New Year’s Gaming, (Final) Day 4

Monday is a day of cleaning up, packing, and heading home. That doesn’t mean we can’t fit in a few games.

I woke up fairly early to watch the Iowa / Florida game. By halftime there wasn’t much to see, so I moved back to the table to do my day 3 post and watched Ken, KC, and Rita play the Terrain Game. This game doesn’t have the highest rating on BGG, but apparently KC has a variant that made the game a bit more playable. He promises to make a post soon on the ‘geek with some more details.

The Terrain Game

KC recently designed a kid’s game based on the annoying but addictive flash animation Badger Badger Badger. It is a press-your-luck tile drawing game that the younger kids seemed to like quite a bit, especially Matthew.

Badger Badger

KC and I also played a nice little prototype of Kevin Nunn’s Counter Spy game. This is the best two-player game prototype we’ve had and will very likely go into another round of play-testing with our local group. It has a CCG feel without the deck building aspect – lots of take-that and hand management. I’ve played four times so far and each game has been close with plenty of tension.

Counter Spy

The final game played here for New Year’s 2006 is of course Magic: the Gathering. The kids continue to enjoy their cards from Ravnica and we look forward to some trading from our sealed deck acquisitions to tune our decks a bit more.

Last Magic Game

Overall the weekend was a fantastic success – we saw much more gaming participation from traditional non-gamers this weekend, a specific goal that KC and I had. The hit party game of the weekend was a tie between Catch Phrase and Plext. My favorite gamer-games of the weekend were Atlantic Star and Byzantium.

New Year’s Gaming, Day 3

A stormy day at the coast means there’s no good reason to leave the house. More gaming goodness.

I started off the day with a four-player game of Barbarossa with Julie, Ken, and Jacob. This is a great little game that offers a surprising amount of strategy and subtlety for what appears on the surface to be a light clay molding party game. The goal is to make sculptures that are guessable but not too easy. You can see in the picture below our 8 sculptures – take your guesses, and I’ll give answers at the bottom of this post.

Barbarossa

KC had a hankering to get out his beautifully produced copy of Tal der Könige. This is a pyramid building game that involves some interesting bidding mechanisms and movement-plotting and we enjoyed it quite a bit. Each player has two bosses that can bring workers to construction sites to build pyramids. The pyramids are built with blocks that are won in an auction at the start of each turn (blind bidding with tiles). After the auction, players plot moves for their bosses; this is where the interaction comes in.

Tal der Konig

You can move your boss to another player’s building site to steal building cubes from unfinished pyramids or, in special circumstances, steal the site from the player. We had a decent amount of conflict in the game and it kept the bickering and jabbing at a high but enjoyable level. There are defensive measures you can take to prevent stealing, but it is costly and can slow down expansion and building.

I went for the many-ugly pyramid strategy (not intentionally) and did decently, finishing second. Ken was left alone for the early part of the game and stayed strong enough to win the game. This is a great game that I’d like to play again.

Tal der Konig Closeup

For mid- to late-afternoon, we engaged in a four-on-four Memoir ’44 Overlord game. Ken and I took the commanding general roles; Justin, Brandon, and Matthew were my field generals for the allies while KC, Josh, and Jacob were Ken’s field generals for the axis. We played one of the expansion scenarios, can’t remember the name but it was July 1944 in France.

Memoir 44 Overlord Setup

As the attackers we had to take some risks and try to capture some of the axis forward fortified cities. It was rough going and we lost 3-4 units in the process. The game stayed fairly even for the first hour, but once I put a time/round limit on the game (we have to eat dinner, you know!) the axis made a major counter-attack to try and get a point advantage before game end. Not only did they succeed in that, they accumulated all 12 medals they needed to win the game. Overlord is a great way to play Memoir and I think everyone had a great time.

Memoir 44 Overlord

The kids went swimming for a while and upon return we had a small Texas Hold’em tournament. Ken was nice enough to stay with the kids and keep things in order.

Poker Tournament

All of the players stayed in for a surprisingly long time, but Matthew held his own in the end and won the final pot with a flush (two hearts in the hole).

Matthew Wins the Tournament

While the kids (and Ken) played poker the rest of us played some lighter card games. First up was Olympia 2000, a light game of olympic sports. The basic idea is you have a set of cards in your hand and you secretly choose an athlete to compete in the next event. Very much a luckfest, but there are ways to influence the direction of the game as you can try to finish last in an event which allows you to choose what the next event in the queue will be. Not my favorite game but a fun little diversion.

Olympia 2000

Julie was the champion in both games and was quite proud of her success.

Julie Wins

Next up was Trendy, the Knizia game of fashion and runway modeling. There’s some nice balance in scoring and card counts and some great player interaction, especially in trying to shut down the leader. Overall a fun game and one I enjoyed quite a bit more than Olympia. Maybe that’s because I won.

KC, Rita, Justin, and I also played another game of Tichu. This game is getting more fun the more I play – reminds me of my early years playing spades and how much I enjoyed the team aspect of that game. I’m improving but still very green on strategy, but the game has been a blast.

Trendy

The final game of the night was Atlantic Star. This was a cheap pickup at Essen (about 10 Euro) and having played it I think it was my best purchase of the show. This was easily one of my favorite gaming experiences of the weekend. We played with six and this easily ranks as the best six-player game I’ve played. Plenty of player interaction, minimal downtime, and some decent but not too heavy strategy involved.

Atlantic Star

I did pretty well, finishing two points behind the winner KC. Everyone had fun and I think we’ll see this game coming out again soon.

Answers to Barbarossa Puzzle: Clockwise from front center are shovel, cell-phone, brick, peach, kite, bottle, camera.

New Year’s Gaming, Day 2

First, Happy New Year! We’ve had a great day of gaming at the coast, including some 3–on–3 basketball action down at the outdoor half-court.

Highlights for today: Byzantium, Oltremare, Electronic Catchphrase, and a sealed deck Magic: the Gathering / Ravnica tournament.

The kids took it on themselves to play a five-player game of Shadows Over Camelot with the traitor, with Jacob explaining the rules. Chelsea turned out to be the traitor but the boys assured me the knights reigned victorious.

Shadows Over Camelot

One of my as-yet-unplayed titles from Essen was the Martin Wallace title Byzantium. It is 2:30am on Sunday morning here and hard to go into too much depth here, but rest assured that there’s a lot going on in this game. There are also some very creative characteristics to the game that I haven’t seen before, but that might just be my limited exposure. KC, Ken, Justin, and I played a four-player game that lasted close to four hours.

Each player has the ability to control factions of Arab and Byzantine forces in conflict in the middle-east and Asia minor. Progress you make for Arabia and Byzantium are tracked on independent scoring tracks, and there are some constraints that encourage balancing VP generation between the two. Typical of Wallace games, there are many choices players can select, causing initial confusion / dilemma as players learn the various moving parts and basic strategies. The first turn (there are three in all) took close to two hours as we figured the basics out.

Byzantium

Each player controls an Arab and a Byzantine army and (usually) has a pawn on the board representing the current location of the army. The essence of the game is using your armies to attack cities controlled by the other side (Arab armies attack Byzantine cities) to gain victory points, though there are exceptions that include civil wars against your own kind and an inability to attack yourself (remember you are on both sides!).

Byzantium Closeup

Actions are short enough that downtime was limited, a big bonus in my book (that’s why I like Antike so much). In our game it looked like KC was in the running for the win for most of the game, but Justin surprised us all with an Arab mad dash across the north of Turkey to take a shot at Constantinople. While the attack failed, the damage he did along the way was enough to secure a tie with me in VPs at the end of the game, with Justin winning the first tie-breaker. The game was tight overall, with KC finishing a single point behind and Ken only about 5 behind him.

I think I’m more inclined to play this again than the others, as I think much of our frustration was from first-play confusion rather than any problems with the game itself. This is a deep Wallace game after all and you need to get in 2–3 plays before it starts to sink in. I’m rating it a 7 right now but that might increase.

We all took a break 6 of us walked the half mile to the basketball courts for some 3–on–3 fun and exercise. I mention this to make it clear that we do get outside from time to time.

Most of the kids decided to go for a swim after dinner, so Ken, Brandon, KC, Rita, and I played my new copy of Oltremare from Essen. I’m a big fan of this game, though after my first play with five I wonder if it is much better with 3 or 4. I felt that the game ended too quickly (i.e., with too few turns) and exaggerated some of the luck of the draw differences. Case in point: I never drew a card with more than 2 cargo markers and was unable to trade for anything better. This made it very difficult to get enough cards down to make long sets.

Oltremare Board

Still, it was fun and I think Rita and Brandon (first time players) enjoyed it very much. The bits in the new version are largely gratuitous and hardly helpful. As you can see in the photo above we replaced the ships with color-coded bits (wooden trucks in this case) so we could actually see what color was where; those ships are completely worthless. KC pulled out the big victory; Brandon and I tied for last.

Oltremare

While I organized the start of our Magic tournament, all of the women gathered around the Mystery of the Abbey board for some deduction goodness.

Mystery of the Abbey

For our Magic tournament, I provided a tournament pack plus three boosters from the Ravnica set. We were all completely ignorant of the set, adding to the excitement of exploring a new set of cards and mechanics. I’m not a big CCG fan, but this is still one of the best games ever made. And it keeps on going…

I was hoping to try something different this year, perhaps involving blue or black as I tend to lean towards creature decks (green) or direct damage (red). The cards spoke for themselves though, and it was fairly obvious that I should play green/white given some of the guild combos and hybrids in my set. Ravnica introduces cards that can use either/or of two different mana types (green/white, white/red, blue/black, etc.).

Matthew Prepares His Deck

I did well in the swiss-style tournament, going undefeated and claiming the victory crown from Ken (he won last year). Ken and Brandon finished tied for second and will have a playoff match in the morning to see who claims second place. The games were a blast and everyone enjoyed the new set.

While we finished the tournament the rest of the crowd started a game of Electronic Catch phrase that lasted from 10:30pm until 1:30am. This was a blast and by 12:30 we had almost the whole crew engaged.

Catchphrase

If you’ve never played this, run to Target or Toys R Us tomorrow and pick up a copy – just about any group will enjoy this game. It was especially nice to see different generations deeply engaged, laughing, and enjoying such a great party game.

Julie and Josh Playing Catchphrase

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring – maybe another play of Indonesia or some prototypes. You’ll know soon enough…