New Year's Gaming, Day 2

First, Happy New Year! We’ve had a great day of gaming at the coast, including some 3–on–3 basketball action down at the outdoor half-court.

Highlights for today: Byzantium, Oltremare, Electronic Catchphrase, and a sealed deck Magic: the Gathering / Ravnica tournament.

The kids took it on themselves to play a five-player game of Shadows Over Camelot with the traitor, with Jacob explaining the rules. Chelsea turned out to be the traitor but the boys assured me the knights reigned victorious.

Shadows Over Camelot

One of my as-yet-unplayed titles from Essen was the Martin Wallace title Byzantium. It is 2:30am on Sunday morning here and hard to go into too much depth here, but rest assured that there’s a lot going on in this game. There are also some very creative characteristics to the game that I haven’t seen before, but that might just be my limited exposure. KC, Ken, Justin, and I played a four-player game that lasted close to four hours.

Each player has the ability to control factions of Arab and Byzantine forces in conflict in the middle-east and Asia minor. Progress you make for Arabia and Byzantium are tracked on independent scoring tracks, and there are some constraints that encourage balancing VP generation between the two. Typical of Wallace games, there are many choices players can select, causing initial confusion / dilemma as players learn the various moving parts and basic strategies. The first turn (there are three in all) took close to two hours as we figured the basics out.


Each player controls an Arab and a Byzantine army and (usually) has a pawn on the board representing the current location of the army. The essence of the game is using your armies to attack cities controlled by the other side (Arab armies attack Byzantine cities) to gain victory points, though there are exceptions that include civil wars against your own kind and an inability to attack yourself (remember you are on both sides!).

Byzantium Closeup

Actions are short enough that downtime was limited, a big bonus in my book (that’s why I like Antike so much). In our game it looked like KC was in the running for the win for most of the game, but Justin surprised us all with an Arab mad dash across the north of Turkey to take a shot at Constantinople. While the attack failed, the damage he did along the way was enough to secure a tie with me in VPs at the end of the game, with Justin winning the first tie-breaker. The game was tight overall, with KC finishing a single point behind and Ken only about 5 behind him.

I think I’m more inclined to play this again than the others, as I think much of our frustration was from first-play confusion rather than any problems with the game itself. This is a deep Wallace game after all and you need to get in 2–3 plays before it starts to sink in. I’m rating it a 7 right now but that might increase.

We all took a break 6 of us walked the half mile to the basketball courts for some 3–on–3 fun and exercise. I mention this to make it clear that we do get outside from time to time.

Most of the kids decided to go for a swim after dinner, so Ken, Brandon, KC, Rita, and I played my new copy of Oltremare from Essen. I’m a big fan of this game, though after my first play with five I wonder if it is much better with 3 or 4. I felt that the game ended too quickly (i.e., with too few turns) and exaggerated some of the luck of the draw differences. Case in point: I never drew a card with more than 2 cargo markers and was unable to trade for anything better. This made it very difficult to get enough cards down to make long sets.

Oltremare Board

Still, it was fun and I think Rita and Brandon (first time players) enjoyed it very much. The bits in the new version are largely gratuitous and hardly helpful. As you can see in the photo above we replaced the ships with color-coded bits (wooden trucks in this case) so we could actually see what color was where; those ships are completely worthless. KC pulled out the big victory; Brandon and I tied for last.


While I organized the start of our Magic tournament, all of the women gathered around the Mystery of the Abbey board for some deduction goodness.

Mystery of the Abbey

For our Magic tournament, I provided a tournament pack plus three boosters from the Ravnica set. We were all completely ignorant of the set, adding to the excitement of exploring a new set of cards and mechanics. I’m not a big CCG fan, but this is still one of the best games ever made. And it keeps on going…

I was hoping to try something different this year, perhaps involving blue or black as I tend to lean towards creature decks (green) or direct damage (red). The cards spoke for themselves though, and it was fairly obvious that I should play green/white given some of the guild combos and hybrids in my set. Ravnica introduces cards that can use either/or of two different mana types (green/white, white/red, blue/black, etc.).

Matthew Prepares His Deck

I did well in the swiss-style tournament, going undefeated and claiming the victory crown from Ken (he won last year). Ken and Brandon finished tied for second and will have a playoff match in the morning to see who claims second place. The games were a blast and everyone enjoyed the new set.

While we finished the tournament the rest of the crowd started a game of Electronic Catch phrase that lasted from 10:30pm until 1:30am. This was a blast and by 12:30 we had almost the whole crew engaged.


If you’ve never played this, run to Target or Toys R Us tomorrow and pick up a copy – just about any group will enjoy this game. It was especially nice to see different generations deeply engaged, laughing, and enjoying such a great party game.

Julie and Josh Playing Catchphrase

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring – maybe another play of Indonesia or some prototypes. You’ll know soon enough…

New Year's Gaming, Day 1

Friday was the kickoff day for our weekend gaming at Salishan with the Rude and Humphrey families. That makes 13 bodies in all, so there are plenty of opportunities for a wide range of gaming. Our goal is usually to bring out games we haven't played yet or rarely get played in our normal sessions. Here's an example of the games with the potential of coming out this weekend.

Games to Play

I picked up Ra at BGG.Con in a trade with Keith Blume. My first play of this was less than favorable, but given how popular the game is I figured I was missing something and took a chance on getting my own copy. KC, Rita, Ken, and I sat down to play it as our first official game of the weekend.

Playing Ra

KC and Rita have played this game quite a lot, but Ken and I were essentially playing for the first time so we took some time to learn/explain the rules. I must admit the mechanics are very simple, the game is streamlined and easy to learn, and I quite enjoyed playing. The fact that I edged out KC for the victory 44-42 might have something to do with it. I really did enjoy the push-your-luck element combined with the auctions. There's a decent amount of luck in the game but that's OK as you can take steps to mitigate this effect through the bidding process.

Ra Closeup

Julie and Justin committed themselves to resuming their speed duels. Justin tells me he's up by three games now.

Julie and Justin Prepare for Speed

After our game of Ra, I suggested we try out the Sid Sackson classic Venture. This is a copy I purchased on eBay from Sid's personal collection. Not a bad little game - there are some similarities to Acquire in that players build out corporations, there are takeover mechanics, etc., but the game certainly does stand on its own. There were a few oddities in the rules that don't make much sense - money from proxy battles goes to the bank, not the player you steal the corporation from. Shouldn't the money go to the player? Also, as you run low in cards you get penalized even further, because if you can't afford to buy anything you must discard a card. I realize this is a mechanic intended to force players to keep cards in their hands, but it seems a bit harsh. The game went on a bit longer than we would have liked, but it was enjoyable and might be worth trying again with some rules tweaks.


Justin, Josh, Rita, Julie, and I then played the SimplyFun game Plext, an interesting little word game that was challenging and fun. You shuffle a set of 14 dice and reveal them arranged in a linear sequence. Players are then challenged to come up with a series of words that use all of the letters in sequence order, inserting as many letters as needed. For example, if the sequence was "EQRPI" then you might write down "EQuestRian PIe". As soon as a player thinks he has a competitive (small) number of words that use up all the letters, he can call out his bid (the number of words), puts down his pencil, then starts the timer. The other players then have that much time to come up with their own bid, which can be any number of words. When the timer runs out, whoever had the first lowest bid gets the first shot at solving. If his solution was correct (valid words, used all the letters), he wins victory points totaling 10 minus the number of words. Repeat for eight rounds to determine the winner.


While we were playing Plext, KC and Ken played a game of Jambo. I think KC won.


We gave Barbarossa as a gift to the Rudes, so Julie, Jenna, Chelsea, and Brandon decided to give it a try. Brandon says he enjoyed it very much, possibly influenced by the fact that he won.


KC was eager to pull out McMulti, one of those hard-to-find holy grail games that often goes for $200+ on eBay. The game took us close to 3 hours to play and while it was enjoyable, it is a bit too much of a luckfest for my tastes, especially for a game that long.


There are some creative mechanics in the game, especially for a game from 1974. My favorite is the cross-referenced die rolls that give production to the players on the right and left of the active player. The economic system is pretty cool as well, though we played with a variant that throttles the economic cycle a bit. KC, Ken, and I were all pretty close to each other, all surpassing the $1MM mark by the end of the game. KC ended up the victor with Ken a close second.

McMulti Near Endgame

Our last game of the night was partnership Tichu, Ken/Chris vs. KC/Rita. This was my first time through a whole game of this, so it was nice to get the rules and basic strategy ingrained. I'm ready to try again, especially to get a chance to avenge our loss to KC and Rita. It was a close match with both teams close to 600, but they shut us down two hands in a row pulling out the victory.


Rest in Peace Grandma Brooks

My grandmother Brooks passed away earlier this week. While she was my father's step-mother (his mother passed away at age 11), she was always my grandma Brooks and she will be missed. This is her obituary; services were held earlier this morning.

Meta Jane Brooks, 91, of Shelbyville, died Monday, Dec. 26, 2005, at Morristown Manor, in Morristown.

Born Oct. 8, 1914, in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, she was the daughter of the late George and Imogene (Virden) Masters. She married Louis Brooks Dec. 8, 1951, and he preceded her in death Dec. 25, 1981.

Survivors include four sons, Michael (wife, Lynne) Brooks of Shelbyville, Tom (wife, Linda) Brooks of Cedar Falls, Iowa, John (wife, Ann) Brooks of Green Valley, Ariz., and Dan (friend, Jeri) Brooks of LaSalle, Ill.; five grandchildren; two stepgrandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and two stepgreat-grandchildren.

Mrs. Brooks graduated from Iowa Wesleyan College, where she received a bachelor of science degree in home economics. She was later awarded an honorary doctorate degree from that school for her work in developing the science building on campus.

She was a home economics teacher, retiring in 1985 after 16 years in education.

Mrs. Brooks also was employed as a county home Extension director in Iowa; as director of home economics for Borg Warner Corp.; as a home economics teacher in LaSalle, Ill., where she founded the food service vocational program; and as a school bus attendant in Melbourne, Fla.

She was a member of the PEO and Alpha Xi Delta sorority.

Mrs. Brooks moved to Shelbyville in 1999 and was a resident of McKay Manor until she moved to Morristown Manor two years ago.

Friends and family may gather at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Carmony-Ewing Harrison Street Chapel, Freeman Family Funeral Homes, 819 S. Harrison St.

A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the funeral home, with the Rev. Dr. Mary Lundgren and the Rev. Corlis Dees officiating.

Interment will be in Forest Home Cemetery, in Mount Pleasant.

Memorial contributions may be donated to Hospice of Shelby County, 110 South Harrison St., Shelbyville, IN 46176.

Hiking: Harts Cove

Last week before Christmas a group of us drove up 101 past Cascade Head (we hiked there earlier this year) to try out the Harts Cove Trail.

Harts Cove Trail

Karen woke up wanting to take a "mad hike", whatever that is. We came to learn this means running as much of the trail as possible. The entire crew included, left to right, Karen, Mike, Powell, Julie, Dave, Lisa, and me (taking the picture).

Group Shot Before the Hike

The first 3/4 of a mile or so is straight down via switchbacks, about a 900 foot drop in all. We started the trail with a brisk walk, but soon Karen turned it into a jog and Mike and I joined her. We ran for about the first 1.5 miles or so, slowing down as we started to encounter a lot of tree fall. The trail closes down on January 1, and I see why as the trail will soon be impassable. The trail passes through beautiful stands of giant sitka spruce and groves of the ferns all too common on the Oregon coast.

After about 2.5 miles, the trail opens into the final meadow revealing the coast and Harts Cove. Karen and I continued down to the volcanic rocks bordering the rough coastline.

Chris, Mike, and Dave

You can see the stream flowing into the cove in the background of the picture below - this cascading stream is how Cascade Head got its name (Harts Cove is on the northern side of Cascade Head).

Chris and Karen Near the Falls

On the way back we walked for about a mile then Mike and I resumed our jogging. I fell twice, bruising my knees, and twisted my right ankle something fierce (it swelled up into a baseball sized lump later that night) but managed to run about a mile or so and walked the final death march back up the car. A fun but difficult hike and highly recommended.