July 8, 2010

My wife and I are expecting our third child, literally any day now. Our first two came early (4 and 3+ weeks) so we figured the third would probably be sooner rather than later. Because of this we have had a wide open calender since the end of June. To pass the time we’ve been playing a lot of board games.

We’ve gotten in a few games of Ingenious and Small World, but the staple has been our newly acquired copy of Carcassonne with the River, Inns & Cathedrals and Traders & Builders expansions. It’s a fun, light game that plays fairly quickly and helps pass the time.

But first let me explain something: I’ve played this game several times with friends and family and somehow have gotten the unfortunate title of “Jerk.” I look for the optimal move. This means I tend to make plays that help me and at the same time hinder others. I try to get in on everyone else’s big cities. If I’m scoring big every time some one else is, then I can’t lose, right? I’ll also try to sneak in an extra farmer near the end of the game to steal that ‘mega-farm’ away from someone. So, if someone plays in a way that would help themselves and hurt someone else that is called a “Rick-move” which is now synonymous with “jerk-move.” Oh well…

Since my wife and I have the free time and mostly play the game to pass time we’ll often help each other out or play sub-optimally. As my wife says, she likes it when the board looks ‘pretty’ at the end of a game. Often times we’ll find that there are holes that we can fill. It may help the other person but we lay the tile there anyway to please the eye. I’ll also point out better spots to my wife and why that spot is better. I try to help her get better at the game.

However, I think this sharing and helping is going to stop. Last night while we played I was working on a city and had added a Cathedral to it. (This makes a completed city worth 3 points per tile but an incomplete city worth 0 points.) Unfortunately the open area that I needed to cap off to complete the city was getting a little crowded. My wife then made a great Rick jerk-move by placing a tile one space away from my city which then made it impossible to complete. She then just flashed me a smile and said, “I think you’ve taught me too well.” Apparently, the student has become the master. I ended up losing that game.

Tonight (assuming she is not in labor) I think I’ll keep my mouth shut and play to win.

Update: We didn’t get that game in. We ended up in the hospital that night. The next morning my wife delivered a healthy baby boy.


Small World – My Top Race Picks

March 24, 2010

I’ve played Small World a few dozen times with anywhere from 2 to 5 players. Most of the time I pick the special power and race combination to get me the most points or give my opponent the fewest. However, I do like to experiment with the other races just to see how they play out. Below is a list of some of the Races I find myself gravitating towards every time I play. Feel free to comment on my choices.

Ghouls (5) Your Ghoul tokens all stay on the map when going into Decline, instead of the usual 1 token per Region. In addition, unlike other Races, once In Decline, your Ghouls can continue to conquer new Regions in the following turns, playing exactly as if they were still Active tokens.

How can you not like these guys? If Ghouls are available in the early game I will choose them. Having two ‘active’ races on the board attacking each turn will help eliminate your opponents quickly. You don’t lose any tokens so they also have a good defensive bonus while in decline. If Ghouls get paired up with the Stout, Wealthy or Spirit special powers they can be deadly.

Skeletons (6) During your Troop Redeployment take 1 new Skeleton token from the storage tray for every 2 non-empty Regions you conquered this turn, and add it to the troops you redeploy at the end of your turn.

These sword-wielding cowboys start with a decent size and convert their conquered foes into an even bigger force. Skeletons are a lot of fun to play with and the fact that you can actually gain tokens each turn make them a worthy choice. I also think the Skeletons have the edge over the Sorcerers due to the defend-ability against the Sorcerers power. Commando or Marauding Skeletons can quickly multiply and eliminate opponents. While a Ransacking or Pillaging Skeleton can score big.

Goblins (6) You may conquer any In Decline Region at a cost of 1 less Goblin token than normal. A minimum of 1 token is still required.

The Clean-up Crew. Goblins are a good late-game pick when a good chunk of the board is occupied by what were once great civilizations. Look for the same special powers for Skeletons to make them even more effective.

Wizards (5) Each Magic Region your Wizards occupy is worth 1 bonus Victory coin, at the end of your turn.

Who knew magic could be so financially rewarding? Every game I play that the Wizards show up they seem to score a ton of points. Their ability is similar to the Humans but they seem to do a little better. They may not be able to conquer regions as well, but scoring coins is what is ultimately important. The bottom of the 2 player map is well-suited towards Swamp Wizards.

Kobolds (11) You may never occupy (nor conquer) a Region with less than two Kobold tokens. When going In Decline however, keep a single token in each Region, as normal.

You start with 11+ tokens… what more do I need to say?

Gypsies (6) Place 1 bonus Victory coin (taken from the Victory stash) in each Region you abandon. You cannot conquer these Regions again this turn, but you receive the coins they hold as a bonus at turn’s end.

I don’t know if they are really one of the best, but I think the Gypsies are my favorite race to play with. Abandoning regions each turn is usually a tough strategic move that must be considered with any other race: You get more tokens, but lose the region(s) and – more importantly – coin(s). Gypsies make that decision a lot easier. You get to make use of their little throwing knives by hopping around the board with reckless abandon. They can get paired with just about any special power to enhance their deadliness and coin generating ability. I’ve even played with Fortified Gypsies and had fun.

What races do you like to pick?

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?

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 Wishlist?

November 10, 2009

Since I started getting into hobby games in earnest 2.5 years ago, I’ve picked up 28 new games. Of these, I’ve only purchased five. Sara and I try to limit ourselves to a pretty small “entertainment” budget, which means that the lion’s share of my games show up in neatly wrapped boxes on my birthday or under the Christmas tree. My family usually asks for some sort of holiday wishlist around this time of year, and I thought that posting it here would allow for some feedback and perhaps others posting their own wishlists. So, in no particular order…

Conquest of Paradise: Despite some slight negative feeling towards this game, it really intrigues me. I learned how to play this from the designer at the 2009 World Boardgaming Championships (WBC), and there’s a lot of neat mechanics at work like “blind” exploration, hidden fleet movement, etc. It seems to suffer a bit from too little playtesting, but I think with a few house-rules, it could really be excellent. Plus, GMT is selling it quite cheaply!

Endeavor: This Euro-ish game of exploration, colonization, and conquest has been getting a lot of good press recently. Players compete to grab resources in the New World, and use them to grow in power back in Europe. I read a review in which the author described it as “the post gateway game,” which is sort of a weak point in my game collection right now.

Pacific Typhoon: A  card game about the Pacific theater in World War II. This is GMT’s sequel to Atlantic Storm by Avalon Hill. I had never really heard of this game until I noticed the number of people playing it in random corners around the WBC. This looks like a good cross-over war game.

Small World Expansions: At $10 apiece, Grand Dames and Cursed! look like cheap ways to spice up the base game for those of us who have been playing like fiends since it came out.

War of the Ring: Although I am a huge Lord of the Rings nut, I’ve never sat down to play this game. I know it won’t get to the table much due to its playtime, but I can’t pass up the chance to marshal the forces of good against evil, or vice versa.

Wits & Wagers Expansion: From what I saw at the 2009 WBC Wits & Wagers game show, these questions are most obscure than ever–perfect!

That Mystery Game I don’t know the name to yet: I’m putting a call out for suggestions. My brother is getting married soon, which means when we meet over at Mom and Dad’s house for Sunday dinner, there will be six of us (Mom, Dad, brother, his wife, Sara, and me). I’m looking for a light game that can be played in 60-90 minutes for a group of six people that like to play Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan. Any titles come to mind?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about my wishlist or have you share your own.

Gaming in a Power Outage

September 28, 2009

After a glorious first few weeks of September, autumn arrived in earnest this weekend, bringing with it cold rain and strong winds. On Sunday, an unusually strong gust knocked a branch off our neighbor’s tree, bringing it crashing down on the power line.  And just like that, the whole block was without power from 6-11 PM.

Joe was already on his way over to play a few games, and I didn’t feel a little darkness would get in the way of our playing. I hurried around the house grabbing candles from the bedroom and living room.  Joe arrived as night fell, and we lit the candles, placed them on the edges of the dining room table, and sat down to play.


Joe smirks--he's won.

The evening marked the first time I played games in my new house. It was built in 1928, and as we played Manoeuvre and Small World, I thought about all people who had sat down in the dining room in decades past with Monopoly, Risk, and other games. Outside, the wind lashed the branches of our trees, but it only provided quiet background noise as we moved figures across the board and rolled dice. Of course, the candlelight made it a little difficult to see the games, but it wasn’t too much of a hindrance. Instead, I would say that our experience was greatly enhanced by the warm, flickering light illuminating our Napoleonic regiments and sword and sorcery civilizations. It made me think about all the people throughout the centuries who have gathered at tables similar to my own, holding conversations over a light game.

*     *     *

It would still be a travesty to let my candlelight musings stop me from reporting on the games themselves, however! In Maneouvre, I played my favorite side, the Ottomans, on a relatively open map against Joe’s Prussians. I lost my 1st Janissaries early on in the game, once again not seeing the danger of an encirclement until it was too late. However, my Ali Pasha’s Cavalry really fired up in the mid-game, and they were responsible for three of the four Ottoman kills. I did my best to cycle quickly through the deck, discarding cards that weren’t immediately useful and hunting for knockout combinations (outlined in this post). Joe played his deck a bit more conservatively, which meant he had control of when the game ended. He made some gains on my right, while I got hung up on my left, attempting to destroy units instead of take territory.

The game ended with a nightfall victory on Joe’s part. He had control of seven of my squares, while I had control of six of his. In my final turn, I killed a unit and thought I had the victory, but Joe took his time and found the one move that would give him the win. It was one of the most intense Manoeuvre sessions I’ve had, and it was a nice way to return to the game after a 1.5 month hiatus.

Our session of Small World was a bit less intense, but still fun. Sara declined to play so we set up the two-player map and began. I opted for seafaring trolls and quickly marched my way across the map, grabbing the three water spaces (although placing stone troll lairs on oceans stretched my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point). Joe opted for alchemist skeletons in the early game and went after most of the lost tribes. I’ve only played with him once, and he surprised me by attacking some of my mountain troll lairs early on to slow me down.

In response, I declined the trolls and picked up berserker elves. Now he had no chance to grow his Skeleton army as my elves couldn’t be killed. I went right for him, doing  damage until he declined, picking up mounted wizards instead. My response was to pick up underworld Amazons, and it just so happened that he had taken three of the four underworld spaces. I overwhelmed the wizards, but when we counted up at the end, he won 84-79.

This session showed me how tight the race economy can be in a two-player game. In all three cases, I paid in a significant number of points to pickup what I perceived to be more powerful races. I ended up spending eight or nine points to do so, whereas if I hadn’t, I might have won the game anyway. On the other hand, Joe paid very little (three points the whole game) to pick up his races, and this contributed significantly to his victory.

*     *     *

Despite losing both games, it was an fun evening. Enjoying two games by candlelight in my new home while the wind blew fiercely outside was immensely satisfying, and I always enjoy Joe’s company. Despite his immense talent for these types of games, he never takes them too seriously, and there’s a lot of laughter at the table when he’s around.

You Ruined My Fun

September 18, 2009

I had just turned off the TV wondering what I was going to do next when my wife asks me, “Want to play Small World?”  I excitedly said, “Of course!”  So we set up the game and she says, “You start.”

I take Bivouacking Ghouls.  The Bivouacking special power serves no purpose here, but ghouls are too good to pass up – especially when I don’t have to pay for them.  She goes for Stout Giants knowing it will allow her a free decline, saving herself a turn.  I go into decline on my second round and she continues to expand.  An even start.

I then take Swamp Skeletons and am able to expand both my races.  She plays the giants once more then puts them in-decline.  She realizes my skeletons are spreading across the board like wild fire.  I’ve taken all the Swamps so I’m  getting lots of coins per turn.  She takes Berserk Elves to wipe out my tokens, but the dice aren’t rolling her way.  After a few unsuccessful turns, she switches to Commando Amazons.  I take significant losses, but it’s too late to make a difference; the undead have ravaged the lands.

I start counting my points.  She says, “You scored more than me every round*, do we need to count them?”  We count anyway; I win 131 to 71.  She says I’ve ruined her fun.  No second match tonight.

My first game of Small World was two weeks ago with John and 3 other newbies.  I instantly liked it.  I’ve been borrowing the game from him for the last couple of weeks.  Most of the games I’ve played since have been 2 player with my wife.  Her hobbies and mine don’t mesh all that well, but we’re competive people and board games give us a pretty equal playing field.

A couple nights after my first game, I teach her how to play.  Our first game is very close, I beat her by a mere 4 or 5 coins.  We play again now that she has the hang of it. After scoring 20 coins in one turn she goes on to beat me by almost 30.  I realize some flaws in my initial strategies.  A few days later we play twice more.  I beat her in both games, both are fairly close in score.

However, as I’ve been playing, I’ve been analyzing my plays, looking at how the different races/powers work in the start or end game.  After these 2p and the notorious 3p match my strategies are sound.  She has been playing more casually: she still maximizes her score each round, but sometimes at a cost on future turns.  The result is the match above.**

What can I do?  I really like playing this game***, but I can’t let her win – she and I both wouldn’t enjoy that.  How do I handicap a game without it seeming like pity?

So far I’ve come up with a couple options:
1. Pick the special power/race combo that seems least strategic.
2. Pick the last combo (costs 5 coins) available each time regardless.
I can still analyze and strategize with what I’m given.

Any other suggestions? Have you found this in other games with your gaming partner(s)?  What have you tried?

*Actually in turn 2 when I put my ghouls in decline I scored 5 to her 6, but who’s counting?
** I was also probably reeling from the night before.  John and three other friends stopped by to game.  My 2p strategies clearly don’t work the same with the larger map and additional races to contend with.  I come in dead last.  A little over 60 points while the other 4 score 80-100+.  There were two lost tribe tokens that lasted most of the game – one until the end.  I think if we had kept track, I may have beaten the lost tribes score…maybe.
*** Hoping Santa brings Small World with the newly announced expansions… if I still have a gaming partner to play this with by then.