Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Shadows and Assassins

Last Tuesday night my friends and I played an "after school special," a gaming get-together after work at Game Parlor in Chantilly, Virginia.  There's one almost every week, but I usually only get to about one a month, so I always enjoy the opportunity to get with a larger group and play something different.

Before we sat down to play, though, I ordered some figures through the store from Reaper Miniatures.  My sons have expressed an interest in playing Aces and Eights (authors Jolly R. Blackburn, Brian Jelke, Steve Johansson, David Kenzer, Jennifer Kenzer, and Mark Plemmons; publisher Kenzer & Co.), a Western role-playing game, and I'd picked up a few Reaper Western minis at a previous visit to Game Parlor.  Last weekend, I showed the boys some of the character figures that Reaper had available, and they each picked out a character for our game.  Patrick, the oldest, chose Buffalo Bill Cody.  The 16-year-old selected Buck Fannin, and the 11-year-old settled on Deadeye Slim.  So depending on when they arrive, we could be painting miniatures around the holidays and doing some role-playing of the old West!

Shadows Over Camelot
Back to last Tuesday:  I had wanted to try Shadows Over Camelot (designers Bruno Cathala and Serge Laget, artist Julien Delval, publisher Days of Wonder) for a long time, and Keith was obliging enough to set it up even before anybody else had arrived.  There were seven of us in the first round.  I played the role of Sir Percival, which allowed me to see the top card in the Black deck before deciding what to do in the Progression of Evil phase of my turn.  I joined several other knights in the quest for the Holy Grail, and we very nearly found it, until the Dark Forest closed around us and thwarted our efforts.  Sir Kay was defeated in his first foray against the Dark Knight.  Excalibur eluded us until enough of us came together to recover the sword from the Lady of the Lake.

Grant posted his own summary on Facebook:
I got to once again be Sir Tristan of Lyonesse in "Shadows Over Camelot." Sir Percival (Paul Owen) and I nearly completed the quest for the Holy Grail--but we then ran into the Tangled Forest and were denied. Sir Kay (Keith Ferguson) got stomped on by the Black Knight, the Picts ravaged the countryside, and the quest for Lancelot's armor failed. Accusations flew, the King [Brian G.] even accusing Sir Gawain [John] of treason. Things got better when Percival recovered Excalibur and Sir Kay avenged himself on the Black Knight. Sir Kay then successfully deduced that Sir Palomedes [Frank H.] was a traitor. But it was too late as the false knight aided the beseigers in taking Camelot.
 After Grant left, we were joined by others at Game Parlor to play a second round of SOC.  Here was a Facebook summary of our second outing by Keith F. and myself:

Keith Ferguson In our second game, the heroes won! I again successfully named the traitor - this time it was Game Parlor regular "John", playing as Sir Bedivere. We almost lost the grail, and while we could [not] claim it, we were at least able to hold it from being lost to evil. Meanwhile, Excalibur was won, the Black Knight defeated and Lancelot was beaten to claim his armor. Alas,the vile dragon has his way with us, and the Saxons were successful on one raid. However, we were able to beat back the Picts and Saxons on several occasions, while barely keeping the siege engines from overwhelming Camelot. Huzzah!
Paul Owen Huzzah! As Sir Gareth, I defeated Lancelot and claimed his armor ... but stupidly kept forgetting to use it in the Evil Action phase (very nearly attracting misguided suspicion of traitorous intent). Again, incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
The bottom line is that I had a great time playing Shadows Over Camelot, and I really look forward to trying it again sometime.  Except for the fact that it doesn't work as a two-player, I think I like it even better than Pandemic as a co-op.

We wrapped up the evening with Citadels (designer Bruno Faidetti, numerous artists, publisher Fantasy Flight), which John said he hated perhaps more than any other game.  That kind of surprised us; we've really loved Citadels and played it on many a late convention night.  But he's not the first person we've run across to dislike it.  John was willing to try it out one more time, though, just to see if perhaps there was something about the game that he didn't appreciate in his last play.

Well, it didn't go well for John at all.  He really didn't like the fact that the assassin's and thief's victims were chosen by role, not by player, so that the effects were (in his mind) randomly applied.  He thought all roles should be turned face up, which of course defeats the second-guessing mind game that makes Citadels what it is.  So the long and the short of it is that John got assassinated three times in the first four turns and was robbed by the thief in the fifth turn.  He was really, really frustrated.  So I guess we didn't win him over.  Keith won the game with a relatively quick jump to eight districts that were low-point-value, but with both the four-point bonus for being first to build eight plus the three-point bonus for having all five colors represented, he overcame any district point advantage the rest of us had - even Brian's eight-point Dragon's Gate.

I thought John was a very good sport to play a game with us that he really didn't like.  It got me thinking about the age-old problem of game selection in a group.  In a recent Dice Tower podcast, Eric Summerer and Tom Vasel discussed their difference of opinion on the best way to go about selecting a group game.  Eric favors maintaining a rolling list of gaming group regulars, where each session a different person gets to pick the game that they play.  That process allows for people to pull out old favorites that they don't get to play otherwise.  Tom, on the other hand, has an interest in playing recently released games, so Eric's method doesn't help him in that regard.

For our group, the problem we typically run into is that we all want to play a lot of different games.  Invariably, the email chain starts with, "hey, what do you guys want to play?  Here's about five different games I'm interested in trying.  What do you think?"  The next guy says, "Oh, yeah, those look good, plus I want to try one of these three other games."  This goes on, one email after another, with the list of candidates getting longer, not shorter.  To fix this problem and make a dang decision, we've come up with a loosely-adhered concept called "King for the Day," in which the person who suggests that we get together can claim "King for the Day" and pick the game to be played.  Seldom does a game get picked that people really object to, and if an objectionable game is chosen, typically it can get negotiated out.

Usually Citadels gets a good reception as a session closer, but in the case of last Tuesday, with John as a drop-in, it didn't get quite the consensus it normally does.  In retrospect, we probably could have played something else, rather than have John end up agreeing to play a game he really didn't like.  But he was willing to try it again, and we were eager to have him like it just as much as we did.  Too bad it just didn't work out that way, and it was clear that John didn't enjoy that game.


  1. Huzzah! Reading your blog about Citadels made me chuckle yet again. Oh wait...perhaps that isn't nice for poor John. Ah well...his insistence that the game was "random" was puzzling to me, because it's clearly not - the cards and the building of the districts is almost secondary...the real game is getting in your opponents head and trying to figure out what they're doing.

    Brian and I discussed this a little afterward, and were wondering if part (or a lot) of the enjoyment is playing with friends. The "downtime" isn't so bad because we are typically insulting...er bantering...with each other.

    In hindsight though, perhaps we should have heeded John's suggestion of 7 Wonders...which is another game we all enjoy.

  2. I think you're right, Keith, that a big part of the appeal of Citadels for us is the fact that we know each other and try to get inside each others' heads. That's definitely why Kathy and I enjoy the two-player version. Plus there's a certain delight in undermining each other. (Plus the sound effects.)

    Come to think of it, Citadels might not work very well as a tournament game for that reason. If you're playing with strangers, you are kind of playing in the dark. You can make logical inferences about what people might play, but if you don't have insight into how people think, then the assassin and thief can seem truly random.

    And I agree, we'd have had a good time playing 7 Wonders, too. So we'll have to keep that in mind.

    Come to think of it, I seem to remember one night at PrezCon we had been joined by Michelle H., and when we brought up Citadels, she kind of objected to it, so we played Alhambra instead. I specifically remember that night, because I had only nine points after the second scoring round, and Eugene Y. came by, saw the score, looked at me, and said, "Do you even know how to play this game?"