Sunday, June 24, 2007

Shadows of Margath

Never EVER accuse Scrabblette of ignoring you. This afternoon while she was SUPPOSED to be working she popped up every 5 minutes to remind me that she wasn't ignoring me. Guess how much work got done? Nevertheless, I did manage to get a game of Runebound in.

I wanted to play Shadows of Margath but when I looked at it I realised it's a challenge card expansion. That meant I had to play the Rise of the Dragonlords scenario with that expansion. I have a lot of other expansions as well, so I spent about half an hour sorting out what expansions I wanted to use, building decks, and shuffling. Here's what I ended up with:

Challenge Decks:
  • Shadows of Margath
  • Drakes and Dragonspawn
  • Terrors of the Tomb
  • "High Lord Margath" from Rise of the Dragonlords - it'd be silly to have the adventure without him.
Market Deck:
  • Relics of Legend without the banners
  • Champions of Kellos
  • Walkers of the Wild
It took a few minutes just to log the play on BGG! The character I chose was Varikas the Dead from the base game. I was wondering if I chose a character from Isle of Dread would I be able to count a play of that as well? I've had to move my Isle of Dread bits back into their own box so that all of the expansions fit into the base game box. And I just added four new expansions to my wishlist...

Anyway, when I started the game there were some nice items and allies for sale, all of which cost about 10 gold. I decided to save up for them which meant I was underpowered for quite a while. There were a couple of times when I needed to roll an 11 or be knocked out, but the dice loved me just enough to let me survive. Of course once I got one of those items I became quite dangerous, and by the end of the game I was a killing machine with only about 4 items. Most of the cool stuff seemed to come from the Relics of Legend expansion which is why I rate it an 8 despite the boring banners.

I do like the way Runebound implements a variety of effects using its really quite simple data model. For example, the Spiderweave Shield from Walkers of the Wild. "Activate to cancel up to 2 damage being inflicted on your Hero. Your enemy's damage in the melee combat phase is reduced to 0 for the rest of this combat." My initerpretation of that power is that the enemy gets stuck to your shield and can't hurt you. Cute. And the Knight Beset By Sorrow from Terrors of the Tomb: "The knight owes you his life. Next time you would take enough damage during a Challenge to be knocked out, you may discard this card to cancel the damage being inflicted on your Hero." Cool! And boy, did that come in handy!

After a tough time with the green encounters I raced through yellow and blue and found myself on red much sooner than I expected. I killed a dragonlord and an Unliving Rune, then fought the Skeleton of Margath. As a reward, you get to fight Margath himself. Although I easily defeated the skeleton, Margath was challenging, as he should be. He killed the Knight Beset By Sorrow, both of my allies, and I had one hit point left when I killed him. It was a very tough encounter and a fitting climax to the game.

Even more challenging than being ignored by Scrabblette.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sands of Al-Kalim

Scrabblette didn't want to play with me this evening so I sat down for a big game of Runebound. I had quite a few unplayed expansions and wanted to test them out - PARTICULARLY Sands of Al-Kalim. As has become sadly necessary when playing Runebound I started by selecting the expansions I was to use. Sands of Al-Kalim, obviously, and Walkers of the Wild and Champions of Kellos were items and allies expansions I hadn't yet tried. Between them they almost provided a regulation size market deck, but I added Relics of Legend anyway. I completely left out the market deck from the base game. I have nothing against it, just that I've seen those cards and wanted to see some of the new ones.

Sands of Al-Kalim is set in a desert region and the goal of the game is to find four legendary things - items, locations, etc. There are 6 cities on the map and 3 lost cities that appear wherever you are when you occasionally discover them. That's pretty neat.

The first thing I noticed was that once I started playing the exhaustion rules right, WOW, it's HOT. You can quickly suffer from exhaustion if you roll the dice to move. I actually thought those rules were a bit silly and changed them in these ways:
  • if you start in a town you don't take an exhaustion
  • if you use a river/tree die for travelling in lowlands you don't take an exhaustion.
As far as I could tell, according to the real rules the towns wear you out as much as the barrens do, and that seemed silly - after all, you can get water in a town; and I couldn't see why if I didn't take exhaustion for starting in lowlands that I should suffer badly for travelling through them. The real rules seem very harsh, and I'm nice to myself when I play solitaire. In any case, I was scurrying between oases to avoid the heat, so the rules seemed to have their desired effect.

I noticed in my limited experience that the SoAK allies were less useful than in the base game. I certainly didn't find a Jirta the Fierce - I mostly hung out with a camel driver and a djinni who was no tougher than me. It was hard enough work keeping myself alive in the desert let alone a bunch of other wimps, so I didn't use allies as much as I usually would.

I also realised I only needed to defeat one red encounter to complete the game. The one I got was the naga who was VERY VERY TOUGH. I only survived by sacrificing the camel driver, using the adventuring equipment, and tapping almost every item I had. It didn't help that I rolled badly. It seems to me that I usually roll very well in this game and that helps me like it. By the way - after I defeated the naga I got my 4th quest and just had to defeat a blue to complete the game. It was a bit of an anti-climax. The naga was the highlight of the game.

My character was Tahlia the Thief whose special power is to inflict one damage once per round in a phase where she successfully defends. That's as good as another attack, so I was motivated to raise her stats in ranged and melee, specialising less than I usually do. I guess in exchange she only does 1 damage and that made life tough against the naga. I liked that power - it made me adapt my style of play.

I managed to pick up a relic which gave me +2 melee. I already had 2 weapons, but according to the rules you can have two weapons and a relic as well. That was a pretty nice item but I felt like I had 3 weapons and that was wrong. There are a lot of relics in the expansion decks, so some characters might get lucky by accumulating a few of them.

By the way, the Quest Tiles - a very small tile to put your character card on - was a complete waste of time. I'd rather put my character card flat on the table. I just didn't understand the point of that. However I did like the "creatures move" story event which allowed you to repopulate encouter spaces. That was better than sunbursts, I thought.

Anyway, I had a good game, struggling around the desert avoiding the sand storm. It took a long time to get my first legendary thing, but the second was something which allowed me to summon lost cities. For the third I had to travel from A to B holding my breath or something, so I summoned the City of Clouds and flew in one turn. Then after I killed the naga (to be allowed a fourth quest) I flew to the place I needed to go to for my final legend

For my next Runebound adventure I'd like to do something like Shadows of Margath with Walkers of the Wild and maybe the Terrors of the Tomb. If only Scrabblette will ignore me again...

Monday, June 18, 2007

I Just Want a Quiet Place to Sit and Eat My Lettuce

On Friday night at Critical Mass we played a game of Hare and Tortoise. I like this game a lot but it's hard to find an audience for it - some people, the kid included, find it too mathematical and won't play a second time. Luckily I managed to find 4 people who hadn't played before and the kid temporarily forgot how much he disliked it, and we were able to play with 6 players.

My first mistake was to randomly choose the player to my left to start the game. If I was first player I'd go straight away to the lettuce on space 54, but as last player that wasn't an option - the track in front of me was very crowded. There's also no way to get back to that lettuce - the first tortoise is in the space after it.

Of course by the time I got to the second lettuce it was crowded as well, and waiting to get onto it didn't work either as someone else was doing that. So I rushed off to the third lettuce, and someone beat me to that as well. So I tortoise-hopped back to the second lettuce... By that time everyone else was in the vicinity of the third lettuce, so I was able to peacefully eat two lettuces while the leaders approached the finish line. With all of the going backwards (not to mention eating lettuces in 6th place) I had a stack of carrots, so I rushed to the third lettuce to eat my third. However by then the game was lost - Aaron staggered over the line followed by Keith.

I was hopeful of third place, but I didn't have quite enough carrots to jump all the way to the end, and had to make an intermediate stop. The Evil Count von Walduck and Nigel finally decarroted themselves enough to finish. I charged over in 5th place.

It was a very frustrating game! I knew exactly what I wanted to do but couldn't get onto the right spaces. Waiting only made things worse. What could I have done better? Hmm... maybe I should have jugged the hare. I ignore the hare spaces because of the randomness, but for someone like me hanging around the back of the pack they're probably a useful way to get rid of lettuces. I didn't think of that until near the end of the game when someone mentioned that's what they'd done. Urgh... randomness.

Anyway, that was the 4th time I'd played this game and the first time I'd lost, and I guess I learned something.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Mind The Gap

At Critical Mass last night I was happy to see the kid get himself involved in a game of Age of Empires III (which is his kind of game but not mine) so I had time for a proper game of something else. We were about the start a 5 player game of On The Underground but elphiecoyle arrived and we couldn't expand to 6 players, so two players split off to play Ra with Elphie while aaronseeber and Keith and I played OtU.

Regular readers of this blog may remember my rants about train games and wonder why I'm playing this, let alone owning it. It's all Cameron Browne's fault. I read his book on Connection Games and about the same time was offering TransEuropa for $A45. I took a chance and liked that game a lot. When I read that On the Underground was similar but more complicated that interested me too, and I took another chance. So now I have three train games I like (because Scrabblette bought TransAmerica as well) and I think I know what it must feel like to discover you want to be a woman. It's confusing, and...hmm... better not take that analogy too far. Let's just say I'm wondering whether I'd like Ticket to Ride more if I tried it again.

Anyway, with 3 players in OtU you get 3 colours (lines) each. I started building my long blue line (20 pieces) on the central loop as there was a quick 3 points to be gained connecting cameras. Aaron and Keith developed their lines according to the desires of the passenger and took the lead in points. I wanted to develop the blue line - get a loop, connect some symbols - and then make some branch lines out to the suburbs to scores some passenger points.

My plan was working well, in that I had a good solid blue almost-loop but trailed on the scoring track. Then on Keith's turn two passenger cards to the northwest were drawn. Aaron built the line from Earl's Court to Acton Town which I'd wanted for myself. The two more cards to the northwest were drawn, and I had to build a line from Acton Town to Sudbury to make sure I got more than my fair share of those points.

Having been almost too late to score those points I decided I had to start my other line from Woodford to Mile End before the passenger dragged my opponents over there. Meanwhile Keith was building a black line to rival my blue, and Aaron's pink and red lines were sneaking all over the middle of the board sucking up valuable passenger points. I completed the blue loop for a 9 point bonus and caught up with them.

Aaron continued to score well, but Keith seemed to get bogged down with branches. Aaron was leading and Keith fell behind. I could see the pile of passenger cards dwindling and decided I needed to get some good points so in one turn I terminated both ends of my Uxbridge-Ealing Broadway line. On my next turn I branched the blue loop to Hammersmith to connect to the symbol there. Then, the draw pile emptied and the passenger was removed from the board just before my turn. I had the last turn of the game with no possibility of passenger points - but Aaron was only one point ahead of me. I took a branch marker, played to a terminus, took another branch marker and played to a national rail connection, and moved two points ahead of Aaron for a hard-fought come-from-behind victory.

I really do like this game. I could imagine with AP-prone players it would bog down and that would suck, but when it moves along it's very good. It's pretty, you can make and execute plans, and there's plenty to think about.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Tikal for Two

I've been trying to start a tradition in my household of playing games during State of Origin. SoO is a rugby league match between Queensland and New South Wales played 3 times per year in winter. It's compulsory as a white Anglo-Saxon male to watch the game, but you really only need to know who won and what a cheat the referee was. So I figure I can play a game while it's on the TV with the sound down and still maintain my status as One Of The Guys.

For a few matches my game of choice has been St Petersburg, and the kid received some floggings last year and Scrabblette received one for the first match this year. However as I had a new copy of Tikal which was crying out to be played I decided to play that for this match. Scrabblette had played Torres before so she was familiar with action points, and all I had to do was explain the actions and the scoring and we were underway.

It became clear very soon that Scrabblette wasn't going to quickly make really bad mistakes like she had in St Petersburg, and when the first volcano came out (in the Bs) the score was 11-10 to me. As the game proceeded Scrabblette proved herself to be the master of excavating temples and I proved to be the master of drawing treasure tiles. To be fair though, when you draw a treasure tile you're committed to maybe 15 points of action to take them, and if you choose to do that you miss out on a lot of temple stuff.

Scrabblette was the first to place a new base camp so of course it was my job to make sure she'd put it in the wrong place. I placed a guard on top of one of the adjacent temples. Scrabblette recognised the wisdom of that move and excavated two temples to level 9 and played guards on them very soon afterwards. Ooh, yuk, 18 points per scoring I'll never see again. She also noticed the way I was trying to block off her camp and did similar things to mine. I have created her in mine own image and I don't like what I see. In the second scoring I again scored one more point than her and so led by 2 points.

For the third volcano the map is very spread out and you start putting out temples that your opponent can never get to. Scrabblette managed to play a shortcut to one of my temples from her camp and was able to flood one of my previously safe areas with her men. I was definitely under pressure! In fact, after the third scoring she leapt ahead to lead by about 8. She was playing well!

Finally after the third volcano the treasures were mostly gone and I was able to get a pile of men on the board. With some clever movement I took over a couple of her temples - she was spread quite thin. I also played a shortcut of my own and was able to get my fat guy into one of her formerly safe temples. I played the last tile and moved my guys to threaten some of her temples. She scored first and occupied as many temples as she could. She didn't spend any action points on defence though, and I was able to move my guys into some good temples to score them for me in turn. Along with 30 points for treasures I was able to score very well in the last round, and passed her to win by about 5 points.

What a good game! Scrabblette put up a very good fight but my experience at stealing wins (e.g. Mystery of the Abbey) stood me in good stead. I'll definitely have to get Mexica and Java and try those.

Oh yeah... we won the footie. I think it was 10-6. Some guys scored some tries. Or something. And the ref sucked.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Win At Checkers

On one of her visits to all libraries of the known world Scrabblette found a book called Win At Checkers by Millard Hopper. I had Checkers rated a 5 which on my interpretation of the BGG rating system means "I might want to play this again some day". It's only a small book so I started reading. Mr Hopper writes very nicely and pretty soon I was hooked.

Checking the user comments for Checkers at BGG reveals many comments like "hate this game", "broken", "solvable". Broken and solvable aren't true, unlike ZERTZ which has a known strategy for first-player win on the standard board yet is rated 7.55 compared to 4.77 for Checkers. Don't get me wrong, I like ZERTZ, but I think Checkers is rated very unfairly. Consider that ZERTZ took the "must capture" rule from Checkers, and GIPF took the "if you can't move you lose" rule from Checkers. It's true, Checkers is a simple game, but GIPF is simpler and is rated 7.09. A lot of the user comments also mention that Chess is better. Maybe so, but Chess is a totally different sort of game that just happens to be played on the same board.

I think Checkers suffers very badly from the "bottom of the toy box" syndrome. People grew up with a copy of Checkers and they never really understood it and it got dumped in the bottom of the toy box. They may not have understood the "must capture" rule, or had arguments with their siblings about the rules and hence associate the game with family arguments and lost pieces and their annoying aunt forcing them to play with their whiny little sister. Monopoly suffers from the same bad associations and is similarly despised at BGG.

After reading Mr Hopper's book about how to lure your opponent into traps, I dragged out my checker board and started working through some of the longer explanations (there aren't many of them). Scrabblette challenged me to a game. Of course Scrabblette wasn't clear on the rules and hadn't just been reading a strategy book... then the kid came to visit and he hadn't been reading a strategy book either. The book doesn't actually help so much, though. I can recognise a position where I can force you into a trap but I have to wait for you to put yourself into such a position. I also know basic strategy such as "attack gaps in the defence" and "attack along the single corner line", but putting those ideas together into a good game is beyond me. Of the 3 computer opponents I've played on the easiest level I've only beaten one of them.

I changed my rating for Checkers to a 7. If I play more and start to understand it that might go up. For a game that is so closely related to some of the great modern abstracts, Checkers sure has a poor reputation.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


One of the games I've been most looking forward to, Die Kutschfahrt Zur Teufelsburg, has arrived in CyberKev's collection and been played (by me) twice now. I rate it a 9.

The first time we played was with 10 players which was a little unwieldy as any venture with 10 people will be. The second was 6 players and was much smoother. Eight players might be good as well.

So here's what happens: there are two secret societies and half the players are in each (I don't know what happens with an odd number of players). The societies are so secretive that you don't know who else is in them until this particular coach ride to Devil's Castle. There are also some items with various powers. Some of the items are objects which are sacred to your society and your team (secret society) is trying to collect all of those. But you don't know who's on that team.

On your turn you can trade an item with someone or attack someone. If you attack other players support the attacker or the defender. Whoever gets the most support wins and may either steal an item from the other player or look at which secret society they're in. When you trade an item you offer an item to another player and they may accept or reject. If they accept they give you something in return. Trading is assisted by the fact that some items have special powers like "when you trade this away you draw another item" or "you must trade if this item is offered to you".

On your turn you may also declare victory by nominating enough members of your secret society that all have sacred objects and have at least 3 of them between them. In that case the whole secret society wins (or loses if you're wrong, Evil Count). Thus you want to (a) determine who the other members of your secret society are, (b) get the sacred items, (c) let the other members of your society know if you have the items.

A typical sequence of play goes like this. I'm in the Brotherhood of Open Secrets which needs 3 keys to win. I attack the Evil Count. Everyone rushes to defend him. I lose. He looks to see what secret society I'm a member of. On his next turn he offers to trade a key to me which suggests he doesn't mind if I have the items needed to win... so I guess he's in the Brotherhood as well. As the game proceeds you make similar linkages to other players.

I was particularly happy with the conclusion to the game I played this evening. I'd determined that the Evil Count and Minotower were in the Brotherhood with me. I had a "secret bag". The power of the secret bag is that when you give it away you get to draw an item, and when all items were drawn that secret bag turned into a key. On my turn there was one item left and I had the secret bag so I offered it to Minotower. He took the bag and gave me a key. I drew the last item so his bag turned into a key. He had a fistful of items and on his turn he declared victory, claiming that he had two keys and I had one key. Woohoo!

Kutschfahrt reminds me a lot of Werewolf but with more analysis and less emotion and lying. I like the analysis and deduction, and the cards are very pretty, so this game is a winner for me. With experienced players I could see the opportunities for deception increasing, and that's attractive to me as well. I need my own copy.

Hey! Some Of Those Are My Fish!

I played Hey! That's My Fish! against Scrabblette and my sister the other evening. At the beginning sister suggested that they gang up on me. As I squeezed her penguin for room she remarked "he's like a gang all by himself". I isolated one of sister's penguins very quickly and she saw how it was done. The two of them then played pretty well eventually leaving one of my penguins on an ice floe by himself. I tried very hard to carve out a good territory for myself but they wouldn't let me. It was very close.

For the final scoring, I noticed that there were 6 fish in the box (unreachable, so nobody scored them). That left 94 points in the game, and I had 32. The pigeonhole principle tells us that for me to win, they had to have 31 each. Scrabblette announced she had 31. Woohoo!

I like H!TMF! a lot but I wonder how deep it is. I suspect very very good players are only a tiny bit better than very good players, unlike Chess for example. There are certain principles that you need to play by and once you've mastered those you're basically competitive. Let's see which I can remember:

1. Realise that if a penguin is on a space that space is already taken.

2. Fracture the ice so that you have more penguins on the big side.

3. Interpose your penguins so that your opponent has to go around them instead of past them, because that will cost them an extra move and you can be doing something else in that time.

4. Always cramp your opponent for room.

Other ideas welcome.