Thursday, February 15, 2007

Paper and Cardboard, a weekend gaming recap

Just in time for this weekend's actual play, here's a few session reports for this past weekend. I played games on two days: Regular Friday gaming at Great Hall Games, and Dan's birthday party/gamefest on Saturday.

I arrived a little late on Friday, and found a few games already in progress. I didn't want to sit around and kibbitz and watch others play, so I broke out two lighter fillers for myself and two other guys while we waited. I like to keep one or two light and easy-to-teach fillers handy just for this reason- it's good to have titles for a particular purpose. This one plays two with, that one plays up to eight, this one takes fifteen minutes to fit in between other play, this one works well for the colorblind, etc.

First to hit the table was the brightly colored yet colorblind-friendly Coloretto (BGG, BUY ME!). I bought this after one play, and it definitely fits the lighter-fare requirement. Coloretto is a game about collecting sets of colors, with a twist that some of your sets might be worth negative points. There's also a fun bit of press-your-luck as you try to collect just the colors you want and avoid the colors you want. A certain amount of "take that!" also makes for lighter play. Let me stress again the importance of reading the rules- I discovered that I've played this wrong and missed three different rules. First, everyone starts with a different color card to get things going. Second, the person who ended one round starts the next. Nothing game-breaking, I think, but significant. Finally, you sum points over four games! Yeesh, that one's a doozy. Coloretto remains well-received, and this was a close game- I think I won by only a few points against two new players.

Still with a bit of time to kill before the heavier games made it out, I taught Carrousel (BGG, IMPORT ME) to the same two players. Horsies, colors, chaos. This tiny little French game has players competing simultaneously to manipulate the line of colored horses to match their cards- order matters! I really like this competitive little game, and I'm pretty good at it. It tends to go over pretty well with people, but some complain that there is a learning curve to get your brain to think that way. I'm not disagreeing, but I found it relatively easy to pick up in the middle of my first game. I also find that my brain will usually pick one of the four possible moves to focus on for a particular session. There's some fascinating neurological choices at work here, as in any pattern-matching game.

Now that everyone was warmed up and ready for some gaming, we played a five-player game of Colossal Arena (BGG, BUY ME!), an old favorite. I had brought my copy for play, but we wound up playing Randy's brand-new-just-bought copy to break it in. Two of the group hadn't played it before, two had played it once or twice before. Luckily, I taught it correctly this time, so nobody would have to play with the wrong rule for years. Colossal's the second edition of 1997's Titan: the Arena, itself sharing only a theme with Titan, the classic Avalon Hill title from 1980. Both Colossal and Titan: The Arena are basically the same game, with a few rules clarifications and more creatures battling for your betting pleasure. In both *.Arena games, you can make a secret bet in the first round that's worth more than an open bet. Unfortunately, my creature died in the first round, practically ruling me out from winning. Still a great game, I say. I give it a "strong buy," proving I've been been reading too many articles touching the stock market.

Next, Hamsterrolle (BGG, BUY ME!)! Huzzah! I've coveted this game since Katrina: Judson had a copy, I didn't need one. Then it rained and I learned that I needed to start a games collection. When we got to Austin, one of my FLGS had a copy of this $75 (No, that's not a typo. This one lists for seventy-five USD.) game on the shelf, and I've wanted it since I saw it. Through a mysterious process that I won't explain here, I picked it up for significantly cheaper than list. Huzzah! Each time this wonderful game has come out in the last week or so, it sees at least three plays. The bright yellow wheel and colorful wooden pieces really capture the eye and beg for play. I'm pretty to very good at Hamsterrolle. "Don't get cocky, kid!"

Closing time upon us, it was time for some Jungle Speed L'extension x2 (BGG, IMPORT ME), the even more brain-breakingly awesome expansion for J-Speed. Either I hadn't played it a really long while, or the expansion is trickier than I recall, or the young'uns are learning my tricks, or I just have no mojo with Andre's set. I lost, and lost big time. Twice, even.

The store closes at midnight; luckily, there's a nearby 24-hour coffeehouse. Three other joined me for some late-night and last-minute gaming.

Upon request, we played a short (four rounds) game of Njet! (BGG, OOP ENVY ME), another Judson-is-on-the-Left-Coast game that I had to buy on eBay Germany. Yes, one could make their own version of this game from two regular decks of playing cards, a small board, and tokens, but the Cold War look-and-feel of the game would be missing. Njet! is a partnership trick-taking game where the rules change each hand. If I played Bridge, I could talk more about the implications of the unpredictability, of the fact that your trumps and supertrump can change at a whim, and that a significant amount of information can be passed with each Njet-stone. I look forward to playing this one with people back home who play a lot of Bridge (Bennett and Leslie, I'm looking at you) so I can learn more about partnership games.

After that, one of the company asked about the game they had seen me playing earlier, so Coloretto (BGG, BUY ME!) hit the table again. With four, it's even more evident that conservative play will not get you the win.

The next day was Dan's birthday gamefest, dubbed DanCon. (Kelly has more pictures on her blog.) Amusingly, they had a game schedule and misspelled badges. I've got a pretty difficult name, but I generally don't have spelling problems at cons, so I don't get it. But anyway, on to the games!

First on the docket was a six-player, three-on-three battle of Memoir '44 (BGG, BUY ME!), my first play for this game. As you might expect from the name, this one's a WWII wargame. However! It doesn't have dozens of tiny cardboard chits and arcane rules. It does, however, have handsome plastic miniatures and a very clever card and dice mechanic; overall it's a very accessible and intuitive game. Dan/Ian chose a scenario called "Bastogne Corridor West," available for free via Wargamer magazine. I played on the side of the Axis of Evil with Ian and White JP, facing off against Dan, Phil, and Norman. We trounced their Allied asses, 6-0. This is definitely a game I'll need to pick up when I have more people to play with. I understand that some scenarios allow for four players with two side-by-side boards, so that should make getting this two-player game to the table a bit easier.

After that, we played the most excellent Modern Art (BGG, BUY ME!), an auction game that is tons of fun. I'm generally not very good at it, though- I'll usually score comfortably in the middle. Like most economic games, I play it more on instinct than any actual sense of numbers or business acumen. It's always fun to talk up the art as though you're actually selling it to the other players, and getting into the spiel is part of the fun. "And here we have a lovely new work by young upstart Christin P, who was so absent from last season. You can see how the artist's use of color symbolizes and reveals the inherently tragic nature of man's inhumanity to man. I open the bid at... two?"

We also got to play a nine-player game of Coach Ride to Devil's Castle (BGG, BUY ME SOON), also known as Die Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg. In the vein of Werewolf and other social-deductive games, each player is a member of one of two secret societies (The Brotherhood of True Lies and The Order of Open Secrets), needing to collect three of their item (goblets or keys) and declare victory over the other. The twist is that nobody knows who is on their team, and everyone's affiliation is kept face-down. Only by attacking other players can you look at their cards, but you can exchange a lot of information by offering items to trade. There is a ton of politicking and bluffing that makes Werewolf look like a walk in the park. Plus there's no player elimination. I had originally ordered this for Dan to fill out an order, and after two plays I know that I'll need to pick it up myself at one point. Most of the company kept talking about the game after the end, proving to me how involved and engaged everyone felt. Also- don't let the German intimidate you; all cards have both English and German text.

I also played two super quick games of Gold Digger x2 (BGG, BUY ME!) with Bryon and Kim. I don't have much to say about this- it's quick, but not really quick in a good way. It's not a bad game, but I ultimately feel I'd rather be playing other games. I suspect this has its place, perhaps as a decent intro to non-gamers. It's also interesting historically as an early (1990) game by a prolific game designer, Reiner Knizia, who now has some 225 games to his credit. I have to suggest that you play this one before buying it to see if it's right for you.

The last game of the evening was Cranium Hoopla (BGG, BUY ME!), a cooperative game in the style of Cranium itself. Everyone has a set of cards (Who, What, Where) that they want to get rid of. The twist is the shared fifteen-minute timer. Everybody is working together to do the usual Cranium activities- Charades, Pictionary-a-like, Alliterative verbal clues only, and a bigger-than/smaller-than clue. Overall, not bad. I've had more fun with regular Cranium, though. I can see the appeal and I wouldn't turn it away, but I wouldn't choose it.

I'd also be remiss if I failed to mention we played a four-player game of Flick Wars, Ian's latest game that's sort of a cross between Crokinole and a fantasy wargame. Right now, it's pretty far along the design pipeline, so I wouldn't be surprised if you could buy a copy by the end of the year. Unlike others, I don't keep track of the prototype games I play. But Ian's got a real winner with this one. I don't expect it to be prototype for long.

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