Monday, February 26, 2007

Lightning Strikes!

Just a short post to say that I finally managed to land the mythical 14 card run in Tichu!

Before the pass I held the Mah-Jong, 2, 4-K and two extra mid-range cards. I passed the deuce and the two superfluous cards and received a 2 and 3 from my opponents and the Phoenix from my partner! Perfect!

Better still, we needed just 60 points to win the game so with my Tichu call and going out with my lead it guaranteed us the win.

Forgive me if I gloat a little:


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Brief Game Night

This week's game night was shorter than normal for me. I had just returned late Monday night (well, actually early Tuesday morning) from taking my two youngest boys to Disneyland and since I was tired and hadn't been around the rest of the family for several days I decided to cut my game night short and head home at around eight. In spite of that, I still managed to get in a few good games. We had a couple of new comers and plenty of old timers so I suspect that my early exit was barely noticed.

First up for me was a few rounds of No Thanks! The more I play it, the more I love this simple light filler game. It's so easy to teach, it plays so quickly, and it packs so small that it's just the perfect thing when you have a few spare minutes to fill and an uncertain number of players.

Next up was a meatier game: Wolfgang and Ursula Kramer's Wildlife Adventure. This is an older game, released in 1985. Its line extension mechanism inspired Alan Moon's game Santa Fe which later evolved into Clippers. Wildlife Adventure's theme is endangered species. Players help guide three expeditions to different parts of the globe in order to visit the habitats of various endangered species. It's a pretty decent game but it didn't really grab me. I'm not sure if the dated bits put me off or the clumsy way you have to locate your species on the board by name (countries or cities would have been more familiar to me and therefore easier). Perhaps its just that I made so many mistakes because I wasn't familiar with the rules. Either way, while it's not a bad game and I'm glad I played, it's definitely not a game that I'll be going out of my way to play again.

Wrapping up the night for me was a new game: Iliad by Dominique Ehrhard. This is a card game where players supposedly lead armies participating in the siege of Troy. In some respects the theme is moderately well done, with hoplites, chariots, archers and other units giving some semblance of the feel of an ancient battle. In other ways, the theme doesn't work so well. Were there Elephants at the siege of Troy? I don't think so. Also, it didn't really convey the feel of a siege to me. Theme problems aside, I enjoyed the game very much. The mechanics are very good and while the game is relatively simple, there's more than enough depth to hold my interest. I particularly liked how you have to make decisions about whether to play defensively or offensively with each play. With each turn you have to decide if it's better to play a card to your army, attack another army, or just stop playing cards and hope the benefit you get for stopping early will make your army strong enough to carry the battle. We only played a few rounds since I had to leave early but I'll definitely be looking to play this one all the way through soon.

Other games played included Tichu, Yspahan and I'm sure there were many others.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Yep. Another Game Night Post

Considering that a large number of our regulars are on vacation, we had a pretty decent turnout last night. We even had a couple of newcomers! Glad to meet you. Hope you come back next week!

Some of us opened up the night with a nice quick game of Liar's Dice. I think I probably used up all of my luck for the next century because I quite simply could do no wrong in this game. I knocked out all challengers without losing a single die. I'm still not quite sure how I pulled that off but repeatedly rolling four out of five matching dice might have had something to do with it. Nice way to start the night!

Meanwhile several of our group played a game of Martin Wallace's new game, Perikles. I have yet to play this game myself. I hear it's pretty good though. It's not all that common to find a game that's about both warfare and electioneering. It seems to run just a little long for my taste but I'll have to play it before I form any meaningful opinion.

Next up for me was a five player game of Vinci. Vinci is one of those classic games that everyone should play at least once. It's a game about the rise and fall of civilizations in Europe. Each player controls a civilization which expands from turn to turn until it eventually grows too large to maintain and falls into decline. The player then assumes control of a new emerging civilization and the process repeats itself. With each player controlling a different civilization, players must struggle for territories which grant victory points at the end of each turn. This game is not without its flaws. With five players there can be a fair amount of down time and this tends to lead to a fair amount of kibitzing and colluding as other players try to help the current player find the best move (read: find the move that benefits them the most). The public running total of victory points also tends to result in a bit of meta-gaming. In this game, being the leader can be a serious liability because it paints a great big target on you. But if you don't mind a little downtime and meta-gaming (which could actually be considered one of its charms), I think you'll find that its flaws are more than offset by its virtues: deep strategy, high replayability, and total lack of luck in the combat system. This is a very elegant game that I really can't recommend too highly. I managed to win last night but just barely. I hung back in second place, put my last civ in decline at just the right time and sprinted over the finish line one point ahead of my next closest competitor. I think that may be my first win at this game, at least against seasoned gamers.

The final game for me was Doppelkopf. I'm still trying to get a handle on the rather complex rules but I think I'm slowly getting better. Of course you'd never know it from looking at my score. For most of the game I was firmly in the cellar and it was only by virtue of a couple of very lucky hands that I managed to scrap back up to second place before we quit for the night.

Meanwhile others in our group played Tichu a few times and another group played Bohnanza: everybody's favorite game about bean farming.

Come join us next week!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Tuesday's Game Night

Great turnout this week. We had a lot of people and there were usually three or more games going at once.

First up for me was the new Days of Wonder release: Battlelore. Battlelore is based on the same card driven system as Memoir '44 and Command & Colors Ancients but it has tons more pieces, adds quite a few rules and is designed from the start to be an expandable system. Adam and I played one of the lore scenarios. Actually we played it twice, switching sides. While Adam seemed to have a much rougher go of it than I did, the scores ended up being the same so I guess we tied. The game is absolutely beautiful and it's a lot of fun but I must say that the goblinoids are almost worthless. My one real complaint with Battlelore is that the rulebook is unnecessarily long. It's a huge bound softcover book filled with illustrations and examples, which is a good thing, but it's also very long winded. These rules are nearly so complicated as the rulebook makes them seem. Furthermore, instead of providing a simple quick reference sheet containing all of the essential rules, they opted to provide a handful of summary cards (just like Memoir '44) which means that you have to spread out nearly a dozen cards to have the same information as could have easily fit on a single sheet of paper. (I'm considering creating my own quick reference card. If I do I'll post it here.)

Next up for me was a quick game of Tichu. I can't remember who won or even who was involved. That's what I get for waiting so long to do this writeup.

My last game of the night was another game of Doppelkopf with Kai, Adam and Oren. I'm beginning to think that eventually I might get almost decent at this game. The feel for how to play a given hand still eludes me but I think I'm getting closer. It's a very good game but there are far too many seemingly arbitrary rules for me to recommend it to most people. I didn't lose. I consider that an accomplishment.

Other games I saw played Tuesday night include: Bluff (Liar's Dice), End of the Triumvirate, Drakon, Nexus Ops, Havoc, Perikles and Yspahan.

If you'd like to join us, we meet every Tuesday night at 5:00 in Microsoft's building 50 cafeteria. Feel free to arrive late (many do). We're usually there until 11 or 12. We'd love to see you there!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

First Impressions: Conquest of the Fallen Lands

On Wednesday I had a rather unique opportunity. I was invited to play the new game Conquest of the Fallen Lands with the game's designer Andrei Burago and the game's publisher Alexander Vaschillo. Naturally I jumped at the chance and I was also pleased to be able to invite a couple of friends to play it with us.

Conquest of the Fallen Lands is a relatively new game produced in Russia by a small Redmond, Washington based company called ASSA Games. This is essentially a self-published game since ASSA Games was started for the sole purpose of publishing Fallen Lands. For a self-published game, I must say that I was quite impressed. While the components are not quite as nice as your typical German game they are still more than adequate. Instead of molded plastic trays we get sturdy cardboard dividers. Instead of molded plastic pieces or colored wooden cubes, we get colored glass drops. Instead of linen finished cards and hexes, we get sturdy cardboard hexes and plastic coated cards. The quality is just one notch below what you'd get from, for instance, a Hans im Glük production but it's still better than a lot of American titles

My one play doesn't really entitle me to give a full-blown review of the game but I will say that I was favorably impressed. It's a very fun game. Its fantasy theme is perhaps a little pasted on (under the covers this is probably more of an abstract game) but the flavor text on the cards does much to reinforce the theme. The rules are very simple and easy to learn. The game seems like it would play equally well across its advertised range of 2-5 players and it plays in a reasonably short time: roughly an hour; a little more with four or five players.

This is a positional strategy game, with players claiming territories across a hexagonal board. It also has a strong production element because each turn you increase your strength in anticipation of more powerful actions in subsequent turns. The card-driven aspect of the play introduces a fair amount of luck but not so much as to be overwhelming. You can find a brief rules summary on their web site.

Andrei and Alex were kind enough to let me keep a copy of the game and I'm looking forward to playing again very soon. I'll also be looking to get a few copies for the store so if you think you might be interested, give me a week or two to get things lined up.

In case you're wondering, I came in somewhere in the middle of the pack. Alexander finished way out in front.

Alexander Vaschillo and game designer Andrei Burago Alexander Vaschillo and game designer Andrei Burago