Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Congress of Gamers recap - Part 2

After our game of Carcassone, I went to the vendor "Our Game Table" and bought a tile bag for Carcassone and box bands to replace broken ones at home. 

Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved
So, Saturday afternoon at Congress of Gamers found me sitting down to play Settlers of Catan (designed by Klaus Teuber, published by Mayfair Games) with Meredith M. and my good friend Grant G.  Settlers is an old favorite of mine.  Grant obtained Longest Road fairly early on, and he and Meredith seemed pretty evenly matched until she linked two road networks to steal Longest Road from him and jump to a commanding lead.  I was able to catch up to her, and we were tied at nine points when I had in my hand exactly the cards I needed to build my last settlement and win the game.  But fortune would not smile on me, because before I could take my turn, Meredith bought a development card and turned up the University of Catan for her tenth and winning point.  Argh!  Victory snatched from my grasp!

Sunday I brought my son with me to Congress of Gamers to meet his friend (whose mother Sue C. ran the Catchy Quips vendor at the convention) and play RoboRally (designed by Richard Garfield, published by Avalon Hill [Hasbro]).  Our session was a crazy one, with ten players on three connected boards.  The game master, Marc Houde, randomly changed one of the boards every three turns.  At one point, the second objective flag sat on a conveyor belt, a literal moving target.  It became clear that the game could go on forever, so after three hours with only a few of us having touched the first flag, Marc announced that the first player to touch the second flag would be the winner.  One player got to the flag but was carried to oblivion on the conveyor belt before he could declare victory.  Much later, my friend Keith F. was able to capture the second flag and win the game, four hours after we started.  There is a lesson hear about adding random complications to an existing game design.  The result can be an unintended convolution that makes a game unnecessarily long and potentially frustrating and draining.

Because RoboRally ran so long, I missed the Puerto Rico session and instead spent a little time and money at the Harmony House vendor picking up parts for a prototype of an interplanetary mining game idea I've been kicking around in earnest.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
Finally came the game I'd been looking forward to most - Agricola.  Again, Virginia C. was at my table, along with a woman named Helen and the game master Eric Engelmann.  Our table was the only one to use drafting, whereby players keep some cards and pass the rest to other players before the start of the game so that each has the opportunity to assemble combinations of favorable cards and dispose of those least applicable to a strategy.  My big early move was bringing out the wet nurse so that every room I added to my house came with a baby.  I had a few other interesting occupations and improvements but still felt as though I was behind the group until some late moves to plow and sow, as well as to renovate my hut to clay and build fences near the very end.  I just missed second place to Helen by a point, but Virginia took a commanding win with a five-room stone house and 13 points in improvements.  With that, Virginia swept the EuroCaucus category for the entire convention.

After all that competition, I had a fun session of Castle Panic with my son and his friend.  CP is a fun cooperative game, and it was a nice light-hearted finish to a fun convention.  After that, we packed up and headed home, content to have played a solid weekend of games in good company. 

And fun in the company of good friends and new acquaintances, after all, is what playing games is really all about.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Congress of Gamers recap - Part 1

Last weekend I attended Congress of Gamers in Rockville, Maryland.  This is a fun little convention that I try never to miss because it's low-key and good fun. 

Saturday morning I arrived to find my friend Grant G. playing Can't Stop (designed by Sid Sackson, published by Face 2 Face Games), which is a nice push-your-luck kind of game.  I had picked up a copy for my now-nine-year-old son for Christmas a year or two ago.  It's still something of a family favorite.  When I played it at PrezCon last February, I was astounded at how far teenagers will push their luck rolling the dice.  I'm much more cautious at the game, which sometimes works for me, and sometimes doesn't.  So in Grant's game, the table was cleaned up by a young player who completed three categories before anyone else got a single one; so I guess there's something to be said for calculated risk-taking.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
My first game of the convention was Carcassonne (designed by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede, published by Rio Grande) with the river expansion.  [Edit:  Carcassonne has since been picked up for distribution in the U.S. by Z-Man Games under a new contract with the original German publisher Hans Im Gluck. - PDO]  This was my first time playing with the Third Edition scoring rules, whereby each farm scores three points for each adjacent complete city.  I thought I won against Amy R., Meredith M., and Tom R., but my EuroCaucus card showed I came in second.  Oh well. 

Every convention I try to learn a game I've never played before.  This weekend it was Endeavor (designed by Carl de Visser and Jarratt Gray, published by Z-man), a colonial mercantile game of expansion, action placement, and the usual conundrum of decision-making.  Though I advanced rapidly in technology to acquire advanced buildings, I neglected to accumulate tokens for taking actions (rather like growing the family in Agricola), and so was left with few opportunities for growth in the latter part of the game.  The winner at my table was a delightful woman who, it turns out, has a monthly gaming group not far from us in Virginia.  So once again, the nice thing about a convention is that if I'm not going to win, at least I'm going to make a new connection.

Next post:  Settlers, robots, and ... you guessed it ... farming.

Friday, October 8, 2010

More playing than designing this week

All week I've been coming home from my paying job and unwinding by playing games rather than buckling down and working on my submarine game. 

Image courtesy of
Rio Grande Games
Yesterday Kathy and I played Puerto Rico, inspired perhaps earlier this week by Race for the Galaxy, which is similar in concept though considerably more complex (to us) in execution.  PR is one of our favorites.  It's actually designed for three to five players.  We adopted the two-player variant that appears in a solitaire rules set called "SoloPlay Rules," which works well for us.

I used to approach PR with a rigid strategy in mind - either grow lots of cheap crops and ship them like a madman, or focus on generating income and go heavy on buildings.  I've since learned that a semi-flexible strategy is important, as is paying attention to what roles benefit one's opponent(s) as much as or more than oneself.  I have a hard time articulating my strategic approach to PR better than that, so perhaps it's worth some thought and a subsequent post ... and perhaps some research first into what others have written on PR.

In yesterday's session, Kathy picked up a hospice early, as well as a couple of quarries and a few corn plantations, so I was afraid she'd be off to the races. I had a small start in indigo but went pretty long in sugar. I picked up both small and large markets, so I had some good cash coming in, enough later to buy the fortress and city hall. Kathy got tobacco production going but could only sell it once or twice. She picked up the guild hall very late, but my building points ended up carrying me by three points at the end.

This afternoon was an absolutely perfect fall day, so Kathy lit a fire in the fire bowl in the back yard, I made some drinks, and we sat out and played a couple of games of cribbage.  That game was quite popular on my boat when I was in the Navy (and holds a submarine tradition going way back to World War II).  Nowadays, I find it a nice diversion.  I have to say that my opponent today is distractingly better looking and much more pleasant company than were my opponents aboard ship.

I picked up a copy of Castle Panic (designed by Justin de Witt, published by Fireside Games) today on the recommendation of my son, who came home after a game session raving about it.  We tried it as a family game after dinner tonight, and we picked it up pretty quick.  I think the cooperative aspect of this game works well for us as a family, once we have the "game courtesy protocol" established (no touching pieces on other people's turns, etc).  We players won against the monsters, and my youngest son emerged as the Master Slayer with 16 points.

This nice discovery of Castle Panic (thanks to Spike and Mary) comes serendipitously after my posting earlier this week in which I expressed concern about the approachability of games in their first playing.  CP turned out to be very intuitive and straightforward in its execution, and therefore easy to learn in the first play-through.  Now, it is a relatively simple game by any measure.  Still, I think its construct is conceptually transparent, so that individual quirks and capabilities of unique monsters and action cards could be learned one at a time as they came up.  We could learn each new capability as it emerged and accommodate it into our overall understanding of the game without the frustration of saying, "oh, well if I'd known that, I'd have done this differently."

So I think if I want to design family games, I really have to give some thought to this aspect of being able to sit down, start playing, and learn while playing without ever having to go back and re-visit points in the games that the new player previously thought they'd understood.