Wallenstein Arrives, First Play

My backordered copy of Wallenstein finally
arrived from Funagain last week. I played this for
the first time during a trip to New York City last July, and I was anxious to play again. I’m
pretty sure this game is out of print, so I think I’m fortunate to have landed
a copy of this game.

My routine when a new game arrives is to dismantle the bits and divide into
little plastic baggies. One of the coolest features of Wallenstein is the
combat tower, which is used to resolve combat between two players. Little
wooden cubes are dropped into the top, some get stuck in the tower, and some
roll out into the tray. The player with the most cubes rolling out wins the
battle. It is actually a bit more complicated than that (native farmers might
fight on the side of one of the players, for example), but that’s the basic
idea. Jacob suddenly became very interested in the game as I showed him the
tower and the gameboard and I talked him into trying a two player game. We
used the variant rules posted on the ‘geek. One
other note on the rules – make sure you grab the most recent translation from the ‘geek! The
version sent with the game from Funagain was almost worthless.

Jacob picked up the game very quickly, but was a bit too aggressive in his
attacks. Rather than focus on expansion first and then picking battles where
he had an advantage, he tried to fight me one too many times where I had equal
opposition. The luck of the tower was leaning towards me in these battles and
I came out ahead. He was also slow to understand the victory conditions and
didn’t get enough strength in his buildings across the region, so I won pretty

Cubs Win!

Man, it has been a long time! 95 years in fact – 1908 was the last time
the Cubs managed to win a post-season series. In my lifetime, it has been one
heartbreak after another. There was the collapse in 1969, the disaster in San
Diego in 1984, and the letdowns in 1989 and 1998. Not to mention the multitude
of losing seasons. Up until this year, I think I was one of about 120,000
people in the world that had ever seen the Cubs win a postseason game – I was
at their only victory in 1989 at Wrigley against the Giants.

Tonight, the Cubs won their division series against the Braves. Onto the NLCS!

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.


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

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
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

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

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.