Balls! - Game Weekend in Waterloo, IA, June 7th & 8th
Tony D.
United States
Waterloo
Iowa
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Ever since the inaugural Nuts! was held in late 2007, nearly ten people have eagerly awaited its long-promised sister event, Balls! Last weekend, the dream became a reality, as many of those same people, and a few others, descended upon a small bungalow-style house in Waterloo for some serious (well, for us) gaming goodness!

Originally planned for an entire weekend, we were forced to scale it back to mainly Saturday after a few people were unable to attend. We crammed as much gaming into that Saturday as we could, and my wife and I managed to squeeze a game in Sunday evening, so I'm using that to pad this out a bit.

Of course, it wouldn't be a game weekend in Iowa if the weather didn't threaten to ruin everything. It hasn't stopped raining here for almost two weeks, and by 10 pm, there was a severe thunderstorm watch in effect, which made life interesting for those who traveled significant distances. Everyone is now accounted for, although much of our area is under water.

A great time was had by all, and we are already planning Fall Balls! for sometime in September or October, in all likelihood.

Attendees: James (Iceberg1), Jim (jpat), Matt (Cruo), Valerie, Jeremy (honkeydong), Zak, Todd, Adam (DNose), Sara

Hosts: Gretchen (LittleMarge) and myself

Non-Gaming Kids: Tucker, Rylee, Hayden

(EDITED: Now with new pictures!)
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1. Board Game: Memoir '44 [Average Rating:7.54 Overall Rank:117] [Average Rating:7.54 Unranked]
Tony D.
United States
Waterloo
Iowa
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Game #1: Jim, James

Game #2: Tony, Matt

Jim and James were the first to arrive. Knowing that we would be playing an Overlord scenario later in the day, Jim decided to run James through a quick two-player game so James would know what was going on. While they were setting up, Matt and Valerie arrived, and we decided to go ahead and do the same.

Matt had already played BattleCry (and had even brought it with him) so he was halfway there: all I had to do was explain how the units and terrain worked. We played the Sainte-Mere-Eglise scenario, using the new Air Pack version (4 medals, one of the town hexes is a church). Matt was the Germans, and I was the Americans.

The last time I used this scenario to teach someone the game, I also played the Americans and I lost, so I figured this was by no means a sure thing, especially with an experienced BattleCry player. My airdrop didn't go so well, with only two units surviving. It was a good game, with me eventually coming out on top. I believe the final medal count was 4-3, but it may have been 4-2.

I don't know much about Jim and James' game, but I'm pretty sure Jim won. Hopefully one of them will fill us in.

Jeremy showed up about halfway through, and immediately made his presence felt: Matt made a comment about how he never wins any games. Jeremy, who beat me 6-1 at this game less than a month ago, laughed heartily and said "This game will never end!"
 
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2. Board Game: Cowboys: The Way of the Gun [Average Rating:6.17 Overall Rank:3993]
Tony D.
United States
Waterloo
Iowa
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Winning Team: Jeremy (Doc Holliday), Todd, Zak, and Jim (the Earp brothers)

Losing Team: Valerie, Tony and James (who played two characters)

By this time, we had about eight people who had mostly just met, so in retrospect, an eight-player game seemed like a good idea. Matt stepped aside to keep an eye on his and Valerie's 8-month old son Hayden, so we had seven for Cowboys.

I'm still in sort of a daze from this game, because two of the characters on our team were killed after just a couple rounds, and a third followed shortly. This left me, who began the game backed into a corner and unarmed, as our team's only hope for a victory. It wasn't meant to be, and I only inflicted a couple of shots on the other team (with a rifle at a range of 4, no less!) before succumbing to my inevitable fate.

Making matters worse, Doc (controlled by Jeremy), was killed about halfway through, only to play some sort of "healing" card that allowed him to effectively rise from the dead. Jim, who brought the game, is fairly sure that's illegal, or at least against the spirit of the rules. But it was allowed, and the incident remained a source of amusement for the rest of the day.

EDITED: The image is now from our session. That's my character backed against the edge of the board there, surrounded by corpses and lawmen.
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3. Board Game: Monsters Menace America [Average Rating:5.96 Overall Rank:3223]
Tony D.
United States
Waterloo
Iowa
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Jeremy (Zorb), Zak (Tomanagi), Todd (Konk)

Before joining the game of Imperial (below), I very quickly taught this game to the three guys. I felt kind of bad how quickly and non-thoroughly I went through it, but it sounds like every one had a good time, and they did a pretty good job with the rules. I don't know much other than Jeremy won.
 
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4. Board Game: Imperial [Average Rating:7.62 Overall Rank:140]
Tony D.
United States
Waterloo
Iowa
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Jim (winner), James, Matt, Tony (in that order - I'll try to add scores later)

Since I'm so frequently unable to attend TheCat's game days in Iowa City, I don't get to play a lot of new games unless Gretchen and I buy them ourselves. James brought this one and taught it to the three of us, and I don't know about the other guys, but I loved it. It's a bit difficult to wrap your head around the concept of not permanently owning any of the countries, but once you do, it's awesome.

There was a little bit of turmoil at the beginning of the game, when no player held a bond in England, and we dug around in the rulebook forever trying to find how a country enters the game. Finally, we found the rule which says the player who holds the Investor card can buy a bond in any nation, and we were able to continue properly. England never really recovered from not being in the early game, though.

There was also some endgame turmoil, when I got Jim's and James' scores confused, and each was declared the winner multiple times before we finally had to practically do it again. Jim was finally declared the legitimate winner. Sorry about that, guys!

Jeremy heard us playing from the other room and throwing around terms like "investor," "bonds," "taxation" and so forth, and said "I'd rather shoot lasers from my giant eyeball."

EDITED: The new image is from our session. James is looking through the rules in this picture, but I can't remember if this was during our early confusion over England, or if it was something a little more arcane.
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5. Board Game: RoboRally [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:336]
Tony D.
United States
Waterloo
Iowa
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Adam (winner), Sara, Zak, Jeremy, Todd

After the Monsters game, the same group waited for Adam and Sara to show up, and then the five of them got out RoboRally.

Other than the fact that Adam won, all I know about this game is that Sara, Adam's wife, had a bit of a rough time of it. She's fairly new to this gaming stuff, and this game can be frustrating enough as it is, plus her cards were pretty bad and she was repeatedly hit with lasers courtesy of Zak, Jeremy's son. In his defense, it just kept turning out that way.
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6. Board Game: Memoir '44: Overlord [Average Rating:7.69 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.69 Unranked]
Tony D.
United States
Waterloo
Iowa
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Axis Team: James, Todd, Jim (Axis Commander-In-Chief/Center Field General)

Russian Team: Jeremy, Matt, Zak, Tony (Russian Commander-In-Chief)

We last played an Overlord scenario at our game weekend in November (before it was called Balls!), and I decided then that it would be the staple event of all of our game days. I told Jim in advance that we would be playing the Kursk scenario from the Eastern Front expansion, so he brought his stuff.

We weren't able to get enough people for a full 8-player game, so Jim became the Center Field General for his team, in addition to CIC. This worked just fine. Also, each side used their own deck of command cards, instead of combing to create a large deck. The effect was not entirely the same, but it worked.

It was close for a little while, and then the Axis team went on a rampage, and suddenly the medal count was 10-3 in their favor. But then our team caught fire, thanks to a timely draw of "Their Finest Hour," and we brought the score to 11-8. The Axis played their own "Their Finest Hour," and were eventually able to deliver the killing blow, for a final score of 12-8.

Random thoughts:

*The stats for this scenario at DOW's website list the Germans as having won 51% of the logged plays (which includes ours), with each side winning an average of 10 medals.
*One of the great things about playing a game with Jim is that he helps you remember the little things in the game. When Jeremy and I play, we tend to forget about things like Taking Ground and Armor Overrun, but we had quite a bit in this game on both sides. And with so many tanks in the battle, Armor Overrun is key to winning this scenario.
*One of my favorite tactics in this game is to take a unit with 1 figure left, and just bum-rush the enemy, hoping to get in a few licks before they kill you.
*I'm definitely hoping now that the rumored Overlord expansion becomes a reality. I'd love to see a revision of the current scenarios (a la the Air Pack), as well as a bunch of new ones, and maybe even one or two in the desert.

EDITED: Here's a picture from our session. This is very early in the game, before the right flank (on the Russian side) got ugly.
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7. Board Game: Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers [Average Rating:7.14 Overall Rank:389]
Tony D.
United States
Waterloo
Iowa
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Valerie (winner), Gretchen, Adam, Sara

Gretchen came home during the Imperial game, and after RoboRally finished up and we started setting up Overlord, the remaining players set about trying to find something to play. Valerie and Matt play a fair amount of Carcassonne at home (original with no expansions), while Adam and Sara are pretty new to the game. We own every game in the series, so Gretchen brought out all of them and let everyone pick. The group settled upon Hunters & Gatherers, without the Scout tiles (I'm still not sold on those).

I don't know much about the game, other than Gretchen kept yelling rules questions at me while we were playing Overlord. (She claims she's a terrible rules teacher.) Valerie won, but everyone had a good time, and I think Sara expressed interest in owning a copy. We sent Adam and Sara home with our copy of The Castle, so I'm interested in hearing what they have to say about that one.
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8. Board Game: Mall of Horror [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:1226]
Tony D.
United States
Waterloo
Iowa
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Jeremy (winner, 8), Tony (7), Zak (5), Gretchen (killed)

After Overlord and Hunters & Gatherers, the weather started getting ugly and people headed for home. A few of us were left, so we pulled out Mall Of Horror, which was played back in November and became an instant hit.

This was my first time playing with fewer than the full complement of six players, and in my opinion, it was noticeable. There was little competition for the car search and the Security Chief - most of the time, it went to Zak or Jeremy by default. And the removal of the #2 location (The Cachou) really had an impact: we had a lot of 2s come up in the attack rolls, so a lot of zombies never made it to the board.

Gretchen was knocked out, and didn't even get a chance to come back as a zombie, because we were left with four characters! It's okay though, because we'll be playing this a lot in the future: Zak loved it, and we're all wanting revenge on Jeremy, who is now 2-0 in this game.
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9. Board Game: Lord of the Rings [Average Rating:6.77 Overall Rank:698]
Tony D.
United States
Waterloo
Iowa
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Tony (Frodo), Gretchen (Sam)

Final Score: 57

Knowing I would be tired after Saturday, I took Sunday night off from my third-shift job, and naturally, we planned to play a game. Lord Of the Rings is me and Gretchen's newest boardgame obsession, and one of our favorites overall. We haven't beaten it yet, but we've come close, and we're starting to understand what people mean when they say it's impossible to lose once you've figured it out. On every scenario board, we pretty much know what needs to be done in order to get past it: it's just a matter of getting the right cards and tiles.

In this game we made it to Mordor, and we were one event away from the Big Eye. Gretchen spent 5 shields in order to play the Foresight card, which would allow us to draw 5 tiles and choose to play them in any order we want (we're using the tile bag from the Sauron expansion). She pulled Friendship, Traveling, and 3 Events. Ouch.

We resolved Friendship and Traveling, leaving us on space 56 of the main activity line. Then I had Frodo put on the ring. Immediately, we were both on the edge of our seat: if, by some miracle, I rolled the blank side of the die, we would be on space 60, and we had enough space between us and Sauron on the corruption track that we would be able to destroy the ring and score our first victory. I rolled the die, and...three black dots. Damn.

Still, what a great game, and it put us in the mood to watch the first movie, even though it was 10:30 pm. Yay for not having to work the next day!
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