18FL, Axis & Allies D-Day

I recently had one my best gaming experiences in a long while - a game of 18FL with Tim, Wes and Eric. You can read all about the details of the session over at Eric's weblog, so I'll use this space to talk about why I had so much fun and why I just placed an order for 1850.

18FL

The itch to play an 18xx game has been with me for at least a couple of years. I even bought a used copy of 1830 on eBay a while back, a largely uninformed purchase that I now regret. Eric got a similar itch and has had Tim around to help him scratch it - they even attended an 18xx mini-convention here in Portland recently. April - July weekends are largely consumed with baseball for me so I was unable to attend.

I arrived a bit early so was able to check out the components - very impressive for what is nearly a print-on-demand boardgame publisher. Eric uses his on poker chips for the money but I think he regrets not including money in his customized order. I had a hard time remembering what denominations matched what colors at times.

18FL Closeup

Allow me to explain the basics of 18FL. I don't yet know what attributes are in common across all 18xx games (though I can make educated guesses), so these basics may not map to the game you are thinking about playing.

  • Players play the roles of investors in companies. If you have a controlling interest in a company, then you get to control it. Duh.
  • Controlling a company generally means choosing how it expands, how it delivers goods, and how it handles profits.
  • Profits can be distributed to shareholders (more dividends translates to appreciation of stock price) or retained for company operations. Maybe the company needs to buy a new train…
  • Players periodically get the opportunity to use their personal cash to buy or sell stock.
  • If you have the most money at the end of the game, you win.

The operations of the game felt like Age of Steam or Railroad Tycoon to me. The business aspects felt like Acquire or Indonesia. I love the blend and could easily see how the decisions I made as an individual and as a business owner would affect the outcome. I made a few mistakes but must have done OK as I ended up in a virtual dead-heat with Tim. Our scores were well within a rounding error of tolerance for this game (a fraction of a percent). I had a blast and can't wait to play again.

I ordered 1850 because it centers on the midwest area where I grew up, and includes the town of Burlington, IA. That happens to be the hometown of my parents and I'm taking my family there this weekend for memorial services for my two grandmothers who passed away earlier this year.

As a final note, Jacob and I took another run at Axis & Allies: D-Day. Jacob and I played while Julie and Matthew were away and I gave him a choice. This one hasn't seen much play since we got into Memoir '44, and I'm glad we brought it out again. We played with the special tactics / event cards, and I'm not sure if they add much to the game other than more randomness and fiddliness. Jacob enjoyed them though and he thoroughly spanked me as the Germans. I had horrendous dice rolls early on which sealed my fate.

Axis and Allies D-Day

Strange Magic

Magic: the Gathering is having a bit of resurgence around our home of late. Last weekend I pulled out the Ravnica cards I bought for the New Year's Gaming event out on the coast. The idea was to see if we could create some interesting draft tournaments from the card set.

We started by sorting all of the cards into common, uncommon, and rare piles - a total of about 260 cards. We shuffled thoroughly and created 9 simulated booster backs (12 commons, 2 uncommons, and 1 rare in each pack). Time for a booster draft with nine randomly chosen boosters.

Jacob and Matthew play Magic

A booster draft is simple to run - allocate three boosters per player and start by having each player open a single booster. Choose a card you want from the pack and pass the rest of the cards to your left. Repeat until each player has 15 cards and continue with the other packs until each player has a total of 45 cards.

Now each player has some time (usually about 30 minutes, but we take less) to build a deck of at least 40 cards total, including lands. I like limited format events like this because it involves deck building, deck tuning, and playing, all in a short period of time. The meta-game of Magic (deck building and analysis) is appealing to many, but I only have the time and patience for it in a, well, limited way.

We had fun playing with our decks, and I continued to coach the boys on deck building and playing strategy. There are a lot of subtleties to play that a casual player overlooks. I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I do understand the timing rules pretty well and have a decent handle on play strategies. Oh, and everything I learned about strategy I learned reading the first 10 issues of The Duelist.

Last night the boys I did a backdraft, where you follow the booster draft format but instead are trying to draft the worst possible card set. From this set, one of your opponents will try and build a 40 card deck from the (supposed) trash you left. This is harder than it sounds, especially with a block like Ravnica which is designed to work fairly well with 3 or even 4 color decks.

Finally, I've decided to join a casual Magic: the Gathering Online league with Ravnica block cards. Matthew over in my Rip City Gamers group is running the league and it sounds like fun. I actually prefer playing Magic online (real-time) than most other online games (BSW, etc.). Should be fun.

Board Games with Scott - Well Worth Watching

I haven't talked much lately about gaming podcasts, but I just have to say how much I like Board Games with Scott. Scott's a little goofy (who in this hobby isn't?), but he does a really nice job on production and he clearly has put in a great deal of thought into staging and producing this series. I can't wait to watch the Die Macher episode.

There are some subtleties to how he produces the show that lead to very digestible download times - notice how many of his scenes involve very little changing scenery. He holds his head still against a high contrast background, uses many shots where he has a fixed camera pointing to the game board with just his hand moving bits around, etc. Keep up the good work.

Playing with Swords

I failed to mention in my final Origins post that I participated in an ad-hoc tournament on Friday. This wasn't a typical tournament for me - I got roped into a foam sword combat tournament with 7 other players sponsored by Edhellen Armoury. We played through an elimination bracket and I somehow managed to win.

Jacob and Matthew have coveted those foam swords ever since they first saw that at GenCon a few years ago. Given that they won't make it to GenCon, Essen, or Origins this year, I wanted to bring back a special gift for them. So of course after winning the tournament and getting a taste of play combat, I had to pick up a sword and shield for each of the boys.

These games are played by a strict set of rules - the Belegarth Book of War. The emphasis is on safety and honor, offering some nice boundaries and lessons for the boys. For example, you are required to call hits on yourself and aren't supposed to call hits on your opponent (i.e., no "hey, I hit your arm!"). I like honor systems like this and the spirit of competition it fosters.

Playing with Swords

The boys have had some fun dueling in our back yard, and even Julie has joined the action. I was most surprised by how aerobic the activity was - after the tournament at Origins I was completely spent.

Hacienda

On Saturday morning, Julie, Matthew, and I left home at about 5am to drive to Camp Pioneer to get Jacob at summer camp (more on that in a future post). We made it home by about 11:30am and after cleaning up and some rest and relaxation, I talked the boys into playing Hacienda with me.

Unlike some other new games that I've played recently (most notably Thurn & Taxis), I had no clue going into the game what was going to lead to a good score and thus had a hard time formulating any sort of reasonable strategy. It comes down to the economics are various choices on your turn. How important is income? How much should I focus on blocking other players from markets? Is harvesting a worthwhile action?

Playing Hacienda

I figured that connecting to many markets would be a good thing. Jacob and Matthew both had the lead over me at the mid-way point in the game, but I felt good about my position as I expected to be able to connect to 6-8 markets. One mistake I made was laying down a water tile to block Jacob that in the end just gave him more victory points. I over-valued income… if the block had prevented him from reaching a market, then it may have been worthwhile. As it was, I just prevented him from getting some additional herd income.

Hacienda Closeup

Jacob forced the game to end 1 turn before Matthew and I wanted (good play on his part), preventing me from reaching my 7th market and giving him the victory. I beat Matthew by one point.

Everyone enjoyed the game and the wide range of choices offered. The rules and strategy are not trivial in this game - I would put it on the heavier scale for euro games. We look forward to playing it again soon.