Monday, September 18, 2006

No Really, Quoridor is Awesome!

After losing my first game of Quoridor to the kid yesterday I took it with me when I went to visit my sister. Brother-in-law (BIL) is a fan of 2-player abstracts, so I showed him how to play. We played 7 games during which we both learned a lot about the game and our strategies evolved. First we started by trying to block the other player. I started fighting back against that by placing walls to prevent blocking, allowing me to make a corridor to the far side of the board. Then we realised that you could let your opponent go down a long corridor then block it, forcing them to go all the way back. Nasty. So then we realised that the defence against that was to block off the other ways that the corridor could go, i.e. make it more restrictive, so that your opponent was not allowed to block it off. I've just been playing against the kid, and I realised that when you're heading down a corridor your opponent is making for you, the best defence is to block the back end of it so your opponent may not block the front. Awesome. Every couple of games I find a new strategic aspect of this game. I love it.

BTW, BIL played against his 5yo son, and the 5yo kicked his butt. While BIL and I played Zertz the three kids had a Quoridor tournament amongst themselves. It's the most attention I've seen a game that did not require parental involvement get from the kids.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The League of Feelthy English Kerniggets

Today's gaming adventure was a trip to the League of Extraordinary Gamers, the last major Euro-games meeting in Brisbane which I had not previously attended. It was an unusually varied meeting, with Warhammer, Magic, Ticket to Ride and Scrabble all being played at the same time. I wanted to game with the Scrabble ladies but they left before I got the chance. The kid and I started with a game of Settlers which I won by about a turn from the other adult player. My kid went for largest army at the expense of any economic development (and we had words about that afterwards), and the other kid who was only 7 just built roads and couldn't achieve longest road anyway. By the way, are you allowed to build one of your first settlements on a harbour? I allowed it for my adult opponent, but it seemed to give him a big advantage throughout the game. It seems wrong.

After that some of the other Eurogamers were organising a game of Shadows Over Camelot, and as it seemed that most potential opponents would be doing that, the kid and I joined in on that. Wow, talk about culture shock! They play TOTALLY differently to us. They (a) don't take black cards, (b) place siege engines, (c) ignore the Pict, Saxon and Black Knight quests, and (d) complete the sword and grail quests. When I've played, we (a) almost always take black cards, (b) never place siege engines until forced, (c) always do the Pict and Saxon quests, and (d) manage the grail quest rather than completing it. They have a definite plan to attack the game, and in the groups I've played with they'd be described as m-m-m-m-m-m-mad. sir.

As luck would have it, I (Sir Percival) was dealt the traitor. Sir Kay, the most vocal of the feelthy English kerniggets, said "OK, you have to do the Lancelot's Armour quest but before you complete it we'll accuse you of being the traitor because it's too dangerous to let the traitor get it." Um, decent plan, but I AM the traitor and I don't much want to do that. Of course, arguing with the plan would only raise suspicions so I simply mentioned "that's not how we play this game", and went along with it. So there I was, railroaded into the Armour quest and desperately trying to figure out how to lose it. Because they didn't draw black cards (except I did, because I had the power of seeing what was coming), there were no points accumulating on my quest. However I pretended I had no decent cards which forced King Arthur to feed me cards. He gave me a 4, I played it on the set of three, forcing him to feed me more of them. I was desperately trying to guess what he would feed me and trying to return the same thing to him. It's called hand management :-). I had a single 3 so I played it on the set of two. I picked up a 4 somehow, but didn't play it on the set of three because I wanted King Arthur to spoon-feed me. I quietly kept my Merlin card to myself, kept the special white very quiet, and did the least I could to be helpful. Several times King Arthur forgot to trade with me, and I forgot to remind him. Hehehe.

Finally, I was poised to fail at the quest. I needed to play a 3 to win it, and I didn't have one. Woohoo! Failure! But before I could admit defeat, Sir Kay accused me of being a traitor. Doncha hate that? It was a bit of a surprise to the guys that I was, they were expecting Sir Galahad maybe. But then I was relegated to taunting the loyal knights by stealing a card from one of them each time, and either playing a black card or placing a siege engine. Stealing a card was successful on a couple of occasions - I managed to steal a Fight card someone needed to fight siege engines. Playing black cards was not very successful - if I got a Pict or a Saxon nothing bad would happen. So I kept placing siege engines. The game wore on and everyone was getting low on life points. The grail had been drunk, various special white cards used up, and Sir Galahad used Clairvoyance to rearrange the top 5 cards of the deck. When someone was required to draw a card and it caused a siege engine to be placed, I knew the next 4 cards were at least as bad as that. So I could safely draw a card and at least get a siege engine.

After a very long time the loyal knights had 6 or so white swords, no black swords, and lots of siege engines. They were reduced to drawing black cards for the Progression of Evil. Then King Arthur drew "All loyal knights lose one life point". Five loyal knights died at once. Woohoo! Next turn was mine and I placed a siege engine to win the game. Woohoo! Sir Percival did several victory dances, none of which were elegant nor knightly, but after such a hard-fought battle with my reputation dragged through the mud, it was a-very nice to see the son-of-a-hamster elderberry-smelling feelthy English kerniggets go down. I said "WE'VE ALREADY GOT ONE!"

Anyway, then the kid and I headed off as I had other games to play (i.e. squash). We hope to get back to LXG some times, and hope that some of the guys from there can come along to Critical Mass etc. occasionally. I handed out my Settlers of Brisbane cards, so maybe some of those guys will be in touch.

Gigamic Hits the Shelves

The kid and I went to the FLGS yesterday. When I say F, I mean they came to Critical Mass and gave us discount vouchers, that's how F they are. So we had to go and buy 2 games to use out discount vouchers. The good news is that they now stock the Gigamic range of games, in particular the beautiful wooden ones such as Quoridor and Quarto. The very good news is that more shelf space has been granted to board games with a new section holding Thurn and Taxis, Emerald, Ticket to Ride Marklin, Hansa, El Grande and I forget what else. I could have spent $A200 without thinking, but having been to the vet earlier in the day I was a bit scared of doing so (or maybe it was the liver treats upsetting my stomach?). In the end, the kid chose to get King of the Beasts (you don't often go wrong with Reiner), and the kid chose for me to get Quoridor. How come the kid chose both? Because I'll play anything and he has to be the opponent.

We haven't played King of the Beasts yet, but we did have 2 games of Quoridor. It's good! In my troubled sleep overnight I was thinking of cunning and nasty ways to play. It is a 2 player abstract so it's not to everyone's taste, but if you're into that sort of intense thought it is very interesting. You're often wondering whether to block your opponent, advance yourself, or to place a wall that will ensure that your opponent can't block you. I want to play more of it! Unfortunately 2 games might be all the kid can handle, because he got fairly badly beaten. Oh well.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

My 10s

I'm trying to work on the stats here! I've got everything I need - time, working computer, red wine... but boardgamegeek is down or busy or something. Aaargh! So instead, I'll blither on about the games I have rated 10. No point wasting good red wine.

So a strange thing happened last week. I decreased my rating for Domaine from a 10 to a 9.5 in recognition of the fact that at the moment I don't feel like playing it. I haven't figured out why that is, maybe it will come back into favour when I do play it. This article is not about what's wrong with Domaine, this article is about what's right with the others.

I find myself wanting to play Scrabble. I swear, it's nothing to do with the seductive nature of the ladies at the Scrabble club. I like the game. Finding words and anagramming really work for me. Memorising word lists doesn't, which is why I'll never be a great Scrabble player (actually, I have another 40 years I suppose, it might happen), but I really do like the struggle of finding a decent word worth decent points and getting the sucker on the board.

I really like Mystery of the Abbey as well. I like deduction games a lot, maybe because I often do well at them. In fact there aren't enough of them around. Cyberkev disses MotA, saying too much card passing goes on, but as part of the game is to know what cards to pass I don't find that a problem at all. And I love, absolutely love, the meta-game where you can ask other players "are you going to accuse..." and then try to steal the win from them. Not to mention that the bits are beautiful, and I'm a tart like that.

Lord of the Rings - the Confrontation is an absolute genius of a game. I forgot how much I liked it till I played Ozvortex a couple of months ago. The sides are so different, and it's so beautifully balanced. Yes, you do need to know every detail of the rules to play really well, but I just wish I had a handy opponent who would play frequently. My kid doesn't like it :-(. He will when he grows up, and then I'll unlock his bedroom door. Ungrateful wretch.

My final 10 is Trias. It has fairly crappy bits, though dinomeeples are cool. But I like the way you can drown other people's dinos, and sometimes they like that, then you fill the verdant shore with happily grazing dinos sneering into the water at the struggling swimmers. I'm sure if I was good at it I'd be able to look at the board as a map of low and high potential zones and be able to identify optimal fault lines, but until then I will just stick to opportunistically drowning the opposition. Maybe that's why I like Tongiaki as well.

Get Your Fresh Stats Here!

The BGG extended stats are taking on a bit of a life of their own and I find myself often wanting to send email about why they're broken or new features or whatever. To make sure I only get the people who care, I've created a Yahoo group for discussion of the stats. Feel free to join up.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Zertz, At Last

Let me state first up that I am not going to put any silly accents on words that don't deserve them. It's OK to make silly names for games, but making them hard to type is unacceptable, so Zertz it is.

Anyway, I bought this game a long time ago, not coincidentally on the day my wife told me she wanted to leave me. As my life consequently changed a lot, it became very difficult to organise a time, an opponent, and a good mood to play this game, even though I'd been looking forward to it since reading Stephen Tavener's strategy article. But last night at BookRealm, while the other guys played Zombies 3, Walter and I had a good session of 2-player games.

All I could remember from the strategy article was "go for the white balls", and "use sacrifices to control your opponent". So indeed, I used sacrifices to control Walter, and I made him take a heap of black and gray balls to the point where he had almost won the game and I had maybe 2 white balls (we were playing 3/4/5/6 rules, not 2/3/4/5 Blitz). We weren't really clear on what we were doing, until I realised that the archipelago we'd created could easily be used to capture a white ball. I tried setting up some traps, i.e. if Walter didn't see what I was doing I could make gains, but it turned out that he did see what I was doing and that cost me big time. So I stopped doing that.

I managed to hold on to win the first game, and started to get into it more in the second. Walter was still thinking some moves didn't matter, but I found I could often set up a trap in one or two moves, so it was worth thinking every time to see how I could do that. I won the second game easily. In the third game, Walter could see what I was doing and started trying to do it himself. I got cocky and managed to give him a free white ball, but he made a mistake forcing me to capture and gave me three balls. I think he must have made another bad mistake as well, because I ended up winning the third game with 3 of each colour.

So I liked this game, and so did Walter. I can't imagine how hard it will become when my opponent knows what he is doing as well as I do - the required lookahead will do me in, I reckon. I want to play more.

I have now played all of the GIPF Project games, and I think my order of preference (best to worst) is Gipf, Zertz, Punct, Dvonn, Yinsh, Tamsk, with Tamsk a distant last. I want to play them all again. I hope my next wife will play them with me...

Did I Tell You I Wrote a Version of San Juan in Java?

At the beginning of last year my first proper game order was San Juan, Lost Cities and (by accident) Nobody But Us Chickens. All turned out to be great purchases. I liked San Juan a lot but my family wasn't so keen on it, so I didn't play it much. So I downloaded Mark Haberman's VB implementation and played it. But it had bugs, like the Aqueduct didn't work. I tried to fix it, but as a Linux user that just grossed me out, so I decided to rewrite it in Java. How hard could it be?

Well, it wasn't very hard, but it was very long. By the time I finished the code and the packaging and so on, I was well and truly sick of it. And some other people had written their own versions. Oh well. But here's my version, if you want to try it out. It does have the novel feature that it runs in Hungarian, Brazilian Portuguese, French and English, including different languages for each user if you like. Oh, and source code is included in case you want to do more work on it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Doing it With Style

In case you haven't noticed, the BGG extended stats are back. My machine's problem was a blown power supply, so I have replaced that and we're back on-line. I have been enhancing the pages to use some style sheets provided by the very cunning Justin Walduck. Sooner or later it will look nice like he intended.

Friday, September 01, 2006

She's Got a Nice Rack

So what do you think this article might be about? Hmm?

Well I went to Scrabble club last night. Because they didn't know I was coming (heck, it depended on the whim of a woman, how could I know what I was doing?) I ended up playing against players who were simultaneously playing someone else. First game was against S, who completely flogged me. I had a confusing rack for the whole game and scored small points a few times trying to make my letter mix a bit better but to no avail. I think the final score was about 440 to 300... which wasn't bad given that I didn't feel comfortable in the game.

Second game was against B who was recently ranked 10 in Queensland. That's pretty serious. I played first and opened with JIZ which I considered obscene but apparently it's some sort of wig. 39 points, I think it was. In comparison the game against S, my game against B was charmed. Maybe she was concentrating on her other game more, but she left triple word scores open for me, and I was nasty enough to close them off for her. I tell you what, those experienced Scrabble players are awesome the way they can put down an A and a T and make 4 words for a score of 42 points! In this game I got all of the good letters (J, Z, X, Q) and also made TRANSACTS for 72 points or so. B did really well with limited resources, so I managed to beat her about 360 to 300 I think. But before I get excited about beating a ranked player, I have to point out that I was using social rules which allow me to look in the dictionary. I never would have made ENARCH without the book's help. If only I could have made "ENARCHY" like I wanted to.

Third game was against T who gave me some Palm software (KDIC and LAMPWords) which are faster than looking in the book all the time. T was nice enough to point out that ZAX and ZEX are words (umm... a tool for making slate roof tiles I think) which was worth 4 billion points. Must remember DZO as well, that was good points on a triple word score. We weren't able to finish the game, what with all the software beaming, but T was well ahead when we called it. T made a comment about someone else having a nice rack which suggested the title of this article.

I really like Scrabble, but it's practically impossible to get it played at a games night. Maybe if I carried my set around I would get more takers. Maybe even against an opponent with a nice rack.

BTW, happy birthday to M who turns 76 today!

In other news... we suspect the problem with my PC is a blown-up power supply, but I want to test it with a known good one before I spend $A70 on a new one. And I forgot to post a link to Shingo's Critical Mass photos.