Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005: My Year of Boardgaming, Part I - The Worst Games

Happy New Year!

2005 was a pretty good year for boardgaming in our circles. For the first time in a while we did not have a regular RPG running, and we managed to meet on most Saturdays for a evening. We averaged 2-3 boardgames a night, spread out around dinner and a lot of conversation. We can only hope 2006 is just as good, if not better, gaming-wise.

So, some lists. Let's start with the BAD.

The Shit List: 5 Games played in 2005 that I'd rather not play again

5. Reef Encounter

This game would also win my "Greatest Disappointment" award, if I gave one out. After anticipation at getting it due to all the good comments from my online buddies, I got to try it on spielbyweb. Ick. Even online, a format which the game is well-suited to, the clunkiness and patchwork mechanisms oozed through my monitor. I tried it once face to face (and hey, the Z-Man edition is pretty) and it was far worse. No rhythm. No soul. No more plays for you RE.

4. Niagara

Another example of a game with no soul. Niagara couldn't hold my attention for five turns, much less a whole game. I can't pinpoint anything particularly wrong with it, but I can't see anything right with it at all. There's just nothing fun or interesting about Niagara. Whiff, the SdJ strikes out with me again.

3. Roborally

This was... painful. Richard Garfield's "other game" got the reprint treatment from Hasborg in 2005, but it's one reprint that I wouldn't have minded getting passed over. Roborally is a chaotic mess, and one that I personally consider unplayable due to this. If you have no control, what's the point?

2. Shadows over Camelot

Proof that "gimmick games" don't work. SoC's gimmick is the mechanism stolen from Werewolf - having a secret traitor working against the team. How is this supposed to work if all the other players work together? The game depends on conflict between the players. In a group agreeable to designating a leader (who makes final decisions and breaks impasses) and everyone else cooperating completely, the traitor does not have a chance. In the end, it's all in the luck of the cards.

1. Wallenstein

I don't get it. I just don't. The silly cube tower is the absolute worst resolution mechanism I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing. There is no way to calculate odds, and it doesn't make any sense! You have armies going into the tower, and some getting stuck there, and those stuck armies can fight in another battle on the other side of the map? What the hell? Stupid, stupid, stupid. Add that to the tepid area-majority mechanism of Wally and you get the worst game to ever race the BGG Top 10. It's even worse than Settlers, which is saying a LOT.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

Just wanted to wish anyone reading this blog a very Merry Christmas. May God bless you all and your families, and keep you safe through the holidays and into the new year.

No gaming for me until Monday, the 26th. The gaming group is planning to meet up in the afternoon for another game of Die Macher. And here I am with the notes from last game yet to be put into session report form. Oh well. Can't think of many better ways to spend half of a day off of work than to dive once again into the German electoral process.

Also, no games for me this Christmas. Receiving Die Macher, Keythedral, Capitol and Flandern on loan is gift enough. I might get to score a couple in Hong Kong in January from Alan Kwan's store. Hopefully, they'll have something I want (Merchants of Amsterdam?).

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Vasel & Santa

For all the crap on the www that gets tossed Tom Vasel's way for whatever reason, this is one of the most interesting things to happen on boardgamegeek that I've seen:

Tom's Secret Santa Thread

It's amazing for three things:

1) Over 200 people signed up to send a game, blind, to someone else regardless of geographical location. This all happened in a few hours.

2) There is no guarantee that you're going to get a game back. Tom worked eight hours to match people up, and he still missed some. People don't seem to really care.

3) People are having fun just scheming to send gifts out, and then some.

Tales of the Secret Santas

So, by posting a single thread on the Geek, Tom created sales for 200+ games and an equivalent amount of postage and delivery out of nothing. And people are happy to send out games because they know that the recepient is a boardgame geek like themselves. I think that even if you don't get a game back (possible) the giddiness of sending out something that brings joy is worth the $50 or so.

If I didn't live on the other side of the world, I'd be doing the same thing. Maybe next year.

Good show Mr. Vasel, good show.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Thoughts on Die Macher

Yes, we played Die Macher on Saturday night despite my zonked out state from partying the previous evening (and into the morning of Saturday). Session report to follow, including some bits about "double dong". In the meantime, thoughts on the game:

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TRUE: Die Macher is takes a bit of time to play. It's four simultaneous elections for four turns, then 3, 2 and 1 for the last three turns. Three hours is a good time once everyone is familiar with the gameflow, timing and mechanisms.

FALSE: Die Macher is a heavy game. It isn't. The rules are pretty simple, and it flows well. Once the relationships of the mechanisms are clear, you know what you are able to do. It's the choices you make with your resources that put the tension and enjoyment into the game.

TRUE: There isn't anything like Die Macher out there. With the aggressive streamlining that game developers put into games, the direction has turned away from epic-scale 3-4 hour games in the Euro arena. Reiner tries to keep his games around an hour long, for example. So it's likely that Macher will stand alone - a Eurogame that's truly epic in its feel, with unusual length, but retaining the elegance of a well-developed, polished product. Contrast with the longer indy games of today (say, the Splotter stuff, or Caylus to a lesser extent) which may be epic in playing time but lack the elegance and polish of Macher.

FALSE: There's too much luck in the opinion polls. This is the only knock I've heard about Macher's mechanisms. The poll has a bit of luck in it, sure. Too much to overcome? No. The poll attacks your trend at a single point in time. If you refuse to allow yourself to be vulnerable to it in an important region, you can covert party meetings way before the region becomes current. Or you can bid enough to win the poll. Or you can control the media and immunize yourself. Getting whacked early in the game hurts a bit, but there's an entire game to catch up. With coalitions, no one is ever completely out of it.

TRUE: This is the Grand Shit Poohbah of German Gamers' Games. People who like Puerto Rico, The Princes of Florence, Goa and Amun-Re should seek out Die Macher. It's a 9 by my BGG ratings right now. With more play, it should ascend to a 10 eventually.

FALSE: The won't be an English edition because Die Macher cannot be rethemed and I can't imagine a game this heavy, themed on the German electoral system, generating enough sales to justify and English edition. If you're looking for a good example of theme-to-mechanisms integration, Macher has it in spades. It took a while to understand the "overhang" seats, but now I can explain it and talking about the theme as you teach the game makes it so much easier to digest. So, those who are inclined to own and play it will seek out the German 2nd edition, which isn't all that hard to find in Germany as I understand it. I know I'll continue to do so.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Curse of Quality vs Quantity

By all indications I possess a very reasonable (you might even say pitiful) game collection. I have 67 games listed in my collection on Boardgamegeek. Of those games, I would describe just 40 as "active" - i.e., a possibility on game night. This list includes all of my Eurogames, includinig my two Cheapass games (Falling and the set of Brawl decks), my lone AH game (Republic of Rome) and exactly one CCG (Magic: the Gathering). To these 40, I add nine games I have on loan: Die Macher, Flandern 1302, Capitol, Keythedral, Evo, Vinci, Carcassonne, The Settlers of Catan and Cosmic Encounter.

Wait. Let's take out the last three because they don't have an ice cube's chance in hell of seeing the game table, because we don't like them at all.

So, I have 46 games available for game night. Most of these games play in two hours - the usual meaty Euro like Princes of Florence, Torres, Puerto Rico, Taj Mahal or Amun-Re. Some run longer, like Java, Louis XIV and La Citta, or shorter, like Modern Art, Royal Turf, Samurai and RA. I have precious few fillers - King's Breakfast, High Society, Falling and Brawl. And I have a handful of "event games" - those games that need to be scheduled and take a whole night - Die Macher, Republic of Rome and Magic: the Gathering (usually a booster draft).

Now, my game group likes playing games repeatedly. If I did a "5 and 10 list" we would have several of the meatier games on there, and almost none of the lights. In a regular game night, lasting from around 7pm to 3am, we would play 2 to 3 games. If we play 3/4ths of the Saturdays in a year, that would be 39 game nights. Let's say 40. So that's 120 games, max. Let's say we play the "event games" at least 20 nights. (Likely 12 x Macher, 6 x MtG, 2 x RoR.) That leaves 100 games.

There's no way we don't play Puerto Rico, Princes of Florence, Euphrat & Tigris, Modern Art, Traumfabrik, Clash of the Gladiators, RA and Taj Mahal less than 12 times in a year. No way. Those are our group 9s and 10s. They are asked for and get played. That's 96 games estimated. That leaves 4 plays for everything else. Now let's say that we get 6 "extra game nights" in a year, due to holidays or whatever. That yields an additional 18 games, for available time for 22 games.

22. Just 22 plays to share among such amazing games as Torres, Amun-Re, Pueblo, In the Shadow of the Emperor, Maharaja, Samurai, Goa, Java, Mexica, Through the Desert, Colossal Arena, and Power Grid. And this is assuming we get plays of fillers like Bluff, High Society and -ick- Bohnanza (when there are nongamers around) "between the cracks".

My friends also have games. They bring and ask to play other very nice games like Traders of Genoa, Ingenious, Lord of the Rings, Acquire.... ok, I won't play Acquire, but the math is clear.

I've hit the limit. I'm starting to accumulate unplayed games. Magna Grecia, a game I'm dying to play, has languished unplayed for three months. The borrowed Capitol and Keythedral are still in shrink. I'm planning to purchase Beowulf and Clippers from the FLGS, but I hesitate. I HAVE GAMES UNPLAYED. Shit.

That means I've hit critical mass with my very good to great games. Which sort of makes sense because my BGG Wishlist is very thin now - just waiting for Knizia classics to be reprinted (Medici and Stephenson's Rocket). My current game collection can keep my gaming group sustained for a full year without getting stale. That means I can be very selective in what I purchase and add to the shelf.

In a way, it feels good to realize this. This tells me that:

1) I'm no collector. I don't care if I don't have Game X and Y and Z because if we won't play them, they're not worth having.

2) I can wait on games. I don't need to get Caylus now because it won't see any table time if Magna Grecia is any indication. Give everyone else time to try it out and wait for the hype to die down so a good reading can be taken. Most of the games we enjoy are the older ones that I had the luxury of researching on the Geek. I have no total dogs (though For Sale was a very close call) and just a few mild disappointments - games that turned out to be just good, not great (Power Grid, Santiago and La Citta).

3) A game my group *really* likes is one that breaks into "the rotation" of titles that see the table a dozen times (at least) in a year. Everything else is "just ok" and will get 3 to 4 plays in a year. Not bad, but certainly not very good.

4) I'm very close to "completing" my Eurogame library. I have almost every title I want. There's the small matter of a few hard to finds (Macher and 1830 primarily) and a few smaller games (Intrige, to be Englishized by Mayfair in 2006 so that's solved). I want to have some of the Gipf series (YINSH, TAMSK, PUNCT) but those will be likely shelf-sitters like LOTR:TC since we almost ever have just 2P.

5) There are such things as "classics" in Eurogames. E&T, PR, PoF, RA, Torres, Modern Art, Macher, Taj Mahal, Traumfabrik, Clash of the Gladiators - none of these games were made in the last 3 years. So, faced with a choice between buying an older game vs a newer game, always go with the older game (likely a reprint). The new stuff hasn't really been up to the high standards of the old stuff.

6) It takes a lot to impress me now. I'm jaded, just like Solko and Siggins. It's a good thing because it reins in my wallet. It's not a good thing because I'm likely close to seeking out a new hobby because, perhaps, I now know them too well.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

It Can Only be Magic

(This was from a game night way back in October - it just took this much time to finish writing up the thing. - Rick)

Saturday night gaming at The Lily Pad rolled around, and my first words through the door were "let's draft!"

This could mean two things - either we were going to get our NBA fantasy basketball league draft going, or we were going to follow through on plans made the previous week.

The Frog pulled four chairs up to the table, and grabbed shiny packs from a box. Erik, Annie and I took the other three spots, and ripped open brand new Ravnica boosters.

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I hadn't played Magic: the Gathering in years except for a duel or two here and there with other peoples' constructed decks. Erik and The Frog still played Type I on occasion, just to put their power stuff through the paces. The Frog got the bug a couple of weeks ago and sprang for a box of the newest MtG expansion.

The smell of opening a new booster brought back great memories when MtG was THE game for all of us. The smell was a little off though, sort of muted. The Frog told me that they had shifted production from Carta Mundi, long the printer for MtG, back to North America. I guess the strong Euro had something to do with that.

I pulled out the cards and flipped through the art. I'd been away a long time - no more Richard Kane Ferguson, no more Drew Tucker, no more Phil Foglio, no more Brian Snoddy. The art was still very good though, always a hallmark of MtG. A lot of the abilities were new, but true to form the ability text was usually on the card.

With that in mind, we began to draft.

Booster draft remains my favorite limited format, over Sealed Deck (unmitigated luck) and Rochester Draft (slow). Allowing for a bit of time to read the cards, we accelerated the pace. Ravnika is a set that explored cards with two colors. It used to be that these were Legends; not anymore, though many of the two-color cards are pretty nice.

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Since I was definitely rusty, I defaulted to a removal/creature strategy, which meant either red or black for the removal and green or white for the critters. I didn't want to fiddle with tricky blue magic. Luckily, I got to draft some red cards, and some white cards. There wasn't a lot of good red removal early, but I took a couple of decent ones - Fiery Conclusion, which is a Goblin Grenade for all critters, and Galvanic Arc, an enchantment that fired a Lightning Bolt when you brought it into play. It would turn out that the first card I took overall, a red/white Legend named Agrus Kos, would be the strongest creature in my deck.

The second pack gifted me with the uncommon Lightning Helix, a combination Lightning Bolt and Healing Salve. This round also provided most of my useful creatures in both colors, including more of the pretty strong red/white Boros Legion.

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The last pack provided two more big cards. One was very cool, but fairly unplayable - the Boros Archangel, Razia. The other was more important: the special land Sunhome, which gave a creature the double strike ability. It cost 4 mana to activate, but in a limited environment that usually wasn't prohivitive. (Unlike, say, Razia's 8 casting cost).

Construction time. I put in all of the red/white creatures I drafted, and a few choice reds and whites (the whites mostly for their flying ability). I also decided to play with the Crown of Convergence even if I had no green mana sources in my deck - even if I couldn't cycle my deck, the +1/+1 the Crown would grant would occur more than usual due to my two-color creatures. As usual, I toed the line with mana sources, going with a pretty low 14/40. My deck's mana curve was reasonable, with a couple of goblins and assorted smaller creatures to back up the 4s and 5s. If I manascrewed once in a 3-duel match, it would be ok.

We paired off.

Round 1: Rick vs. Annie

Annie was running a black and blue bruise deck that had a fair number of flyers and some nasty black creatures. This match was all about the Boros Trumpeteer, one of my red/white critters. It had the ability to prevent a creature from attacking or blocking, which helped immensely as Annie's deck threw out creatures fairly quickly. Argrus Kos appeared in both duels, and the match was mine. Rick 2-0.

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Round 2: Rick vs Erik

Erik had a fun critter-filled green/white deck that had token creatures as a side-theme. I saw this firsthand in the initial duel as I got steamrolled due to slow mana development even after one mulligan. In the second duel, Erik got going quickly again but I had some removal. The Galvanic Arc and the Lightning Helix appeared, and my creatures held out long enough for Sunhome to appear. With enough mana to operate it, and with multiple creatures enhanced by the Crown of Convergence and Agrus Kos, even Erik's fat green creatures could not hold out for long. The third duel saw Sunhome appear again, and featured Razia for the first (and only) time that evening. Rick 4-1 duels, 2-0 matches

Round 3: Rick vs The Frog

Frog had lost his matches with Erik and Annie, so he wasn't feeling to confident about his black/green deck. All I recall here is that it went fairly quick. My deck's mana curve kicked in nicely and I won both duels without the help of Agrus Kos or Razia.


My red/white deck was very powerful. In a booster draft, if you can get away with drafting a lot of the Boros cards, do so (though no one should let you). Sunhome in particular was impressive, as double strike combines with first strike to steamroll. The direct damage is expensive (Helix) and unconventional (Conclusion) or both (Galvanic Arc) but in general it is still potent.

Apparently, with a Grand Prix in December we will get to draft again. I dump boardgames in a heartbeat to do that. Even a game of Princes of Florence. :)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Game night - 3 December 2005

I had been thinking and dreaming of Die Macher all week. I was raring to give it another go. However, real life laid a chop block on me, and I had to turn in three straight 17 hour days at work due to expected snafus. Ironically, my successful entrepreneur buddy and game night host The Frog also had a hellish week due to the holiday rush. We were both trashed come Saturday night, so when Nix arrived just recovering from being downed by an allergy, we decided that Macher wasn't something that we were going to do justice to.

So we picked something lighter.

In the Shadow of the Emperor (4P)

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Yet another influence game. Quick rules review and we were off. Nix got to be Emeperor, and spent the next three turns defending his seat by snarfing up as many of the Emperor election cards as possible. Church influence was strong as he held Trier, and the empire cities gave him leverage elsewhere. G was concentrating on hanging on to Mainz and buying a VP each turn (which she got to do 4 times). Of course, the requisite game of musical chairs was ongoing. The Frog got caught without a chair for a couple of turns, which weakened his standing. We finally broke Nix's strangehold by voting The Frog as emperor on the fourth turn, but serious damage had already been done. Nix finished the game by building out, I decided to take a couple more electorates, and the endgame was close.

Nix: 20
Rick: 20
G: 18
The Frog: 14

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In the Shadow of the Emperor is one of the more interesting area majority games, mainly due to the aging of the aristocrats and the entertaining gender selection of descendants. We don't feel that the emperor is especially overpowered, since there is not insignificant opportunity costs associated with hanging on to power. It may be musical chairs, but the ride is pretty damned good.

Okay, so that wasn't as light as was needed. Deej had arrived in the interim, and despite it being past midnight we wanted to get a 5P game in, so we broke out Traumfabrik (still with the modern tiles pasted on).

Dream Factory (5P)

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I was running on fumes at this point. Still, I got to complete the first general entertainment film: Raiders of the Lost Ark with Nicole Kidman and Martin Scorsese at the helm ($180M at the box office). I thought I was in pretty good shape for some awards. Of course, since I was suffering from sleep deprivation I was unable to keep tabs on anyone else. That's pretty much fatal in T-Fab. The Frog, a master of this game even when half-asleep, not only completed the first comedy in the first season ($110M Galaxy Quest with Morgan Freeman), he also trumped me with an even better general entertainment offering - Gladiator with Russell Crowe, helmed by Peter Jackson, raking in $210M at the box office. He also completed a $140M drama - Saving Private Ryan with Halle Berry, Drew Barrymore and Harrison Ford. At the end of the game, The Frog's Dreamworks studio swept ALL the major awards. All of them. Except for the "it's so bad it's good" film which Nix took.

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It's been a long time since I was able to complete four films in T-Fab. Despite that, my Paramount studios only grossed $580M, a distant second compared to the $1.15 billion that Dreamworks raked in.

'Twas a massacre.

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Damn, I thought that this was good enough to challenge for the win.

Oh well. We called it a night while I was still capable of driving home. Next week, we plan to get Die Macher back to the table. My fingers will be crossed.