A periodic blog about Games, Books, Movies, Pop culture, Technology and whatever else I happen to feel like writing about...

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cangames 2006: GURPS Traveller, Junta, 1313 Dead End Drive, Fantasy Battlegrounds

As is usual in Ottawa, Canada, the May long weekend brings dubious weather, hopeful campers and Cangames. Now in its 30th year, Cangames is the perfect place to play games and meet new gamers of all types: Grognards, Miniatures, CCG'ers, D&D and, of course, Eurogamers.

This year, I volunteered to run a game for the 8-12 year olds. Last year, I ran am impromptu game of 1313 Dead End Drive, and it was so popular I decided to run another. My four young charges proceeded to lure each other's characters to the mansion's many traps with glee, and I had to remind them many, many times that the best way to win the game was to escape with some money, and not to rack up the highest body count. Last year, the winner had escaped with one bag of loot, and I am happy to say that that total has been significantly improved: This year's winner had two bags (and 6 knocked off heirs!).

Seeing as I needed to be at the convention at a certain time to run 1313 Dead end Drive, I decided to try an book some games around that schedule. I also decided that I would try and get some RPG'ing in, as it has been many, many years since my friends and I had played AD&D, Traveller, Space Opera, Top Secret and The Fantasy Trip together.

Now, I might be colouring my memories with too much nostalgia, but I seem to remember that the role playing aspect of our games was one of the driving factors, and, indeed, one of the best parts of the game. My childhood buddy Colin could mug it up with the best of them, and even Burgess the Bold (otherwise known as the Well-Done Dwarf) would put some real heart into his character, even if his cleric was more about the smiting than the praying.

Maybe it was because I was playing with a group of people that I did not know, or because we were at a convention, but I found that the actual role playing was at a minimum. I have always found that the tactical aspects of small group combat are better handled in dedicated games, and they are usually more useful as ways to advance the narrative. In the end, our small band of stalwart space rogues was successful, but it left me wanting a little bit more from the experience. Maybe next year, I can get Colin to help run a real adventure so that we can show what role-playing can really be like...

Because of conflicting time slots, I was not able to sign up for Settlers or Caylus (being run by Uber Spielfriek Mike), but I was able to participate in the Junta tournament. While I had read many articles on Junta, this would be my first actual game, and I was looking forward to the experience. Luckily, I was able to convince my fellow powermongers to elect me El Presidente in the first round, and I was munificent to my supporters, and frugal to my detractors in the first round of Aid Budget allocation. I promised prosperity for all (loyal) supporters, and my reign would be looked on fondly during the harder years as the good times.

But, when the powerful Ricardo family swept to power, over the still-warm corpse of my late uncle, it would show the elite that times had been better under my family's beneficent rule. Indeed, the first counter coup would have succeeded, had not two of the generals been shot down by loyalist assassins. But, fear not, as I knew that the people would support another coup, and 4 of us were finally successful in deposing the tyrant Ricardo.

The four of us were deadlocked on choosing a new El Presidente, and I, for the good of the people, nominated a new El Presidente, and selflessly threw my support to him. He rewarded my loyalty with the post of Minister of Internal Security, and a generous budget allocation. Alas, my secret police informed me that El Presidente was planning to loot the country and deposit all of the Aid Budget into his Swiss account. What else could I do as a true patriot but to arrange his sudden retirement at he the bank, using my official assassins. And since I was already at the bank, I was able to deposit his ill gotten gains into my Swiss account, purely to safeguard them for the good of the country.

This proved to be the move that secured me the game, narrowly grasping victory from the clutches of the now second-place Ricardos. I pledge, my people, that when I come back from the Cayman Islands, my rule will be as munificent as the paltry Foreign Aid Budget allows. But, as you all know, it has been a very bad year...

I also was able to play in a demonstration game of Fantasy Battlegrounds, which I found to be a very good miniatures game in cardgame format. I played the Men of Hawkshold versus the Undead, using two of the suggested 1500 point starter armies. As I familiarized myself with the system and the abilities of my units, I realized that the difference would be the Undead ability to ignore morale checks. Even though I was able to stiffen some of my troops with my command ability (+3 morale), the unceasing onslaught of the undead hordes proved to be too much. As my last valiant swordsmen finally succumbed to panic, I began to withdraw my archers in good order. While I was able to inflict some damage, I knew my archers would be destroyed once their backs were up against the wall (table edge), and I reluctantly surrendered the field to the undead.

I had never gotten into Warhammer or Heroclix, but I can see the attraction in Fantasy Battlegrounds. You can play on an average-sized table, you can carry an army in a card box, and you can do all your stat tracking on the cards themselves using a wipe off marker. As a participant in the game, I was given my deck to keep, along with 9 dice, and I picked up another deck before leaving Cangames to get some more variety. I had wanted to pick up the Orcs, but the game proved to be almost sold out, so I got the Elves instead.

And so, another Cangames came to a close, and I would say that it was definitely a success, due to the hard working volunteers, especially Mike and Julia who must have spent almost the entire time at the con. I am already looking forward to next year, where I will probably run a few more games, and where I am looking forward to again attempt to lead my people into an era of peace and (personal) prosperity.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Caylus: Is this the Second Coming?

While I was recently in Recife visiting Karen, I had the chance to play Caylus with Flavio and his brother. This was an interesting session, as neither of us is fluently bilingual English-Portuguese, so the questions, explanations and game play were very interesting, to say the least.

I had previously read some of the info on the Geek, so I had some idea of what to expect, but, I must confess, I did not really grasp the game until we had played a few rounds.

The mechanic of placing workers into buildings that grant actions is interesting, as well as the fact that you can use a building that another player built by giving them a point and possibly some other benefit. I can see how early investment in buildings could provide good payoffs.

I have to wonder if the castle building section might become the most heavily-contested, though. In our game, the winner (Flavio) was the player who had most heavily built there, making good use of the resulting free build favours. I will have to play some more, as well as to read the Geek discussions to see if this is a continuing trend. I can definitely see how the first parts of the game will be more resource poor, as the Provost will certainly move to stop a few buildings from producing in the early game, while in the late game, it will be very costly to move him far enough to make a real difference.

Again, I don't have enough games under my belt to be able to say anything definitive, and these observations might change after some time.

I enjoyed the game, for all that it took me some time to get to grips with the system, learning how to turn buildings into production into points. I was not, however, struck the same was as I initially was by Puerto Rico, which I feel is a truly ingenious game, and I am not sure that Caylus is the next Puerto Rico.

I will have to play some more. I know, it's a tough job, but someone has to do it... 8-)

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

BG, Mall of Horror, Last Chance, Elasund

We had a full house on Saturday night, for Battlestar Galactica and some games. Now that the conflict between Admiral Caine and Adama has been resolved (Caine was killed by Number 6 and Adama has been promoted to Admiral by the President), the writers took an episode to explore the real day to day workings of the fleet. It turns out that there is a thriving black market, and that the humans might not be quite as heroic as we might ahve thought. Another interesting episode, and I am anxious to see what direction the writers will take us next.

Mike, Julia, Yannick, Wanda and Cim and me decided to make Mall of Horror our first game of the evening, as it could accommodate 6 players. Mall of Horror is set in a shopping mall infested with flesh eating zombies, and seems to share some mechanics of Rette Sich wer Kahn, otherwise known as the Lifeboat Game. Each player has three characters, worth different numbers of points that they are trying to keep alive in 6 locations in the mall. Each location can only hold a limited number of people, and each player must try to move one of his characters each turn.

The game comes with voting wheels indicating either destination rooms or player teams, and they work well. All in all, the game is full of decisions, guesses, votes and betrayal,. and with the right crowd, it can lead to a lot of fun.

In the end, Wanda was able to claim victory for having two of her characters left alive. Yannick had had some confusion as to how certain cards were played, as well as the value of each character. I am sure that the next game will be even more hard fought.

After Mall of Horror, we settled down to a raucous game of Last Chance, the game that blends Texas Hold'Em and Yahtzee. When all was said and done, Wanda again was the winner, though a few other players were close. Mike was the only one of us to have gone totally bust.

Yannick and Wanda had to call it a night, and we were able to convince Cim to stay up, so we played Elasund for the first time. The latest of the Catan Adventures games, Elasund has some familiar elements, as well as a totally unfamiliar level of potential nastiness. Elasund is primarily a tile placement game, where tiles can produce either gold or prestige based on a resource production roll.

There are elements of Settlers, Anno 1503 and Carcassone, and I am impressed with the way that the game works. After only one play I find myself eagerly looking forward to the next, and I would like to try the game out with different numbers of players to see how well it scales. I believe that, unlike Settlers, Elasund will play very well with 2, 3 or 4 players, and that, if anything, the 2 player game might be more tactical than the 4, but no less enjoyable.

Julia was able to place all her victory cubes first, earning a well-deserved victory.

And so, another evening of BG and Games came to a close. The challenge now will be in bringing good 6 player games to the table to complement the BG. I am thinking of trying Citadels, Bohnanza and maybe even Illuminati at upcoming sessions... Fnord!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

BG 2.11 - Resurrection Ship Part 1, Last Chance, Batalhas Medievais, Terra

Now that Battlestar Galactica has resumed Season 2, we can all let out a collective sigh of relief and find out how the standoff between the Galactica and the Pegasus will unfold. As was our custom, Yannick and Wanda would surely be over on Saturday evening, and Mike and Julia, recent converts to BG, also wanted to be included, so our weekly BG fest is getting bigger!

Yannick was unfortunately out of town on Saturday, but Wanda wanted to see the episode, and she joined me, Cim, Mike and Julia. I will keep my comments short and to the point: even though very little actually happened, the stage is set in this episode for a great confrontation. The scene at the end of the episode, where Adama and Caine were separately planning each other's assassination was very effective. I really have to wonder if the Colonials even deserve to survive...

Once we reached the end of the episode, it was time for some games. I had recently acquired Last Chance, a Poker-Yahtzee hybrid, and we played two rounds to much cheering and groaning. The addition of betting, side bets and the chance to risk it all by going all-in makes this a winner, in the same vein as Can't Stop, but with more involvement by all players in each of the seven rounds. The fact that no two games will have the same combinations makes it very interesting, and the fact that you have to win at least one auction for a card, and complete it successfully, make this a much better game, IMHO, than Yahtzee. I am having a hard time remembering who won, and can be corrected in the comments, but I think that Wanda won the first round and Mike the second.

After Last Chance, we played a game of Batalhas Medievais. Like the last time, it went rather quickly, with many battles fought to the last man. In the end, Cim managed to claim the throne again (coincidentally, both games that he has won, he has had a strong presence in Ireland... )

Finally, we managed to convince Cim to stay up for a 5 player game of Terra. Mike had been wanting to try this for some time, and I had only played once, with three players the game ended with no one winning. This time, players were fairly cooperative, and we actually managed to get all the way through the deck, fending off enough crises to keep the game from ending prematurely. Most players managed to bank at least one set of cards for the end game, though few high cards were taken out. I managed to eke out a win, though I suspect that if this gets to the table again, there will likely be less cooperation...

And so, the first episode of the winter sessions of BG at Foster Street Studios came to a close, and we all anxiously await next weeks' resolution to the cliffhanger. Stay tuned next week, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Angus: Batlahas Medievais (Medieval Battles)

When Karen came back this Christmas from Recife, Brazil, she had brought me a present, the Brazilian-made game Medieval Battles. I have to thank Flavio for his suggestion, as the game was very much enjoyed by my friends the other night! It is a light game of territory and resource control played over 8 rounds with some interesting mechanics.

As an aside, I managed to struggle through the Portuguese rule book, asking Karen the meaning of occasional words, and was quite happy to figure the game out. Then, looking it up on the Geek, I saw a full English translation of the rules.. Doh!

The production values are good, especially the very well-designed storage tray which keeps all the game components separated and accessible. The game pieces are plastic troop and ship markers, cardboard points tokens, cities and temples and cardboard stand-up king and Viking markers with plastic bases. There are also some cards, which could be made from better cardstock and some D6`s, with one specially-printed temple die.

Players represent various groups, such as the Irish, Saxons, etc. in medieval Europe, and each group has a set starting territory. The rules suggest which groups should be used with various numbers of players, from 2-5. Our first playing was with 4 players, and that worked quite well.

Each player sets up his king, 4 troops, and a city in the starting territory, with the ship in the sea space adjacent to that territory. Each player takes their turn in order, in three phases, starting with the build phase. Players get one build for each territory they control with a city, and one half build for each territory that contains a temple or troops. Each build allows the contruction of 1 troop, city or temple, with the provision that troops may be built in any territory that contains friendly troops, cities may be built in territories contaning friendly trrops but no other builds, and temples may only be built in territories with friendly troops and the temple symbol.
Territories may only contain 1 city or temple, but not both. Ships can never be built, and there is no combat between ships.

Once the build phase is done, any or all troops may be moved to an adjacent territory, and up to three troops adjacent to the ship may be loaded from one territory, moved up to 2 sea spaces, and disembarked in up to three adjacent land spaces.

Each territory that now contains more than one colour of troops will have combat until only one colour remains, and since combat takes place after movement, there is no way to reinforce after combat.

Combat is resolved by each affected player rolling 2 D6, with the higher total causing the loss of 1 troop to the lower total. Ties are won by the player with the most troops in the battle, and if the number of troops is equal, the dice are re-rolled.

After combat, play proceeds to the next player, and once each player has completed all three phases, a Viking card is turned up. Each Viking card will show 2 sea spaces that the Vikings can attack from, and a condition, such as least cities, least troops, etc. The player having the least of what is listed is allowed to use the Viking to attack one territory that is adjacent to one of the sea spaces shown. The Viking, being a fierce raider, only rolls one D6, the other always being a 6, and fights the defender until he either defeats all enemy troops, in which case he sacks and removes any city or temple, or until he loses or ties a battle, in which case the marker is moved to the Isle of Man.

The players' king tokens act much like the Viking, by raising the morale of any troops in their territory so that one die is automatically a five. If the last troop is lost in the king`s space, he dies and the player loses 3 VP.

After the Viking raid, each player counts their VP and takes tokens in that amount from the bank, keeping them face down. For VP purposes, controlled territories with a city are worth 1 VP, and territories with a temple are worth 2 VPs. Territories which only have troops are worth nothing. The game plays for 8 rounds, and ends after the points are tallied in round 8.

There is one special case, when a player succesfully invades a territory that contains a temple, they must roll a special die to see if the gods have blessed or cursed the invasion. 3 faces are blank, which means that nothing happens. 2 faces are skulls, which means that the player keeps the territory but the temple is destroyed, and one face is a D6, which means that the player must roll one D6 and lose that many points from his supply.

The game plays very quickly, and it is fairly lightweight. That being said, it is always fun to fight battles that come down to the last roll of the dice, and as we all know from Settlers, you can`t be lucky or unlucky all the time. The inverse value of cities and temples for building and VP`s is an interesting mechanic, as well as the use of the Viking to allow weaker players to try and take some points away from the leader. There are some advanced rules that allow the use of some combat cards, an extra ship and a movable king, but the game plays well enough as is. I would consider using some form of rotating start player, or perhaps a VP auction for turn order, but, on the whole, Angus: Medieval Battles is a fine light territory control game. If you see a copy on sale, I would suggest buying it if this all sounds to be to your taste.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Railroad Tycoon

During my last visit to my FLGS, I saw that Railroad Tycoon was available. Since I had enjoyed Age of Steam, I thought that Railroad Tycoon was a decent choice.

After I got it home, and punched the components, I was pleased to see how nice everything looked. There were a few small problems related to the massive board, though. The colours used to indicate purple and blue cities on the map are very hard to tell apart, and there is some warping, probably as a result of the printing process.

When Mike found out that I had RT, he asked if he could come over on the weekend. Since Cim, Yannick and Wanda were also free, we had a five player game.

While only Mike and I had played Age of Steam, it was very easy for the rest of the players to pick up the rules for RT. The ability to issue shares at any time means that you don't have to agonize over how many shares to issue at the start of your turn, and the cards add some interesting elements to the mix. The fact that you don't have to choose roles means that you can always use one of your three actions to upgrade your locomotive if you want, or to urbanize, which means that players aren't as constrained in your choices.

The huge map means that you likely won't get locked out, even in a five or six player game, though you might have to issue a lot of shares to build the long links between cities.

The Western Link mechanic, where two cities allow the construction of links that bring 4 red goods cubes into play, is interesting, and the shipping of these goods to Chicago causing new random cubes to appear in Chicago reminded me of Age of Steam's Paris map.

I have read many praises and pans for RT, many comparing it both positively and negatively to AOS. While many think of RT as AOS light, I do not think that this is a bad thing. RT is very approachable, and could well induce some people to try out AOS.

Mike won our game, with me coming in second, which goes to show that some experience in AOS is helpful to RT. Everyone seemed to enjoy the game, and Cim even remarked "it wasn't as complicated as I though it would be". I am sure that this will hit our (big) table again soon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Star Wars Battlefront II, Age of Steam, France and The Lonely Mountain

Friday was a holiday for us lowly public servant types, and Mike, as usual, was up for a game. He brought along his friend John, who proved to be of good gamer stock, and who will definitely be invited back to Foster Street Studios, or, as Mike prefers to call it, "The Geek Pad". Fresh from BGG Con, Mike taunted us by wearing his BGG Con t Shirt, and had brought along a copy of Age of Steam.

As we were waiting for John, we played some Star Wars Battlefront II on the PS2. Cim and I had been big fans of the first SWB, and the second instalment is much better. They have added new character classes and game types, as well as space combat sections and the ability to play as Jedi and heroes. While we were not pwning too many players, we had fun, and managed a few frags.

Once John arrived, we set up Age of Steam. Once we started to play, I could immediately see why this game has garnered so much praise. It is a true gamer's game, and early mistakes could be crippling. While it is not hard to learn the rules, there is much depth of play both to the turn by turn decisions as well as the placement of track on the board. John proved to be the best Tycoon, and he was able to win handily, with me coming in second and Mike finishing third.

After Age of Steam, I was able to get The Lonely Mountain to the table. The Lonely Mountain is one of the games that ICE, Iron Crown Enterprises, produced while they held the Tolkien License, and it is basically a multi player dungeon crawl with some wargame bits thrown in.

A monster and treasure appearance chart holds cards representing various treasures, great treasures, traps and monsters, including the fearsome Smaug the Dragon. The players have different groups, representing Elves, Orcs, Men and Dwarves, and must make their way through Smaug's lair trying to acquire, and escape with, more treasure than the other groups.
Once Smaug is revealed, the game will be shortly over, as the brave adventurers will either flee in terror, die battling Smaug, or, more unlikely still, manage to defeat Smaug in battle.

Since I had never been able to get this game to the table previously, we had some rules questions pop up, but this proved to be a decent dungeon romp. Since the monsters and treasures are set up semi-randomly, the game did not need a referee, and we were all able to try out our luck. We were also all able to delight when monsters temporarily under our control were able to rid the lair of pesky adventurers.

In the end, John's fortuitous finding of two great treasures proved to be unbeatable, as we ran out of time and decided to call the game.

All in all, it was a great way to spend a day off, and we will definitely add John to the Usual Suspects. Mike has also promised to write up a guest blog entry, detailing his experiences at BGG Con, and I eagerly await his input.

Until next time, gentle readers, keep your stick on the ice. Go Sens Go!