My favorite 2009 Gathering experiences
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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I had big plans for this year's Gathering trip. The con has been held in Columbus Ohio for many years (though it began in Massachusetts,) and Columbus is the home of the Columbus Area Boardgaming Society (CABS). There is a CABS meeting on the 1st and 3rd Friday night of each month, and I scheduled my flight early on Friday, April 3 so as to attend the CABS meeting.

CABS includes a dedicated group of OCS (Operational Combat Series) players. OCS is a complex operational-level World War II gaming system that I've just recently started to learn. Many of the games lend themselves to multi-player marathons, and the CABS folks leave an OCS game set up between meetings. I was hoping to join in on the game.

Unfortunately, my plans were foiled by a 3 1/2 hour flight delay, as my Southwest Airlines flight was routed through Philadelphia, which was suffering from weather problems. Instead of arriving at 4:20, I didn't get in until 8:00, which (in my judgment) was too late for a CABS expedition. Maybe next year!

This list isn't an exhaustive recounting of all the games I played during the Gathering (I played 91 games of 62 different titles.) Instead, I will focus on the highlights---things that were especially enjoyable, or at least memorable.
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1. Board Game: Bombay [Average Rating:6.37 Overall Rank:2117]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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By the time I finished my 10-hour journey and got off the hotel shuttle with my suitcase, I was exhausted. (Little did I know that Brian and Jacqui Bankler would suffer such serious flight delays on American Airlines that they missed the Gathering altogether!)

I checked into the hotel, stashed my things in my room, and headed off to the convention ballroom. Every year there is an array of brand-new games at the Gathering---you could spend the entire week playing brand-new games if you didn't want to get some old ones in too. The first game I tried was Bombay, a new Ystari release that could be described as a simpler version of Empire Builder with elephants instead of trains.

If you're an Ystari fan, you have probably come to expect certain features in an Ystari game. One of those features is the presence of the letters "Y" and "S" in the title (sounds like Sesame Street!) Bombay has the "Y" but not the "S"---I still say they should have titled it "Mysore". Another typical Ystari feature, if I may call it that, is a relatively complex interplay of game mechanisms. In this sense also, Bombay is a departure from the traditional Ystari mold. It's a fairly straightforward "pick up and deliver" game with action points and some supply and demand considerations.

I found Bombay to be pleasant (partly, no doubt, because I played it with pleasant people,) but not particularly challenging. I did not spend time after the two games I played thinking about how I could have played better. I will be happy to play more games if others ask, but I won't be buying it or seeking it out.
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2. Board Game: Traders of Osaka [Average Rating:6.86 Overall Rank:945]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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I played two more games on Friday evening and got to bed at a reasonable hour. I felt much better after a good night's rest and made it down to the ballroom bright and early to find other "morning people" arriving. I'm not a "morning person" at work, but I am a "morning person" at the Gathering. It's all relative.

One of the people looking for a game was Jacob Davenport, who cried out to all the people who were standing around "entertain me!" I had been eyeing Traders of Osaka the previous evening, so I grabbed a copy and Jacob was happy to give it a shot. Two others joined us and I read quickly through the rules and taught the game.

Traders of Osaka was designed by Japanese designer Susumu Kawasaki, who also designed R-Eco, a favorite of mine. It's not a new game, but I hadn't had the chance to play it. The two games share several obvious features: small boxes, colorful cards and short rule books. They also share clever but simple game play.

We began play, collecting cards as "money" and using the money to buy cards as "goods," thereby pushing four colored ships along on the route from Alexandria to Carthage. There's a balance between taking the high cards (worth a lot as money or goods) and taking the low cards (for protection against pirates.) There's also a neat little timing element as you try to get others to buy the right goods at the right time to achieve your goals through their efforts.

Jacob won this game, and I went on to play two more games during the week. Jim McCarthy won one and I won the other. Of all the new releases I played during the Gathering, there are only two I plan to buy, and Traders of Osaka is one of them. It's slightly bigger than a filler, but it's easy to explain, fun to play, and short enough for a small space in your schedule.
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3. Board Game: FITS [Average Rating:6.60 Overall Rank:1274]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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If someone were to tell you they had designed a "Tetris" board game, what would your response be? "How good could it be, really?" I'm here to tell you that Reiner Knizia has done a good job with FITS. Each player has a playing card you place on an inclined plane. You turn cards over from a deck to determine the order in which you must place plastic pieces onto your card, sliding them down from the top as you do in Tetris (but without the option of nudging the piece to the left or right as it nears the bottom.) You see each shape only once, giving you the opportunity to plan ahead as you near the end, and you may set a shape aside if you think it's really awkward, at the cost of losing the opportunity to use that shape on that card. Four cards are supplied with the game, each with slightly different scoring rules, so that you play four rounds as part of a complete game.

I found this game to be charming, though I'm not sure it has the staying power to keep making it to the table. I'm not planning to buy a copy, though I may be over-ruled once my wife has a chance to try it (Claire was good enough at Tetris back in the day to play for hours, until her hands started getting numb.)

I can see that FITS is an obvious candidate for expansions that would consist of new play cards, either with new ways to score, or with different layouts for the old ways to score. This would add life at what is theoretically a low additional cost.
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4. Board Game: Cities [Average Rating:6.40 Overall Rank:2267]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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Cities is another game from recent years that I hadn't had the chance to play before this year's Gathering. Several copies were scattered around the edges of the ballroom (generally, people are happy to let you play their copies of games as long as you take good care of them and put them back when you're done,) so it was easy to get a game started.

Cities is one of those games, like Take it Easy!, that will accommodate an unlimited number of players as long as you have enough copies of the game. One player picks tiles at random from a pile and calls out the number of each, and the other players arrange their tiles in order and pick out the tiles called, placing each one in accordance with the instructions before hearing the number for the next. My first game had 4 players, but my second had 7 (using two separate copies to provide enough pieces for everyone.)

There are three scoring methods for Cities, from easy to advanced, but all the games I played in used the "advanced" rules, which are not especially daunting for someone who is used to playing games. The game features a pleasant mixture of skillful placement and the luck of the draw. It's also a game that tends to end with close scores: two of the three games I played during the week ended in ties.

I'm not quite ready to buy a copy of Cities, but I'm tempted. It's another nice filler with a pleasant appearance and enjoyable play.
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5. Board Game: Twilight Struggle [Average Rating:8.34 Overall Rank:4]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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As I mentioned above, I didn't make it to CABS, but CABS made it to me. On Sunday morning Bruce Reiff asked me whether I was ready to "man up" and play a game of Twilight Struggle with him. Twilight Struggle is one of my favorite games (I had a hard time deciding which game to root for when it faced Power Grid in the BGG Sweet Sixteen competition,) so I was happy to accept.

Bruce is a tough opponent, so even though he randomly drew the USA (the underdog side,) I knew I'd be in for a challenge. He fought me tooth and nail for Iran, Pakistan and India, though I eventually gained the upper hand there, but he took control of many non-battleground countries, holding back my progress. Bruce also played a strong game in the New World, keeping me from getting a foothold in South or Central America despite several attempts.

I fought back in Europe, taking France and (at one point) West Germany, but a hand of three scoring cards around Turn 4 was a tough pill to swallow, as was a Bear Trap that took me 6 cards to get out of, and Bruce steamrolled me. He was up by about 16 VP as we went into the final scoring, and I knew I wasn't going to make up much ground, if any, in the final scoring, so he took an impressive win.
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6. Board Game: Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage [Average Rating:7.82 Overall Rank:138]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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Having played one great CDW (card-driven wargame), I was in the mood for another. Richard Glanzer sold me a copy of Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage several years ago for a very affordable price, and I knew he wanted a chance to play it, so I invited him to sit down for a game. He was happy to do so, and I ran through the rules with him before we started.

We randomly chose sides, and Richard was selected to be Carthage. The Carthaginians suffer from a lower reinforcement rate, and the Romans have control of the seas, but Carthage has better leaders, especially before Scipio Africanus shows up for the Romans on Turn 6.

I explained that Hannibal usually crosses the Alps early in the game to defend the tribes in Gallia Cisalpina who sympathize with Carthage, but Richard decided to play a more cautious game, leaving Hannibal in Spain and playing events. He swung Philip of Macedon over to his side and won a naval victory, but an invasion was foiled when he rolled a '1' on the sea movement table.

It took me some time to get the chance to take the offensive (I got Marcellus, the best Roman leader other than Scipio Africanus, as a leader on one turn, but my expansionist tendencies were foiled when Richard's naval victory stopped my sea movement, and on the next turn he replaced Marcellus with an inferior proconsul. I was delighted when Marcellus came right back as a consul the next turn.) In the meantime, I reduced a tribe in Gallia Cisalpina to take the province lead 10-8 and start whittling away at his support.

I did some adventuring from turn to turn, taking Boetica one turn to take away one Carthaginian unit, but then on Turn 5 I got an excellent hand for invading Africa, with a Numidian revolt and several other good cards. I sent Marcellus to Africa and Richard realized he could not move Hanno to stop me, and he had no cards to ship another general back to Africa either. He resigned at this point without having fought a single battle!

The moral of the story is: Winning battles will not guarantee Carthaginian victory, but not fighting battles almost precludes it.
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7. Board Game: Finito! [Average Rating:6.22 Overall Rank:3313]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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It was Monday morning, and once again I made an early trip down to the ballroom. I found a group of fellow Massachusettsans getting ready for the first game of the morning (I have to get to them before they start playing 18XX!)

They were preparing to play Finito!, a quick little game that could be described (perhaps) as a cross between Take it Easy! and Rack-O (I mean that in the best possible way.) Each player has a board with numbers from 1 to 20 (most of the numbers appear twice) and a dozen plastic numbered pieces. The goal is to finish first by getting your plastic pieces in strictly increasing order on your board (reading line by line from left to right as you go down.)

Each player randomly turns three pieces face up and one player rolls a 20-sided die. Everyone selects one of those three pieces and places it on his or her board on one of the spaces corresponding to the number rolled on the die. You then turn a new piece face up, bringing you back to three options. This continues until you have placed all 12 pieces (you get only two and one options, respectively, for the 11th and 12th piece.)

If you roll a number that is already covered up by your pieces, you can add or subtract from the number until you get one that is still showing and use that instead.

It's possible that you could win after just 12 turns, but it's not likely. If no one shouts "Finito!" after 12 turns, you keep rolling the dice and following the same procedure, except that you pick any piece off the board to place in your selected space.

This game is quick and addictive. After each game you feel you could have made better choices, and you want to play again to see if you're right.

I wound up playing Finito! ten times during the week (often playing 2 or 3 games in a row,) and I really enjoyed it. If you get more than one set, you can play with 8 or 12 or any number of players, using the same die rolls.

This is the second of the two newly-published games I plan to purchase as a result of my week at the Gathering.
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8. Board Game: Snow Tails [Average Rating:6.99 Overall Rank:605]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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As I mentioned above, no one wants to play new games exclusively all week (at least, I certainly don't.) It was time for a favorite. Snow Tails is already an old favorite for me, but it's a new game for many people, so it was the best of both worlds.

I've written about how much I enjoy Snow Tails (here's my review: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/391954 .) Like many race games, it's at its best with the full complement of 5 players, since player interaction adds to the fun. The game was a mixture of new and more experienced players, so I taught the rules before we began (I always enjoy the part where one player picks up the "Big Paws" tile and asks what it's for...)

As an experienced player, I won this first game comfortably, but I played in a second 5-player game on Thursday and Steve Friedland won a close race, demonstrating that newer players can compete successfully if they play their cards right.

As I looked at the Prize Table, I could see that there were no copies of Snow Tails on display yet. My Prize Table item was a shrinkwrapped copy of Snow Tails. It wouldn't arrive until Wednesday, as Rich Meyer and Walter Hunt were bringing my tub o' games to Columbus in Rich's car. It's always fun to bring a highly-sought-after game for the Prize Table, and it's especially exciting if you have brought the only copy.
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9. Board Game: Le Havre [Average Rating:7.91 Overall Rank:37]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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Another game I've been getting a lot of enjoyment out of is Uwe Rosenberg's Le Havre. Le Havre is a follow-on to top-rated Agricola, and shares some of the same "feel", but so far I like the newer game a little better because it is a bit looser (loans aren't as prohibitive as begging cards.)

Paul and Rosie were interested in playing a game, so we set it up (we used Joe Rushanan's set, I think, with tiny cardboard goods boxes from AC Moore that are just perfect.) Paul had played before, but it was new to Rosie, so we taught the rules, a job that takes some time.

It's hard to describe a game of Le Havre because there are so many actions that make up the whole. Paul got a ship very early, building the Sawmill and then selling it to raise cash. I was first to start the loans (I'm usually first to start the loans unless I'm playing with Joe Huber, though Tom Lehmann mentioned to me that he had taken over 150 loans in one game, a total I'm not sure is even possible!)

It was a reasonably close game. I finished with about 220 points, ahead of Paul with about 200. Rosie had about 140, leaving her with the feeling that she was far behind even though 140 is one of the best scores I've seen for a first-time player in a 3-player game. The game was particularly enjoyable because we all moved along fairly quickly; once the teach was over it was not much longer than 2 hours.
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10. Board Game: Time Agent [Average Rating:6.68 Overall Rank:3930]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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I've had a copy of Time Agent in my collection for several years, but I had not played it before this year's Gathering. I love the short description of this game: "You win by always having been the winner when time travel is uninvented."

There I was, walking around the ballroom (I often walk around between games just to see what everyone is playing) when I spotted a group of 5 just about to start a game of Time Agent. It must have been fate! Time Agent is a game for 6 players, I wanted to learn, and they had 5 at the table! I asked whether they would take a sixth, and they were happy to agree. In the 5-player game, one race (the Buralti) is not played, so they told me to sit down and take over the Buralti, filling up the roster.

Now, I knew just enough about the game to know that the Buralti are the race that starts the game in the lead. They need to make their move fast, taking advantage of their early advantage to win before the rest of the players can drag them down. Of course, as a newbie I wouldn't be able to do that (most likely,) so I'd probably be chum for the ambitious arrivistes, but I didn't mind learning the game under those conditions---at least I'd get some interaction!

In Time Agent each player buys time machines, hires agents and squads, and uses the time machines to send the operatives back into time. The operatives explore the past, spend money to turn past events on or off, and "rotate" tiles to connect or disconnect the paths between inventions of technologies in the present day. The game ends when time travel is uninvented; e.g., when all the paths from the the invention of time travel in the past to the present day are disconnected (typically by rotating tiles appropriately) or when all invention events for time travel are undone.

As you move around in the past, there are opportunities for operatives from one race to fight with (and possibly kill) those from another. Killing your opponents off is necessary if they are sitting on an event you want to reverse and they wish to oppose you, but you can also attack them for less concrete reasons (presumably to prevent them from doing something later.)

The map for this game is dizzying as the tiles are revealed and rotated, and the game play is dizzying as well. I've heard people complain about Race for the Galaxy on the basis that it's confusing to learn. I'm not sure I disagree; it's just that I enjoy many complex games even while I'm going through the confusion period (and in many ways I enjoy the process of learning to deal with the confusion.)

The Buralti have a tough job partly because for everything they care about (almost,) an opponent cares about it more. Imagine a 6-player game in which every event is worth +1 VP to you and -5 VP to one other player. It's not quite that simple, but I felt that, for the most part, I was up against an implacable foe on every issue. I was happy when I found the Talki Supernova, an event I could reverse (to my benefit) without infuriating someone else, but I should have worked on that one much earlier.

In the Time Agent universe, my race, the Buralti, have won a series of wars against almost everyone else. They all have a desire to go back in time and reverse those wars so that they win and I lose. I want to stop them, but there are so many of them! To make things worse, my agents are wimps (though good at finding things) while my squads are powerful fighters who make so much noise moving around that they're useless at searching. This means I need to pair up squads and agents, doubling the cost of effective action in the past.

The mirror of the Buralti are the Zytal, a race that starts the game in a serious deficit position but gains strength as the game wears on. Sterling Babcock was the Zytal, and he was discouraged all through the early game as he wondered how he would ever make up the gap between him and the rest of us. He got stronger and stronger as the game went on, though, and was feeling better by the midpoint. A third new player, Scout Sinclair, was playing the Roo. She had some interaction with my Buralti, but the other three players were less closely involved with me early on.

One of the experienced players, Mark Delano, was slowly maneuvering himself into position to end the game by cutting off time travel. I knew I should pay attention to this, but I didn't have the spare cogitrons to do so, so I focused instead on trying to influence events in my favor. Eventually Mark made his move, cutting off time travel close to the present and ending the game. When this happens, all the tiles that are still face-down are flipped up and you determine which technologies survive (this has implications for VPs for some races.)

It was close, but in the end Sterling's Zytal edged Mark out for the win by a margin of 41-40. Sterling went from considering his position hopeless to an outright win! Mark decided to make his move, even though it was not certain he would win, because he felt the chances of the tile flips putting him in front were pretty good.

My first experience with Time Agent leaves me with the desire to play again. I often rate games after a first play, but I haven't given a rating to Time Agent because I need to understand it better first.
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11. Board Game: Automobile [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:323]
 
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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In addition to newly-released games, the Gathering features many games that have not yet been published. Some are early prototypes whose designers are seeking feedback from experienced players, and others are games on the verge of being published, with the prototypes being functionally equivalent to the future published version, or nearly so.

Designer Martin Wallace had two such games at the convention. One was Automobile and the other was Waterloo (about which more later in this GeekList.) Automobile was a highlight of the convention, with the 3 copies that were present in almost continual use. People would stand around the table for a game that was finishing up so they could have a chance to play the next game with that set.

I got my chance to play, and I found Automobile to be an enjoyable game. The board features a sequence of potential automobile designs of increasing complexity. Players have the opportunity to research certain of these designs, building factories and paying to produce vehicles. Car designs come in three groups: standard, low-priced and luxury, and competition in each category is separate. The game reminded me as I played of Locomotive Werks by designer Dieter Danziger, though Automobile has more flexibility, a broader range of decisions, and a smaller luck element. For example, in Locomotive Werks, a player who wishes to introduce a new design has only one option: the design one space more complex than the most complex design already introduced. In Automobile, on the other hand, you may pay "research cubes" to skip ahead on the track to a design that is more than one space more complex than the most complex design currently in play. The "research cubes" can be obtained by taking a research action, or by selecting one of the industry leaders who provides additional cubes as a bonus.

Automobile also provides a more flexible demand structure than Locomotive Werks. There is a random element, to be sure (based on die-rolling in the older game and on a tile draw in the newer one, with less variability,) but you can also hire sales people to "push" your designs, and there is an industry leader who specializes in raising sales.

Automobile is the type of game I like, and I enjoyed the game I played, but I did not find myself thinking about the decisions later in the week. I'll have to give it some more tries before I make up my mind.
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12. Board Game: Outpost [Average Rating:6.85 Overall Rank:1562]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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We all have games we like far more than the average gamer likes them (and the other way 'round as well.) In my case one such game is Outpost, which I rate as a '10' despite its relatively pedestrian ranking on BGG.

Joe Huber's group (Joe, Joe Rushanan and Dave Andrews) were planning a game with Bill Masek, whose choir practice prevents him from attending Joe Rushanan's game night more than a few times a year, but who loves Outpost and plays it almost every time he does come. I leapt at the chance to play with a group who already knew the game, and we added Chris Kovac, an occasional player, to make 6. Of course, we were using Tom Lehmann's v.1.32 "Advanced" rules, as almost everyone I know does for this game.

Did I mention how much I love playing Outpost? It's a rough, tough game in which quarter is neither asked nor given. More sensitive players complain about a "runaway leader" problem (and, with more justification, a "fallaway trailer" problem,) but you have to admit that Chess and boxing have runaway leader problems, too. Get in there and beat the pants off your opponents---make sure you're the runaway leader and they are the runaway trailers rather than the reverse! No one complains about a lack of player interaction after their first game---the last time I taught this game to 2 new players, they were glaring at each other by the end of the game, as one often does when an opponent outbids you for something you simply must have!

The game started off in an interesting way. Joe had enough on the initial draw to buy a Water Factory and a population with a card left over, so he was a clear early leader. I showed good restraint, spending my early turns ramping up production and resisting the temptation to buy upgrades. A few turns in we distributed the turn order cards and Joe Rushanan was first up. Joe Huber looked at Dave. The two smiled and said in unison "is it time?" We all roared. You see, Joe Rushanan is a known Data Library fan, and based on many games with him, Joe Huber and Dave knew it was time for Joe Rushanan to put a Data Library up for auction. With Bill in the game, however, there was a lot of demand for Data Libraries, and Bill took the first one.

Joe Huber took a Nodule, and I felt the clock ticking, so I bid up on the next turn for my own Nodule. I was delighted when Joe Huber doubled up with a second Nodule, taking them away from our other opponents (and sinking much-needed capital into equipment he couldn't use right away.) This caused Chris and Dave to buy Heavy Equipment. Only two Heavy Equipment were bought all game; the other two sat forlornly in the market for the entire game until Bill bought one on the last turn for an additional VP.

Joe Rushanan did get a Data Library, and Bill got a second. They were hoping for an early Scientists, but it was not to be. I saw a crunch coming and bought a Warehouse, an oft-maligned upgrade that gives you valuable bidding flexibility (if you don't see what you like this turn, or your opponent bids too high, you can save for next turn when the deals may be better.) With the help of his two Nodules, Joe Huber hit 10 VP unusually early and the prize of the first Stage 2 upgrade run was a single Orbital Lab. We all wanted it, but only Joe Rushanan and I had been saving to be able to buy it. It opened at 50, and Joe bid 54, but I outbid him to take it for 58. Joe felt this destroyed his game (heh, heh) but I actually had 62 in hand, so I could have outbid him by 8 if needed. The cost of the Data Library made the difference in buying power (of course, a Scientists instead of an Orbital Lab would have been a different story---there is luck in this game.)

The next turn revealed two Scientists, but with my new Microbiotics card from the Orbital Lab, I was in position to challenge the Data Librarians for it. It's always nice to get a Scientists, as the research card allows you to buy New Chemicals if the opportunity arises. I continued to bid in a restrained manner, saving cards when the prices got high. Dave and Chris moved into titanium production but had to buy Robots to get around the shortage of people space occasioned by Joe Huber's Nodule hogging. Joe was buying Water Factories like they were going out of style. When I saw him nearing 40 VP I started to save cards, and when he hit 40 to trigger Phase 3 I had about 220 in cards on hand. I was rooting for a Moon Base, and was rewarded by the sight of two Space Stations and ... a Moon Base. One Space Station went up for bid and when I passed, everyone groaned. You'd never pass on a Space Station you could afford unless you were out for bigger game. Sure enough, I bought the Moon Base (and chalked up its 20 VP) and even had the money to add a pop for it.

The next turn revealed two Planetary Cruisers, and the table was expecting me to take a turn off to restock my treasury, but I had enough production to take one home. This was the crushing blow, though my draw of a 30 Ring Ore card and a 40 Moon Ore card slowed my surge slightly. I was able to buy a Space Station on the following turn (after being outbid for Moon Bases and one Planetary Cruiser) and this put me over the finish line with 78 VP, as Joe Huber trailed with 69.

It was an unusual game in many ways. All 6 players were producing titanium despite the lack of interest in Heavy Equipment---four of us got a free Titanium Factory with our Outposts. Joe Huber had more Water Factories than I've ever seen in an Outpost game, and he also used a Laboratory to ramp up an impressive Research effort (he used only Robots to man his Research effort, as Robot Research has no errors...) I managed to get myself in position to produce every single type of commodity by the end of the game: Ore, Water, Titanium, Research, Microbiotics, New Chemicals, Orbital Medicine, Ring Ore and Moon Ore.

One benefit of getting to know this group is the chance to play more games of Outpost every year. I got 7 games in last year and I've already made it to 4 for 2009.
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13. Board Game: Unpublished Prototype [Average Rating:6.98 Overall Rank:2203]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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The last game of the day for Tuesday was, I'm afraid, a bit of a practical joke. Bruce Linsey organized a game of "Columbus Ohio", his variant of "Finchley Central" (or, as it is also known, "Mornington Crescent".) We got 4 players together and then dragooned Randy and Rachel Cox as the unsuspecting 5th and 6th. Bruce explained the rules of the game as follows.

Players take turns in clockwise order around the table. On your turn, you name a US city. You may not name a city someone else has named earlier in the game. The first player to name "Columbus Ohio" is the winner.

Randy was randomly chosen to be the first player and he started us off with a solid opening city, "Madison Wisconsin". This was an excellent opening, avoiding the brutal numericism of a city like "New York New York" and at the same time stepping gingerly around exotica like "Tucumcari New Mexico". Randy's choice paid subtle homage to the MadLads of his Diplomacy-playing past, and it displayed his range by landing solidly in America's heartland while at the same time reaching outside his native Southeast.

The next play was Rachel's, and she ended the game at a blow by saying "Columbus Ohio". Some people might see this as an example of husband/wife collusion, but I would strenuously disagree. Randy's play, as I mentioned above, was an outstanding opening. Rachel simply saw her chance and took it.

I looked for both Finchley Central and Mornington Crescent in the BGG database, but was disappointed that I did not find either. Perhaps someone should add them (I'm not sure which is the base game and which is the variant, so I won't do it myself.)

/end[irony]
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14. Board Game: Paths of Glory [Average Rating:8.00 Overall Rank:100]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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A few weeks prior to the Gathering, Jim Scheidrich wrote me an e-mail asking whether I had time to teach him Paths of Glory. I've run teaching sessions for Paths of Glory the past two years at the Gathering, but time got away from me this year and I didn't get around to sending Alan anything about it. Jim had missed the previous teaching sessions and was hoping to remedy the omission this year.

I just love Paths of Glory, so I eagerly agreed to teach him the game. We set a date for 10am Wednesday morning. It took about an hour to teach the game and set up the rules, so we began at about 11.

I had explained the importance of War Status and deck weeding to Jim, and he kept up during Mobilization. He pushed energetically into France as I smashed the Austrians with the Russians. On Turn 4 we were both in Limited War when I brought the Italians into the game, and he had no armies on the border to knock Italy out, though he did position corps to defend the fortresses. I marched three French armies down to Italy and used them to take Trent and open a second front against Germany and Austria (we discussed his options as we went along, but as usual, there were too many holes for him to stop them all up.)

Jim did very well for a new player, but the pressure kept growing. The Near East was a picture of peace all game, but Austria was in serious trouble, and he had to send five German armies east, leaving only 8 in the west, as his late entry into Total War meant he had not yet seen "Da Bomb" (the GE17 and GE18 on a single card.) I shifted fronts and started hammering the West, and his position was collapsing like a house of cards, so he resigned on Turn 10 after about 6 1/2 hours of play.

There's no way to learn Paths of Glory without playing it, and this teaching session should give Jim the head start he needs to learn the game thoroughly.
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15. Board Game: Royal Palace [Average Rating:6.90 Overall Rank:1063]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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I played quite a few of the "big box" new releases at the Gathering, but none of them grabbed my attention. My favorite among this group was Royal Palace, which I played immediately after Paths of Glory on Wednesday morning. I found the movement of the meeples on the 3x3 grid, which is different every game, to be the kind of mechanism I enjoy in a game. I'm not yet ready to buy it, but I'll be happy to play a few more times to solidify my opinion.
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16. Board Game: Race for the Galaxy: Rebel vs Imperium [Average Rating:7.95 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.95 Unranked]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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I'm a huge fan of Race for the Galaxy, and I was looking forward to the chance to play a number of games at the Gathering. Many of my regular gaming opponents have lost some of their interest in the game, leaving me short of opportunities to play it. This year's Gathering featured prototypes of the 2nd and 3rd expansions, and I played games with and without these expansions. In total I played 7 games during the week.

All I can say about the expansions is that they made my head hurt in the right sort of way. I've gotten fairly comfortable with the base game and the 1st expansion, though I am still at a big disadvantage compared with opponents like Tom Lehmann and Mark Delano. I'll be buying both new expansions as soon as they're available.
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17. Board Game: Empire Builder [Average Rating:6.93 Overall Rank:950]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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One of the best parts of the Gathering is the chance to play old games with friends. Bruce Linsey and I are both big fans of Empire Builder, and Bruce was trying to arrange a game with Seana Miller, who had only played once or twice before. Bruce had recruited Lizbet Williams and was happy to include me as a 4th, but the game was originally scheduled for Wednesday morning, when I was already committed to Paths of Glory.

Fortunately for me, Bruce's plans changed, and the Empire Builder game moved to Thursday morning, when I was available to play. We set 'em up and dealt 'em out and started right in to play. My opening hand included Cars to New Orleans, Cars to Houston and Tourists to New Orleans, so I built from Chicago to Detroit and straight south to New Orleans. I looked for a way to get to Fast Freight during the start, but I just couldn't afford it. My second batch had Sheep to Washington, a card I also had at the start of the WBC finals last year, and the build from Chicago to Billings is tempting but pulls your track a long way north. Just as in that other game, I yielded to temptation, getting an early Fast Freight and continuing on through Boise to San Francisco and south to LA.

I had a significant early lead, though a Rail Tax late in the deck pulled me back toward the pack a bit. Just as we finished the deck, I saw that Corn to Atlanta and Imports to Detroit would get me to exactly $250 million for the win. They weren't spectacular loads, but they'd do the trick. Bruce had a Sugar spec load on board out west, he was trailing me by $10 to $20 million, and the women were some distance behind him. Bruce could see that I was about to complete the perfect win (exactly $250 from a delivery made on the 12th pip of movement, and 5 major cities to go with it) so he dumped cards. What do you know? He drew a Rail Tax, pushing both of us down, postponing any win, and allowing Lizbet and Seana to make up ground.

I got good replacement cards, including Swine to Seattle. I hadn't built to Seattle, but I could deliver Tourists to Las Vegas and rent Lizbet's track to take Swine to Seattle, paying $8 million in rent. I didn't have to worry about the cost of getting back out, because I'd have won already. I delivered the Tourists and headed north, renting Lizbet's track for one turn. Bruce dumped his cards and drew replacements one at a time.

"One contract card! Two contract cards!" Bruce picked up the third card and looked at it, holding it close so we couldn't see it. "I can't believe it," he said. "No," cried Lizbet. "It can't be!" (Was it the second Rail Tax, so early in the deck?) "It sure is," said Bruce. "NO WAY," said Lizbet.

"Wanna bet?" "No way!" "Wanna bet? Ten dollars says it's the other Rail Tax" (Bruce's deck has two Rail Tax cards.) "I'll bet" said Lizbet. "Loser pays, real money, ten dollars? Shake hands!" Lizbet reached out her hand and shook Bruce's right hand as he held the third card, still hidden, in his left. Bruce threw the card down on the table, and sure enough, it was the Rail Tax! He didn't want to take the ten dollars from Lizbet, but we insisted. He bought her lunch later in the week using the money, but they sure did get a good story out of it.

Now I had to pay to get out of Seattle, another $8 million to Lizbet, but I picked up Fish and Wood on the way out, and I had a Fish to Kansas City card that would once again put me over $250 million. One turn away from Kansas City Bruce dumped again. "With the Rail Taxes out of the deck, the only thing that can stop you is the Superfreight Derailment," Bruce told me. Sure enough, it was the Superfreight Derailment (within 5 mileposts of all cities on the next two cards.) Bruce drew the two cards, but this time his luck didn't hold. The derailment missed me and I pulled into Kansas City with the Fish to win the game. Bruce was 2nd at $218 million and the women were both about $20 million behind.

There is a bit of a solitaire feel to Empire Builder---but not always!
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18. Board Game Designer: Vlaada Chvátil
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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One of the particular pleasures of the Gathering is the "buzz" that emerges around a few games that no one had on their radar screens before they arrived, but that people start to talk about one by one as they play them during the week.

One such game this year was Vlaada Chvatil's prototype about building and maintaining a dungeon. We all know about the "dungeon crawl" genre, but in most cases the players in such games are cast in the roles of heroes, exploring the dungeons for fame, fortune, and the good of mankind. This game turns that stereotype on its ear, casting the players as evil geniuses whose goal is to impede, frustrate and eventually kill those pesky heroes.

Chvatil has done a remarkable job of turning out innovative games that differ widely among themselves. I'm a huge fan of Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, a game few others can compare with in my esteem, but this prototype was tense, enjoyable and thematic. Our team of four dungeon entrepreneurs went into the game with a lot of swagger and confidence (as well as more than one "Mwahahaha!",) but those heroes are tougher than they look, as many a fictional dragon can attest.

In the test game I played, my dungeon was nearly destroyed, my minions had more to do than they could fit into a night, and the traps I bought proved useless against those crafty thieves. I was afraid my score would be negative, but a few bonus VPs at the end pushed me up to 6 VP, a score that left me just 1 VP shy of Chris Blancheria, the winner.

Vlaada wasn't able to make the Gathering, but the game was ably demoed by Petr Murmak. Petr explained that Vlaada had a one week old baby at home, while Petr had a seven week old baby and was thus dispatched in Vlaada's place.

I heartily recommend that gamers keep an eye open for the eventual release of this new gem of the dungeon crawl genre.
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19. Board Game: Silverton [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:1398]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Way back in 2002 I played one game of Silverton at Bruce Linsey's house, but it was six or seven years before I played my second game, over the year-end holidays this past winter. I had picked a copy up at the WBC auction last summer, and this gave me the incentive to play it once more. I enjoyed it so much I played a second game at the same con, and I came home and played the solitaire game twice. I find the Mayfair board a little hard to read, so I had the .pdf file from BGG blown up to poster size (2' x 3') and brought the poster to the Gathering (or rather, had Rich and Walt bring it in Rich's car.)

My tub o' games arrived on Wednesday, and I scheduled a game on Thursday evening with Ron Krantz, Donna Balkan and Tom DeMarco. Ron and Tom started their lines in Denver, Donna in El Paso and I in Salt Lake City. Silverton puts the players in the roles of boom time capitalists, prospecting for ore, building rail lines to haul the ore to market, and carrying passengers where the opportunity arises.

In this game I found many coal mines, but I didn't do so well with the precious metals. I found just a single silver mine, in Eureka just south of Salt Lake City, but it was depleted before it yielded even a speck of silver. In the meantime Donna struck ... um ... copper, opening a mine that churned out copper turn after turn. As luck would have it, the price of coal remained depressed all game while the price of copper soared, and Donna was able to sell her winnings for a handsome price, allowing her to reach the $6000 end condition for the short game in a remarkably short time.

This is a game with plenty of luck, but there's lots to think about, and it's the kind of game I enjoy. The poster-sized map attracts a lot of attention, so I will be carrying it around to stir up interest.
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20. Board Game: Go [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:123]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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I mentioned Richard Glanzer earlier in this GeekList. Richard is a fan of abstract games. In addition to the game of Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage we played, we also played a game of Terra Nova, which I don't care for all that much, but which Richard enjoyed, and I saw him playing other abstracts over the course of the week.

I asked Richard whether he played Go, the emperor of all abstract games, and he said he had never played it. I told him we had to rectify that omission, but when I looked around the ballroom for a copy, I didn't see one. I mentioned this to Doug Hoover on Thursday, and he said he had a copy rolled up in a tube. On Friday morning I sat down to teach Richard Go using a 9 x 9 subset of the full board. It's a game with simple rules but deep game play---the essence of a great abstract.

Richard was awed by the game (as anyone should be!) and is interested in playing it some more. I don't play Go very often, but I really ought to look for opportunities to do so. If you're going to play an abstract, you may as well play the best!
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21. Board Game: Saint Petersburg [Average Rating:7.32 Overall Rank:232]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Another game I don't get to play often enough is Saint Petersburg. The release of the new expansion, Saint Petersburg: New Society & Banquet Expansion, has opened up some new chances to play it, but it's a '10' for me that I have to work to get onto the table (hence the image I use for my BGG avatar.)

Four of us were looking for a game on Friday afternoon, and I suggested Saint Petersburg. It turned out that one of us had never played it while another had played it only once before. I grabbed the opportunity to teach. The pre-expansion game is subject to a runaway leader problem if a Mistress of Ceremonies (or a Judge) comes out on the first turn, but that didn't happen in this game and we had a good contest. The beginners trailed behind the more experienced players, but the gap wasn't enormous. I'm amazed at how well this game works for an acquisition game without auctions.
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22. Board Game: Black Friday [Average Rating:6.61 Overall Rank:1840]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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Friedemann Friese spent most of the week demoing games at his demo table, and I had played two of them earlier in the week. One was an economic management game somewhat reminiscent of Power Grid while the other was a remarkably clever little card game that got steady play all week long.

Everything changed on Friday morning as Friedemann rolled out a new game. When I asked him about it, he told me the name of the game was "Freitag" (or "Friday" in English,) and he worked on it only on Fridays. It is his policy to work on the game for five minutes, or five hours and fifty minutes, or some other length of time starting with the letter "F", and it will be released at Essen in 2013 (the year in which there is a Friday the 13th.)

Since it was Friday or never, I immediately signed up to join a game. The theme of the game is stock market investing. The stock market is implemented in a remarkably simple but clever way, as is characteristic of the green-haired, green-coated mastermind of the "F"-titled game (he was wearing a belt with a big Ninja Turtle buckle on this day as he explained the rules.) The only trouble is that the stock market has a tendency to shoot up, then crash unpredictably and disastrously, unlike the real stock market, which operates in accordance with the principles of the Efficient Market Hypothe... [never mind]

The winner of this game is not the person who makes the most money. Instead it's the person who socks away the most gold, something that will come in handy after the coming crisis. You can take loans out to finance your speculations---at least you can do so until the moment that the credit markets seize up and no additional loans are available. In fact, you don't pay loans off at the end of the game: instead you leverage yourself up to the hilt, buy gold, and stiff your creditors. You may even drive your firm into bankruptcy, but it doesn't hurt you a bit if you have enough gold stashed (where does he get these crazy ideas?)

Black Friday has the best stock market representation of any stock market game I've ever played. Even better, we finished 3-player games in 40 minutes and 4-player games in little over an hour. When we bemoaned the fact that the game won't be available for more than 4 years, Friedemann encouraged us to print our own prototypes off from his website. I am going to do so, and I am going to buy a copy of the published edition when it comes out.

I played a second game late on Friday night, and I played 3 more games of Black Friday on Saturday. Friedemann said he had no objection to us playing after midnight, but he was not able to answer any rules question after that point, and he asked us to box the game up (so he would not be working to put it away on Saturday.) I wrote up the results of the three Saturday games using times like "Friday: 33:16-34:00 Hours" to keep in step with the rules.

Black Friday is my favorite among all the new games I learned at this year's Gathering.
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23. Board Game: Commands & Colors: Ancients Expansion Pack #3 – The Roman Civil Wars [Average Rating:8.25 Unranked] [Average Rating:8.25 Unranked]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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Last year (see my GeekList at http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/30748 ) I played a game of Epic Commands & Colors: Ancients during the Game Show. The Game Show is an event that's worth taking part in if you enjoy game shows, but there's a small segment of the population that would rather poke hot pokers into their eyes than be part of a game show. One of those people is my friend Walter Hunt, and I helped him find an alternate form of amusement last year.

The Epic version of the game involves an extra long board, a whole lot of wooden block units (Walter has a giant box with all of the expansions) and 4 players on each side: one each as the left wing, center and right wing commander and one as the overall commander. The overall commander manages the cards for that side, dealing them out the the subordinate commanders as he sees fit. We had a blast playing this in 2008.

For 2009, Walt once again rounded up a team of 8 players, and this year, as a special surprise, he recruited Richard Borg, the designer of the game. If you've never met Richard, you should know that he is one of the most fun guys to play with you ever met. If Richard Borg were your tax attorney, you'd look forward to April 15!

Walt had selected the Battle of Cannae (between the Romans and the Carthaginians) for this year's battle, and just like last year, Tyler Putman and I drew lots as supreme commanders to see who would get which side. I need to draw better---I was the Carthaginians at Zama last year and the Romans at Cannae this year---or maybe I need to learn my history better.

On my side were Joe Rushanan as Left Wing commander facing Peter Card on the Carthaginian right, Richard Borg as Center commander facing Jim McCarthy, and Walter Hunt as Right Wing commander facing Doug Hoover on the Carthaginian left. I knew we were in trouble looking at the masses of red Carthaginian Heavy Infantry and Heavy Cavalry massed on the flanks. It was even worse when I looked at my hand and saw nothing but Center cards.

Peter Card started things off by charging with his cavalry against Joe's forces, killing some units but taking some hits themselves. Tyler fed cards to his commanders, allowing the red Heavys to creep ominously forward toward our weak flanks. In the mean time I was feeding cards to Richard in the middle, who charged straight forward into Jim's light screening forces, scattering them (this is how the real battle started, and how did it turn out?...)

I kept drawing cards, but I could not get the cards to help Joe and Walt fight off the Carthaginian wings (the Romans have just a 6-card hand to counter Carthage's 9 cards.) Then I got a card that let Richard and Walt move all their connected infantry as a block. It was an amazing sight as more than a dozen Roman infantry formations surged into the Carthaginian line. We only needed 12 kills to win the game and send them off the field in a rout, but we came up short at 11---my comrades tried to roll the right dice, but didn't quite make it. The Carthaginian counterattack gave them their 12th kill and the Roman armies ran streaming from the field.

My record as supreme commander is now 0-2, but I know as a Roman that more levies are on their way. We'll be back next year!
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24. Board Game: Make 'n' Break Extreme [Average Rating:5.93 Overall Rank:6732]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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Saturday morning features the Gathering Flea Market. People start lining up at the doors 30 minutes in advance, and there are usually several photographers on hand to record the opening rush.

I didn't find anything I really wanted this year, but Evan Tannheimer scored a copy of Make 'n' Break Extreme, a game I'll admit I didn't have on my radar screen! He wanted to play it, so he rounded up me and another opponent and we went at it.

On your turn, you roll a die to see whether you have a short ('1'), medium ('2') or long ('3') amount of time to score points. You then turn cards over one after another and try to arrange the colored plastic blocks in the pattern shown on each card. Once you've completed a pattern, you go on to the next card.

I was competitive at this game, but Evan was victorious. (Hmmph. I think he rolled more '3's than I did. shake )
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25. Board Game: Viva Pamplona! [Average Rating:6.36 Overall Rank:3794]
Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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I had lucked into the 6th spot of a 6-player game earlier in the week with Time Agent, and I did it again on Saturday with Viva Pamplona!. Gail Spontelli was teaching a group how to play the game. One of the learners was Mik Svellov, who looked stunned to be learning a game designed by Wolfgang Kramer, designer of classics like El Grande, that was so silly.

In Viva Pamplona! players take the role of people who run with the bulls in the city of Pamplona. The winner is not the person with the most victory points, but the person with the most bravery (what else would you expect?)

Our bull performed his part with aplomb, alternately charging (earning courage points for those near him) and racing ahead (leaving us puffing to catch up.) I was lucky enough to roll a lot of wilds on my dice, and I finished the game with 44 VPs, in a tie with Mark Edwards for the win.
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