Loofish Ramblings

My thoughts and ponderings on games and gaming, including lunch time sessions, couple and family gaming and thoughts on the games that are catching my eye.

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If You Log Plays on BGG

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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If you log plays like me (in an obsessive manner, so I am told by my wife), then you need to go here:

For the Disgruntled Play-Logger: SPLU to You!

Basically you bookmark the utility and then when on a BGG page in your browser, you hit the link on the bookmark bar and it starts up this play log utility.

I have been trying it out and it is awesome.
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Mon Apr 20, 2015 3:25 pm
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Spying on cabelleros, cowboys and a Cheshire Cat

David
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DURHAM
North Carolina
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Our semi-planned game night for Tabletop Day was postponed a week, but it turned out to be worth the wait. A remarkable day of games ensued.

While chatting around the kitchen island and generally catching up, we kicked off with Animal Upon Animal, which we had not played
with Rick and Kristi before. That opening game was quite tame, despite the wild animals, as several croc rolls expanded the base to the point, piling up was relatively easy. I was set for the win, with one hedgehog left, then my wife rolled a 2 on her turn and got both of her last critters piled up ahead of me.

Our hosts thought it was cute and all, but how about upping the difficulty? We adopted a quick house rule so that a croc roll meant something else, coming up with passing one of your pieces to another player. That meant we were having to get rid of all our critters on the back of that single crocodile and that was a lot more difficult. A couple of big clatters later, both Rick and especially Kristi had a lot left and it looked like it would be down to Jenny and me. But with the passing pieces rule, it was difficult and I was down to 1 piece twice before getting passed another. Rick used that delay to whittle his pieces down and J was close as well...but she did not have quite a steady hand for the end game and she toppled over some sheep. And there I was at one piece, Kristi rolled 2 and played one from her impressive menagerie, Rick played one and tried to make it as difficult for me as possible, but my nerve held and I was out.


After piling animals, we kept things going by riding out with Wyatt Earp. This is one of the Mystery Rummy games that is not an official Mystery Rummy, being an Alea release, where making melds puts reward money on the notorious denizens of the Old West like Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy, with bank robberies and a reputation for the fastest gun adding to their infamy and reward. Then the amount of points you have in front of you for that villain determines how much of the reward you get - the best of all being you have 5 or more than anyone else. Over several hands, you build your reward money until someone hits $25,000 and then most money wins. Well, my wife Jenny got off to a terrific start, her cards fell out nicely and she ended the hand at a most opportune time, hauling in a big pile of cash, with Rick a solid second. Kristi and I were fighting for 3rd - I got a grand total of $1,000 for the whole hand. While the 2 leaders changed their money for $5,000 bills, the second hand was dealt and that was a bit more even, but again Jenny picked up a nice stack of bills, moving to $21,000 and the winner-in-waiting. Well you can guess what was coming. In what was to be the final round, she stacked up the cards for the Sundance Kid. I played a Hideout on that, successfully putting him in hideout (the draw a card, if it has a bullet hole in it, it succeeds mechanic). J had Wyatt Earp, who can get rid of a Hideout (upon a successful draw) and she played it and cast it off. Kristi played another on Sundance and this time it failed. Then Rick played one and that failed as well. We went through the whole deck and J played one on Kristi, which succeeded, but then Kristi played one back on her and it failed! Then J played her Wyatt Earp to drain down the deck to a single card on my turn, though I was able to play out the rest of my hand and go out, it meant she was the comfortable winner, Rick did well to get himself above the $25,000 threshold as well, with Kristi holding off my brave challenge for 3rd. 4 Hideouts and still got her reward.

Don't mess with her posse.

Having munched on some pizza, we still had a little while till our final player arrived. So Alice decided on a Parade. The key to doing well is keeping your head while all about are losing theirs. Or rather let everyone else take the nasty nasty cards while you play just the right card to escape. For a long time this worked for me, I had but a single white rabbit 2. Around me, everyone had what can be called solid majorities - Kristi had a lot of cards though it was that single white 9 that was causing her most pain, with Rick having grabbed a bunch more white cards to offset his hefty 7. J had a bunch of purple (she ended the game with 8). But though I was cool on the outside, the tension was rising. There were some awful cards to get in that row, especially for someone who had little chance of staking a majority in any color. I picked up a Cheshire Cat 2 and like his, my smile grew as J was forced to take a bunch of green right before I was to go, making my final play a simple pass and with a 0 and a 1 in my hand the end game was straightforward. The tussle over the remaining places was pretty tough, Kristi cried out in horror until she realized that J had not broken her majority (merely equalled it) and that meant Kristi tied Rick for 2nd with 21, with J rounding it out with 26. My score? A fantastic five.

Still no Tom, so we broke out Love Letter until he showed up. Of course he showed up right in the middle of that first hand which made for a particularly short game. I got a priest so looked one way then J swapped with me and so I knew what she had, but another priest and a baron were a losing proposition so I looked the other way (seeing a handmaiden who was then just played). Rick discarded a Countess, so J's last move of the game was a Guard on Rick. She had used the King and held one prince, so she guessed prince. Sadly wrong, so Rick took the honors with his pretty princess.




With Tom present and correct, the plan was El Grande. But before that, I proposed to try Spyfall using the implementation at http://spyfall.meteor.com to handle the randomization and distribution of roles. My group greeted the premise and workings of this game with considerable scepticism. The spy doesn't know where he is?! How come? And the whole asking questions flow of the game was confusing - how could this even work as a game? Surely it was too straightforward? I couldn't really answer the concerns, I hadn't played the game, just read about the excitement it caused here on BGG. But we gave it a try.

A bit of a false start the first round, we weren't quite clear on how it worked and how you won and when you could interrupt. So reset and start over. We asked our questions and people answered and we didn't seem to be getting anywhere and then Kristi caught on that she should stop the clock and declare that we were on a submarine. She thought she had to wait out the clock. But this was an aha moment. Suddenly the possibilities of the game materialized. You had to be a little circumspect and ask questions that suggested several things that the non-spies would understand but the spy couldn't pin down or might be meaningless. References to a yellow submarine were not ... wise.
So we played again and then again. I was a Spy twice, both quite memorably, the first time I was rather flummoxed, there was a running question after the sub and then the hospital about the oxygen mix, so Rick asked me that. I said I thought it was fine and hoped that was OK. Jenny asked Kristi if she had seen her sunglasses and I was so confused. And very quickly they were onto me, the game stopped and I was revealed, not realizing I was on a space station (Jenny was a space tourist!). The second time I started the round, but I had nothing yet to go on, so I asked Tom what he thought about the food. This worked out well, then after Rick had asked Jenny whether she preferred Orient or Cassandra I was onto it, so when she then asked me whether I liked to freestyle or follow the conductor I knew the answer to her question and to our location. But I got lucky that my opening question was just the sort of thing to ask on a train.

I can't tell you my favorite question and answer of the night due to this being a mostly family blog. Nor the second...yeah. But the 3rd should appeal to BGGers everywhere: we were in the cathedral, I asked Jenny what she could see out of the window and she said fields. (And later Rick said fields and roads to a similar question). Fans of Carc should applaud.

And we just kept playing. No keeping score, each round a discrete encounter, but after each one another inevitably followed. I think we played for about 2 hours, one round after another. It was like addiction in game form. And much credit to the designer of the web page interface, it does exactly what it needs to, with no problems for anyone except Tom who's phone kept trying to turn off and log him out of the game (though never during a game, just in-between games). I think we can safely say that was a Huge Hit.

Eventually we did move onto the day's main course, the mooted game of cabelleros and kings, El Grande. It was a slightly odd opening, I grabbed some early points after taking over New Castille from Tom, then the 'everyone pick a region to score' card was played. Tom, ever unpredictable, didn't pick the only region with his own color in it, but Kristi's Seville, which deflated her and it would be some time before she would score her first point. Meanwhile I had jumped out into the lead and that was reinforced by the next couple of rounds, where I got the score all the 4 regions card, my home region of Galicia being one of those but I had presence in Rick's Catalonia and took the lead down in Seville to build quite a lead. Indeed at one point I had 59 points and my nearest competition was Rick at 40. I felt a bit like I had already won and the rest of the game was playing for the runners up spot.

Ah, such hubris! And another reason this turned out to be such a great game day. Inevitably, as the leader I was the one who got moved when foreign cabelleros could be (though I was not alone) and where after the first scoring phase I had presence all over, scoring well in most of the regions, somehow everybody else got all their guys in the way and my 2nd place became 3rd, or a 4th. And somehow my progress was considerably slowed. Rick looked tired, Kristi had struggled and was a bit forlorn and no one was quite sure what Tom might do next (not even him!) so it was no surprise that Jenny was the one who made a surge. She had a good hold of her home in Old Castille but had strong presence in Valencia and Aragon and with the mobile scoreboard was pulling down good points. A key turn was the score every region's first pace - she played it, nudged the balance of power and scored all 3 of those regions, including a mighty 12 points for Old Castille. By the end of that, she had not only caught me but had sprung into the lead. I got control of the king for the last turn, taking New Castille for my monarch but I had lost my grip in Galicia. I had a strong contingent in the castillo. I could knock Jenny down to 3rd in Aragon (a swing of at least 6) and I had New Castille, I just needed Tom and/or Rick to dislodge her from the top table in Old Castille and I had at least a chance, but alas Rick had not enough to do that and Tom made a different play (and another that did not endear him to his hostess). And I don't think it would have been quite enough so Jenny won with 115 to my 109 and Rick in 3rd with 95.

Absolutely mind-bendingly incredible game, I was so sure it was wrapped up mid-game and yet you cannot assume anything in this game. And to say Jenny was pleased by her victory over me would be rather an under-statement.

And there we left it, after one of the best days of gaming I can remember.

Thanks for photos from Artax (Animal Upon Animal), EndersGame (Wyatt Earp), Dagerr (Parade) and SpaceTrucker (El Grande). The Spyfall image is from Twitter.
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Sun Apr 19, 2015 10:18 pm
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Spring Cleaning

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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Not much gaming of late, we were away in New York for Spring Break then when we got back, my wife took it into her head to do some spring cleaning, which meant going through the kids' rooms and turfing out all the junk they've acquired over the years and reducing the clutter. She did the same with our bedroom and the bathrooms, none of which would make this worthy of a BGG blog post except then she went into the office. The Place Where The Games Live.

Warning: some of the following may be disturbing to those of a sensitive nature.

The thing that really set me off was where my wife, on a mission to minimize, told the kids that if they hadn't played with it for a year, they didn't need it. A slight tingle ran down my spine. Surely that didn't apply to the games I haven't played for a year, because I totally would, if you sat me down and said we need to play La Città or we get rid of it, I mean, I would. It is just that we haven't, for a while. Quite a big while, as it happens, but it is not because I don't want it any more. She'll understand that, right?

First things to go were the actual junk, a printer that has not worked in ages, papers that just need recycling, old boxes that once contained something important and are now mostly dust and packing peanuts. You think to yourself, why did I keep this? There must have been a reason. But most likely it was laziness - it was easier to stick it on top of the book shelf that take it outside to the recycling bin.

Then the game shelves got a working over. My wife pointed out some of the bowing of the shelves. Keeping a box full of Dominion cards on an upper shelf was probably not smart. Piling big boxes on the top shelf was decidedly not aesthetic. I did get rid of some games, but it was mostly old games that we weren't likely to play again - Risk was the mostly notable casualty, but a few kid games like Cranium Hullabaloo, ones that we had a lot of fun with when they were little, we let out to let some other little kids have fun with.

In restacking the shelves, my wife had some guiding principles, ones that the veterans here will recognize. You don't want boxes of differing sizes in a pile if possible, because even a light game stacked on another will bow in the box lid over the course of months and years. Games that can be stacked sideways are best and use the space well. We were opening boxes and repacking them to enable more sideways storage. I think the result (if my rather terrible photography can do it justice) speaks for itself.




But there were horrors to contemplate. I am talking about the fate of the expansion boxes. In short, there was no truck to be had with them being kept. At least for any game that we were unlikely to every get rid of, which is most games for which we have bought an expansion. They had to go. I don't want to judge, but I think my wife took a rather malicious delight in splitting open boxes for recycling. The result is painful to see.


The end result was worth it, there is more space and less clutter and we discovered a couple games in the collection that we really ought to give another try, such as Focus, which is called Domination in my copy. Though I just noticed in my game comments that my wife was so much better at this game than me, I found there little point playing it! Still, I'll give it another go.

Though in my nightmares, I will never forget the sight on those flattened board game boxes, staring up at me accusingly. We trusted you...we loved you...
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Thu Apr 16, 2015 2:11 pm
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Star Realms in Their Eyes

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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I posted previously on Star Realms, a game I had downloaded the demo, played for a bit and then I was at the point where I would decide what my next step would be. $5 for the full app? $15 for the actual physical card game? Or just move on?

Well, I didn't pick up the app. That is nothing to do with Star Realms as such, more to do with me just finding I wasn't playing games on my iPod much any more, or rather if I was it was taking turns on Yucata.de. Star Realms is the sort of game I like to play on a device though, with the game all laid out and you can see what is going on - though it takes a while to learn all what these cards do. But $5 is $5 - if I was not really going to play it much, why bother?

As for the physical card game, I had nearly ordered it or picked it up several times. Once, I was all set and had an Amazon gift card to use - and it had sold out that run and was back up in the $30+ range. I was not
that desperate to play it. And then it showed up in my local game store and I had it in my hands a couple of times, but we decided otherwise. But it had not left the back of my mind as a game to get, even after all this time, so finally, while picking up comics from that same store, I had to browse the games as well. I looked at Red7, saw Star Realms. Picked both up, saw Star Realms at $12 and that was that. Red7 I left behind, already wondering what my wife would say when I went out for comics and brought back a game...

She looked askance. She grumbled a bit. But I knew she had played it a bit on the app as well, so I knew she liked it and it was a quick 2 player game of the sort we devour. But she did not remember playing it at all and was comically surprised when she found the app on her iPad. We played a couple of quick games and all that work the app does suddenly we had to do and it took a bit of thinking how best to do the scoring with the cards. But despite that extra fiddliness, there was a spark there, something we both wanted to play more. Indeed when I got home from work the following Monday, my wife was playing the campaign on her iPad. She played through the demo campaign, then bought the full version. We played it in the airport, pass 'n' play style, while waiting for our flight.

Long story short, Star Realms became the go-to game and though I picked it up less than a month ago, it is already my most played game of 2015. So what do I like? Well, the fast set-up is a big plus. Dominion is a game I really like (more than Star Realms, I would say) but it is such a chore to set up. Once it is out, you play several games in a row but that initial burst of energy to get it off the shelf, knowing the set-up, is hard to muster. That is not a problem with Star Realms, a quick shuffle and you are about done. I like the different targets for the two currencies of the game, as it reduces the frustration of a high money hand that has nothing worthwhile to spend on it (or the high combat hand with nothing to fight) that will occasionally mar a game of Ascension, which annoyed me enough that I just stopped playing it. That is not to say there is no luck in the middle card spread. A price you pay for that quick set-up is the limited selection of middle row cards.
Sometimes you have 4 trade and only 5 cost things out there. Sometimes you have a deck honed to yellow and red and all that's in the middle is green and blue. Or you have 4 combat and they have a 5 outpost. It is bad luck. But the game is fast enough and short enough that these factors don't bring it down, at least not for me (which I add due to having a discussion on a Geek List about Star Realms, where they clearly felt there was too much luck in the game). Getting your combos to hit is one of the intrinsic bits of luck built into card games of this type - even the old TCGs like Magic have that issue. Here that shows itself in ally abilities, a mechanism that rewards you getting cards from the same factions. But you can mitigate that by picking up bases which stick around, especially the non-outpost bases, which won't necessarily be destroyed by your opponent. Actually the bases are another facet I really enjoy about the game, because too often deck-builders rely too much on that cycling of cards and you have nothing even semi-permanent in play from which to build. The bases give you a bit of that and then also give you decisions about what to do about your opponent's bases. The outpost idea is neat and gives a slower player some time to build up their engine. But it is pretty remarkable how the game has an arc that rumbles slowly at first, with pot-shots taken on both sides but gaining in power until suddenly things are really shaking and you count the combat twice to make sure you got it right.

I have seen some run away leader issues, but those games end quickly. The best games do tend to be the ones that both dance around each other for a while then one gains that little bit more momentum, enough that they roll right over you. You do have to think about your economy, your deck efficiency, the factions you are buying from, the scrapping of scouts and vipers - and indeed other cards. For such a short game, there does feel like a bigger game there, one you could master and get better at. I like coming up with different strategic approaches - but the game does not let you sit down with Strategy A and play that whatever, as what you get put in front of you will be a large determinant in what approach you can take.

The different modes of play are a big plus. The variety of multi-player games you can play (teams, 1 against many, free-for-all, even a hunter and prey circle) look like a lot of fun, though we have only tried the team game so far (and that was a blow-out, so my wife liked it!). But the campaign modes from the online version are pretty interesting, we played a game where one of us had an Imperial Fighter instead of one Scout, a single 1 cost ship difference and it was quite difficult to beat them, despite such a slight difference in starting position. Tinkering with the starting hands like that, even without looking at the expansions that are coming (and are already out) means there is a lot of game in this little box.

Photos with thanks to KlydeFrog, Xeadin and the ever-prolific punkin312!
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Fri Apr 10, 2015 1:47 pm
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2015: the Story So Far

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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Looking back at my play data for January to March of the last few years, my typical play count is somewhere in the mid-20s for each month, except for that one January in 2011 just after we got Dominion: Prosperity and we couldn't stop playing it. We haven't been quite that obsessed with gaming, but it has been pretty good, a grand total of 111 games played, well above my aimed for pace of a play-a-day and that is also with a bit of a lull mid-March when we got busy, distracted, tired or both.

Some of the notables: Guildhall has made a dime already, 11 plays in fact, mostly with Guildhall: Job Faire attached. I've already commented that it was already in the running for the coveted most played game of 2015 trophy and it has been a hit with my wider group, giving it more opportunities to come out to game night. Our preferred way has become the mega variant with all 12 guilds - a couple of experiments going back to just 6 reminded us of the True Way to Play, though probably with more than 2 it would be pretty crazy.

And on the last day of March, new contender Star Realms, also hit 10 plays, a meteoric rise, as I only bought it in mid-March and I will have to go on about at greater length in another post.

I do have quite a few games passed the nickel already as well, including Animal Upon Animal with 9 plays (I officially regret not having picked this up earlier), old friend and reigning champion Rat Hot at 8 plays (not giving up its crown just yet - helped by my wife repackaging it to a simple bag rather than the box - and the bag doubles as a place to draw tiles from, making it quicker and easier to play).

No Thanks! has had 7 plays with me and my copy stayed out with my friends last time, so it has been having play time without me. I heard it was even causing some tension between spouses, I will assume of the 'well it I don't take this, spouse will win for sure as it links their 5 card run' variety. This game really reached the forefront of my group gaming, repeated requested plays, people being brought in to play it because they were away from the table while it was being played. A huge hit from such a small simple game, one every gamer should own.

The last of the nickels was Hive, which got its own little post earlier and got itself up to 6 plays, lost in a bit of a rush of small games really otherwise it might have been more. I was this close to just getting rid of it but I am so glad we didn't and gave it another try.

New games in the collection include Star Realms, Animal Upon Animal (already mentioned) plus its HABA brother Rhino Hero, which is also kind of like Jenga (even more so, perhaps as you are building a straight up tower) but I love how the game grows out of just a bit of card and how the placing of the rhino on a new place is so nerve-wracking. Dou Shou Qi (released as Jungle recently) which is a pretty simple abstract, plus all 3 Hive expansions. Then there were first plays for Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective plus Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport. Only one case tackled in the Sherlock Holmes series, it is definitely a game you should set aside the evening for and savor. We've had fun exploring the Waterdeep expansion, having played both modules by themselves a little, my wife rather adeptly manipulated the corruption track in our last game, leaving me hurting (-8 points per corruption) and unable to get rid of a good chunk of it.

I won't talk too much Yucata playing, but after the schadenfreude you all got out of my 10 losses post, I also suffered my first rank demotion this past month. I got up to Healer in early March but you are most vulnerable just after a promotion, I had about 500 points right before that but they all went away (yes, after that 10 game losing streak, order was restored) and I slipped down and it didn't help I got to a late round of a Targi tournament, playing games against two of the best players around (DrHades and Thoth, for those you know them). Indeed, Thoth won the game that caused my rank loss - though our other game, I actually won, so I think I am safe as a Monk for a while.
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Wed Apr 1, 2015 6:12 pm
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Shipping for Fun and Profit

David
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DURHAM
North Carolina
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At a recent game night, casting about for a shorter game to fill that 'one more game' spot, our host produced Michael Schacht's classic game of shipping around the Baltic Sea, Hansa.

In Hansa, the board is a map of the afore-mentioned sea, with various ports marked and arrows between them indicating what moves are available. These are one way, so you can go from Copenhagen to Danzig but not vice versa (you can see some of the arrows coming to and from Danzig in the photo). There is a merchant ship which everyone moves on their turn, on which you get 3 coins as income, then spend your funds to move the ship and buy goods. In each port, you can do one of 3 things: buy a good (paying either the bank or the player with most markets there), place markets (discarding a good tile) or sell goods (discarding a market and turning 2 or more goods of the same color into VPs) This latter move also causes anyone who has a good of that color to discard one good, which can be painful. As goods get bought, they can be replenished by any player at the start of their turn by paying a coin and the game ends when the last stack of goods is broken into. You score for the goods sold and for each port you have markets in (with a bonus for having the only markets in a particular port). Most VPs wins.

Our game was a full-on four player game, goods were bought and turned into markets and also sold, but as they were sold, quite often there was someone left throwing a barrel of their own away. This in fact happened repeatedly to our good host, I think the first three times the rest of us at the table sold something, he was the one throwing something away. As a result, it was some way into the game before he really got going.

The rest of us battled hard though. I always like to establish my markets early on and I think I played up that angle a little more this time, in the end to my own detriment as the game ended before I could get enough VP giving barrels, the end was upon us, with the two ladies at the table, who had both hit the sell button a little more fervently, were carefully counting up to see which of them had triumphed and in the end it was my wife's extra markets still on the board that gave her a narrow 2 point win.

It was fun to play it again, this was one we had even borrowed before to play at home and we had meant to do that again but in the bustle of leaving we forgot to pick it up. I shrugged and figured we would get it next time we were over there, but my wife was apparently more into this game that I initially thought because she went and found a used copy in the BGG marketplace and next thing we know, a copy has shown up at our door! And as an aside, I bought a 'very good' copy and so I didn't expect it to come with the pieces unpunched! Did he keep the pieces and put them back in to make it easier to ship? Well, I punched and sorted them and thought to bag it up to make it easier to play a 2 player game, in which 2 of the good types are excluded. So after careful consideration of which colors were best to exclude (we went with orange and green out, red, blue, brown and pink in and another aside, at certain angles in certain light the pink and orange are easily mistaken) I was just about to put it away when I thought we could just give it its inaugural play.

The 2 player game is much more open, you can do a lot more and plan more effectively. There was a bit of a recalibration, as I did not anticipate my wife getting to those goods and then selling them, causing me to lose a couple of goods. But that happened only early on, we were both wise to that particular trick pretty quickly. Markets spread to every corner - neither of us was going to get much of an advantage there. After the last game (and the greater opportunities offered in a 2 player game) I wanted to make sure I was selling plenty as well and it is a nice little puzzle, making the most of your cash and your position, trying not to use the last market if you can but still leaving the boat in as awkward a place as possible. The free goods you could get by having the most markets in a city (you pay the player with most market i.e. yourself!) were key I think, using them well and obviously paying the other player was to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. I ended up triggering the end of the game and thought I'd made a pretty good fist of it, but my wife made a last grand tour and scored what turned out to be a critical last sale that gave her the edge: we had occupied the same number of cities but she had sold a couple more tokens' worth of goods, giving her the win, 70-62.

I am really happy we picked up this game, I have always enjoyed it (though occasionally frustrated, especially in a 4 player game), I like the puzzley nature of it, the making the best of your scarce resources and the balancing of different aspects - which goods to sell, which to turn into markets, which to hold for next turn, where to leave the ship, when to burn through your cash and when to hold off. Pretty typical for Michael Schacht, there is a lot in there in a compact package that plays quickly.



Photos by ny2007 and RoSKoMaNTe - thanks!
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Fri Mar 27, 2015 5:56 pm
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All Quiet on the Blogging Front

David
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DURHAM
North Carolina
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It has been over a month since my last post, which is slightly shocking to me. It is not because I had nothing to talk about, nor a lack of board gaming going on, I think I have had one of the most active board game quarters in a while (and hopefully I will talk about that soon). It has just a matter of fitting in the time to write something up in a semi-intelligent manner and getting that highly polished look that my readers have been accustomed to. Did I hear a cough then?

Anyway, this is just to say I am still here and in fact am working on a couple of posts which I hope to finish up soon and I have worked out with myself a way to keep myself plugging away, writing a bit every day so the whole burden of writing it start to finish does not seem so difficult. We shall see how it goes, I do seem to go through these phases of just not finding (or making) the time to update things here.

Expect a proper game related post to sail into view in the next day or two (I might even finish it over lunch).
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Fri Mar 27, 2015 2:03 pm
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They Are Classics For a Reason

David
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DURHAM
North Carolina
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We had a game night - the first proper one for a while. At one point it was going to be 5 of us early then 4 later but another couple joined us so it would be split into 2 games then the remaining 6 recombine for a big game - Power Grid was mentioned.

When we got there, we had a quorum of 5 and maybe an hour before the stragglers arrived, so our host disappeared to find a suitable game and returned with Knizia's candy camel classic Through the Desert. Everyone had played before (a nice change of pace) but everyone was a little rusty (the plume of dust that came off the box was a clue), but I remembered to take away one color rider from each player and we were off, plotting our routes to oases, waterholes and claiming territory. Five player makes for a crwded board and someone is bound to get squeezed hard. This game it was me: Tom on one side making a play for a large swathe behind me, my wife to the other side and then our host Rick sneaking in behind me. I ended up spending green camels in rather fruitless endeavors, unable to link the 3 oases like I planned (barely made it to one of them) and did at least make some progress on my other main camel contribution, though I barely finished that territory grab by the end and for a modest number of points. At least compared to Tom and my wife who carved out mighty kingdoms in the desert, defying the crowded board, while Rick and Kristi made the best of the oases and waterholes they could grab. I managed a share of most green, while the ladies claimed one color each but Tom, who had pretty much ignored 2 of his 4 colors, claimed the majority in both the ones he had focussed on and that 20 point bonus looked like the winner. However, my wife's territory and oases made up the difference and they claimed a joint victory, with Rick and Kristi some way behind and me buried in sand and left for the vultures.

Despite the mauling, it did remind me what I love about this game, the "too much to do" prioritization, the bit of tactics and bit of strategy, grab points but look around for the territory grabs and the 'most of a color' points. It is rightly a classic. But maybe next time I'll suggest less than the full complement.

By now, the stragglers had arrived and after the meeting and the greeting, we split into 2 tables. My wife, Rick and Rob played Basari. They looked aghast when I said I was glad to be on the other table then and how they talked about the game after they were done made me think it isn't the game is bad as such - as the Heavy Cardboard guys put it, it's not you, it's me.

Meanwhile, I was teaching Guildhall to Tom, Karen and, apparently, Kristi who claimed not to remember playing it a couple months back. We also had Tom's infant daughter as well. But everyone got the swing of it pretty well, though there were lots of reminders of what things did. I fully remembered doing the same thing when we learned it, even a few plays in, a lot to take in. I urged them to focus on completing guild chapters and that must have sunk in because I think I was last to manage that first guild, though I did get 2 in quick succession and could claim the 7VP with 2 free actions. Karen made the early running, then Kristi (who now remembered playing it before) moved up and we tried to slow them down. Then Tom made a nice play that helped him finished 2 guilds in a turn and with his 10 points in hand and the 5VP cards in the middle, he would win on his next turn. Well, I claimed one on my turn, but turned up another anyway, then Kristi, who had been playing with the baby looked up, played a card then announced she was at 20 points and had won!

Tom took his leave and Kristi went to put her young lad to bed as well. So we were 5 for a filler and I put forward No Thanks!. I had taught this to Rick many moons ago but he didn't remember it at all, while both Rob and Karen were new, so I taught and then we played because anyone who has taught this knows that about halfway through that first game those seemingly simple rules seem to resolve into all these possibilities. It is the sound of pennies dropping. I got a bit lucky, linking two sets together and taking the win but Rob was right behind me and Rick had this look, the sign that he had just played something truly great and it was no surprise that it was set up again. My No Thanks! mojo continued, with a turn where I pulled up a whole string of cards that nicely linked to what I had paid for already, but in the end, Rick had gathered enough coins in hand to make up the deficit and he won. And during this game, his lady wife had returned and he insisted that she try it as well. Kristi is very analytical and he knew she would love the mathematics of this game. So we ended playing it twice more, though sadly for Kristi she fell foul of some of the game's pitfalls, such as running out of coins at an inopportune moment and not being able to link up some otherwise quite high cards. My mojo continued, I won one and thought I had won the last as well, but Karen quietly piped up from the other end of the table that she had 25, overcoming my own score.

To say this was a hit was an understatement, I saw a couple of weeks ago how it perked up my friend Geoff when he played it again (he was the one who taught it to me) and seeing how everyone reacted to it tonight, with fresh eyes and excitement was one of the reasons I bring out these games we play. It was most rewarding.

All this meant the mooted plans for a longer game like Power Grid were discarded in favor of something lighter. I proposed Coup, thinking to try out the expansion Coup: Reformation but I had not had time to properly read over the rules in order to teach, plus both Rob and Karen had not played the original before (I thought they had but they only played The Resistance). So I reverted to the base game. It was a curious opening. I used my Ambassador to grab a Duke and a Contessa from the middle. There proceeded round the table 3 Captains and, by my next turn, 3 Dukes. So as it turned out, taking the Contessa looked a dubious decision as Captains raided me regularly, especially after bouncing off my wife's ambassador. There was one assassination (not directed at me) and my wife couped another, but the lack of assassins active was making me regret my decision to grab a contessa. We all got reduced to 1 life in a very equitable fashion, then the build up continued, Kristi called Rick on his captain after he ambassadored, perhaps thinking he had switched it out but he hadn't so Kristi was out. Rob was out, I couped Karen out, then Rick assassinated my wife. With just us and the Dukes gone, we both took foreign aid building up cash. I would make 7 first but Rick had an assassin so attacked, and finally my first turn play paid dividends: blocked, challenged and won.

This game did not quite fly like No Thanks, our group has gone off the deception of Resistance and the bluffing and aggressive play of Coup might be on the edge of falling out of favor as well. I need to get the expansion to the table - what I read looks interesting adding a dimension to the play and I'd like to see it in action.

Final game of the night was Electronic Catch Phrase, a much battered beeping hot potato. I recall that beeping waking up our baby and that baby is now in high school. Our 'usual' is boys v girls but Rick mixed it up by declaring it be right-handed folks versus the lefties. That proved an intriguing battle, the first game went to the final round, 6-6 next point wins and somehow we righties managed to get it. The lefties came back strong in the second game and so there had to be a decider. It all went a bit south for my poor wife who got a string of words that it was just hard to break down and get, especially with that insistent beeping, but that was capped by Rob getting Rick to say "gorp" even though no one at the table knew what that was - a shiny geek gold for the first to get that in the comments! And so the lefties ruled the day. And we skulked off into that good night, chastened.

Thanks for the photos to beuntje and punkin312!
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Sun Feb 22, 2015 1:53 am
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Ramblings on January Plays

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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A quick look at my January plays and looking back at the notable moments.

By the numbers:

Game Qty
Guildhall with Job Faire 6
Rat Hot 4
Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small 3
Dou Shou Qi 3
Hive with The Ladybug, The Mosquito and The Pillbug 3
Carcassonne: The Castle 2
No Thanks! 2
Qwirkle 2
Cartoona 1
Connect Four 1
Draco Magi 1
Lords of Waterdeep with Scoundrels of Skullport 1
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective 1
Wits & Wagers 1

What to talk about? Well first was our taking on the first case in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. The non-spoiler summary is that we got some of it but missed the actual killer, which is a bit of a poor show for a wannabe Holmes.

The problem was that we were too wrapped up in the scoring and taking as few leads as possible. In the future (and I encourage all SHCD players to do this), we will stick our flag in the ground when we are ready but will continue to look at and follow-up leads - this is a game where each case is a "play once" experience, so you should get as much out of each case as you can. We did at least see some of what was on offer but missed a good bit too - knowing how they work in practice will refine our approach for the next case as well. My note-taking methods will get some improvements as well.

The games of No Thanks! bear mention. We were hanging out with another couple. I met the male half through gaming but he has decreased his active interest in board games in favor of other projects, but once in a while we will play something that his wife enjoys, which tends toward the light end of the spectrum. We had played a game of Cartoona with them, which dragged a little, and this poor fellow especially had struggled to complete any of the creatures and was looking ready to call it a night. Then he mentioned No Thanks!, I brought it out and we played it. By the end of that game, he was bright-eyed and really engaged - we played it again in fact! Such a simple game with a simple premise, but wow, it was such a good time. I actually hope that means we get to play a few more games with those guys, though it was funny that his wife was the one who instigated the games. I bet she brings some of her favorites next time.

I mentioned Hive (which managed to be both new-to-me and a dusty game all in one month!) and Dou Shou Qi in my last post. So of my new games, that only leaves Lords of Waterdeep: Scoundrels of Skullport. We played with the Undermountain module, so one side board, more Intrigue and some big quests. We both kinda wanted to try a new Lord as well, so I dealt out each of us 2 Lords, one from the new and one from the base game. And inevitably we both picked the new ones. Which worked out well for me, as I was looking for bigger quests and things worked well, but my wife got the one looking for Undermountain quests and buildings. And that kind of sucked, as those tended to be exactly the sort of thing I was after, plus only one Undermountain building came out the whole game - and that was the randomly picked one I put on top of the deck after shuffling. (And I looked at what was coming up and the next 3 or 4 were all Undermountain buildings). So while she had fun playing a lot of Intrigue cards, her Lord bonus left a bit of a sour after-taste to the game.

That just leaves the most played games to talk about. Guildhall made an early case for the most played, with a rush of plays. As well as the mega-variant with all 12 guilds, my wife decided she wanted to play a girls' guilds version, but it turned out there are only 4 guild with girls on them, so the Scholar and the Historian got invited to the girls' night out as well. With the Peddler and the Dancer in the game there were plenty of actions flying around and the game seemed to move really fast. Since we had the cards separated we played the all boys version and it was amazing how different it felt, a real struggle with no extra actions, assassins knocking people off and generally much less flow to the game. We were quite glad to return to the mega.

I had thought for a little while that Guildhall had displaced Rat Hot but the vermin are notoriously hard to get rid of and it got a respectable 4 plays, especially later in the month in the 'too tired but want to play something' role in which it excels for us. That was something of a theme for the month, my wife's job involves quite a lot of traveling and lifting and she was increasingly exhausted by day's end and all she wanted to do was eat dinner and retire to listen to our audio entertainment (currently Cryptonomicon by the excellent Mr Neal Stephenson). That didn't leave much gaming time especially in the last 2 weeks of the month but the good news is that she has cut back her hours to enjoy the non-work parts of life again, so hopefully more time for games.

Thanks to koenigcitizen, joeincolorado and rhiochs for their cool photos!
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Thu Feb 12, 2015 1:32 am
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It's Not a Bug, It's a Feature

David
United States
DURHAM
North Carolina
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When I was looking forward, I didn't do too much, I just looked at my unplayed games really. Which included a bunch of expansions, some I was sure I would play and others I was more sure I probably wouldn't. Guess which category the first expansion to get played off that list was in? I should give up trying to predict what will happen.

Some back story. We had played a few games of Hive and had both expansions which were included in the Hive Carbon release. I thought we weren't supposed to release carbon wherever possible but still. But our plays of the base game hadn't really grabbed us and so we never progressed to the point where we thought we wanted more bugs to play with. So they languished.

Fast forward to last weekend. We are in the game store, looking around. My wife has me looking up a couple of 2 player games, one of which we end up picking up (this was a chess variant a bit simpler like a primer for that sort of game called Dou Shou Qi, also known as Animal Chess and recently released as Jungle). While browsing, we see some small expansions on a rack, including Hive: The Pillbug. I hadn't even mentioned my blog post up to this point (she reads it occasionally) but I bring it up now.

"How come we don't have this?" she asked.

"I was just talking about this game," I say, "how it never really connected for us."

"Didn't it? I don't remember. Let's get this one and give it another try."

One of my basic gaming mottos is never argue with her about what games t buy. She has a very good success rate when it comes to picking ones we like and play a lot. Also when someone tells me to buy a game I am generally in favor. So I did.

We got the little pack with the rest of the Hive pieces out and set up to play with everything in, with a lot of trying to remember how everything moved. I ended up printing a couple of cheat sheets from the Geek. So we refreshed our memory on the base game and brought in both the new bug but also Hive: The Ladybug and Hive: The Mosquito.

What I had read before was the Ladybug was a cool addition, the Mosquito could be a little annoying. I didn't even know what the pill bug did until then. So it was all a bit of a discovery. I immediately took a shine to the knight like moves of the Ladybug (it jumps up on a neighbor, moves 2 then jumps down again). My wife absolutely loved the Pill bug (which can move itself or can make a neighbor piece move over it, like a leapfrog move). I'd move an ant in to threaten her queen bee and the pill bug would toss him out again. The mosquito (who can copy the ability of one of its neighbors, of either color) had its moments too, more subtle to use that the other two and sometimes more surprising.

We ended up playing 3 times that evening. We both really enjoyed the games, which had a great back and forth. One game was over pretty quickly when my beetle managed to climb on her queen and she got a bit mobbed. (And what happens when a beetle climbs on their own queen? Is that allowed even?) But the other two games were more even though I managed to win both, much to her annoyance as she is usually the queen of abstracts. It has been moved up to the bin of small games we want to have handy to play regularly. Yep, a hit.

So what changed? A little break from a game can help you forget early frustrations and come back to it fresh. I had a feeling that it was somewhat predictable, that once a situation got set up, the end game was inevitable. Perhaps with the new pieces to experiment with, we just played the game rather than dwelling on such things too deeply. Plus I had a feeling in the interim that I was missing something, as lots of BGGers rated it highly, so it can hardly be that predictable can it?

My wife blamed her losses on tiredness, a result of her heavy work load. She is cutting back her hours as of today, giving her more chance to play. We'll see if she can work the bugs out of her system.

Photos from CinMel and tinang - thanks!
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Fri Jan 30, 2015 11:41 pm
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