Session Report – A night with the Portland Gamers

Ken Rude and I traveled to Kevin’s house for our first gaming session with the Portland Gamers. Kevin is the gracious host for this group, and Jeff had gamed a few times before with Kevin.  Doug, Mimi, Ken, and I were all newcomers to the group.  Thanks to Kevin for hosting – I think everyone had a great time.

Attendees: Chris Brooks, Ken Rude, Jeff Fisher, Doug Walker, Mimi Walker, Kevin Graham

Games Played: Zendo, Dragon Delta, Fist of Dragonstones, Condottiere, Bohnanza

Zendo

Played By: Chris B. Ken R. Jeff F. Doug W. Mimi W. Kevin G.

Game Length: 45 min.

We played Zendo as an opener while we awaited possible late arrivals. Nobody turned up, but we had fun teaching Doug, Mimi, and Ken this Zen game with Icehouse pieces.

Winner(s):

Finish: Chris B. Ken R. Jeff F. Doug W. Mimi W. Kevin G.

Dragon Delta

Played By: Chris B. Ken R. Jeff F. Doug W. Mimi W. Kevin G.

Game Length: 60 min.

Chris brought this game of Chinese youths competing to lay planks to cross the delta. Everyone enjoyed this game, though we realized part way that I’ve been playing wrong: all players turn over their cards for the current round before the first player takes their action. This could certainly affect choices made when placing planks, removing planks, etc.

Winner(s): Chris B.

Fist of Dragonstones

Played By: Chris B. Ken R. Jeff F. Doug W. Mimi W. Kevin G.

Game Length: 60 min.

This is a game worth playing once, but possibly not more frequently. It has a nice theme, and interesting bits, but the blind bidding frustrates people. Poor Doug was frequently just barely on the losing end, which is most annoying. We only played to 2 victory points to cut the game short.

Winner(s): Ken R.

Condottiere

Played By: Chris B. Ken R. Jeff F. Doug W. Mimi W. Kevin G.

Game Length: 60 min.

Kevin introduced this game – Doug and Mimi had played before, but the rest of us haven’t. This is a much more pleasant bidding and bluffing game than Fist of Dragonstones, and one I might consider adding to my collection. There does appear to be a strong luck element in the draw.

Winner(s): Ken R.

Bohnanza

Played By: Chris B. Ken R. Jeff F. Doug W. Mimi W. Kevin G.

Game Length: 60 min.

I requested this for a closer since I’ve heard so much about it but have never played. Definitely a light game, but I think my kids might enjoy it. One thing I like is that there is very little downtime with all of the trading going on.

Winner(s): Mimi W.

Session Report generated by GameTracker (©Goldraven 2002)

Review: Battlecards – World Conflict

Overview

Battlecards is an expandable (not collectable) card game of World War II. DGA Games released their Western European Campaign (Great Britain vs. Germany) in 2002 and will be releasing a Pacific Theater Campaign (United States vs. Japan) shortly, with sets for the Russian Front and African Campaign to follow. When you purchase the basic set you get three decks: a Great Britain Arsenal deck, a Germany Arsenal deck, and a set of "Conflict" cards. The Arsenal cards come in three flavors: ground, air, and sea. The Conflict cards control the events of the game. There are 5 expansion sets available for the Western European Campaign that add new Arsenal and Conflict cards. As it stands now (without additional campaigns), this is essentially a two player game (though DGA has published some variant rules to play multiplayer in a single campaign, I haven’t yet tried them).

How the Game is Played

The allied and axis players start with their Arsenal decks, which can be customized with the expansion sets or even additional starter sets. The game plays just fine with the basic set, and I’ll limit my discussion to that starting configuration. The deck of Conflict cards is shared by each player. Each player starts by drawing 6 cards from their Arsenal and deploying three of them to the front. The deployed Arsenal cards will be used for battles, and battles may use any combination of the ground, air, and sea forces. The German player begins the game by drawing a Conflict card and performing the action specified. Conflict cards loosely fall into the following categories:

  • Military Buildup – allows the player to draw cards from the Arsenal deck into his hand, deploy some of them, and discard the rest
  • Retained Action – allows the player to hold onto a card for later use. These cards can be used to disrupt the enemy’s actions or give bonuses in future battles.
  • Immediate Action – allows the player to immediately take an action to help their own forces or disrupt the enemy. Examples include capturing an enemy unit or reorganizing a deployed stack of cards into two stacks (Divide & Conquer)
  • Battle – allows the player to enter into battle with the enemy if the pre-requisites are met and if the aggressor chooses to fight.

The combat system is fairly straightforward but does present some twists that caused confusion initially. Each Arsenal card has 6 numbered attributes: attack values for ground, air, and sea, and defense values for ground, air, and sea. In addition, each arsenal card has a firing phase from 1 to 4. Combat occurs in phases: all phase 1 units get to fire first (aggressor then defender), then phase 2, etc. This allows, for example, anti-aircraft guns to shoot down enemy planes before they get a chance to attack. Combat is resolved by using the Conflict deck as a random number generator. Let’s say a bomber is attempting to attack an enemy ship. The bomber has a sea attack value of 15, while the ship has an air defense value of 5. The attacker draws a card from the Conflict deck, and if it is greater than the defense value but less than or equal to the attack value (in this case, from 6 to 15), then the enemy ship is destroyed. At the end of the 4 phases if either player has lost all of the Arsenal, then combat is over and the winner gets to keep the Battlecard. If forces still remain, either player can choose to withdraw and concede victory to the other player but still retain some of their forces.

Some Arsenal cards are weak in and of themselves in combat, but provide valuable bonuses to other units. Fighter, for example, are usually most valuable either shooting down other planes or providing support to bombers through combat bonuses (sounds like real life, yes?). It is these capabilities that create for interesting tactical and strategic decisions in the game – there are a limited number of powerful cards, so a balance of forces is critical. In our games we’ve found the battleships to be the most powerful units – they fire early in the round (phase 2) and several of them can fire up to 4 times.

Play continues until one player wins a key final battle or achieves a certain number of victory points. This game is quite long – I play with my two sons (ages 6 and 8) and we find ourselves often stopping after 90 minutes with only half of the victory points achieved. A full game will last from 2 to 3 hours.

The Arsenal and Conflict decks get cycled several times during the course of a game, and it is rare for card to be eliminated from the game completely (leader assassinations are one example).

Quality of Components

The card quality is outstanding – better than any collectable card game I’ve played and with outstanding photography for artwork. I wish more card game manufacturers would go with The rules could use some work – I would prefer a small booklet version of the rules and it needs more explanation of certain characteristics of the game, particularly the special combat effects of certain cards. The online FAQ makes up for this, but the rules should be more self-contained. Hopefully they’ll fix this with some of the upcoming expansions. Future expansions will also come with a placemat with areas for deck and deployed forces placement as well as a rules summary.

Quality of Game Play

I love playing this game, and look forward to exploring the subtleties of force deployment and deck construction in future games. There is tension created when Battlecards are drawn – should I go into combat yet? Should I wait until I deploy more forces, potentially allowing your opponent to do the same? There are also difficult choices in Arsenal card deployment – should I focus on balancing forces or should I beef up just my air and sea forces initially? I played most of the Avalon Hill hex-based wargames back in the day, and I love games with WWII themes. This is clearly a simpler game than any of those, but with the shorter playing time combined with the quality artwork and depiction of forces, I’ll be playing this one for a while. For now I’ll be rating this game an 8 – it might get an even higher score with the upcoming release of the expansions and potential for strong multiplayer campaigns.

Books About Games

Mikko has an interesting post on Books About Games.  It reminded me of a fantasy book I read in the early 1980’s called Hobgoblin, which was about a teenager that gets caught up in a role-playing game similar to Dungeons and Dragons.  One interesting aspect was the game system: it was a hybrid role playing and card game that looked similar to Magic: the Gathering (10+ years before it was published of course).

Session Report – GameStorm 2003

I had the pleasure of attending the GameStorm
convention in Portland
, OR last weekend. I had business travel on Friday and a
Cub Scout Pinewood Derby to run most of Saturday, but managed to spend time at
the con Saturday evening and most of Sunday. I went by myself Saturday, but
brought the whole family on Sunday. KC Humphrey ran an excellent “Intro to
Euros” session on Sunday that I thought would be perfect for my wife Julie,
son Jacob (age 8), and Matthew (age 6). I had originally planned to just take
Jacob, but Matthew became pretty distraught at being excluded and I decided to
take a chance and bring him. He has played Carcassonne, Settlers, and a few
other similar games.

Saturday Evening – Solo

Settlers of Catan – Cities and Knights

I have played Settlers of Catan as well as the 2 player card game, but never
this expansion. It took a while to understand the mechanics, and I found
myself trailing most of the game (we played 5 players on the 4 player board).
I really enjoyed the added complexity of this expansion – there are more
choices to make and more tension created by the raids. I enjoyed this so much
I bought the expansion from a retailer at the convention. I ended up finishing
in the middle of the pack with 8 victory points but only got that close when
an opponent interrupted one of the two leaders’ longest road with a knight,
giving me the new longest road.

Carcassonne

I managed to get in two casual games of Carcassonne in the open playing area.
I played against two opponents that were just learning, and there was some
initial confusion on the scoring, particularly for the farmers. I won the
first game and finished second in the second game.

Sunday – with the Family

Our morning was spent with KC Humphrey and Jay Schindler who were running the
Intro to Euros track, designed primarily to introduce families to German-style
games. We hit it off – KC and Jay were just fabulous with the kids; they made
the day worthwhile.

Liar’s Dice

Believe it or not, I had never played this game, and it was the biggest hit of
the day with the kids. Probably because it was the first time they were able
to repeatedly call their mother a liar! This is a keeper and I’ll be looking
for this at a thrift store soon. Matthew, Jacob, and Jay won with 5 dice (we
stopped when the first player ran out of dice).

Viva Pamplona

The theme was a blast – running with the bulls in Pamplona and accumlating
bravery points. We raced along trying to stay close to the bull, and KC ended
up accumulating the most points.

Wildlife Adventure

I loved the cards and theme for this game – traveling the world trying to
locate endagered species. We played very cooperatively, and Julie was the
first to go out and accumulated the most animals.

6 Tage Rennen

I’ve heard that this game about bicycle racing is fairly rare (it was
published in 1988). It was moderately enjoyable, but I don’t see much replay
value. This is a game where a random factor would actually help. Coming from
behind seems almost impossible. Toni, a young girl that joined us for a while,
pulled ahead at the end for the victory.

Aquarius

After finishing the Intro to Euros session and having some lunch, we spent
about two hours at a Looney Labs demo. I’ve
played Fluxx and
several of the Icehouse games,
so was eager to try a few more Looney games. We first tried Aquarius, a card
game similar to dominos. Very light but enjoyable, but given a choice between
this and Fluxx I think we’d usually choose Fluxx. Matthew won this one.

Martian Chess

Jacob and I gave the Icehouse game of Martian Chess a try next – even though
we have several Icehouse stashes we had yet to try this one. We both found
ourselves making bonehead moves – it is hard to get used to controlling the
pieces by location, not color. I sneaked by and won 15-12.

Chrononauts

Jacob and I sat down with two others to try this. It looked a bit daunting for
Jacob given the historical context for the game, but we both loved it.
Definitely a heavier game than Fluxx (in fact, the heaviest Looney game that
I’ve played). Jacob sneaked up and won this one.

Carabande

I’ve always wanted to play this – our family has enjoyed carom boards (we have
one and several of our Indian friends do as well), so the combination of a
flicking game with racing was a sure hit for the boys. They spent 90 minutes
here and we had to drag them away. Not sure I want to fork over the $ for my
own copy, but I’ll give it serious consideration.