Sherwood Game Day

Julie and I hosted an all-day gaming event/party at our home in Sherwood on
Dec 13. I invited all of my usual gaming buddies plus the folks over at Rip
City Gamers, a local gaming group. I also took the opportunity to invite a few
folks from work that are into boardgames. The result was about 20 people at
our house from 1pm until the last straggler left around 11pm. There were a
ton of games played. I’ll provide a lot of pictures here along with links
to the games, but I can only provide commentary on the games I played. In the
future I might adopt a system like Greg Schloesser’s – he hands a slip of paper to
each group of players playing a game and has them write a brief summary, final
scores, and player ratings from 1-10 for the game. This makes for much more
complete session reports, and he has some great data to track game quality
(and we love data, right?).

Liar’s Dice

Dave and George showed up promptly at 1pm, so we started with a game of Liar’s
Dice until more folks arrived. Of course as soon as we would start to play,
new people would arrive and so we would stop, explain the rules, and start
over. By the time we actually started the real game, we had 10 people playing
(I used both a Liar’s Dice box and a Perudo set to give enough cups and dice).
To accelerate the game, we played the following variants:

  • If you lose a challenge, you lose a number of dice equal to the delta between the bet and the actual. So if I bet 10 5’s but only 8 are on the board, I lose 2 dice.
  • If the bet is exactly correct (e.g., I bet 10 5’s and there are exactly 10), then all players beside the bettor lose a die.

Some people dropped out quickly due to bad luck (when there are 50 dice in the
game, it isn’t hard to miss by 5 die). The game wrapped up in about 30 minutes
– I think it was down to me and George at the end, with George coming out on
top.

Triple Crown

George brought out this vintage (1988) horse racing game – Dave, Jeremy, and I
joined in. Each player gets a horse and secretly writes down whether he hopes
to win, place, or show in the race. Three races are played in all (hence the
name of the game). Starting gate order is determined randomly for each race.

On each turn, the player with the horse in front (ties go to the horse on the
outside) goes first. The player can choose from any of three dice (slow,
medium, or fast). If you use the slow dice, you get a payoff coupon that pays
a great return for win, place, and slow. The fast die, of course, will get you
farther but with a lower payoff. So the basic idea of the game is to first
decide how aggressive you want to be (your secret goal) then to move at an
optimal speed where you maximize your position and payoff.

There is still the random element of the die roll, and it bit me twice. In two
of the three races, I was three or four spaces away from the finish line. I
made the decision to use a slower die that gave me a 5 in 6 chance of crossing
the finish line but would of course provide a better payoff. Both times I
rolled the lowest number possible, didn’t cross the line, and saw my
opponents’ horses cross in front of me. I ended the triple crown with no
money, and George won the overall crown. I’m no Seabiscuit.

Carcassonne

Kevin and Mike played a game of Carcassonne while Jim watched. Jim is very new
to these sorts of boardgames and is quickly getting indoctrinated. For some
reason my kids don’t enjoy this game so I rarely get to play it. This game
included a huge set of tiles, including Rivers, Inns & Cathedrals, and
Builders & Traders.

Medina

Yes, yet another time where I get to watch someone else play this game without
ever trying it myself. Next time I game with Kevin I’m going to play it!

Kevin, Dave, and Jeremy contemplate their next move in Medina.

Bridges of Shangri-La

This new Uberplay game was brought out – very nice
looking. The game is not getting the best reviews – in fact, some folks on
spielfrieks are saying it is one the bigger disappointments of the year. I
still would like to try it and judge for myself. Jeremy won, followed by
Kevin, Mike and Jim. Mike really likes this game. It is fairly easy to teach,
yet some thought is required. “I find it in the same mold as Trias, another of
my favorites, which also requires some thinking. I guess that is what ‘dry’
means!”

Piratenbucht

Aaarrrgh! This favorite of Matthew’s came out, and I quickly taught Brandon,
Kara, and Kim how to play. For such an apparently simple game, the rules are a
bit complex and there is much to remember. I haven’t yet tried the newer
English language Days of Wonder version.

Puerto Rico

This game started around 1:30pm and went on for at least two hours. I can’t
remember who won, but Jacob told me he finished in last place, way behind the
leader Doug.

Corsairs

I tried to teach this quickly to George, KC, and Kim, then realized I just
hadn’t played enough to have the rules locked down in my head. Luckily KC is
good with rules and quickly caught the rest of the group up. This is an OK
game – fairly simple to play, but it hasn’t come out much since I bought it
last spring.

Metro

Bill brought this transportation game – I’m dying to try it, but didn’t get a
chance this day even though it was played twice.

Settlers of Catan – Cities and Knights

Much of my time was spent playing the Cities and Knights expansion to Settlers
of Catan. I’ve been playing the online version
quite a bit lately and when Bill suggested this I jumped at the chance. So
Julie, Bill, Wendy and I settled down for a game – this expansion can take
quite a while to play – ours lasted around 2.5 hours.

This expansion adds a number of elements to the basic game of Settlers:

  • Periodically the barbarians invade, so players must recruit knights to protect their cities
  • Commodities (essentially finished goods derived from basic resources) are produced from some of the cities in addition to resources
  • Walls can be built that allow players to hold more cards in hand without being robbed
  • Players can use commodities to upgrade their economies, giving additional benefits and potentially granting victory points

Despite the longer playing time, I like this expansion very much. The main
reason is that there are usually more options on each turn. One thing I don’t
like about the basic game is that very often a player has nothing to do on a
turn – not the case in this expansion.

I managed to win the race to 12 victory points. I was awarded a couple
Defender of Catan victory point cards plus I managed to get a Metropolis.

Foppen

I don’t know much about this trick taking game by Friedmann Friese.

For Sale

After Foppen, Jeremy taught For Sale to the same group. Don’t know who won.

Wyatt Earp

I refreshed a few folks on the rules to this great rummy variant (my favorite).

Metro

Metro came out again.

Julie, Bill, Greg (#2), and Wendy play Metro.

New England

I purchased this recently but hadn’t yet played my version – my first and only
play was with the Arizona Boardgamers back in September. It didn’t disappoint
– I really like this game. It is very easy to learn, but I look forward to
exploring different strategies. I initially started to go for a pilgrim
advantage, thinking that the early income would help and if I can maintain the
lead it would be worth some nice victory points. But KC was able to race ahead
so I focused my efforts elsewhere. I got some nice card draws that let me
build 3- and 4- tile configurations, and I jumped into the lead. I thought I
had plenty of breathing room on the last turn, but just in case I built a barn
to pull into a tie for the most with KC and Jim, nullifying their advantage. I
was lucky I did – I only ended up winning by a single victory point over KC.

What the Kids Did Most of the Afternoon

Just had to include this photo. Jacob, Matthew, Brandon, and Kara played some
games early on, then retired to the playroom for some good old fashioned make
believe.

KC’s Prototype: New Eden

This was the highlight of the day for me. KC Humphrey has designed a very good
game that I am eager to play again. I’m running out of time here so I won’t
describe it in full – I hope to play again on Dec 29th, and if I do I’ll write
up a more detailed review.

Players take the role of leaders that are settling and terra-forming a new
planet, competing with each other for geography and agriculture. Players have
farmers and workers – farmers place and harvest farms (surprise), while
workers carry out activities specified on action cards. There are some very
creative mechanics in this game, and the use of action cards as some
interesting choices and great flavor.

KC is a great teacher and was very patient as we picked up the basics and
started to move into strategy and tactics. I managed to win the game, but I
suspect KC was pulling some punches with us newbies. I can’t wait to play this
again and I hope KC finds a means to publish this game.

Sticheln

Ken, KC, and I wrapped up the evening with this perplexing trick taking game.
The game is perplexing because trump is always whatever suit is not lead,
and because each player is trying to avoid taking tricks in their own chosen
poison suit. I never quit managed to figure out some of the tactics for how to
play my cards – you do want to take tricks (that’s how you score points), but
it can be a challenge to dump cards on your opponents and avoid taking your
own poison suit. I’d like to play this again, though my initial impression was
not as strong as Die Sieben Siegel.

Another Play of Lord of the Rings Risk: Trilogy Edition

Jacob, Matthew, and I sat down over a week ago to play another round of this
Risk variant. This was our first
attempt at a three player version and we made some tweaks that ended up being
quite painful for me. The rules specify that in a three player game, two
should play the evil side and one the good side. I took on the good side. What
the rules don’t say is that the two evil players should unite against the good
player (i.e., it is supposed to be a free-for-all). Well, I let Matthew and
Jacob team up against me and it wasn’t pretty.

Risk has enough issues with runaway leaders (the more territories you control,
the more troops you get, so it is very hard to catch up once you fall behind)
in a regular free-for-all, but this was out of hand. I was lucky to conquer
any territories at all during my turns, and that only left me more exposed to
their attacks on subsequent turns. In short order Sauron’s and Saruman’s
forces swept over Middle Earth, dooming mankind and the other good races to an
eternity of servitude and just plain bad times. And its all my fault.

The last stand of the good guys. Those green battalions that you see are all
that I have left.

Jacob’s Grand Scientific Experiment

Jacob has the opportunity at school to do some extra projects (reading
assignments, math, and now science). He designed an experiment around plant
growth with different watering conditions. The question he wanted to answer
was “how does the temperature of the air and water affect the growth of pea
and bean plants.” His hypothesis was that the plants would only grow with warm
air and cool (not hot) water. So he planted four seeds outside and four inside
(two each of bean and pea).

He did some great work on this project, taking digital photos and tracking
progress along the way. He also did most of the computer work for his final
report poster, including some nice work in Microsoft Publisher. Here he is
finishing the final report.

Oh yeah – the results. As you might suspect, hot water doesn’t help seeds
grow, and the cold air outside didn’t help much either. The seeds he planted
inside and watered with cool water grew very well.

First Play of Serenissima

This game sat on my shelf too long – in fact, it was the only “big box” game
remaining in my game closet that I had yet to play. I know, compared to many
that isn’t a bad track record – I’ve seen a number of game collections with 10
or more games still in shrink wrap. Still, I’m a gamer not a collector and I
want to play what I have. Ken Rude and I arranged a late evening during the
week where we could get together to try this one out. Brandon, Ken’s son,
joined us for a three player game.

Serenissima is not a new game – it
was released in 1996. I picked up because, well, I’m still a wargamer at heart
and I find it hard to resist games that can be played in a single sitting but
still harken back to the days of youth playing Avalon Hill war games. That’s
why Wallenstein is at the top of my
list of games right now.

This is not exactly a wargame though – economy is at least as important, and
it is through the trading and shipping of goods that money and ultimately
victory points are earned. Each player takes on the role of one of the great
nation-states on the Mediterranean – Venice, Genoa, Turkey, or Spain. In a
three-player game, Turkey is not played. Each player starts with 2000 ducats,
10 sailors, and two galleys. Each turn starts with bids to determine player
order. This turn order is used within each of the turn phases, which are:

  1. Buy trade goods, build ships and fortresses, hire sailors
  2. Movement
  3. Combat
  4. Capture and control ports
  5. Sell goods and generate income

The goal is to control shipping ports and to fully populate their warehouses
with a diversity of trade goods (there are 7 in all). There are three kinds of
ports – large (6 goods in the warehouse), medium (4), and small (2). Players
score 10 points for each large town with a filled warehouse, 5 points for each
medium town with a filled warehouse, and 2 points for each small town with a
filled warehouse. Towns with unfilled warehouses score 1 point each, and if
you control your main city you score 10 points.

Combat between ships or from ship to port is a function of the number of
sailors on each side. In ship to ship combat, each player attacks
simultaneously and rolls a d6, adding the number of sailors on the galley to
the roll. Divide the result by 3 and round down, and that is the number of
sailors on the opposing galley that are sunk. It is possible to capture
opponents’ galleys if you eliminate their sailors and have enough of your own
to move over and capture (each galley must have at least 1 sailor).

Within each galley there are five holding slots, and these can be filled with
any combination of sailors or trade goods as long as there is at least 1
sailor and no more than five total items on the galley. A ship’s movement
range is equivalent to the number of sailors. So it is clearly an advantage in
both movement and combat to have more sailors on board; however, this will
limit the number of trade goods that you can carry around. You can check out
the complete rules right here.

Ken played Genoa, Brandon was Spain, and I played Venice. Things started off
nice a peaceful – I expanded east into Turkey and was getting a decent
diversity of goods. Ken capitalized on some goods that Brandon had not yet
traded yet in any of his ports by trading that good to his major town. Twice
he earned a 1000 ducat bonus for these trades! While it helped brandon
populate his major town with goods, this was clearly a good move for Ken since
it allowed him to quickly get an advantage in both ships and sailors.

As so often happens in three player games, the first to get aggressive often
pays dearly. I decided to attack an ill-defended port of Ken’s (I believe it
was one of his gold ports) and successfully capture it. Unfortunately it
brought on his wrath and not only did I lose that port back to him the next
turn, I also lost two ships in the vicinity.

Ken played very well – he intuitively figured out (I suspect now that this is
a common game strategy) to diversify his fleet by keeping some trade ships
around with few sailors (usually 2) while building a separate fleet of combat
ships with 5 sailors each. These ships, with their extensive range, were able
to wreak havoc on my ships and ports. We decided to cut the game a bit short
(I think we played only 8 turns instead of 10), and though I did a pretty good
job of holding off his final attack, he did manage to take a port away from me
at the end. It didn’t matter much though – Ken had filled a good portion of
his medium ports (because of the shortened game, nobody got a completed large
port) and beat us handily. I don’t have the final scores in front of me, but
Ken beat me by at least 10 points, with Brandon finishing behind me by about
10 points.

Fun game – I suspect it can be played in 2-3 hours and I look forward to
playing it again. One criticism of the game is that it often follows the same
pattern – trade or the first 2/3 of the game, then just start hammering the
opponents by attacking. Ours certainly played out the same way.

Eric Arneson’s Top 10 Games of 2003

Eric Arneson just published his
Top 10 Games of 2003 list. I
agree with many of his choices, though I haven’t played all of the games he
mentioned. I especially appreciate his nods to I’m the Boss, New England, Mystery of the Abbey, Balloon Cup, and Battle Ball. I don’t think Battle Ball would
have made my top 10 list, but it is a fun game, especially for one that has a
mass market presence. I’ll have to publish my top 10 list shortly…