Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Festival of Lights

The most recent Gathering of Friendless coincided with Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. This festival commemorates the legendary time when Rama returned to Ayodhya after helping Vishwamitra destroy the demons of the Dandaka-van and demolishing Ravana's army at Mithila using the power of the Brahm-astra. You must remember that. Anyway, it's something like a Hindu Christmas, and with our household being as Hindu as it is Christian (i.e. not at all), we lit some candles and got some Indian sweets and celebrated Diwali. That makes sense, doesn't it?

So the subtitle of the Gathering of Friendless episode was "The Festival of Lights". As the only "light" games I could think of were Nacht der Magier, which only takes 4 players and is played in the dark anyway; and Khet which is a 2 player game; we completely ignored the light theme.

We started with a two-team game of Bamboleo while waiting to see who might arrive. CyberKev made a mathematical mistake and took his team down very efficiently, leaving the team of Aaron, Hubertus and John to win 21 points to -1.

We'd all played Trans(Europa|America) but only a few of us had played the Vexation expansion, so we then played Vexation with TransEuropa. When I read the rules of Vexation I was sure I'd hate it - why take a great game and make it malicious? - but it's not malicious at all, it just has blocking. That I can cope with. Most of us didn't get the hang of the expansion at all, with the game only lasting two rounds, with Aaron on 12, me on 10, and nobody else above 1. Even Scrabblette, who is very good at the Trans games, did very badly.

We progressed to one of CyberKev's favourites, Frank's Zoo, which apparently takes up to seven players. There were six of us, and it seemed to me that the game was significantly weaker with six than with four. It wasn't likely that there was a pair of anything in someone's hand, and I found it hard to judge what might be a good play. Scores were very even for the whole game, with Scrabblette eventually winning on 24 and last place being up to 15.

We then played something we'd been hoping to play for months - Mystery of the Abbey. This is one of the four games I rate a 10 (Scrabble, Trias and Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation), and I don't often play it. CyberKev argues that it's too chaotic and the card-passing takes away from the deductive aspect; but I say that if the card-passing has much of an effect you're not very good at the deduction. Last time we played this at Critical Mass I stole the win from Scrabblette so there was some tension at our end of the table - she determined not to let it happen again, me determined to be even more cunning this time.

Very early in the game we discovered that all of the Fathers were in people's hands, so they didn't do it. There weren't many clear clues for a while then until the second round when the event at Mass was that novices were confined to their chambers. For this event each player places a novice in front of their cellula. Scrabblette didn't have one, so there were 5 novices on the board. A few people asked questions about the other novices and I realised that with 5 on the board, one in my hand, one in Aaron's hand, and none with anybody else, that there were two missing. There was one card in the Parlatorium, so the killer must be a novice. A good deduction I thought, but way too obvious and I was sure everybody saw it.

CyberKev immediately went to the Capitulum and revealed that the killer was a novice. I was trying to figure out how I could figure out which novice. I tried to get around to see as many of the face-down cards as I could in the round, but only managed to get to two of them, one of which I knew about already. That left 4 novices I hadn't seen. Then Scrabblette went to the Capitulum and revealed that the killer was a brother. HUH?

Scrabblette had figured out that there were 8 novices in play, so therefore the killer couldn't be a novice. Except that there are 9 novices. One of those completely stupid screw-ups that happen from time to time. But the best part was, at the second mass she was protecting her brother cards and so passed me a novice - the one from the Parlatorium. That narrowed it down to three! I was first player in the third round and hot-footed it to the Capitulum! I wasn't really clear who the killer was, but I had a suspicion that Hubertus had novice Guy, and I knew which of the other two novices Aaron didn't have... so I guessed that was the guy. Further questions between other players while I was on my way only served to confirm my guess, and when I arrived at the Capitulum I accused the correct killer.

In the post-game analysis, I think it was the novice in my hand that saved me. Nobody knew who he was, and Scrabblette, who was definitely smart enough to Figure These Things Out, was off on the wild goose chase with the brothers. Nobody else quite cottoned on that my novice was the last one who wasn't the killer, and maybe they hadn't seen the novice cards outside the cellula in the second round either. In the end, it was an honest victory to me, which is satisfying but not as much fun as stealing a win from somebody else.

The final game for the evening was Unspeakable Words which is becoming a comfortable favourite, even though we do keep discovering new rules. It's a quick and easy word game, and despite the die hating me I always enjoy it. As often happens, Scrabblette thrashed us.

My stats program tells me that this day was my best day of gaming ever. Here's hoping we can continue in that vein!

Duel in the Light

I'm trying to catch up on session reports for the Gathering of Friendless. Unlike many gamers who shall remain nameless, I do have a fetish for writing, but I'm still quite slack at heart and once something is a responsibility (even if it's only a commitment I've made for my self) I become slack. Anyway, the Gathering of Friendless Episode 5 was subtitle "DUEL IN THE LIGHT". This followed a drama earlier in the week where we dismantled the light above the game table to get all of the dead moths out of it, and I couldn't get it back together. The kid and I had been playing Duel in the Dark, and it looked like we might be acting that out come games night. Luckily we had to get some other electrical work done and the electrician fixed the light for us. But if it comes apart again I still won't know how to fix it.

Anyway, Scrabblette was busy studying and the kid was visiting, so it ended up being a boys' night of gaming. At the kid's suggestion, and with very little coercion, we started with a game of Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective. I'm always amazed by the cleverness and quality of this game, and it's a joy to play. I don't like long games, but 3 hours was fine for this one. Some people seem to have that level of engagement with Caylus. I don't, but Consulting Detective works for me. We traipsed around London interrogating people trying to solve the Case of the Confused Murderess (is that right? Case 2) until we finally decided we'd figured it out. We were wrong. However, Holmes' solution wasn't supported by the evidence that Holmes had gathered, and we weren't disappointed that we didn't jump to the same conclusion. Our score was 25 points, which was about as badly as we did last time.

It was already getting late by then, so we just went on to a quick game of Tsuro. Aaron finally noticed that the sides of the board had different numbers of squares on them (one's 6x6 and the other is 7x7) so we'll be able to make an informed decision on choice of side next time. The kid won. Yes, the game can have some luck but it's at least quick.

I then suggested Jungle Smart because I was determined to play until I won. This was my lucky play, as I was usually a millisecond ahead of CyberKev. Each time I've played this game there has been a dominant player, and it has always been a different player. I don't understand how that works.

It was getting late and Aaron left, so the rest of us decided to do something silly and play one of my unplayed games - in this case a Chinese rip-off of Hungry Hungry Hippos called Hungry Crocodile Game. The hungry crocodiles looked more like frogs. In addition, the game had quite a few broken bits and you had to play with one hand and hold it together with the other. For some reason I was very good at it, winning 5 of the 6 games we played. Nevertheless when we were finished I dumped it in the bin. We'd had
it since the kid was a baby, and that game was well past its use-by date.

And that was all that happened at Duel in the Light.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Recent Scrabble Scores

Isn't Scrabble a beautiful game? The bonus tiles drag you to all corners of the board. The better players need space to play longer words which they have because they have a higher letter density in the spaces they have used. It just all fits very nicely. I found some tournament games on-line and have been amazed at the words those guys play. I think I'm about one bingo per game away from being a decent tournament player.

Here are my recent scores on Scrabulous (with W for won and L for lost): 363 (L), 356 (L), 409 (W), 290 (L), 479 (W), 339 (L), 347 (W), 332 (W), 413 (W). That's an average of about 370 points per game, so I've definitely improved my game recently. There was also a face-to-face game where I scored about 408. The two lowest scores (290 and 332) were challenge games against Gerrod. Gerrod likes to challenge my words off the board (bastard) so scores are lower in those games. I think I also get flustered and play worse in a challenge game. Yet I persevere because that's tournament rules and I've got to get used to them.

I guess I should mention I haven't beaten Scrabblette in a one on one game for months :-(. The girl is good.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A River Runs Through It

After a break of a couple of months I pulled down Roads and Boats again for a bash. I haven't played for a couple of months and was afraid I might be out of form so I didn't attempt Lord of the Ring which I was previously studying. I decided to play a just-for-fun game, so set up "A River Runs Through It".

Of course, no solitaire session of Roads and Boats can be started without a plan, and as I started to decide what needed to go where I wondered whether maybe I wasn't taking this just-for-fun game a bit too seriously. Well, as I don't ever recall my mum saying, if a thing's worth doing it's worth doing well.

The obvious feature of the map is that there's not very much space - just seven places to build until you can get irrigation. I figured I didn't have enough room for a stock market, and didn't think too hard about a mint, so I planned to build one gold mine and score 40 for the gold, and to see what else I could achieve. I thought it might have been a better idea to only go for Wonder points, but afterwards I realised that the Wonder only has 11 rows to score from in solitaire, so my maximum possible score would be 110.

Upon starting I recognised another feature - a river runs through it! The river almost cuts the map into two parts. So bridges needed to be made. This uses a lot more rock than just roads would. For donkey-breeding reasons the first bridge had to be built in the home space. (What happened was the donkey was on his way to a hot date but had to build a bridge, so he took the rock with him and built the bridge while his date was in the powder room. True story.) Throughout the game there were never quite enough roads, but conversely everything was close so there wasn't often a need for more roads.

The other feature of the river is that it supports water transporters, i.e. rafts. I thought they'd be useful, but on reflection I'm not sure that they were. It took a lot of resources to build them, they used spaces for the (second) woodchopper and the raft factory, and I don't think I got value for money from them. It seems strange to have a river without any water transporters, but I think I would like to try again with a better road network and no rafts.

For the connoisseurs, here's my time-line:

Turn 1: build quarry and woodcutter
Turn 2: build saw mill
Turn 3: build donkey
Turn 4: build donkey
Turn 6: build second woodcutter
Turn 7: build raft factory and paper mill
Turn 8: research specialised mines
Turn 10: build mine and raft
Turn 12: build raft
Turn 14: build raft, 2 bricks in Wonder
Turn 16: build 2 bricks in Wonder
Turn 18: build clay pit and stone factory
Turn 20: build 4 bricks in Wonder

As you can see, on Turn 17 I reached the irrigation space in the Wonder and built a clay pit and a stone factory on the newly irrigated spaces. Obviously to do really well one of those spaces will need to be a mint, and so the other will need to be a coal burner. I also have a feeling that I need to produce a clay pit and a stone factory instead of a quarry so that over the course of the game I can produce enough stone to build a proper road network and to feed the Wonder so as to get to the irrigation level soon enough to build the mint in time to make a coin. I'm not sure how I'll fare with initial resources, so I'll need a better plan next time. Maybe I'll also be able to put a second gold mine in where the raft factory was.

Hmm... back to the current session. My score was 40 points for 4 gold nuggets plus 70 points for 7 rows of the Wonder, which is 110. I think I'm obsessed again!