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
Ppolf.

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.

Warcraft the Board Game

This has the
potential to be very cool. Fantasy Flight and Eagle Games seem to have have struck a resonant chord
with their recent introductions of computer game (and novel) inspired board
games. The licensing costs must be very high, but clearly the economic model
seems viable (I suspect they project based on Lord of the Rings Boardgame sales, which
have been very high).

Fantasy Flight has also posted an article on the making of the game, which gives some
insight into the gameplay. And, like Eagle Games, Fantasy Flight has been kind
enough to post the rules to the game in advance of the
release. At first glance there appear to be some similarities to Age of Mythology, but also
some key differences:

  • There is a physical, spatial layout in this game as opposed to the Puerto Rico style player boards in Age of Mythology.
  • As you would expect given the game board, there is movement.
  • Individual units can be upgraded.
  • Combat is more complex – looks like a traditional wargame in this respect.
  • In short, this looks like a light wargame with a very cool theme.

Gaming with the Arizona Boardgamers (Night 2)

Saturday night I headed east from my hotel to Rob Smolka’s house for some more
gaming. I was pretty beat after 27 holes of golf and 3 hours of instruction
but I’m not complaining – I rarely pass on an opportunity like this. Rob and
Tammy have a great home for hosting, and by the time I arrived at 7pm there
were already two tables up and running. Rob, Tammy, Jason, and Bobby were
standing by waiting for me to arrive so we could start a game of El Grande. At
the other table a game of La Citta was also getting started. Again, I’ll
provide more pics than commentary.

El Grande

This one has been on my “need to play” list for some time, and I made a
special request to the Arizona
Boardgamers
before coming down
to get this one out. First, the game is just beautiful – the colors fit the
Spanish theme well, and the colors are distinct enough to quickly count cubes.

El Grande is an influence game – players are trying to move their caballeros
into regions of spain to gain control by having a majority position. Actions
allow players to introduce new caballeros, shift their own and others’
caballeros, and interfere with the actions of others. Turn order can be very
important, and each player has cards numbered 1-13 that are played during a
turn order auction. Bobby, Rob, Tammy, and Jason joined me, with Jason doing a
great job explaining the rules. I’ve learned that I have a hard time focusing
on all of the rules at the start – I’m lacking any context from which to
understand the details, so I usually like to get started quickly and figure it
out as I go. As a result I usually have a poor showing in my first play of
most games (OK, some would say I have poor showings in most subsequent plays
as well, but that’s a topic for another day).

I was impressed with Jason’s play of this game – he clearly thought through a
strategy early on and stuck with it. Rob hung close most of the game, with
Tammy, Bobby, and I pulling up the rear. I wish I had a detailed game log of
this one to better understand Jason’s approach, but I’m fairly certain he
focused on getting a presence everywhere he could, even settling for second
and third in most of the regions. My greatest frustration was turn order – I
didn’t get some of the nuances around positioning leading up to each of the 3
scoring rounds, and I ended up still holding my 1 and 13 cards in my hand at
the end of the game. I didn’t do too poorly though – I finished third behind
Jason (see how far he got on scoring track below) and Rob.

La Citta

Not much to say about this one since I didn’t play it, but I do have a picture
to show. I think that’s Matthew on the left, and I think that’s Scott on the
right. Scott won the game.

Mamma Mia!

I really don’t like memory games. This is a cute little filler, but I just
don’t like games where I need to keep track of card counts in multiple
buckets. I don’t mind tracking broad strokes or trends, but detailed card
counting just isn’t my gig. I only managed to complete one pizza order, and
Jason won again.

Fresh Fish

Bobby asked for me to teach him this game, and Jason and Tammy joined for a
4-player game. I’m getting pretty good at teaching this game, and this was a
very sharp group so they picked it up quickly. As good as I am with the
expropriation rules, I still haven’t made it through a game without at least
one missed street tile placement. I am getting better at playing this game and
learning the right tricks to force street placement. Jason and Bobby were very
quick at picking up strategy, and it was a close match. Tammy got herself in a
bind early by being forced to place her fish shop before she wanted to. I had
a similar event happen as my last playing at Kevin’s house – I had three solid
positions cemented, then got a short route turned into a max route do to an
end-game misplay. Jason won with 7, Bobby scored 9, Chris 18, and Tammy 22. We
used gold for tie-breakers.

Mexica

It was time for me to leave after Fresh Fish, but there was a game of Mexica
going on so I took a few pictures. I think that’s Matthew, Rob, Jeff, and
Jeff’s wife. If I screwed up any of the names, post a comment and I’ll
correct!

My thanks go out to the group for their hospitality, especially Rob and Tammy.
Let me know if you ever head up my way!

Day 1 of Golf School

It was a long, hot, but fun day here in the greater Phoenix area. Steve and I
spent the morning and afternoon at golf school with our great instructor Ubie
Gentile. It typically takes a few weeks for intense lessons like this to
settle in and impact my game in a positive way. For now I’m just a jumble of
different swing thoughts.

Here are a few of the things I need to work on for my own references:

  • My setup with my irons and fairway woods needs to be more balanced. Currently I have too much right-tilt, which is appropriate off the tee.
  • I need to lower my hands in all of my full swing shots. Let them hang down naturally to find their proper position.
  • My grip was a bit too neutral – need to be a bit weaker.
  • With my height and flexibility, I need to be careful not to over-swing. Ubie recommends about a 75-80% effort on my swings to get more under control and maintain repeatable ball flight.
  • Perhaps my biggest challenge right now is a lower body that is too busy. Work on keeping it still, particularly my knees.
  • Maintain a strong finish.

Today we played 18 holes at Las Sendas after our lessons, 9 of them with Ubie.
Playing the course with the pro is always the highlight, since I appreciate
hearing about course management, shot selection, and dealing with the variable
conditions on the course. Tomorrow we’ll play 9 at Last Sendas and as many
holes as we can stand at the Arizona Golf Resort.