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?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fantasy Fridays - World of Greyhawk RPG sessions

So, after moving back to Virginia recently, the Gaming with Chuck headquarters staff has recently become involved in a World of Greyhawk based 2nd Edition AD&D game.

The game currently consists of 6 players and a dungeon master.  The basic plot so far is this...

The player-characters (a future post will describe them - very interesting adventurers) as well as a few NPCs that are following them, had prior to the start of the game signed on with a Diplomatic Mission that was sent with a variety of ambassadors from the Heartland of the Flanaess (Furyondy, the Ulek states, Greyhawk, Nyrond, etc), down to the Hold of the Sea Princes.
The game started with the Diplomatic Mission successfully completed,, and the players (and other members of the entourage) sailing home.  The ship was attacked by dragon turtles, and the ship swamped.  The players escaped to make it to a previously unknown island.

The island featured a central vocanic cone, covered and surrounded by tropical jungle.  The inhabitants consisted of (1) a large wild boar, captured and partially eaten by hungry Adventurers, (2) cannibal tribesmen, (3) lizardmen, and (4) bullywugs.  The last two have curious cultures strongly influenced by the Hepmonaland Olman tribes, on this island, and are at war with each other.

The adventurers, in exploring the island and looking for something that could help them off, found a series of strange ancient pylons that were connected by some teleportation magic.  They had reason to believe, from artifacts found, as well as curious artwork in one of the pylons, that there was a way to use the master teleportation focus (each is a table covered in gemstones, reminiscent of the Sleestak tables from Land of the Lost) to reach other parts of the Flanaess - maybe even somewhere close to home.

So the adventurers ventured on looking for the master teleportation focus.  It turns out it is inside a curious fortress, built inside the cone of the volcano.

Which brings us to our current adventure - the exploration of Volcano Fortress on Cannibal Island.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Traveller Amber Zone - Sword Dance

There was a good looking Amber Zone contest over at Amber Zone.  Unfortunately, with my travels (real life) lately, I missed the submission date.

Here it is - set inside one of the two super powers on the balkanized world of Margesi in the Vilis subsector of the Spinward Marches.

Amber Zone - Sword Dance (1105, Margesi/Vilis)
Location: Western edge of the Chergen Mountains, in People's Republic of Gome (PRoG)

Patron: Commander Sinew, Imperial Naval Intelligence, contacting the travellers clandestinely, in the Kingdom of Evariidi, or perhaps the Margesi starport.

Mission: Travel to the western edge of the Chergen Mountains, contact some of the local clans of Chergen cossacks, who never fully assimilated into the People's Republic. One in particular, Katrinka the Knife, has agreed to serve as a guide. She knows the location of a Sword World Military cache buried underground, at the old Gram Star-Militia troop site - situated to provide a training cadre for the capitol city of Isenstadt, on the other side of the Mountains. When Gram controlled Margesi for the Sworld Worlders, Isenstadt was the world capitol, and home of the main starbase. The cache has unknown amounts of military supplies buried in protected containers, but of interest to the Imperial Naval Intelligence, are some memory tanks with technical details of a Sword World missile frigate being designed 20 years ago, and now coming into production.

Payoff: The Intelligence officer will offer some consideration in removing past offenses from the records of the travellers, and also agrees that they can keep half of all the military stores they uncover, with the other half going to Katrinka the Knife, and her band of Cossack warriors.

Complications: The location is deep inside a militarized Soviet style country that is still very loyal to the Sword World, even though 20 some years ago, the planet came back into Imperial protection. Also, the location is rural and hazardous (the cache is in a rocky highland valley). Dealing with the Cossacks is not going to be easy, and in fact, to prove themselves the players will have to spend a night successfully carousing with the band (Carouse or Liaison skill test to be successful), and one of the members of the group will have to try the sword dance (Art: Dance, modified by Dex). Three dice rolls are required, of successful harder difficulties (6+, 8+, 10+) representing faster and faster Cossack music. If the player passes all three, the Cossacks are completely loyal allies, lesser results will have the Cossacks being less tightly allied to the players.

Reaching the cache is tough enough (survival and mountaineering may be required), but occasional patrols of PRoG solders (flak, autorifle, hand grenades) may cause additional problems. The extremely rough terrain precludes the use of long-range radio, but after 2 or 3 days the loss of PRoG army patrols will be noticed.

The cache is underground, inside a small bunker complex. Katrinka knows the location of the entrance, but not how to get in. The complex is protected by a series of TL10 security measures. The stash includes the digital memory tanks for the Intelligence officer, as well as dozens of TL10 small arms; cloth armor; ammo; and most important, a dozen each of TL10 communicators and TL10 medikits.

The special challenge for the travellers, will be escaping with the goods. On the way out of the area, with whatever stash they can carry on horseback (or vehicles if they risk it), they (and Katrinka's band of cossacks) will be attacked by another band of Cossacks, intent on thieving the goods. They will be armed with a variety of small arms, but not grenades or armor. They make up for their lack of armor in excellent ambush skills and fieldcraft.