Friday, July 28, 2006

Hey, You Should Play...

My augmented BGG stats have changed a little in the last couple of weeks. I changed the front page quite a bit so that users have more character - I link to your BGG avatar, show your number of plays, how many of the top 50 you've played, and since 1am this morning, what game you need to play soon. The number of plays and number of the top 50 are simply to promote pissing matches between users of the stats. I was pleased to note that only Karlsen, TMJJS and ekted have recorded more plays than I have. And I thought you guys were hard core! 36 more plays and I can get myself into second place...

On the page for each user I have added "Games You Like But Don't Even Own". What if your geekbuddy who owns Puerto Rico leaves town? Or someone puts the robber on him? What would you do for your Puerto Rico hit then? Here's my top 10 games I like but don't own:
* Rheinlander - CyberKev has it, but I want to get it so I can play it against someone other than him so I have a chance to win
* Hare and Tortoise - is on its way from unhalfbricking as we speak. I know just who to play it against, too.
* Tikal - Critical Mass has a copy, but I haven't bought it yet because there's a limited number of people I would play it against. I might even buy Mexica and Java first, but to be honest I don't get many chances to play games of this complexity.
* Euphrat & Tigris - I know a couple of people with copies, but I don't have a ready source of respected opponents. When I find the perfect woman who plays Gipf, she will probably play this one with me as well.
* Puerto Rico - let's be fair, this game is as common as muck :-). I might buy it just because the rule book is beautiful.
* Evo - I definitely need my own copy given how difficult it is to get hold of Mikey Hayes these days!
* Himalaya - a good game that you don't see around, and I am excited about the other Tilsit titles in that range as well. When Funatical starts importing these I will probably get the lot.
* Attika - I've only played once so my 8.5 rating is not solid. I can't think of a consistent source of opponents for it.
* Ra - another Mikey Hayes "I'll teach you this great game then go do something else" Special. Aren't this and Puerto Rico from the Alea big box series? Might as well get all of them, I know I'll need Princes of Florence some day.
* Key Largo - the kids I play with will love this game one day, but we have to wait till the littlest can actually read and add up. I don't think it will get consistent play with adults. Another of the Tilsit range.

The latest feature added (this morning) is analysis of what games you like but haven't played recently. I figured I would just combine your rating and the days since you'd recorded a play for it, and that seems to be working quite well. I tweaked the weightings till my own list looked sensible. As I play some of those games and my list evolves I will consider whether it's working or not. Here's my top 10:
* DVONN - I last played in about November I think. It was the first of the GIPF series I played, and I now own all of them. Yes, I do need to play it, and that's a good recommendation. If only my slave boy liked it.
* St Petersburg - we haven't played since winter (Down Under) last year, and I would like to play it again.
* Hansa - played only once at ConVic2, and I'd like to play it again. It's a strange game, my rating may move after I play it.
* Set - played for a brief period in July last year, and haven't found an appropriate audience since. I was obsessed with it for a few weeks.
* Vinci - last played in December with Brendan and Amanda. Because I rate it a 9, it ranks up there with the 8s I haven't played since July. That makes sense to me. I might take it along to Critical Mass soon.
* Trias - One of my favourite games - an analytical game where you're trying to screw people and not be screwed yourself. It fires the same synapses as Domaine does. I know I've played it this year at GWAN, but I rate it a 10 so it's time to do it again. Mr Lapdance wants to play, so when I find him we can do it.
* Runebound 2e - This is a weakness in the system. I played Scepter of Kyros a couple of weeks ago, but recorded it as a play against the expansion rather than against the base game. I am in no rush to play the base game again. We need some extension metadata :-(.
* Doom - we haven't played for at least 15 months, but I want to get the expansion and then we can give it a go. It's not that I don't like the game, it's just difficult to find the time to play it. Also it's an experience game, when I prefer analysis.
* Settlers of Catan - I did play this several times late last year, but my last play of the game was only in June and was recorded against the anniversary edition rather than the base game. Another expansion metadata problem!
* Odin's Ravens - Maybe slave boy will play this against me? Since the disruption to my family life we have been playing fewer games at home together. We have a game of Return of the Heroes which has been in progress so long I have forgotten the rules.

The game recommended for you to play on the front page of the stats is simply the top of your list. I'd be interested in hearing how the recommendations work for other people.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Long Unexpected Party

Some readers will know that it was my 40th birthday on Tuesday. Tuesday was actually a pretty miserable day with the pressures of parenthood precluding any chance for relaxation until the kid and I went to watch the fire dancers at Shorncliffe in the evening. Even then the kid wanted to go home while I wanted to stay. But anyway, my darling sister had booked me for a birthday celebration on Saturday night. I knew she was planning something, but I didn't know what. So when I got to her place and found a good swag of my game buddies on her back deck, I was pretty surprised.

Let's make a list of them so I can forget someone and offend them forever. CyberKev & Mrs CyberKev, Critical Mass, Bertie Beetle, Badhoe Lapdance & Mrs Lapdance, the evil Count von Walduck and the countess, Smee and two baby Smees, Mikey, not to mention baby sister and Cuddly Pete, Uncle Scott, the Elsom Horrors and Speedy. When I arrived a game of Apples to Apples was in progress, and after a while we switched over to Werewolf moderated by Critical Mass (villagers won). Throughout the evening we played Make'n'Break, The Great Balloon Race, Poison, and Ca$h'n'Gun$. Some of the guys not involved in one of the games played Coloretto as well. Sister and I played Deflexion which an abstract strategy game, and conditions were not good at all for that sort of game - I don't deal well with small children climbing on the table when I'm trying to think. I moderated a game of Werewolf (wolves sister and niece won), then sister moderated a game (wolves Cuddly Pete and Bertie Beetle won). The evil Count and I played a couple of games of Hive very late in the evening as well. To anyone who wasn't invited: I would have invited you, if I'd been asked!

It was a pretty amazing evening. The kid couldn't make it as he was off with his mum, and boy, he'll be cranky when he finds out. I received a nice selection of pressies, including Hive and I'm the Boss, so Saturday was much more birthday-like than Tuesday was! Thanks to sister for organising everything, and to CyberKev and Critical Mass who advised her, and thanks to everybody who came along and made it a great time.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Thurn und Taxis

Notice my lack of (yellow) post offices, and the game had barely started.

Maybe the most treasured game at ConVic4 was intheclear's copy of Thurn und Taxis. It had arrived the day before from Germany, and he'd printed out the rules from the 'geek, and everybody was keen to play the expected Spiel des Jahres winner. I was definitely included in that, because one of my other hobbies (in abeyance at the moment) is stamp collecting. particularly the pre-federation stamps of Australia, Malaysia and Germany. I have a number of the original stamps issued by the Thurn und Taxis family when they were running their postal service.

CyberKev, Gregor, Andrea and I found the Thurn und Taxis box unguarded and unused, and immediately set about playing it. The basic mechanism is that you collect sets of adjacent cities (routes), and when you score a route you get to put post offices on some of those cities. You get points for the length of the route, having a post office in all cities in a state, having a post office in almost all states, and stuff like that. When someone finishes a length 7 route the game ends at the end of that round, and whoever has the most points wins.

This was yet another game where I didn't pay enough attention to the victory conditions, or maybe I just had a misguided plan that didn't work, but I was struggling to keep up with CyberKev and Andrea. Gregor had a lot of post offices but not a lot of points. I remember struggling to get cards I needed. Eventually I decided I needed to build a post office in Lodz to keep up, and I couldn't find a Lodz card anywhere. I think CyberKev was holding on to two of them which was pretty cunning. I lost touch, and CyberKev and Andrea ran away with the points. I ended the game to put myself out of my misery. A CyberKev followed me in the turn order, he was able to make a move to get the point to beat Andrea.

Despite being flogged, I really loved this game. The map is beautiful, it is simple to play but requires thought, and I love the theme. I'm gonna get it. And I'm gonna play till I win once, at least. I hope it wins the Spiel des Jahre, that will make it easier to find!

Hare and Tortoise

So I was wandering through the con on Sunday and saw some people I didn't recognise setting up Hare and Tortoise. Because I didn't recognise them, I assumed they weren't really serious gamers, so I was a little intrigued that they were playing such a serious game. But of course, Hare and Tortoise doesn't look like a serious game. So I asked if I could join in, and volunteered to explain the rules. That was when I remembered I'd forgotten them, but I at least knew the spirit of them and we could go through the rule book pretty quickly.

For those who don't know, Hare and Tortoise looks like a roll and move game. It even has a six sided die, to trick you. But it is actually an almost purely analytical game, and that's the sort I like. It's a race, where you pay carrots to move forward. To move forward n spaces, you pay (n * (n+1) / 2) carrots. There are turtle spaces you can move backwards n spaces to get to, and you receive 10n carrots. There are position spaces labelled n, where if you are in nth position at the start of your turn, you receive 10n carrots. There are carrot spaces, where you can receive or lose 10 carrots. There are lettuce spaces where you can eat a lettuce - you are required to eat 3 lettuces throughout the game. Finally, there are hare spaces where you roll the die and have something good or bad happen to you, with the good more likely if you are behind many other players.

The hare spaces are the only random element (apart from the other players), and I personally despise them. However if other players want to waste their time taking a chance when they can get on with winning the game, that's their problem. I also never use the carrot spaces - 10 carrots sounds like a poor deal compared to 40 or more that you can get from a turtle space.

I started the game by spending carrots boldly and zooming to the front, where I stopped to snack on a lettuce. The weakness of leading from the front is that the positional spaces don't give you many carrots, so when I was getting low on carrots I slowed down and sat on a 2 space. The player who was easily able to pass me declined to do so, preventing me from receiving 20 carrots. I tried to do that a couple more times, and every time the other players chose not to let me get anything. No worries... now I know how to keep them behind me :-). I changed to trying to get carrots from tortoises, and that worked pretty well.

However the end game is where it's all at. There's a restriction that the first player to cross the finish line must have fewer than 10 carrots, so if you don't plan to eat all of your carrots, that will cost you. But you can figure out what you need to do. If you're 12 spaces from the end and you have 80 carrots, that's one move to win (costs you 78). If you only have 50 carrots, you need to make two moves of 6 costing you 21 each time. If you've got basically the right number of carrots near the end of the game, you can come up with a plan to finish neatly. My opponents did not do that. I did. I won by several moves.

OK, I admit it. Hare and Tortoise looks like a kids' game, but it is so much easier if you did 3 years of honours-level maths at university and have learned that way of thinking. I can do it, and I like this game a lot.


The first new game I played at ConVic was Antike - Brendan, Gerald, the woman whose name I never learned, and I played. It's one of those Civ-lite games, a bit like Vinci, I suppose but more based on economic development than rampaging hordes. It has a quite cool way of deciding what you can do next - there's a ring of possible actions, and each turn you are allowed to move to one of the next 3 actions for free, or pay for each extra movement step. You get to do things like mine marble, gold or iron, build temples, advance technology, build armies, or move armies. Each province you conquer provides marble (used for temples), gold (used to advance), or iron (used to build armies). Temples provide bonus resources and defence, technologies provide all sorts of bonuses, armies are used to occupy empty territories, beat up on enemies, or destroy temples. There is not usually much beating up until the end of the game as there is almost enough space for everyone.

Now, despite the economy which you can grow, and territories which you can occupy, and opponents which you can beat up, this is actually a game about getting victory points. I sort of knew that when I was playing, but it didn't sink in. Here is a photo of the end of the game, taken by Gerald. I was green, and due to starting with some iron I pursued a strategy of conquering a large portion of the board. Indeed, I received 3 victory points for occupying 5 cities (i.e. I had 15 cities at some point). VPs are also awarded for 3 temples, having fleets on 7 seas, destroying a temple, learning technologies, and maybe other things which I forget. Although I built a large empire with a large economy and lots of temples and armies, by the time I achieved the conditions under which VPs were earned, a lot of them were already gone. Gerald and Brendan, who understood the tempo of the game better than me had already taken them.

There was very little combat in the game. Gerald's cunning strategy was to build no temples at all so there were no VPs to be earned by attacking him - that was how he managed to survive in the middle of the board. Gerald did attack Brendan to destroy a temple, but that was business, not malice. So it is not really a fighting game, as much as it might look like one.

I enjoyed this game a lot, but that was maybe a function of the players as much as anything. I think we completed the game in 90 minutes, which is under the 120 minutes suggested on BGG. Given that two of use were newbies to the game, that's impressive. I think we just all had some sort of plan, executed it efficiently, and nobody spent ages overanalysing. That made for a very good game. I liked this game a lot, and if I can think of whom I will play it with I will get a copy for myself.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Das Dunkelspiel

The kid sets up for another game

This is the second of many tiny game reviews from the con. I looked at the photos of Nacht der Magier and decided that the kids (i.e. my kid and his two cousins and any kids which join my family in the future) would love it. Glow in the dark! Cool! So I ordered my copy from unhalfbricking and picked it up when we arrived. I unpacked it on the train on the way back to the hostel, and the kid, CyberKev and I played our first game in the dark of the hostel room.

Here's a quick summary of play: 61 pieces of varying sizes are placed on top of the game board which is therefore very crowded. Each player has a "wizard" piece which they push onto the board, potentially knocking other pieces off. If you succeed in pushing a cauldron piece matching your wizard into the depression in the centre of the board, you win, but if you knock a piece off the board, that's the end of your turn. The advantage of playing in the dark is that you can only see 12 cauldrons, 4 wizards, and the circle of light which is the target. Other than that, you're playing blind.

My first thought, as pieces of my new game got knocked off the board and scattered around the floor of the hostel room, was "I'm going to count these things and nobody sleeps till we find every last one of them!" It's a bit random, knocking over things you can't see, but finally someone has found another use for glow in the dark stuff! I can't remember who won that first game, it wasn't me anyway.

The kid played the game dozens of times at the con, so it was a good investment. He and the other kids took over a whole room and turned the lights off and played over and over, inventing "crazy rules" where you push your wizard fast and knock heaps of things off the board. I counted those pieces over and over. It's really a very enchanting game, and everyone will want to play it at least once.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Albury Front Row Forwards

OK, there's a whole bunch of stuff about real games to come, but I want to talk about the most fun game I played at the con. I was quietly minding my own business on Sunday afternoon when Patty and Heather from Albury came in from the car park and smirked at me and said "we've got a game for you." Oh good, I thought naively. I bet they've got Colovini's latest, or maybe an old Faidutti, or a treasured pre-Gipf Kris Burm design or something. I trust these sweet girls to have a great game for me!

I first became suspicious when I was told I couldn't bring my cup of tea to the table. Huh? Oh, maybe it's a cardboard prototype of the 3D Settlers, you wouldn't want to risk having tea spilt on that. Or maybe we're going to play Empires in Arms. where a cup of tea could ruin 24 hours of gameplay. OK, no tea. I left my tea on another table and had tea and no tea at the same time. So Heather started the description: "This is called the Dancing Egg Game. There are 9 rubber eggs and one wooden egg." Hmm... guessing the wooden egg is wild. "Rubber eggs are worth 1 point, and the slippery wooden egg is worth 2 points." Slippery? "On your turn you roll these dice. This one means first person to cluck like a chicken gets an egg. This one means first person to crow like a rooster gets an egg. This one means if you say anything at all you lose an egg." OK, so it's like Schicki Micki, I can cope. "This one means first person to grab the red die gets the wooden egg. This one means first person to run around the table gets an egg." OK, sounding silly. "This one means you have to bounce a rubber egg on the table and whoever catches it keeps it. If it goes on the floor, it's stacks-on to get it."

Let me translate for my foreign readers. Imagine a game of rugby... oh hang on, that won't work. Imagine a Loony Tunes cartoon where 75 cats are chasing Tweety Bird and they all pounce at the same time. There's an ensuing flurry of claws and hair and strangely no bird feathers. That's what stacks-on means. You don't want to be on the bottom. Now do you understand what sort of game this is? But wait, it gets worse.

"Now the white die tells you where you have to place the egg you capture. Under your chin, beside your neck, in your armpit, in your elbow, between your knees, or you choose. If you drop an egg, everyone else scores their eggs." So let's play. OK, so it was pretty funny. I wasn't prepared for the running around the table and Heather was, so she kept winning those. But when there was an egg bounce I mostly won those as I am tall and could reach a foot higher than Heather or Patty. But then I got myself into a situation where I had an egg under my neck, one in each elbow, and several in one armpit. And I had to roll the dice. It was really hard work just picking the dice up, I looked like Stephen Hawking. Then the bad news - I won an egg between the knees. Then the worse news - the run around the tables started coming thick and fast.

OK, so imagine this. I look like a cripple, I have an egg between my knees, and I am jumping around the table to the amusement and horror of 50 other gamers whose games of Timbuktu and Antike and Mykerinos have been temporarily interrupted. And Patty and Heather are knocking down chairs in their wake as a plan to make my life difficult. After about 5 laps that wasn't working, though I was giggling hysterically and gasping for breath. Then I tried to make it around the end of the table and Heather was in the way. No way was I going to concede, and I outweighed her anyway, so it became a sumo competition. I think she slipped around the side, and I struggled to my chair. Then ANOTHER lap. Somewhere on the far side of the table, amidst the scattered chairs, I got ankle-tapped, and lost the egg between my knees. Aaarggh! 5 points down the drain! Patty wins the game! I stagger away, exhausted, crippled, a massive L for Loser engraved on my aura, and puffing and panting too much to even giggle.

Oh, what a stupid game! But how long is it since I have giggled so stupidly? Yes, it was heaps of fun, and thanks to Patty and Heather for being bold enough to suggest it. Maybe they have injuries which will make them think twice before they play it again. In a funny, stupid, giggly way, it was the highlight of the convention for me. Thanks guys!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Big Hangover

The kid contemplates the glorious Melbourne weather from the hostel room.

The kid and I went down to Melbourne for ConVic 4 over the weekend. We left Brisbane Friday morning, got to the con with 4 minutes to spare after travelling all day. CyberKev was travelling with us, and it turns out that a family pass on the airport bus covers two adults and two children even if the adults are both men. That's perfectly fair but I deny any truth in the implications! So we gamed till 11pm Friday, got back to our accommodation at 12:30am and played Nacht der Magier in the dark. The next day we gamed from 10am till 11pm, got screwed by the train system on the way home and walked up Swanston St at midnight - there were more people there than in Brisbane in the middle of the day. The next morning we got screwed around by the incompetent fool of a desk jockey at Victoria Hall AND the train system, and were an hour late for gaming, so we only played from 11am till 9pm. Cyberkev had already left for the airport, so the kid and I went to the station and got screwed by the train system yet again, and ended up catching a cab back to the city. The next morning we were woken by Italian soccer fans beeping horns and shouting "Italia! Italia!" which allowed me to guess that something good had happened for them. Thus started the long trek back to Brisbane which only finished at 5pm when I completed picking up the dog from her holiday accommodation. So we're exhausted!

I will report on all the games we played, but I want to take some time to do that. I don't know when I will get that time, I think I have some on July 28. Seriously. Life is full on at the moment.

Edit: here are some photos from the event. Thanks Gerald.