be one. We teamed up quite well and had early successes against the Saxons and the Black Knight. After a couple of bad progressions of evil though we had to regroup. We successfully won Excalibur and then moved on to find the Holy Grail. We took the grail and successfully defended Camelot with 7 white swords to 5 black… or so we thought. Quietly Shannon had been working against us this whole time. She revealed herself as the traitor with much gusto and snatched away our victory.

The Crusaders also succumbed to defeat shortly after. It was not a good day to be a knight!

Tigris & Euphrates
It was getting late so most people headed out. We put the kids to bed and then Russ, my wife and I played a game of Tigris & Euphrates. It was Russ’ first game and my wife and I had previously only played a handful of times with just the two of us. It was interesting to see the way the game changes with 3 players versus just 2. I built up a sizable kingdom in the top left part of the map while Russ had one in the bottom right. We however let Russ’ two monuments go too long before we were able to create some conflicts to break it up. I made a surge at the end of the game in blue that allowed me to get 2nd place, but it was no match for the balance of Russ’ civilization.

One thing I usually do is play a new game on Game Day and that didn’t happen this time, but I did get my other goals accomplished:
– I won a game.
– I got to try some ‘old’ games with new and more people.
– I got all three of my most recent purchases to the table.
– And most importantly I had a great time with friends just relaxing and playing games!

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Low-Interaction Games

November 4, 2009

“Dude, it’s your turn.” Rick is staring at me from across the table.

Huh? My brain freezes. Where are we? I was munching on a cookie and thinking about whether or not I had remembered to close the garage door after leaving the house earlier in the evening. Oh…right. Power Grid. I run my hands across my face, blink a few times, and glance at the power plant market. It takes a few seconds before I can fully re-focus on the game and concentrate on playing. These moments happen to the best of gamers–fatigue, stress, or distractions can pull our minds away from the game in front of us. But sometimes the blame for the momentary lapse in concentration lies not with us, but the game we’re playing. I call them low-interaction games.

Power Grid is perhaps the worst offender in my collection. An average game runs 90-180 minutes without much direct interaction between players with the exception of power plant auctions. There’s also a lot of mental math, which kills table talk as each player tries to figure out how he or she can spend money in the wisest fashion. There are many things I like about the game, but if I want to interact with people, it’s strictly through off-topic conversation, which lengthens the playing time. I sometimes find myself glancing at the board and thinking, Are we still playing this? Shouldn’t it be over by now?

Another low-interaction game is Ticket to Ride, which is not so much a communal  game as several solitaire games. I’m trying to fill in my tickets, you’re filling in yours on another end of the map, and there’s  terrible excitement if a player (heaven forbid!) snatches up a key section of a route before someone else. However, this game plays more quickly than Power Grid, so it’s not as bad.

A third game that comes to mind is Carcassonne, which I’ve been playing a lot recently. Gameplay is very intuitive, though there’s not much direct interaction. People are usually only directly competing if they are trying to out-do each other with farmers, or trying to connect up two cities. However, the “beer and pretzels” nature of the game is such that we can hold a conversation while playing. The game is so simple it can take a backseat while we talk about anything under the sun. And the 30-45 minute playing time means I’m never staring at the table wondering, When is this going to be over?

Since really getting into board games two years ago, I’ve learned that low-interaction games aren’t exciting for me unless they are simple and short. Conquest of Paradise is an example of a game that, while interesting in its theme, drove me up a wall. The game ends just as you are ready to interact with othe1r players (i.e., raid their villages, burn down their huts, and take their freaking yams–mwahaha!). I prefer to be playing games where the auctioning/trading/fighting is fast and furious, and people are engaged most or all of the time in what’s going on in the game (or if they’re not, they can carry on a conversation because the simplicity of the game allows for it).

This realization makes me wish Board Game Geek would include an “interaction rating” in each game profile. We’re in a recession, every dollar is precious, and I don’t want to waste my hard-earned cash purchasing games that don’t have lots of player to player wheeling and dealing or pillaging and looting. If I wanted a low-interaction game, I’d fire up FreeCell on my computer.

Are there games that you love/hate because of the low or high level of interaction? Leave a comment; I’d love to hear about them.


Gaming with Colorblindness

November 3, 2009

“What color is this?”
I hold up a crayon to my two-year old as we start to draw a picture with her crayons.
“Umm… Green!” she replies.
“Thanks”
I wasn’t quizzing her on her knowledge of colors. I wanted to draw a tree and wasn’t sure if the crayon I was holding should be used for the leaves or the trunk. I’m colorblind.

“What do you see?”

Ishihara

You probably see a 74. I see a 21.

I get that question a lot after someone finds out about my colorblindness. And it’s a very difficult one to answer – how do you describe a color? I’m red/green colorblind (deuteranopic). I can see the colors red and green (or blue and purple), but it is difficult to distinguish between the two at times. Taking a colorblindness test can diagnose the condition and help to explain what I see, but most people still don’t get it. Now I can tell someone to Google “colorblind” and get sites that show images side by side of what people like me see. This site does a good job. Those color vision tests all look the same to me!

“What about stop lights?”

I’ve learned various ways to handle colors in my environment. For stop lights, the red and green are actually designed to be different looking so the green looks almost white to my eyes. There are also other clues that can be used: the red light is always on top or on the left when mounted sideways. In other situations, if I really can’t see the color I’ll ask someone. Usually my wife or daughter can help me out, but I’ve also asked complete strangers. Sometimes once I’ve been told something is red or green I’m able to then see the colors. I think somehow my brain compensates for what my eyes miss.

I also change my behavior to help avoid the issue. The color of clothes I buy is affected. As an engineer I often make charts of data. My charts will always have a color and shape associated with each different label. This is good practice for everybody: if you print out a report/presentation it should be legible in color OR black and white.

“I thought this was a blog about board games?”

I was getting to that… Colorblindness definitely affects my board gaming. The most obvious (and generally least important) result is when I pick out my playing piece. I almost always pick blue. Yellow, white or black are my next choices. I generally avoid green, red, orange or brown. If each player in a game only has one token, it usually isn’t a problem keeping track of the colors (a conscious effort on my part at times). However, if there are several tokens and they will be moved around a lot (Carcassonne for example), I will sometimes ask other players not to use certain colors.

When the colors are a part of the game or can’t be avoided, it may be a challenge. I played Power Grid for the first time a few weeks ago. The board has a map with several regions, each a different color. We only had three players so only three of those regions are in play. I had a hard time figuring out which cities were in play and which were out. My first game of Ticket to Ride was also difficult. The colored train routes and cards were very similar to my eye.

Usually the colors aren’t a challenge and don’t effect my play, but not always. I already suffer from analysis paralysis in some games. The extra few seconds I need to concentrate on who-has-what-tokens-where can slow me down even more. To keep from slowing down game play, I may make a bad move because I didn’t realize that red enemy token was actually a green friendly one.

Ingenious Tiles

The colors may look alike, but the shapes don't.


Fortunately some games design around these issues. I think the biggest key for a game design is to double up on the differences by using shapes AND colors. Ingenious is a game of matching colored tiles. Blue and purple?! Red, green and orange?! This game could have been a nightmare. But each color also has an associated shape. This makes it very easy for me to quickly see what I have and where I can play. We also have a dominoes set that each number has a different color. My daughter matches the colors while I match the number of dots – this helps both of us. The Ticket to Ride designers got feedback about difficulty in distinguishing some colors and added symbols to the routes in later editions.

And when the game is designed poorly (at least in color management), I try to adapt. In a second game of Power Grid, we blocked off the border of the regions we were using with the city tokens of a fourth color. It was a great help and makes me wonder why they didn’t draw boundaries between the colors. A game like Here I Stand looked confusing at first glance – the Ottoman green and Protestant Brown looked a lot alike. After playing, I realized it didn’t matter as those powers’ tokens never interact so I don’t have to worry about confusing the colors. And if it came down to it for a game I really liked that after repeated plays I still had troubles with – I would look at making my own board/tokens to eliminate any confusion. Fortunately, I haven’t had to do that…yet!


Hiding the Resources/VPs

September 3, 2009

I apologize for the lack of activity here on the blog lately. I’m in the process of moving right now (stay tuned for pics of my new game room!). Once things settle down, we hope to create a backlog of posts we can draw on during busy times.

After playing a relatively high number of Euro games this summer, I’ve been thinking about hiding resources and victory points. Three games in my collection have this written into the rules: Power Grid, Settlers of Catan, and Small World. In Power Grid, you are told to keep your cash secret from the other players. As we’ve learned the game at home in recent months, we’ve usually kept money faceup so the other players can see if someone is sitting on a big stack of cash. Playing with the hidden money rule at the WBC tourney gave the game a very different feel; tabletalk was significantly cut as a result and we could only guess at people’s bank accounts. In this game, I confess I don’t understand why this rule exists. If you’re really playing a power company, then your resources should be public knowledge, right? Also, trying to keep track of other people’s cash flow is just another distraction in a game that already involves a lot of mental math.

In Settlers of Catan, you keep your resources secret. Again, we have often played with resources faceup, but that’s primarily because we’ve got new players at the table. When playing with Joe and other more experienced players, we’ve played with resources hidden. Again, I’m not quite sure why this should be the case. If it’s a game about resource trading, then you’d think it would be beneficial to see what people have so you can make offers or know who to target with the robber. Like Power Grid, hiding the resources adds a layer of complexity that doesn’t enhance the game any; it just makes things more complicated. However, I can see keeping development cards hidden. They do represent choices you get to make, and are much like the strategy cards in Conquest of Paradise or other games that involve buying cards.

In Small World, you keep your victory points hidden until the game ends. Considering how light the game is, I rather like keeping them hidden. Because you must count up your VP at the end of every turn and take them from the bank, it’s pretty obvious who is having a good turn (14+ VP, for instance). You can easily discuss it at the table and then turn on the current leader. It’s not a very complex game, and unlike the two mentioned earlier, hiding the VPs doesn’t add an annoying level of complexity.

I’m curious if there are other games out there that have you hide resources or VPs. This is a big component of Euro games–even  in Ticket to Ride you’re hiding your routes. Do you find this an interesting mechanic in some games, but not in others? Why?


WBC, Day 4 continued: John’s Perspective

August 7, 2009

I’m going to keep this short, as Russ and I need to book it on over to breakfast and the convention pretty quick. Yesterday was a lot of fun. I sat in on a 9AM demo of Circus Maximus, an old Avalon Hill game about chariot racing in ancient Rome. It looks like a cool game, but what I was most impressed with was the demonstration teacher, Jake. Every year he paints up several pewter figurines and makes a huge deluxe map for the game. He then has it sold at the auction. The figures are really beautiful, and the set this year went for $310!

At 11AM I sat down for the final heat of Power Grid. I hadn’t got in on the first two; this was just to get some more experience. I played with Keith (already linked to his game group), Bobby, Jake from the demo, and Helen. We played on the Italy map, which I had never seen before. Although the game went long (3.5 hours), I had a good time and finished third out of five. Thanks to everyone for the game.

In the afternoon, Russ and I headed into the open gaming room. I was hoping for someone to show me how to play my copy of Carcassonne, but what we got instead might have been better. We ran into a group of guys who were slowly suffering their way through a game of Here I Stand–they had played (years ago, I think) once, but were running through the tutorial. So we sat with them for 90 minutes and did a little coaching. This was very fun and rewarding, and we are always happy to do a little game evangelization. Thanks to Chris, Len, Ken, and Sean for letting us sit over their shoulders for a while. We also met Phil, a reader of our blog!

After dinner, we headed back into the Kinderhook room for another round of Here I Stand. My group (Dave, who won last heat I was in, Erie (sp?), Rick, Ed, and Darren) was the last one there, duking it out in turn six. At one point, I had, as the Protestants, amassed the 23 VP needed for victory, but a rule I misunderstood meant I had to fight field battle instead of fight off city assaults in two electorates. All of England became Protestant, though, and it came down to Hapsburg, English, and French die rolls to see who would win the game on an explorer/conquest roll. The game went to Darren, playing the French, who has once again proved that you can win this game without ever going to war without any other player. I learned a lot about the religious game from Dave, and thanks to everybody; I had a great time.

Now we’re headed back over to the Host; Russ to Twilight Struggle and me to the Here I Stand semi-finals. I qualified on victory points, so wish me luck!