My Top Gaming Experiences of 2006

Maybe I’ll do a top n games list for 2006 at some point, but when I reflect on the past year what comes to mind are great gaming experiences, not great games.

New Years Magic: the Gathering Tournament

Magic doesn’t get played very often in my house, but when we do it is always a blast. We are heading into our fourth year running of a Magic sealed deck tournament, and I’m excited as ever to do it over the coming weekend. Sealed deck tournaments (and booster drafts) get to the core of what Magic is all about: discovering new cards and combos, creative deck building, and strong tactical play.

Conquest of the Empire

This was my favorite big conquest-type game of the year (we played with the Martin Wallace rules). I found this to be a huge improvement over Struggle of Empires, mostly because of streamlined play and nicer bits. Everyone was in the game and we found it very engaging through the end. I also love a game that easily plays all of the Rude/Brooks boys in a balanced fashion.

18FL / 1850

I’m at risk of turning into an 18XX geek. Playing 18FL at Eric’s was easily one of the most satisfying gaming experiences I’ve had recently – I love the pure economics, the no-luck, and the dialog we all have as we compete/cooperate. I mentioned during our play of 1850 two nights ago how nice it is to play with other unwashed newbies as I find the open discussion and lack of cut-throat play more enjoyable than it might be with a different crowd. I don’t expect to start collecting these games (I only own 1850 now, and I can leave the collecting up to Eric and Tim), but I hope to play at least 3-4 times in 2007.

Roads & Boats

I’m glad I picked this one up, and it will be hard to justify bringing out Antiquity or Indonesia over this title when choosing a big Splotter game to play. I enjoy the combination of logistics and economics in the game and find it much less punishing than Antiquity – even though I lost miserably at R&B, I never felt like I wasn’t moving forward.

Liar’s Dice

Jacob’s Boy Scout troop held a game night on Dec 15 – mostly console video games, but I made sure to bring a few board games. We played some Incan Gold but the huge hit was Liar’s Dice. It was great seeing some of the older scouts sitting down with adults and playing this game. The last game we played ended with a showdown between one of the other adult leaders and me – he with 5 dice, and me with just 1. Through a combination of lucky dice rolls and good bluffing I managed a win, something I thought was near impossible.

Oh, can I mention Guitar Hero 2?? I know it isn’t a board game, but this is just about the coolest electronic game of any kind I’ve ever played. I’m quickly turning into a console gaming convert (from PC gaming) after spending some time playing this and Madden NFL.

Disney World and Kennedy Space Center

Here’s a quick wrap-up on our trip to Florida last week. After our visit to Homasassa Springs, we drove down near Disney World to stay in a timeshare for two nights to make the travel back and forth to the Kingdom a bit easier. Tuesday night we stopped in at Downtown Disney and had some great (if a bit overpriced) Irish food at the pub there.

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Wednesday was Magic Kingdom day for just the four of us. My parents rested and did some shopping. It was as crowded as I’ve seen it and by the mid afternoon congestion was getting to be quite annoying. We took advantage of the fast-pass system throughout the day and never waited in line for more than about 45 minutes. Lowlight: waiting in line for Pirates of the Caribbean for 25 minutes only to have it shut down when we were less than 5 minutes from boarding. Highlights: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Carousel of Progress (aka the Carousel of Missed Opportunities).

On Thursday we drove to Melbourne to check in with my Old Uncle Larry then shot up the Atlantic coast to visit the Kennedy Space Center.

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The line to get on the bus at the space center was longer than any we waited in at Disney – how annoying! The trip was very enjoyable if a bit rushed – we didn’t arrive at the center until well after noon. Unfortunately we ran out of time on the bus tour and never got to stop at the International Space Station exhibit. We also allowed way too little time to visit the Astronaut Hall of Fame at the end of the day.

On Friday Larry and I played golf, we spent some time at the beach, then celebrated Christmas with a small gift exchange and a delicious meal. Saturday found us flying back to Portland via Denver (post blizzard) with about a 3 hour delay in Denver.

Homosassa Springs, Florida

We all flew down to Florida Saturday morning and are currently staying with my parents near Leesburg, just northwest of Orlando. The boys have been hankerin’ for some Manatee action, so today we drove over to Homosassa Springs on the gulf coast. Very worthwhile trip – you can see photos in my Flickr set.

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This place used to be one of those classic, campy privately owned Florida wildlife tourist attractions. Apparently you could often find the animals from the TV show Daktari there (and Lu, the hippo from the show, is still a resident). The state of Florida took over the park in the 1980s and they’ve done a nice job of keeping it tourist friendly and non-commercial.

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The park is a mini-zoo, with the highlight being the captive manatees (orphans and rehab cases). Our friends also recommend Blue Springs State Park, situated on the St Johns River, as a great place to see manatees in the wild.

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Tomorrow we will drive down closer to Disney World in preparation for a day at the Magic Kingdom on Wednesday.