The Year I Was a Champion

Wow, only four posts so far this month. Getting this post in before midnight puts me at five, tying my record low of five in Feburary 2005. I've got a decent backlog of stuff to talk about, so hopefully March will start on strong footing.

Back in 1989 I attended GenCon in Milwaukee, playing mostly RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars. I attended with a good friend from high school that I've since lost touch with (Mike Tavel). We also lived together in Aspen for a summer after our freshman years in college.

So on a lark we entered the ZEF IV RPG tournament, a wacky contest where you roleplay characters who are roleplaying other characters. We hooked up with two singles and hit it off. We roleplayed well and efficiently worked through all of the puzzles - sometimes through skill, sometimes through pure luck. There was very little combat in the adventure, and much of the judging was subjective.

I guess we did pretty well, because we won the tournament (over 500 people entered). Here's a scan of our victory photo from the convention. I think I won about $200 worth of games and gaming supplies.

Picture in Dragon Magazine of GenCon Winners

Command and Colors: Ancients, Carcassonne: the City

I didn't expect to get any gaming in this weekend. Some work pressures plus an upcoming trip to Alabama were going to steal away most of the hours. I thought perhaps 2 hours would free up on Sunday, and I politely informed Jacob that he would be playing Command and Colors: Ancients with me. He didn't exactly look happy at the prospect - he's been having too much fun with his gravity gun playing Half Life 2 - but I knew once we got started he would enjoy the game. He's played Memoir '44 and Battle Cry quite a bit; in fact he was the Memoir '44 demo monkey at GenCon for Days of Wonder.

Fortunately, Ken called around 1pm asking if he could help knock out another of my unplayed games. I of course invited him (and Brandon) over to join me in a first try of the introductory scenario (Akragas). This is a nice intro choice as it doesn't use the elephants and thereby avoids some special rules (Stampy… He tried to kill me!).

CC Ancients

The game is easy to pick up for those familiar with M44, with the most difficult rules being combat-specifics for the different units and the effects of leaders. We kept getting tripped up on the benefits of being next to a leader vs. in the same hex. The rules are well down and I'm sure it will become second nature.

I've read that it is tough for the Carthaginians to win this scenario. I think if I had played them, I would have won because my dice rolling was unstoppable. Case in point: I'm up four victory banners to none, needing one more to win. I play a Darken the Sky command card and fire with 3+1 dice against a full-strength foot unit. I roll four green circles on four dice. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to calculate the changes of that happening.

CC Endgame

That roll, while an extreme example, was representative of the rest of my dice rolling in the game. Ken was very aggressive with his cavalry, trying to dart in on my flank and take out a unit, only to evade on my counter-attack the next turn. He did a lot of damage, but left four of my units at single strength, unable to finish the job.

We had about an hour left, so Ken suggested Carcassonne: the City. This is by far my favorite of the series, offering a nice mix of tactical and strategic play. It plays quickly with 2 players - about 50 minutes - and Ken pulled out a decisive victory. He got down some great farmers (or stewards or whatever they are called in this version) and 2 exceptional guards.

Carcassonne the City

I feel like I could give away the rest of the series and just keep this one. The box is real nice too.

Trip to Brussels and Amsterdam

I had a business trip to Brussels last week, with meetings scheduled for Tuesday-Thursday. Erich and I arrived around 6:30am on Tuesday morning, and knowing that we should do our best to stay awake throughout the day and not having our first meeting until 3:00pm, we grabbed John after breakfast and cabbed it down to the central plaza.

Central Plaza in Brussels

Brussels has a lot going for it, mostly in the way of food and beer. And chocolate. The city itself - my opinions haven't changed much since the last time I was there in 1990. Too urbanized, modernized, and spread out for my taste. I think the idea is to escape into the countryside during the day if you are a tourist, then return in the evening for the outstanding food. We did manage to spend some time at the ancient and modern art museum, taking in the Belgian masters and a number of outstanding impressionist, surrealist, and abstract works.

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I was amazed at the number of school groups there getting very in-depth instruction. We heard lessons in at least three languages - Dutch, French, and German.

Students and Art

There was a chance we would have meetings on Friday, but the day opened up and John and I decided to spend the day in Amsterdam before our flight back on Saturday.

Waiting for a Train

We boarded the Thalys train late Thursday night, arriving in Amsterdam about 2:45 later at 11pm.


We packed a lot into our Friday, visiting the Anne Frank Museum first thing. The museum has undergone significant changes since my last visit 16 years ago. This is a must-see visit if you ever go to Amsterdam. It also reminded me that it is time for Jacob to read the book.

Ann Frank Museum

The Rijksmuseum is one of the art museums to see in Europe. While it is undergoing significant renovation right now, they've concentrated the masterpieces in a central area that remains open. This greatly increases the enjoyment factor as you get an extreme concentration of some of the best art you'll find anywhere in the world, including all of the Rembrandts in a single room.

Rijks Museum

Some consider Rembrandt one the greatest artists of all time, and when you see his works up close you are likely to agree. Night Watch, perhaps his most famous work, stands 14 ft tall and looks as if you can walk into the scene.

Night Watch

We finished the day with a short visit to the Van Gogh Museum. While this is a great museum, I prefer a variety of artists. A great place to go if you want to see the time transition of his works and learn about his short life as an artist.

Van Gough

Torres, Yahtzee Deluxe Poker

There's been a dearth of game playing in my life for the past two weeks. Mucho travel (I guess I should post some pictures of Brussels and Amsterdam), some late hours working, and other extracurricular commitments have pushed gaming to the background.

Last Sunday I managed to convince Jacob and Matthew to join me in a game of Torres. Now technically I've played this before on Boite Jeux (against Mark I think), but I was so lost that I decided not to give myself credit for a play. I picked up a German copy at last year's Essen Spiel fair. In hindsight, I wish I'd spent a bit more and purchased an English language copy. The cards are pretty language dependent (albeit iconic), making it a bit challenging for the boys.


We didn't have a reasonable grasp on the strategic concepts of the game until we were half-way through the second round. We also missed the rule about passing through castles through doorways, but we figured that out by the third round. Jacob set me up a few times for big turns, allowing me to win by a healthy margin. A good game that I think I'll enjoy more with continued play, but not one I think the boys will ask for very often.

Tonight the four of us played Yahtzee Deluxe Poker, a game I picked up at a KB Toys close-out for about $3. Bidding, betting, and dice rolling sounded like a good combination, and I'm glad I picked this one up. The downside is that there's a decent likelihood of player elimination, but the game is short enough for that to not be a big deal.

Yahtzee Poker

The basic idea in the game: seven bid cards are drawn randomly from a set of about 30 total. These are placed face-down in a stack, and the first card is drawn. Each card depicts an objective (e.g., roll a straight [1..5] with five dice in three rounds) and a payoff. Players bid in an open auction for the right to attempt the challenge. The highest bidder takes on the challenge, and the other players are allowed to place side bets on success/fail. The game was quick, exciting, had plenty of laughter and cheering, and was a solid exercise in calculating odds. Very much recommended, especially at that price point.

I finally managed to have a Friday in the office today, meaning I could attend a lunchtime gaming session. Four of us played Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper, a game I had only played with two players. This isn't a trivial game to teach, but we were underway within about 15 minutes or so. Michael jumped out to a big early lead and ended up with the victory, though Arron made a hard charge in the final hand to make it closer than anyone thought possible. I think the game's a bit too chaotic with four, and I understand the 2-player recommendation on the game box. I think Wyatt Earp would be a better choice next time with four players.

Superbowl Gaming

Mike hosted another great day of Superbowl gaming last weekend and posted a detailed session report.

Carey and Jacob Play Football

I finally got around to editing some photos that you can see here in my flickr set. I don't have much to add other than a few more details about the game of Tigris and Euphrates that Julie managed to join. After agreeing to play, she wandered over to my Pizza Box football game to ask "is this the sort of game I'll like?" I grimaced and expressed my surprise that she volunteered to play, but quickly put on a happy face and indicated that she just might like it.

Julie Learns Tigris and Euphrates

As so often happens in situations like this, Julie managed to win it what turned out to be an oddly short and low-scoring game (I think she won with 6 or 7 points). I think the game was shorter due to an usual number of tile discard and re-draws.

Julie Wins Tigris and Euphrates