Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sordid Johan Gets An Axe, or, Johan Causes A Fence

Time went by, and the chief's daughter became older and more bitter towards Johan for his perverted ways and smoking in the house. Johan should have recognised she was suffering from an iron deficiency because he never bothered to feed his family meat, but Johan always had his mind on less salubrious solutions. That's when Johan met the axe. There it was, in the window of the general store, beckoning to him, and Johan fell in love.

The other great love of Johan's life was his sweet daughter. All grown up now, she had built the pottery and the basketmaker's workshop without her lazy father's assistance. Yet, she still loved her father dearly. Perhaps madness ran in the family, perhaps it was a misplaced Cupidean arrow, but soon Johan and his daughter realised they loved each other in a way that was forbidden. Johan of course recognised this as the course his life was destined to take, and showed his daughter the axe, and told her his plan.

Several days later, news arrived at the neighbouring villages of the terrible massacre. Disguised as a rich grocer and his trophy bride, Johan and his daughter avoided detection, though maybe the authorities were reluctant to search too hard for such a lunatic. Johan worked off his anger and frustration by chopping wood with the axe, and within weeks of arrival in the new village had built a five room wooden house. Of course, the next task for him and his young bride was to fill the house with squealing brats, and Johan's daughter work as energetically at that task as she had with others. Johan completed his third family in record time.

If there was one thing Johan excelled at, it was delegating work. He set the babies to work digging a Carp Pond with their rattles, making a Fireplace out of mud, forcing them to build an Outhouse as part of their toilet training. The children scoured the countryside searching for more resources to build additions to the house. Johan's life had never been better. He scored 76 points against a target of 59. (Note: I think I used the Builder's Trowel wrong. I assumed it gave you a free Renovate + Major Improvement action, but on consideration it probably really only gives you what it says it gives you. So this score probably should have been at least 2 points lower.)

Cheaters never prosper, and all good things come to an end. Johan's daughter eventually realised what a good-for-nothing her father / husband was, and had him arrested for his various crimes. She got the house, the pottery, the basketmaker's workshop, the fireplace, the clay oven, the well, the stone oven, the carp pond and the outhouse. He got 8 food.

But then, he got lucky, in all senses of the word. The local sheriff was a tough woman who loved "bad boys". Why else would she have taken that job? A dangerous lunatic like Johan was just the kind of man she was looking for. When she "took him to jail", the two were never seen again.

They settled in another village, where Johan took a job as a merchant specialising in major and minor home improvements. Having lost his axe, Johan found it much harder to establish himself this time. He again used a builder's trowel, but did it correctly this time. He planted fruit trees, built a mini-pasture, and subcontracted out building of many improvements to his house. However Johan resented his honest way of life, and decided to join the Masons so he could pull some strings. Sadly, he misunderstood... it was actually a course in masonry, not masonics. Johan acquired a useful skill despite his best efforts. Despite his best efforts, Johan couldn't reproduce the success he'd had with his axe and the baby slave pack. He scored 74 points compared to a target of 62.

Of course, now that he'd somewhat reformed, Johan's wife found him not so attractive. Life's like that sometimes.

To be continued...

The Fairly Sordid Tale of Johan the Hedge Keeper

As John the Meat-Seller got a bit boring, I dumped him after seven games and started a new solitaire Agricola campaign. I now have lots of games of Agricola under my belt, and find the campaign mode more relaxing than my "must get 60 points" target. Johan is using the E-deck still - I'll get to K and I and Z and X later. Maybe not X. I'll play that with the kid. Anyway, one thing Johan realises is that it's not necessary to max out everything if he can make equivalent or better points by doing something else.

Well, that's his excuse for being so lazy in the first game. Of course, feeding your family is worth the most points, but it also requires a huge number of actions, so it's the activity most ripe for optimisation. That's why Johan learned to brew beer. He figured beer made him fat, it would make his babies fat as well. So Johan started his career as a master brewer. He later became a conservator (renovate straight from wood to stone). That caused a problem, in that if he wasn't going to have a clay house at any stage, he couldn't use clay to add a room to it. Consequently Johan used all of his wood adding rooms to the house. When the Chief's Daughter came to stay, and mentioned flirtatiously how she liked stone houses, Johan couldn't get the place renovated fast enough. Then he realised he had no fences, and hardly any animals, and that in fact the rest of the farm looked like it was run by a family of drunken fat slobs. That's when Johan hit upon the idea of becoming a hedge keeper. Just in time, the hedges grew, the animals were herded in, and Johan scored 59 points compared to a target of 50.

Johan then decided to change his ways. Abandoning his family, and eloping with the chief's daughter to another village, Johan presented himself as an itinerant hedge keeper. However, passing the window of the general store, Johan spied a baker's oven and decided it was the finest thing he ever had seen. Johan then resolved to become a baker. Living from his savings, Johan worked hard in the fields growing grain while the chief's daughter went fishing. Soon he was able to build a clay oven and purchase the oven upgrade kit from the general store to build his baker's oven. With his elite baker training, Johan was able to bake 2 grain to 5 food each in the harvest phase, and the family had as much bread as they could eat.

Of course, they had nothing else. When the children were old enough they asked "Mummy, are we vegetarians?" to which she answered "No darlings, Daddy just refuses to cook meat in his oven. Why don't you run down to the shop and get a kebab?" As before, Johan just couldn't find time to get around to the fences, and didn't get any animals until round 13. That was just in time to max out points for boars, and of course there were flocks of sheep. Johan never did quite finish the fencing, and ended up with 3 pastures, but one of them held 14 sheep. Having built a pottery and a basketmaker's workshop, Johan scored 63 points compared to a target of 55.

Johan noticed the chief's daughter was looking older and worse for wear. He wondered if the next village needed a baker.

To be continued...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Clusium, 225BC

Ozvortex came over this morning to play C&C Ancients, and we played Clusium, 225BC. This was in the time when the Romans were trying to subjugate the Gauls. For the first match, Ozvortex played the Gauls and I took the Romans.

This photo is of Aneroestes "the Wolf" and Concolitanus "the Merciless" planning their attack.

Concolitanus chases the Roman light infantry all the way across the board and eventually destroys him.

An unidentified Roman commander chases Aneroestes off his own side of the board (no banner for that).

Aneroestes seeks approval from Concolitanus for her role in a crushing victory.

Other than the photos, I don't want to talk about the match. I didn't make any clever moves, and hardly even any competent ones. I was thoroughly outplayed in the rematch as well, for a 12 banners to 5 loss.Ozvortex did a brilliant job of harrying my cavalry with his evasive light infantry, and I couldn't come up with an alternative plan. Well done to Ozvortex!

Ozvortex gives a very detailed account of the game on his blog.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Depressed

Yes, we all miss Scrabblette but we're not all quite so demonstrably miserable!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

400!

I received a gift voucher from a games store from Miss Jane for Christmas (thank you Miss Jane!) so yesterday as our part of stimulating the economy we headed off to the new LGS to spend some money. I was quite impressed - they do have a large range. Sadly my wishlist has shrunk a lot over the last year, and there were no intersections. However, as usual, Scrabblette found a new word game - Word Spin, and we decided we also needed Anasazi. I've sort of avoided Anasazi because it rates very badly on BGG. However, those 2 games took my total of games owned (not counting books, but counting expansions) to 400.

Word Spin is a very cool set of bits, but the game is not very interesting. We sort of made up some rules and played while I was watching the cricket. I think next time we play we'll need to make the rules a bit more solid. Also, it's a game that can benefit from having multiple sets.

We played Anasazi this afternoon, and I was confident during the whole game that I was well ahead. I thought Scrabblette's secret colour was white, and I had more of those than she did. At the end, she got a majority only in red, though reds were worth 4 points each. Then we revealed secret colours, and she had red! So reds were worth 8 points each for her! The final score was 51 to me, 50 to Scrabblette, and I'd hung on for the narrowest of victories.

In other news, Scrabblette is off to India for a holiday in a couple of hours. That will leave me (and the dog, and the kid, half the time) home by ourselves for 4 weeks. Normally I would cope easily but I'm sick at the moment, with a viral thing I think I got from the kid, and I'm not very enthusiastic about having to look after myself. Still, it's better to be sick at home than to be sick on a flight. I'd like to get a lot of gaming done while Scrabblette is away, but I can't see myself going anywhere very much for a week.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

John the Meat-Seller Goes To Monte Carlo

John the meat-seller has been continuing his adventures. Last time we talked about John he had been a meat-seller, clay deliveryman, carpenter and master brewer, and had scored 70 points in the 4th game of the campaign.

He started the 5th game with 4 food which gave him a comfortable buffer at the start of the game. The occupations available included the plow maker (when you plow, pay a food to plow an extra field) so my plan for the first phase was an occupation, 2 plows, 4 grain, and a sow. That gave me bucketloads of grain, an advantage which I mostly failed to exploit - after all, I was a meat-seller, not a baker. It was a lacklustre game, and John scored 68 with a target of 64. The other occupation I took was seasonal worker, and I think it was my enthusiasm to use that which caused most of the problems.

Game 6 started with the plow maker as the kept occupation, of course, but only 2 food left over, and they got used up doing the plowing. The best occupation on offer was the stone carrier (when you take stone you get an extra one). That not only gave me access to more stone, but also let me get enough stone to do useful things a turn earlier. That was much more of an advantage than I'd guessed. In addition to the usual Clay Oven, John was able to build a Stone Oven... and a Well and a Reed Pond and a Bean Field and a Basketmaker's Workshop and a Half-Timbered House. All of those children were kept busy busy busy! Of course the score was huge - 77, compared to a target of 65.

At this point I wondered about the wisdom of continuing to play the campaign - 77 points is enough to claim a win, and each game is similar to all of the previous ones. I wanted to see what occupation John would learn next, so I continued. So we're in Game 7 - John has 6 permanent occupation cards and only gets dealt one occupation. Luckily it was useful - the Mason. He gives you a free stone room once when you have 4 stone rooms. I realised that gave me an opportunity - if I was going to get a room for free, I could pay for one less, and if I declined to build the wooden one I'd been doing I could use wood earlier in the game for fencing.

I started with 6 food, so I didn't need to work to feed my family in Phase 1. I was able to plow 4 fields and sow 3. I got to work on the house-building in Phase 1, but still couldn't fit a Family Growth into Phase 2. I did have fences built by the end of Phase 2, and by the end of Phase 3 had a 3 room clay cottage with a fenced sheep yard and a kid looking after them. I immediately built another clay room, and added another kid, and then with all my stone renovated and with my secret masonic powers made a new room appear. With 3 rounds to go in the game I had my full family and 5 room house, with several ovens. It was then a matter of waiting for the resources to come out and to milk them for as many points as possible. I made it a policy to add a Major Improvement each round, and ended up with a Clay Oven, Well, Stone Oven, Baker's Oven, Basketmaker, Pottery, Quarry and Clogs. Yes, I did give an oven back when I built the Baker's Oven - I built the Stone Oven twice.

John was clearly now some sort of superman - doing 7 jobs at once and adding massive improvements onto his house with a snap of his fingers. I decided then that that would be the end of John's career - clearly nothing is beyond him now, and he can't get any more occupations in the 8th game of the campaign.

I'll start a new campaign soon, if this Christmas thing will give me a chance.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I Got Bitten By An Intrepid Ibex

Oh what a disaster! On Monday evening I clicked on the update manager on my Ubuntu box - also known as friendless.servegame.org, and it told me there was a new distribution release. I was previously running Hardy Heron and Intrepid Ibex was now available. The Ubuntu update process has always worked beautifully for me, so I did it without hesitation.

Of course if something didn't go wrong I wouldn't be telling this story. After all the updates were installed and the machine rebooted, nothing happened. It got as far as starting the GUI and just hung with a wait cursor. So I restarted in safe mode and grabbed the kid's laptop so I could Google a solution. I eventually figured out that it was GDM - Gnome Display Manager, which is responsible for starting X and managing user logins, which was hanging. So I tried upgrading that, removing it, whatever, only to realise that my wireless networking hadn't started either.

By this time I'm onto the second day of debugging. It took me a long time to figure out that the interfaces wifi0 and ath0 are the same thing, but I have to work with ath0. There are very good instructions on the Aetheros site about how to get ath0 going, so I followed them exactly. It all worked up to the point where I use DHCP to get an IP address. It couldn't get one. The router sees my machine connect, but won't give it an address. I figured out I can install a debugging tool for the Aetheros driver, but I'd need networking to do that.

This morning I tried turning off security on the wireless router so I could connect even if I had the security stuff wrong. The router instantly became inaccessible to everything. Well, I guess it's secure. I had to take the laptop to the router, connect with a cable and turn the security back on. Then I gave up on the wireless networking problem and set up the card table next to the router so I could connect my machine using the cable. That at least allowed me to install all of the debugging software, but I haven't had time to use it yet.

The beautiful part of Linux is that everything else still works. I started the web server and the stats generator, so extended stats is working again, for the moment. This evening I'll have another bash at getting wireless working again because I don't really like having my computer on the card table. I'd just like this problem to go away, it's not very interesting. Damned ibexes.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fifty Reviews!

A few weeks ago I wrote my 50th review on BoardGameGeek. Since they introduced the system-awarded microbadges I'm trying to collect a set of Golden Session Reporter, GeekLister, Reviewer and Image Uploader. I have gold in the first two, and silver in the others. I don't even have copper in anything else, so I have no ambitions there, but for the record the options are File Uploader and GeekBadge Designer.

Anyway, to get my silver Reviewer badge I needed to have written 50 reviews, and I spent a long time at about 41. Now that I've got to 50 I'm thinking of the gold badge for which I need 100, and I'm thinking that's a long way off. I just checked to see how long it has taken me to get to 50. My first review was submitted in November 2004, so that's 4 years! There's no way I plan to take 4 years to get the gold badge, so I'll have to up my rate.

Fifty is a lot of reviews! I got to 40 without really noticing I was doing it, so I wondered where they all came from. Here's the year-by-year breakdown.

2004 - 2 reviews
2005 - 19 reviews
2006 - 1 review
2007 - 15 reviews
2008 - 17 reviews (and one more submitted)

There were a few patches where I wrote a lot. In 2005 I acquired quite a few games from thrifting, and had some quite odd ones lying around the house. I always feel more motivated to write about a game that's uncommon so that I can get the word out about it. For example, I wanted to warn other people away from Batman & Robin - the Board Game, and wanted to alert them to the pleasures of Nodwick - the Card Game. In 2006 my life was very focused on things other than writing game reviews, though I did play a lot of games that year, and the only game I managed to review was The 24 Card Game, and that's STILL the only article for that game.

In 2007 I found a few more odd games, particularly from Scrabblette's visit to India, so they needed to be talked about. One day in December I figured it would be mighty useful of me to talk about all of the Runebound expansions I own, and I reviewed 6 of them in one day. Then at the beginning of this year I played a lot of children's games, assessing them for an award, and so wrote reviews of them as well. It seems people want to review the games they want to play, whereas I like to review the games I think people will be glad to find any information about. No four year olds are going to review games, so I'm happy to do that job on their behalf!

That was where things stood when the microbadges arrived, and I decided I had to write more reviews. It's a little hard to get motivated sometimes, which is why progress has been slow. I've mostly continued reviewing word games and children's games, but occasionally I'll write about something more popular. I just HAD to write a review of Rheinlander because I thought Greg Schloesser's review didn't do one of my favourite games any justice.

Yesterday I wrote my 51st review, and today my 52nd, 53rd and 54th. I don't know how long this burst of energy will last, but I can't see myself knocking out another 46 reviews this evening. I'm not Tom Vasel, after all :-).

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Partial Adventures of John the Meat-Seller

Yesterday I finally got around to trying solitaire Agricola with the standard game. As described in earlier posts I'd trained on the family game and now I understand what you have to do to succeed. The thought of other players interfering with my plans still annoys me, so I'll be playing solitaire for a while yet :-).

Of course my very first hand of occupations and minor improvements seemed like a basket of treasures compared to the family game! However with no Storehouse space to get food from, and the different Day Labourer, I knew I'd have to change my plans. Furthermore I just wanted to play for the fun of it rather than plan everything like I needed to do to score well in the family game.

I knew the chief (+1 VP per stone house) would be a good idea, as he'd take some of the pressure off me aiming at the points target. I knew the stone carrier (+1 stone when you take stone) could come in handy towards the end of the game, and the hedge keeper (+3 fences free when you build fences) would have some use, but as I only build fences maybe twice in a game it wouldn't be huge. However the meat-seller (convert meat to food in any oven) would be of use during the game - he's essentially a fireplace - so I aimed to get him first.

I had to modify my standard plan of 3 grains and 3 plows to fit in the early occupation, but I figured if I was going to be relying on meat to feed myself I could afford to fall behind in the grain production. The meat-seller plan worked reasonably well, and an awful lot of sheep died to feed my family. The spindle (bonus food if you have sheep at harvest time) and the baker's oven (bake bread for 2 grain gives you 5 food each) also came into play, and I didn't want for food during the game. However at scoring time I was a bit short in all of the animal categories, and scored 56 points.

That was basically OK because it gave me three food to take into the next game. With at least two starting food you don't need to eat grain or day labour to feed your family in the first harvest, and that's an extra action you get, and possibly an extra grain field you can have in production. So in order to assure future stability of my food supply I took the meat-seller as a permanent occupation.

Game 2 was much more difficult, as there were no occupations or minor improvements to help me get food. There was a clay deliveryman (bonus clay rounds 6 to 14) and a clay roof (use clay instead of reeds when you extend) and a mason (bonus room when you get 4 stone rooms) so I tried to form a strategy around those. With all of the clay I built myself 5 clay rooms, then upgraded them to get a 6th stone room for free. Looking back, I think that was a mistake - I didn't need 6 rooms, and it cost me a point for the field I missed out on. My score for game 2 was 57. I decided that the clay deliveryman might be nice to have at the beginning of the game, so I made him a permanent occupation.

As I started Game 3 (with only 1 spare food) I realised I was de-facto developing a strategy for the campaign meta-game. My choice of the meat-seller and the clay deliverman had pretty much guaranteed I would get a clay oven and my family would become meat eaters rather than bread eaters. And one occupation from this game would be added to my permanent collection, so I needed to take the future games into consideration. I didn't like many of the occupations I received in this game, except for the carpenter (build a room for 3 of the base resource plus 2 reeds), so he was the only one I added. I sort of like the potato dibber as well, until I realised at the end that it hadn't gained me any points.

Anyway, I figured out the strategy for this game. With a strong supply of clay I could build 1 wood and 2 clay rooms, and get the clay oven as well. In fact I build the extra rooms so quickly I ended up getting my 5th family member before Family Growth Without Room appeared, and I had lots of spare actions. I hadn't thought very hard about what I would do in this situation, but I ended up building a pottery which earned my 5 VPs at the end. With all of my people working for me I scored 4 points in 4 categories, and got a well as well. My score was 63 compared to a target of 59.

That game left me thinking there was more I could do. I had a really good combo with the clay deliveryman and the carpenter, so for the next game I'd like to get someone like the Chief who can give me VPs, or someone to get food more easily. As I had a couple of bus trips intervene between Games 3 and 4, I worked on a plan. It was pretty sweet.

No plan survives contact with the enemy. This one didn't even survive the deal of the occupation cards. I received the master brewer (convert 1 grain to 3 food when feeding the family) and decided I wanted him for the future and might as well get him in phase 1. My plan was PLOW / GRAIN / PLOW / GRAIN / PLOW / GRAIN / FISHING / SOW (remember I had 2 food from the previous game), but I needed to put an occupation in there. I figured out I could do PLOW / GRAIN / PLOW / GRAIN / PLOW / GRAIN / OCCUPATION / SOW, and then convert a grain to food to feed the family and eat another grain. (BTW, my interpretation of the rules is that the first occupation per game is free - that's what it says in the book - but I could have made it either way.) That left 4 food on the Fishing space, which I would be able to use later. Using my speed-building strategy I had plenty of actions and was able to build a dovecote (5 food), animal pen (about 10 food I think) and the well (5 food), and I had so much food available I didn't need to eat sheep at all. When I finally took the sheep and pigs that had built up I needed to eat some of them because they didn't fit in my pastures. I maxed out 7 categories (not cattle) and received 14 points for improvements, for a total of 70. The target was 62, so I'm fairly pleased about that.



For the next game I won't need to fish in the first phase, and I'll only need to use one grain at the first harvest. There'll be spare time to get an occupation in Round 4! I'm hoping it will be Chief or something that gives me VPs, as that should set me up to complete the campaign fairly easily, and I can focus on stupidly large scores rather than on food.

To be continued...

Monday, December 01, 2008

Oh Yeah! I Rock! 61!


Well, after a dismal failure yesterday (56) I've at last achieved my goal - a 60 point solitaire family game of Agricola. In fact, I got 61. It took every trick in the book and a touch of luck as well.

The touches of luck were:
  • sheep came out second, rather than 4th. When I started eating them I effectively got 2 bonus food, and was able to breed them as well.
  • family growth without room came out in round 12 rather than round 13.
The added tricks were:
  • use day laborer to get an extra clay (and an extra food) at just the right time.
  • defer plowing and sowing until the plow and sow action came out.
For the theorists out there, the order of the action cards was fences, sheep, sow, improvement, stone, renovations, family growth, vegetables, boars, stone, cattle, family growth, plow & sow, and renovations.

I'm going to stop playing the family game solitaire now, and start playing with the occupations and minor improvements. I hope to be a bit more relaxed about it, instead of planning every game turn by turn before I play it.

I Like the Top Ten

Dominion has entered the BGG Top 10, pushing out Through The Ages. That to me, is an improvement. I can't even bring myself to try Through the Ages - there seems to be way too much theme and way too much time, and it just looks boring. This from someone who loves GIPF. I think my problem is that it looks like the game is doing all the playing for you.

That is not to say that I think the Top 10 are all excellent games... I'm no MWChapel. I don't like Power Grid, Twilight Struggle, El Grande or Caylus either, and Princes of Florence is not something I rush to play. I don't know why I don't like Princes so much... maybe because of the mish-mash of mechanics I can't figure out what it's trying to do. Oh hang on, it has a sucky auction...

There have been quite a few games in the Top 10 I wasn't interested in enough to even try, and they've all fallen out. Age of Steam, War of the Ring, Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage, Shogun, Paths of Glory and 1960 have all been studiously ignored. Mostly they're longer games, and I really fear being stuck for 3 hours in a bad game, as happened when I played Twilight Imperium (that was 10 hours!).

I don't like long movies either.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

One Goddamn Reed!

I planned out the 60 point game of Agricola on the bus this morning, where I'd get a fireplace and a well and a stone oven and 60 or more points depending on how the cards came out. The cards came out nicely - Sheep came out second which meant when I slaughtered them for food I had 4 more food than in the worst case scenario. Then Family Growth came out first in its group, so I was able to reorder my plans and have a baby two turns sooner than planned and get two extra actions. That put me well ahead of the plan, but I had to do a lot of work to figure out the consequences as some actions which depended on a certain number of resources being available couldn't be brought forward. Then in about round 12 it all went screwy - I'd forgotten to gather food for the last harvest, and I had no reeds for the Renovation to stone - I'd taken reeds in round 5, when I should have taken them in round 6. I had to move Family Growth without Space from round 13 to round 14 in order to take reeds, which meant I had one action less in the last round and couldn't take sheep. Having one sheep instead of 8 cost me 3 points, and I ended up with 58!

As I write this I think I probably could have planned to eat a cow (which would have cost me a point) but I would have been able to do the Family Growth (which would have got me an extra action, 7 sheep and 3 points). Maybe that's what I get for playing at bed time.

Earlier in the evening I played Dominion with the kid... we used a random deck for the first time. It was Bureaucrat, Chancellor, Witch, Spy, Market, Woodcutter, Smith, Remodel, Adventurer and umm... maybe the Money Changer - no cost 2 cards. We both took Witches of course, and both used Remodel to change Curses into Estates. However I took fewer action cards than he did, got more money, and when I started remodelling Golds into Provinces I was well ahead. Remodel defined the game more than the Witch did, no matter how much fun she is. I remodelled my Estates into Remodels, and planned to remodel my Remodels into Gold, but that never quite worked. With no +2 Actions and no Chapel to hurry things along it was a bit of a longer game than I've played before. My final score was 54, the kid was 29.

Edit: CyberKev points out that we played with too many Province cards - you're only supposed to have 8 in a 2 player game.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Friendless the Crap Agricolyte

Agricola arrived on Monday. It's interesting but not exciting... exciting was past in about April. I read the rules that night, and settled down for a couple of solo family games. It is still a good game, despite the sorry saga attached, and it got me sucked in. In my first game I played as if I was playing multiplayer, and ended up with a miserable 33 points. I realised afterwards I'd spent too much time taking resources that would still be there later anyway - in multiplayer they won't be. I also decided I should try to use the combo actions better, e.g. Sow and Bake Bread. With those ideas and another glass of red under my belt, I went on to score 44 points in the second game. I went to bed trying to figure out an optimal field placement.

The next morning I wrote down all the actions and the major improvements and spent the bus trips to and from work trying to figure out a better plan. I decided that I would work on a plan involving a Clay Oven so that I could play a mega-move involving Renovation, Major Improvement and Bake Bread for 5 food. As there are two Renovations in a game then I could choose another Major Improvement, and that was to be the Cooking Hearth so I could convert animals to food or Bake Bread to get 11 food in one turn. So that meant I needed 3 clay for the Clay Oven, 4 clay for the Renovation, 4 clay for the Cooking Hearth.. and there were only 14 clay in the game, so I couldn't also build a clay hut. So I had to build a wood hut, and along with 15 wood for fences and 8 wood for stables, that was all the wood used up as well. If I wanted 5 houses I'd have to build two stone houses, which is difficult because the stone arrives late in the game. I put a lot of thought into this plan, but was twice interrupted by the bus arriving at its destination.

This morning I got up early to test out my incomplete plan. Sure enough, on about Round 7 I was at a loss what to do next - it's easy to plan the start and the end, but there are too many combinations in the middle. I could tell I wasn't going to manage a 5th house, so I took a 5th field instead. I got maximum points for fields, pastures, vegetables, sheep, family members and stables, and missed one on each of grain, boars and cattle. I got 8 points for 4 stone rooms and 3 points for Major Improvements, for a total of 55.

Let me pause this narrative to say there are some posts on BGG which say "oh yeah, I played the family game solitaire, got 60 on my first try...", to which I reply (a) HOLY CRAP! and (b) what rules mistakes did you make? On my 3rd game with over an hour's planning I only got 55. I'm no savant, but I'm no goose either. For someone to get 60 on their first game is unbelievable. Anyway, I have heard of someone getting 62. When I can manage 60 I'll start with the cards and try the campaign mode.

After this morning's experience I've decided I need to get more than 3 points for Major Improvements. My revised plan involves a Stone Oven and a Well worth 7 VP in total. I'll probably need a Fireplace as well so I can convert animals to food. To execute this plan I'll need 29 wood, 13 clay, maybe 8 reeds, and at least 10 stone. I can get away with 28 wood if I lose a point on pastures. I have two more bus trips tomorrow to work on this plan!

I'd love to be playing now, but the school Christmas concert has sucked my soul, and I have to go to sleep. Goodnight!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shilling Dominion

There was a bit of a fuss on BoardGameNews.com about Valerie Putman and Dale Yu "shilling" for Dominion, i.e. writing about the game they were developing in a way that was perceived to be promoting the game. I can sort of see where the critics were coming from, i.e. BoardGameNews.com is usually perceived as an independent source of news about board games, and in this case it was clearly not independent. On the other hand, Valerie and Dale's columns never purported to be about anything other than their experiences in the gaming hobby, and that was what they were doing.

The thing that slightly miffed me was not that they were telling me about this allegedly great game, it was that yet again I was being told about a great game that I couldnt have. It was like teasing. I just skipped over those columns because it was just too frustrating. The scars that I bear from the Agricola experience are long and deep, and still growing. What a fuck-up that is. So Dominion was on track to piss me off like Agricola has pissed me off.

However the Dominion experience has been a much happier one. Remember I ordered Agricola last November and don't have it yet. I first heard about Dominion in April after CyberKev returned from the Gathering of Friends. He told me it was a very good game, and CyberKev can usually tell these things. Sure, he said the same thing about In The Year of The Dragon, and that sucks, but I can recognise that it's a decent game that I just happen to despise. But then a couple of weeks ago, Tom the Swiss Guy turned up in Brisbane with a German copy of Dominion. All of a sudden Dominion was a real game that people could get, and I started to pay attention to it.

We played it under less-than-optimal circumstances - in German, with 5 players. It's only supposed to take 4. And I came dead miserable last in the interactive game. As I hate being attacked in multi-player games (I have a shirt which "Why are you attacking me? <- Attack them ->") it wasn't conducive to my enjoyment at all. We even played a rule wrong - we played that you could buy a curse and give it to someone else. So everything was against the game. Nevertheless, I recognised that my awful performance was mostly my own fault, and the game wasn't so bad.

After the interactive game we looked at the other cards in the box. Some of them were really cool - Throne Room lets you play another action card twice, Chapel gets rid of those painful curses, while the Witch inflicts them. We switched out all of the cards which we'd used a lot in the interactive game and switched in some of the others and played again. I can't remember the cards in the game, but Witch and Gardens were two of them, and I realised they could work together so I invested in Gardens. I won that game.

That was Wednesday. On the Friday the kid played it with Tom the Swiss Guy and liked it, so on the Monday I emailed the FLGS and asked if they had Dominion. They ordered it in, and it arrived on Wednesday. I'm up to 7 plays now, and would expect to pass 25 before the end of the year.

What I mostly like about the game is the puzzle of how to play a particular set of cards. Having read Valerie's strategy tips on the Chapel I play Big Money pretty well, but First Game just confuses me... I can't work strategies that depend on the Dorf / Village. Of course any deck that includes the Thief will break a Chapel strategy as well, so I don't know how to handle that. I like that I can be a wizard sometimes and hopeless other times. My kid likes that too.

Yeah, sure, Dominion has been hyped. But as someone on BGG said, hype is overhyped. Good games bring their own hype. Don't avoid Dominion just because someone said it was good, play it first and then avoid it if you still want to.

The Fiction of the Filler

There's been a bit of debate on BoardGameGeek about whether a filler like Dominion should be ranked as highly as it is. There are a number of wild assumptions in that debate, such as:
  • Dominion is a filler
  • Fillers do not deserve to be rated highly
  • Proper games are long or heavy games
That's all crazy talk of course. BGG has a very strong bias towards heavy games - not ASL heavy, but Puerto Rico heavy. BGG's audience loves that sort of game, and people who love that sort of game are attracted to BGG, so it's self-reinforcing.

It's also reinforced by the point of view that if a game is light it's not a proper game. I know a couple of guys who like to play at least one meaty game per game session (and strangely, they all agree that it should be Power Grid.) I almost agree with them. I certainly like to play games that require some thought, and an evening of dexterity games and Bohnanza would underwhelm me. However I do see value in a lot of shorter games which require thought - Hey! That's My Fish! is a perfect example.

However games like H!TMF! get lumped in with games like For Sale! as "fillers", which is almost a derogatory term. What does "filler" mean, exactly? I was under the impression that it was supposed to mean "a game that you play to fill in time while waiting for other players", but I also recently saw it defined as "a game you play to relax between meaty games". That second definition is biased towards meaty games in the extreme... if you never play Power Grid is there no reason to play For Sale!?

The first definition is pretty weak as well. This is what happens at Critical Mass where I experience most of my multi-table gaming... four players complete a game of Reef Encounter. At the other table, phase 3 has just started in Power Grid so they won't be much longer, so when they're done the tables can cross-pollinate. The Reef Encounter people decide to play Ingenious as a filler. Two of the players haven't played Ingenious before so the rules need to be explained, then a great deal of thought is put into each move of Ingenious. The Power Grid people finish, and notice that the Ingenious game is only half over, so they start Through the Desert. And so the evening passes without anyone swapping tables at all.

Obviously, the Reef Encounter players may as well have just started Key Harvest instead of falling for the filler fiction - Ingenious is just as much of a game as any other, and it probably takes 45 minutes no matter how quick you imagine it might be.

The only games that PROPERLY work as fillers are games that can be abandoned in an instant. At Critical Mass I often set up one of these as people are arriving, with the intention that when people come in there's something to play, and they can peel off to other games when they get organised. Games that work in that way are Set, My Word!, Bamboleo and Ricochet Robots. Tsuro is almost as good because the games are over quickly, players can learn the game by watching, and it plays from 2 to 8, so when one game is finished some people can leave and others can join the next game. However almost anything else is not much use as a filler.

As for Dominion, it's a great game, but it doesn't perform many of the functions that I need from a filler. Some people may classify it as such, but they probably like Power Grid anyway.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Friendless Names First Black Gaming Opponent

The news this morning that Barack Obama has named the first black attorney-general (of the U.S.) reminds me that it's important to emphasise people's race when talking about them. Especially if that person is black, you need to mention what they've done. Hence I feel it important to tell you about my first black gaming opponent.

Rowdy was my best mate in the late 70s when we went to school together for 4 years. He wasn't African-American (I think I'm still waiting for my first African-American gaming opponent), he was Dutch-Indonesian. As a result he had a bit of an identity crisis - he didn't know whether he wanted to be a brown superman or Johan Cruyff. As Johan Cruyff was not famously good at cricket, and that was what we played, I think he emphasized the brown superman aspect. And when I was stuck bowling for an hour and I just couldn't get through his defences, the brown superman claim was (a) credible, and (b) annoying.

Anyway, the only board game I can recall us playing together was Chess, and he was better than me at that too. I've got no idea whom I ever played against other than Rowdy, but lack of experience was no reason to be happy about losing. I remember I did beat him once with a very cunning plan where I had an attack set up behind a wall of pawns down the left hand side. When he attacked the wall of pawns the trap was revealed and I burst out to attack the rest of the board. I think that was the last game of chess I won until about 2004 when I played against my kid.

Rowdy (and I) are all grown up now, and we're back in touch. He has two gorgeous kids. He's still better than me at cricket, and I see no need to spoil my Chess record. Maybe one day I'll make him Australia's first Dutch-Indonesian attorney-general.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gamerz.net

The last few months have been an absolute disaster for gaming. Scrabblette and I spent probably 3 months being sick, during which time we were miserable as well. Being sick meant I couldn't go out to game with the guys, and being miserable meant I didn't even game with Scrabblette and the kid. I made a conscious decision to try out some PBEM gaming at gamerz.net so that I was at least playing something... and besides, I might find some interesting new games. Here's what I've been playing.



Conhex - Conhex is a proper abstract somewhat related to Hex. I'd like to tell you about the differences, but to be honest after about 10 games I don't really understand it. I think I might win one of my next 5, unless my opponent is getting better as well. I've improved a lot since my first embarrassing games.



Lambo - Lambo is one of Cameron Browne's new designs, and it's probably my favorite so far (though I like Mambo a lot too). One player is blue and one is white, and the aim is to complete a group of your colour (so blue won this game). When we first started playing people were losing games due to stupid mistakes. When we learnt what a stupid mistake was, people stopped losing, and very soon neither player could force a win. A couple of rule changes later, it seems to have settled into a very interesting game.

Superbo - This is the curiously attractive love child of Mambo and Lambo, i.e. it's a game Cam invented using the tiles from both games. One player plays red and one player plays blue. The objective this time is to complete a group of your colour containing an eye (a white hole), so blue has won this game. I don't really get the game yet (by which I mean Cam keeps beating me) so I'm not convinced it's as good as either of its parents.

Mutton - Mutton is a design from Cameron Browne and abstract game guru Stephen Tavener. It's a very curious asymmetric deduction game - one player is a team of wolves in sheeps' clothing, and the other is a farmer with a shotgun. As the wolves eat the sheep, the farmer blasts away trying to kill the wolves. The wolves' score is the number of sheep that die. Then the players switch sides and the new wolves try to get a better score.

I find Mutton to be quite a brain-burner, but it has a luck factor that can ruin your game - if the farmer has 6 options and guesses right, the wolves are in trouble. Nevertheless, there are few games which involve shameless ovine sacrifice, and it's an interesting game for that alone.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

First Aussie Maths Trade Retrospective

As we head into the Second Aussie Maths Trade, let's take a look back at what happened in the first - in particular, how successful have the games I received been? We can assume I only traded away things I didn't expect to play, so if I played what I did get, I've won. N'est-ce pas?

Architekton - played once with Scrabblette. She wasn't impressed. I'd play it again but may not have that choice.

Clans - played five times so far, I think. This was a very successful trade.

Attribute - played four times so far. I don't like it so much, but my kid refuses to let me give it to my sister. So, I guess that was successful.

Terrace - played once, and I'd be happy to be rid of it, but the kid likes it and won't let me. Apparently my game collection is a democracy now.

Blackbeard (old edition) - I received two copies, and played one of them solitaire. It was a fairly sucky game but I will probably do it again one day. I'm trying to trade off the second (better) copy.

Warhamster Rally - One play. I like it, but the kid says it's like Roborally but too hard. OK, the hex map is confusing. I'm keeping it for the moment.

Keythedral - unplayed so far, but I really really want to. It's the sort of game I like. After playing Key Harvest I'm really getting into Richard Breese.

Scotland Yard - unplayed so far. I'll have to remember to start taking it out with me.

Cabale - only one play, and it was alright. It will really be up to Scrabblette whether it hits the table again or not.

Stonehenge - I haven't played this yet though I'm interested in playing the Faidutti game. Some of the others stink. It's a bit of a disappointment.

Meridian - played twice so far. Scrabblette seemed to like it, but we haven't played again, and it went over OK at Critical Mass despite a massive rules screw-up.

Hacienda - I love this game! It has become one of my hits for the year, and I'm amazed to find out I've only played it 3 times. I must get it out more!

Overall, 19 plays, and Hacienda, Clans and Meridian (and Attribute, I guess) have found homes where they're very much appreciated. I guess it's not such a brilliant success rate, but it's better than paying full price for games on spec.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

If You Drink Then BGG You're a Bloody Idiot

Had a glass of wine with dinner, visited BGG, now I'm running a Maths Trade.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/35609

Fair enough, I did trade the second-most games last time. I'll see if I can get Gomez on the hook for next time.

Ooh! Ooh! I Have an Idea!

I was just pondering the futility of being sick and staying home and still not having an opponent to play games against. So it occurred to me that if I was really smart I'd get a medical degree and work part-time. I'd still be immensely rich AND I'd be able to write doctor's certificates for my game buddies like CyberKev and Ozvortex, and they'd be able to stay away from work and play games with me. Ooh! Isn't that cunning?

Then it dawned on me... Mikey and Dupytren have already done this...

Friday, October 10, 2008

O'Brien Loses!

I was sick yet again today - Scrabblette and I have been plagued with colds all winter long. At least this time I felt well enough to have another bash at ASL. I had unfinished business with the first scenario and wanted to know what would happen if the Germans played better. Of course, for old times' sake I used Sgt O'Brien as the American commander in the middle of Vierville. He did a very good job there last time when the Americans won, but I was rooting for the Germans this time.

As a quick aside, I have played games with a fellow who always plays Germany. I thought that was just a forgivable quirk, but have since got the feeling he's a white supremacist of some sort. Apparently they're just misunderstood patriots... anyway, rest assured I'm nothing like that. It really disturbs me that such people still exist.

Anyway, the Germans brought on their first two squads - Baumann to oppose O'Brien in the town, and Harpe to the intersection to guard the road in from the north where the American forces were. Praun brought reinforcements through the forest to the south of the town.

This plan worked well for a while, as Harpe's control of the road prevented the Americans from entering the town. Eventually however a detachment of O'Briens squad and the reinforcements forced Harpe out of his shelter.

In the town, O'Brien had had some success in fighting off Baumann, but Weiss arrived with more reinforcements. Praun had no success at dislodging O'Brien.

With Harpe's forces scattered, American reinforcements under Dunn swept into town. Baumann was killed, but his troops were rallied by Weiss who advanced again to face O'Brien.

Weiss's reformed squad attacked O'Brien with everything they had. Suddenly, Praun and his men made a run for the building at L3, the only victory point they had any chance of reaching. The Americans, now abandoned by the scaredy-cat O'Brien, were unable to bring sufficient firepower to bear to stop Praun, and he reached the safety of the building.

It was now the last turn of the game, and the Americans needed to dislodge Praun from L3 to win the game. Dunn's stack had 36 fire power, so they stormed the building to destroy the German forces.

Dunn was pinned by the defensive fire, and without his leadership the Germans' 15 fire power forced all of the Americans to flee for cover. When the game ended, Praun controlled L3 and the Germans won.

It might sound like the Germans got lucky, and indeed they did. The Americans didn't make a mistake in not covering L3 - O'Brien just didn't have the fire power to look after it, and Dunn had been held off by Harpe for so long he was unable to arrive in time to save the day. The unluckiness for the Americans was that Dunn got pinned in the final attack - he missed his morale check by 1, and that prevented his -2 DRM from being applied for the rest of the stack. Anything from that stack that didn't break would have gone into L3 during the advance phase, and the game would have been decided by Close Combat.

I was very impressed by the way Harpe's squad was able to control the road enough to hold back the Americans' overwhelming force. Harpe's guns had 6 range which meant they could shoot to the very west side of the map in normal range. It was impossible to sneak past them. I was also impressed by how long O'Brien hung on - Praun and Baumann initially intended to drive him out of his building and occupy N6 and N5, but he just wouldn't go.

I do like this game, it's a pity there are so many rules. I forgot to use CX counters this time, and I even forget why you would. The next scenario has machine guns which come with a whole lot more rules. Oh dear.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Life Intrudes

Loyal readers, please excuse me for my recent lack of postings! I've been very busy not playing games, and it's shown in the number of interesting things I can think of to tell you. I'm now on my third cold for the season. Scrabblette is as well, except she hasn't had any obvious breaks between them, so she's been constantly sick since the beginning of July.

Yesterday was the second anniversary of Scrabblette and I meeting (and also her birthday), so I asked her to marry me. And she said yes. The first person she told was the kid, who'd suspected something like that might happen although he had no inside knowledge whatsoever. I think he's been nagging her about it for a while. I guess he approves.

Anyway, I had a very good day of gaming on Saturday... let's see if I get back here soon to write about it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

WTFCAIRNS?

I'm very bad at taking holidays. I only just figured this out this year. My ex-wife used to organise holidays all the time and I didn't cope very well with that but at least we went. Neither Scrabblette nor I organise holidays, so last year I spent most of December lazing around at home (writing blog posts and playing games, it seemed). Anyway, Scrabblette and I had a vague plan this year to go to OMGESSEN! but I eventually figured out I'd spent too many days going to game cons around Australia and didn't have enough days leave available to make a trip to Germany worthwhile. Although I'd like to go to the Spiel Fair I'd LOVE to go touring around Germany and France, and it just wasn't going to work this time.

We considered some other possible holidays, such as HOLYCOWINDIA! (not enough days leave still) and travelling from Adelaide to Darwin via Alice Springs and Uluru on the Ghan (maybe not good value for money, and aimed at couples, not couples with a kid). In the end though, we settled on a trip to Cairns on the tilt train. It's a 24 hour train trip, which IS a long time, but it's pretty good for Queensland Rail. A train that goes almost as fast as a car is considered pretty amazing technology around here.

Cairns is a nice place - it has beaches and rainforest and mountains and so on. However I've been there a few times and it's not so exciting for me. However Scrabblette hasn't been there and it's one of those places that people come to Australia to see, so we have to go there eventually. So we're leaving today, and getting back on the 29th, hence cramming a quite long holiday into a space it barely fits in.

Of course we have quite a few games packed. As my opponents will probably be just the kid and Scrabblette I had to choose games they would actually play with me, so we have Scrabblette's favourites and a couple the kid added. One day I'll find someone who likes Key Harvest and Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation, and I'll sneak off to somewhere secluded with them... even if they're a big fat sweaty ugly guy. But anyway, we have Alexandros and Attika and Buyword and Mystery Rummy: Rue Morgue and I snuck in the E&T Card Game just in case...

BTW, don't get any ideas about sneaking round and stealing my Mask series or anything from my house... Miss Jane will be caretaking for us, and my vicious guard dog will still be home. In all likelihood I will be blogging while on holidays, but I don't know whether it will be about holiday stuff or games played!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Negative Christmas Presents

Many followers of this blog, like me, live in a consumption-oriented society. Since we moved house last year I've stopped accumulating furniture but we're accumulating DVDs, CDs, books and games at an apparently increasing rate. When we moved in there was heaps of space in our house, but we've expanded to fill it.

My baby sister is experiencing the same problem, even though she is much younger than me and has years of accumulation to catch up on. In email about plans for Christmas she wrote:
"We certainly do not need any more stuff,( if you know any people without stuff they can have some of ours,)"
It occurred to me that a good family thing to do would be to help each other actually get rid of stuff. Maybe we could:
* help each other clean out the shed / bookshelf / liquor cabinet (yes, even my liquor cabinet is overfull).
* rent a skip
* bring a ute around and cart some stuff to a charity.

So the Christmas objective would be to end up with LESS stuff than before. That certainly works for me. Any ideas?

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Where The Fuck Is Agricola?!

I preordered Agricola in December, and it still hasn't turned up. Frankly, I've got the shits with everyone involved in the process, and I certainly won't be preordering from Z-Man ever again. I've held my tongue about this for a long time but it hasn't helped. This has been an absolute cock-up. I also have no interest in dealing with Lookout Games in the future after Hanno's hysterical outburst on BGG.

It'll probably be here on Monday, now that I've blown my stack.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Bitches Love ASL

I'm a big fan of solitaire gaming (because the quality of opponent is higher :-) so I've been faintly thinking for a long time about some more serious solitaire war-gaming. Anything by Richard Berg just seems to be appallingly complex, but my Facebook friend MerricB has good things to say about ASL SK1, so I've been thinking about trying that. Coincidentally a local gamer offered to sell me his, so I bought it and tried to play it today on our Ekka holiday (google it).

I think my dog figured out if she sat next to the board then she'd get to cuddle with me. It didn't work. All my hands were in use holding the rule book and scratching my head.

For the non-gamers in my audience, ASL is Advanced Squad Leader - a World War II squad level game. Think of it as the game of Saving Private Ryan where you're Tom Hanks' commanding officer. In this particular scenario, the Americans have occupied a French village called Vierville and the Germans are attempting to reclaim it. This is my initial set-up with Sgt O'Brien controlling the crossroads.


The Germans attack from the top and the bottom (east and west) and the American reinforcements arrive from the right (north). As there was good cover for the Germans on the left hand side of the board, and not much on the right, the Germans chose to attack from the southeast and southwest. O'Brien and his men held off the German commanding officer, forcing him to retreat into a building, but the half squad at the other end of the road was quickly eliminated.

Eventually the Germans realised they'd made an enormous strategic error by not occupying the building in hex R7 (the rightmost American unit). That unit controlled a vast area around it, and along with O'Brien they protected the entrance to the village for the American reinforcements. The Germans probably should have occupied the building even further to the north as well.

With the roads open to American reinforcements, the centre of Vierville was soon decorated with stars and stripes and apple pies and photos of Mae West, and the German forces suffered some heavy fire and were forced to retreat. They eventually sent O'Brien crying back to his mummy, but Highsmith arrived with more firepower and prevented any hope of German occupation of the centre of the village. O'Brien had won the war for the Americans!

Overall, this was a decent experience, but I did spend an awfully long time trying to figure out all of the rules which applied to each situation. I think I've made enough sense of movement and Defensive First Fire now, and will be able to play a lot more smoothly next time. Routing (i.e. broken forces retreating, potentially under fire) wasn't so bad, but I know that I missed the rule about units which fail morale checks being degraded. I remembered it too late and decided not to apply it. I'll have to read the rule book again and play again to see how it works.

It seems to me that the game is not so much about killing, but about controlling area. It was very often the case that forces crumbled under fire without taking casualties, and became ineffective without being dead. In a real world scenario, this might relate to everybody hiding behind buildings and being unable to progress or reunite; or getting lost in some trees. In Saving Private Ryan a sniper effectively stalls the progress of the squad as they struggle to find a safe way past him. There's much more of that sort of disablement, and not so much death. If a squad can establish a position overlooking a road they can lay down so much firepower on the road that anyone who tries to use it will break and so cannot progress down the road. There's enormous power in controlling the paths to the objective.

Next time, the Germans will know that.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Games Shelves Are Chocka-Block

My dad called yesterday to find out if I was still playing with myself... I guess he wants to see the old family traditions preserved. So I guess I'd better write something. Actually July was the month in which I recorded the most hours spent playing games ever - 13.5% of the time in the month was spent gaming. Between that and Scrabblette getting home after 3 weeks there wasn't much time for blogging.

Anyway, I was looking at some photos of my game shelves from when we moved in here almost a year ago, and they look sparse compared to now. It seems these days games are coming to get me - I no longer need to hunt them down. I've been trying to behave myself, but they keep getting in. Here's my game shelves and why they're like that.

Shelf 1 - Kids' Games and Party Games


The red boxes in the bottom left contain Big-Ass Trias and my home-made copy of Mambo. The plastic rack in bottom right is the Digimon CCG. The egg cartons are Eiertanz. The big plastic rack up the top id the Harry Potter CCG. Various odd games are stuffed in all of the corners. The base is a drawer containing Heroscape. I want to make this the kids games, party games and Ameritrash shelf, but I need to clear some space.

Shelf 2 - Abstracts and Word Games


This is the set of shelves that attracts Scrabblette most. The drawer at the bottom contains Command and Colors stuff - Memoir, Ancients, and Battlelore. The small drawers contain card games, score sheets, non-slip mats, odd dice, and one whole drawer of non-English rules. The games in the bottom left below Hive are Santorini and Twixt.

Shelf 3 - Euros and Ameritrash


This rack is the problem child. It's where games I totally must have are destined. The bottom shelf is Days of Wonder and FFG. Stacked on the top you can see the Mask trilogy (all 4 of them) and various Ticket to Rides and Friedemann Friese stuff. Lots of yummy Euros in the middle. The right-side racks include some Lego cars for playing with on the city streets mat we have, and bowls for putting counters into. The white sack is Polarity and the blue sack is Bagh Chal pieces. The drawer below the shelves contains most of my trade pile, and some older games such as Careers which I don't want to throw out but don't want to display either.

I think my next collection management project should be moving the Ameritrash to Shelf 1. Shelf 3 needs more space.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

People I Gamed With at GenCon

For me, one of the highlights of a con is getting to game with lots of people. GenCon was certainly a success in that regard. CyberKev often points out that we could do just as much gaming at his house, and that would be for free, but would CyberKev remember to invite all of these people? And would they all come? And would they all fit?

  • BGG user names: Harley22, jacko_p, elphiecoyle, cyberkev63, Tyndal, BladeMaster777, pryllin, Pateke, mikey, OzGamer, thunderbirdsix, Peter Hawes, Gecko3D, jwalduck, arnoldrimmer, mickeyjames, Ozvortex, John Reid, smee62
  • From QGG: Vanessa
  • From LXG: Graham, Sonny, Rebecca, Claire, Nigel
  • From Critical Mass: Miss Jane, Anna,
  • From QUGS: Darryl, Julie
  • From Canberra EuroGamesFest: Jenny, Phillip, Eric
  • Scott the on-line Carcassonne guy
  • Mikey's friend Nick (is he on BGG?)
  • Some guy who played Guillotine and I never got his name
  • Dave and Steve who played Puerto Rico
  • Bertie's friend Craig
  • James who played Nerd Trivia
  • OzGamer's friends Mark and Nick
  • mickeyjames's friend Aaron
  • Jim and his son Aidan / Adrian
  • Three random people who played Dancing Eggs
That's 46 different people. What a social butterfly I am!

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Best Four Days in Gaming?

I've just spent the last 4 days gaming at GenConOz. OMG what a lot of hard work! We arrived about 9am each day and gamed until it was time to go home and go to bed. This is what I played:

Race for the Galaxy4
My Word!3
Carcassonne: The Discovery2
Clans2
Guillotine2
Pictureka!2
Puerto Rico2
Taluva2
Vikings2
Africa1
Chang Cheng1
Dancing Eggs1
Entdecker1
Genesis1
Jenga1
Keltis1
Mr. Jack1
Nerd Trivia1
Power Grid1
Prophecy1
Relationship Tightrope1
Rheinländer1
Ricochet Robots1
Santiago1


I'm a bit amazed I played 4 games of Race. I'm also amazed that every time I play I see new cards. In those 4 games I won once and came second all the other times - and they weren't 2 player games.

All the games of My Word! were on Thursday evening when we were too tired to play something more thoughtful. Carcassonne: the Discovery was easy to teach because almost everybody there already knew Carcassonne, and it's not so different. I think it's a bit lighter than the original because there aren't titanic struggles over fields.

Both plays of Clans were on Sunday morning while we were waking up and more people were arriving. The box says it's a game for 2-4, but we played with 5 without any noticeable problem. I think I'm even beginning to understand it now. I definitely want to play it more. Scrabblette will probably like it.

Guillotine was the Saturday morning game. Play at the con was characterised by people agreeing to play a game, someone new arriving, changing the game to accommodate more players, then someone else new arriving... so if you're playing at a time when people are coming in it's probably best to be playing something quick and easy so people can join in and spawn off new groups frequently. Guilltone performed that function for us on Saturday.

Pictureka! is boring and broken. Play it with small kids. The games of Puerto Rico were much more serious. The second game was a massive 5 player struggle where I pursued a corn strategy with a very experienced player sitting to my right and two newbies across from me. It was so frustrating seeing my corn ships always loaded with tobacco! However the one time he skipped taking Captain I shipped 8 corn for 9 points. I won the game by 2 points.

Taluva, Vikings and Africa are all games that I like, and was able to find people to teach them to. I will continue to play all of them when I get the chance.

Chang Cheng was a new game to me, but I found it to be a very uninspiring area majority game in the same style as Reiner Knizia's Samurai, i.e. I play a piece in an area then the player to my left makes some play to take it off me. That sort of game just doesn't interest me.

Dancing Eggs was my idea - I was too tired to think but I figured I could get a good group to play a stupid game. We did play and we had fun, but after the first game finished there weren't more people volunteering to play. Oh well.

Entdecker is a game that I've been interested in for a while. I like the map, but I didn't find the gameplay to be very satisfying. I lacked money for quite a portion of the game, completely failed in everything I attempted, and came convincingly last. Also, the game went for an hour and a half which was pretty long for someone who couldn't win. I'm no longer interested in it. That same group then went on to play Relationship Tightrope which was decreed to be Much Too Bad To Play, so after one round we played Rheinlander instead. This was the first time I'd ever played without CyberKev, and the first time I won. Well, at least I've won one now.

Genesis is a simple game with some interesting tensions between cooperation and competition and the need to do too many things all at once. This was my third play and I'm yet to win.

The con had also organised for a large pile of Jenga boxes to be in the gaming area, which of course were used to play giant Jenga. At one stage when we were wondering whether a player was coming back or not we even had a game ourselves. That game certainly kept the cosplayers amused.

Of course we don't have a real copy of Keltis, but CyberKev made his own in much the same way that McGyver manufactures escapes. He played a couple of times, but I wasn't very impressed and only had one game. It seemed to me that one track with a few clover leaves on it was a big advantage to the people who had those cards... and I didn't. Well, it's only a Spiel des Jahre, nobody said it had to be a GOOD game.

The kid and I played one game of Mr Jack in which I, as Jack, forgot when I would have to declare light or dark and was quickly defeated. We also played a 9 player game of Nerd Trivia with some people we really didn't know very well, so it was interesting trying to bet that they knew the answers to the questions. The kid came second!

I was gaming in a group of 5, and 3 of the others said Power Grid was their favourite game. I only played it once before and wasn't so impressed, but I agreed to play it again. Three hours later, I still wasn't impressed AND the canteen had closed so I'd only had chips for dinner. It just seems to be an awful long build-up to a very sudden and inevitable finish... and the connection part of the game is basically irrelevant. It might be several more years before I play it again.

I think it was Saturday morning when I found myself gaming with some of the very smart guys from Critical Mass. Mikey is not averse to dice rolling so I suggested Stone Age. It's a very nice game with a strong theme and everyone soon got the hang of it. I had 6 multipliers for huts, but didn't realise how difficult it would be to actually buy huts in a 4 player game with everyone else buying them as well. Meanwhile Andrew had been accumulating tools and tool multipliers, and his 56 point bonus for those won him the game.

The same group then went on to play Prophecy which we borrowed from the Funatical stand. We rushed through the rules and didn't really understand them, so we spent a lot of time searching the rule book to find things out, e.g. what the heck was experience used for? After a bit over an hour we realised the game was going to go for a very long time so we agreed that the first player to kill something in the Astral Plane could win... and Mikey did that. It's an OK game but I don't care to play it competitively. Solitaire might be OK.

Early one morning... Friday?... it was all a blur... the kid and I played Ricochet Robots against Tyndal from Adelaide and got completely flogged. I wasn't with it that morning, but I suspect Tyndal is very very good at it.

I also played one game of Santiago. I played it once before and was impressed with the cleverness of the design but thought I didn't like how it played much - too much screwage. This time, I realised that I really HATE the screwage. It's like the provost gone wild. Santiago is a beautifully designed game but it is definitely not a game for me. Although I have nice things to say about it, I rate it a 4.

Finally, I played a game of the upcoming Gigamic title Inside at the Funatical stand. It totally sucked. However subsequent investigation on BGG suggested we'd missed a very important rule which would make the game much more interesting. I'd like to play again with the correct rules, because it sounds much better played properly. The Gigamic series are beautiful games and some of them (such as Quoridor) are absolute classics.

Finally a few notes on the con in general. It wasn't as big as I expected it to be, which turned out to be great. The board gaming area was quite big and often had about a hundred people in it without being crowded at all. LXG had a portion of their game library there, and we took our own as well, so there were heaps of games to play. The facilities were perfectly adequate. We met lots of new people, none of whom turned out to be arseholes. From my perspective, nothing went wrong, and that's basically an achievement to be proud of.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Message from Trixi

Introductory Level Pandemic

I recently received Pandemic for my birthday, even though it's not my birthday yet. I need to do a proper birthday post, but that can come later. Anyway, for the last week my project has been to explore Pandemic in a slightly rigorous way. I played the solitaire game on introductory level with all 10 different character combinations.

Yes, I know introductory level is for babies and sissies... but at the moment I'm more interested in seeing how the game works than plonking hundreds of cubes on the board. Anyway, out of 10 plays I had 9 wins. Here's a brief summary:

1. Researcher and Medic - WIN - 1 outbreak - 3 epidemics - 1 eradication
2. Researcher and Dispatcher - WIN - 4 outbreaks - 3 epidemics
3. Ops Expert and Dispatcher - WIN - 0 outbreaks - 3 epidemics
4. Ops Expert and Researcher - WIN - 3 outbreaks - 3 epidemics
5. Scientist and Researcher - WIN - 0 outbreaks - 1 epidemic
6. Ops Expert and Medic - LOSE - 8 outbreaks - 4 epidemics
7. Scientist and Dispatcher - WIN - 6 outbreaks - 3 epidemics
8. Scientist and Ops Expert - WIN - 0 outbreaks - 2 epidemics
9. Dispatcher and Medic - WIN - 6 outbreaks - 3 epidemics - 1 eradication
10. Scientist and Medic - WIN - 0 outbreaks - 3 epidemics

In the game that I lost the character whose turn was next had a cure ready and was at a research station, so I lost it by one action! I think I'd been a little negligent looking after the yellow disease in South America, but there's a reason for that. Anyway, the first point I'd like to address is:

WHICH IS THE BEST CHARACTER?

There are essentially 3 skills in the game: finding cures, moving, and curing the population. The important thing to realise about that game is that although curing the population is in your face as the obvious and most urgent thing to do, it's actually the least important with regards to winning the game. Not doing it will lose you the game, but doing it won't win for you. Finding cures is most important. Moving is a secondary function which assists you in doing the other two things. I tend to categorise curing the population as a tertiary action which is only there as a minor concern to stop the game ending before you win. With that in mind, the roles of the characters are:

DISPATCHER - helps movement.
OPS EXPERT - helps movement.
MEDIC - helps cure the population.
RESEARCHER - helps find cures.
SCIENTIST - helps find cures.

Yes, the Ops Expert is all about movement! By establishing research centres he lets the other character move around the board freely. In particular, if the other character needs the Beijing card to find a cure and the Ops Expert can get to Beijing, he can establish the research centre and still have the Beijing card when the other character gets there. That's much more difficult for other characters. Not having to go to a research centre can save each character a couple of movement steps, which can possibly add up to a complete turn of actions over the course of one card transfer.

The Dispatcher is obviously about movement, and I think he's more powerful than the Ops Expert. He just needs to get to Beijing and he can drag the other character straight to him. He can then send the other character away again, in many cases. I've realised the Dispatcher can be lots of fun, but more on that below.

The Researcher is a brilliant character because of her ability to transfer cards. Other characters go to such a lot of effort to transfer cards and it's often the rigmarole involved in that which loses them the game. The Scientist is similarly excellent because she just needs to get fewer cards. It's much more often the case that the Scientist will draw a cure from the deck and not require any card transfers at all.

That leaves the Medic as my least favourite character, because he performs only the tertiary function. He's hard to move, he's not much use in finding a cure. While he's doing nothing the diseases keep spreading, and THEN he acts like a hero cleaning them all up. Well, it might be too late! If he'd been more useful earlier in the game ten million people wouldn't have died in Calcutta!

I suppose the strongest character would be the Researcher, though the Scientist is very close. However my favourite for making cunning plans is the Dispatcher, and particularly his ability to move another character as if he was moving himself.

WHY DID I LOSE ONE?

The game I lost was with the Operations Expert and the Medic. As I've mentioned, the Medic is the worst character for finding a cure, and the Ops Expert is not much more help, so this is probably the worst possible combo. That game was also the one where an epidemic came out earliest, so the diseases were hitting us before we'd found any cures. Now here's something I learned from Critical Mass: if you haven't had an outbreak, adding 3 cubes in an epidemic won't cause the first one. Because if you haven't had an outbreak then the cards for all of the cities with cubes on them are on the top of the deck, not on the bottom. However in this game I had an early outbreak and I think the second epidemic caused a further outbreak... and it was all downhill from there. I was amazed we got to 3 cures before the game ended in a couple of nasty chain reactions. It also seemed that we just didn't have the cards we needed to get to anywhere useful, and whatever colour cards I decided to discard would be the ones I drew next. I will play that scenario again a few times to see what my success rate will be like.

WHAT WAS THE EASIEST WIN?

I was completely stunned in one game when the Scientist and the Researcher pulled off a win after only 1 epidemic. However these are the two characters best suited to finding cures, and they just hung around each other near the research stations, and kept transferring cards and finding cures. I had the extra bonus of being dealt the Atlanta card to start with, so I could fly directly to the most dangerous spot to treat the disease. This game took just 8 turns.

BASIC STRATEGY?

As you need to find cures to win the game, I only try to manage the disease cubes, not remove them, and focus on finding cures instead. Yes, it's vital to remove a third cube (leaving 2) from any city, but it's more important to transfer cards than to remove the the second cube (leaving 1).

If you need to remove cubes or transfer cards (other than with the researcher) then you'll need a good transport network to move around in, so establish some research stations as early as you can. I like to start the game, if possible, by flying somewhere, driving to the next city, and establishing a research station there. Often I just don't have appropriate cards and that makes the game difficult. It's ALWAYS worth the effort to use a card to establish a research centre on a city of each colour, because if you need to transfer cards you can use the research station to get to the vicinity quickly.

Transferring cards is *so* difficult without the Researcher that I tend to wait for almost enough cards for a cure to accumulate in one hand before making plans to transfer. When we do get on the trail of a cure I try to get the characters to cooperate to get all of the cards and a research centre in the same place.

WHAT DID I LEARN?

Lots of things. The powers in this game work together pretty sweetly sometimes, and there's scope for clever moves.

1. I tend to not notice when I hold cards for nearby cities and hence could use the "fly anywhere" ability. I need to keep more of an eye on that.

2. It's a very strong position to be holding a card for a city already containing a research centre. This can only happen with the Ops Expert or with a government grant. It allows you to move to any research centre, then to the one you hold the card for, then to anywhere. Maybe the Ops Expert should be looking to set up that sort of move.

3. The Ops Expert is effective as a trailblazer who goes into an area and establishes a research centre so other characters can get in there fast.

4. The Dispatcher can move another character on his own turn. It wasn't until game 9 that I realised that that includes driving. That's so cool! I had found a cure for a disease and desperately needed to remove some of its cubes from the board before it outbroke. So the Dispatcher drove the Medic through that area, and the Medic removed 8 cubes on the Dispatcher's turn - the Medic's presence removes cured diseases. I look forward to figuring out more fun ways to use the Dispatcher now that I've realised that.

WHAT NEXT?

I have unfinished business with the Medic and the Ops Expert. I want to see whether I got unlucky, or whether they really are hard to win with. After that, I think I will repeat this experiment on normal level. That'll keep me quiet for a while.