Recent Gaming: 1850, Volldampf, Vinci

Time to catch up on some recent gaming. As you may have read in Mike’s blog, we had a very wacky game of 1850 a few weeks ago. Not knowing the exact number of players that would be playing, we opted for a (likely) five-player game of 1850, an 18xx game set in the midwest. Matt had a trip cancelled so joined us as well, bringing the total to six. An ideal number for an 18xx game? I think not…

1850 with the RipCity crew

Continuing my tradition of being unable to play a game of any reasonable complexity properly by the rules, we messed up the certificate limit rules in this game. While Mike will claim that this was the primary reason for the game being wacky, I think it was a contributor but not the key. The key to me was the large number of players and the need to cooperate on initial capital investments to get the game rolling. My recollection is that for the first few turns we were stalled because of lack of money in the companies, not because people hit their share limits. We were only off by one on the cert limit rule, though in a few cases it definitely hindered the start of companies or caused some dumping to occur that may not have otherwise. Lesson for me: stick to 3 or 4 player 18xx games.

I hosted our group gaming session last week and we brought out the Wallace classic Volldampf. The game holds up well even in light of successors like Age of Steam and Steel Driver, though the randomness of goods generation is a turnoff for some. JD played very insightfully for a first play – he didn’t get suckered into the turn order bid and focused on leaching off of other’s routes. The game was fairly close throughout but JD managed to get and maintain a sizeable enough lead to give him the win.

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The Days of Wonder announcement about their new game Smallworld, a re-envisioning of Phillipe Keyaerts’ Vinci encouraged me to get this out with the boys over the weekend. This is a Risk-style conquer and control-the-world style game with a very light combat system with specialized civilizations. Because each civilization begins with a fixed pool of assets (pawns for conquering), the lifecycle of a civilization is constrained and one of the key player decisions that recurs throughout the game is when to go into decline and start a new civ.

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Jacob got off to an early lead but stalled out as he approached the 100 point mark, with Matthew gradually catching up to him. I had a good mid-game (including a civ that allowed me to decline at the end of my turn rather than beginning) and Jacob and Matthew probably weren’t aggressive enough at attacking the leader. Always more fun to attack the brother, right? Great game, played in under 2 hours.

Chess Success

Last weekend I helped host a regional Chess for Success tournament at Sherwood Middle School. With a very strong 6th grade class joining our club of about 40 members I liked our chances of qualifying for the state tournament. The team is comprised of up to 10 players and the tournament is a swiss style individual team tournament. This means that each player is competing as an individual over 5 rounds of play, trying to accumulate as many points as possible (1 for a win, 0.5 for a draw), and will generally not play someone from their own team. Swiss style means that a player is paired with another player with approximately the same score each round – the better you do, the more difficult the tournament becomes. Both Matthew (6th grade) and Jacob (8th grade) qualified for the team.

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We had a great first round with 8 out 10 players getting wins. This put us in a tie for first place as only the top 4 individual scores are counted and it is fairly routine for many teams to accumulate the maximum four points in the initial round. The second round was brutal – of the 8 players that won in the initial round, only 2 managed a win in the second. This put us at 6 points and we dropped to 5th place.

The team regrouped and played strongly the next two rounds, accumulating 3 or 4 points in each round to put us in second place going into the final round. The top 2 teams qualify for state so we were carefully watching the point spread between us and third place (1.5 points). This was also the spread between us and the first place team.

We had 6 players with 3 points after 4 rounds (this means they had won 3 out of 4 games). I’ve coached teams in tournaments like this about 15 times and getting even 2 team points in a final round like this can be tough. The kids were well aware of the point situation and eagerly awaited each player as they exited the tournament room so that they could tabulate results. 3 out of the 6 quickly got their wins, giving us 3 points and a guaranteed second place. Matthew was one of the final remaining players going for his 4th point and was well ahead, getting to a queen/pawn vs no pieces against his opponent – generally an easy win. Unfortunately he rushed things and fell into a stalemate trap. Still, that gave us 3.5 additional points and, by our calculations, a tournament victory.

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It was a great team effort with three of our players finishing in second place in the individual category, and everyone pulling strongly for the team. We compete in the state championship in March in a true “team” tournament – 4 players competing against 4 from the opposing team.

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Recent Gaming: Verrater, Battlestar Galactica, Warriors of God, and more

Despite the lack of blogging on my part, games have been played and enjoyed recently. Let’s start with the winter holidays.

We spent the holidays around Christmas in Las Vegas with the grandparents and had plenty of fun playing poker, bridge, and… Verräter! This was my first time playing my personal copy – I played it one time before with Mark Johnson at the first BGG.CON. As others have said before, there’s a lot of game inside this tiny box and I hope to see it played more.

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The boys were on a Monopoly kick while there and I felt obliged to join them for a couple of sessions. They played by the “real rules” – auctions for un-purchased properties and no free parking windfalls. As a results the games played were fairly well bound in time though it clearly still suffers from a runaway leader problem. Low-light for me: Jacob trading away a property to Uncle Mike that allowed him to get an immediate monopoly and only getting a single railroad in return. The nerve! I’m sure they were colluding against Matthew and me.

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Over the New Years weekend we played a family game of Battlestar Galactica, the exciting new cooperative game from Fantasy Flight. I’m really enjoying the game but it is long enough to be a daunting task to get out with the family. Jacob turned out to be our sole Cylon and was frustrated with his inability to really hurt the good guys – he learned that in this case it would probably have been best to reveal himself earlier.

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Jacob and I played a shortened game of Warriors of God – shortened because I resigned in turn 3 as I had no hope of coming back as the French. The ghost of Mike Deans must have been present as I rolled over 50 consecutive dice without seeing a single 6 – this poor luck resulted in an incredible poor second turn for me and put me so far out of things that recovery was near impossible. It was nice to play and get a handle on the core mechanisms – this is a decent game that we hope to try again soon. The French seem very underpowered but I’m sure that’s because I don’t fully grasp how to play them effectively. I likely should have been more deliberate about avoiding battle and offering siege (in fact, when he stormed Paris I even forgot that was an option).

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A couple of weeks ago I went to Doug’s to play a repeat game of Indonesia – let’s play by the correct rules this time, darn it! Almost, but not quite – we made a crucial error and allowed a siap faji merger in the first era – a devastating mistake as it stunts city growth in the opening and limits options later in the game (my opinion, also shared by Mike I think). Maybe we’ll give ourselves another shot soon to get this one done properly – it truly is a fine game when played correctly.

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I hosted our weekly Tuesday night gaming earlier this month and we played Tinner’s Trail and Die Sieben Siegel. Only my second play of Tinner’s Trail and it revealed quite a bit more depth this time around. The auctions for mining rights were much higher in this game than in my first “friendly” game – amazing how valuation approaches can drastically alter a game’s feel and limit capital. Die Sieben Siegel was as perfect as ever – easily one of my all-time favorite card games.

Finally, Jacob and I started in on Command & Colors: Ancients and the related expansions. We only played one scenario but were reminded of how much we enjoy the game and we’ve committed to working through as many scenarios in expansions 1, 2, and 3 as we can in the coming year.