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.


Blogger qzhdad said...

Glad you had a good time at ROBA and looking forward to seeing you again!

I was the guy that said, "It's a wargame." Sorry that scared you off, it turned out to be not quite a wargame, but definitely related. ;) We finished it a little faster than MEQ, but not by much. I think your games were a better choice, but I hope to get to play with you next time you come.

September 1, 2009 at 8:36 AM  
Blogger Mr_Nuts said...

Was Conan an enjoyable game?

September 2, 2009 at 12:45 AM  

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