Keuka Lake Wrap-up

We had a great but too-short time at Keuka Lake this year. I managed to stay
there for 9 days while Julie, Jacob, and Matthew were there for about 2.5
weeks (they normally spend 4-6 weeks there). It was a fun-filled, busy week
and a time for both sides of our family to enjoy the lake and surrounding
areas. My sister Jennifer and her family (husband James and 5 kids!) joined us
for a week, and Julie’s brother Mike is there for the entire summer learning
the ropes of cottage, boat, and lake management.

Speaking of Mike, he recently earned his pilot’s license and took Jacob,
Matthew, and I flying around the finger lakes for about 90 minutes. It was a
fantastic trip – we over-flew the cottages and the length of Keuka Lake,
headed over to Seneca lake, passed by Watkins Glen and the racetrack there,
then returned via Corning and Canisteo. I didn’t get any solid pictures on my
digital camera but I got a few great shots with Julie’s Canon Eos body and
telephoto lens. That’s Mike on the left flying the plane (a Cessna 172
4-seater). The only downside was that Jacob got a bit motion sick.

As usual Jacob and Matthew spent the bulk of their time in the water. Jacob is
now a comfortable water-skier (2 skis for now) and even managed to get up on
the wakeboard once. Matthew prefers tubing and he was a madman this year,
including several rounds of “battle tubing” where we towed two tubes and did
some stunts and wrestling between the two.

The Thorns and The Jayhawks live in Portland

Julie and I had a date last night – went out for some great food at the
Southpark Seafood Grill & Wine Bar then
headed over to the Roseland Theater for a night with The Thorns and The Jayhawks. As I’ve mentioned before, Julie and I are
long-time Matthew Sweet fans (we’ve seen him twice before, and his
breakthrough album Girlfriend came out right when we got married), so that was
the primary draw for us. The Jayhawks are no slouches either – I’ve been a fan
for about 5 years and their new album Rainy Day Music is a classic. If you are a fan of
alt-country (like Uncle Tupelo, Sun Volt, even Lyle Lovett) or harmony groups
(CSN, Buffalo Springfield, Beach Boys), you must check these two groups out.

Brief review of the concert: The Thorns were much better than I expected, and
The Jayhawks were a little worse. It came down to energy and execution – The
Thorns were very tight and enthusiastic, while Gary Louris of the Jayhawks
seemed to be having a low-energy night. I was hoping for at least one song
from the combined group – The Thorns covered “Blue” by the Jayhawks on their
album, and Matthew Sweet has appeared as a background vocalist on several
Jayhawks albums. Didn’t happen last night though.

Gaming in Brooklyn, NY – June 30, 2003

I posted a note to spielfrieks several weeks ago about a liquidation sale at
my local Wizards of the Coast store, particularly the discount on Tigris &
Euphrates ($25). Mikael Sheikh pinged back asking if I would pick up a couple
of copies to ship to New York City for him and his friend Jonathan. I gladly
obliged and told him I’d give him a heads up if I was going to be in NYC so we
could get together for some gaming. On my way to Keuka Lake in western NY, I
needed to spend some time visiting a potential partner in Manhattan. Never one
to miss out on a potential game night, I let Mikael know I would be in town.
He and Jonathan were kind enough to reschedule their weekly game night in
Brooklyn from Tuesday to Monday, and Mikael offered to meet me after work for
dinner in lower Manhattan. We thought we’d have some time to play a two-player
game, but we got very wrapped up in conversation over some great Thai food and
before we knew it we needed to head to the F train to cruise over to Brooklyn.
Mikael happens to work in technology planning for the transit authority so is
an expert on how the subways are controlled and operated. He also loves games
with a public transportation theme.

Jonathan was waiting for us and we got started at 8:45pm. He expected one more
to arrive around 10pm, so we quickly settled into a 3 player game of Puerto
Rico.

Puerto Rico

This was about my 6th play of Puerto Rico, and I need to move beyond the
discovery stage and learn how to play this game well. I’m certainly getting
the hang of the flow and I do find it easier to make most decisions, but I’m
certainly without a clear strategy when I play. Time to read up on strategy
again on spielfrieks and work on improving my game. Strangely enough the last
two games I’ve played have ended up in a dead heat – this time Jonathan and
Mikael each tied with 51 points, 2 gold, zero barrels. Still a 9 in my book.

Wallenstein

I requested ahead of time that we play this game. I’ve been in the mood for
richer games lately – probably a bit of nostalgia for my early days playing
the big Avalon Hill war games. Jonathan’s neighbor Lev joined us and we
proceeded to start a 4 player game of this war game set in Germany / Austro-
Hungary in the 30 years war.

The simple comparison for this game is to say that it is Risk-like. Colored
cubes represent forces in provinces, and the basic goal is to expand to as
many provinces as possible while accumulating economic strength by building
palaces, churches, and trading houses. We used the basic canned setup and I
was yellow, meaning the bulk of my forces started the game in the south-
central portion of the board.

There are some very interesting mechanics in this game that I’ll discuss
individually:

  • The Turn Sequence involves the play of 4 seasons in two consecutive years. Actions are taken in spring, summer, and fall, while winter is where the wheat harvest is consumed, peasants go hungry and (possibly) revolt, and points are scored. So there are two scoring rounds in the game. Very similar to Amun Re.
  • Player Actions are programmed ahead of time. In each season a random sequence of the same 10 actions will occur, including wheat production, gold production, force deployment, force transfer, combat, and building construction. At the start of a season, the first 5 actions that will occur are revealed – the remaining 5 are revealed sequentially as play progresses so that there are always 5 actions in the queue (until the last 5 are reached of course). Actions are programmed by players by linking them to specific provinces controlled by that player. For example, if I plan to initiate combat from Bremen, I would lay the Bremen province card face-down on one of the two combat actions. There are also blank action cards that can be laid down if the player has no plans to take that action. In some cases, an action might be nullified (e.g., if the player loses a province to another player or peasants before it shows up, or if the player doesn’t have enough gold to perform the action). Otherwise, when a province/action comes up the player must take that action.
  • Random Global Events occur in each season that change the global context for the game. At the start of each year, players know what 4 events might happen, but not in what order. Only the first three events will be used, since the fourth card will be used to determine how harsh the winter is and how much wheat will be required to satisfy the peasants. If a player under produces wheat that year, he may feel the brunt of a massive peasant revolt and lose one or more provinces.
  • Player Turn Order is determined randomly each season. Like most games, sometimes it is great to be first, sometimes it is best to be last.
  • Victory Point Scoring is calculated using a number of factors. Players score points for the number of provinces and buildings under their control at the end of the year and by having the majority of a particular building type in a region.
  • Combat Resolution is clearly the coolest part about this game. Rather than rolling hordes of dice, an amazing sieve-like contraption is used to randomly filter and pass through player force cubes. Since some pieces get trapped in the device, they can come back later to help in successive combat rounds. So if you get screwed in a particular combat (e.g., I once went into a combat with a 7 to 3 advantage but still lost), there’s hope that it will balance out later in the game as your pieces are dislodged from the bowels of the tower. I like this system so much more than dice rolling – resolution happens immediately and it balances out combat in the long run.

You may have guessed that I love this game, even though I finished last.
Mikael pulled out a strong victory, followed by Jonathan, Lev, and me. I’ll
rate this an 8 after my first play.

I’ll post some pictures of this session once I’m back to a broadband
connection. Right now I’m dealing with slow dialup from western NY.

Gaming in Sherwood – Sunday, June 29

I hosted an afternoon of gaming at my house in Sherwood before departing on my
New York trip. Julie and the boys were already at the lake, so it was just me
and the cats hosting. Doug and Mimi, Ken, Kevin, and Elliot all joined in.

Linie 1

Doug, Mimi, Kevin, and Chris kicked off the afternoon with this tile-laying
transportation game. This is another “hidden agenda” game where each player
has a secret route they must try to complete, starting by laying down trolley
tracks and then running their trolley by rolling dice. Each player must start
at one numbered station and finish at the same numbered station across the
board, stopping at two required trolley stops along the way. I of course got
wrapped up in my own route and didn’t spend much time thinking about the other
players (this is usually how I play games for the first time). Before I knew
it Mimi was running her trolley having completed her track. Doug followed
closely behind, then me. I got some helpful dice rolls, allowing me to quickly
jump through 2 trolley stops. Doug made a wrong turn leaving an opening, and
Mimi got bogged down with low dice rolls. Kevin started his trolley, but after
a few moves realized he didn’t actually have a route that would allow him to
visit his two stops. Mimi quickly got her momentum back and beat us to the
finish line.

Balloon Cup

Elliot and Ken played a game of Balloon Cup while waiting for Linie 1 to
finish. This was a first time for both, but they quickly got the hang of it
and didn’t have any lock-ups. Elliot won but didn’t appear to be thrilled with
the game. Ken is eager to try it again.

Age of Steam

I asked Ken to bring this since I’ve been wanting to play it ever since I gave
it to him as a birthday gift (that sounds very self-serving, doesn’t it?).
This is a train game (I just realized this was a very transportation-oriented
session – trolleys, balloons, and trains) set in middle America – comfortable
territory for me since I’ve lived in 3 of the cities represented on the map
(St. Louis, Indianapolis, and Des Moines). Players compete by building rail
line segments between cities and establishing shipping lanes to increase their
annual revenues. The longer a route used to ship the goods, the more income
produced. Cash flow is a major factor in this game – just like the real
business world, you almost certainly need to issue shares to get cash to build
your lines. The player that gets to positive cash flow early has a good chance
of pulling ahead, but there are some interesting mechanics that prevent a
runaway situation. As business grows, so does the complexity of managing
operations (margins can decline), so there’s a progressive income reduction at
the end of each turn depending on the income level. Ken got control of the
middle of the board early, was fiscally responsible and got his locomotive
upgraded to transport 3 segments by the third turn. Ken won the game, with
Doug, Elliot, and I close behind (I had a good comeback but never recovered
from a negative cashflow situation early the game that knocked down my income
two notches). Kevin finished a distant last but I got the sense this game
wasn’t his cup of tea. I loved the game and am eager to try some of the other
train games (18xx series,
Volldampf).

Aladdin’s Dragons

This was a bargain I picked up at the Wizards of the Coast store so Ken,
Elliot and I decided to break it out and give it a first try. This game
surpassed my expectations. The goal of the game is to collect the most
artifacts, and artifacts are purchased using treasures. Players successively
place secret bids on treasure caves, town stores (where special abilities can
be purchased), and palace rooms (where artifacts can be purchased). In some
cases only the winner of the auction in a particular room gets anything, in
other cases there are staggered prizes even for the losers. There was one
point of confusion that we need to investigate – the rules state that in a
3-player game, only two sets treasures should be placed in the dragon caves
(so the 3rd place finisher wouldn’t win anything). But the 3-player treasure
cards show three treasure sets in several cases. We assumed the cards
overruled the printed rules, but we could have been wrong. This was a very
close game – Elliot one by collecting the most scroll artifacts, which was the
tie-breaker and we all finished with six artifacts.

Mystery Rummy 4 – Al Capone

Ken and I wrapped up the evening with a shortened game (to 100) of MR4. I like
the rummy games, particularly Wyatt Earp, and I suggested this once since I
think it plays better with two than Wyatt Earp. I got off to a quick lead, but
Ken cam back at the end to edge me out. The final score was something like 112
to 102. The designer, Mike Fitzgerald, wrote a great strategy article on
spielfrieks
that I
need to read and digest before playing this again.

Session Report – Gaming at Doug and Mimi’s – Saturday, June 28

We spent most of our time play-testing a new game, but we managed to squeeze
in a playing of the new Fantasy Flight game
Quicksand. This is a
racing game where you advance one of six adventurers on your turn by playing
cards of that adventurer’s color. The catch is each player is trying to
advance their secret adventurer while trying to guess which adventurers belong
to which opponents. Adventurers can be delayed by moving them into tight
situations (like quicksand) or by playing quicksand cards. This is a simple,
quick game that won’t be for everybody. It has a fair bit of bluffing and
misdirection, but there isn’t enough time to do much but advance your
adventurer and slow down whoever is in the lead. There’s a substantial luck
element as well – I only drew 3 cards of my adventurer’s color the whole game.
Mimi pulled this one out with Doug and Ken a close second. This one will be
fun with the kids, but a bit too light for my taste. I’ll give it a 6.