A Gathering Of Schmucks
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Fellow wallower in the RSP-mud, Steve (ironcates), was spending a few days on the Central Coast and wanted to get together and play some games. I called up my close personal friend Joe (middleclassjoe), and requested -- nay, demanded -- that he drive out and join us for frivolity. He did. Here's what happened.
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1. Board Game: On the Underground [Average Rating:6.92 Overall Rank:953]
On Thursday night I went over the vacation house that Steve was renting with his family. Despite my girlfriend's initial fears over meeting an "internet person," Steve was not a mass murderer. Or even a non-mass murderer. Or at least not of me. His wife, kids, and parents were very nice, and I played a bit of peek-a-boo with his youngest while we got ready to get our game on.

I was very eager to play new games. As the "alpha gamer" of my group, I am usually the one doing the acquisition and spending the money, so it was a nice change.

This is the first one we played. As someone who is pretty blah on Ticket To Ride, it was a nice step up. It has some good opportunities for clever plays, if you see them. I jumped to an early lead by going after the immediate points, while Steve concentrated more on laying a solid framework. He graciously came up with a fix after I accidentally used a fifth color.

At the end of the game, we ended up in a perfect tie! No tiebreaker in the rulebook, so we just stuck with it.

Overall: an okay game; I'd probably like it more if I lived in London or liked train/route games. It seems very slightly biased against the first player, but it's not too bad.
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2. Board Game: StarCraft: The Board Game [Average Rating:7.34 Overall Rank:341]
This was one I was looking forward to a lot. I've played the computer game about twice, almost ten years ago, and know nothing about it other than the basics (Zergs are fast, etc.). But I like Fantasy Flight and couldn't pass up the opportunity to play a coffin-box game.

Steve was the Protoss. I was the Zerg, because I know that they're fast and that's my strategy in fighting video games that I know nothing about: when in doubt, choose the fast one and whale away on the buttons. It works against n00bs and middling players, although of course experts will laugh at that "strategy."

Unfortunately for me, Starcraft is not a fighting game, and Steve is enough of an expert to see through my ploy. My inexperience was on full display as what I thought was a rapid expanse turned out to be a sluggish meandering, and Steve's patented "Protoss Rush" quickly turned into a special victory on turn four or so.

Verdict: completely biased against the Zerg. Otherwise, a good game that I'd be all over if I were into the video game. Rewards experience and looks like it would really shine in multiplayer.
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3. Board Game: Animalia [Average Rating:6.23 Overall Rank:3487]
The last game Thursday night. I don't remember too much about it, other than the art was great and it seemed like a fun filler. I'd play it again.
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4. Board Game: War of the Ring (First Edition) [Average Rating:7.79 Overall Rank:82]
Steve, at an unknown price, extracted permission from his wife to devote Friday to game-playing. He showed up at my apartment a little after ten to try out this monster. I made judicious use of my morning and did all the setup already, so there was nothing left but rules explanation and off we went.

I was the Free Peoples and he was the Shadow. I attempted a Fellowship sprint, and took about 8 points of corruption before remembering that I could sacrifice companions to absorb corruption -- it's been a very long time since my previous play, unfortunately. Steve did a lot of building up, picked on Rohan, and was getting ready to pour over Gondor like a tidal wave of red plastic when I declared the Fellowship in Minas Morgul to begin the endgame.

One hunt tile later, I was revealed on step 2 of Mt. Doom with 11 corruption, and I stupidly spent a character die to utilize Gandalf the White in a manner known to the elves as "dicking around." Next turn Steve played a card that gave one corruption to a revealed Fellowship. Game over.

Verdict: An awesome game that I wish I could play more often. Complicated rules, rules sub-systems, etc., make it hard to play intermittently, even after reviewing the rules the night before. Also, totally unbalanced in favor of the Shadow.
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5. Board Game: Agricola [Average Rating:8.03 Overall Rank:17]
Joe had arrived a little before the end of War of the Ring, and relaxed a little from his drive out from Fresno. Unfortunately (and atypically) the weather here in SLO was not really that much better than the Central Valley. Hot and muggy after an early-morning thunderstorm, blah. We went to sushi and had some great fellowship before coming back to play the current darling of BGG.

Joe had played the family game, Steve hadn't played either, and I'd played a few family games plus a few solo games of the full version. We played with the I-deck.

I was going for a kind of vegetable-heavy strategy (early-mid Cooking Corner), Joe was apparently going for some kind of complaint-heavy strategy, and Steve was just trying not to starve. A few rounds from the end I reminded Steve that he was going to lose a point apiece for each undeveloped field in his half-full player board. "WHAT?!?" he exclaimed, and furious built fences and plowed fields to only end up with -1 point for it at the end.

In the last round, Steve and I took all the reed on the board, keeping Joe from a game-winning renovation. Final score:

Kevin - 38
Joe - 36
Steve - 21

Verdict: an exquisitely-balanced contest of pure skill that rewards foresight, flexibility, and depth of analysis. Should be #1. I believe Joe is looking forward to getting his copy and bitching about the lack of animeeples, so he can fit in.
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6. Board Game: Hyper Slide [Average Rating:6.23 Overall Rank:8573]
I think this is where Hyper-slide fit in. I don't recall there being a winner so much as Steve and I just fooling around with the various game types. It's pretty fun -- like most of my favorite people it manages to be slick and obnoxious at the same time. I think Jungle Speed mostly fills this niche for me, but it was a good time and a unique idea for a game. I'm glad I tried it.
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7. Board Game: Der Goldene Kompass [Average Rating:5.51 Overall Rank:12342]
My girlfriend arrived home from running errands in epic fashion, coming through the door with three six-packs of microbrews (Black Butte Porter, Downtown Brown, and Great White), and a bunch of snacks. I knew there was a reason I kept her around. As a His Dark Materials fan, she was happy to join us for this one.

The game went back and forth, thanks to the completely artificial catch-up mechanic. It ended with Steve in first place by a wide margin.

Verdict: Essentially a fairly dull abstract with some Golden Compass art. It's okay to play with kids but I'd rather not play it again. I had fun, but more in spite of the game than because of it -- Joe and Steve are good company. Also, it's a total luckfest.
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8. Board Game: Mission: Red Planet [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:724]
After reading the criticisms of the tightness of the box lid, I was very surprised to find out that it came off under only manual power. Steve didn't even have to use the jaws of life that he'd brought!

Themewise I liked it a lot. My fellow old-timers may remember the classic GDW RPG Space: 1889. I never had a chance to play it, but I was always a fan of the artistry and feel of it. So this was basically a complete ripoff tribute to the whole genre of Verne-esque, John-Carter-of-Mars-style Victorian space exploration.

Gamewise I liked it a lot too. It rewards both careful planning and reading your opponents -- I'd actually think it would be improved with fewer role cards, but it was still good. Choosing your battles, and knowing when to cut your losses, are the key to victory. Apparently CapAp thinks only the last turn matters, to which I can only say, "Pass the pipe."

Steve ended up winning. Despite the imbalance of the game I still liked it and would consider picking it up.
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9. Board Game: Anima: Shadow of Omega [Average Rating:5.87 Overall Rank:4902] [Average Rating:5.87 Unranked]
The night's only real dog arrived courtesy of Steve, who brought this bland stinker. Here is a recipe for making Anima:

1 part Munchkin
+ great art
- take-that
+ androgynous bishounen heroes

It's too bad in a way, because there is almost a great game in there waiting to get out. There's too many unclear rules and just plain uncompelling gameplay. Plus, it's hard for me to get behind a hero that looks like a Thai Ladyboy (add your own "get behind" joke here). We ended up calling the game early with no winner because we were just bored. Save this one for the anime fans only. I think Steve actually gave it to Joe.
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10. Board Game: Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:533] [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Steve and Joe couldn't wait to get this to the table. Their typical game partners prefer the sterile aseptic rules of Euros, instead of the glorious mess that is AT. (As a caveat, we all like all types of games -- but sometimes you want to go to the dive bar instead of the club.) My girlfriend put down her knitting and joined us for this. Steve and I were the Heroes; Cassie and Joe were the Zombies. We played "Escape In The Truck!" which is one of my favorite scenarios.

The Zombies had us on the ropes, dispatching with Kenny the supermarket bag-boy. As he expired he spilled the gas he had found, eliciting groans from all of us. But! his replacement, Jenny the farmer's daughter, found another gas can with her very first search! She was so overcome with joy that she immediately had to drop her pants for Jake, the Crazy Drifter as Joe played the "This Must Be Our Last Night on Earth" card. To be fair to Jenny, this is a pretty common response for farmer's daughters when encountering a homeless person of dubious mental stability. Luckily, the zombies weren't able to capitalize on their passionate time-wasting.

The fates smiled upon us again and the Zombies committed a classic blunder. No, they didn't start a land war in Asia. They piled upon the center square of the truck. Father Joseph ran over and drew a horde of eight zombies off via the "Zombie Hunger" rule. Jenny and Sally sprinted for the truck. Jake came next turn with the keys. All three escaped, leaving behind only Sally, the high-school sweetheart, who tried to do a last-ditch dynamite toss into the zombie cluster but couldn't get close enough. Tragic!

A great game, very close. Also, totally balanced!
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11. Board Game: Saboteur [Average Rating:6.62 Overall Rank:854] [Average Rating:6.62 Unranked]
This was one of the games I was looking forward to trying out the most -- I love hidden role games. It didn't disappoint in the least! Great gameplay, both intuitive and thematic, short enough to never outstay its welcome, yet long enough to develop some strategy.

Unbalanced, due to Steve winning. And, to toot my own horn, I play a pretty awesome Saboteur in the third and final round. I did mess up in passing when I should have blocked the tunnel, but that was more to spite Joe after he fixed my hammer. I couldn't resist!

This was the first game I looked into buying after Steve left, only to find out that it's out of stock! It's supposed to be reprinted soon, so I'll get it then.
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12. Board Game: No Thanks! [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:391]
The last game of the night, a filler before Steve and Joe left. One of my favorite games. This particular game was a total mess. Everyone was getting their straights completely busted as people ran out of chips unexpectedly.

Final score:

Cassie: 40
Kevin: 45
Joe: 46
Steve: 104!!

Probably the highest score I've seen for any game, so I'm sure that's worth a prize of some kind. Well done, Steve!
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