Train Gaming

Took the family to Seattle for Thanksgiving weekend - it is a tradition for us to explore some area or just go somewhere for this holiday since all of our family is out of driving distance. This year we trusted in Amtrak to get us to Seattle. We did this 4 years ago (compliments of Corillian for some hard work for a new big bank we had just signed) and thought it was time to give it another try.

I'll post some more photos upon return, but here are some pictures of the gaming we've done this weekend. We played a few games on the train ride up from Portland - the Cascades is a great train ride, about 3.5 hours so not much longer than a drive and much more relaxing. We managed to play Settlers of Catan: Travel Edition, the Monopoly card game, and a bit of checkers. Back in the room, Matthew, Jacob and I had a great game of Wyatt Earp. Jacob and I have played about 3 games of Chrononauts so far - he keeps requesting to play this Looney Labs game.

Gaming with the Family

After another long week of travel, I was determined to spend as many waking hours over the weekend with Julie, Jacob, and Matthew. On Saturday, Julie and Jacob had a Cub Scout outing for the morning and early afternoon. Matthew and I did some Christmas shopping, had lunch and Matthew's favorite fast food joint (Arby's), then came home for some fun one-on-one time. We opened up the game closet to see what we should play - we both agreed that Battlecards would be a great two-player game to idle away the afternoon.

Battlecards: World Conflict, Pacific Theatre

I own each of the expansions for this game except for the newly released North African Campaign. I wrote a review of the first product back in March.

This game was very one-sided, with me on top for the entire game. In fact, we didn't even finish the game since it was clear I would prevail. The Pacific expansion is different in that most of the battles have Pearl Harbor as a pre- requisite. This potentially leads to quite a bit of buildup before the first battle. Unfortunately for Matthew, I drew most of the military buildup cards. This just shouldn't happen - there's a decent distribution of these cards, so I don't think this is a flaw in the game.

Battlecards: World Conflict, The Russian Front

Jacob arrived and saw the tail end of my game with Matthew, so we went to battle on the eastern front. Similar result this time - I ended up winning every battle and achieving the victory condition of > 1/2 available victory points. Even though these games were one-sided, I still really enjoy playing this game.

Can't Stop

Julie, Matthew, and I played an abbreviated game of Can't Stop before bed time. This has become one our light favorites - very often when I come home from work I learn that Julie has played this with the boys after coming home from school. I won with an amazing string of high rolls on the 10 and 11 tracks.

Web Service Access to BoardGameGeek

A few of us over at the BoardGameGeek tech Yahoo group are exploring some ways to use web services to provide programmatic access to BoardGameGeek. Even if you aren't a developer, there are some very interesting applications that could come from this capability.

  • Some of you like to use programs like GameTracker to keep track of gaming collections and session reports. One challenge with "unconnected" software like this is that it is always out-of-date. With a web service to BoardGameGeek available for programs like this, they can synchronize their game databases with what has already become the authority.
  • Do you like to perform offline analysis of your collections, sessions, game rankings, etc.? With a web service interface, you could integrate programs like Excel directly into BoardGameGeek using toolkits designed by Microsoft.
  • If we make web service available for modifying the database (e.g., submitting new entries), some cool offline submission tools could be developed.

Gaming with the Westbank Gamers

I was in New Orleans this week at a banking conference, but managed to squeeze in one evening of gaming with the Westbank Gamers thanks to a welcoming invitation from Greg Schloesser. I have followed his gaming group for the past year - Greg writes very entertaining session reports and is an extremely prolific writer / reviewer.

It took about 30 minutes to get to Greg's house via taxi from my hotel - I had to navigate for the driver and he made a few wrong turns. When I finally arrived I found a room full of gamers (at least 15 people) and was warmly greeted and introduced.

Greg has each table make detailed notes of the games played, so you should expect to see a session report from him soon after he returns from his vacation in Ireland. He also has all players rate the games played on a 1-10 scale. I like his model and may consider adopting it for my local game sessions.

Thanks to the group for inviting me and for providing such a welcoming atmosphere!

Princes of the Renaissance

I've been reading about this game in many of the session reports from Essen and was anxious to try it. There are some reviews and reports here, here, here, and here. I played with Jimbo, Dave, Jerry, Spouey, and Jason.

The basic idea in this game is to purchase, through auctions, characters in one of the five major cities in Italy. These characters will score victory points at the end of the game based on the relative status ranking of their city. Status can change through war or through the recruitment of artists that increase status. Play proceeds through three decades (each decade is a game phase that ends when all artists for that age have been purchased). Within the decade, play rotates clockwise with each player choosing a single action to take. Actions include putting a character or artist up for auction, recruiting a military unit, having one city attack another, or purchasing a treachery tile. Victory points can also be earned by winning battles and recruiting certain characters or artists.

I'm usually hesitant to think too much about strategy when learning a new game like this. Since this is an auction game, I decided to follow the tactic of trying to bid up some of the early auctions while not winning them myself - this can be dangerous if your bluff gets called, but I figured worst case I'll be accumulating some characters at a slight premium. It worked out well as I was able to snatch up some bargains at the tail ends of all three decades. Which leads to another point - especially with a six-player game, you truly never can tell when your last action of a decade will be. There are (I think) 4 artists available in each decade, and if players start snatching them up, the decade can end quickly. Since I chose a prince that gives a particular military bonus (artillery), I made sure I grabbed a few military units early on. This led to an arms race where about 75% of the military units were purchased in the first few actions.

Someone had mentioned that in a previous game, the player that won had earned 10 VPs through military victory (the first win gives 1VP, the second 2 more, the third 3 more, etc.), so I figured a decent strategy would be to try and recruit at least 4 characters in the game, then use military force to elevate the status of their cities. To that end, I tried to ensure that the characters I recruited gave military bonuses of some sort.

Combat is interesting in this game. Players don't declare war against each other - rather, a player can force one city to attack another. Then players bid for the right to serve as the attacker or defender. There's little to lose in fighting, and much to gain, so bidding can be fierce. At the very least, you can make some profit if your bid ends up being less than the current status since the city pays the player that much to fight on their behalf (we are just mercenaries after all).

I was on the winning side of combat three times, and managed to hold 4 characters at the end of the game in the 2 highest cities. I managed to win with a score of 33. Other scores were Jerry-29, Jason-27, Jimbo-24, Dave-23, Spouey-18. I like this game a lot and will probably pick it up sometime over the holiday season - I rate it an 8 for now.

I'll post pictures for a few of the other games played without commentary - like I said, I'm sure Greg will write them up soon.

Circus Maximus (Rome version)

Maya

Finstere Flure

This one looks fun - I was hoping to get in on this game but the timing didn't work out.

Spank the Monkey

I just can't wait to see what sort of Google hits my weblog will start tracking after writing up this game. Unfortunate that they had to give the game this name - I suspect it will turn off some prospective buyers. It truly is a fun game!

Jim, Jason and I decided to give this one a try. Very simple to learn, and very quick to play. I compare it to Flux in terms of chaos and variable game length, though there probably is a marginal amount of strategy hat can be applied in this game. The basic premise is to stack junk into a pile in a junkyard so that you can climb to the top of your stack and spank a monkey that is on his own pile of junk. And you want to do this before anyone else does. On your turn you can add or reinforce your own junk tower or try and knock pieces out of your opponents' tower. Jim and Jason each won a single game; I was winless.

Shark

Lost Cities

Fantasy Pub

Greg and I finally managed to synch up to play a game together, and after some deliberation we decided to try Fantasy Pub, a game given to him at Essen so that he could write a review. It looked like a promising light game - players control a party of 7 fantasy characters (hobbits, dwarves, warriors, and an orc) that are trying to drink as much beer as possible in a pub. There are fiddly rules about how characters move around the pub, when they can drink beer, and how they can leave the pub.

This game doesn't work with five players. We had serious lockup issues, and for such a light game the downtime was unbearable. Three different times I waited 5 minutes for my turn to happen, only to roll the dice to find that all I could do was rotate my hobbit around the bar one full cycle and achieve nothing. It just got too crowded to be able to apply any sort of strategy and turned into a dice fest. I'm not excited to play this one again, but if I was forced to I would make sure there were only 2 or 3 players in the game.

Die Sieben Siegel

We wrapped up the evening with a short game of Die Sieben Siegel (the seven seals), a trick-taking game similar to spades or bridge. Players make bids of exactly how many of each suit they will take (no more or less), and there are some interesting twists that make this a winner for me. I grew up playing games like this (particularly spades and hearts and my grandparents' home), and given the choice between trick-taking and rummy style games, I think I prefer trick games. I will probably pick this one up. Shanna was on fire and won this game easily (we only played 2 hands). I was in second place not too far behind.

Lord of the Rings: Risk, Balloon Cup

I've been traveling too much - only two days at home between trips this time. I'm back on the road again, this time in New Orleans for our big annual conference: the BAI Retail Delivery show. On Friday night I was able to engage the boys in a few games. Jacob and I played the new Risk game: Lord of the Rings: Risk, Trilogy Edition, and Matthew and I played Balloon Cup. On Saturday, Jacob, Matthew, Ken, and I ventured down to Corvallis to watch the Oregon State Beavers dominate the Stanford Cardinal in football. Rarely have I seen such a one-sided event - it rained most of the game, but we were mostly oblivious given the dominance of OSU.

Lord of the Rings: Risk, Trilogy Edition

I haven't played any of the prior Risk variants, so I have no basis for comparison. I can say that this version is much better than the original game of Risk.

20031117LOTRisk

Yes, it is still a dice fest, but there are several reasons why I think this game is better:

  • Theme, theme, theme. Just the simple addition of a map of Middle Earth and counters reflecting good and evil units make a huge difference.
  • Cards add an element of surprise.
  • Leaders add a strategic element to the game, since they can help you gain new cards while contributing to battles.
  • There is a countdown as the ring move towards Mordor, limiting the lengt of the game.

20031117LOTRisk2

I hadn't played risk in probably 15 years, but I could still remember some of the basic strategies. I think my recent play of Wallenstein helped. I quickly gained control of several regions, accelerating my reinforcement each turn. Just like in the original Risk, there is a bit of a runaway leader problem - Jacob was without hope once I controlled 3 regions.

20031117LOTRisk3

Eventually Jacob conceded- it was only a short matter of time before I would overrun the Fellowship. I'm anxious to play a 4-player team version.

Balloon Cup

This is one of my favorite 2-player games. Matthew and I squared up for what was probably our 5th head-to-head game of this new classic by Stephen Glenn.

20031117BalloonCup

This was a very close game - it came down to a competition for the final grey trophy, and the outcome was solely dependent on who would draw the first grey card, and what the number turned out. Matthew turned up a mid grey card, giving him the victory on the final race and granting him the grey trophy. Have I mentioned before how lucky this kid is?