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.

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