Session Report: Volldampf, I'm the Boss

Ken and Brandon came over Sunday afternoon for a few hours of gaming. We decided to take a break from our D&D campaign and bring out the boardgames.

Volldampf

After playing this game a while back at Kevin's, I purchased my own copy and did a paste-up job on the cards with the English translation available at the 'geek. Ken and I both enjoy Age of Steam (that was my birthday gift for him last spring), so I thought he would enjoy this predecessor. Jacob, Brandon, and Matthew joined us for a five-player game.

There are some key differences in the 5 player version relative to the 4 player version. One is that only 2 track cards per group are drawn each turn. For some reason I didn't like this - I enjoyed having to find the best set of 3 cards in the 4 player version, and the choices in this game seemed too obvious. Of course if it really were obvious (or simple), I wouldn't have scored so poorly.

Have I ever mentioned the good fortune that my son Matthew appears to have? Quick tangent here. Some of you may have read the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time series. One of the main characters is Mat, and because of some strange magic he is endowed with extremely good fortune. Julie and I really are starting to wonder about this kid... I wonder if he hears dice tumbling in his head? Should we take him to Vegas?

Back to the game - I try and coach Matthew on some strategies for acquiring track sections, explaining how goods will be shipped, and overall feeling pretty smug about my own understanding of the game. This is of course my second playing, and I won my first game largely because of some very fortunate merchandise card drawings. We start laying track, and I get a few good sections and jump out to the front early on. Matthew doesn't manage to get much on his first turn, and Ken is stuck with some poor choices (he finished 5th in the auction) and was unable to break even and suffers a small setback on the income track.

One cool thing about these train games is the ability for a player to require others to use his track sections to ship goods, sharing in the produced income. In the second turn, Matthew started to collect a dividend from just about everybody. Through luck or sheer brilliance, his track happens to e placed in 2 or 3 of the most strategic junctions, encouraging most of us to use him. The pattern went like this - I want to score 3 of my own sections on this shipment, but I'll have to use one of Matthew's - sounds like a good deal! So 3 out of 4 of us do this, plus Matthew ships his own goods, and next thing you know Matthew is racing into the lead. Ken also made some good use of action cards gained from his poor early turns and was neck and neck with Matthew.

The endgame wasn't very satisfying - there were some serious kingmaking opportunities for anyone that wanted to take some time to do a bit of calculation. In the end Matthew won the game in a tiebreaker (over Jacob I think), with Ken very close behind.

I'm the Boss

We ended the afternoon with this game of negotiations and deal making. This is any easy one to teach, and everybody got right into it. This is a game I need to play with adults - the negotiations could be a bit frustrating at times, though I could certainly afford to be more patient and tolerant. It did get to be a bit annoying to hear a negotiation dialog like this:

Chris: Let's see... I need Cashman to finish this deal. Can anyone bring Cashman into the deal? I would cut you in for $5 million.

Matthew: Well, I'll bring Sacks into the deal for $6 million.

Chris: I don't need Sacks, I need Cashman.

Matthew: How about if I bring Sacks in for $8 million then?

So maybe you'll understand my point. It was still fun, and Brandon did very well. I think he finished with around $43 million, and I was a distant third.

Age of Mythology First Impressions

After a Saturday full of sports activities (Matthew's soccer game - he scored 5 goals! - and Jacob's football game), I sat down with the boys around 5pm to start a game of Age of Mythology. Jacob and I had both read up on the rules so we dove right in and started. I played the Egyptions, Jacob played the Greeks, and Matthew played the Norse.

One mistake was choosing a playing surface that was much too small (that was my fault - I wanted to catch the end of the Iowa - Arizona State football game so we set up the card table in the family room). Setup took a decent amount of time, mostly sorting the building tiles. I had Jacob run upstairs to get our box of small Chessex d6 since I knew the 7 or supplied with the game would be way too few.

Everyone picked up the game very quickly - I think the game is very approachable for kids in the 7-10 range. Both Matthew and Jacob had played the computer game extensively so knew the cultures and different creatures, and that certainly helped. Jacob's familiarity with Puerto Rico didn't hurt.

I preached to the boys before the game started to not go for each other's throats - their brotherly competition tends to hurt the game dynamic. Rather than forbid attacking each other (which wouldn't make sense), I made it clear that if they focused on hurting each other, it would only help me.

Thinking that Matthew and Jacob would focus on building up their armies, I opted for a build and advance strategy. Matthew opted for a strategy of building some of the fewer stronger mythological creatures (namely trolls), while Jacob started bulking up on the cheaper mortal creatures. As expected, Matthew came out swinging and Jacob and I had a hard time handling his myth creatures. I worked on getting to the second age as quickly as possible so that I could recruit a hero to bring down his trolls. In addition, I built some buildings that would amplify my resource production, anticipating that I would be able to race ahead towards the end.

Matthew quickly gathered six victory points by winning battle after battle. My resource production advantage in addition to the storehouse (allowing me to keep more of my resources at turn end) allowed me to start building a formidable, diverse army. That still didn't stop Matthew from winning more battles against me - this kid has amazing luck. In one case I rolled 11 dice and didn't get a single 6; he rolled 3 and got two 6's.

In the end, I won the game by having the most buildings and largest army - I think I had 15 victory points, Matthew had 8, and Jacob 3. Nobody built the wonder - the game ended due to exhaustion of the victory cubes.

Impressions across the board were very favorable. I would expect Jacob and Matthew to put Age of Mythology at the top of their list right now, and we can't wait to play again. There has been much criticism of the combat system, but we didn't mind the chaos. My biggest complaint about the game is the odd combinations of bits in the games. Why include 6 player boards, but only provide parts for a 4 player game? Stay tuned for more impressions as we get more playtime in.

Piecepack Design Contest - Solitary Confinement

If you've never heard of piecepack, you should check it out. A piecepack is a set of boardgame parts that can be used to play a number of games and provides a great platform from which to design new games. Think of it as the open source toolkit for the gaming industry.

I've had my own piecepack for several months (the Mesomorph edition) and have tried about five different games so far. Matthew and I particularly enjoyed the dexterity game of Ppolf.

There is an increasingly active community of designers of piecepack games, and one approach they are using to promote new game development is a series of on- going design competitions. There were some great games that came out of the History Repeats Itself competition - I've read the rules but haven't played any of them yet.

The current competition is Solitary Confinement, a contest for piecepack solitaire games. This appears to be a great way to take my own shot at game design, and I plan on making at least a couple of submissions. I'm starting off my designing some very derivative games from playing cards, and will work my way into synthesizing my own designs.

Warcraft the Board Game

This has the potential to be very cool. Fantasy Flight and Eagle Games seem to have have struck a resonant chord with their recent introductions of computer game (and novel) inspired board games. The licensing costs must be very high, but clearly the economic model seems viable (I suspect they project based on Lord of the Rings Boardgame sales, which have been very high).

Fantasy Flight has also posted an article on the making of the game, which gives some insight into the gameplay. And, like Eagle Games, Fantasy Flight has been kind enough to post the rules to the game in advance of the release. At first glance there appear to be some similarities to Age of Mythology, but also some key differences:

  • There is a physical, spatial layout in this game as opposed to the Puerto Rico style player boards in Age of Mythology.
  • As you would expect given the game board, there is movement.
  • Individual units can be upgraded.
  • Combat is more complex - looks like a traditional wargame in this respect.
  • In short, this looks like a light wargame with a very cool theme.

Gaming with the Arizona Boardgamers (Night 2)

Saturday night I headed east from my hotel to Rob Smolka's house for some more gaming. I was pretty beat after 27 holes of golf and 3 hours of instruction but I'm not complaining - I rarely pass on an opportunity like this. Rob and Tammy have a great home for hosting, and by the time I arrived at 7pm there were already two tables up and running. Rob, Tammy, Jason, and Bobby were standing by waiting for me to arrive so we could start a game of El Grande. At the other table a game of La Citta was also getting started. Again, I'll provide more pics than commentary.

El Grande

This one has been on my "need to play" list for some time, and I made a special request to the Arizona Boardgamers before coming down to get this one out. First, the game is just beautiful - the colors fit the Spanish theme well, and the colors are distinct enough to quickly count cubes.

El Grande is an influence game - players are trying to move their caballeros into regions of spain to gain control by having a majority position. Actions allow players to introduce new caballeros, shift their own and others' caballeros, and interfere with the actions of others. Turn order can be very important, and each player has cards numbered 1-13 that are played during a turn order auction. Bobby, Rob, Tammy, and Jason joined me, with Jason doing a great job explaining the rules. I've learned that I have a hard time focusing on all of the rules at the start - I'm lacking any context from which to understand the details, so I usually like to get started quickly and figure it out as I go. As a result I usually have a poor showing in my first play of most games (OK, some would say I have poor showings in most subsequent plays as well, but that's a topic for another day).

I was impressed with Jason's play of this game - he clearly thought through a strategy early on and stuck with it. Rob hung close most of the game, with Tammy, Bobby, and I pulling up the rear. I wish I had a detailed game log of this one to better understand Jason's approach, but I'm fairly certain he focused on getting a presence everywhere he could, even settling for second and third in most of the regions. My greatest frustration was turn order - I didn't get some of the nuances around positioning leading up to each of the 3 scoring rounds, and I ended up still holding my 1 and 13 cards in my hand at the end of the game. I didn't do too poorly though - I finished third behind Jason (see how far he got on scoring track below) and Rob.

La Citta

Not much to say about this one since I didn't play it, but I do have a picture to show. I think that's Matthew on the left, and I think that's Scott on the right. Scott won the game.

Mamma Mia!

I really don't like memory games. This is a cute little filler, but I just don't like games where I need to keep track of card counts in multiple buckets. I don't mind tracking broad strokes or trends, but detailed card counting just isn't my gig. I only managed to complete one pizza order, and Jason won again.

Fresh Fish

Bobby asked for me to teach him this game, and Jason and Tammy joined for a 4-player game. I'm getting pretty good at teaching this game, and this was a very sharp group so they picked it up quickly. As good as I am with the expropriation rules, I still haven't made it through a game without at least one missed street tile placement. I am getting better at playing this game and learning the right tricks to force street placement. Jason and Bobby were very quick at picking up strategy, and it was a close match. Tammy got herself in a bind early by being forced to place her fish shop before she wanted to. I had a similar event happen as my last playing at Kevin's house - I had three solid positions cemented, then got a short route turned into a max route do to an end-game misplay. Jason won with 7, Bobby scored 9, Chris 18, and Tammy 22. We used gold for tie-breakers.

Mexica

It was time for me to leave after Fresh Fish, but there was a game of Mexica going on so I took a few pictures. I think that's Matthew, Rob, Jeff, and Jeff's wife. If I screwed up any of the names, post a comment and I'll correct!

My thanks go out to the group for their hospitality, especially Rob and Tammy. Let me know if you ever head up my way!