Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gaming For The Week 24th Jan - 30th Jan 2010

Ivan and Ben came over for some mid-week gaming of what else...A Game of Thrones LCG. It really is a brilliant game and I'm glad to have found common enthusiasts for a game with such niche appeal.

Ben and I opted for familiarity and played with Ivan's Baratheon and Lannister decks, while Ivan unleashed on us his new Martell deck from the recent Princes of the Sun expansion. House Martell has a couple of interesting effects triggered after challenges are lost. It is somewhat unintuitive as you are in a situation where you take one step back to gain two steps forward. It requires far more thoughtful play and bodes well for the strategic depth of the game. I enjoy the peculiar strengths and weaknesses of the various Houses and how a different play strategy is required to utilize each of them successfully.

I struggled with income early on, which is highly ironic for a Lannister deck. I played Wildfire Assault in the early rounds in a bid to rein back my opponents. I leveraged on my draw effects to gain further ground. My advantage in Intrigue reaped me a couple of power tokens through the Lannisport location card which allowed me to pay 1 gold for a power token after each Intrigue challenge I win. This added up quickly and by keeping my power tokens on my House card as opposed to my characters, my progress was undeterred by Ben's Melinsandre, which negates power tokens on opposing characters. In contrast, Ivan struggled as he had a number of card effects which gained him power tokens on his characters. I finally clinched victory with an unopposed power challenge by stealthing Ivan's only unkneeled character with the power symbol.

I played a game of Joust with Ben after Ivan left. I was flooded with income this game but fell prey to Ben's Baratheon power rush. He searched out Stannis Baratheon and racked up power tokens through unopposed challenges as I was unable to defend without a Lord character in play. By the time I managed one, his lead was large unassailable. I played an event card to take out his Robert Baratheon and his mountain of power tokens from Renown but that only delayed the inevitable as he romped to victory shortly after.

In between, we played a 4 player game of Ra with Van joining in. The Ra tiles came fast and furious and my greed got the better of me on the last epoch, opting to hold on to my 13 tile instead of swapping it for a full row. The epoch ended sooner than I expected, and Ben who swooped in on that row with his last tile took the win, with Van a close second.

On Friday, our cell and a couple of friends joined us at our Conrad suite for some games. They were mostly tired after a long day at work but still managed a game of Settlers of Catan.

It occurred to me that despite having explained the game multiple times, I don't seem to have grasped the best formula for it. It is especially ironic considering 1. I'm almost always the 'rules' guy when it comes to new games, and 2. Settlers is like the first Euro I ever played! Somehow, it's difficult to present the rules neatly in a logical flow when there are so many tinny bits here and there to explain e.g. trading, rules governing development cards, etc. I don't think I necessarily do a bad job but I always have a nagging feeling after that my explanation could be better. I probably find it easier to explain more complex games such as Agricola or Puerto Rico as compared to Settlers. Either that or it could simply be the audience I usually pitch Settlers to - opting for it as my go-to "gateway" game and thus facing crowds that may not immediately tune in to such rules and mechanics of Eurogames.

Colin and Kaelyn dropped by halfway through and I was able to introduce them to Monopoly Deal and Citadels. Kaelyn commented Citadels felt very much like a "guys' game". I suppose there's some truth to it considering its medieval theme. For female non-gamers, the theme of the game is probably far more crucial as a 'hook' than its mechanics. Even Van who I consider a gamer of sorts gets turned off by space (read Race for the Galaxy) and medieval (read A Game of Thrones LCG) themes. She may be willing to give them a try but rarely will desire to play them again. Abstracts don't sit well with her either. My most thematic game is arguably Battlestar Galactica but unfortunately, that's the wrong sort of theme for her, especially when she has never watched a single episode of BSG and is unlikely to.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Perhaps Against My Better Judgement...

My local online retailer, Boardgamelifestyle is having a sale. The discount isn't much more than what I usually receive but I couldn't help myself but to browse through the discounted games. In the end, 3 games caught my eye - King of Siam, Traders of Carthage and Dominion:Intrigue.

After reading through some reviews on BGG, I decided that King of Siam probably wasn't probably my cup of tea as well as taking into account its price. Traders of Carthage on the other hand was at a very attractive price point and a game that I have had my eye on for some time. However, concerns about its abstract nature held me from taking the plunge. Furthermore, with the time it takes, I can't help but feel that there are many more "developed" games in my collection that I rather be playing.

Finally there's Dominion:Intrigue. I have had sort of a love-hate relationship with Dominion. When it was introduced on BSW, I sort of burned myself out on the original. I decided it wasn't a game I needed to purchase especially since after some plays, I realized it was uninteresting in that most hands played themselves (or what I would call the auto-pilot syndrome) and it lacked interaction between players. Nonetheless, I couldn't help getting caught up in the hype monster that is Dominion. I do like the simplicity of the A (action), B (buy), C (cleanup) mechanics of Dominion and its speedy gameplay. It seems to me that it would be a game of sufficient depth that I would be keen to intro and play with non-gamer friends that I'm trying to lure into the hobby.

The release of Dominion:Intrigue especially had my hopes raised. It seemed to address my issues with the original, introducing decisions apart from the deck-building and incorporating increased interaction. However, the added complexity hampers what was attractive about the original - its accessibility and speed. The common solution for this dilemma would be to acquire both sets and most seem to do so. However, I am adamant in not acquiring more than one set, thus leaving me a difficult decision of which to purchase if I am to add Dominion to my collection.

As it turned out, the sale was only applicable for Intrigue and not the original though the difference is negligible. What surprised me was the cost to sleeve all 470 cards. Even budget sleeves came up to about 30% of the game price. That makes the game considerably more expensive but I couldn't envision myself playing the game unsleeved. My recent sleeving of Battlestar Galactica wasn't cheap either. It seems card sleeves are doing a roaring trade especially since us "gamers" generally like to keep our games in good condition, whether due to our OCD instincts or to preserve their resale value.

Despite my misgivings, I made the perhaps irrational decision of going ahead with the purchase. This despite the fact that I have a couple of new purchases (BSG, Tribune & Hansa Teutonica) all relatively unplayed. I seem to be edging towards a buyer's syndrome which violates my intention of keeping my collection trim and avoiding 'white' elephants. While I like the idea of having these new additions in my collection, I may eventually have to make a decision with subsequent plays whether they get played sufficiently for them to remain (read: BSG). Or perhaps, I will realize that my preliminary concerns are indeed accurate despite contradicting the favourable opinions of various critics (read: Tribune) and trade or sell them.

With that, here's hoping Dominion:Intrigue surprises a good way.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Gaming For The Week 10th - 16th Jan 2010

Was a good week for gaming. Started out with the youth camp committee coming over for a thanksgiving lunch. They couldn't stay long but we managed the time for a game of Time's Up: Title Recall. Would have opted for a Euro but with 8 of us, that proved somewhat challenging. Nonetheless, we had a good time despite some unfamiliar titles. I suppose what makes the game easier is when partners discuss 'signs' for certain difficult titles. Not sure whether that's 'legal' but for new players, it sure makes it more accessible. As it turned out, Xinyi/Yingyi and Van/Mish tied for the win.

Ivan and Ben dropped by mid-week to get in two games of A Game of Thrones LCG. We used Ivan's decks as usual since they have been customized with chapter deck additions. He also obtained the new Princes of the Sun expansion so it shouldn't be long before we see him with a Martell deck. He played Targaryen while Ben and I used Baratheon and Lannister decks respectively. I didn't get my income locations out as quickly this time round and Ben took the first game convincingly thanks to his multiple characters with the renown trait. Second game came down to the wire with Ivan intervening in my challenging against Ben to give him the win. I suppose he found himself between a rock and a hard place too since I would have taken the win if I had succeeded in that challenge. Squeezed in a game of Glory to Rome after Ivan left. I had some good buildings but took awhile to get the combo going. Van took the win by about 6 VPs.

Kristy, Joelle and Joseph came over the next day. Apart from Band Hero-ing, we managed to get in a game of Settlers as well as Tribune which was the first play for all of us. Settlers ended with a win for me at 11 points, though Joseph was leading most of the game and ended with 9. The girls did well for their first play and seemed to enjoy the somewhat more 'intellectual' game.

Van joined us for a 5 player game of Tribune. The two main mechanics of the game are worker placement and set collection. The varied combos of victory conditions allow multiple routes to victory and play in a decent time. I completed my 3 necessary victory conditions first, but Joseph similarly accomplished that by the end of the round. He beat me in points though, 26 to 22, taking the tie-breaker. I have mixed feelings towards the game although Van seems to like it, which is BIG. Like I mentioned, I do enjoy most games that possess multiple routes to victory that play in a reasonable time. However, the worker placement options did all seem rather similar. Almost all just give you cards with a minor twist on the cost or the means of obtaining them. It also feels that one is largely focused on achieving his or her own objectives during the game without much attention being paid to the play of others. Perhaps this will improve with more plays. I haven't exactly written the game off at this point but compared to my pre-purchase expectations, it has been mildly disappointing. The jury's still out on this one.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

6th Jan 2010 Session Report: First Attempt At Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica

Matt brought back Battlestar Galactica for me recently and I had been eager to give it a go. The opportunity finally arrived and the bonus was that I was able to round up a posy of 5 to give it a go. I have read that the game plays arguably best with 5, without the sympathizer. Furthermore, I suppose it's more fun to have 2 on the Cylon side yet avoiding the increased downtime with 6.

The rules overwhelmed me the first time I read through it. Thankfully, there were player aids and summarized rules on BGG which helped organize the material more logically than the FFG rulebook. I did realize however that the way to intro the game was probably not to bog the other players down with the book-keeping details but simply present the pertinent info necessary to play.

Marcus was the only one who had attempted the game before while it was the first play for Van, Ivan, Ben and myself. As it turned out, Ivan and I drew Cylon cards from the go. I chose to play a variant that shortened the game, in hope of not having Van sour on the game because of its length.

The variant dialed down resources to 6 fuel, 6 food, 7 morale and 10 population. In addition, Galactica starts with one less raptor and two less vipers compared to the original set-up. The Sleeper phase is triggered after a jump distance of 3 and the humans win if they jump unscathed after a distance of 6. The only other change is that centurions that board Galactica begin on the 2nd space of the boarding track.

The variant worked reasonably well and we completed the game in about 2 hours, including rules explanation. Fuel, food and morale ended in the red zone although no centurions successfully boarded the ship throughout the game.

I took Roslin and held on to the role of President for majority of the game till Marcus wrested it from me towards the end with strong support of Ben. Unfamiliarity resulted in no Quorum cards being played and player action tended to concentrate on the use of Galactica's guns to take out the Cylon ships. There seems to be many options unexplored and hopefully, there will increased variability with more plays. I mistakenly assumed that it was the President who chose the destination card when it should have been the Admiral. I suppose it did give an added advantage to the Cylons since I ended up choosing instead of Van who was playing as Saul Tigh with William Adama out of the game. Although there was only one choice that made a significant difference where I chose the destination card with a distance 1 instead the other with a distance of 3.

Ivan did not take any risky moves all game due to his unfamiliarity of the game. He didn't reveal even to the end of the game. Van was on to me from the start due to a couple of unnecessary risky discards although the attempt to brig me failed. In order to avoid further suspicion, I played my cards duely but took every opportunity to dump my cards, so that I lacked any to be of help during crisis checks. Apparently, there are many opportunities to 'lose' cards when you are the President. The humans managed a distance of 6 and were heading for their victory jump when I revealed, and my Cylon action allowed me to deal the final blow taking fuel to zero.

I enjoyed the game because it feels remarkably different from my other games. Van wasn't impressed since the theme didn't appeal to her. I also suppose the group playing the game is important since much of the fun hinges on the metagame. Looking forward to more plays most definitely - hopefully it will see play sufficiently to hold a place in my collection.

The Princes of Florence

This was Van's pick and since we had 5, I was all for it. I wasn't sure if it was Marcus' first play but he played extremely well, thanks to him obtaining 3 Jesters. I was feeling good about my chances mid-game through and planned to end the game strongly by producing 2 works in each of the final two rounds. Alas, Marcus managed to do the same, robbing me of the work bonus in the penultimate round and outbidding me for the recruiting card I needed to produce an additional work in the last round. I gambled instead on a second Prestige card and drew a good one but still fell short by a point, 59 to his 60 points. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the game tremendously and the play once again cemented the PoF as one of my favs.

Hansa Teutonica

Marcus taught Ivan and Ben Hansa and before long, we had a go at a 5 player game. I was behind most game but managed to garner enough points for a 2nd place finish. The points were all rather close though Marcus took the game by a significant margin from the rest of us. Van had control of a good number of offices but failed to string them together for valuable network points. I found myself thinking about game strategy after the play, which is always a good sign. 5 player did drag a bit longer especially since we were still new to the game but even so, I wouldn't consider it a long game by any means.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Quarter, A Dime & Assorted Nickels for 2009

Wow, time flies... I can't believe that I have actually maintained this blog for over a year. I did wonder when I started it in Dec 2008 whether I could sustain the interest of updating it regularly. I must say that while there were a couple of quieter months especially in the middle of the year, I'm rather satisfied to see an average of 8-10 posts per month. Of course, my frequency of posting usually parallels my gaming life. The barren months suggest in all likelihood that I wasn't seeing much joy at the gaming table either.

Reading the Five and Dime lists on BGG reminded me that it would be a good exercise to undergo myself to learn more about my most played games in 2009. So without further ado, here's my Quarter, Dime and Nickels list...

Sole Quarter - Glory to Rome (25 plays)

No surprise here since GtR IS Van's and my fav game. Many of the games have been with 3 players and thus almost filler-like in its play time as we get more and more experienced with the game. Hoping to play it more with 4 or even 5 as I find that those numbers enhance the interaction viable between players. For example, with 4, the Palisade allows the Legionary action to steal from all 3 players instead of just your neighbours.

Sole Dime - Settlers Card Game (15 plays)

This was Van's and my couple game of choice and we went on a tear when I first acquired the game, clocking over 10 plays in a relatively short period of time. We liked it so much that I went ahead to acquire 2 sets of the game, including expansions so that we could fully appreciate the deck-building element of its tournament format. Ironically, we haven't been able to get it to the table much since then. Here's hoping that 2010 will provide opportunities to bring it to the table despite its slightly longish playtime.

Nickels List

7 plays
Stone Age

There was strong interest in this game when it was first acquired but the spark sort of fizzled over time and I sold it eventually. A good gateway game, accessible and not overly random despite the inclusion of dice. However, limited interaction and rather longish for what it is.

6 plays
A Game of Thrones LCG
The Princes of Florence
Le Havre
Monopoly Deal Card Game

Some of my absolute favs here, which I hope to see more plays of in the new year. Le Havre plays a bit long and the huge variety of building powers makes it slightly difficult to intro to new players although the core mechanics are really quite straightforward. PoF is arguably my 2nd favourite game but unfortunately I will only play it with 5, which probably explains why it doesn't see more plays. As for AGoT LCG, it's a rather new game and I do enjoy playing it very much. Hopefully, I'll be able to find a regular group to play it since it's not really Van's kind of game.

5 plays
Battle Line
High Society
Liar's Dice

Mostly fillers here. I like China's depth-time ratio which makes it unique in the filler category of my collection. Endeavor suffered somewhat the same fate as Stone Age - entered with a blaze but I ultimately decided it wasn't a game I needed to own especially since I prefer the somewhat similar but deeper Hansa Teutonica. Not a bad game by any means and on any day, I would probably prefer playing it to a game like Stone Age.


Have a rather huge list of games under 5 plays. The ones that came close were Settlers, Fairy Tale, Chicago Express and Age of Empires III with 4. Hoping to see more of CE at the table in 2010. Should be a high possibility with its very reasonable playtime. Some of the Euro greats at 3 plays such as El Grande and Puerto Rico.

All in all, 167 plays of 44 games (29 new). Not too shabby I think?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Christmas Season Gaming

I had a couple of Christmas parties in December and took the opportunity to introduce the guests to some games. Most of my guests were non-gamers so I figured the typical Eurogames were probably not appropriate for the occasion. In the end, I settled on Liar's Dice, Monopoly Deal and a new acquisition, Time's Up: Title Recall.

Liar's Dice

This went over well, and my ex-students enjoyed the game very much. Somehow, the combination of rolling the dice coupled with the bluffing and guessing going on adds a degree of charm to this filler. I can see how this serves as an excellent party game though I will be hesitant to go with this with more than 6-7 players to avoid increased downtime. The weakness of Liar's Dice as a party game lies in its player elimination as it is much less interesting when you get eliminated early and have to watch from the sidelines.

Monopoly Deal Card Game

This seemed to go down well with my guests in general although we did have a game with 5 which seemed to drag on unnecessarily. I suspect the sweet spot for the game is probably 3-4. Nonetheless the simplicity of the rules coupled with the general fast pace and accessible theme makes this one of the revelations of 2009 for me with respect to fillers.

Time's Up: Title Recall

I was surprised I actually bought a party game but I figured it would come in useful during the multiple parties with larger groups. Tom Vasel has nothing but praise for this game and I hoped that it would not disappoint. Verdict? I really enjoyed the game mechanics in that it goes beyond merely charades, to incorporate a memory element. Unfortunately, my groups were largely unfamiliar with the titles on the cards, perhaps due to its largely American context. I suppose experienced players could get round the unfamiliarity but I found myself having to select titles familiar for the group in order not to make it overly frustrating for them in the first round. Nonetheless, this version was probably the correct choice as I can only imagine the greater difficulty posed by the original version with its celebrity names. One final point I noted was that the game is best played in pairs and thus the ideal group size shouldn't exceed 10. Unfortunately, my groups totaled 15-20 mostly and so we had to play in teams of 3 or 4 which was less than ideal. It excels as a party game for medium groups but it makes me wonder whether there are better games out there for larger groups.