Just some babbling on my part about a week+ loaded with gaming, my travels to one of Maryland's bastions for fine gaming (and tasty beer), the people I met along the way, and possibly some little mini-reviews of the stuff I got to play for the first time.
I'm back, baby. I'm back.
Memorial Day is always a huge gaming weekend for us locally as we all try to take advantage of the break and squeeze in gaming. Gaming time is a precious commodity for me and my peoples so when the opportunity comes, we jump all over it like savage dogs.
I did worry my aforementioned peoples by having Wallenstein set up as they were coming in at my brother's house. Understand that these guys are pretty much hardcore ATers. If they even get a whiff of cube confusion, it is a war to get them involved in the game. It didn't help once they saw that the game itself was purely in German. Like a good game teacher, I had printed out all the nice English player sheets from the Geek, so we all had turn and action summaries and were ready to go.
It was a bad sign as my good friend Brian slapped down all his action cards randomly in the very first season...not a great sign that these guys were going to be too into this. Thankfully that quickly changed as all of them became engrossed in the game once they saw how things played out. I probably should have run through one 'practice' season just so they could've seen how everything worked, but first games don't count for anything anyway.
Being the good conflict-headed gamers that we are, there was much bloodshed--or at least as much bloodshed as cube soldiers allow, anyway. They were at first convinced the cube tower was a huge, unneccessary gimmick, but by the end they acknowledged that it was a gimmick, but not an unneccesary one.
In the end Johnny took home the bacon with 39 points, we had two at 36, I had 35, and my brother 33. Johnny made a good play near the end where he struck at one of my richer provinces, forcing me to march and retake that province rather than strike at him and take more points from him. I blame random turn order for that one...his play didn't net him any points ultimately but it kept me from taking points from him. Well done. In the end, it got a big thumbs up from everybody and we'll probably be playing this one again very soon.
After that we squeezed in a couple of old favorites, Shadows Over Camelot and Mall of Horror. Shadows was a crushing victory for the knights as for like the fifth consecutive time in a row, no Traitor card ended up being dealt out. The odds of this are staggering. It was clear about three turns in that we had no Traitor as everyone was playing full bore and we manhandled the game mercilessly, ending up with I think only two black swords. And no, we didn't cheat, but without a Traitor the game is pretty much little challenge unless you just get a run of nasty black cards (we didn't).
Mall of Horror was the usual backstabby fest, we don't really know any other way to play it. I hung on to till the last turn but was outmaneuvered and both my remaining guys died a gruesome death. Johhny won (AGAIN), so clearly we're just going to have to team up on him next time by feeding him to the zombies early and often.
That ended our Saturday session, but my brother and I got together again late Sunday to fit in another old favorite, Star Wars: The Queen's Gambit. We originally thought of running War of the Ring but when it came time to head to his house I couldn't find my binders with the player aides in them. Anyway, I took the Trade Federation against his puny Naboobians. This time I wanted to go for another strategy--have Maul attack as much as possible at first (of course), but after that focusing on the Palace as much as humanly possible.
I had him down to three mains holed up in the Throne Room, so the strategy worked pretty well but I ran out of prospects to kill them and was having to generated Destroyers, teleport them from the Battlefield, and march them slowly upstairs--a *really* inefficient prospect all the way around. He had a run of foul luck with Anakin's dice that kept me in it longer than it should have, but in the end Anakin finally punched through and Jeremy picked up his first deuce playing Queen's Gambit. I still really enjoy the game but I think the endgame with the dicing off for Anakin soured him a bit, enough so that he said he could never put the game "in his top 10".
We hit a flea market on Memorial Day, and I found a boxed copy of Forward to Richmond that was in great shape, with very minor box damage. It look barely used, and it cost me $3. Maddeningly enough I was doing an inventory and found that while the box stated 260 chits, there were only 259 in the box. That was weird as everything was bagged and looked like it had been taken well care of, so I doubt the previous owner even realized it was missing. This was an old-school game too so there was no detailed break-down of what the chits mix should be. I did verify that I had all the brigade commanders and that each of them had named brigades to command. Hopefully the missing chit is just one of the hidden movement markers or one of the health counter chits.
I did enjoy reading the rules and history on this battle. I've found myself more interested in wargames lately, and being interested in that game usually leads to an interest in the period or history of that game. I was never a big fan of history in school, in fact I hated it. I guess they just needed a proper way to frame it so I would find it of interest....in boardgame form! The rules to Richmond aren't too bad so I think this will actually get played.
After that, it was on to Maryland.
I had made contact via Fortress: Ameritrash with some gamers in the area--namely, folks you'll find right here on Fortress: Ameritrash contributing everyday either via the forums or articles. There was of course F:AT co-founder Malloc who invited me to a Wednesday night gaming session and Kingput, IguanaDitty, and Dogmatix who promised some Friday gaming action.
Wednesday was one of Bobby Tweaks' raucous game nights, and his game room was literally filled with wall-to-wall gaming. There was also some incredibly good beer on hand. I saw Age of Napoleon going on nearby and a table full at the far end playing a card-based conflict game that I didn't catch the name of. Rob, Kingput, Malloc and I sat down for some Twilight Imperium: 3rd Edition. (Astute BGGers will probably have seen the two session reports that were filed on this one.) I was the Sardak'Norr and though I had played twice with the expansion, we had never used the alternate strategy set so I was pretty unfamiliar with the new strat cards. Seriously, I often took longer picking a strat card than I did executing actions, and I made several mistakes by missing out on some great secondary actions that would have benefitted me.
I stayed in the mix for most of the game. Kingput grabbed a planet that was on our border more or less and when the time was right I used Warfare II and took the system by force. I didn't have enough ground troops to take both planets and paid the price when he used a card to destroy my Dreadnaught flagship that had my leader on board. I claimed the public objective for destroying three ships and I also had the 1 VP artifact now.
We were sitting at 3-2-1-0 on the VP track, with Malloc in the lead, myself in second, Rob in third and Kingput last. Rob had made a move into my turf and that screwed me all up--I had to abandon points claming and deal with the threat. I made an overly aggressive move and Rob used a Strategic Retreat card to do an end-around on me and the result was that he was blockading one of my established Space Docks (this is what gave him his first VP). I had mobilized another fleet and was going to wipe him out, keeping a careful eye on his other fleet that seemed poised to use Wormholes to strike at homeworlds.
We knew Malloc had to be dealt with as he was holding Rex. Rob and I came to a verbal agreement to end hostilities to deal with him but it was too late. In a flurry of actions he bought by using the Winnu's racial tech to outwait everyone else, he accomplished his secret objective and one more of the public objectives, putting him at 6 points. We had earlier agreed to play only to seven due to what had seemed like was shaping up to be a long game. Before we could do anything about Malloc's mad point grab, he took Bureaucracy, revealed a new public objective that he instantly qualified for, and won the game. We were all stunned--literally in a few minutes the score went from 3-2-1-0 to 7-2-1-0. Total game time: 2.5 hours. Malloc had stolen the game like a thief in the night while we were all embroiled in our own local squabbles. Well done, Malloc, the pwnage was quite impressive.
Next I found myself somewhere I never thought I would--sitting in front of a Crokinole board. Malloc had bought his brother this gorgeous new board with this great "National Bohemian" design...it was an awesome, awesome board. They needed a fourth and I was hesitant but joined in anyway, thinking "at least it will be over quickly."
Naturally it was I who kept asking for "one more game". With beers in hand we were slinging disks, talking more shit than you could possibly imagine, and just having an incredible amount of fun. For some reason we started doing the world's worst Austrailian accents and following THAT up with some equally bad Canadian-accented "Strange Brew" quotes. Though my teammate and I stayed in both games up until the end, Malloc and his brother took both of our play-to-100 games. I sucked, yeah, but I did my part by sinking a few 20-pointers here and there and occasionally making a good shot. So somehow I found a dexterity game that I actually LIKED and it costs $200+ for a nice board...typical.
Then we wanted to play one more even though it was 1 am. I tried to talk them into Power Grid because that's a pretty sweet Euro, but they thought it would run too long. Ultimately they picked Rheinlander. My feelings on that one: "Meh." Pretty much play some cards, try to get a sort of area majority going, score some points. A few chances for screwage maybe...but overall not a game I'm going to be hunting down. The Face-to-Face version certainly has nice bits and the plastic Dukes might fool you, but you've been warned. I might try it again someday just to see if it was the lateness involved that kept me from digging this one, as on the Euro front I generally like Knizia's games.
That wrapped up Wednesday's session, and it was on to Friday. Kingput and I met up and we took off for IguanaDitty's house. Dogmatix met us there so we had some four-player gaming going on. First up was the one that we'd planned on, and that was the new reprint of Blackbeard. As I posted in the forums, Blackbeard is a game that just sort of happens to you. With four players, the anti-pirate actions were hot and heavy every turn. At one point I was convinced I had the worst case of Scurvy and VD imaginable as I'd sailed into port to cure it, pulled back out, and BAM! I got hit with it again.
"Don't trust her, lads! She has the itchy crotch, she does! ARRRRRR!"
The game was pretty much on turbo given how quickly we were burning through the deck...Storms at Sea and New Governors just kept coming out at what seemed a ridiculous pace. In the end, the Fickle Finger of Fate card forced us to pass hands to the left, and Kingput sent me a card that essentially allowed me to retire. Once you do that you get a buttload of points, and as soon as I could I did so, netting a large 25 point boost. Not long after that we hit the game-ending event card for the second time, and I won handily.
Blackbeard, man...there are a billion actions you can possibly take (but you end up pretty much moving, going to port, or attacking Merchant ships) and everything you do--everything the game does--has you chucking dice. EVERYTHING. How much booty did you get? Roll it. Where are the new governors coming in? Roll 'em. Where are the merchant ships coming out? Roll 'em. I really, really enjoy dice in my games, but this is one that just sort of has a game tagging along with all those dice. It was definitely an "experience game" as you hang on for the ride and see what happens. I don't feel the need to own it and I wouldn't pass up a game if some other people wanted to play, but it didn't light a pirate fire under my ass or anything like that. Dogmatix said there was a "long game" variant that would've probably helped, as it really did feel like the game just started when we were suddenly nearing the endgame. With four players slapping out tons of anti-pirate actions, we were burning through the deck in quick succession, so maybe that would've helped. As it stood it really was a pirate game on speed that took you for a quick ride and oh hey, at the end we'll declare a winner somehow.
Next was one I was definitely looking forward to and that was Starcraft. I hadn't played it before but I'm a FFG and plastic whore so I knew this game and I would cross paths someday. Kingput ended up stealing victory by accomplishing his alternate win condition, though he was raking in five points per turn so even with the increased 20-point win threshold imposed on the game, he still would've locked it up the next turn.
Dog and I ended up squabbling over some local territory so neither of us made a move on Kingput until it was too late. In fact, the turn before he won Dog and I had just shook hands on a peace agreement freeing us to stop beating each other up and going after Kingput, but it was too late.
I enjoyed the game but the order system is a bit slippery to wrap your head around at first. The game combines elements from Twilight Imperium, A Game of Thrones, and others while taking a few elements of its own to make the game more distinctive. Blocking orders became a key play, and I made a key rules misunderstanding that kept me from doing Build and then Mobilize as I had intended. Johnny from our local game group is thinking of picking this up and I'm going to give him the recommend to do so, I need another game of this to get a better feel of it. I'm feeling pretty positive about it as it plays quickly, has plenty of direct conflict, great bits, and seems like it would scale really well. This could end up being our alternate epic space battle game when we don't have time for TI3, time will tell.
With that, I took Kingput back to his car at about 2 am, but not before I managed to drive us in circles a couple of times trying to find the right road. I think he was beginning to believe he'd see the sun come up before I got him back to his car. He sleepily staggered out to his car as I bid him farewell, and the next morning my flight took me back home, away from a magical land filled with lots of beer, great people, and a shitload of gaming.