Settle in y’all, it’s been a good week for gaming! Not only did I go to game night this week, I was also able to meet a friend and play games ALL day long on Saturday! I played two new games at game night, and several games from my collection on Saturday, so I have a lot to talk about!
Due to the initial length of this article in particular, I’ve decided to take a new approach to the weekly game report. I am going to focus more on the gameplay sessions that I was a part of, rather than the overview/mini-review of the games. However, I still want people to know the basics of each game, so I am going to publish “Brief Overview” articles for each game, then link to them in the weekly article. This way I can tackle new overviews as I play the games, breaking up the writing process into smaller chunks. Additionally, those readers who are already familiar with the games can then skip the overviews and get right to the game play.
First up this week was the usual Wednesday game night with Gamerati at Sammy’s Pizza in Tacoma. Jan was out of town this week so Karen had to stay home with Maddy, leaving me flying solo to game night. This week I brought Flip City, Steampunk Rally, and Champions of Midgard with me. Ed saw Flip City in my bag and asked to play it, so we grabbed two other players and I taught them the game. See my full review of Flip City here.
Now that I am so familiar with Flip City, learning how to properly teach it has been an interesting challenge. I know what all the cards do, but the people I’m teaching do not. Therefore they do not really get the strategy of the game until they become more familiar with the various cards. To me this is a barrier to entry for any card game, but especially for a deck builder, as the point is to shuffle your deck over and over again, honing it to a particular strategy as you go. I’m finding, however, that trying to go through each card is a tedious process. In the future I will describe the parts of the cards, and make sure that the players read each card as they play them. In all the group seemed to enjoy the game, and it was a success. The teaching was the part that took longer than it should have.
When Flip City was done, the same group decided to play Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Rumble at Castle Tentakill! (Brief Overview). We picked up two additional players to fill out to six and then Mike taught us the game. Epic Spell Wars is quite interesting. Due to the nature of the spells, the life totals at the table went down fairly evenly. In fact, due to the dead wizard cards, you may not want to take any one player out too early. I was the first one out this round, and I had four dead wizard cards that I would have started the next round with. Each turn around the board dropped one more player into the dead wizard pool, and Mike was left as the last wizard standing for that round. Given that we had six players, playing the game out to two wins for one of us would have taken quite some time, so we decided to call it after just the first round.
At this point in the evening, most of the other players were all involved in one game or another, so I took the opportunity to study the rule book for Mission Red Planet, a game which I want to get, but haven’t been able to so far. Another gamer had brought it with him and was kind enough to let me read through it.
After a short while Danielle asked me if I wanted to play Bananagrams (Brief Overview). We gathered two other players and Danielle taught us the game. Banangrams has been around for something like ten years, but I’ve never played it. I think the fast pace of the game mixed with the tension of racing to finish your crossword the fastest make the game great fun. We played three rounds, and I know I won at least one of those. I think Jeff may have won the other two. I look forward to playing more Bananagrams in the future, and it can certainly fill in a few minutes between other games!
We only had a short time left, so I brought out Flip City again. Once again I faced teaching the game, and I probably did it injustice. However, but the end of the game the others seemed to have picked it up and Danielle especially liked it, requesting that I bring it again the next week.
One of my best friends Paul lives in Portland just a few hours away from here. We stopped there on our way up from California and spent an evening with him and his wonderful family. On more that one occasion the topic of having a game day has come up, where we would meet in the middle somewhere and spend a whole day just gaming, and that’s just what we did! Dangerous Gentlemen – Gamesellers in Longview, WA was our host for the day, and we set up shop at one of the tables inside. I brought with me a ton of games, I literally filled up one of those big blue Ikea shopping bags with games!
We started off the day with a light game, that’s right, I took the opportunity to teach Paul Flip City. Once again, the ramp up to figuring out the buildings and strategy took him a while, but in the end he picked it up and defeated me by getting his eight medals. At this point we were getting a bit hungry and decided to grab some lunch. The cafe next door to the game shop was great and even brought our food to us while we played!
We decided, at Paul’s request to play chess while we ate, which as we all know, is food-proof! Now I am just ok at chess. I know what my issue is, I don’t see more than one move ahead, and I really don’t see what my opponent is doing very well. With Paul, who is among the smartest people I know, my chess game is not great. I’ve always said my only chance of beating Paul is if he has a clock and I don’t. We played two games, and he won both. In the second game I lost eight pieces before I took one pawn. I did, at one point have the opportunity to get checkmate on Paul in that game… but I didn’t see it. Paul let out a big sigh of relief and said “you had checkmate right there”, pointing to the spot on the board that would have won me the game.
Next I broke out Tiny Epic Galaxies (Brief Overview) and I taught it to Paul. TEG is a game which I really want to play more and just haven’t been able to get it to the table as much as I would like. One thing that I like about playing games with Paul is that they are all very tactical, particularly when playing with just the two of us. You might think to yourself that Tiny Epic Galaxies is a dice game, where do tactics come in? The answer is in the follow action. The ability to spend culture and copy another player’s die activation is a genius mechanic and allows for some great game play. By the end of the game Paul and I were both being very cautious about the moves we made in an attempt to not let the other player gain an advantage by following. In the end Paul was able to get twenty-one points, but I used a couple of follow actions and was right there with him. Then I was able to take my last turn, carefully avoiding giving Paul any chances at further points, and I took the win by three points once the secret objectives were added in.
At this point I had Paul pick the next game, and he picked Cyclades (Brief Overview). This is another game that I really enjoy, but don’t really get to play very often. Since it is a direct conflict game, I know that Jan won’t enjoy it, so I have to wait for game nights and the like to get it to the table. I’ve never played the game with just two players before either, so this was a new experience. Sadly (for me) in this epic struggle to please the Greek Gods of old, Paul was able to take an early economic lead, and by doing so he outbid me every time. I was able to use Ares to make troops and move just one time the whole game. I tried to fight back by keeping control of Poseidon and not giving Paul a chance to connect any of the islands with ships which would also have meant he could not expand, except he was able to use the Pegasus twice to move troops without the use of fleets. He saw it too, and even suggested that we stop. I decided to keep the game going a little longer, but once he got the first metropolis, and I was only bringing in two or three gold per turn, it was obvious what the outcome would be. I don’t think that Cyclades is imbalanced, in fact I think it tries very hard to be a fair game. While conquest is possible, the victory is achieved by building. But the backbone of the game is gold, so if you can cut off someone’s gold, then they are pretty much out of the game. Like I said, I haven’t played with just two players before, so perhaps this game was an anomaly. I certainly hope so because I love the theme of Cyclades, and apparently like most of my games, it needs to get to the table more.
From the Greek isles of Cyclades we moved on to the volcanic aisles of Taluva (Brief Overview)! So, for those of you that are much more into the hobby of board gaming than your significant others, here is a handy tip… take them to the game stores with you! The trick is to let them choose the game that you buy. You can hint at this game or that game that are on your list, but ultimately the decision has to be theirs! Taluva was one of those games. We were visiting Blue Highway Games on one of our trips to Seattle and Jan asked the person working there if he had any recommendations. He recommended Taluva and that is what we purchased. Unfortunately Jan doesn’t like Taluva… too much direct interaction and foiling of other player’s plans, so it doesn’t see as much play as I would like. I taught the game to Paul and off we went, building up our first volcanic island. Despite some early plays in which I was able to bury several villager huts under lava, Paul was able to come back in the end and get the win. He wanted to play again which is always a good sign, and this is where the tactical aspect of the game exploded for us. I had never noticed just how much thought you could put into placing not just your buildings, but also the tiles of the island itself! If you lay a tile down on the third level, and build your tower on one of the two available spaces, then it is likely that your opponent will build on the other space if they can. However, if you can lay the tile such that the only space adjacent to an opponent’s village is the volcano itself, then they can’t build there. My big mistake in the second game was expanding into another of my villages that already had a temple. Then I had to start another village, but it was too late. I focused on blocking Paul’s advancement as much as possible, but I just couldn’t stop him and he won. We were playing a bit incorrectly though. When you expand your village onto a second level space, you are supposed to place two huts. We were only placing one.
From islanders we moved to pirates and broke out the Leo Colovini classic Cartagena (Brief Overview)! Along with Tikal, Cartagena has been on my favorites list since I first got into the hobby. Something about pirate hop-scotch just scratches an itch. I had played Cartagena with Paul before, but we both had to have a quick refresh on the rules before we hopped into action. Paul took an early lead and put three pirates onto the board with hats… or did he? I was able to hop those with more hats and get my own pirates out ahead of his. In the end, a few of his pirates were stranded in the early boards and he couldn’t catch up. I got my pirates into the boat to escape! We played again. This time Paul was much more focused on the strategy of the game. I was trying to hold all of one type of card so that I could jump to the win quickly, but I spent too much time backing up. He was able to snag the escape from me. What good is one victory per player? We decided to finish it with a final match! This time we were both very lean on cards, scratching for every card that we drew and using them up almost as fast. In the end Paul won again.
It was getting near dinner-time and Paul had a train to catch, so we played just one more game. A new favorite of mine, we played Cacao (Brief Overview). Once again I had to teach the game, but Cacao is a fairly easy game to teach and learn, so it wasn’t too long until we were building up our villages throughout the jungle. It looked like we were both fairly even on Cacao, and while I had cashed in at the three coin market several times, Paul was able to hit the four coin market for something like twenty coins! It was an insane play. Towards the end I began to worry about the river points and the temples, but in the end I controlled more temples than Paul. He was able to max out his river track, but I eked out a victory by just a few coins.
We then went and had a good dinner and I dropped Paul off at the train station and headed home. It was a great day and well worth the four hours that I spent in the car. You may have noticed that I lost a lot in this game day. Well, it is to be expected when playing one-on-one against Paul. He has a phenomenal mind for strategy, and it can be hard to beat him. At the end of the day I didn’t even care that I lost most of the time. Aside from Cyclades which was just painful, I had a lot of fun playing a lot of games both old and new, and after all, this hobby is about playing the games and interacting with your opponents. I also play Magic: the Gathering, and a few weeks ago I attended a Friday Night Magic event in which I lost all but one round. It was there that I had my epiphany, what Marshall (@Marshall_LR) from the Limited Resources podcast would call a “Level-Up” moment… I don’t care if I win or lose. Sure, I want to win, but I’m there to play the game, and whether I win or lose, I have fun!
Until next time, find a friend and play some games!