Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Twelve Plays of Christmas

Christmas is a wonderful, unique time of the year - centered around the modern interpretation of a Christian Holy festival.  At Gaming with Chuck headquarters, we do many of the things (both religious and non-religious) that others do - we decorate the house, celebrate with family time and food, immerse ourselves in medieval Carols, as well as Victorian and modern songs, and try to spend time with friends, as well as much more family time than the rest of the year. Celebrating the birth of Christ with as much joy as we can muster.

During this time, one of the ways we spend our relaxation time together is (of course) by playing games.  So, once the weeks of the Advent started ticking down, and vacation times started, we started having multiple opportunities for board game sessions.  I wanted to get at least twelve good plays in this year (the "Twelve Plays of Christmas"), and if you count everything (including card fillers, etc) between the Saturday of December 13 (the weekend when vacation time for me started), up through January 1, we had 28 games.

For a list, check out these Board Game Geek stats.

Now, granted, at least 8 of those plays were lightweight filler games, but that still leaves a respectable amount.  I didn't get to play some of the heavier Euros I like to play, and no wargames included, but this was Family time, and Friend time, and we did get in some pretty respectable titles, regardless.

Breaking it down by Title, here is the list (from most plays to least plays):

Shadows over Camelot (3)
Trans Europa (3)
Yardmaster (3)
Guillotine (2)
Power Grid: The First Sparks (2)
Sushi Go! (2)
Ticket to Ride: 10th Anniversary (2)
Carcassonne (1)
Category 5 (1)
Easy Breezy Travel Agency (1)
Flash Point: Fire Rescue (1)
Lords of Waterdeep (1)
Munchkin Adventure Time (1)
Pandemic: The Cure (1)
Salmon Run (1)
Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries (1)
Trekking the National Parks (1)
Valley of the Kings (1)

This did not include iPad plays of Ticket to Ride, Agricola, Stone Age, and Lords of Waterdeep (of which there were many, especially of the first two).

Of this list, some of these titles were new.  Here is a brief comment on those that are new to the staff at Gaming with Chuck:

Yardmaster - We got this title recently, benefits of a Kickstarter campaign.  It is a great little card game, with a nice industrial age Train theme, and we like it a lot.  Also came with Yardmaster Express,which we have not tried yet, but also looks good (and even shorter time to play).  Played a three way game with myself and two other competitive card players - it was quite tight and close scoring. Very satisfying.

Power Grid: First Sparks - We have owned this for a few years, but with the move last year, and other things going on, this is one of those titles that has been waiting to be played.  We finally tried it, and we like it.  Compares well with Power Grid - simpler, less complex economy, but much shorter playing time.  A good trade off - makes both very attractive, for different reasons.

Sushi Go! - This one was a Christmas gift for a good friend, and as we all enjoy drafting games, we thought we would like it.  I think we liked it more than our friends did!  Lightweight, but plays in a few short moments, and would be a good "set the mood" game for something deeper.

Easy Breezy Travel Agency - This is the first of the six pack in Dice Hate Me's "54 Card Rabbits" series, that we received recently (again, compliments of a Kickstarter campaign).  This is a really fun little game.  There might be a strategy hidden here, but it seems like it is over too quick for someone to get bent out of shape over not finding it.  Fun, and fast.

Munchkin Adventure Time - We don't care for Munchkin too much at GwC headquarters, however we do love Adventure Time - so this was a good compromise.  The character cards seem to be just right, and the many, many references (some esoteric) to elements of the TV show had us all giggling.  Played with a youngster, a teenager, and several adults - all fans of the show - as well as an older friend who didn't know what it was.  All of us loved it, regardless, and had a great Munchkin game (Editor: is there such a thing?) in the process.

Pandemic: The Cure - The staff at Gaming with Chuck are split on Pandemic.  Actually we are split on cooperative games in general.  Meaning, I like them, and the Mrs does not.  However, given that this (the Pandemic dice game) plays fast, is very interesting, and isn't too terribly cooperative, it was quite fun, and still didn't feel like a bunch of individual solitaire games going on (like, say, the Catan dice game, or some others).

Trekking the National Parks - This one is pretty fun.  It is a draw cards and move game, with the goal of getting Park card by visiting parks on the map, and turning in sets of cards.  Or is it a move around and collect stones to have the largest amount of certain colors?  Or is it a collect post cards, and then turn them into VPs by playing sets of cards?  Any of these three things seem like a reasonable path to victory in this deceptively simple (but fun) game about our national park system.  Very fun - drew many comparisons to Ticket to Ride - I felt like it was of an older Alan Moon vintage - one of his Elfen games.

Valley of the Kings - We have played this one a few times now - during this recent Christmas period, and a few times back around Thanksgiving.  It is a great little deck builder, with some innovative mechanics.  We love it - the theme, the play, the length of time, all of it.  Some really neat ideas for different strategies, but the strongest seems to be concentration on a particular category or two.  Not sure about timing of the collection of scoring cards (unlike Dominion, etc - this one has you removing cards from play in order to have them count as final scoring artifacts).  Is it better to score all throughout, or to get some big stuff at the end?  Will have to play more to experiment.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving Gaming pt 2

The holiday was fantastic!  Not only a great time of thanks, and fellowship - visiting friends, wonderful meals, relaxation and conversation - but also a great time for some gaming!

Of the original list from Part 1 of this article, three of the games (Pigpen, X-Wing, Age of War) were not played.  But the other three were, along with some other games that we played and tried out.

Trans-America was a lot of fun.  We played two times, one with four players, and one with six players.  Fun each and every time.  Originally a title from Winsome Games (as Iron Road), we have the printing from Rio Grande games (and Trans-Europa, along with the Vexation add-on).

There was a game of Valley of the Kings - all of the players were new to the game (including yours truly - my first time playing).  We picked up on it pretty well.  By the third or fourth time around the table, all four players had the hang of things, and had a grasp on the "entomb" focus of the game.  The end score, however, was a little spread out.  Top scorer had 45 points, two middle scorers had 26 and 27, and bottom scorer had 16.  Closer next time, I'm sure.

There was a seven player game of Elder Sign, where the intrepid adventurers ventured into the haunted museum One More Time to do battle with the minions of some outre, alien being.  Lots of dice rolling, tension, etc, and a win just in time.

There was a mad, mad round of Walk the Plank.  Further comment prohibited by the decency board.

A really good game (four player) of Lords of Waterdeep happened.  Great time.  We did not use the expansion, but probably could have, for more mayhem.

The game about the Justice League, defending the Watchtower, that is available only from Target - Justice League: Axis of Villains - was brought out.  It is a super hero themed Fortress Defense game, only this time four of the members of the Justice League (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and the Flash) are working hard to keep a batch of DC Comics villains away.  Lots of fun, and I got to be Green Lantern, one of my favorites.  (why is there no Aquaman in the game?)

Finally, there was a game of Pandemic, to round out the board games.  As with Waterdeep and Elder Sign, none of the expansions available were used, but the base game (this time with four players) was quite good regardless. The roles we had were Dispatcher, Scientist, Medic and Researcher.  We played at the basic (Introductory) level, and we barely won.  The Player Deck was about to run out, even though we already suffered through the four Epidemics.

We also were treated to a short run through of Adventure Maximus - a (sort of) mix between a roleplaying game and a card driven strategy game (although in this case, it is fantasy adventure in a sort of Adventure Time type setting).  Very much fun.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Gaming pt 1

Looking forward to time with friends and family this weekend. Planning some games, of course.
1. Lords of Waterdeep
2. Valley of the Kings
3. Trans-America
4. Pigpen
5. Age of War
6. X-Wing

After Action reports on all the fun, in a few days...

Monday, November 10, 2014

The power of Theme for Boardgames

So, just recently, I attended another session of the Fredericksburg Game Guild - this time it was a Sunday night meetup at the local game store - Game Vault.

First, a few kind words about Game Vault.  A very nice store.  I met the owner (Cathy) as well as some of the guys who work behind the counter.  Knowledgeable about games and gaming, certainly willing to entertain different opinions and interests, and eager to help a customer.  The store is clean, has all that a game store needs (drinks, bathroom, plenty of game space, lots of in-stock product, nice environment, and handfuls of gamers in the store doing what that tribe does...).  I enjoyed my time there, and will likely be back.

Second, the game we played - Stone Age.  Great game, from Rio Grande games (originally Hans Im Gluck, but I have the first English edition, from RGG, from 2009).  Worker placement, dice for tension, lots of win strategies - what's not to like?  And a ton of caveman jokes.

But playing Stone Age got me thinking.  Along the lines of the theme idea we had during our last gameday at the house - where we combined three games, to come up with a melded theme.  The games were Age of War, TransAmerica, and Trains - melding the themes of Japan (Age of War and Trains) with Railroad Building (TransAmerica and Trains).

Theme is separate from mechanics, but theme is important also.  At least to us here at Gaming With Chuck HQ, its important.  So I started thinking about picking a theme (as in the case of Stone Age - primitive man, prehistory, caveman - you choose one), and then trying to come up with three games (of different types of mechanics) to go along with that theme.

Sticking with Prehistory, lets go with:
1. Stone Age (worker placement)
2. Settlers of the Stone Age (civilization building)
3. Fossil (set collection)

Equally, just pulling from titles that either are currently, or used to be, part of the GwC library - these could have also been counted in:
4. Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers (tile laying)
5. Bitin' Off Hedz (roll and move, racing)
6. Neolithibum (dexterity)
7. Triassic Terror (area control)
8. Sticks & Stones (wargame)
9. Trias (area control)
10. Og (wargame)
11. Dino Hunt (dice push your luck)
 - probably some others I am forgetting...

Depending on the group, I might include Carcassonne: Hunters and Gathers in for Fossil.  If I wanted to shorten the session, I might include Dino Hunt instead of Settlers of the Stone Age.  All of these have a similar (or at least within the same family) theme - but very different mechanisms.  Even the similar ones - such as both Sticks & Stones and Og being hex-and-counter wargames - they are very different from each other.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Boardgame Meetup - Fredericksburg Game Guild

I attended my first meetup with the Fredericksburg Game Guild last night, which met at the England Run Library, in Fredericksburg.  The Group gets together several times per week and per month, for different meetings in different venues - and the individuals I met last night seem like it is a very good group.
England Run Library - the meeting rooms are down the hallway you can see to the right.

The shortcoming of the weeknight meeting at the library, of course, is that it is time constrained.  They meet from 6-9, which isn't a bad length for a meeting, but about 1 hour too short, if you want to play two meaty games.  It is time, however, for a reasonable length game, and maybe a short filler or two.

Last night I played two different titles, one new to me, and one somewhat familiar.  The first was the new title - Room 25.  The folks in the game were really excited because the theme is evidently based on the very successful and very popular trilogy of Cube movies.  I don't know anything about them, sadly.  However, I get the gist of the game.

The people I played with were extremely friendly and fun to play with.  The guy who owned the game, and introduced it to us, was very pleasant and did a good job of introducing the rules.  The game, however, was one I probably won't play again.  As I mentioned in my notes on Board Game Geek, this was a perfect example of a game session where "I loved the group, and had a good time, but I wasn't really crazy about the game."
Components of the game Room 25 *
The components of the game were excellent, and the idea (using programmed movement to explore a maze that the players have to escape from, together) was pretty good.  I like how 1 or 2 of the group members might be working for the Prison Guards.  But overall, there just didn't feel like there was enough going on.  And it felt like the end game was decided a priori.  In both our sessions, there was little (or nothing) that one side or the other could do about changing the endgame situation, over the last 3 or 4 turns of the game.  And considering that once the endgame mechanism is triggered, there are 5 or fewer turns left, that is not so good in my opinion.  Maybe an expansion will come out that will change things, or a similar theme but different mechanics.  I hold out hope to become impressed enough to play again.

The second game that I got to play was... Glass Road.  This is a great game by Uwe Rosenberg.  Unlike many of his other titles, this is one that could be played in as short as an hour or so, by experienced players.  There is a lot going on with this game, with a very large decision space, and a lot of potential strategies that the player could take, in order to try to win.  It has great components, terrific theme, and excellent mechanics (with some innovations too).
Layout of game, showing player map of countryside, with terrain tiles and building tiles *

The theme is basically, the players are all competing manufacturing interests in Medieval Germany, building up the facilities and resource sources to enable them to be profitable manufacturers of glass and bricks (similar processes with similar resources required).  Game play is in turn, selecting roles, and then carrying out actions related to those roles.  Actions involved either collecting resources, modifying the consist of your local countryside (filling in ponds, digging sand pits, harvesting forests), and then building facilities that benefit you in some way.  Great game, as always, and a bit lighter than other Rosenberg titles.
Setting up to play - from Game night at Moxie (Columbus, GA)

The very clever resource clocks - also from Game night at Moxie (Columbus, GA)

I had a great time playing, with three other players all of whom were new to me, and will always happily play this one again in the future.

Overall, the meetup was a great success for me.  I met some really nice local gamers - some of whom are also Roleplayers and Wargamers - and I plan to attend some more in the future!  Hopefully next time I'll get to teach a game or two to some people.  Nothing is better about the gaming hobby, than sharing with other fans.

* = These images are from Board Game Geek

Monday, November 3, 2014

Boardgaming Evening

Gaming with Chuck HQ (now in historic Stafford Virginia - "George Washington played Settlers of Catan Here!") was recently a scene to a pleasant autumn Boardgaming evening.  All of the staff members (and two of the staff cats) were present, as well as a local visitor.  We originally had three things on the menu, bringing together a nice suite of themes and different styles games.  The original plan was to play Reiner Knizia's Age of War dice game from Fantasy Flight, also Franz-Benno Delonge's Trans America, and finally capping it with Hisashi Hayashi's great deck building game, Trains.

The thinking was this - these are three very different games, mechanically.  But the themes were the connective tissue.  Age of War is themed for Feudal Japan.  Trans America is themed for Rail Empire building.  And Trains is themed for Rail Empire building in Japan.  Voila - secret sauce is made!  The mechanics, however, are what made the mix very interesting.

Age of War is mechanically a dice game that preserves the same structure of the game Risk Express.  Now, this same mechanic found its way into Elder Sign, but in that game, the simple "assign dice to targets; complete all targets to capture a goal" mechanic is complicated with many, many different options (some goals require targets to be completed in order; many different benefits exist to help the player such as equipment and spells; extra targets can creep into a goal, in the form of monsters; there is a whole meta game around the basic mechanic; etc.).  But, since the admirable dice game, Risk Express was on the "to acquire" list for Gaming with Chuck HQ for quite some time, this new version out (with a feudal Japanese theme, no less) is very welcome.  And as a game it does not disappoint - it is a pretty easy game, simple to play, and fast turns, but there is enough strategy going on, and possible paths to winning, that there is some amount of decision making - a bit more than many dice games, a lot less than many more complicated games. Just enough to make you feel as if you are waging a campaign to capture the country.
Age of War - excellent components, in a small box. *

Trans America is mechanically a network building game.  It has a rail empire theme, but unlike many railroad themed games, there is no concept of cargo or passengers to pick up and carry.  The focus on railroading in Trans America is much more strategic than that of merely pushing cargoes around - it is of building a network of rails to connect cross-continental cities.  As a game, it is pretty simple to explain and play, but it still has some good decision making built into it - chiefly of timing.  As in - do you push and build your own network, or concentrate somewhere else and rely on your opponents to fill in the network infrastructure that you can also make use of , later?  A fun game, and if there were such a thing as Trans Japan, we might have tried that, to fit in with the theme.  There is a Japanese tie in for the game - in 2002, Trans America won the Japan Boardgame Prize for Best Foreign Game for Beginners.  Something interesting to look out for - a document of 20 different Trans America variants.  Mixed in with the Vexation variant (which typically ships with Trans Europa), there is lots there to complicate or change this simple little decision making game.

Excellent components from Trans America - Dinner table accessories, not included. *
Once we played Age of War and Trans America, however, we then broke for dinner (excellent Chinese food), and decided to watch Dr. Who.  We'll get to play Trains next time, I'm sure.  I wanted to bring up the mix, because I thought there were some interesting aspects to the three games we had originally planned for.  More game days are definitely needed.

Trains - next time, definitely. *
* = images from Board Game Geek.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

World of Greyhawk game - intermission

Two weeks ago we had another session in the World of Greyhawk game.  The regular tempo of the gaming sessions would have had another this week (November 1), however it is being put off until the next session (November 15), because of schedule conflicts.  This seemed like a good time to get caught up on the outline of the adventure so far . . .

Background and Introduction
Players started out on a diplomatic mission to visit Monmurg, the capital city of the Hold of the Sea Princes.  The diplomats were various faction representatives from powerful trading guilds and money interests from the City of Greyhawk.  The players were all hired bodyguards, servants, assistants, secretaries and the like.  The game started with the players having spent several months in Monmurg - attending parties, running errands, and enjoying the various excesses of the wealthy pirate city.  But, alas, all good things come to an end, and it was time to travel home.

Travel Home
The players, and their employers, had prepared to sail home in the Verlina Muse, a trade dromon of the Mayor of Greyhawk's fleet.  The ship was loaded, goodbyes were said to various trading partners, new friends, and romantic partners, and then the ship was off.  Sailing along the souther coast of Jetsom Isle, and passing between Jetsom and Fairwind, the ship caught the trade winds north.  Less than two days out from Monmurg, in the middle of night, the Verlina Muse was attacked, and swamped by two dragon turtles.

The Verlina Muse fighting off bandits on Whyestil Lake
Their ship swamped, and most of the crew and passengers lost (or at least, they could not be found in the dark of night), the characters took stock of their surroundings, and got aboard one of the ship's boats (being towed behind, until the dragon turtle attack).  When dawn came, the inhabitants of the boat found that the dragon turtles had departed, but the only thing left of their former vessel was floating debris and steaming wreckage.  In the morning light, however, a distant (but visible) island was spotted, and the crew of the little boat rowed for the island.

The boat shot through the reef surf of the small volcanic island, and landed on a broad strand on the southwest corner of an island, covered in dense jungle, but featuring the tall cone of a smoking volcano at the center of the island.  The characters took stock of their supplies and proceeded to begin hunting for food and looking for shelter.  A great wild boar, chased from the edge of the jungle, led the characters along the length of their part of beach, up to the jungle edge.  After catching the boar, and slaying it, a roasting pit was dug, and the characters prepared for a massive pig roast.  Then the cannibals attacked out of the jungle.  Naked stone-age tribesmen, employing stone chip covered clubs and blowguns, were dangerous but eventually defeated by the heroes.  The encounter gave the adventurers their name for the island, however - Cannibal Island.

Moving upcountry from the lands immediately around the beaches, the adventurers encountered a number of hostile bullywugs.  These had affected some curious variation of the Amedio Jungle Olman culture.  Employing poison darts, and again strange clubs set with razor thin chips of obsidian, these bullywugs were dangerous customers, but the adventurers managed to fight through the several encounters that they had.  A final run in with cannibals also proved victorious for the adventurers, however during that encounter, they found a strange foreign magic at work - it enabled a cannibal witch doctor to control a huge individual warrior from one of the tribes.  That warrior was actually an ogre that was adopted by the tribe, and controlled by a young assistant to the witch doctor.  The adventurers dispatched the ogre, and then chased off the young assistant.
Bullywug warrior

As the adventurers climbed the jungle covered mountainside, leading up the huge volcano cone, at the center of the island.  During this ascent, a curious tribe of lizard men was encountered.  Not only do they have a strange ancestor worship culture, but they are also engaged in a deadly war with the bullywug tribes from the swampy jungle land at the base of the high country.  A curious feature of these lizard men is the fact that they are protecting some strange pylons that exist on the island.  These structures are advanced stone buildings, in the shape of a large obelisk, that have an open space at their heart.  In this space, the ones the adventurers explored, had curious tables in them, covered in magic gems.   The gems, when placed in a particular configuration, could open up teleportation rings to certain other locations (other pylons, and also a castle located at the top of the volcano).  The adventurers decided to ascend the mountain to find out more, and to see if this teleportation ability could be used to help them escape from the island.
Curious lizard men of cannibal island

Damsel in Distress
While ascending the mountain, the adventurers encountered, and then rescued, a young lady from Furyondy (!) who was located on the island.  It turns out she explained that she was on the ship that sunk, and indeed was escorted by four soldiers from the ship - members of the Mayor of Greyhawk's Marine Light Infantry Legion (the City of Greyhawk Marines).  The lady, who identified herself as Linda, and the four marines, accompanied the adventurers up the mountain.
Curious table with magic gems, controlling telportation portals.

The adventurers encountered a Lizard Man pylon, that had several layers of subterranean rooms and chambers underneath it.  Upon exploring it, they encountered a curious band of intelligent baboons, armed with wicked curved sabers and shields, and part of a strange culture that worships an entity called the "glass goddess".  Their curious religion features around an infernal creature that appears as a large, crystal clear, version of an angler fish, that can fly through the air.  The baboons had a temple, among the chambers underneath the pylon, dedicated to this entity.  The adventurers sensed the evil of the temple, and destroyed the cult and killed the baboon guards.  They then discovered one of the pylon teleportation devices, linking the chambers to the castle at the top of the mountain.  The adventurers lept through the portal, leaving behind Linda and her Marines (who did not descend into the dungeon of the Baboon cultists).
Lizard Man pylon encountered by curious primates

The Citadel in the Volcano
The adventurers, upon entering and exploring the castle at the top of the Volcano, have discovered that it was built a long, long time ago from a curious green stone, but that the large empty chambers and halls are now occupied by an assortment of bullywugs and lizardmen, who are engaged in deadly combat with each other.
Citadel in the Volcano

When we last left the adventurers they were deep in the bowels of the Citadel in the Volcano.  They had found several of the teleportation devices that lead to specific locations around the various lands of the World of Greyhawk, however, they have not yet found a working device that can carry them home.  Questions remain, however - where is Linda and her marines?  What about the Baboons?  Who built the pylons originally?  How much treasure can they carry out?  Will they survive to carry out any?