Compounded, Forbidden Desert, and Up Front!

I played three different new-to-me games in the past week. I'm in the midst of my transition out of routine board gaming and into the daily (awesome) grind of football coaching. Gotta get gaming in while I can.

Compounded

First up was a game I Kickstarted called Compounded. Given the chemistry theme you might think this is an educational game, but it really is just another resource acquisition and set collection game. We had a blast playing it though (four players) and the production quality is stellar. I'm not sure of all the differences between the current retail version and what I got via Kickstarter so don't be surprised if things look a bit different.

A brief description of the game:

  • Players collect raw elements as their base resource (hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, calcium, and sulfur). These elements are usually randomly drawn from a bag and occur with frequency (ostensibly related to natural occurring frequency, e.g. hydrogen much more common than sulfur)
  • You are collecting these elements in order to acquire compounds comprised of these elements
  • The key choices in the game (my opinion) are what compounds to claim and what advancements to take. On each player board is a tracker where you can advance among multiple capability categories. These can bring more elements to the player each turn, allow them to have more claim markers out on compounds, put out more elements on compounds each turn, and allow for more element storage between turns.
  • There are special one shot and permanent improvements that a player can also obtain as a side effect of acquiring a compound or advancing along a research track
  • The game would be a boring min-max engine building puzzle if it weren't for compound volatility. Some compounds don't like to sit on the shelf waiting to be completed and will eventually blow up. Don't ask me to explain how it works thematically that a compound not even started will combust. It is this feature that adds some randomness and risk taking. You can also take advantage of how elements spray out from an explosion to advantage other compounds you've claimed

We played with four and I think opinions were positive if not overwhelmingly so. There's an educational aspect to the game in that the compounds seem to be somewhat accurate in terms of elemental components and structure. At least that's what the chemist in our group claimed.

Forbidden Desert

My family enjoys Forbidden Island as a great cooperative gateway game for kids and adults, so I recently picked up its successor Forbidden Desert. This has a bit more going on without losing the simplicity of the original. Instead of an island sinking into the water you have a desert storm ravaging the terrain. The storm movement brings it's own chaos, and combined with more complexity in how the treasures are discovered the game requires more planning and coordination. We struggled to win our first game on easy level. This is a keeper and should be good with kids.

Up Front - Doug checking rules

If you are a wargamer you've probably had some exposure to the Kickstarter saga surrounding the reprint of have classic game Up Front. I Kickstarted the game and have no expectation of ever getting a copy. But Doug has one and we played last weekend!

Up Front - Chris hand

This is the game that was supposed to evolve and popularize the tactical system in Squad Leader through a few key mechanisms:

  • A better simulation of local combat command by reducing the amount of control the player has. In Squad Leader (and Advanced Squad Leader) each player has god-like visibility and command. Up Front does this by limiting actions to the cards in hand.
  • Increased fog of war along at least two dimensions: you don't always know what terrain you will find as you advance, and you don't know what actions the other player can conduct
  • Economy of actions through hand tension: do I take this one action with a squad and nothing with the others, or do I discard and draw with the hopes of a better hand on next turn?

If this sounds like Combat Commander there's no coincidence -- the inflict of Up Front on CC is obvious. Up Front however fully abstracts out the map and counters - this game is pretty much all about cards. Engagement and range or managed through a relative range calculation as units advance. I get the feeling however that this part of the system could have used more development and refinement as I had a hard time grasping the mechanism and mapping it to some reality.

Up Front - Berserk

Doug and I played the first two scenarios and I loved it. I also won both games but the second scenario should have been a loss. Doug was playing the Russians and had me on the bring of elimination (one more unit kill and it would be an automatic win) but I held on with some fortunate back-to-back attacks. Three or four consecutive kills led to his units going berserk then charging my unit, only to die quickly in close combat.

Thanks Doug for teaching this classic!

Sailing Charter in Greece - Part 12 - Summary and Final Notes

At the top of Mt. Kythnos, Delos

This is the end of the road for my Greece trip log! Just like many of my previous trip logs, it has taken just a short while to get this wrapped up (1 year!).

Here is a list of the 11 posts for this trip:

If you are thinking about arranging a trip like this, make sure you read my post on the planning.

Our next adventure is likely to be a trekking tour of Ireland in 2015. Can't wait.

Sailing Charter in Greece - Part 11 - Poros, Aigina, and return to Alimos

6am! Leaving early to sail from Kythnos to Poros

This is part 11 of my sailing in Greece series. You can find part 10 here.

Our July 4th started very early as we prepared for our 55nm journey to the island of Poros, by far our longest single day passage. We awoke at 5:30am to close hatches and cast off, though we all alternated napping and reading throughout the 7-8 hour journey.

Approaching Poros Town

Poros was a pleasant surprise with a notable contrast in architecture to the Cyclades islands. Here we found mostly red tiled roofs and it felt more Italian than Greek.

Mooring in Poros with help from Michael

There is a vibrant marina scene here with many tavernas, markets, and gift shops along the harbor. The primary strip is on a narrow channel with the Peloponnese staring back at us about 200m away. The flat water with the tall wooded bluffs opposite reminded us of Keuka Lake. Greeting us upon arrival was Michael, a tall swarthy Greek that helps run the nearby Oasis Taverna. He immediately shared with us a Wifi access code as well as a plate of watermelon to cool us off. This is clearly a sales demand generation scheme for his business, but we applaud his gumption and generosity and suspect we may make a visit to the Oasis later.

At a beach on Poros

The marina strip where we moored is at the bottom of a steep slope where you can climb up and over to experience a very different side of the island. Julie and I did just that in the afternoon and found ourselves at a beach resort where we rented two chairs and enjoyed a cold beverage. The swimming was quite nice.

Our boat re-moored in Poros after the anchor broke free

While Julie and I were out hiking, our anchor came free and the rest of our crew helped Vassilis relocate our boat to a side mooring.

View of the mainland from the Poros clocktower

After some afternoon napping, Matthew and I sat down at the Oasis for a drink and a game of Lost Cities. Without the sun bearing down (it was hot earlier) this marina is delightfully cool and breezy. The whole crew then decided to take a pre-dinner hike up to the clock tower for a nice panorama view of the entire channel.

Dinner at the Oasis Taverna in Poros

Dinner at the Oasis is above average and it was especially nice to have Vassilis join us. We are all slightly depressed as we know our adventure is nearly at an end.

Jacob starts us on our journey back to Alimos

The next morning we left Poros at about 8am to sail to Aigina, a resort town within a short distance of Athens so popular for Greeks. We anchored in the harbor and five us swam in about 300m and found some tide pools and cliffs.

Jacob and Matthew are picture perfect at the Aegina cliffs

The water was deep, clear and perfect for cliff jumping. We took turns leaping off the cliff then climbing back up for a repeat.

Chris jumping off a cliff on Aegina

Above you can see a rare photo of me doing something interesting.

Our cozy cabin

We had our last meal on our boat and got very creative in an attempt to finish off our leftovers. We made pasta with a variety of cheeses, Vassilis' chicken dish, and being short on beer we got creative with whiskey cocktails.

In the photo above you can see the cabin that Julie and I share. It had an attached head that doubled as a shower (the whole toilet area doubled as the shower). Not really a living space but more than sufficient for sleeping and storing our gear.

Checking out with Alice Dentes of Seafarer

After a two hour sail we were back in Alimos to "check out" with Alice. We had to return the boat full of fuel and had a fuel supplier try to swindle us by running the meter longer than they were actually filling our tanks. Fortunately Vassilis has a keen eye for this and called them on it, saving us some €.

I'll conclude this Greek travel series in my next post with some summary information and tips on how to arrange an adventure like this.

Sailing Charter in Greece - Part 10 - Rineia, Syros, and Kythnos

At the Taverna on Finikas, Syros

This is part 10 of my sailing in Greece series. You can find part 9 here.

Playing Werewolf anchored in a bay off Rineia

After a long but productive day exploring the treasures of Delos, we set sail from Mykonos for the adjacent island and small bay of Rineia. Here we taught our skipper the addictive social game Werewolf) and had quite a few laughs.

Carving up a shark on Finikas, Syros

We arrived at the sleepy harbor town of Finikas, island of Syros, just before lunch the next day. Our plan was to re-provision and explore the town briefly. Finikas feels like a local Greek resort town, with many Greek families playing on the beach. There were two young boys playing "tennis" with paddles in a marked out court on the sand, even grunting emphatically with each serve.

We found two nice supermarkets and a bakery and we split up to explore in smaller groups. Business seemed slow at the row of tavernas along the beach - is this slow season for them? Perhaps if this is primarily where Greeks go this is a sign of the economic downturn there or maybe high season kicks in later in August.

More fun with fouled anchor lines at Finikas, Syros

Vassilis understandably suggested that we spend the night at Finikas, but we were eager to unwind our bad karma from our first night on the west side of Kythnos where just about everything that could break did. We had some serious anchor line un-fouling to do before leaving Finikas, but once underway it was a short two hour sail to Ag. Stefanou on the eastern side of Kythnos.

Dropping anchor in the bay at Kythnos

Two other boats are running lines onto shore to tie off on trees, but we stick to traditional anchoring though it takes two attempts to get our anchor to take.

Dinner at the Taverna on Kythnos

Most of us decide to hang out on the boat for a while, but Andrew opted to swim to shore and explore. He took a stroll up the access road leading into the hills beyond our eventual dinner location, even finding a nice bottle of thyme-honey wine for later sharing as a reward for his adventurous spirit.

The panga actually worked for our journey to shore and in about 5 minutes we had explored the village. There was a single snack shop on the east end of the bay and a nicer taverna at the other end, about 100m off the beach (on the road Andrew hiked out of town). The meal was fantastic in presentation and taste. We had some Kythnos specialities such as fried cheese balls, Greek salad, spicy pork, lamb with lemon, and meatballs. A few of us finished the meal with a chilled grappa, a perfect end to another fantastic Greek island day. Oh, and the panga motor held up for our return ride to the boat.

Our next and final stop before returning to Athens will be Poros, an island unlike any we have visited so far in the Cyclades.

Sailing Charter in Greece - Part 9 - Mykonos and Delos

Ship setting sail from Mykonos

This is part 9 of my sailing in Greece series. You can find part 8 here.

Enjoying a drink on the boat in Mykonos new harbour

Mykonos has a reputation:

Mykonos is the great glamour island of the Cyclades and happily flaunts its sizzling style and reputation. The high-season mix of good-time holidaymakers, cruise-ship crowds which can reach 15,000 a day, and posturing fashionistas throngs through Mykonos town, a traditional Cycladic maze, delighting in its authentic cubist charms and its pricey cafe-bar-shopping scene. Read more.

Mykonos has a big boy harbor. We have to use the new port which is near where the cruise ships and big ferries dock. The big plus is that we have a market right across the Main Street where we can re-supply with beer and ice. It is a mile and a half into town but there is a bus stop near us for 1.60€ each.

Windmill in Mykonos Town

The bus drops us off at the old port which still puts us about 1/4 mile away from the main town. I must admit, the town feels touristy, especially the shops and taverns facing the harbor. The description above calling out the maze in old town is apropos -- it is fun to get lost in it! We find a nice Italian restaurant with great pizza, calzone, and salads. We wanted to find some nightlife after that but settled for a pleasant outdoor bar where we have some drinks before walking back. Ah, walking back... 1.5 miles along a harbor-side cliff with no sidewalk -- fun!

When we return to the boat, Vassilis broke the news that there was no way for us to sail ourselves to Delos. This means another day in Mykonos and 17€ ferry tickets.

The pelicans of Mykonos

It is Monday, July 1 and Julie and I walk into town early and find the fabled pelicans of Mykonos)! We also enjoy a coffee and crepe breakfast.

Gassing up the ATVs on Mykonos

Now it is time for adventure. We rent four quads to allow us to easily explore the small island and the beaches on the south coast. We start with a break at the town of Ano Mera to see the Panaga Tourliani monastery. It is common to have strict dress codes for places of worship in Europe but not so here.

From there we visit Kala Livadi and Elia beaches, which are nice but we are more interested in the main tourist beach at Paradise. We stop back in Ano Mera on our way back for lunch, and the tavernas fight for our business!

Fantastic gyro at The Fisherman Taverna at Ano Mera, Mykonos

We settle on the Fisherman taverna and we are not disappointed! Very unique gyros there -- double pitas (like a panini) with their special sauce. We finish our ATV adventure with a 2-3 hour stay at Paradise beach.

King of the Hill at Paradise Beach, Mykonos

This was a very relaxing stop. Laying out in the sun, playing with a ball in the water. We paid for it though - chair plus chair plus umbrella = 12 €.

We had planned to take Vassilis out for a birthday dinner but he surprised us by cooking a late second lunch and a full dinner. The highlight was an eggplant salad. After dinner we strolled down the harbor for a drink and share some Cuban cigars while we walked.

The next day, Tuesday, is our Delos adventure. Our first move is to drive the ladies and Matthew into town on the quads, then double back to drop them off at the rental spot. We convince the driver to take us all the way back into town and meet up with the others who purchased the ferry tickets. We wander the town maze for a bit looking for lunch we can carry with us and score some cheese and ham/cheese sandwiches.

Our guide, Amarylis Grypari, on Delos

We find our guide Amaryllis by the ferry, and we can tell right away that she will be a great guide. The trip to Delos is about 30 minutes.

View form the top of Mt. Kythnos, Delos

We stay in the island from 10:30 to 15:00 and we were engaged every minute. This island is the true archeological and historical treasure of the Cyclades. We most enjoyed the tile mosaics and hiking to the top of Mt Kythnos.

At the top of Mt. Kythnos, Delos

We explore the sanctuary of Zeus then wandered into the museum to see the original Delos lion sculptures.

The Terrace of the Lions also dedicated to Apollo by the people of Naxos shortly before 600 BC, had originally nine to twelve squatting, snarling marble guardian lions along the Sacred Way; one is inserted over the main gate to the Venetian Arsenal. The lions create a monumental avenue comparable to Egyptian avenues of sphinxes. (There is a Greek sphinx in the Delos Museum.) Today only seven of the original lions remain.

Temple of Isis on Delos

We paid our guide 230€ and think it was worth every penny. I advise other travelers to seek our quality guides like Amaryllis when exploring such a world treasure. I've had similar experiences in Jerusalem, China, and now Greece and have never regretted the choice.

In the Sacred Lake Area on Delos

After returning to Mykonos we hastily provision before setting sail for Rineia. We should have taken more time to get some veggies and water. And more beer.

Jacob and Dave working to free the fouled anchor lines - in Mykonos