Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Games played the last week of March

No game session report could be complete without a recap of the last days of Oh Hell (BGG, WP).

This, my last week of work, is going to severely impact my Oh Hell game. Since introducing it at work, it's been extremely popular to the point of having a near-daily game over morning tea. (See my previous post for detail on our house variant.) That's something like 15-20 games of Oh Hell per month, depending on how many actual real phone conference meetings one was scheduled to attend. Part of its popularity comes from the fact that the morning game is one of the only things that the folks in the office could do as an activity together- not even lunch. Most of them aren't working on the same team or even on the same project. I question the logic on having one-man developer (sorry, guys- I know yall are engineers) teams, but what do I know? I personally like to work with someone on a project. I do my best work when collaborating.

I've got a lot of conventions with the game now- language of the game, physical conventions, old rivalries, and so forth. I'm going to miss the most regular and frequent gaming group I've had in a long long time- these guys are closet gamers, and I did what I could to bring 'em out. Maybe I'll invite them out to Friday Game Nights for real strategy games one day before I leave.

Now, on to less traditional games.

I first played Fire & Axe (BGG, BUY ME!) on Friday. At least two guys in the regular crowd have been aching to get me to play this re-release of Viking Fury. On the one hand, the game sounded interesting based on the box and what I'd read online. On the other, the actual play I'd witnessed made me skittish. The box states the game in 90 minutes, but I hadn't seen a single game last under two and a half hours. I really don't mind longer games, honest. I just feel like I miss out on play if a game takes too long, particularly if it's a new one that I'm not familiar with.

Fire and Axe is a good game; don't get me wrong. It has a lot going for it beyond just the cool theme of kicking ass as vikings. In game, you get points from settling, raiding, and trading. While there's no direct player combat or conflict per se, there are still plenty of ways to screw with someone's plans indirectly or with the all-powerful rune cards. Thinking about it now, I recall enjoying the game more than the enjoymnet I felt while actually playing it.

As a literal filler before the next game, we played No Thanks (BGG, BUY ME!) with five. It was a new play for one of the company, and he managed to luck out and win with something like four points. One day I'll start thinking about seat order and how it impacts play.

And what did we play next? A six-player game of Wiz-War (BGG, PRE-ORDER!!!!) that was truly epic and resulted in the other players killing me first, which hadn't happened in ages. We had to stop the game due to the store closing on us, but in the postmortem, we learned that at least three players had been one turn away from winning a few times during the game.

Once the game store closed, we moved on to the twenty-four hour coffeeshop for more fun.

I got to teach a few people to play Carrousel (BGG, IMPORT FROM FRENCH-SPEAKING NATIONS) at the start of the after-midnight show. I'm not sure if it was the late hour or the players, but it might've been the most sedate game session of Carrousel yet. I must remember to try the same set of players when they're more awake. Either that or make a confusingly distracting player aid.

For more late-night delight, we played Die Mauer (BGG, BUY ME!). I don't remember who won, but it went over well. I don't think it's out of print, but it's been a bit slow to arrive stateside lately. If you can find it, snag it.

I next played a new-to-me game called Boomtown (BGG, BUY ME!). It's an interesting gold rush/western bidding/gambling game that I lost big-time. I mean, 6 and 8 are the second most common numbers to show on 2d6, right? You think they'd pay out at least once during the 20-odd rolls. The only time my mine paid out was on a roll of twelve! Crimminy. Next time I play, I'm going to spend a lot less and see what happens.

Finally, I pulled out the Zendo (BGG, BUY TREEHOUSE PIECES!) set and we got a total stranger to play. My rule was "A koan has the Buddha-nature if and only if it contains more than two colors." I don't see it exactly on the rules list, though there's "it has at least two colors with two or more pieces." (Close enough for government work.) The rule went around two and a half times.

I only played one new-to-me game this Monday at Dragon's Lair, thanks to John from Round Rock. This game was Santiago (BGG, BUY ME!), a mildly vicious game of watering crops on bribery, which was rather entertaining, even though I lost- but not as badly as I feared. There's a sort of built-in time limit to the game, which is only played over nine rounds. Each round, there's a clever once-around bid for land tiles: Soybeans, chiles, bananas, potatoes, and sugar cane. It's done in a way such that there's no ties. Once everyone has a tile, they place them on the game field along with a number of guys to work the field. Then there's bribery to get Pepe the canal meister to place a canal where you want it to go- if your fields are unwatered, they score less points and eventually dry up and are worth nothing. Bigger fields of crops score more points for everyone on that field, so there's some built-in cooperation as well. Overall a nice twist on classic area control, which I historically suck at.

Next, I got the opportunity to return the favor and teach John one of his games that he hadn't played, Coach Ride to Devil's Castle, aka Die Kutschfahrt zur Teufelsburg (BGG, BUY ME!), a great mind-reading deduction game. You need at least six to play, and ideally an even number. Half of the players belong to one secret society, and the other half belong to the other- and nobody knows who their partners are. Each team is trying to collect three of the items they need to win, either keys or goblets. First team who can identify their team members and prove possession of all three of their items declares victory. There's a lot of subtlety and underhandedness and one-way information passing between trading items and fighting. It's a tidy little game that I really look forward to playing at a convention with a large group of strangers. I've got to get my own copy- there's a fantastic amount of gameplay packed into a deck of cards. The original German name leaves a little to be desired for the English-speaking ear, however. Also, the cards are bilingual in German and English, so don't panic- even though there's a little "Dengilsch" to contend with.

Next I broke out Wheedle (BGG, BUY ME!), to teach another new game to the crowd. One of the company didn't care for real-time simultaneous games, so we only played one hand.

Ironically, we next played a four-player game of John's copy of Space Dealer (BGG, BUY ME!), a mondo awesome real-time simultaneous trading game. That's about all the two games share- they are radically different. Space Dealer is a flat-out strategy game of production and delivery where each action requires the use of a sand timer. You want to produce in a mine? Flip a sand timer. You need to move your spaceship? Flip a timer. Increase your tech level? Timer. Build a new thing you've just researched? You got it- it's a timer. There's a really clever point system for a built-in catch-up mechanic: as you deliver goods to a player, you both get points. The game is about racing against other players and the clock, maximizing your actions- with two sand timers and thirty minutes, you're going to get less than sixty in the game. Did I mention that the game comes with a soundtrack? If you have two sets, you can play with eight, too. (I came in third.)

Then on Wednesday, my brother Josh invited me out for coffee. He also said those magic words: "Maybe you can bring some games along?" Now the trick becomes finding two-player games that my brother would like.

We played Chopstick Dexterity MegaChallenge 3000 (BGG, BUY ME!), which is exactly what it sounds like, except it only plays with two or three. Some of my regular readers know this game and my enthusiasm for it. What's the opposite of going over like a lead balloon? Going under like a tunneling mole that can tunnel and holds three doctorates in tunnel mastery from Cambridge, Yale, and Oxford with a special license to practice tunneling from the United Nations? Either way, we had an outstanding time battling for small wooden bits with chopsticks. I might soon spray paint my wooden bits for improved visibility.

In line with the dexterity element, we next played Elchfest (BGG, BUY ME!). I figured that this would go over well, since we both enjoyed playing Zopp (BGG, BUY ME!), and I can't wait to introduce him to Crokinole (BGG, GET A CUSTOM BOARD). The final result? Flicking games are awesome. And I won, barely.

Rounding out the kaffeeklatsch, we played a quick tile-laying game called Toscana (BGG, BUY ME!). The game is really pleasing to look at, with the colors of an Italian villa- I would like to sea the all-wooden version, though. Two players: Red clay roofs versus dusty grey-brown roads. Who can make the larger zone? The trick to this game is that each tile contains a bit of the opponent's color- so it becomes difficult to absolutely block off an area. It's not a game to live or die for, but it's one that my bro wants to play again. Score one for the pro-gaming brother!

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