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DunDraCon 2012

David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Luck in games, in measured doses, is the catalyst which enables shocking game-changers that you'll remember and talk about forever.
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Let the Lord of Chaos rule.
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For the first time ever, I didn't learn a single new game at a convention. That's what happens when you bring your copy of the newest piece of hotness that previously sold through its initial printing like hotcakes, and people keep asking, "Hey, are you going to play that?", and you can't resist not spreading the joy of 4X in space, even if it's 1 hour per player in a teaching game. Ended up teaching it twice. No bites on my Mage Knight Board Game however, which I had hoped to explore further after logging just 1 play prior to the con.

Friday
1500 - 4-player Wiz-War (eighth edition) with Tom Jolly.
1700 - 7-player 7 Wonders
1800 - 6-player A Game of Thrones 2ed with Clay, Thomas, Andrew, Sasha + friend.
2100 - 6-player A Game of Thrones 2ed (teaching game)
0100 - 2-player Wiz-War with Mike.
0130 - Bed

Saturday
0900 - GMed Runewars, hosting Charlie, Jon, Daniel, Lu, Mike.
1600 - 4-player Eclipse with Daniel, Mike, Sean.
2130 - 6-player Battlestar Galactica with Sean, Mike, Clay, 2 others.
0200 - Bed

Sunday
0900 - GMed Middle-Earth Quest, hosting Gary and Valerie.
1400 - Best game in the world with Craig.
1715 - 6-player Eclipse with Craig, Sean, MichaelB, MichaelF, TimothyB.
2400 - 30-minute drive home.

Two Plays: Frustration vs Redemption

I was starting to cool off on Eclipse, feeling like all my 4-player games tended to be some exploration at the start, a race to get the necessary strength to take the center (with lucky discoveries often determining the victor), then turtling in the center while making sure you have no other chokepoints or they're all securely guarded. 1 or 2 betrayals. Rinse and repeat.

I taught Sean (Terran), while Daniel (Hydran) and Mike (Planta) had only played 4 times and once respectively. Sean grabbed the center after getting the +3 Computers discovery tile, then went into Missiles to cow Mike and me (both allies) into submission. But he did not move against Daniel since the latter had massed ships on his only chokepoint, and all of us turtled all game long.

I, as Eridani, was too busy fighting my own economy, and could have been wiped from the map if Mike and Sean wanted to (but wouldn't, since that'd leave their flank open). I came into the game determined to move early toward the center with my nice ships and only colonize good hexes, but still ran out of steam around Turn 4, mostly because Sean took the middle, Mike and Sean both fenced me out of Ring II with explorations, and my throwing away a 2-Ancient tile didn't help. A first-turn Advanced Robotics wasn't adequate and was probably too expensive.

In the end, Mike betrayed Sean on the last turn in a kamikaze move as a desperate attempt to stop him from winning, and I, with my last move, used 2 ships that had been guarding against Sean's rear all game to bust through and take a 3-VP hex. Still nowhere close as Sean won handily.

My opinion of the game was at an all-time low at this point, since it had just been a race to get to the center, and the rest of us cajoling the other to make the first move and mutual destruction. Playing Eridani didn't help; I need to stop handicapping myself just to see if I can win with them.

My opinion of the game was revived when I taught it again on Sunday, this time in a 6-player affair, where you couldn't stretch your leg without hitting an opponent. Battles were waged starting from Turn 1, a player was eliminated in Turn 3 (MichaelB likes to attack first and ask questions later), and the Traitor Card changed hands at least 7 times, with me being the only player to never betray an ally (not within the rules anyway; Tim rightfully grumbled that my swooping in to take the hexes he had to vacate to fend off MichaelB before he could re-colonize them was a betrayal in all but name). It was a long 6-hour game, but tense and full of "OMGWTF" moments throughout, and I barely held on in the middle as the other 4 players kept squabbling about how to nip away at my 4 fronts. In the end, MichaelF on my right betrayed me out of desperation but got his entire fleet murdered in the process, and I immediately allied with Tim instead, arguing that he had to defend against Craig, while I had to defend against both Sean and MichaelF, then held on tight for the victory. Great way to end the con.

Love the increased conflict and betrayals a lot more with 6, and will be trying to play this with more players if I have the time.

Two Plays: Experienced vs. New Players

I always hit conventions on Friday ready to go, but they never seem ready for me. Whatever few early goers seem to stick together, and I have trouble identifying cool people to dive into a 3+ hour game with. Hence, I waited impatiently for the Game of Thrones event at 6 p.m., sitting through a 7-player game of 7 Wonders (not the best use of time, but there was nothing else to spend my time on!).

It was worth it when it was finally 6 p.m. We set up a 6-player game with experienced players next to the 6-player that the GM was teaching, and having 6 experienced players in A Game of Thrones is a luxury I've never enjoyed. The game flowed very smoothly, and we were done with 8 rounds in 2h15min (!), while the learning game was still stuck on Round 4. It was a refreshing respite to not have to look out for newbies, or pause to explain something all over again, and just bunker down and play the best I could.

I took Martell, determined to atone for my last pathetic attempt, when I was bent, bowed and broken. This time, I stayed aggressive, pushing into Tyrell territory despite his better positioning on the tracks, after I had secured the requisite 4 castles and mustered all my ships. A few back-and-forth battles, including a satisfying one where Doran Martell condemned the Tyrells to the bottom of King's Court, giving me the raven (though of course A Clash of Kings immediately came up).

On Round 8, I had 5 castles, and my rivals were Stark and Greyjoy, each at 4, who had profited from their non-aggression pact. I marched from Highgarden to take both Oldtown and The Reach, leaving Tyrell with 0 castles, and with Lannister's help unable to stop my siege engine. Greyjoy hesitated and decided not to push my navy away, which gave me a route for re-taking Highgarden. Then Baratheon tried to drive me from Storm's End, but I luckily drew a skull icon on my Tide of Battle card, making him unable to occupy the castle after he had driven me from it. Then on my next march order, I marched from Sunspear to take Storm's End, Yronwood and Highgarden, all unoccupied, for the win.

Absolutely fun game with very cool and fast opponents. Tyrell and Lannister, who both got absolutely crushed, bowed out, and the rest wanted to play again, but we got 4 new interested players. I stupidly forsook this great group to bring a newbie to another 4-player Game of Thrones that was setting up.

...and this was a learning game. I kicked myself for running away from a good thing. To their credit, they started getting the hang of it mid-game, and the action started heating up in Round 6, to the point that I, as Tyrell, got absolutely crushed. Martell was my bane, twice wasting my Loras Tyrell (the best Tyrell card) with Arianne Martell. The 2nd time, I had carefully monitored his discard pile, making sure I strike with Loras before Arianne returned from the discards, but he participated in 3 quick battles to take his previously used House Cards back.

It greatly helped that Jefferson read the rules beforehand, and could function as my "rules assistant", instead of me having to shout across the table over the din of the room (I also had a rules assistant in each play of Eclipse and Runewars, which helped me focus more on the game instead of having to talk the whole time). And he won in the end with 6 castles, having totally smashed Stark. Lannister finished with 4 after playing nice with Greyjoy, Martell with 4, and I was 4th with 3.

Now I have to keep using Tyrell until I win once with them!

Two Events: Sparkled vs Fizzled

I put my events at 9 a.m., so they don't get oversubscribed (and I might get a chance to play).
Didn't work for Runewars (with expansion): I had to turn 4 or 5 away, and had to spectate. No matter, since it's exhausting enough to teach this game and keep the players constantly planning ahead and getting their move/card ready without being in the fray yourself. And I was geeked about the new multi-tier business card holders I brought to keep everything neat and tidy.

Charlie (2nd play, Daqan Lords) vs. Jon (1st play, Latari Elves) vs. Lu (2nd play, Uthuk Y'llan) vs. Daniel (Waiqar the Undying, 5th play). Lu had to step out halfway, but no matter, since Mike, a cool dude I gamed with the night before who enjoys spectating as much as gaming, was lined up as a sub.

Jon declared a 6-rune victory early in Year 4 after early cooperation with Charlie, which would have been all kinds of anti-climactic without the expansion, since not a single meaningful PvP battle had occured. But with the expansion, he had to defend his dragon runes for a year, and thus started the fall of the Latari. Daniel abandoned his brewing war with Lu to march all his forces forward, but was too late as Charlie stopped the win first. Instead, Daniel's two 8-stacks were utterly destroyed by Jon and Charlie, leaving him with no units at one point, and scrambling to reclaim his dragon runes instead of laying down his 6th and 7th. Then Charlie declared a victory in Year 5 Fall, poured in all his influence in Winter to get everybody a dragon rune and make his lead more formidable, then pulled his only forward dragon rune back behind his lines. The others were weakened from constant fighting, and did not come close to stopping him.

Fun game, but I do hope to play this with experienced players some time. This dragged at times as newbies would accidentally stare into space instead of constantly skipping ahead to the next move, and it took 6 hours in total.

Middle-Earth Quest on Sunday at 9 a.m. did not go as well. I like the interesting ideas in this somewhat obscure game (as obscure as a 2009 FFG release can be) a lot, and think it'd have more mindshare with a much-needed expansion. Only 1 of the 3 registrants showed up (should have done MEQ on Saturday or during prime time), and nobody else was interested (one said, "Oh, I thought you were going to play Munchkin Quest", ughhhhh!).

We only got started at 10 after Gary, a Tolkien fan, called his wife down, and roped in an acquaintance. I took Sauron, since Sauron needs to know what he's doing and set up the traps correctly for all players to enjoy the experience. Rules explanation in just 5 minutes, since all the complexity in this game is procedural (when to draw cards from which deck, which card to resolve etc).

The game hit a snafu on Turn 2 when the acquaintance asked, "Do you mind if I leave this game? I wanted to leave right after you explained it (then do it!). It's the exact kind of game I hate. And I'll only get more and more irritated and annoyed if I keep playing." So much for asking when you've already threatened to hold the game hostage unless we endorse your poor etiquette and let you quit. Though honestly, I didn't mind too much since she had been bogging the game down, and this game runs a lot faster and has a lot less downtime when playing with 3. It wound up finishing in a tidy 2 hours.

But my increased number of traps had already been set in the first 2 turns, and the game ended up being a bloodbath before I realized too late that I should remove some of them to account for the 1 fewer player. They picked up a lot of corruption, while Favor was hard to find, and couldn't get anywhere without picking up more corruption, to the point that both Thalin and Eometh were completely neutered. I tried to lay it easy on them since it was their first time, deliberately choosing less harmful cards to resolve, and not playing super harmful Shadow Cards, to try and balance the game a little. It worked out a little as the end came down a climactic final battle that I won. They didn't like the game ultimately though, finding it too similar to Descent, which they find too long and complex.

Once again, geeked about seeing my business card holders and domino tile racks in action! They really help streamline the action and keep the board and table tidy.

Two Plays: Both Didn't Work

My first game at the convention was Wiz-War (eighth edition) against 3 others, including the designer. Amusingly, this was one of Tom Jolly's first attempts at playing the new edition, so I ended up being the rules lawyer.

My first play of Wiz-War had been awesome, and I was right in expecting that this would not live up to it. Two of the players, despite having played the 1st edition to death, took a long time to take turns, resulting in a 90-minute game (at least 45 minutes too long!). This game shines when you just let go and do funny stuff.

I broke out Wiz-War again when I met Mike at 1 a.m. and we both wanted to play a game. 2-player did not work out well, as only 1 person is out there to screw you over, and it was anti-climactic as I drew the right cards to run away and bring the 2nd spellbook home after just 15 minutes.

Two Cylons Finally Get the Job Done After 4.5 Hours

Sean always refers to Saturday night as BSG Time, so that's what he, Mike and I set the board up for after the draining Eclipse session and dinner. I'm played out on BSG, especially after the design failure that is Battlestar Galactica: Exodus Expansion, but as Sean noted, we had a good group going.

Clay, as Cain, was trustworthy early, picking a useful 3-distance for our first jump. He made a somewhat justifiable move to take my (Tory) Presidency away instead of doing other bad stuff, which the other players supported since I'd been a bad President that loses them resources (hey, when I have to choose between lose 2 food or lose 1 morale, of course we have to lose some resources!!!). I made a mental note to ask Cally (Mike) to shoot Cain immediately after sleeper if she wouldn't use her Blind Jump OPG.

All doubt was removed when right after Airlock and Admiral's Quarters were both damaged, Cain slammed Cally in the Brig with an Arrest Order and smirked. I got Cally out with Political Prowess, but she couldn't shoot Cain yet since she couldn't move directly to Colonial One. Then we jumped against our will (wanted to take the Admiral title away from Cain before we did so), and ended up on a Remote Planet, leaving us with 3 fuel to travel 3 distance.

With the first turn after Sleeper, I rolled the hard six by XOing Cally to shoot Cain, and she proved her mettle by not betraying us. Then Cain took a split second too long in passing off her other Loyalty Card to me, and I knew it before I read it: I was now a cylon!
Spoiler (click to reveal)
Clay knew he was taking too long, and ended up just randomly passing me one of the cylon cards. As it turned out, he gave me the wrong one (Centurion reveal instead of Jump Track reveal), since Anders was in the game.

I lay low, deciding that I should use a Presidential Order to grab the Admiral title right before we'd jump and further drain Fuel, but the timing never worked out and my pleas for an XO right before we jumped never got answered. I riskily spiked a -2 morale crisis, but a suddenly treacherous Six (Sean) covered it up for me.

Then right before my turn, Ellen borrowed the Admiral title from Anders and activated FTL, and drew an Icy Moon, the worst destination in the game. I had a field day with this, yelling that we had found our 2nd cylon. I struck up another handshake agreement with Cally, and XO'd her, my personal executioner, to throw Ellen out the Airlock. But she got cold feet -- argh!

Cally XO'd me back, and I used my OPG to find no more mischievous Quorum Cards were on deck. After promising to play a useful Quorum Card, I had to follow my ruse, and Consulted the Oracle to check the bottom of the Destination deck (it was another Icy Moon), and cleared Ellen's name (didn't want to antagonize her too much since her turn was right before mine). Instead, I cast suspicion on Anders, the new player in the group, after he rightfully sat out of several skill checks in a row (he'd just been to Sickbay).

But the humans were too timid, and after Ellen gave ma a neXt-O, I went to work, using 2 Quorum Cards to tank morale to 2, then used a bunch of Strategic Planning to get the raiders to aim better. I staved off the first Airlock attempt against me with Political Prowess, but couldn't defend the 2nd, but it was okay: I like off-turn reveals.

The game should have been over quickly with morale at 2 and fuel at 2 (to travel 3), then population quickly tanked to 1 as the raider swarm became too much. But Cain and I watched in disbelief as Ellen the aggressive President kept boosting morale (it went from 1 to 2, to 1, then to 4!), and they made it to Distance 8 with Barren Planet, then a successful Tylium Planet (3-2-1-1-1 jump game), with the fleet jumping right before another raider activation could destroy the last 3 civilian ships. But Cain and I carefully manipulated the Pursuit Track so they couldn't get away from us at Distance 8, and population finally caught up to them there. Having Anders as the only pilot (and him being a new player at that) definitely crimped their ability to protect the ships.

It was a looooooong (4.5 hours) game that should have been over a lot earlier if the humans hadn't had some luck at the gallows, evidenced by the 3-2-1-1-1 jump pattern, and all the resources about to deplete (Fuel: 2, Food: 2, Morale: 3, Population: 0). I was disappointed by my reveal since it wound up not making a significant impact (Cain's was a lot cheekier). Six had the hardest agenda in the game: Convert the Infidels (humans win and all resources at 3 or less), and came the closest you'll ever get to accomplishing that near-impossible agenda.

Two Players for the Game to Rule Them All

Craig and I don't know of anybody else in the area who owns War of the Ring Collector's Edition besides each other, and we always eagerly recount new War of the Ring stories when we see each other at the local cons. But we'd never actually got to play it with each other. So when I saw him roll in after my Middle-Earth Quest event, and when nobody else seemed open for a game, we had to fix that problem.

I tried playfully to tease out some spoilers for the upcoming expansion -- which he's helping beta-test -- from him, to no avail. Learning that all the playtesters owned a Collector's Edition and would defend its sanctity in the face of expansion$$$ (as opposed to being online-only sharks, which I had feared) was good enough for me, in any case. As we set up the game, I was reminded again how War of the Ring is always the game that attracts the most curious onlookers who wish they knew how to play.

Rolled for it and determined that I'd take the Free Peoples. Could see early that Craig was a seasoned vet, as he readied for DEW and mustered Saruman and all the factions to war. I had a couple of cards to defend DEW and waited for him to commit before playing them.

But disaster struck in Turn 2 or 3 -- earliest Aragorn death ever! I split him and Boromir from the Fellowship to command the Rohan garrison at the Fords of Isen, ready with a Shield-Wall for insurance, in preparation for bunkering up in Helm's Deep, then leaving with the aid of the Dead Men of Dunharrow to Pelargir and crown Aragorn. But Craig played Onslaught, giving him an extra round of dice rolls after the battle, and of course he rolled 0 hits in the actual combat and 3 hits in the post-combat. Noooo! As Craig cheerfully reminded me for the rest of the game, a warg-rider dragged Strider over a cliff edge, and Brego the horse never managed to find him...

Things were going well to that point, but such an early loss of a potential die made the situation very grim for me. Split Gimli off to rouse the Dwarves (and later regretted not sending Legolas too to fortify the Woodland Realm) with the Book of Mazarbul, and charged the Fellowship. Craig engaged Helm's Deep, subdued the Woodland Realm quickly, then engaged Erebor, Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith. The Fellowship skipped Lorien and got to Mordor at this time, and I did some sneaky annoying things like playing Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth and The Eagles Are Coming! (which postponed an Erebor siege attempt for 1 whole turn since he had no more Character dice left). But the dice disadvantage was too much for me by this point, with Erebor falling to continually downgraded Elites (could've rolled better there, grrr, especially when Gimli's Heroic Death didn't work against an onslaught of 6's) and Dol Amroth falling to Grond.

On the last turn, I was 3 steps away with little corruption and had 3 movement dice, but took it slow (post-mortem showed I would have come up against a Reveal anyway). That was enough for Erebor and Helm's Deep to fall, then the Warg-riders charged across the plains to take Edoras for the 10th VP.

It was a great pleasure and rare treat to take on somebody with more experience in this game than me. Our play was very smooth, and wrapped in 2h15min.

============================

The con was over far too quickly, and I wish I got in a few more games (only 3 each on Saturday and Sunday!), wish I got to try Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game (which Sean would've taught, but 4 others wanted to try Eclipse). But I was very happy with the quality of each play, got to know several cool people (Mike, Clay, Daniel, MichaelB, Sasha etc), got to know Sean better, and got in 2 games with Craig (I've played at least once with him at every convention I've been to, so it doesn't feel complete anymore unless I get into a game with him). The board games played at DunDraCon were also more to my taste (Ameritrash), and I'll definitely be back.
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