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

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Texas Hold'em, The Aftermath

The chips are down, the game is over, and the guests are gone. Cim and I have many, many more bags of Cheetos than we ever thought we would be able to consume, and the game table has been well and truly broken in.

For those of you that might have an interest, we had 10 players, including Cim and me. Cim went out third and I went out fifth. The game started promptly at 6:30, and the last hand was played just before midnight.

Our table works well enough for Poker, but it is very hard for people near the ends to deal. If one player is sitting in the middle, acting as dealer, it works very well. Our table works much better for boardgames, which is good, since that is what we designed it for in the first place!

Some things that I learned playing Hold'em:
  1. When you know that you have the best hand, try to keep the other players in until the end. Then, if they are still betting, let them bet, and raise, then go All in.
  2. Pay careful attention to possible Straights, Flushes and Full Houses
  3. If you are going to try and steal the pot, bet accordingly from the two hole cards
  4. Pay close attention to how the other players bet. It will tell you a lot about what cards they are holding
  5. World Series of Poker on the PSP is a good simulator, and will give you experience that you can take with you to the table. I had never played Hold'em before, and the 750 or so odd hands that I played on the PSP gave me a great appreciation for what hands I should play, what hands were likely, etc.
  6. In the end, you've got to bet to win, and you have to have the cards to bet. If you have a long run of unplayable hands, you will lose, no matter how good you are at bluffing. With 5 cards visible, your two cards in the hole just don't give you much bluffing leeway.

To put this in perspective, the hand that I went out, my chip supply was dwindling. I knew that I had to go in soon, or I would lose by attrition. I drew AJ of hearts, and I went in hoping to hit a flush, or maybe even a straight. From the bets around the table, I could tell that no one paired up on the flop, so I stayed. Then, no one paired on the turn, so I stayed, and then on the river, no one had any joy either. I went all in, and I lost to AQ.

I will definitely play in another game one of these days, but the game is not as stimulating to me as Euros like Settlers, Puerto Rico or Tikal. Cim and I commented that we would have had a lot more fun with our regular game session, which usually has a lot more laughing, joking and kibitzing. The Euros are more varied, with many more interesting decisions, mechanics and dynamics. While my dad was a big gambler, I can truly say that I am a Gamer, not a Gambler.

It's just like in Gilligan's Island, when the Skipper sang "To thine own self be true" to Gilligan. That Skipper, he was a wise, wise man.. 8-)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Texas Hold'em Tourney

Since Cim already has some nice clay poker chips and we just finished the game table, we decided that it was time to have a Texas Hold'em tourney at Foster Street Studios. While Both Cim and I have played Poker, we have never played in a real game of Hold'em. Like most of North America, we have seen games on TV, but this will be the first real experience.

We have some likely players lined up, and we are looking at a $20 buy in for the tourney, with players being able to buy back in if they run out during the first hour. The top three players will split the pot 60%-30%-10%, so no one will make, or lose, a fortune. We will also have the PS2 fired up with some good multiplayer games, like DOA2 Hardcore, NHL 2K5, Timesplitters 3, etc.

Since some of the Poker players are not in the regular boardgame group (as Cim calls them, "The Usual Suspects"), we might use the opportunity to introduce a gateway game or two. It should be an interesting experience.

In order to get ready for the game, I started playing World Series of Poker on the PSP. I am trying to get a feel for when to stay in and when to drop before the Flop, which seems to be one of the biggest decision points in the game. If any of you have any suggestions, please feel free to let me know, I could use the benefit of your experience.

As an aside, I do have a couple of great poker stories. My dad was a big gambler, and he loved to play poker. Everyone, except me, called him Lloydie. I just called him dad. His favourite city in the whole wide world was Las Vegas, and he would try to get down at least once a year. I was able to travel to Vegas with him twice, once when I was 18 and once when I was in University. I remember meeting him at the Poker table, as we were supposed to head out to lunch together, and he called me over. He was playing 7 card stud, and he had a look on his face like his dog had just died, mom had left him and he was about to be audited by Revenue Canada. But, he kept staying in, even though it looked like he couldn't have much of a hand.

When the showdown came, he flipped up his cards, and the biggest smile I have ever seen on his face came up. He had four of a kind, which is very hard to get in 7 card stud. He raked in the pot and they gave him a special chain to mark the occasion. I have never seen anyone play the nonverbal side of poker as well as my dad.

My own story is not as dramatic, but it's all I have.. 8-) Later that same trip, I decided that I would hit a low-stakes 7 card table for the experience. I am not a big gambler, but I do enjoy the odd game of Blackjack, and I have a pretty good memory for the best plays. I usually do OK. So, I get a spot at a low stakes table, buy some chips, and start to play. I stay in for a few cards, but then the bets start going up, and I just don't have the cards to stay in, so I fold. Finally, I decide that I am going to stay in next hand to the River, no matter what I have. So, I call every bet, I stay, and I hope, against all hope, that I can finally draw a hand.

As you can guess, I had junk. a busted-straight-busted flush, high card maybe a 10. Not exactly awe inspiring. I can't even remember what my up cards were, but they were certainly not very threatening. But, by this time, it's just me and a big Texan wearing his cowboy hat. It's up to me, so I bet $20.... He looks at his cards, looks at me and says, in a lazy Texas drawl,

"Boy, unless you got the hand I think you got, you're stupid.......... I fold".

Needless to say, I had a pretty big smile on my own face when I took the pot.. 8-)

Stay tuned for next week's report on Foster Street Studios' non WSOP sanctioned Texas Hold'em Tourney.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Mark and Cim's Game Table Adventure

Game Table 025
Originally uploaded by Mark M.
Cim and I had been talking about buying a new, bigger table for gaming for some time. We looked at quite a few options, but most were more suited to Poker than boardgames. Since Cim had some folding metal table legs left over from a previous project, we decided that we would build a table.

The entire photo stream is here.

We started the project at Home Depot, where we looked at various grades of plywood. Since the table was going to be covered, we were able to get a cheaper grade, and we had them cut it in store to 4' by 6' from 4' by 8'. They have a great machine there that can do this kind of thing in minutes, and you get a really nice, straight cut.

We also picked up some 2" by 3"s to build a frame under the table top to keep it from bending, as the plywood will not support itself without it. The 2" by 3"s are more than sufficient if you stand them on their edges. We also needed nuts, bolts and washers, and we bought some extras in case of accident or loss.

When we got out to the car, we reallized that the table top would not fit, so we had to tie it to the roof of the Focus, using some pipe insulating foam that Cim had picked up as a pad and lots of Home Depot packing twine to secure the top to the roof. Lucky for us, we didn't have to take the highway to get home, and we made it without incident.

Once we started the actual construction, things went pretty smoothly. We started by building the support frame, measuring the pieces so that they would sit 6" in from the edge of the table. We cut the ends to 45 degrees so that we could make a nice-looking frame, and we secured the pieces with wood screws driven into pilot holes.

If you are building a frame like we did, make sure to use a very flat area for construction, as it makes getting the frame true much easier. We also wrapped some straps around the frame as we assembled it to provide some tension.

Once we got the frame assembled, we centered it in the table top and screwed it down. We drove four carefully measured screws up into the table top, then we turned the joined frame and top over so that we could snap some chalk lines on the top showing us the centre line of the frame. Then we secured the frame with a number of wood screws through the top.

Once this was done, we mounted the legs to the table top using bolts and washers. Once the legs were secure, we opened them, set the table up and sanded the edges and the top with a power sander.

Once the table was sanded, it was time to cover the table. We bought some 1/4 " carpet pad at a carpet store and some faux suede to use as a cover. We started by gluing the pad to the table top, then we trimmed the edges. Once this was done, the two of us stretched the material taut and stapled it underneath the table top.

We were able to playtest the table that weekend, and it provided us the room that we had been looking for. The padded surface makes it easy to pick up cards, the suede looks very nice and also helps holds tiles in games like Settlers of Catan, and rolling dice on this table makes you feel like you are at a Casino.

The only downsides are that the table is fairly heavy, and so not really portable, and that the metal table legs are not quite as secure as they would be if we had used actual table legs mounted in the corners of the frame.

But, as you can see from the photo of us covering the table, we are very pleased with our project and look forward to many games days from now on.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Massive Geek-A-Thon, New Game Table

Earlier in the week, Cim finally decided that we had to build a new, big game table for our sessions. The old table was fine, but it was not big enough for the bigger games, like Queen's Gambit, Twilight Imperium 3 or War of the Ring. even Arkham Horror would be a stretch. A trip to Home Depot and Bouclair later, we had the materials that we needed, and the next few nights had us assembling and covering the table. Fear not, gentle readers, as I will recount the tale of the construction in the next blog, along with photos detailing the process.

In order to inaugurate the table in style, we had invited Colin and Mike for an afternoon of gaming. Seeing that Colin proved to be unavailable, Mike brought Julia, Dimitri and Derek along to see if the Tenacious D's would pass gaming muster.

We all started with a game of Medici, playing the new French version of the game. It was a very good, very tight game, only slightly marred by two of the playing pieces having similar colours. Derek emerged victorious after a rousing game, and this will definitely be hitting the table again.

After Medici, Julia decided that she wanted to check out some PSP and GBA games, so we started a five player game of Arkham Horror. I had been looking forward to this, and had read the rules a few times in preparation. We set the game up, drew characters and the Ancient One randomly and set off to defend Arkham.

There were a few issues that came up that required reading and rereading the rule book to see how to deal with certain cases, some of which were not mentioned, such as, what damage does a Night Gaunt inflict when you are in the other worlds? We opted for none, as the damage is supposed to be being thrown through the nearest gate, and that is how you get to the other worlds. (The official answer is, you get tossed back through the gate to Arkham, and get an explored token, which means that you are safe against being re-drawn through, and you have a chance to try and close/seal the gate)

I enjoyed the game, even though, as a first experiment, it took four hours to play through to the end. We all lost when we were unable to defeat Yuggoth, who appeared once the doom token track was filled. Only two of our characters had high enough fight values to do appreciable damage, and once the combat checks got too deadly, we died.

After rereading the rules after the game, as well as some of the online FAQ's and clarifications, Arkham Horror is not so difficult, once you understand the turn order. Most questions can be answered by applying the turn order to them. The trickiest part is remembering that combat is a part of movement, and is always the end of movement, but before Arkham Encounters take place. Gate travel takes place during Arkham Encounters, so if you move to a location with both a gate and a monster, you first have to fight/evade the monster before you get sucked through the gate.

The other key thing is that "loss" and "cost" are different terms. Some items provide a reduction in loss, such as Stamina lost to an attack, while other things, like casting spells, have a Sanity cost. Items that reduce a loss do not reduce a cost. A loss is always the result of an external action, and a cost is usually the result of a voluntary choice.

Once you have played your first game, all the systems should be familiar to you. The game is very RPG like, and it seems that the cards, characters and Ancient ones will provide a decent amount of variety over a number of games.

After Arkham Horror, Dimitri and Julia left, and the rest of us had a game of Bluff as we waited for Derek's ride. Mike pulled out the win, edging me out for one of his first Bluff victories. My edging Cim out earlier in the game had Cim commenting, "Just what did you learn in Brazil, anyway?"

After Derek left, Mike, Cim and I played a 3 player Ingenious, which Mike managed to dominate through the end. Ingenious is a great game, very simple to explain, yet satisfying. As we were finishing our game, Yannick and Wanda came over, and so Mike taught us all how to play Oltremare. It was a very interesting game, with many subtleties, and Mike managed another win.

After Ingenious, Mike had to leave, and so Yannick, Wanda, Cim and I played one final game, Cim's copy of Starfarers of Catan. This game took us until the wee hours of the morning, but it was very much fun, in classic Catan style, with a few modifications, of course. Those who complain about the excessive influence of the dice can complain not only about the dice, but also the travel balls, the random encounters and the semi-random number chit distribution.

As I had to teach everyone how to play, I had an unfair advantage, and managed my first win of the day. And so, our massive Geek-A-Thon came to an end, and our new table had been well and truly broken in.