Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Peace in Our Time

Finally a day off!

I'm at home with daughter while wife is out shopping, presumably for aprons and laundry detergent. I recently acquired a spare copy of the classic game Sequence, so I brought out my old copy and played it with Avery. Not by any rules, of course (she's 2 years old.) I'd draw a card and ask her to find the card on the game board. Sometimes she did it very well, sometimes not at all. A few times she'd place a chip on the board and say "My point! My point, dada!" I never mentioned points, not sure where this came from. She just took her batch of miscellaneous dice, sorted out all the six-sided ones and stacked them in a little tower. She's learning things everyday, which is neat to watch.

My wife and I have been playing some Metropolys lately. I hadn't pegged it as a 2-player game, but it actually works pretty well. She beat me the other day. Other people shouldn't win at Metropolys. We'll very likely play some Ghost Stories tonight, keeping in theme with the upcoming holiday. I'll also be demoing some Z-Man games tonight at Cool City.

I've also been playing some Brutal Legend lately. Not a lot, but some. Video games just haven't been holding my interest for a long while now. This happens with me every so often. Still, Brutal Legend is pretty damn cool. Tim Schaeffer is great at making immersive, unique games with fun dialogue. Jack Black was the perfect choice to voice the main character, and I chuckled when I saw Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy Killmeister in the game.

I've been pondering lately. As a matter of fact, I'm always pondering. I think about my plans for opening a hobby shop at some point, probably in a couple of years. I think of how great it would be to work at a job I'd enjoy and be good at. I could work somewhere where I could make people happy, help people enjoy themselves rather than a job where everyone's always rushed and pissed off. Then I think about the economy, my own finances (or lack thereof) and I get discouraged. Of course, then I go to work and think "No, I've GOT to do this. I can and WILL make it work." Because I'm working at my current job indefinitely, and that's just miserable and no way to live.

So I'm slowly working on building contacts in the game industry, figuring out finances and getting prices on rent, licenses, product etc. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. It's very faint, but it's there.

If there's one mistake I've made...well, if I had to pick just one, that is, it's college. Big fucking bills I can't keep up with, a degree that has benefited me exactly zero. Sure, maybe it's my fault for choosing a poor program to go into, or for not keeping up with the industry after college. Still, $20,000 debt. Zero return.

Fuck you, ITT Tech.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

October's ROBA Game Day

This past Saturday I went with my friend Charles to my monthly ROBA board game group session. This was my second time attending, and Charles' first. We got to try some new games and teach some new games as well. All in all, my first session in August was better, largely because the games I played that day were much better. I played awesome games such as Steam, Formula D, Metropolys and Space Alert for the first time that day.

Here's what I played this time:

Khet the Laser game in progress. Someone used a smoke machine for this picture to make the red light more visible.

First, Charles and I tried a game called Khet. Each player has several mirrors, some non-mirror pieces and a Pharaoh. Each player also has a button on their side of the board. Each turn consists of either rotating one of your mirror pieces 90 degrees OR moving one of your pieces one space in any direction. You then press your button, which projects a red light. This light bounces off your mirrors and destroys the first non-mirrored surface it touches. The object of the game is to destroy your opponent's Pharaoh. We were both pretty lost for the first couple of turns. Charles soon caught on and started playing well. I, on the other hand, did not. Charles won easily. I admire the game but probably won't enjoy playing it very often. My turns consist of struggling to make a decision, then making a stupid decision.

I then taught Charles how to play YINSH, which I've ranted about before. We then played Pandemic with David (the guy who brought Khet) and his young son whose name I didn't catch. He's probably 7 or 8 years old, and did a great job in Pandemic. We played a standard 4-player game of Pandemic with 4 epidemics. We had the board pretty well under control for the entire game, but we never had a sense of urgency for getting cures done until it was too late. We lost the game when the draw deck ran out of cards. We had 3 cures and - get this - ZERO outbreaks when we lost. Charles remains winless at Pandemic. He's an albatross.

Giza: not bad, not great. There are better games to play.

We followed Pandemic up with a game of Pack & Stack, which David's son won pretty handily. Unlike last time I played, no tables were damaged this time. David and his son had time for one more quick game before they had to leave, and decided on a game called Giza which none of us had played before. After a quick skim of the rules, we started the game. Giza is a game where each player has their own board with spaces for building 3 pyramids and a statue. Each player starts with a hand of 4 tiles, and a turn consists of playing a tile (either onto your own board or an opponent's board) and drawing a tile. The tiles add either good floors (+ points) or shitty floors (- points) to a pyramid, or add treasure to a pyramid. There are also tiles which destroy a tile in play, halt production on a pyramid or add to a statue. The game moved pretty fast, which was good, but felt very random. Everyone kind of took turns getting ganged up on by the rest of the table. It's a pretty nasty, screw-your-neighbor kind of game. It's not terrible, but it's not something I have any desire to play again. David won by a single point.

A game of Manila in progress.

After defeating Charles at Dominion then splitting 2 games of Blokus, it was time for more new games. We sat down with Gary, Jon and Anne for a game called Manila. It's an interesting game that blends bidding, stock manipulation and dice rolling. The heart of the game is playing the odds of the dice rolls. It's an interesting game with a neat blend of mechanics, but it feels like something is missing to me. It may be a little too luck-based for me, then again it makes for a nice, lighter sort of game. Charles started very strong but ended up losing narrowly to Jon.

Cosmic Encounter game components.

Fatigue, hard folding chairs and a lack of real food were starting to take their toll on me by this time, but we decided to hang around for one more game. Gary suggested Cosmic Encounter. I've heard of the game, it's often spoken of as a classic. Richard Garfield (designer of Magic the Gathering) has said the game was a strong influence for him. The game features about 50 or so different races, and which race you end up with will influence how you play the game. I ended up with a race (The Triplers) which makes my weak combat cards strong and makes my strong combat cards weak. Charles ended up with a race called The Masochists. They say if you lose all of your ships, you win the game. I like having all the different races in the game, I imagine they help keep the game feeling fresh for many, many plays. It's a game of making and breaking alliances. Each turn you draw a card that tells you which player you'll be attacking that turn. You then may ask other players at the table to ally and contribute some ships, and the defender may do the same. Attacker and defender then play one of their combat cards from their hand and see who wins. The goal in the game is to occupy of your opponents' planets. Charles ended up winning this game by losing every one of his ships. Cosmic Encounter feels far too random for my tastes, between the handfuls of combat cards everyone has and drawing a card to tell me who to attack each turn. It's also largely a negotiation game, something I don't typically enjoy. Still, I can appreciate that it's a good, well-made game deserving of its reputation. It's just not my kind of game.

All said, I had a good time. It was nice to have Charles along this time. My only complaint would be that none of the new games I played really impressed me much. Still, I can't complain about spending a Saturday gaming. I'd like to think I'll be back next month, but working in retail means the next couple of months will be a special kind of hell for me, and I'm more likely to be back at ROBA in January.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I Have Joined The Z-Force

This sounds like a team of superheroes. Unfortunately, it is nothing of the sort. What it is, is a group of gamers who promote board and card games from Z-Man Games. Our job is to schedule and run demos of Z-Man products at our local game shops.

We get some goodies in exchange for doing this. My concern is that there is only one such game store near me, I live in a small area and I'm concerned about being able to bring people into the store for this. If this works out, it means increased traffic/sales for the store, free goodies for me and an increased presence for the hobby in my area. If it doesn't, it will be a mark of shame upon me.

I'm thinking about running these demos on Wednesday afternoons or Wednesday evenings at Cool City Games in Port Huron (downtown, next to Alpine Cycle.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

The State of the Union

The last few weeks have been somewhat unkind. I haven't lost my job, any loved ones or anything like that, I've just been sick. It started off with a cold I got after my wife who got it after Avery. The cold was interrupted by an abscess tooth which swelled painfully, forcing me to actually visit a doctor then a dentist. My tooth being pulled was closely followed my bi-annual allergy attack where all the bad shit in my head/face drain into my throat, making it raw and painful. That seems to be passing, finally.

Lost Cities: a popular card game for couples.

I have not, of course, been too sick to do some gaming. So far I've managed to try a handful of new games this month: Lost Cities, The Viking Game, Uptown and ZERTZ. There was a time when I wasn't interested in abstract games, but that has been reversed lately; of the above, all but Lost Cities are abstract. So far my wife fits right in with the stereotype and loves Lost Cities (I like it too. It's mathy, but quick and full of difficult decisions.) Uptown appeals to the Sudoku fan in me, while the Viking Game is an interesting tactical game from hundreds of years ago. ZERTZ is neat, but will take several games to wrap my head around, I think.

Space Alert: fun as hell!

We also managed to play a few games of Space Alert, which is fun as hell. In the game, the players are the crew of a spaceship (Sitting Duck Class) and their job is to teleport to various sectors of the galaxy, survive long enough to collect data about the area (10 minutes) and teleport back home. The game takes place in real time; it comes with CDs that you play to tell you when and where threats appear, when you're allowed to draw or trade cards, etc. The players must work together and plan out their actions to try to survive. After the 10 minute CD track finishes, you go back and resolve all the players actions and threats to see what actually happened. It's loud, chaotic and really damn fun.

Franzen went from key player to injured reserve as soon as I traded for him. Not very considerate.

While it's the holiday season, which fucking sucks, it's also sports fan season for me (NFL & NHL.) I've been doing fantasy sports for years, and I rarely trade. Not sure why, I just prefer to build my team via drafting and free agency. I went against my gut and pulled off a big hockey trade this past week: I traded Evgeni Malkin for Johan Franzen and Zdeno Chara. The next night, Franzen got injured and will now miss 4 months of action. Fate, you are a dirty bitch.

The NFL season has been surprising so far. I mean, Denver and Cincinnati are a combined 9-1! These teams looked like dogs on paper, but so far so good. On the other hand we had the Browns and Raiders who look like they should be maybe playing in the XFL? Seriously, I respect the Raiders history, and appreciate everything Al Davis has done for the game, but he needs to go. Problem is, he's the owner so he has no boss to fire him. Jamarcus Russell looks like a bust, Darren McFadden can't stay healthy, they gave Javon Walker a huge contract and he was inactive on Sunday. It's so hard to get excited about anything the Raiders do these days. The Browns, well...they looked so full of promise a few years ago. Derek Anderson and Braylon Edwards were Pro Bowlers, they were coming off a 10-6 season. That seems like ages ago now. The good news: they beat the Bill on Sunday. The bad news: the score was 6-3. A fucking baseball score. And you know it wasn't one of those great defensive efforts by both teams, it was a Three Stooges marathon by two inept offenses. Ugh. Terrell Owens must cry himself to sleep at night.

Jamarcus Russell: Just try to complete at least 50% of your passes, baby!

Anyhow, if all goes to plan I'll be able to attend my second ROBA board game group monthly meeting in Rochester this Saturday. It's the only time apart from weddings and funerals you'll find me in a church. My first time attending the group was very fun and welcoming, and I recommend any of my fellow local boardgamers out there attend.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Board Game Review: Agricola

Normally I cross-post my reviews on my blog, Facebook and on BoardGameGeek. Agricola, however, is the #1 ranked game at BGG and has so many reviews and articles, another one won't do anyone there any good.

Though we always have new games that we play intensely for a short time, and others become regulars in the rotation, Agricola is our all-time favorite board game. I enjoy the metagame aspect of the board games hobby - that is, the hobby outside of the games themselves: reading articles and reviews, looking for user-made additions to print up for use with the games, extra little pieces and mini-expansions, etc. Nowhere is this more evident than with Agricola. The game comes with the following in the box:

- 3 player decks: E, I and K
- 5 boards, one for each potential player in the game
- Many little wooden bits: cubes in 3 different colors representing the 3 kinds of animals in the game, yellow grain discs, orange vegetable discs and a set of family markers, fences and stables in each of the 5 player colors.
- A set of action cards, one of which gets flipped each turn
- A set of Major Improvement cards representing upgrades to your farm such as a fireplace, a well, etc.
- Lots of little cardboard food tokens, and a set of begging cards for those who fail to feed their family.
- Tiles representing rooms in your houses and plowed fields
- A scoring pad
- Badly written rules

I have added/bought/printed the following:
- The Z-Deck
- The Ö-Deck
- The X-Deck
- The L-Deck
- The Through the Seasons postcard expansion
- Little wooden sheep, cattle and boars to replace the cubes that come with the game
- Little wooden grain and vegetable tokens, replacing the discs that come with the game
- Stickers for the family markers
- A dice game spinoff called Agricola Express, for which I bought blank dice and printed up stickers.
- Custom score sheets
- A Plano box to store all the wooden bits

They have also recently released player boards with alternate art. Who am I kidding, I'll wind up with a set of these. Once you're locked into a serious board game collection, the tendency is to push it as far as possible.

Look how far I've gotten without telling you anything substantial about the game! On another day I'd care more, but I'm writing this review which no one will read mostly for my own entertainment, and also to take my mind off the pain from my abscess tooth. My face hurts, is it killing you LOL?!!!1

Okay, Agricola is about farming. Farming the 17th century specifically. In fact, "Agricola" is latin for farmer. It's also pronounced "Uh-GREE-Co-Luh" or "Uh-GRIC-Oh-Luh." Of course, I sometimes prefer the american bastardized pronunciation of Agri-COLA. You know, because Americans are all smart, rich geniuses.


Now, where were we? Yes, Agricola is a European boardgame for 1-5 players about farming. A 2-player game takes about an hour, with 5 players the game runs as long as 2-3hours, especially if there are new players at the table. You start off with a husband and wife and a 2-room wooden house. Each turn you may take one action for each member of your family. Eventually you can take the Family Growth action to add a family member. Of course, you need to build an additional room for your house first, and to do that you have to spend some of your actions collecting wood and reed. The game consists of 14 rounds, harvests after turn 4, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 14. A harvest means 3 things:

- Your planted crops yield one additional grain or vegetable for your supply
- Your animals make love and have offspring
- You must feed your people 2 food each or take a begging card (lose 3 points) for each food you are short. It's possible to take a begging card and win, but it isn't very likely.

It's a tense game of micromanaging resources, long-term planning and difficult decisions. You score points at the end of the game for having a varied farm. So while you may focus on a bread-baking strategy or an animal cooking strategy to feed your people during the game, if you want a high score you'll need to branch out and try to have crops, pastures, a variety of livestock and a big, stone house full of family members. You'll often feel like you're doing very poorly until the last few rounds. Many people dislike the game for this reason, playing Agricola feels like being an inexperienced juggler. There's always a ball about to hit the floor, more behind it, and you're not sure how you're going to catch them all.

The action cards get added to the board in a semi-random order to help keep the game fresh, and that's where the family game ends. The advanced game adds cards to the mix, drawn from a huge pool and this is where the game really shines. Each player gets 7 Occupation cards and 7 Minor Improvement cards taken from the E Deck (for beginners) the I Deck (Interactive) or the K Deck (complex) or a combination of the three if you wish. There also the aftermarket decks available to help spice things up a bit. There are hundreds of cards in the game, and the real fun is seeing what you're dealt in a given game and finding the best way to make them work for you.

Occupations are just what they sound like: professions (or pseudo-professions) for you to play that give you special abilities and options during the game. For example, there is the Mushroom Collector which says that whenever you collect wood, you may leave 1 piece behind and take 2 food instead. There is also a Barbecue Minor Improvement card that says you may cook any number of animals and gain an extra food for each.

You can often make combos with the cards you're dealt, which appeals to my Magic the Gathering gene; the above photo is from a game where I made an essentially infinite supply of vegetables. It should be noted that I also lost the game.

Every decision has long-lasting effects, and one or two blunders can mean the difference between success and failure. Agricola is not a difficult game to learn how to play, but it's a difficult game to learn how to play well. We've logged 75 plays of Argicola, more than for any other game and, while we don't play it as frequently as we once did, we usually bring it out at least once a month. I wouldn't recommend it to new gamers as it is a bit complex and unforgiving, and the theme may be a turn-off to some, but if you're a fan of Eurogames you owe it to yourself to try Agricola.