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

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Sao Paulo Bound

I am getting packed up tonight for a two week trip to Brazil. I am flying out Friday night, arriving Saturday morning in Sao Paulo, where I will be met by Karen. We are going to visit Rio together, take in some of the interesting parts of Sao Paulo, visit a few CIDA projects, and generally enjoy each others' company for a few weeks. I am really excited about seeing Karen, and the fact that it is in Brazil is just a bonus. I will surely be blogging some of the trip, and there will be photos aplenty.

The flight to Sao Paulo will take around 15 hours including the short layover in Toronto. For the Geek-O-Philes, I am bringing a GameBoy SP with headphones along, and will probably spend some time on Golden Sun: The Lost Age, May Payne and Doom 2. I have a few Novels, including the E-Book of Leinster's Planets of Adventure (from the excellent Baen Free Library) on my Palm, and in between reading, playing and sleeping, I should be fine. That is, if I am not too excited to sleep...


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Cities and Knights of Catan 14-11-2004

Here is the end result of our marathon game of C&K. That is me of the left, and a very pleased Colin on the right, holding the robber as a symbol of his great victory.

If you take a close look at the board, you might notice that all the cities are built, and most players are so cut off that they have no places that they can build new settlements. As if that should be a surprise!

Monday, November 15, 2004

Cities and Knights of Catan, The Extended Director's cut

Cim and I had a call from Colin, who said that he was available for games on Sunday afternoon, and so I called Mike and we all planned to play some board games. To make sure that things happened on time, I told Mike that we were playing at 1 PM, and I told Colin 12:30. Cim was almost later than Colin, but not by much.

As Mike got to our place, he was holding a copy of Wings of War. So, Mike showed Colin how to play while Cim and I took care of a few last minute food preparation type things. Colin grasped the rules quickly, and soon he was chasing Mike's plane all over the table. Then, we told Colin that he didn't have to make the prop noise with his lips and actually run over the table, so he settled in to the game.

Both planes swirled, dodged and fired, until Colin's plane finally fell from the sky. It was at that point that Mike revealed that his plane was apparently only being held together with a wing and a prayer, with only 1 HP left.

And so, the ever present dilemma. So many games, so little time. We decided to play Cities and Knights of Catan, as I had only played once, Mike had not played in quite some time, and Colin and Cim, while familiar with Vanilla Settlers, had not played C&K.

As an aside, I do not know if all groups play the way that my friends do, but when we play, I cannot imagine that Settlers could ever be conceived of as a family game. At least, not if you want to avoid divorce court or family therapy... When we play Settlers, it is always a serious, serious SYB game, and the bigger the SYB, the bigger the laughs. Colin, as he did when he won the game of Settlers of Nuremberg that we played a few years back, said he really didn't understand Settlers that well, but would play. Cim started trying to figure out the ROI on wheat, and Mike was analyzing the board like a hawk.

We went over the basic differences with Settlers, rolled for first selection, placed our settlements and cities, and got down to exploiting, I mean, developing the island of Catan.

Now, one of the main differences between C&K and Vanilla Settlers is the three event card decks. These cards allow you to do various wonderful and nasty things. With my friends, mostly nasty. I have never seen so many Spy cards get played. In fact, Mike played Spy on me, looked at my event cards, stole my Spy, and played it on me again. That kind of gives you a small idea of how the game went.

As we were coming to the end of the game, we were all mostly at 12 points, with Mike at 11. And then, Colin rolled the dice, avoiding the Barbarian attack that could have given me the game, and giving him the resources he required to build his thirteenth point. It had been an epic struggle and a very, very close game. Colin had slipped under the radar yet again. Well deserved, my friend.

Though he was not there, the spirit of Mackey infused the game. We were playing on the beautiful wood Settlers board that he had made for me a few years back, there were some classic Glen stories, and I swear, at one point, Glen must have started to control Cim with the Jedi Mind Trick. After Colin rolled a 7, Cim tried his best to convince Colin to put the robber on a certain spot, even offering Colin the resource card of his choice. It was scary...

In the end, while it was a long game, it was a great game. Everyone could have won, and we had a lot of fun laughing, taunting and smack talking. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Karen had been curled up on the couch, reading a book waiting for the game to end, like the last time the four of us had a marathon game (It was Star Wars, The Queen's Gambit BTW)

Monday, November 08, 2004

WWII of the Ring, or we try to get it right this time...

Uber Spielfriek (tm) Mike came by on Sunday evening to play War of the Ring (WOTR). By randomly selecting the blue die, he was entrusted with the fate of the Free Peoples (FP), and I was allowed to get more in touch with my evil Sauron Player (SP) side.

The game was set up and played in 3 hours, which was decent, and I would expect that most games would run in the 2-3 hour range, depending on the exact number of turns.

As expected, the SP military presence was very strong, and the south of the map was very red. Minas Tirith was one army die from falling, and the surrounding FP strongholds had already been taken by the SP. All that remained was to rouse Saruman's Horde to have them either ride into the unsuspecting North, or to start the assault on Rohan, with Sauron's forces hammering the Riders from the south approach.

Even though I successfully hunted the Fellowship many times when they moved, and was able to play a few cards to inflict extra tile draws, Mike was able, through his innate goodness, to draw tiles with low levels of damage. By the time he made it to Mordor, he was only around 3 corruption, which I knew would not be enough. Sure enough, he was able to coast through Mordor without drawing any of the truly nasty tiles that I had managed to get into the bag. Although, to be fair, he never drew any of the healing tiles that he got in either.

This was the exact opposite of the game that I played as the FP against Cim, where I consistently drew 2's, 3's, Reveals and Stops, especially in Mordor. Oh well, like Doctor Claw, I will have to say, "I'll get you next time, Gadget!".

While Sauron has a commanding military presence, it takes many, many actions to win militarily, as armies move very slowly, and start a few regions away from where they are needed. Free People armies almost never need to move, as they are mustered where they need to be, for the most part. There are many cards which allow mustering even in besieged strongholds, so the FP has some ability to reinforce their sieged strongholds. Maybe this game is really all about the ring, and the military side is just a distraction? We shall see.....

Monday, November 01, 2004

War of the Ring

Thursday, I walked into Fandom II, my FLGS, looking for some paint for a Halloween costume. Unfortunately, they did not have gun metal grey in spray cans, but they did have the new War of the Ring. Much like Gollum, I could feel the precious calling to me. It would be mine!

And so, I got the game home, resisting the urge to open it until I was at the table. I opened the box, and marvelled at the multitude of figures, cards and tokens. I punched the tokens carefully, appreciating their finish and heft. Some poor soldiers arrived already scarred from previous battles, with bent lances and bows, but I am confident that the brave Free Peoples will soldier on against the vile hordes of the Lidless Eye.

One thing that should be noted, when assembled the two boards representing Middle Earth take up a lot of room, and this might affect your ability to play the game. You must also have room for sorted armies of figures, cards, extra tokens, etc, so plan accordingly.

While the rulebook might seem daunting, the rules are actually fairly simple while covering a wide range of possible situations. If you keep the rule book handy, and consult it as you play your first games, you should be able to get through, though it will take much longer the first few times.

I have now managed two full two player games, and I am just starting to see the possibilities in the system. One word, though, if you are looking for a heavy war game, War of the Ring (WOTR) is not for you. Yes, it has elements of strategy, but it is more Euro than War, and, in many ways, it is more like an area control game than a classic war game. I say this as while the Free Peoples' (FP) player can achieve a military victory by capturing Sauron Player (SP) settlements and fortifications worth 4 VP, it is most likely that the best use of the FP forces will be to delay the SP long enough for the Fellowship to reach the Cracks of Doom to destroy the One Ring.

The central mechanic of the game is the Action dice. The SP starts with 7 dice, and can add 1 die each for activating Saruman, the Mouth of Sauron and the Witch King, and the FP has 5, and can add one each for promoting Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White and Strider to Aragorn. Each die has faces allowing character actions, card actions, army actions and muster actions. The FP dice also have a Will of the West, or wild side, and the SP dice are marked with the Lidless Eye, signifying Sauron's obsession for finding the Ring.

At the beginning of a game turn, the SP declares how many dice will be added to the Hunt for the Ring, up to a maximum of 5 or the number of companions accompanying Sam and Frodo. These dice are placed in the Hunt box, and the remaining dice are rolled. The results of this roll indicate which actions can be accomplished, and the players alternate choosing which of their unused dice to use. Muster dice can be used to advance nations closer to war on the political track, or can be used to generate new troops for nations at war. Character actions can be used to hide or move the Fellowship, to play character cards or to move or attack with an army containing a character or Leader, army actions can be used to move two armies or to attack with one, special card actions can be used to play any special card, the Will of the West can be used by the FP as any symbol and the Eye of Sauron is immediately added to the hunt pool, sacrificing an SP action.

There is a very neat mechanic for handling the hidden movement of the Fellowship, where the Fellowship figure on the game board only indicates the last known position of the fellowship, and the track shows how many spaces away the Fellowship has moved. The figure is only moved to the Fellowship's actual location when the Fellowship is declared in a particular region by the FP, usually to heal the Fellowship or activate a passive nation, or when it is revealed by a successful hunt by the SP.

The Hunt is most reminiscent of the Event tiles in Reiner Knizia's excellent Lord of the Rings game. Each time the Fellowship is moved, the SP rolls a number of six sided dice equal to the number of dice in the hunt box. Each 6 counts as a successful hunt, and with one or more successes, the SP draws a hunt tile from an opaque cup or bag. The hunt tiles show a number from zero to three, and/or an eye symbol or a Fellowship Revealed Symbol. If the Fellowship is revealed, the figure must be moved to the Fellowship's location, and in this case it can never be in an FP stronghold. Any number shown inflicts corruption damage on the Fellowship, tracked by a counter on the same 0-12 track, and should corruption ever reach 12, the ring has corrupted the brave hobbits and the game is lost for the FP. Damage can be avoided or reduced by certain cards or by sacrificing members of the Fellowship, and corruption can be healed when the Fellowship rests in FP strongholds or by playing certain cards. If the tile shows an eye, then the damage is the number of sixes rolled.

This aspect of the game is very tense, and very reminiscent of Knizia's LOTR. Do you risk moving again and drawing a tile that might put you over the top in corruption, or do you declare in an FP stronghold to heal? There are also rules allowing the SP to reroll up to three hunt dice if certain conditions are met, making the movement of the Fellowship riskier.

The movement of the Fellowship becomes even more difficult once the Fellowship reaches Mordor, and when all Companions have left or been killed, Gollum becomes the guide, and makes the Fellowship a bit harder to find. And if the Fellowship makes it to the Cracks of Doom with a corruption level of 11 or less, the game is over and the FP has won. If however the Fellowship falls to corruption at the last, as mine did last night, they instead give the ring back to nice Mr. Sauron.

As I have said, WOTR is an interesting blend of ideas from many other games. On the military side, the game uses a system similar to Chariot Lords or Britannia, where each unit involved in a battle rolls a die, normally scoring hits on 5's and 6's, which can be modified by playing certain cards for their combat effect and/or attcaking units in a stronghold or fortification. Leaders that are present at a battle allow missed dice to be rerolled, and all Fellowship Characters are also leaders. Boromir, Gimli and Strider also add 1 to the combat strength of an army that they are leading, so they really are the one man armies they seemed to be in the films.

Each hit eliminates one regular unit, or reduces an elite unit to a regular, and once all units are eliminated, all remaining characters and/or leaders are also eliminated. Eliminated SP units go back to the reinforcement pool where they may be remustered, while eliminated FP units are removed from the game. Cards, such as those used in card based wargames like Battle Cry play a central role, and indeed provide much of the atmosphere. When Saruman is at the height of power, it can be a great feeling to be the FP holding the three powerful Ents Attack cards, which are almost guaranteed to topple Orthanc. Of course, I have played two games and not drawn the cards, so it is also possible for important events not to happen. This is one of the things that makes the game so interesting, the possible what if situations.

As I was playing my second game with Cim yesterday (the first was with Mike the night before), the FP had managed to capture Dol Guldur with a small army of Elves and Gandalf the White. I had done this as I was holding a card called 'Til the Final Battle, which meant that dice I used to move the Fellowship would not be added to the hunt box. Outside of Mordor, each FP die in the Hunt box adds one to each hunt die rolled, so if you move once, the hunt is successful on each 6, the second move in the same turn is successful on a 5 or 6, the third on a 4-5-6. This card, which required that either Gandalf the White or Aragorn be with an army in one of certain Shadow regions seemed to be a good way to reduce the chance of successful hunts, as well as allow me as the FP to move the Fellowship multiple times in a turn with relative impunity. Indeed, I was able to reach the Cracks of Doom, but the Ring finally got the best of me at the end.

But Dol Guldur is worth 2 VP to the FP, and the FP only need 4 VP total to win a military victory. I advised Cim of this and he immediately reinforced a few SP strongholds that I conceivably could have taken to end the game. I foolishly let Gandalf be besieged in Dol Guldur, but he did hold out with the elves until the end of the game, so all was not lost.

I am already looking forward to the next game, which is a good sign. I think that WOTR is a very interesting blend of mechanics, and that it is strongly themed. It really does feel like you are trying to rally the Free Peoples, ready them for war, defend your strongholds against ravening hordes, all while two hobbits and their companions are trying to sneak into Mordor. While I do not view WOTR as a wargame, it has enough enjoyable elements of both the War and Euro genres to satisfy fans of either. If you are a fan of Tolkien's Books and a gamer, you owe it to yourself to try out WOTR. I think that you will find an interesting, thematic and exciting game that you will enjoy playing. And, after all, isn't that we are all looking for?