Friday, June 30, 2006

The Road to Recovery

Medium-term readers of this blog will remember the distressful day I posted the news that my wife had left me. I was in tears when I wrote that news, and have been many times since. Compared to many break-ups though, this one has been amicable and not particularly stressful. Friends regularly mention periods of years taken to overcome that sort of loss, and I can only think that I'm doing better than that. The important news is that my boy seems to be coping, and we share care of him, and I'm getting much better at looking after him. I mean, I always knew the important things like what games he liked, but who would've thought you had to feed children as well?

Here is a symptom of my recovery: in June I have logged more games played (78) than any other month except March (96). That suggests that my gaming life is well and truly back on track, though not at the level of the blissfully ignorant weeks before the break-up. That's 398 this year so far... man I coulda been on track for 1000 in a calendar year if... ah, no point worrying about that. I'll be back logging games of Lost Cities in no time.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Two New Games that Feel Old

OzGamer came along to BookRealm last night with a box of games, and probably felt a bit like the new dog at the dog park - we all ran up to him and sniffed his... oh hang on, that's a bad analogy. I mean I wanted to play all his games. There were 6 of us, and the best I could offer was Citadels but OzGamer had Fist of Dragonstones which I hadn't played, so we played that first. As it turns out, it plays a lot like Citadels anyway with those annoying auction thingies. Plugh. It took a couple of rounds to know what to expect from the standard characters, and by that time we understood the value of the black coin as well. Then we got serious.

Trevor had managed to score 2 points in the first round (before we figured out why the black coin was vital), so I was way behind. Then coming second in a bid for the thief cost me a stone, and I wasn't looking good at all. I started by setting small goals - get a red stone this round, convert 3 different coloured stones to a point. RealmKeeper liked taking the black coin, and could be trusted to prevent Trevor from winning the game. I went in hard on the character which allows you to buy stones, and got myself a decent stock at the expense of my bank. I was able to get to 2 points, but then had no stones left. With multiple players on 2 points, and several with stones, those of us who couldn't win needed to be on top of our game to prevent anyone else from winning. However we blinked and OzGamer managed to defeat us all.

Next game we played was Lowenherz. I'm a big fan of Domaine, so I was interested in trying it out. Trevor had played Domaine, and OzGamer had played Lowenherz, so only Walter was really new to the game. We used the quick set-up, which felt like cheating, but since so many things were different in this game we at least were granted decent start positions. It's sort of different - the mines work significantly differently, the cities are more valuable - but it's also very much the same. I made a big move towards the end which put me a mile in front, and made me a huge target. So I got shot down. Trevor couldn't catch up so just made life miserable for people (mostly me). I was pinning my hopes on 12 victory points in political cards in my hand, but after being raped pillaged and plundered by Trevor and Walter I could only manage to come equal second with Walter, both of us behind OzGamer.

I didn't really like the auction phase - I don't know how much things are worth, and I can't tell whether I'm making a decent move. In Domaine you just need to assess the risk of someone taking a card you sell and using it against you. I find Domaine less lucky and more analytical, so it's more my style.

Friday, June 23, 2006


We had seven players at Cyberkev's house last night. Seven is the worst number for gaming (after one) because there are very few games that take seven, but the group is small enough that you don't really want to split into two groups. Besides, whenever we split Cyberkev and I end up being in separate groups and then I can't beat him.

But we had a go at seven player Werewolf - one moderator, one wolf, one seer, four villagers, werewolf kills on the first night. That means the first lynching is five players and the second is three players. With five players there is not really enough to go on, and with three players the game is on the line it's all very intense.

We played five games, but I will just tell you about two of them. In the first of them, I was the werewolf. On the first night I killed Mark for practically no reason whatsoever. Also he had been involved in the intense end of the previous game, and the killing might have been seen as revenge. I noted during the lynching debate that killing Mark made no sense whatsoever. It is somewhat traditional with this group to lynch Trevor simply because he's a bloodthirsty loose cannon, and that was where the villagers were looking. I spoke out in his defence though, because if I was a villager I would have thought he was innocent. We ended up hanging Justin instead, which was good because Justin is far too clever. The next night I killed Ann because she also was harmless - if I was after big noisy targets I would have taken Trevor or Kevin. That left me, Trevor and Kevin to do the final lynching. Kevin made a very convincing case that he wasn't a werewolf, but I told him I had to vote for him. I managed to convince Trevor to join me, and I won the game. It was very intense, doing my best to look like a good villager while lying through my teeth. (note to other players: did I get that story right?)

In the second last game, I was the seer, and came out during a lynching to protect someone I knew was innocent. Justin claimed that he was the seer, which of course told me he was the werewolf, and I grilled him and he couldn't handle the pressure and we got him. So then in the last game, when we woke up on the first morning and Cyberkev secretly winked at me, I guessed he was the seer and had confirmed I was a villager. We debated for a while, with Dave suggesting that either Cyberkev or I was the werewolf. I decided to take a gamble, and claimed that I was the seer, and that I had in fact checked Cyberkev out and he was innocent. The plan was that although I might be killed for being the seer, Cyberkev would have another chance to find the werewolf. Dave said "I'll buy that for a dollar!" so I knew then that he wasn't the werewolf. With three known innocents, we had to choose one of the others as the werewolf. I chose Ann, and managed to convince the guys to vote with me, and we killed the werewolf on the first lynching. Woohoo!

I really enjoyed that game. I got right into it and I was thinking the whole way through. Werewolf is often a negotiation game, and so isn't my style, but maybe I am getting to know these players well enough to be able to read them a bit. I'd actually like to play more until I have the balls to be able to claim to be the seer when I'm the werewolf, to see if I can pull off the ultimate bamboozle.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

More Pina Colada, I'm on a Roll!

We played Puerto Rico at Book Realm again tonight. I was feeling good and invincible. We had 5 players, 3 of whom were newbies. I was selected as first player so the newbies could see what happened a bit before they had a turn, so with an indigo plant to work with I chose Settler and took a quarry. The game soon developed with player 4 (Ness) and player 5 (Pat) developing shipping strategies based on corn and sugar, and Brett and Mark diversifying their production over tobacco, indigo and something else.

By the time I had a couple of quarries and a hacienda (to make up for all the quarries I was taking), everyone was producing except me. I was way behind in production. As I had a few empty plantations and needed to catch up on production, I took a hospice as well. I eventually started producing indigo and even managed to ship it once, to finally get a VP. Ness probably had more than 10VPs at the time, and Mark and Pat were doing well as well. Eventually I got a good role choice, maybe Prospector with 3 doubloons or something, and became cashed up. Someone chose Builder, and I took a coffee roaster. I'd accumulated a couple of coffee plantations, so soon I was producing coffee as well.

That was the turning point. One of the shippers blithely took Captain and I put coffee in the biggest ship. It was mine and mine alone, mwahahaha! I managed to trade coffee a couple of times as well, earning myself 4 or 5 doubloons and sometimes even a bonus that was sitting on the role. With that much cash and 4 working quarries, I built a wharf, a harbour, and the residence. At this stage I was producing 2 coffee, 1 indigo and 1 corn. However I could ship those for 7VPs, whereas the shippers who had to share 2 ships between them were getting only 3 or 4 VPs. I made lots of progress very fast. The hacienda (known in our game as "the gay bar" after a well-known hotel) had filled up my island, so the residence provided 11VPs for me, and I paid 6 doubloons for it. I also paid 1 doubloon for a large indigo plant which was worth 3 VPs. The quarries had at last paid off.

The shippers stopped shipping. Pat had most of the corn in one of his warehouses, and a lot of sugar in the other. They started talking about ending the game while they were ahead. At the time, I had 48 VPs and doubted that they were ahead. One last round of shipping ended the game, and the scores were me 55, Ness 52, Pat 46, Brett and Mark 30-something. My quarry strategy had come through just in time.

Although I get this game, and really enjoy it, I don't think I am very good at it yet. I'd like some comments from experienced players on what I did right and wrong, and what should have been done to stop me.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Long Weekend

In our part of the world we've just finished a three day weekend, during which I played a lot of games. That's what life's all about, n'est-ce pas? Here's notes on a few of them.

Gulo Gulo - I was sitting around at BIG wondering what to play next, and there was a little girl wandering around too. I got Gulo Gulo out of the car, grabbed non-cyber-Kevin, and we played three games. Kevin won all three games, which wasn't very nice to the poor little girl! Anyway she said this game was much better than rolling the dice for Dad, and I promised to bring it again next time which will be in August as the kid and I are going to ConVic next month.

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontration - The kid surprised me by suggesting a game of this at BIG. We played, and I remembered what a truly excellent game it is. I won as the light. The kid remembered why he didn't like it. I played another two times against Ozvortex the next day, and it was still great. I upped my rating on BGG to a 10, I love this game. BTW, Ozvortex and I both won as the light, with Frodo slipping through both times.

The Adventures of Harley - played twice with the kid and the niece and the nephew. We lost both times! OK, not as simple as I thought. We might even try it again.

Hive - Ozvortex brought his new Hive over to show us, and he and the kid and I played each other. The kid defeated me, Ozvortex defeated the kid, I defeated Ozvortex. I quite like it, and the bits are magnificent. It's a bit disturbing that there is no board, but it gets you thinking. I like the grasshoppers, and don't like the spiders. Funny story - the kid hates grasshoppers. I had him sweeping the back deck and a real grasshopper jumped off the broom onto his leg causing a major panic screaming attack. I took it off him and while he gasped for breath told him that Wayne had brought along a nice game about insects that we were going to play...

Give Me the Brain! - Another one Ozvortex showed us. Pretty silly, but not too silly to play. I'll have to get the colour version. When my nephew can read he'll love it.

Make'n'Break - I have been looking at this one for a while. Pauli has a copy, so we played that. It's a pretty decent dexterity game, better than I thought it would be. I think I'll buy it as a present for someone.

Memoir '44 - The kid and I had a game using the winter board. He had a lot of Finnish ski troops whom I blasted fairly quickly. Must get the Pacific expansion.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Crimissos River

I seem to be working backwards through a big weekend of gaming, but it's a question of priorities. If I run out of energy to tell you about all of it, at least you will have heard the highlights. Before we played Settlers (described below) Arnold and I played the second scenario from C&C: Ancients. This time Arnold had even read the rules, and we had some experience from our previous play.

Arnold started with the Carthaginians. Many of the Carthaginian forces start across the river and need to ford it to get into play. Knowing this, I moved my light forces closer to the river so that when the Carthaginians were crossing I would be able to fire at them. However, Arnold ran out of cards to move the forces across the river, and I have no cards nor motivation to move them forward, so that entire flank of the battle stagnated.

Most of the conflict was on the left (looking from the Syracusan, i.e. rule book side). The Carthaginian heavy chariots and heavy infantry advanced to engage the Syracusan leaders and heavy infantry. The Syracusan heavies were massacred, with Timoleon fleeing to the safety of the hills with only auxilia for protection. Mamercus took 2 units of heavy infantry towards the river to pursue the Carthaginian light forces (in a desperate attempt to win some banners before the game ended). Hasdrubal and the heavy Carthaginian forces besieged Timoleon on the hill, until Timoleon's death signalled victory for Carthage.

In the return match, I again started trying to move the cross-river forces into play. However the Syracusan line advanced quickly, outnumbering the Carthaginians. When the Syracusan line hit, the Carthaginians broke. The Carthaginians were quickly mopped up, and Arnold won the game with only 7 cards played. Damn! That was the strategy I had wanted to play earlier but didn't have the cards for.

Two glorious victories to Arnold Horshack! The shame! Anyway, I don't want to talk about that any more, not when I could be blogging about games I actually won.

We Played It!

Only four months and one marriage break-down after ordering it, we finally played my Settlers of Catan Anniversary Edition today. Arnold Horshack came over for a day of two-player games, but as the kid left his PlayStation games in mum's car there were a few three-player games as well. For the final game of the day we pulled out the Settlers set and played it as the sun set and the temperature dropped. (BTW, my stats say that today was my best day of gaming ever, which is a pleasant change after the last couple of disastrous months).

So it was "just" a game of Settlers, but it was one of the most expensive games I have ever played, and also the first time I have won. The defining feature of the game was the rarity of wheat, mostly because the kid kept putting the robber on the 6 wheat hex. I had a settlement there and also on the 9 wheat hex, but of course 9 rarely came up. Even 6 was rare for a while. When the wheat did start to trickle through I refused to trade it because I needed it for settlements. Arnold was doing 4-for-1 trades to get wheat, and the kid eventually realised he had a 2 ore port, and built a settlement on the 6-wheat hex. The kid and I got into a pissing match for longest road (kids like pissing matches), which he won for a long time after I gave him 3 brick for 2 ore. However I build a city with the ore, and started getting a bit more wheat and ore. I then managed to build another city on the other wheat. A sequence of very nice dice rolls left me with 6 ore, 4 wheat, a wood and a brick on my turn, and I built two cities and a road in one turn to take longest road and the game.

The kid plays pretty well, but maybe not aggressively enough on the trades. It was Arnold's first game, and although he didn't make obvious mistakes, he didn't seem to make enough trades. Of course, the fact that I was not interested in trading wheat at all didn't encourage him. He'll probably win next time.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


As Cyberkev has zoomed off to Albury for the weekend, GWAN did not happen on Thursday night and I was able to return to the Scrabble club. I was a bit more comfortable this time. All the ladies recognised me and said hello, and of course I still had no idea who they were and said hello back. The club's other "young" male member, P, was present this time, so I played against him first.

P suggested we don't use dictionaries so as to stretch our minds. However I came to the conclusion that as we don't know enough 2 letter words, we were making it very difficult for ourselves. With large words you form on the rack the dictionary is rarely useful, but if you want to know whether you can form a 2 or 3 letter word to join on to, you really need to have an encyclopedic mind or look in the book. So it was a slow, painful game. I was able to form VARIANT and most of VANGUARD on my rack, but was unable to lay them down. I also made one illegal word, AXERS, but if you don't use the dictionary and it isn't challenged, that's fair. I thought it would have been a real word. The final score was 353 to me, 197 to P.

After a nice cup of coffee I was assigned to play against L who thrashed D and I in the 3 player contest last week. I know she's good (compared to me) so I was a bit worried. Sure enough, after 3 words she was leading 105 to 43 (QI for 64 points!). However I got lucky letters and was able to lay down TRADERS for 74 points, to lead by 1. I kept just ahead for a couple of words, and got lucky again with a blank and was able to play POLARISE on a triple word score for 80 points. I lead by 45. After that though, I was plagued by difficult consonants and couldn't get huge points. L played ZOA for 70 points, putting her back in the lead. I couldn't keep up, and she beat me 388 to 367. But still, I thought I played really well. I got big points with the common letters and she got big points with the uncommon letters - Q, J, X and Z. I was also able to get to a couple of triple word scores by finding just the right words, which was good offensive and defensive play. Maybe with a few more 3 letter words under my belt I will be able to beat her.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Where's the Pina Colada?

We played Puerto Rico last night, my third game ever. My opponents were RealmKeeper, Cyberkev, and Trevor (who needs a nickname!). For once at a gaming night I wasn't tired, so I was able to concentrate on the game and I considered my strategy very carefully. I was second player, so started with an indigo, which was an immediate impediment to a shipping strategy. Cyberkev took settler straight away, denying me an early quarry, which was an immediate impediment to a building strategy. I took another indigo plantation, figuring that producing lots of indigo couldn't be a bad thing. I quickly got a large indigo plant up and running. The other guys were taking hospices and haciendas, but I was hoping they weren't forming a bandwagon I was going to miss. I got my indigo plant up to full production, and ended up with a couple of coffee and sugar plantations I couldn't really use.

I'd bought a small market early, hoping to use it to get some money. As I was only producing indigo, it made sense to buy an office so I could always sell that indigo. RealmKeeper and Trevor, who had corn, were shipping often, but as I often had 3 indigo to ship that didn't hurt so much. When I was able to choose trader I could get 3 doubloons and often nobody else got much at all. As the game progressed, I could see I wasn't going to beat the corn guys by shipping, so I invested in a large market as well, and a coffee grinder. The shippers kept crafting, leaving me with 3 indigo and 2 coffee to play with each time. When I got the chance I could trade an indigo for 5 or a coffee for 8, which is pretty good money.

Of course at this stage I started looking at the big buildings. I had a heap of cash coming in, and not as many VPs as the shipping guys. I looked at the hospices, and how many VPs the others would get if they had the fortress, so I had to take that first. Then I looked at the haciendas, and how many VPs the others would get if they had the residence, so I had to have that next. At this point, Cyberkev and I had abandoned the idea of shipping, so it was a race between the shippers and the builders to see who could finish the game under the right conditions. Strangely, Trevor chose to take the mayor and the game ran out of colonists. I was left with trading as the last action of the game, and sold an indigo to give me a lot of cash in case of a tiebreak.

And indeed, that was what happened. Realmkeeper had been the best shipper, but he didn't have much in buildings and only scored 32. Trevor scored 30. Cyberkev had 38 from his quarry-based building strategy. I also had 38 from my trading-based building strategy. But trading on the last turn of the game had left me with about 7 doubloons, which won the tiebreak. Woohoo!

I've decided I really like this game, and upped my rating to a 9. I've got a basic idea of strategies, and I felt last night like I was able to formulate new plans on the fly when, for example, Cyberkev took the builder role that I really wanted. I know enough now to play sensibly, and I can think on my feet. The game is beautifully constructed, there are just the right buildings and goods and VPs and colonists to keep it tight all the way through. I'm looking forward to playing again.

The Curse of the Cloister

As Cyberkev is off to Albury to claim his rightful title as Australian Carcassonne champion, we had a game of Carcassonne at Book Realm last night. Three players, so not quite tournament rules, but all practice is good practice. I was lucky enough to draw at least 5, maybe 6 cloisters during the game. However a good blocking move by Cyberkev made it impossible to complete two of them, and along with my usual policy of going for the fields early, suffered an extreme shortage of meeples all through the game. To add insult to injury, trying to claim the fields was a case of getting into a pissing war with Cyberkev, which is never good. RealmKeeper totally flogged both of us. Fields didn't even decide the game, as there weren't many completed cities. I'm going to need some more experience if I'm going to win this game with a stream of cloisters.

Why doesn't the Australian Games Expo have tournaments for some good games? Oh OK, Settlers is a good game.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Adventures of Harley

As the kid's name is Harley, I included a copy of The Adventures of Harley in a recent game order as a bit of a joke. It's a game for kids about 4 years old, and sadly that's the extent of it. It is a cooperative game, which should stretch the mind of a kid growing up with Snakes and Ladders or Sorry or something. And you have to make decisions. However for the kid and me, the decisions were trivial and we finished the game in a few minutes. I will have to find some 4yos to experiment on, but as the last one I had (my nephew, the Elsom Horror) has now turned 5 and was playing Bang! when he was 4, it might take a while. Hmm... Melissa and Fraser, how old is Otto?

Friday, June 02, 2006


As part of a general plan to get involved with new things and new people (whilst keeping the old people!), and also to work on my list of games that I want to play this year, I went along to the local Scrabble club last night. I'd checked with the organiser and knew to expect retired ladies, but it was still a bit of a surprise. After all, I don't hang out with retired ladies very much. I felt out of place not having a hearing aid, but I was made to feel very welcome and was pretty comfortable with the situation. The club runs two streams of games - tournament players with proper rules, and social players who are allowed to look in the dictionary. I hadn't played for 15 years so the social players were the right group for me. Although almost all games played at clubs are two player, we had an odd number so I was allocated to play with D & L (not their real names).

The first game was hard work - I started and had crap letters, so the best word I could make was AUK. D made BUG across that, leaving us with very little opportunity to expand. We struggled to get out to the sides of the board - after all, it is as much a game about blocking as making words, so there is no incentive to loosen up a constrained game. It became obvious that L was the strongest player in the game, and she ran away with the win. I did watch and learn again how the game works. We started another game, but just as I had UNUSUAL on my rack the organiser came along and told us it was time for a cup of tea.

I had a good chat to the organiser who told me how despite the game being female dominated, the champion players are men about my age. Presumably with more experience than me. And some kids are are just geniuses. But she was also impressed that I had found UNUSUAL, saying that 7 letter anagrams was not typical of a social player. So maybe when I'm into it more I will move up into the tournament group. When we got back after tea the organiser told me that there was nowhere on the board to play UNUSUAL, so to keep the social players synchronised with the tournament players we'd dump that game and I could play mano a mano against D.

That was a much freer game, and I was desperate to be able to played ORIENTED and PANTHERS in subsequent turns. Couldn't do it, and couldn't find an alternative either. Aargh. But I pulled away from D and kept my lead even when she played MOGGIES for 84 points. The final score was 400 to me and 287 or so to D, which she described as a thrashing.

Overall, a very good experience. I like Scrabble, and it's nice to find people who take it seriously. They might look like little old ladies, but they play a hard game. Now, if only I could teach them Gipf.