Game Night

We started out with what has to be the closest game of Can’t Stop in recent memory. All 3 players closed two columns, and Kim ended up winning on 2, 5, 12. This game has served us well as an opener when we have 3 – the fourth person to arrive just jumps into the game wherever we are, which is a handicap to be sure but not as critical as you might think. Last week, Chris won after jumping in on the second turn.

Way out West is one of the two games (with Empires of the Ancient World) which has kicked off Martin Wallace’s recent ascendance. This is definitely a game I enjoyed the first couple times – enough to buy a copy – but which has worn out its welcome surprisingly quickly after that. The shootouts are just too powerful, it’s too hard to defend your very valuable holdings from a determined opponent I think. There are also serious ergonomic issues with the game (a scoring chart printed on the board, an annotated turn track, some income indicators – all would have been immensely helpful). Anyway, far from a bad game, one I’ll play again, but the enthusiasm has waned a bit after the initial quite positive response.

Edel Stein & Reich is the Basari remake of course, and I’m a big fan of Basari so it stands to reason I’d like ES&R, especially with its greater flexibility in terms of numbers of players. I’ve played it almost exclusively with 5, and think it works quite well. Some players complained about the number of 3-way matchups, which seem to happen more often in ES&R than in Basari, but I would argue that they are less damaging. I like the event cards too, they add a nice edge to the game. Anyway, probably not a game with the same elegance as Basari, but still very good I think.

Wizard Kings: Surprise Attack

I’ve been very happy to be getting to play a bit more Wizard Kings recently, as this game has a lot of great properties – quick-playing, lots of decisions, flavorful, exciting.

Carl & I got in two games today, both of the Surprise Attack scenario which is on my web site. First one (Dwarves vs. Elves) was a time-tested matchup, and went well. I lost this game mainly due to a faulty strategy reinforced by bad luck. I think there probably is only one valid strategy for the Dwarves, making the main thrust on the flank while sending a pinning force into the heart of the forest, and I should have realized that sending the main force into the forests was a bad idea.

Second game was a variant that had not been previously played, Frekin attacking Dwarves. This was a crushing Ferkin victory, and I think the scenario will need some tweaking. One map will be switched (too many gold too near the edge), and the Dwarves will get a few more gold at start (mainly because unlike the elves, they don’t gain a combat advantage from their Mountain “nativity”.

In both scenarios, I’m going to put a limit on the number of chaos units available. One of the gimmicks here is that the attacker has to wade through very unfriendly terrain. By allowing access to a wide range of chaos units (I’ve added two boxes worth), things got a bit out of hand – the Ferkin used no less than 7 chaos blocks, which allowed them to circumvent the terrain more than I had hoped. So I think I will put a limit of 4.

I have a couple more scenarios that I’ve been working on recently, and hopefully I can get them posted and my long-dormant Wizard Kings website updated.

Ukraine ’43

Mark Simonitch is a designer/developer/graphics guy who I hugely respect, but unfortunately his Ukraine ’43 has sat on my shelf now for some 3 years as I’ve tried to find a chance to play. It has resisted all the rather drastic wargame purges of the past few years, and today I was glad it had when Charles game by and I finally had a chance to play scenario 3.

What I think got me the most was how clean the game is. One reason it has been tottering on the brink has been that it has 20 pages of rules, which for me is an awful lot. Once you sit down and play it though, Ukraine ’43 feels like a 12-pager. I’ve become so used to games from GMT which feel more complicated than the page count (perhaps because the only way to get down to that page count is to leave out all the errata they have to eventually publish). Ukraine ’43 is a really clean system, the rules are amazingly eratta-free, and it plays well. One of Mark Simonitch’s great traits is the fact that his games are comparatively focussed, with that focus being on real, high-level decisions, with peripheral stuff streamlined.

Like most of these games, the real meat is in the allocation of a handful of very powerful units – the artillery, breakthrough artillery, sappers, and armor for the Soviets, and the Panzer Divisions for the Germans. So the fact that the game is big is not as daunting as the raw counter density might indicate, and you concentrate more on the big decisions than the micromanagement as is usually the case with these bigger games.

I also really like the “magnitude” combat system, where the bloodiness of combat is proportional to the number of units involved. This is a technique that a lot of games could use, OCS not the least.

As I become more and more jaded after playing serious games for some 20+ years, it’s always a real treat to discover a great, new, engaging game, and now I’ve had the privilege of finding two in the last two weeks – Ukraine ’43 and Lock ‘n Load. This is almost as many as the whole last year, at least on the wargame side. Great stuff.

Game Night

I guess I picked a good time to start the blog … it’s been an insane amount of gaming these last two weeks. Not that I’m complaining; and since Kim is out of town, I’ll be doing yet more wargaming this weekend …

Liar’s Dice is a regular at our group, and I seem to be going through an extended “out of the zone” phase for it. I used to regularly be one of the last ones in, and now recently I’m regularly the first one out! Ouch. Hard to imagine that the first few times I played this game, I thought it sucked.

The big game tonight was Wildlife, a recent Kramer release that I’ve been interested in for some time, but not so interested that I was going to go out on a limb and purchase it. But when Roger showed up with a copy last week, I was anxious to give it a try. This is nominally an evolution game, but in truth is fairly abstract. There are the traditional regions of the board, which you can score points for first/second/third in. The interesting bit is that each region has a terrain type, and player has differing abilities to compete in each area. Cards control everything, from expanding and improving your species to various special action cards that do random things (plagues, etc.). Each turn you have to auction off one card, and can play one or two more. There is a mechanism for acquiring traits (intelligence, aggressiveness, etc.) that I think everyone agreed added a lot of time to the game and didn’t quite work. Anyway, bottom line for me on this one, it is an very interesting compete-for-areas type game, with a lot of options and a lot of variables to manipulate. That’s good. It’s also slow, and with 6 players just took too long. That’s bad. I’d definitely play it again with 4, and it might be a better game all round if the traits were eliminated. It’s even close to a “buy” for me, as a bigger, meatier euro game, but I think I’ll need one more play.

Coloretto was so-so, not a bad game but not clear there is much control (I realized afterwards it was a Michael Schacht game, if I had known before hand I probably wouldn’t have bothered); randomness is OK, but Coloretto is dry and processional, so not great. Not one I would necessarily veto if asked to play again, but not one I have any really enthusiasm for. This sort of lighter cardgame filler is a category in which tons and tons of games get published, yet such a huge percentage of them are so marginal (at best).

Speaking of which, For Sale is a great, classic game that I still like a lot after all these years, and I think You’re Bluffing (Kuhlhandel) is an good, underrated bidding/bluffing game, one of the best of the shorter “serious filler” games. Both of these guys are some of the best in this category.

D&D: Questing in Krandia

Mentaku (me) and Melana (Kim) continued their quest, along with a couple of extraneous haflings, for the Blood of the Gods today with some mixed success. This is Shay’s setting and adventure, with some unusual elements: metal breaks down somehow on the island, leading the natives to rely on a variety of nonmetal items for currency, weapons, armor, etc., that generally makes combat less lethal. In an attempt to circumvent the high power of mage spells, arcane spells have increasingly high chances of failure as their level increases. This latter feature is a reasonable attempt to solve one of D&Ds major problems, but somehow D&D without the Wizards & Sorcerers …

My character is a “legitimate businessman” Rogue, and I had a blast going around making business deals and generally being haughty and condescending towards the fighter-type NPCs and talking my way out of stuff … a very nice change from hack & slash. Also a nice and enjoyable change for me from the more disciplined characters I am usually attracted to, and have played up until now (like my Monk Makai). On the other hand, one of the things our group is working on is getting adventure times down. Like boardgame designers, authors, and other creative types, it’s a huge temptation to throw every good idea you have into a given adventure, but it seems vital to know what to take out, stick to the essentials. I haven’t yet DMed for this group, although my slot will be coming up before too long, but Kim has DMed a lot and I work with her to deal with some of these issues.

Bottom line, though, I’ve enjoyed the roleplaying we’ve been doing quite a bit, to the point I’ve even felt I should be scaling back my euro games in order to pick up another RPG session or two a month. It’s good fun, and really flexes some creative muscles in a way boardgaming doesn’t. I’m currently working on an adventure for Decipher’s Lord of the Rings RPG which I hope to be able to rope some of the local LotR fanatics into.

Game Night: Modern Art & Puerto Rico

Just a quick visit to SVB for me this week, enough time to fit in games of Modern Art & Puerto Rico. Man, these are tough games to play with a mix of experienced and inexperienced players. Both are great games, but when players start bidding more than the painting could possibly be worth in Modern Art, or when the first player in the first round of Puerto Rico takes the Mayor, you know it’s going to be one of those games. The cool thing about these games, though, is that I still enjoy them even when the outcome is made rather random by the newbies. So I did enjoy them. But I have to remember I like Modern Art more with people who’ve played some before 🙂

Selling Games on eBay

A few more games onto eBay … the D&D 3.0 core rulebooks I couldn’t sell at Conquest, now that we’ve upgraded to 3.5. The Sword & Fist sourcebook was a bust, mainly a bunch of munchkin prestige classes unfortunately. Since I recently picked up the new-ish (and better, IMHO) d20 Babylon 5 game from Mongoose, I can live without the old Chameleon Eclectic product. I am torn on parting with my Jeffery Doyle autographed core book for The Babylon Project though, I’ll probably hold onto that, and it has one nice GMs screen which I’ll also keep for the moment. I have never been a big fan of The Gamer’s SCS games, so Ardennes hit the door as I continue to pare this series back to its essentials, now just Fallschrimjaeger and Gazala (this was also influenced by my recent acquisition of Ardennes ’44 from GMT – dissimilar games of course, but how many Bulge games do you need?). Lastly, Advanced Civ … if you’ve followed my opinions for any length of time, you know what I think of that game … but also, we have two copies (both Kim and I owned one), and one is probably sufficient. Plenty of people love the game, so perhaps it will find a good home. As for the North Wind Rain and Up Front deck, these are just some extras that I have no need for; I still have another Up Front action deck in shrink, and the duplicate North Wind Rain was due to an error in my subscription.