Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Have I mentioned how much I love Game Night?

Monday may have been a holiday but Tuesday was GAME NIGHT! and we had a great turnout. A lot of good games were played and most of the regulars were there. Curt even joined us later in the evening (which is always a treat).

Pizarro & Co.The first game I played was Pizaro & Co. This is a nice little auction game from Thomas Lehmann and Rio Grande Games. The theme is completely pasted on: ostensibly you're kings bidding for the services of a set of famous explorers (most of whom weren't even contemporaries) but it could just as well have been about anything else. Each explorer offers some unique abilities. The most unique aspect of the game is that it's played on two double-sided boards which can be played with either side up. Each side has the same set of explorers but with slightly different abilities. So each explorer comes in two flavors and by flipping the board you can have up to four different game setups. Personally, I'm not a big fan of this game but some people really like it. (We don't normally stock it but I can special order it if you're interested.) Our players were Christopher, Jose, Scott, Mike M., and myself. I promised Scott (who had to leave just before we counted the score) that I'd post the outcome. I don't remember the exact score but Christopher won the game with around 40 points. Scott, Mike, and Jose all tied for second. I came in a distant last.

After that, the guys twisted my arm and forced me to play Caylus again. This time we had five players: Christopher, Jose, Tejas, Mike M., and myself. With that many players, it becomes much harder to execute a strategy; it becomes a much more tactical game. This time there was a bit more screwage with the provost than in games past. I did well, coming in third and within reach of the leader. Jose won.

Curt showed up while we were playing Caylus and after Caylus ended Curt, Christopher, Tejas and I played Mykerinos, a very nice light area control game from Ystari Games, the same company that brought us Caylus. In Mykerinos, players are archaeologists searching the deserts of Egypt for treasures and artifacts to bring back to a museum. Whoever brings back the best stuff will earn the favor of the patrons. Curt and I tied for first place. Christopher and Tejas tied for third.

Finally, Curt, Oren, Christopher and I wrapped up the night with Can't Stop, the classic press your luck game by Sid Sackson. Adam and Mike K. replaced Oren and Christopher for the last couple of games. Can't Stop is an excellent ultra-light filler game. It plays extremely quickly (typically under 20 minutes) and the rules are so easy to grasp that they can be learned just by watching someone else take their turn. On your turn you roll four dice which you can then pair up any way you want. Sum up each pair of dice and put a white marker on the board under those two numbers. Now roll again. If you roll a pair that matches one of your white markers then you get to move it up towards the top. If you roll a pair that doesn't match, you put a third marker on the board. Now every time you roll the dice you MUST have a pair that matches one of your three white markers. Fail to do so and the white markers come off and your turn is over. At any time you can voluntarily stop your turn and place markers on the board where you stopped, locking in your current position. Get three white markers all the way to the top of the board and you win the game.

Other games played tonight included Fury of Dracula and I'm sure there must have been others but I couldn't tell you what they were.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A new home for my games.

Some time ago I designed a new entertainment center for our basement. Now I'm pretty good with computers and I'm pretty good at designing stuff but I'm not so good at woodwork so I hired a professional to turn my dream into reality. It took a while to get it scheduled and built but he finally finished it this week. That picture shows the result. I have to say I am extremely pleased with the way it turned out. There is enough space for pretty much my entire personal collection of games! (I tend to periodically sell off games that I don't play any more.)

Cay-chu Night

If this sounds a bit repetitive, it's only because I just can't get enough of these games.

My first game tonight was a five player game of Caylus. Wade, Mike M., Greg, and Darryl joined me. Darryl and Greg had never played so we spent a few minutes explaining the rules before hand. By now I've become pretty good at explaining the rules so that actually went pretty quickly. Caylus with five is a bit different from Caylus with three. There are fewer places to play on each turn and you're much less likely to get to play where you want to. Flexibility is very important. Mike and Greg put up a particularly solid fight and although I won, it wasn't by much. Mike had the chance to force the game to end a turn earlier when he held the lead but either he didn't notice how important that was or he got greedy and thought he could do even better the next round. Had he deprived me of that last turn, I certainly wouldn't have won and I think he'd have come out on top. This game continues to play differently each time I play it. I can't recommend it enough.

Several other games ended at about the same time and we shuffled players a bit. Adam convinced Mike, Greg and I to join him for a game of Tichu. I have to admit that it didn't require much convincing. Greg had played a few times before but it had been months since his last game and he required a rules refresher. So naturally, Mike and Adam stuck him with me because they fear my 'leet skilz'. I've been crushing them so often over lunch lately that they felt the need to handicap me. (That's my story and I'm sticking to it.) Unfortunately this time it worked. Greg and I didn't do so very well (which was totally NOT Greg's fault). But that's Tichu. Sometimes you get the cards. Sometimes you don't.

And with that game over and the little hand nearing the ten, I decided to head home at a decent hour this time so I could spend a little time with my wife before the day's end.

Other games played? Christopher and several of the Seattle crowd played Power Grid. Mike K. and Adam played the Settlers of Catan Card Game. Lord of the Rings the Confrontation was played. And I can't remember what else but I know there were many more.

We had an excellent turn out. There was no lack of people to play with. Next week I'll try and bring some different games. Come join in the fun!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Rumor Mill

By the way, rumor has it that we'll be getting Caylus back in stock this weekend. Does that make you as happy as it makes me?

Yes, Virginia. There was a Game Night.

Sorry for the late posting. I've been a busy guy.

Tuesday night I arrived a little late but I was just in time to join a game of Ticket to Ride - Marklin Edition. My last place finish would indicate that I still haven't figured out the winning strategy but in my defense I need to add that I would have finished with quite a few more points if not for two unfortunate blunders. First, because I wasn't paying close enough attention, I missed an opportunity to connect to a city I needed in order to complete one of my 20 point routes. I only needed to play any single card which I could easily have done. Second, late in the game I drew four long routes. I had already connected at least one of those long routes so I could safely have discarded the others, but since I knew I was behind, I chose to keep one more route. I only needed to connect to one more city to complete that route but the cards were against me and the game ended before I got the chance. Together, depending on how you count, those two blunders either cost me 60 points (assuming I hadn't taken that other route) or 80 points (assuming I could have completed it had I just drawn the right cards). Pity me.

I got my revenge though. Next I played a game of Elasund - The First City and this time I came out the victor. Of course, Wade could have won just in front of me had he noticed that a well placed square building would have given him just enough victory points but I wasn't about to point that out to him! Oh no! I needed my revenge! And let me tell you: revenge is sweet! Muhahaha!

Other games played this week included Descent: Journeys in the Dark, Palazzo, Hacienda and Nexus Ops.

I'm sure there were others and had I written this right away I'd have been able to tell you what they were. As it is, I guess this week's entry will just have to be a short one.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Another Game Night! Huzzah!

Ah game night! My favorite night of the week. We had another fine turnout. Lots of good games were played. I think everyone had a good time. I know I did.

One of the first games to hit the table was Caylus but this time I wasn't involved. This time it was Christopher, Jose, Ben, Chris and Oren. While they were playing I learned that I had actually missed a relatively important rule in last week's game. We hadn't noticed that the number of residences the players can build is NOT limited to the number of residence tiles in the box. It's never mattered in our earlier games but in last week's game it might have mattered to Jose. I don't think that it would have changed the outcome of the game much but it probably would have meant he was a bit more competitive. At least last week we were all operating under the same assumptions about the rules so the game was still fair. Incidentally, I actually kind of like that as a house rule because it introduces yet another element into the game that players have to manage and be aware of. I think the rules as written are better but if you're looking for a different challenge you might think about trying it that way.

I wasn't involved in Caylus because Mike K., Wade, Darryl, Birch and I were playing the new Ticket to Ride - Marklin Edition. Alan Moon's original Ticket to Ride won the Spiel des Jahres a couple of years back and it has become the gateway game of choice for many people. The Marklin Edition is the third Ticket to Ride version (Ticket to Ride: Europe being the second) and while I'm not sure the world really needs three distinct versions of Ticket to Ride, I must say that it is an excellent game. The biggest change in the Marklin edition (other than the superficial fact that it's played on a map of Germany) is the addition of a passenger delivery mechanic. On your turn you now have one more type of action: instead of playing or taking cards, you can choose to move one of your passengers along your routes from city to city, collecting delivery tokens along the way. A five or six stop delivery can be worth an awful lot of points so the new rule somewhat discourages the standard strategy of hoarding tickets until you're ready to lay down a slew of completed routes. Deliveries to a city are worth progressively fewer points so whoever gets there first stands to score more points than those who follow. This means that in addition to racing to complete your routes, you're also racing to be the first to score the plum deliveries. Mike K. easily won the game. I still haven't figured out the proper strategy and I came in near the back of the pack.

Scott, Adam, Michael M. and Peter played Louis XIV. I really enjoy this unique area control game set in the court of the Sun King. Some folks don't care for the random scoring mechanic with the shields at the end of the game but that's minor enough that it really doesn't bother me at all. It's just one more element that you need to take into consideration as you play. Michael was the clear winner this time.

Adam, Michael M., and I then taught Tichu to Scott. Scott isn't a trick taking game fan so he was a little reluctant but kudos to him for being a good sport and giving it a try. He and I were partners and we didn't do very well but that was more due to the fact that we kept getting some pretty stinky hands. Scott played quite well considering the garbage he was dealt and I'm hoping he'll let us talk him into trying it again. When Oren's game broke up, he was eager to play and Scott was still feeling a bit overwhelmed so he bowed out and let Oren take his place. We reset the scores and Oren and I went on to soundly thrash Mike and Adam. Again, this was really mostly due to our good fortune and not our supreme skill. It's a little hard to lose when your partnership controls most of the specials and seventy five percent of the face cards. I'm quite sure that I've now used up my month's allotment of good fortune and I expect to return to my usual string of dismal hands over lunch.

Meanwhile, Mike K, Jose, Darryl, Wade and Birch played World of Warcraft the Boardgame. This game is a bit too long for my tastes but it's been getting a lot of table time at game night and all who have played it seem to think it's just great. One of these days I'll have to give it a try (my son has been begging me to play with him) but I'm a little leery of the length which can easily exceed three hours.

Also played were Take Off (the card game, not the educational map game) and Lord of the Rings the Confrontation (the deluxe edition). And I'm sure I'm missing some others. Thanks to all who came! I hope you had as much fun as I did.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Review: Celtica

Celtica is the latest game from Michael Kiesling and Wolfgang Kramer. It supports five players and it can be played in well under forty-five minutes.

Kiesling and Kramer have teamed up to bring us several games over the years. Perhaps their most well known collaborations are Java, Mexica, and Tikal, A.K.A. the Mask Trilogy. In the case of Celtica, that illustrious pedigree is probably a disadvantage. Tikal, Java and Mexica are all very deep gamers' games, pinnacles of angst and deep strategy built on an action point mechanic that has players agonizing over which of the many possible actions they will take on a given turn. Celtica couldn't be more different. Celtica is an extremely simple, family friendly game with a very large helping of luck. Does that make it a bad game? No. But it does mean that players who are expecting another game like Tikal are going to be sorely disappointed.


Celtica's box art is a pretty good indication of what you can expect to find inside the box. The cover is adorned with lush, colorful art that evokes the magic and mystery of the Celtic druids. There's no two ways about it. This is a gorgeous game. Inside the box you'll find one of the most attractive game boards to come along in a long time. Also included are five very attractive, oversized wooden druid pawns, a rule book, two decks of cards and 90 tiles. The artwork on the cards is equally beautiful. Each card depicts one of five different colored druids, one for each of the druid pawns. Everyone who I've shown the game to has immediately remarked on the beauty of the artwork. It's truly stunning.


Ten Celtic amulets have been broken up and their pieces have been scattered. Five druids wander from location to location seeking out pieces of the amulets with the aid of the players. Whichever player helps the druids recover the most complete amulets wins the game.

Game Play

Each player's goal is to assemble as many complete amulets as possible. Each amulet consists of nine distinct pieces: four corners, four edges and a center. Each amulet is identical except for the art on the center pieces. Each piece in an amulet is distinguished by a unique color: for instance the top left corner of each amulet is green.

At the start of the game, the amulet tiles are shuffled and each player is given two pieces at random. Nine pieces are then placed face up at the top of the board. Whenever pieces are recovered, they are taken from the face up pieces and more pieces are drawn to replace them.

The game board depicts a path that winds its way around a lush island, making several stops along the way. Locations on the path include ruins, ancient Druidic holy sites, and Celtic settlements. The path is linear. There are no branches. The druid markers are placed at the start of the path and they progress along the path in one direction. When one of them reaches the end, it signals the final turn of the game.

At the start of each turn, players receive five druid cards. Druid cards come in five colors, one for each druid in the game. A turn is divided up into a number of rounds where each player plays in turn until all players have played all of their druid cards. In turn, each player chooses a number of cards from his hand and plays them. The only restriction is that all cards must be the same color. For each card played, the appropriate druid is moved that many spaces on the track and the action associated with that space is taken.

Whenever a druid lands on a settlement, the player recovers a number of amulet pieces (shown on the board) and adds them to his play area.

Whenever a druid lands on a holy site, the player MAY draw a single card from the druid deck and place it face down in front of him. If drawn, this card MUST be played on that players next turn in addition to any other matching cards that the player may wish to add from his hand. Deciding whether or not to draw that extra card is one of the more important decisions in the game. Taking the card prolongs your turn but also dramatically increases the risk that you'll be forced to move a druid onto a ruin.

If a druid lands on a ruin, the player must give up a number of pieces but in return he gets to draw a single experience card from the experience deck. Experience cards are used just like druid cards (and except for the artwork on the back and the addition of a symbol on the front they are identical). The only difference is that experience cards aren't used to determine when the turn ends (they can be kept from turn to turn) and at the end of the game they can be exchanged for additional tiles.

Except for a few details, that's really all there is to the game rules.


Celtica is an extremely simple game and therein lies the rub. The fact that Kiesling and Kramer are known for deeper games like Tikal and Java has hurt this game by creating the false expectation that this would be similar in depth (hence its lackluster rating on BGG). In fact, it's nowhere near as deep. This is a fast, light family game that offers some very limited strategic possibilities but in the end is largely dominated by the luck of the draw. On each turn you really have very few choices and those choices are heavily governed by the mix of cards in your hand. This is particularly true if you play the game with four or five players, since between plays the board can have changed so much as to make long term planning impossible. With two or three players the game becomes a little more strategic... but not much.

Is Celtica a bad game? No. As far as light family games go you could do much worse. I've enjoyed every game I've played. But you do have to go into each game with the knowledge that the game's outcome is largely beyond your control.

Strangely enough, this game has been getting a surprising amount of table time with our gaming group. Our group normally dislikes luck-heavy games (for example, while I rather liked Beowulf, many in our group did not) but for some reason they seem to have taken a shine to Celtica. I think the short playing time, coupled with the pretty artwork have something to do with it. As a closer, Celtica is ideal since by the end of the night everyone is a bit tired and ready for something light and fast that doesn't involve much thought.

Celtica will never be a classic but taken for what it is: a light, fast family game with pretty pieces, it can be a lot of fun. Just don't expect another Tikal.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Game Night

We had another very good turnout last night. There were a few new faces and one very old timer graced us with his presence. Hopefully that trend will continue.

There were a lot of games played including Celtica, Sticheln, Nexus Ops and Liar's Dice.

I managed to get talked into playing another three-player game of Caylus (had to twist my arm there) with Tejas and Jose. This time I tried a different strategy, spending my favor on victory points and only contributing the minimum to the castle. I also finagled things so that I could build the cathedral before anyone else. It was a very strange game though. The notary was built very early which triggered an early rush between Tejas and I to build residences. I quickly realized that if we cornered the market on residences, that would mean I only had to worry about Tejas building prestige buildings since Jose wouldn't have any residences to convert. Jose did manage to get a residence on the board but Tejas and I built all the rest. And I do mean ALL the rest. It's the first time I've seen them all built. We also managed to build all but one of the stone and wood buildings, something I've never seen done before. Tejas built the lion's share of them while I concentrated on getting favor, turning purple cubes into victory points, and making sure I would be first to build the cathedral. Even the ending was strange: Tejas and I tied with relatively high scores. In fact, it was a perfect tie because neither he nor I had any resources left over after exchanging them for victory points after the final round. Easily the oddest Caylus game I've played yet. Fun fun.

Scott, Jose, Adam, Mike M. and I played a game of Atlantic Star. This is a great little game from 2001 by Queen games (a remake and retheming of the 1997 game: Showmanager). Players collect sets of cards in an attempt to build the most lucrative complete shipping lines. On each turn you either add a card to your hand (which may cost money depending on which card you choose) or play cards to score one of four colored sets. Each time you score a color, your marker is added to a ladder for that color. The higher your position on the ladder, the better your score at the end of the game. You can reduce the score of one of your already completed colors (potentially changing its position on the ladder) in order to raise more cash and thereby increase your chances of getting a better score for whatever color you're currently working on. There are a lot of cool mechanics in this game and I quite enjoy it. It is a bit luck heavy but there's enough strategy to keep me interested. It's also not a very confrontational game since there are really few ways that one player can directly affect another player's score, which I kind of like. Scott led us all to believe that he was doing poorly and then he managed to edge me out for the win at the end.

Finally, Mike, Curt, Adam and I rounded out the night with two games of Tichu. Adam and I were partners and our first game was truly dismal. I believe we finished the game with somewhere around 300 points. Ouch. The second game was quite a bit better. We won the second one and we would have won by a very large margin had Curt not decided to risk a blind Large Tichu call and then been very fortunate to have he and Mike go out one-two for the double win. Yet another odd gaming session.

I need to quit letting myself get talked into Tichu games after 10:00. We didn't wrap things up until well after midnight.

By the way, I haven't forgotten that I promised to post a Celtica review. I've started it but then life kind of interfered. I should be ready to post it sometime this week.