Gaming with the Westbank Gamers

I was in New Orleans this week at a banking conference, but managed to squeeze
in one evening of gaming with the Westbank
Gamers
thanks to a welcoming invitation from
Greg Schloesser. I have followed his gaming group for the past year – Greg
writes very entertaining session reports and is an extremely prolific writer /
reviewer.

It took about 30 minutes to get to Greg’s house via taxi from my hotel – I had
to navigate for the driver and he made a few wrong turns. When I finally
arrived I found a room full of gamers (at least 15 people) and was warmly
greeted and introduced.

Greg has each table make detailed notes of the games played, so you should
expect to see a session report from him soon after he returns from his
vacation in Ireland. He also has all players rate the games played on a 1-10
scale. I like his model and may consider adopting it for my local game
sessions.

Thanks to the group for inviting me and for providing such a welcoming
atmosphere!

Princes of the Renaissance

I’ve been reading about this game in many of the session
reports from Essen and was anxious to try it. There are some reviews and
reports here,
here,
here, and
here. I
played with Jimbo, Dave, Jerry, Spouey, and Jason.

The basic idea in this game is to purchase, through auctions, characters in
one of the five major cities in Italy. These characters will score victory
points at the end of the game based on the relative status ranking of their
city. Status can change through war or through the recruitment of artists that
increase status. Play proceeds through three decades (each decade is a game
phase that ends when all artists for that age have been purchased). Within the
decade, play rotates clockwise with each player choosing a single action to
take. Actions include putting a character or artist up for auction, recruiting
a military unit, having one city attack another, or purchasing a treachery
tile. Victory points can also be earned by winning battles and recruiting
certain characters or artists.

I’m usually hesitant to think too much about strategy when learning a new game
like this. Since this is an auction game, I decided to follow the tactic of
trying to bid up some of the early auctions while not winning them myself –
this can be dangerous if your bluff gets called, but I figured worst case I’ll
be accumulating some characters at a slight premium. It worked out well as I
was able to snatch up some bargains at the tail ends of all three decades.
Which leads to another point – especially with a six-player game, you truly
never can tell when your last action of a decade will be. There are (I think)
4 artists available in each decade, and if players start snatching them up,
the decade can end quickly. Since I chose a prince that gives a particular
military bonus (artillery), I made sure I grabbed a few military units early
on. This led to an arms race where about 75% of the military units were
purchased in the first few actions.

Someone had mentioned that in a previous game, the player that won had earned
10 VPs through military victory (the first win gives 1VP, the second 2 more,
the third 3 more, etc.), so I figured a decent strategy would be to try and
recruit at least 4 characters in the game, then use military force to elevate
the status of their cities. To that end, I tried to ensure that the characters
I recruited gave military bonuses of some sort.

Combat is interesting in this game. Players don’t declare war against each
other – rather, a player can force one city to attack another. Then players
bid for the right to serve as the attacker or defender. There’s little to lose
in fighting, and much to gain, so bidding can be fierce. At the very least,
you can make some profit if your bid ends up being less than the current
status since the city pays the player that much to fight on their behalf (we
are just mercenaries after all).

I was on the winning side of combat three times, and managed to hold 4
characters at the end of the game in the 2 highest cities. I managed to win
with a score of 33. Other scores were Jerry-29, Jason-27, Jimbo-24, Dave-23,
Spouey-18. I like this game a lot and will probably pick it up sometime over
the holiday season – I rate it an 8 for now.

I’ll post pictures for a few of the other games played without commentary –
like I said, I’m sure Greg will write them up soon.

Circus Maximus (Rome version)

Maya

Finstere Flure

This one looks fun – I was hoping to get in on this game but the timing didn’t
work out.

Spank the Monkey

I just can’t wait to see what sort of Google
hits
my
weblog will start tracking after writing up this game. Unfortunate that they
had to give the game this name – I suspect it will turn off some prospective
buyers. It truly is a fun game!

Jim, Jason and I decided to give this one a try. Very simple to learn, and
very quick to play. I compare it to Flux in terms of chaos and variable game
length, though there probably is a marginal amount of strategy hat can be
applied in this game. The basic premise is to stack junk into a pile in a
junkyard so that you can climb to the top of your stack and spank a monkey
that is on his own pile of junk. And you want to do this before anyone else
does. On your turn you can add or reinforce your own junk tower or try and
knock pieces out of your opponents’ tower. Jim and Jason each won a single
game; I was winless.

Shark

Lost Cities

Fantasy Pub

Greg and I finally managed to synch up to play a game together, and after some
deliberation we decided to try Fantasy Pub, a game given to him at Essen so
that he could write a review. It looked like a promising light game – players
control a party of 7 fantasy characters (hobbits, dwarves, warriors, and an
orc) that are trying to drink as much beer as possible in a pub. There are
fiddly rules about how characters move around the pub, when they can drink
beer, and how they can leave the pub.

This game doesn’t work with five players. We had serious lockup issues, and
for such a light game the downtime was unbearable. Three different times I
waited 5 minutes for my turn to happen, only to roll the dice to find that all
I could do was rotate my hobbit around the bar one full cycle and achieve
nothing. It just got too crowded to be able to apply any sort of strategy and
turned into a dice fest. I’m not excited to play this one again, but if I was
forced to I would make sure there were only 2 or 3 players in the game.

Die Sieben Siegel

We wrapped up the evening with a short game of Die Sieben Siegel (the seven
seals), a trick-taking game similar to spades or bridge. Players make bids of
exactly how many of each suit they will take (no more or less), and there are
some interesting twists that make this a winner for me. I grew up playing
games like this (particularly spades and hearts and my grandparents’ home),
and given the choice between trick-taking and rummy style games, I think I
prefer trick games. I will probably pick this one up. Shanna was on fire and
won this game easily (we only played 2 hands). I was in second place not too
far behind.

Lord of the Rings: Risk, Balloon Cup

I’ve been traveling too much – only two days at home between trips this time.
I’m back on the road again, this time in New Orleans for our big annual
conference: the BAI Retail Delivery
show. On Friday night I was able to engage the boys in a few games. Jacob and
I played the new Risk game: Lord of the Rings: Risk, Trilogy Edition, and Matthew
and I played Balloon Cup. On Saturday,
Jacob, Matthew, Ken, and I ventured down to Corvallis to watch the Oregon
State Beavers dominate
the Stanford Cardinal in football. Rarely have I seen such a one-sided event –
it rained most of the game, but we were mostly oblivious given the dominance
of OSU.

Lord of the Rings: Risk, Trilogy Edition

I haven’t played any of the prior Risk variants, so I have no basis for
comparison. I can say that this version is much better than the original game of Risk.

20031117LOTRisk

Yes, it is still a dice fest, but there are several reasons why I think this
game is better:

  • Theme, theme, theme. Just the simple addition of a map of Middle Earth and counters reflecting good and evil units make a huge difference.
  • Cards add an element of surprise.
  • Leaders add a strategic element to the game, since they can help you gain new cards while contributing to battles.
  • There is a countdown as the ring move towards Mordor, limiting the lengt of the game.

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I hadn’t played risk in probably 15 years, but I could still remember some of the basic strategies. I think my recent play of Wallenstein helped. I quickly gained control of several regions, accelerating my reinforcement each turn. Just like in the original Risk, there is a bit of a runaway leader problem – Jacob was without hope once I controlled 3 regions.

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Eventually Jacob conceded- it was only a short matter of time before I would overrun the Fellowship. I’m anxious to play a 4-player team version.

Balloon Cup

This is one of my favorite 2-player games. Matthew and I squared up for what was probably our 5th head-to-head game of this new classic by Stephen Glenn.

20031117BalloonCup

This was a very close game – it came down to a competition for the final grey trophy, and the outcome was solely dependent on who would draw the first grey card, and what the number turned out. Matthew turned up a mid grey card, giving him the victory on the final race and granting him the grey trophy. Have I mentioned before how lucky this kid is?

Cranium Custom Cards

Every once in a while we will play more traditional family party games like
Pictionary,
Guesstures, and
Cranium. Cranium is
particularly popular with the boys, especially the kids version Cranium Cadoo. Cranium is
particularly fun since it incorporates a number of different skills –
sculpting, trivia, drawing, charades, and more.

Anyway, to the point: Cranium is offering online the ability to make custom Cranium cards. These are
theme-oriented, downloadable (PDF) card sets that you can customize for your
game. I particularly like the family-oriented theme – give it a try!

Gaming at Doug and Mimi’s

Jacob and I were finally able to attend another group gaming session on
Saturday, this one held at Doug and Mimi’s up in Vancouver. We had a great
time, and as usual they were excellent hosts. This session lasted from about
1pm to 9:30pm. On with the games…

Formula Motor Racing

Jacob and I didn’t play this one, but Doug, Mimi, Phil (a friend of Doug/Mimi
up from San Francisco), Sabrina, and Greg. Doug ended up the victor in this
one, which finished up shortly after we arrived.

20031109Formula

A Dog’s Life

Doug, Sabrina, Greg, and I started a game of Amun Re, while Jacob, Mimi, and
Phil decided to give A Dog’s Life a try. This was a new one for me – I hadn’t
seen or heard of it before.

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Jacob loved the theme, and overhearing some of the conversation about piddling
and “you can’t pick up food until you drop your bone” sounded pretty humurous.
Really cute dog figurines too. Phil was the winner.

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Maestro

Mimi always does such a great job picking out games for Jacob to play – she
tries hard to find light, funny themes in their vast game collection. Next on
the table for Mimi, Phil, and Jacob was Maestro. Apparently players are trying
to hire musicians to debut in a concert. Phil managed to win again.

20031109Maestro

Amun Re

It has been a while since I’d played this game, and Sabrina/Greg were
intrigued by the theme. Doug, Sabrina, Greg and I squared off for a game of
this pyramid-building Egyption game. Doug and I went head to head, and I had
the upper hand after the old age (first round of scoring) with a slim lead of
two points.

20031109AmunRe

Things got very contested in the second age. I made a critical mistake in the
bidding for one province. I had the power card that prevents someone from
overbidding by one, and played it after biddin.3 gold. I should have bid 6 and
forced Doug to go up to 15, but he grabbed it for 10. And 15 was beyond my
means, so I had to leave it for him. This was probably a deciding factor in
the game – it gave him 2+ pyramids and some good production. I managed to keep
it close and went for the most gold and the 6 victory points that go with
that, hoping that my give me the edge. This meant making a substantial
sacrifice in the last round to drive up the farmer harvest. Trouble was, Doug
also owned the province with the two temples, so this ended up helping him
more than it did me. Doug ended up with 50 points, I had 46. Greg and Sabrina
had cash flow issues – it took too long for them to understand the production
cycles and some of the tradeoffs (like making sure you get some farmers
early).

Autoscooter

Did I mention that Doug and Mimi have a butler?

20031109Butler

Seriously, Greg had to take off for a hospital charity event. Fortunately,
right at this time (about 4pm) 3 new guests arrived. Joining us were Tyler, a
local Vancouver resident who is finishing up his MA in Medieval history, Kim,
who recently moved to the Portland area from Tucson (we’ve gamed with her
before), and Michelle, who just moved up here from Monteray. We thought it
would be a good idea to try a light game that everyone could play together, so
out came Autoscooter.

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This is a light “programming” game, ala Robo Ralley or Dragon Delta. Each player
controls a bumper car, and the goal is to crash into the other players’ cars
without letting them hit you. Cars can drive at speeds from 0-3 (indicating
the number of hexes move), and can accelerate +1/-1 per turn. Each player
starts with 10 chips that represent points, and when you crash into an
opponent in the right way you can steal their chips. It obviously doesn’t make
much sense to crash into someone that has run out of chips.

Players plot their moves each turn, using a letter-coded quick reference guide
that describes several pre-plotted moves. For example, if you are going at a
speed of two, then you could plot a move where you advance forward one hex,
turn 60 deg to the left, then go forward a hex, then turn 60 deg to the right.
I was extremely luck in this game (it can be quite chaotic with this many
players) – I was never bumped during the entire game and ended up with 28
chips. Phil also did well and finished with 23. You can see the (slightly
blurry – sorry) scoresheet below.

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Puerto Rico

Phil, Tyler, Michelle, and Kim embarked on a game of Puerto Rico. It was hard
for me to resist – this game is one of my favorites. But I wanted to try
Warcraft, so I’ll have to wait for another opportunity. Tyler won this game –
I don’t know what the scores were.

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Warcraft: the Boardgame

I received Warcraft Saturday morning in a Funagain
order (along with Lord of the Rings Risk: Trilogy Edition and New England). Doug,
Jacob, and I agreed to play and learn as we go. The rules recommend playing a
special scenario called The Elf Gate when playing with three players, so
that’s what we did.

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The rules were a snap to learn – the most time was spent sorting pieces; there
are tons of bits in this game. Overall quality is nice. There are some
complaints about the lack of miniatures for this game – each of the races uses
generic wooden pieces for melee, ranged, and flying combat units. It didn’t
bother us at all, and the strong color differentiation was nice.

Things start off slow in this game, with very little player interaction. This
is much like the computer game, as players focus on harvesting resources,
upgrading units, building new production facilities, and training units. Each
race has some specialization – I played humans, Jacob was undead, and Doug
played the orcs. In this scenario, there is also a cluster of neutral night
elves in the middle of the board. Players are trying to get control of the elf
gate in the middle of the board – control consists of having a unit in the
middle of the board, with less than 3 enemy or neutral units adjacent to the
middle.

I decided to only train ranged and melee units, avoiding the costly flying
units to see if I could conserve resources. I started pushing to the left and
center, trying to make my way into the middle. In three player games like
this, he who attacks first is often the loser, so everyone was very patient.

Things got interesting when Doug decided to come in on my right flank towards
my town center – I had just a few units there and looked fairly exposed. He
fell right into my trap, since I had two town portal cards that allowed me to
teleport six of my combat units into supporting positions (see the picture
below). This created a huge setback for Doug as I wiped out a significant
chunk of his military.

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Then I made a serious tactical error. Jacob in the meanwhile was working his
way into the middle – we had a bit of a skirmish on our borders, and he
decided to lay off and start fighting the elves. He had also trained a flying
unit that was in range of the center – now vacant since I had cleaned it out.

Doug was still a threat, so I extended myself out on the right flank to
hopefully finish him off and then take the middle. So I engaged him on one of
the squares adjacent to the middle. It was a tight battle that I won, but each
of us lost all of our units on the contested hex. This left only two of my
units adjacent to the middle square. Next it was Jacob’s turn.

Jacob wisely flew his unit two hexes into the center, then engaged the only
remaining elf units in his way. It was a close battle, and only one of his
units survived. But it was enough for Jacob to claim victory, since I had only
two units adjacent to the middle. You can see the final results below – Jacob
was purple, I was blue, and Doug was red.

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Take it Easy

While I cleaned up Warcraft, Jacob joined everyone else for one final game of
the evening (for us anyway). Take it Easy is a fantastic puzzle game. I don’t
remember who the winners were, but two tied for the win with 158 points.

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