Christmas in Las Vegas

Yes, I’m very lucky that my beautiful wife Julie is originally from Las Vegas
and that her wonderful mother and step-father (Jan and David) still live
there. It clearly doesn’t suck heading there for Christmas about every other
year. It’s not like I’m a big gambler or anything, but I always love hitting
the casinos once or twice to play some small-stake craps, Caribbean stud, or
one the many other poker variants popping up in casinos these days.

Last May the four of us spent a long weekend in Vegas, and Julie and I had a
date together on the strip, staying at the Aladdin
. We were fortunate that trip to get
upgraded to a wrap-around luxury suite and had a fabulous time. It was so much
fun that we spent another night on the strip, this time at
Bally’s, while Jan and David
watched Jacob and Matthew. Win-win for everyone! Bally’s is the old MGM Grand
(yes, the one that had the fire back in 1980) and is in a great location near the Paris and the
Bellagio. We took a taxi down to Mandalay Bay to see Mama Mia! and had dinner at the
Rumjungle. The evening finished
with a small amount of gambling (I played Caribbean Stud) and music in one of
the Bally’s lounges.

View from our room at Bally’s. You can see Paris, Aladdin, and New York New

There were a lot of other highlights that week. I’ll convey these with some
more photos and commentary.

Jacob and Matthew with Grandma Jan and Pappa David before heading to dinner at
the Las Vegas Country Club.

Jacob and Matthew with cousin Jacob.

Jacob and Matthew on Christmas morning with Uncle Mike.

Yes, that’s Jacob with a Python programming book. That was the absolute-must-
get-gift for him this year.

I rarely post photos of myself, but I thought this one with Julie looked
pretty nice.

Matthew the psycho fireman.

Jan and David were nice enough to give us a Karaoke machine for Christmas.
Matthew and Kelsey entertained the crowd with this rousing rendition of
Paperback Writer by the Beatles.

Jacob applying his newly discovered Python programming skills the day after

We played a lot of street two-hand-touch football this year. Julie’s
brother Dave flew in on Friday and we got a chance to play two-on-two

Warcraft Session with the Boys

Sunday after our successful game day, Jacob, Matthew, and I decided to play
another game of Warcraft: The Boardgame. The last time I played a three player game,
we used the standard scenario out of the rules. This time we downloaded and
played the Orcs for Sale! scenario
published at the FFG website by the
game’s original designer Kevin Wilson.

This scenario has a fairly symmetric layout and a standard victory point-based
objective for players. The added twist is the ability to hire (fully upgraded)
mercenary orcs at mercenary camps (any of the two-point objective spaces) for
a cost of four gold. Players play each of the other three races (Night Elves,
Humans, and Undead). These Orcs are very powerful and can be obtained early in
the game. The one catch is that they must always be accompanied by one of your
regular units. If they are ever left alone, they return to the pool of
available mercenaries.

One key element of every Warcraft game I’ve played to date is resource
scarcity due to (random) depletion of gold mines and forests. This forces
players to rush to the center and claim additional resource centers. Jacob and
I pushed to the center, and he decided to attack me when we were fairly
closely matched. I urged him to reconsider since the only benefactor was
likely to be Matthew, but he attacked anyway. Unfortunately for him, the dice
went my way and most of his military was devastated. It can be very
difficult to come back from a setback like that, and this one battle dropped
him out of contention for good.

I was able to gain control of the center and fight of Matthew as he came in.
It was only a matter of time before I was able to grab my 12 victory points
and win the game.

We still enjoy this game, but I’m finding it great on theme but light on
strategy. Similar to the computer game, the “rush” strategy seems to payoff
and it can often come down to who gets luckiest rolling the resource dice. I’m
seriously considering some variants on resource depletion to allow for more
strategic buildup.

One other note – we still haven’t played this game by the rules based on some
recent postings at the Warcraft Yahoo group. These are fairly
major mistakes, so make sure you temper my remarks with the clarifications I’m
about to give.

  1. We really bungled up the player and phase sequence. There are 4 steps to each turn: Move, Harvest, Deploy, and Spend. We had each player doing all 4 steps in turn. We were supposed to have each player move, then each harvest, etc. When all 4 steps are completed, the starting player rotates to the next clockwise. I can see this having a huge impact on gameplay.
  2. During the spend phase, you are supposed to be able to do only one of the following: Train units and works, Construct buildings and outposts, and Upgrade a unit type. In our games we allowed players to do all of these actions as long as they had the gold. This limitation serves to throttle play a bit and might help avoid the rush situation I mentioned.

Sigh. I thought I was pretty good at reading and interpreting rules, but these
were pretty serious misses on my part. I’ll report back after another session
where we play by the correct rules.

Sherwood Game Day

Julie and I hosted an all-day gaming event/party at our home in Sherwood on
Dec 13. I invited all of my usual gaming buddies plus the folks over at Rip
City Gamers, a local gaming group. I also took the opportunity to invite a few
folks from work that are into boardgames. The result was about 20 people at
our house from 1pm until the last straggler left around 11pm. There were a
ton of games played. I’ll provide a lot of pictures here along with links
to the games, but I can only provide commentary on the games I played. In the
future I might adopt a system like Greg Schloesser’s – he hands a slip of paper to
each group of players playing a game and has them write a brief summary, final
scores, and player ratings from 1-10 for the game. This makes for much more
complete session reports, and he has some great data to track game quality
(and we love data, right?).

Liar’s Dice

Dave and George showed up promptly at 1pm, so we started with a game of Liar’s
Dice until more folks arrived. Of course as soon as we would start to play,
new people would arrive and so we would stop, explain the rules, and start
over. By the time we actually started the real game, we had 10 people playing
(I used both a Liar’s Dice box and a Perudo set to give enough cups and dice).
To accelerate the game, we played the following variants:

  • If you lose a challenge, you lose a number of dice equal to the delta between the bet and the actual. So if I bet 10 5’s but only 8 are on the board, I lose 2 dice.
  • If the bet is exactly correct (e.g., I bet 10 5’s and there are exactly 10), then all players beside the bettor lose a die.

Some people dropped out quickly due to bad luck (when there are 50 dice in the
game, it isn’t hard to miss by 5 die). The game wrapped up in about 30 minutes
– I think it was down to me and George at the end, with George coming out on

Triple Crown

George brought out this vintage (1988) horse racing game – Dave, Jeremy, and I
joined in. Each player gets a horse and secretly writes down whether he hopes
to win, place, or show in the race. Three races are played in all (hence the
name of the game). Starting gate order is determined randomly for each race.

On each turn, the player with the horse in front (ties go to the horse on the
outside) goes first. The player can choose from any of three dice (slow,
medium, or fast). If you use the slow dice, you get a payoff coupon that pays
a great return for win, place, and slow. The fast die, of course, will get you
farther but with a lower payoff. So the basic idea of the game is to first
decide how aggressive you want to be (your secret goal) then to move at an
optimal speed where you maximize your position and payoff.

There is still the random element of the die roll, and it bit me twice. In two
of the three races, I was three or four spaces away from the finish line. I
made the decision to use a slower die that gave me a 5 in 6 chance of crossing
the finish line but would of course provide a better payoff. Both times I
rolled the lowest number possible, didn’t cross the line, and saw my
opponents’ horses cross in front of me. I ended the triple crown with no
money, and George won the overall crown. I’m no Seabiscuit.


Kevin and Mike played a game of Carcassonne while Jim watched. Jim is very new
to these sorts of boardgames and is quickly getting indoctrinated. For some
reason my kids don’t enjoy this game so I rarely get to play it. This game
included a huge set of tiles, including Rivers, Inns & Cathedrals, and
Builders & Traders.


Yes, yet another time where I get to watch someone else play this game without
ever trying it myself. Next time I game with Kevin I’m going to play it!

Kevin, Dave, and Jeremy contemplate their next move in Medina.

Bridges of Shangri-La

This new Uberplay game was brought out – very nice
looking. The game is not getting the best reviews – in fact, some folks on
spielfrieks are saying it is one the bigger disappointments of the year. I
still would like to try it and judge for myself. Jeremy won, followed by
Kevin, Mike and Jim. Mike really likes this game. It is fairly easy to teach,
yet some thought is required. “I find it in the same mold as Trias, another of
my favorites, which also requires some thinking. I guess that is what ‘dry’


Aaarrrgh! This favorite of Matthew’s came out, and I quickly taught Brandon,
Kara, and Kim how to play. For such an apparently simple game, the rules are a
bit complex and there is much to remember. I haven’t yet tried the newer
English language Days of Wonder version.

Puerto Rico

This game started around 1:30pm and went on for at least two hours. I can’t
remember who won, but Jacob told me he finished in last place, way behind the
leader Doug.


I tried to teach this quickly to George, KC, and Kim, then realized I just
hadn’t played enough to have the rules locked down in my head. Luckily KC is
good with rules and quickly caught the rest of the group up. This is an OK
game – fairly simple to play, but it hasn’t come out much since I bought it
last spring.


Bill brought this transportation game – I’m dying to try it, but didn’t get a
chance this day even though it was played twice.

Settlers of Catan – Cities and Knights

Much of my time was spent playing the Cities and Knights expansion to Settlers
of Catan. I’ve been playing the online version
quite a bit lately and when Bill suggested this I jumped at the chance. So
Julie, Bill, Wendy and I settled down for a game – this expansion can take
quite a while to play – ours lasted around 2.5 hours.

This expansion adds a number of elements to the basic game of Settlers:

  • Periodically the barbarians invade, so players must recruit knights to protect their cities
  • Commodities (essentially finished goods derived from basic resources) are produced from some of the cities in addition to resources
  • Walls can be built that allow players to hold more cards in hand without being robbed
  • Players can use commodities to upgrade their economies, giving additional benefits and potentially granting victory points

Despite the longer playing time, I like this expansion very much. The main
reason is that there are usually more options on each turn. One thing I don’t
like about the basic game is that very often a player has nothing to do on a
turn – not the case in this expansion.

I managed to win the race to 12 victory points. I was awarded a couple
Defender of Catan victory point cards plus I managed to get a Metropolis.


I don’t know much about this trick taking game by Friedmann Friese.

For Sale

After Foppen, Jeremy taught For Sale to the same group. Don’t know who won.

Wyatt Earp

I refreshed a few folks on the rules to this great rummy variant (my favorite).


Metro came out again.

Julie, Bill, Greg (#2), and Wendy play Metro.

New England

I purchased this recently but hadn’t yet played my version – my first and only
play was with the Arizona Boardgamers back in September. It didn’t disappoint
– I really like this game. It is very easy to learn, but I look forward to
exploring different strategies. I initially started to go for a pilgrim
advantage, thinking that the early income would help and if I can maintain the
lead it would be worth some nice victory points. But KC was able to race ahead
so I focused my efforts elsewhere. I got some nice card draws that let me
build 3- and 4- tile configurations, and I jumped into the lead. I thought I
had plenty of breathing room on the last turn, but just in case I built a barn
to pull into a tie for the most with KC and Jim, nullifying their advantage. I
was lucky I did – I only ended up winning by a single victory point over KC.

What the Kids Did Most of the Afternoon

Just had to include this photo. Jacob, Matthew, Brandon, and Kara played some
games early on, then retired to the playroom for some good old fashioned make

KC’s Prototype: New Eden

This was the highlight of the day for me. KC Humphrey has designed a very good
game that I am eager to play again. I’m running out of time here so I won’t
describe it in full – I hope to play again on Dec 29th, and if I do I’ll write
up a more detailed review.

Players take the role of leaders that are settling and terra-forming a new
planet, competing with each other for geography and agriculture. Players have
farmers and workers – farmers place and harvest farms (surprise), while
workers carry out activities specified on action cards. There are some very
creative mechanics in this game, and the use of action cards as some
interesting choices and great flavor.

KC is a great teacher and was very patient as we picked up the basics and
started to move into strategy and tactics. I managed to win the game, but I
suspect KC was pulling some punches with us newbies. I can’t wait to play this
again and I hope KC finds a means to publish this game.


Ken, KC, and I wrapped up the evening with this perplexing trick taking game.
The game is perplexing because trump is always whatever suit is not lead,
and because each player is trying to avoid taking tricks in their own chosen
poison suit. I never quit managed to figure out some of the tactics for how to
play my cards – you do want to take tricks (that’s how you score points), but
it can be a challenge to dump cards on your opponents and avoid taking your
own poison suit. I’d like to play this again, though my initial impression was
not as strong as Die Sieben Siegel.

Another Play of Lord of the Rings Risk: Trilogy Edition

Jacob, Matthew, and I sat down over a week ago to play another round of this
Risk variant. This was our first
attempt at a three player version and we made some tweaks that ended up being
quite painful for me. The rules specify that in a three player game, two
should play the evil side and one the good side. I took on the good side. What
the rules don’t say is that the two evil players should unite against the good
player (i.e., it is supposed to be a free-for-all). Well, I let Matthew and
Jacob team up against me and it wasn’t pretty.

Risk has enough issues with runaway leaders (the more territories you control,
the more troops you get, so it is very hard to catch up once you fall behind)
in a regular free-for-all, but this was out of hand. I was lucky to conquer
any territories at all during my turns, and that only left me more exposed to
their attacks on subsequent turns. In short order Sauron’s and Saruman’s
forces swept over Middle Earth, dooming mankind and the other good races to an
eternity of servitude and just plain bad times. And its all my fault.

The last stand of the good guys. Those green battalions that you see are all
that I have left.