Weekend Game Report: A trip… and some games

Do you know what the worst is? The worst is getting a new game in the mail, just days before you are driving across three states! There is still packing to do, and all I want to do is explore the contents of the newest addition to my collection. Sadly, it had to wait, and though I received my copy of Steampunk Rally nearly two weeks ago, I had to wait until last night to bring it to the table! In the meantime however, I did drive across three states and move into a new house… so there’s that.

It was early. Not quite as early as we had planned, but it is difficult to get out of bed at three in the morning. My mom Gayle, my wife Jan, and I departed from the Inland Empire of southern California at about five in the morning last Thursday morning. We were attempting to miss the morning rush-hour to Los Angeles by going through that area earlier. Sadly, we didn’t consider that commuters have that same idea, and when you are going through Los Angeles at six in the morning, it is just as bad as at seven or eight in the morning. But we made it through eventually, and drove roughly six-hundred miles to Redding, CA where we stopped for the night. After checking in at the hotel, we found our way to a wood-fired pizza place in the parking lot of a real-estate office… and holy cow it was good! They also had a large picnic table upon which we were able to squeeze in a game while we ate. Yes, of course I had games with me! We played Nefarious, and it was a lot of fun. It was mom’s first time playing the game, but Nefarious is seriously easy to teach, and may just be one of my new favorite gateway games. I think that the theme is appealing to a large audience, and the mechanics are super-easy to teach, but the game still has a lot of strategy… except for the first several turns. We have found that the first turns are often taken up by the Espionage action, as you want to get your spies on the board as fast as possible so that they can generate as much cash for you as possible! There may be some balance issues, as it seems that the benefit of early espionage is completely worth the slow start on inventions and research. Regardless, I really enjoy the game and look forward to playing it every time I get the chance.

The next morning we moseyed on to the next leg of our journey, and our destination was Portland, Oregon. My good friend Paul lives in Portland with his lovely wife and four kids, and we were going to stay with them for the night, then Paul was coming with us to Washington to help with the moving-in activities (i.e. carrying lots of boxes!) We arrived at Paul’s house early in the evening and after a great dinner out, and getting all the kiddos and wives to bed, I taught Paul how to play Pocket Imperium. Paul is one of the smartest people that I know, and games are in his blood as well, so he proved to be a formidable opponent and beat me. This was my first play of Pocket Imperium with only two players, and I have to say it was quite interesting. The added actions make for a very volatile board and it is difficult to really plan too far in advance. Paul enjoyed the game as well, and is quite familiar with Eclipse, another 4X game. As with every time I have played the game, I am amazed at how much strategy they fit into a forty-five minute game! Paul expressed similar thoughts on the game. I am working on a full review of Pocket Imperium, so keep your eyes open for it!

The next morning we all piled into the car and headed to Washington. After a (relatively) short drive we spent the day unloading Pods and trailers, wiring the house for cable and internet, and most importantly… unpacking the games! It looks like my game room is almost big enough for all of my games. The built-in shelf needs a little help in the form of a stand-alone shelf, probably for small box games primarily, and/or the most current games in my collection. I had an epiphany while unpacking games… I have entirely too many. Jan would be quick to agree with me, but the fix is easy. Much like many of the gamers in the world, I will institute a one-in, one-out policy. But here is the best part, I have many, many games that I picked up from garage sales and such that I only got because I’m a “collector”. I don’t need three copies of Yahtzee, as well as Kismet and some other Yahtzee clone from fifty years ago. I don’t need that set of “Kling” magnetic cards. I don’t play any games regularly that require basic playing cards, and I certainly don’t play those games outdoors or on a boat or something. The point is, I have a LOT of fodder, and I find that I am generally OK with trimming some of it out of my collection.

That night we got in a game of Steam: Rails to Riches with Paul, my eleven year-old niece Maddy, and myself. Maddy didn’t quite get it, and was too afraid of taking loans from the bank to really build any infrastructure. The game is a little too dry for a pre-teen girl anyway I think and she was bored and distracted by her iPod for much of the game. I drew the line at headphones however. Paul, once again, beat me. Towards the end we realized that you score every complete link that you control, and he not only stopped me from completing a couple of choice links, but also made a few for himself in the last turns of the game. I also had a few misplays which essentially wasted one or two of my turns in the delivery department. I was always intimidated by the size of the rule book for Steam, and the sheer number of components, but I have a lot of fun playing it. I should get Steam to the table more often.

The next day was more of the same; unpacking boxes, wiring cables, fixing things, etc… I did find the last box of games, and in it was my chess set. Paul gave me that chess set, and when I found it we sat down for a game. Paul is great at chess. I assume that he will beat me, and to my memory, the only time that I have beat him is when I have no clock, but he has imposed on himself a three-minute clock. For this game we didn’t use a clock. Like I said, chess is rather one-sided with Paul, and this game was no different. Still, I need the practice, so I play chess with him as much as I can. You only really get better when playing against those that are better than  you.

I drove Paul to the train station later in the day and he headed back home to Portland. I am excited that Paul is within a few hours drive from me, and I look forward to getting in a game day from time to time if we can find somewhere to meet in the middle!

The rest of the weekend played out the same way; fixing things around the new house and unpacking. In the end we got a lot done, and I was glad to leave Jan, Karen, and Maddy with a house that was, while not completely moved into, at least a good portion of the work was done. I flew back to California early Tuesday morning with my mom. Once I finish work here in a few weeks I will head take my car and head back up to my new home.

Fast forward to last night. I set up a game night with the usual group (minus one since he has a new baby and all), and then Doug also has to cancel, so it turns out to be just Eric and I. We started off with a little bit of Magic: The Gathering Duel Deck action, trying out the new Zendikar vs. Eldrazi duel decks. The Eldrazi deck seems to have the upper hand in this pairing, but we only played three games, so who knows. I never like to pass final judgement on something with such a small sample size. Then, to the game that I was waiting for for the past two weeks… Steampunk Rally!

Steampunk Rally is a drafting/dice placement racing game set in a steampunk theme, and using real inventors such as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla! In fact, that was our initial match up, Edison vs. Tesla in a battle royal race  to the finish line.  I will definitely be writing up a full review on Steampunk Rally once I get a few more plays under my belt. My first impression is that it is a lot of fun and both Eric and I really enjoyed the two games that we played. The game is played over a series of rounds, and in each round the first phase is drafting cards. These cards are either added to your machine or discarded for an advantage (i.e. collecting dice or cogs), or, if they are a boost card, then they can also be set aside for use later. As each card is drafted you decide what to do with it. The next phase is  the venting phase in which you spend cogs to reduce the values and/or remove dice from your machine. Next is the race phase, where you roll any dice that you have collected in the drafting phase and then use those dice to activate the various pieces of your machine! Each piece that is activated will have an effect such as generating more dice, venting dice off of the machine, generating movement, and so on. As you move through the track there are some spaces that will cause damage to your machine. If you have any damage marked on you machine at the end of the race phase, then in the damage phase you have to remove a part from your machine for each point of damage you have incurred! If you have to remove your cockpit, then you explode, move to the back of the pack, and then have to start over with just a cockpit! In the first race, I piloted my contraption to the finish line first, nearly blowing myself up in the process. I was able to draft some arachnid legs in order to stay just ahead of Eric for  the victory. The second race I thought I was doing well. We had both drafted shields heavily so rather than losing machine parts during the damage phase, we were generating excess shields which turn into cogs. We crossed the finish line with massive machines, and while I made it a good way beyond the finish, Eric was able to generate enough movement to blow past me, and even past the end of the track!

So far I have really enjoyed Steampunk Rally. One complaint that I could be forced to give is that there are too many duplicate parts. Often I would draft my card and then Eric and I would switch hands, and I would find the same card that I either just passed to him, or that I had just drafted. While it certainly would require a lot more work, I would love to see every machine part be unique! However, that didn’t really detract from the game. Aesthetically, the game is amazing. I love the clear dice that were unlocked with one of the Kickstarter stretch goals, as well as the metal cogs! They are an amazing step up from the cardboard cogs that the game comes with! The art on the game is awesome, and I very much enjoy looking at the game as much as playing it. Moving the various parts around on my contraption, I noticed that even the pipes on the machine parts match up no matter which way you place them!

In case you missed it in all the subtlety, my initial impression of Steampunk Rally is positive. As I said, I will do a full review once I get a few more plays under my  belt.

To round out the night we played a best of three match of Star Realms. In the first game I blew Eric out with no challenge at all. The cards just fell my way and not his. The second game was much closer and he was able to edge me out for the win. The final match was also close, but in the end I took the win. I still haven’t determined if there is even a “best” strategy for this game. In general, it seems like taking trade early on, as well as focusing on scrapping your starting hand are the way to go, but the trade row doesn’t always give you what you want.

I had a very busy Labor Day weekend. Luckily I was able to get some gaming in with family and friends amongst all the labor with family and friends. Being back in California after spending a long weekend in Washington is like night and day, and it is especially annoying that Jan, Karen, and Maddy are back there in the lovely seventy-degree weather while I get to swelter in hundred-plus days for the next three weeks. Oh well, I will be back there soon enough. Bring on the rain!!!

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