Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Alhambra. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alhambra. Show all posts

Saturday, February 25, 2012

PrezCon 2012 - Part Two

Small World
Among my goals at PrezCon this year was to learn Small World, which my buddy Grant Greffey is running as the Game Master.  I participated in his demo for new players, which was well-attended by upwards of eight people crowded around the table.  Small World  is a relatively easy game to pick up.  Grant is especially fond of it for its replayability.  The random combinations of races and special abilities make for some dynamic game interactions.

Later that evening, we played the first heat in the tournament.  I placed fourth at my table and learned (as I have so often heard but failed to incorporate) the importance of timing when it comes to placing a race into decline and starting the ascendancy of a new one.  I did reasonably well with "forest orcs" in the first several turns of the game but held on too long to "wealthy wizards," whom in retrospect I should have placed into decline after just a turn or two in favor of some more effective race.  The winner was Nathan Twigg, a regular face at PrezCon and a fun opponent.

The bottom line of course is that I learned how to play SW and found it to be a fun, light game.

Can't Stop
After my exhaustive statistical analysis of Pass the Pigs and the stark realization that I am mathematically too cautious in my approach to push-your-luck games, I vowed that I would approach Can't Stop with a more aggressive style.  That approach did not serve me well at all late Thursday night, where I busted on countless attempts to close out a category.  I really have to spend some serious number-crunching on that game to figure out the right approach.

Midnight gaming
My friends and I have taken to meeting at midnight to play together because, you know, 14 hours of gaming can't possibly be enough for one day.  So Grant, Keith F., Brian G., Tom S. and I were joined by Michelle H. (who was at my Can't Stop table) for a six-player round of Alhambra.  I did abysmally poorly.  It was so bad that at one point after the second scoring round, Eugene Y. (a very experienced and knowledgeable player) looked at our table and was astounded at how low the scores were - mine in particular at about nine points.  He asked me if I'd ever played before, or if I even knew how to play.  I told him that I'd placed in the semifinals the previous year, and he was just dumb-founded that we could have been so far into the game and have scores so low.  It was about the strangest game of Alhambra I'd ever played.

After Alhambra, we still weren't satisfied, so Keith, Brian, Tom and I stayed up for a round of Citadels.  None of the three of them had played a four-player round of Citadels before; Keith and Brian had only ever played three-player games.  The dynamic is completely different with four players (and a better game, really) since each player gets only one role, and two roles are visible face up and known to be out of play.  I built some substantial high-scoring buildings, but had only got to five districts before Keith finished with eight and won the game.

[Next post:  Friday's experiences going down in flames, settling Catan, learning to acquire, and bringing more people aboard trains, planes, and automobiles]

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Second day at World Boardgaming Championships

Friday morning, I ran a session of Trains Planes and Automobiles for several kids in the Juniors Room between tournaments.  Laurie W. of the Junior Events staff at WBC had played it with me yesterday, and she talked up the game among the kids to help spur interest.  The kids that joined me at the table had a good time learning and playing TPA and really liked it.  Later in the day, I played TPA with my friends Brian G. and Keith F., each of whom had already bought a copy.

I had some free time to try another round of Wooden Ships and Iron Men, and was surprised to learn that I was in the running for the quarterfinals.  I took the opportunity to play another session to try to boost my chances of qualifying.  In our scenario, I had two British 74-gun ships-of-the-line (SOLs), and my opponent had equivalent ships.  From the first turn, I could tell this was going to be an unusual game.  My opponent opened with an innovative tactic; he sent one of his vessels upwind and the other downwind as I approached in order to attempt a rake on one end or the other of my line.  I am rather traditional in my tactics and refused to separate my ships but maintained a close order line in an attempt to overlap fields of fire and concentrate on a single target (as I had against Robert yesterday).  

I focused my fire on one ship's rigging to reduce his maneuverability and render him unable to tack upwind and rake the rear of my line.  Suddenly he turned toward me, rammed my rear ship, and attempted to board it - something I really did not expect.  What followed was a bloody melee over several turns in which my crew barely prevailed.  He fought to the last man in a the battle that left my rear ship with only an eighth of its original crew standing.  Meanwhile my lead ship was engaged in a pounding point-blank exchange of broadsides that left both his downwind ship and my lead ship in danger of striking.  My rear ship freed itself of the grapples from the now-empty, drifting enemy vessel, and re-joined my lead ship.  I was able to engage his remaining vessel from both sides and deliver the decisive blow that force her to strike her colors.  At the end, we both agreed that it was one of the most exciting WS&IM battles either of us had played in a long time.  Unlike the previous day's victories, which seemed to some degree products of dice luck, I felt as though I won Friday's battle largely through tactical discipline.    

I entered the Alhambra tournament, which was very well attended.  I had a strong second-place finish among the six very friendly players at our table (including Laurie W. of the Juniors Room).  As it turned out, only first-place finishers would qualify for the semi-finals, so I was out of the running for Alhambra.  

A little later in the day, Joel Tamburo hosted a seminar on ethics in gaming, an engaging discussion on a rich topic that I will explore in more detail in a later blog post.

That evening, I saw a demonstration of GMT's Washington's War, which looks like an interesting game that explores the efforts of Great Britain vs. the Continental Congress to win the hearts and minds of the colonists during the American Revolution.

Keith F. had seen a demonstration last year of a game called Wartime, an as-yet unpublished real-time board wargame.  Josh Tempkin of Tall Tower Games has it for demo here at WBC again this year, so Brian G. and I had the opportunity to try it out.  The game involves perhaps the most innovative mechanism I can remember seeing in a long time - a set of multiple egg timers for tracking when pieces may move.  All play is simultaneous and open, and the game involves no luck at all.  Players simply move and attack as fast as the egg timers allow them to.  The gameplay gives new meaning to the phrase "fast and furious."  We finished our first game in nine minutes.  It felt very much like a real-time video game, but in the format of a boardgame.  We learned subsequently that later that very evening, Josh sold the design to a publisher.  We look forward to seeing the production version when it comes out.

The three of us got together for a late-night session of Stone Age and were joined by Debbie, whom we had not met before but who saw us setting up and asked to join us.  Stone Age falls into the worker-placement category of Agricola or Pillars of the Earth, but it has some novel scoring mechanisms that take some getting used to.  I really enjoy the game but am reluctant to buy it only because it is another bird of that feather, so to speak.

On our way out, we ran across a game of Lifeboat that was being played by Chris and Cherilyn, the creators of the Dice Hate Me blog and podcast.  It was great to meet them in person.  They plan to have playtest sessions of two of their games on Saturday, so I hope to try them out, time permitting.

My Saturday plan currently consists of joining the WS&IM fleet action, a multi-player event in which each player controls two ships in a large naval battle.  There are several demos I want to see during the day, and the WS&IM semifinal and final will be later that afternoon.  If I take leave of my senses, I may participate in the midnight Wartime tournament, just because that game looks like so much fun.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Final preparations for WBC

I'm making final preparations to leave early tomorrow morning for Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to attend the World Boardgaming Championships.  Besides introducing Trains Planes and Automobiles in the Juniors Room, I hope to attend Dr. Lewis Pulsipher's seminar on game design and play a few games.  The top six on my list are


The first four are among my favorite games; the last two are new to me, and I look forward to learning about them.

I welcome comments from others already at WBC or planning to go.  Let me know what you're most looking forward to!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

My top ten card games

Inspired by Dice Tower Episode 206, Chris Norwood (GamerChris) recently posted his favorite card games.  Since inspiration begets inspiration, I thought I'd explore the topic myself.

Before I get into my top ten list, I'll mention that the definition of a "card game" might be ambiguous. I think Alhambra qualifies, for example, because the card play (among four suits or "currencies" of a range of values) drives the purchase of the tiles that are placed for scoring. But I wouldn't include games that just "have cards in them," like Agricola or Clue, because card play isn't the primary aspect of the game (even if they are essential to the mechanics). I'm not sure how to write the definition of a "card game," but I'd be curious to know people's thoughts on which games are close to the frontier between card games and "other games" and how you decide on which side of the boundary a game falls.

My honorable mentions would include:

Chrononauts: A goofy title from Loony Labs that my wife really seems to like. I prefer Martian Fluxx, but this one is also a likeable game.

Incan Gold: I'm always fascinated by the way teenagers play push-your-luck games, so this is a fun one to play with my kids. I never know what they're going to do.

Guillotine: The artwork in this Wizards of the Coast title still makes me chuckle.

Triumvirate: A recent discovery that I am only beginning to appreciate

Mille Bornes is a nostalgic favorite that has fond memories going way back to when I was growing up.  It was a family favorite then and still sees the light of day from time to time even now.

So, my top ten card games:

10. Alhambra: I used to dislike this game because I thought it had a "run-away" aspect to it, in which an early leader was hard to catch. That is, until I thought I'd run away with a game in the PrezCon semifinals and then lost somehow in the final scoring. Perhaps I completely misplayed near the end, but I prefer to think that my worthy opponent had a more subtle appreciation for the game and how to score big without leading in many categories.

9. Munchkin: My kids have taken a sudden recent liking to this game, and I like anything I can get my kids to play. Another good one for laughs.

8. Empyrean, Inc. This is a regular go-to game for my wife and me, a surprise hit we received as a gift. We love this game so much that we started to wear the cards out, so I bought a backup copy.

7. Martian Fluxx: A genius little game from Loony Labs. What a crack-up.

6. Down in Flames III: Zero!: A very clever card-play mechanism for air combat

Image courtesy of
Rio Grande Games
5. Race for the Galaxy:  This is a game I want to like more than I do. My wife and I found all the symbols confusing and frustrating, and we haven't played it since. Having said that, I'd still like to try it with a fresh (patient) group and find out why people rave about it.  (San Juan is worth mentioning here as something we explored as an alternative to RftG, but I think we found it a little simplistic and perhaps disappointing. We kept thinking, "Why don't we just play Puerto Rico instead?") 

4. Battle Line: Great mind-bending game with my wife, except that she always wins.  What is up with that?

3. Condottiere: I haven't had a chance to play this nearly as much as I'd like. I fell in love with it in just one session. I wish I could play it a lot more to fully appreciate it.

2. Pacific Typhoon: Very fond of this game with a bigger group of people. I love the historical photographs. Very clever game-play structure that motivates some pretty lively negotiation.

1. 7 Wonders: Currently my favorite game of all. I will play this at the drop of a hat.  Will Wonders never cease?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

An old favorite and a new discovery

(c) Queen Games
Used by permission
My first victory at PrezCon last week came Wednesday afternoon in the first heat of Alhambra (designer Dirk Henn, publisher Queen Games), a favorite of mine.  It was a very friendly game, despite the propensity for Elisabeth P., a PrezCon newcomer, to continually buy the very tile I was looking for.  (How dare she?) 

Winning in the first heat qualified me for the semifinal the next day.  Somehow in the semifinal I had a hard time waiting my turn.  Three times I tried to skip Tedd Mullally on his turn.  He was a good sport about it; he didn't even break the skin when trying to bite my hand off.  ;-)  Despite what I thought was reasonably strong play, I came in second in the Alhambra semifinal.  Losing semifinals would be a recurring theme for me in PrezCon this year.

Later that afternoon, my friends Brian Greer, Keith Ferguson, Glenn Weeks, and I got together for my first full game of Stone Age (designer Michael Tummelhofer [pen name for Bernd Brunnhofer], publisher Rio Grande), a worker placement game that reminds me of both Pillars of the Earth and Agricola.  As such, the game continually poses a variety of options for limited resources, all the more challenging when only one player can grow the family, upgrade a tool, or develop agriculture in a turn.  The rest are left to claim victory point options and collect resources to pay for them - not to mention gathering food for the family.  In my case, I thought I played a relatively solid game, though not good enough to place better than third of four.  I like this game, although I'm not eager to buy my own copy, given its similarity to Pillars and Agricola.  Nevertheless, it's a very fun game in its own right.

Next, bringing power to Germany and transportation to America...