Sailing Charter in Greece – Part 8 – Antiparos and Naxos

Beautiful spot to moor for the evening - between Antiparos and Despotiko

This is part 8 of my sailing in Greece series. You can find part 7 here.

Early Friday evening, June 28 2013, we left Ios to set sail for a an anchored bay visit between Antiparos and Despotiko. Wikipedia says:

The strait separating Despotiko from Antiparos only has a minimum depth of about 1m, with the intervening islet of Koimitiri. This extreme shallowness of the strait suggests the possibility of a link between Antiparos and Despotiko in former times.

Antiparos to Naxos

While we love exploring towns on foot, finding restaurants, and climbing hills, it sure is nice to have a periodic break where you are captive on the boat and sharing a bottle of wine and food you prepare as a group.

Chris makes fried cheese - YUM!

I experimented with a saganaki (fried cheese) recipe with decent success, and we cooked up a tasty dinner of sliced sausage with veggies alongside mashed potatoes. There were beautiful ships in the bay, including a giant slate grey yacht flying the British ensign. Vassilis and the rest of us enjoyed this view over a fine bottle of cheap Greek rosé wine.

Reupplying in Naxos - FIX us up!

Our next stop after a morning sail for about 4 hours on Saturday was the island of Naxos. This is easily the most built out of the islands we have visited, and it is large with tall mountains (Mt Zeus is over 3,000 ft). Our first stop was a grocery resupply, with the priority being a large flat of Fix beer.

We also dropped into a local souvenir shop that specialized in the local liquor Kitron plus some of the local red wines. Kitron is tasty and the dry variety reminds me of Cointreau.

Heading out to explore Naxos Chora

Before dinner we hiked up the hill to the Castro and the Venetian House museum. What a treat this was! For 5€ each we got a private guided tour.

Best museum tour ever - free drinks at the end

This may sound a bit steep, but our guide was extremely knowledgeable and there was ample spirit tasting at the end. She also gave us a strong dinner recommendation.

C'mon, say cheese - at the Temple of Apollo in Naxos

Before dinner was a visit to the Temple of Apollo for a sea-level sunset and more photos. The temple is at the end of a narrow isthmus and offers a great view of the harbor.

Dinner at Maro's Taverna in Naxos Chora, on the advice of our Kastro tour guide

We picked up Vassilis on our way back at the pier then up to the maze that is the town to find our dinner spot, Maro. People were so helpful with directions but we needed Vassilis to guide and translate. I wish we knew enough Greek for simple directions like this. Maro did not disappoint, with highlights such as drunken pig and spaghetti with a big slab of slow-cooked pork.

A brief sidebar to talk about the things we were glad we brought, and the things we wished we had brought:

Glad we brought

  • Starbucks Via instant coffee (though we should have brought more)
  • Ranch mix (useful for dips, ad-hoc salads – wish we had brought more)
  • Drink mixes (like Crystal Light)
  • Sticheln Deck
  • 12 volt car adapters for charging USB devices
  • Bluetooth speakers for on boat music
  • Cheap sunglasses
  • Baby wipes (should have brought more)

Wish we brought

  • Clothes pins
  • Clothes line
  • French press for making coffee

Church in Filoti, Naxos

On Sunday in Naxos we needed to find rental cars to explore the island. Dave and I thought we had a good line on 2 cars to rent for 25€ a bit off the main drag to the south of the city, but alas they did not seem in a rush to open. We looped back toward the pier and found more expensive options. Persistence paid off as we found 2 soft top Chevy Matize for 25€ each. Traffic is much more of a pain on Naxos than other towns — this is definitely more urban. We worked our way across the middle of the island to see a cool church in Filoti.

These are sleepy, non-touristy villages with beautiful churches and main streets. We continued on to the coastal town of Moutsouna.

Enjoying the water in Moutsouna, Naxos

We enjoyed watching some local kids play around, jumping off the pier into the cool water.

Carving up a yellowfin tuna at Moutsouna, Naxos

The taverna had just brought in a big yellow fin, using an electric saw to take him apart. We have drinks at the tavern but with time running short we head back across the mountains to visit Mt Zeus on our left. We had hoped to see the Temple of Demeter, but alas it was closed.

Next stop, Mykonos!!

Evolution card game is live on Kickstarter

Evolution Card Game

The re-imagining of the game Evolution is now live on a Kickstarter.

North Star Games was kind enough to provide me a prototype of the new version and I’ll share some brief thoughts on the game after a few plays.

Evolution is a card game where each player starts with a single “naked”, un-evolved species and evolves and expands the population through the use of trait cards. Traits can improve the species’ ability to eat (including becoming a carnivore and attacking other species, preferably your opponent’s!), defend itself, and overall survive in a changing environment.

There are some nice mechanisms that make decisions tough:

  • you’ve got to decide whether to use cards to add new traits or discard them to grow the species body size or population
  • you secretly decide at the start of the turn to play a single card which will help determine how much plant food is available for everyone to eat. Depending on how your animals are evolving, you may be more or less inclined to increase the food volume
  • you’ve got to pay attention to the other players and be prepared to develop defensive traits once the carnivores evolve
  • as you increase the number of species in your pool, their position can matter as some traits can help support adjacent species

The goal of the game is to have many species with large populations, with the primary scoring mechanism the accumulation of food cubes that your species consume.

The artwork and other design elements from the Kickstarter campaign look very nice — certainly much better than my print and play prototype! If the theme suits you and you like highly interactive card games then this might be a great fit for you. I for one will be backing the project as it will be a nice two player game to play with Julie but will also scale to more players.

The Triumph of Napoleon’s Triumph

Napoleon's Triumph with Ken

Ken and I continued our play-through of the Bowen Simmons collection of elegantly designed block wargames focused on 19th century battles. We started with his first entry Bonaparte at Marengo and were ready to move onto the successor Napoleon’s Triumph depicting the Battle of Austerlitz.

Many of the core mechanisms carry over for this game, but movement and combat are different enough that we did feel like we were playing a very different game. Having only played Napoleon’s Triumph once I’m hardly qualified for a detailed explanation of how they are different, but I’ll try anyway:

  • Marengo feels almost like a two player abstract game. It played like a game of maneuver and not combat. It felt a bit “gamey” at times because there were some road maneuver tricks and sequencing that could really hurt you if you didn’t pay very careful attention and think through all of your opponents options. I experienced this first hand when Ken achieved almost a first turn victory because of a simple goof (and a lucky random draw). Artillery had very custom rules for how to engage, which was odd as each side only had one artillery unit and were tough to bring to bear in combat.
  • Triumph feels much more like a wargame to me and the combat system is more streamlined and less full of special cases (artillery still behaves differently but at least it is integrated into the normal combat workflow). Triumph, instead of just focusing on maneuver and flanking, also has an element of bluffing in combat and often a need to protract battles of attrition to achieve objectives. There is still no dice rolling in the game, but the selective revealing of lead units on both sides plus the potential for counter-attacks adds tension and risk. It also makes it even more important to keep track (as bet you can) unit types and strengths as blocks are revealed. Triumph also introduced the notion of cohesive corps and leaders which constrains the moves a player can make.

Napoleon's Triumph with Ken

Ken and I played the shorter December 2 scenario with me playing the unsuspecting Allies and Ken playing the ready-to-provoke Napoleon. Each player gets the opportunity to secretly configure their armies with some constraints: each leader goes in a designated locale and must have corps of at least a specified size, but you have a lot of flexibility about what comprises each corps. Additionally, the French get a final setup option to detach and reposition a small number of blocks.

I chose to concentrate my strongest units on the Allied left flank, hoping to push through and capture one or more victory locations. This mean concentrating my strong infantry (minus guard infantry troops – more on that later) sprinkled with a few cavalry on the left. On the Allied right flank I concentrated the rest of my cavalry plus a few weaker infantry to soak up damage. In the middle rear I placed my concentrated guard infantry to keep some flexibility for end game shenanigans.

Napoleon's Triumph with Ken

Interestingly, Ken decided to focus his attack on his own left flank (my right) so we had a perfect storm of unbalanced deployments. I began to push hard on my left, and Ken started chasing around my cavalry on my right.

Napoleon's Triumph with Ken

By late morning (5th turn) there has been a lot of bloodshed. The Allies have successfully surrounded Sokolnitz and are eagerly grabbing victory point locales.

This is a good time to talk about the victory conditions which I think are one of the more creative elements in the design. There are a few ways for each side to win:

  • There is a morale track that tracks the morale of each player’s army. If this goes to zero, the other side wins a decisive victory. You lose morale (generally) when you lose unit steps in a lost battle or retreat. Additionally, an army will lose morale when it commits and reveals elite units. This encourages players to hold back the best units (like the guard infantry) until they are absolutely needed.
  • The French have some optional reinforcements they can bring into the game. If they leave them out, they simply need to keep the Allies from controlling any of their home “starred” locales OR control any one of the Allied home starred locales.
  • If the French decide to bring on their reinforcements, the French need to not only keep the Allies out of their home locales, but also control three different objectives (which might be in a single locale but more likely are spread out).

Napoleon's Triumph with Ken

By 11am the French are rapidly advancing and are likely to control key Allied objective in the near future. I’m working around their flank hoping to counter-attack soon. Note that we didn’t fully understand the rules for control when we played this game and though we both managed to control objective locales on the board, we likely were not being mindful of tracing a main road path to an entry locale.

Napoleon's Triumph with Ken

We have both been battered on morale and are weighing the relative merits of going for the marginal victory conditions (based on board objective control) vs. decisive victory based on morale. At this point with Ken’s decisive push on my right flank I’m thinking that a morale victory is more likely for me. Time to counter-attack and start killing troops!

Napoleon's Triumph with Ken

I’ve almost cleared the board on my left flank and grow tired of chasing on of his last remaining units and decide to stop wasting valuable command actions to go after him. There are riper targets on my right flank.

Napoleon's Triumph with Ken

As we head into what will be our last turn, we are both sitting at a morale level of seven. The action as I predicted is all on the Allied right flank as we both gear up to commit our best forces to the battles. This involves both of us revealing our elite infantry and guard units, though we both time this reasonably well as to not cause too much damage. An army cannot go to zero morale (and lose decisively) by revealing an elite unit – the morale just stays pegged at 1.

Napoleon's Triumph with Ken

The battle ended with a decisive morale victory for the Allies (me) and it came down to the final battle. Ken staged multiple attacks into a single locale across two different approaches. If I hadn’t consolidated all of my guard infantry units together in the same corps then Ken would have won the game. As it worked out, I had one last hidden guard unit to withstand his final attack, allowing me to win the battle and take his morale to zero.

Ken and I both agreed this was one of the best two-player wargaming experiences we’ve ever had. This first full play took about 5 hours though I think future plays of the day 2 scenario will only take 3 hours (still longer than the advertised 2 hours). It took time for us to work out the combat rules, how artillery works, retreats, etc. but things were flowing nicely by mid-game. We plan to play this three more times before moving on to The Guns of Gettysburg.

Sailing Charter in Greece – Part 7 – Ios

View of Ios Town

This is part 7 of my sailing in Greece series. You can find part 6 here.

En route to Ios

On June 27 we set sail for Ios, an island I last visited in 1990 during the World Cup. The wind did not last so we slowly motored into a harbor at some prime beach location where Julie, Jacob, and Andrew swam into the beach. Matthew, Adrienne, and I paddled the dinghy in.

Windsurfing at Ios (note our catamaran anchored in the bay).

Lots of beautiful people on this popular tourist destination, including six or so topless women. The young men immediately rented some windsurfing gear, with Jacob and Matthew getting lessons from the more experienced Andrew. I just swam around and enjoyed the relaxing beach. In the photo above you can see our boat in the harbor behind the boys.

Playing cards on board in Gialos Port on Ios

This would not be our anchorage so we sailed over to Gialos Port. The boys broke out my handy universal Sticheln game package to play Lost Cities.

Now it was time for a difficult conversation. A nearly universal destination for Cyclades visitors is Santorini. I mentioned before that visiting the island with our boat would not be an option. Julie and a few others were keen on doing an overnight excursion there via ferry, but the schedules were disagreeable. Julie made a compelling case: it was the island several of us were hoping to visit. It didn’t help that I had pumped it up so much prior to our trip. We would have to take a 5pm ferry, spend the night, then return on a noon ferry to Ios. The plan would be to explore Thira town at night, including the amazing sunset, then Akrotiri) in the morning.

I took the dissenting position, arguing that sailing requires flexibility and adaptation. I love Santorini (I also visited there in 1990) but did not relish the idea of staying in a hotel and leaving our boat. We cast secret ballots with 4 voting for staying on Ios and 3 for going to Santorini. I felt bad about the outcome knowing how much Julie wanted to go — maybe I resisted too hard and should have bent to those with stronger desires. In any case we better have a good time on Ios.

Refreshing swim and drinks at the Liostasi Hotel in Ios Town

The ferry booking agent that we discussed the Santorini trip with was pushing a restaurant up the hill called Grandmas. I’m always suspicious (likely kickbacks are involved!) but the view shown in the photos looked amazing. They also offered up their pool.

A plan began to emerge: take their offered car ride up the hill to the hotel, take a swim and have a few drinks, hike up to the chora peak, then walk back for a late dinner. Everything surpassed our expectations: the view was spectacular, we shared a bottle of rose over dinner, and the meal was the best we’ve had so far.

Adrienne takes the wheel! On Ios.

The next day we rented three quads plus a Panda mini SUV To explore the island, reaching the northern-most point to see Homer’s grave. We then visited the tiny beach town of Psathis Beach — windswept with some sand but mostly rocks. The quads were a blast and we all took turns driving. The terrain was dramatic with tall peaks and majestic views.

Cheers from Psathi, Ios

The lunch in Psathis was memorable for its variety; I ordered rabbit in red sauce which was just ok and a bit too bony. Julie’s stuffed zucchini flowers were the definite highlight.

Monastery Ag. Ioannis Kalamou

We finished our visit to Ios with a drive to a mountain-top monastery which was unfortunately closed. We then returned to Milopotas beach for another hour of windsurfing.

Leaving Ios

We set sail for our next stop Antiparos at about 4:30pm.

GameStorm 16 2014

Lost Cities board game with two beautiful ladies

I spent last weekend GameStorm, a local convention I started going to in 2003. At that GameStorm I met KC for the first time And found my local gaming group. I think I’ve missed about 2 or 3 since then because it falls on spring break but I always try to go if I can. They’ve settled on a great location at the Vancouver Hilton and I see no reason for them to ever move.

This year was even better than most because Julie joined me for the first night on Friday. I arrived in the early afternoon on Friday and after checking in joined the Z-man Games tournament for the not-yet-released Pandemic: the Cure. They set us up into two separate 5-person teams and each team played three consecutive games with successively higher difficulty.

Pandemic: the Cure is a dice game version of the modern classic cooperative game Pandemic. It shares the theme and core concepts with the original game: the players are agents with special abilities trying to eradicate the world of diseases that will destroy civilization. The Cure differentiates the player abilities even more (in my opinion) by giving each role a different set of dice in addition to different abilities. Hence each role has its own information card along with a special set of dice. The diseases propagate through die rolls but with a simplified map showing a circular series of continents. We had time pressure with only 30 minutes to play each game which added stress but certainly reduced over-analysis. We didn’t win the tournament but enjoyed the game and I look forward to its release in2014.

Pandemic with Julie at GameStorm 16

So Julie had never even played Pandemic so we checked out the copy from the library and played the base game. We played on the easiest setting and won easily but I’m sure I’ve converted her to a regular player. I recently bought the 1st edition copy with the On the Brink expansion so look forward to playing more at home.

After dinner at The Main Event (free truffle fries with the Yelp coupon) Julie and I joined Rita for a game of Lost Cities: the Board Game. I’ve enjoyed every play I’ve had of this (and the close cousin Keltis). It captures the original two player card game feel and adds enough new ways to score to keep things interesting.

Roll Through the Ages with Julie at GameStorm 16

Alas I only had Julie with me for a short while on Saturday, and after a 4 mile run through downtown Vancouver we played one last game: Roll Through the Ages: the Bronze Age. I’ve been convinced for some time that we should own this game… it looks and feels like it should be a bar game and, well, we spend a lot of time in bars. Julie edged out the win when I failed to notice that the end of the game was imminent.

GameStorm 16 2014

Peter Drake sat with us as we were finishing our game and offered to teach me his new game design Fireknife! This is a light multiplayer press-your-luck and climbing game with some similarities to KC’s Havoc: the Hundred Years War that we released about 9 years ago. Players are Samoan fire knife dancers attempting to put on the most impressive dance. Players draw or exchange cards trying to collect a good set of dance move cards until someone decides to start dancing. This is where the game deviates from other climbing games: each card played by another player can only be followed (or in some cases preceded) by a specific type of card. For example, a knife toss must be followed by a knife catch. The finale must be the last card played. Players take turns playing a single card at a time (they can also opt of the dance if they want to observe) until everyone passes.

There are some special action cards that can be devastating, such as discarding your entire hand or the dance cards played so far. This pushes the game into the very light “take that” spectrum for me, which I’m sure is exactly where Peter intends for it to live. My main complaint is the lack of any reward for finishing with the second best dance in a larger multi-player game. It was frustrating achieving a very high dance score but not gaining any points when I was barely edged out a few times. I suggested he consider giving half points to the runner up when there are more than 3 players. Fun game and Peter produced a very nice looking prototype deck.

18NEB with Matt and Greg at GameStorm 16

Saturday afternoon we did our regular 18xx game, this time 18NEB with Matt and Greg. I still love 18xx but my play quality seems to be declining every year I play. Or maybe everyone else I play with is improving. As is the norm with18xx games that you only play every few years, we screwed up a few rules in a major way. Matt would have won in any case I think, so we were happy to wrap the game up around 5pm and head out to dinner.

Beer sampling will doing Drink Up in Vancouver

For dinner we explored downtown Vancouver and enjoyed the Drink This celebration on foot. We enjoyed several local breweries, including Loowit Brewing and Doomsday Brewing. The highlight for me was probably the Beat Down Beet Wheat. We then enjoyed dinner at Charlies Bistro and had some fantastic shared sides and a few cocktails.

Sekigahara with Ken at GameStorm 16

Ken and I joined up late Saturday evening for a game of Sekigahara, a two-player light block wargame not unlike the Bowen Simmons games we have been playing. I got completely destroyed by Ken but it was nice to learn the rules and finally get my copy played. I think we will return to this after we play Napoleon’s Triumph and Guns of Gettysburg.

France '40 Sickle Cut - Tripp making his German move on turn 2

My last game of the convention was a scheduled wargame with Tripp: France ’40. This is the latest Mark Simonitch game and I’m finding very much like his designs. This game covers part of Case Yellow, Germany’s invasion of Belgium and France in 1940. We played the Sickle Cut scenario which depicts the latter part of Gurderian’s drive to the channel. I played the French and remembered enough about how Myk stopped me in Ardennes ’44 to put up a good line of defense. We didn’t quite finish the game but got far enough along to see that the German’s were unlikely to win. I could have played faster which I’m sure will improve now that I’ve got two games with this system under my belt.

A want to extend a hearty thank you to the GameStorm volunteers that put on another fantastic show this year. I hope to return in 2015.