Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Game Day with a New Group: Hello ROBA!

All things considered, I get to game quite a bit. Not as much as I'd like, but quite a bit. I have a group that gets together for a couple of hours every Wednesday night, and my wife and I usually game a few nights a week (I love my woman.) I recently had the opportunity to change things up a little. There's a local gaming group called ROBA (Rochester/Oakland Boardgamers Association) that meets on the last Saturday of each month for a day of gaming. It's about a 75 minute drive for me, which is on the outer edge of how far I'd be willing to drive to attend. I've known about the group for a few months, but never had the day off work to attend until yesterday.

My wife and I were planning on attending together, but we were unable to find a babysitter for our daughter so that wasn't possible this time. This is significant for a couple of reasons:

- This meant I'd be driving to an unknown location alone. My direction sense isn't the best, and the prospect of getting lost without a navigator is a little distressing to me. Also:

- This meant I'd be walking into a room filled with people I'd never met, alone. I tend to be more of the hermit type of person, so interjecting myself into a crowd of people who would be familiar with each other was a little intimidating.

My wife urged me to go and have fun, and I'm very glad I did. Google Maps didn't let me down, I had no issues getting there or back. I even encountered a new road phenomenon, the Traffic Circle, along the way. Well, okay, I've seen one in Indianapolis, but this was my first time encountering them in the wild. Anyhow, I arrived at about 1:45 at St Luke's Church for the event.

Middle-Earth Quest by Fantasy Flight

My first impression upon walking in was that it wasn't anything big or extravagant, and I mean that in a good way. There were about 10 tables in the room for gaming, and a table up front with community games. People also placed their own games on the table up front with their names on them so others could use them if desired. This seems to run on the honor system, but it put off a good vibe to me. I'm the trusting type.

The first game I saw upon arriving was Fantasy Flight's new Middle-Earth Quest. I briefly considered asking if I could get in on the game, as they were just setting up, but decided against it. The game covers a little-known time period in the Lord of the Rings story, the time between Gandalf leaving the ring with Frodo and when he returns to start Frodo on his long journey. It appears to be a very short time, maybe a few days or weeks in the movie, but in the story it's actually 17 years if I remember correctly. It's nice to see a game covering this lesser known portion of the Tolkien mythos rather than the usual stuff we're all familiar with.

I pasted a name tag (HELLO MY NAME IS) to my shirt and walked around a bit, looking at the games going on and examining the games table at the front of the room. One table was playing Sylla, and another group was starting a game of Age of Conan. "It's a wargame!" he said while drafting players. That was enough for me to pass. I approached a guy named John and told him I was new to the event. He pointed me in the direction of Gary, the organizer of ROBA. He was just wrapping up the game he was playing (I didn't catch which game it was.) He explained the lay of the land and invited me to join him for a game.

Steam. This is NOT a picture of the actual game from yesterday. The picture shows a 3-player game. Yesterday's game had 5 players, and the board was MUCH more crowded.

He wanted to start up a game of Steam, which I was eager to play since I bought a copy at Gen Con but haven't had a chance to try it yet. It's a pretty deep and intimidating game, and I'm glad I had someone teach me as opposed to trying to learn the game on my own. Each turn consists of choosing one of 7 actions for the turn (which also determine player order for next round.) You then build track, then ships goods and/or improve your locomotive. You start the game with no money and have to take loans and go into negatives immediately. The game feels very much like Agricola for me, with the limited number of actions and especially the feeling of being behind where you want to be for most of the game. Every decision you make affects your future decisions and affects the other players at the table. The game has loads of depth, and I'm eager to play again. I was very far behind for about 80% of the game (at one point all 4 other players were at 0 or above on the income track while I was at -6.) I ended up making a late game surge and tying for (a distant) second. Very impressive game. We played the basic game. I don't think I want to move on to the advanced game for a bit.

A game of Formula D in progress.

After Steam, Gary wanted to play Formula D. I'd never played any racing games until I tried Snow Tails at Gen Con this month. I have no interest in real life racing, so that genre of board games has held no appeal for me. I walked around the room a bit, but everyone else was currently in a game. I decided it wouldn't hurt to try Formula D. We ended up with 5 players, and I rolled high to get the pole position. Each turn you start off by shifting up or down 1 gear if you wish. You roll a different die based on which gear you're in. For instance, everyone starts in 1st gear, which will move 1-2 spaces. 2nd gear gets you 2-4 spaces, all the way up to 6th gear which I believe is 22-30 (there was no place on the map we used for 6th gear.) The corners on the board are outlined, and you have to end your turn within the outline or you take tire damage. Some corners require you to end 2 turns within the corner, which requires some luck along with downshifting at the right time. One guy blew through a 2-stop corner all on one turn without stopping and wrecked his car. I had the lead for most of the race, until near the end when I rolled high and overshot a corner and spun out. When that happens you have to start in 1st gear again. I was able to hang on and win. This game was a lot more fun than I expected, and it's now on my wish list. We played on the Chicago/Sebring expansion board.

After Formula D, one of the guys had a Formula racing card game he really wanted to try, so we played Formula Motor Racing next. It was brief and simple, but I didn't care for it. There's a small board with 12 cars, 2 in each color. Players take turns playing cards to advance a car, crash a car, slow down a car, etc. When the game ends you score points based on the position of your 2 cars. It seems like holding onto one or 2 good cards until the end of the game is the way to go, with the last player having a big advantage. This was the only dud I played at ROBA.

Metropolys. It's good!

Gary brought out a game called Metropolys next. I'd read about it on BoardGameGeek and was glad to give it a try. It's an odd sort of auction game about placing buildings in zones around a city. Each player starts with 13 buildings numbered 1-13. The first player places a building in a zone, then each player in turn must pass or place a higher numbered building in a zone adjacent to the previous building placed. Whoever placed the highest numbered building leaves it on the board and everyone else picks their bids/buildings back up. Players are given secret objectives like trying to claim zones next to statues, or zones on each side of a bridge for example. This is a crafty, sometimes nasty little game. Metropoloys really clicked with me, and I'm planning acquiring it at my next opportunity. It didn't hurt that I won, either. The only thing I disliked about the game is the look of the board. It looks very muddled, messy and hard to sort out at a glance.

Incan Gold

By this time it was about 7:00. The players at the table (Gary, Cherish and Ross?) were wanting to play with Matt, who was almost done with his game (remember that game of Middle-Earth Quest that was starting up when I arrived at 1:45? It was almost done at 7:00.) Gary suggested a quick game called Incan Gold. Each player is a treasure hunter, and each card flipped represents either a treasure or a hazard. After each card, we individually decide whether to stay inside the temple or flee. If 2 of the same hazard cards come up, the players still in the tomb die and lose their treasure. If you leave the temple, you keep what you've amassed but do not get a share of any new treasure for that round. The game consists of 5 rounds and plays in about 20 minutes. It's a simple, fun push-your-luck game. Ross (I hope I'm not getting his name wrong) won the game; I chickened out too early a few times and finished last.

Space Alert!

Matt was done with Middle-Earth Quest, so it was time for the last game of the evening, one I've been excited about since I bought it a couple of months ago: Space Alert. It's a cooperative game that takes place in real time. Players take on the role of a crew manning a Sitting Duck Class spacecraft. The game comes with audio CDs that accompany the gameplay; a 10 minute audio track plays that tells you when a threat appears (draw a card from the threat deck) which part of the ship is under attack (left, right or center) and at what point it appears round 2, round 5, etc.) The threat cards have different movement speeds and attacks on them, and you want someone firing the cannons at them during their attack. So if a threat is attacking the left side of the ship, you want to make sure someone is manning the guns on that side. Of course, you need to have enough energy to fire the guns, so someone should be sure there is enough energy to charge the guns and shields. If that part of the ship looks like it is going to take damage, someone should probably recharge the shields. The guns and shields pull from the same energy sources, so the crew needs to be careful. After the 10 minute audio track has finished, you then reset the board to how it looked at the beginning and resolve the players actions and the threat cards to see what actually happened. It's a unique, very cool game. Teamwork and coordination are the keys to success, and it seems like it'd be hard for one player to 'take over' the way some people tend to do with co-op games. There's just too much going on. I'm looking forward to playing again and hopefully winning one!

All told, I had a great time at my first ROBA session and, while it looks like I will be unable to attend next month, I plan on becoming a regular attendee.

I should note that, as usual, these photos are taken from BoardGameGeek and were not taken by me.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monuments: Look at the Size of Those

Every year at Gen Con (well, the last 3 years now) we demo a bunch of games at the Mayfair Games booth. In exchange they give us a 50% off coupon and we buy stuff from them. This year, however, I attended the convention as a much bigger, more prepared board game nerd than ever before. I was enough of a nerd that I recognized every single game being demoed at their booth except one: Monuments.

My expectations were low. After all, I typically research a game pretty heavily on BoardGameGeek before I buy it and I'd never heard of Monuments. That means it isn't ranked highly enough to have caught my attention, and hadn't created any kind of a stir. Much to my surprise, the game was really good. Good enough that I used my 50% off coupon to buy it. It's a card game where you collect and play sets of monuments and reduce other players' sets of said monuments. There are some clever play mechanics and scoring rules at play as well.

After buying the game, I went to Board Game Geek and found it. It was ranked pretty low. The general consensus seemed to be that it's a boring, bland game. I can see how people would feel that way. Playing the game makes me feel old. It has a very quaint look to the art; the colors are fairly muted, the box cover and card backs show some dude hunched over at a desk scribbling on some parchment next to a stack of papers. I find it peaceful and relaxing, largely due to the aesthetics of the game. I feel like I should be sitting in my den which I don't have next to the fireplace I don't have smoking a pipe which I don't have while playing this game.

I played a 2-player game of Monuments for the first time tonight with my wife. I must say the game is lacking in the head-to-head play department. Fewer players means fewer people to swipe at during your historian turns. It also does away with the limits on the number of players that can build a given monument. Granted, I didn't see the official 2-player rules in the back of the rulebook until the game was almost over, I don't think it'd make a difference.

Sadly, Monuments will probably be a 3 or 4 players only game for me, which means it'll be relegated to waving it's arms, trying to be chosen for Wednesday game nights among its brethren on my board game shelves. No matter, I still like the game.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Post-Gen Con: New Games in the Library

I returned from Gen Con this past weekend with a shitpot of new games. It'll be quite some time before I'm able to try them all I'm sure (especially with a few longer, more complex games like Steam and Brass.) The ones I've tried so far have been pretty successful.

Pack & Stack

A few of the new games are the exact opposite of the ones listed above: easy to teach, quick to play games. Pack & Stack is one of those games that people are skeptical about until they actually play it and see how much fun it is. Between the name and the cartoony artwork it definitely looks like a kids game, but it's fun for adults too. Each round consists of rolling colored dice to see which blocks you take and how many of each. Everyone then draws a truck tile upon which to stack your blocks. Each truck has different dimensions for height and shape that limit how the blocks may be stacked on it. You lose points for each empty space on your truck and for each block you are unable to place on your truck. Each person starts with 75 points and play continues until one player has lost all of their points. The game requires spatial thinking and the ability to quickly recognize which available truck will suit your blocks best then grab it before anyone else does. I wouldn't play it all day long, but it's a nice quick filler.

A couple of green cards from Fairy Tale. The one on the left forces you to flip a dragon card face down, the one on the right lets you turn a face-down dragon card face up.

I had planned on trying and possibly buying Pack & Stack at Gen Con. Fairy Tale, on the other hand, was an impulse buy. I'd heard of the game and knew it had a little cult following but that's about it. I'm not sure what compelled me to buy it at Z-Man Games' booth at Gen Con. Mybe it was the colorful artwork. Maybe it was the $10 price tag. Regardless, I'm glad I did pick it up. Much like Pack & Stack, it can be taught and played in about 10-15 minutes. Fairy Tale has more depth than Pack & Stack though. It is a card game where in each round, each player draws 5 cards, chooses 1 to keep and passes the rest to the player next to them. This process is repeated until each player has chosen and kept 5 cards. The game ends after 4 rounds. The cards have varying point values and abilities such as "when you play this card turn another card face down" or vice versa. I think this one's going to become a regular at game night.

A game of TZAAR in progress.

Continuing with the simple rules/quick play theme, we have TZAAR and YINSH, 2 games in the GIPF abstract game line. These games scratch the same itch as Chess in a fraction of the time. These are the kind of game you want to play many times against the same opponent to watch how the strategies and gameplay eveolves. I plan on eventually picking up the other games in the series.

YINSH in progress.

All said, the news games are good so far. I typically do research before I buy and it pays off well. I'll another mini-review thingy once I play a few more new ones. Until next time, kids.

It should be noted that none of these photos were taken by me.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I'm doing science and I'm still alive.

Okay, so maybe I'm not doing science. But I am still alive. I haven't updated this blog in about 8 months, due in part to the fact that there is no one there to read it (I never advertised it's presence anywhere) and partly due to my lack of motivation. I'm great at talking myself out of things, after all.

Part of Fantasy Flight Games' booth at Gen Con.

Anyhow, I just got back from my annual journey to Gen Con a few days ago. I return to work tomorrow. These are 2 somewhat depressing pieces of data. I did have a great time, however. Most of my usual group wasn't able to go this year, but the new guys I went with had a good time. We had a stranger I found online in our room to help offset hotel costs (which didn't end up being high in the end.) He was a little odd, but didn't kill, rape or rob us so I consider the experiment a success.

I spent a good bit of cash, and got a huge amount of product to pack into the already-crowded van for the ride home. CoolStuffInc, my online retailer of choice, had a booth there as well. They had a selection of "ding & dent" board games being sold below their already low prices due to very minor box damage. I bought Steam, Pack & Stack, Age of Empires III and In the Year of the Dragon from them. I got to meet the owner of CoolStuffInc as well, which was cool.

Speaking of meeting people, I met Zev Shlasinger (owner of Z-Man games,) Jason Hill (creator of Last Night on Earth,) and Jay Tummelson (owner of Rio Grande Games.) Rio Grande Games had a room set up where people could play demos of their games all weekend. Jay was looking at board game prototypes all weekend. My goal is to have a prototype to show him by next year. GAME ON.

A table of reasonably intelligent people failing to win a cooperative board game.

We also picked up On the Brink, the expansion for Pandemic. My friends and I have played 6 games of it over the last couple of days and have lost 6 times. We also played some Dominion at the con; if there was a hot game this year, Dominion was it. I saw many people walking around with newly purchased copies of the game and Intrigue (it's expansion.) It's a non-collectible card game that may appeal to recovering Magic the Gathering junkies.

All in all it was a good time. On the way home everyone was talking about plans for coming back next year. Tonight I'll take some new games to the hobby shop for our weekly game night. Tomorrow I'll be back at the job I hate but am lucky to have in this failing economy.

We also saw a guy that looked just like Walter from the Big Lebowski: