Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Can't Stop. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Can't Stop. Show all posts

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Winter photos

A quick gallery of games played over the last three months:
Agent for one of the Lords of Waterdeep in the Jester's Court to recruit thieves...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Boardgames by candlelight

Early this week a sequence of winter storms came through northern Virginia, and my house lost power for about 45 hours.  My kids were pretty bored without their usual sources of electronic entertainment, but one nice thing about boardgames is that you don't have to plug them into the wall.  So as we sat by the fireplace trying to stay warm, we broke out the games and had a reasonably good time by lanterns and candlelight.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

PrezCon 2012 - Part Two

Small World
Among my goals at PrezCon this year was to learn Small World, which my buddy Grant Greffey is running as the Game Master.  I participated in his demo for new players, which was well-attended by upwards of eight people crowded around the table.  Small World  is a relatively easy game to pick up.  Grant is especially fond of it for its replayability.  The random combinations of races and special abilities make for some dynamic game interactions.

Later that evening, we played the first heat in the tournament.  I placed fourth at my table and learned (as I have so often heard but failed to incorporate) the importance of timing when it comes to placing a race into decline and starting the ascendancy of a new one.  I did reasonably well with "forest orcs" in the first several turns of the game but held on too long to "wealthy wizards," whom in retrospect I should have placed into decline after just a turn or two in favor of some more effective race.  The winner was Nathan Twigg, a regular face at PrezCon and a fun opponent.

The bottom line of course is that I learned how to play SW and found it to be a fun, light game.

Can't Stop
After my exhaustive statistical analysis of Pass the Pigs and the stark realization that I am mathematically too cautious in my approach to push-your-luck games, I vowed that I would approach Can't Stop with a more aggressive style.  That approach did not serve me well at all late Thursday night, where I busted on countless attempts to close out a category.  I really have to spend some serious number-crunching on that game to figure out the right approach.

Midnight gaming
My friends and I have taken to meeting at midnight to play together because, you know, 14 hours of gaming can't possibly be enough for one day.  So Grant, Keith F., Brian G., Tom S. and I were joined by Michelle H. (who was at my Can't Stop table) for a six-player round of Alhambra.  I did abysmally poorly.  It was so bad that at one point after the second scoring round, Eugene Y. (a very experienced and knowledgeable player) looked at our table and was astounded at how low the scores were - mine in particular at about nine points.  He asked me if I'd ever played before, or if I even knew how to play.  I told him that I'd placed in the semifinals the previous year, and he was just dumb-founded that we could have been so far into the game and have scores so low.  It was about the strangest game of Alhambra I'd ever played.

After Alhambra, we still weren't satisfied, so Keith, Brian, Tom and I stayed up for a round of Citadels.  None of the three of them had played a four-player round of Citadels before; Keith and Brian had only ever played three-player games.  The dynamic is completely different with four players (and a better game, really) since each player gets only one role, and two roles are visible face up and known to be out of play.  I built some substantial high-scoring buildings, but had only got to five districts before Keith finished with eight and won the game.

[Next post:  Friday's experiences going down in flames, settling Catan, learning to acquire, and bringing more people aboard trains, planes, and automobiles]

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Congress of Gamers Part I: Best laid designs

My plan for Congress of Gamers was to demonstrate Trains Planes and Automobiles once and then move on to the usual Eurogaming fare (Carcassone, 7 Wonders, Agricola, Settlers of Catan) for the rest of the day.  Strangely, it didn't work out that way.

Parker Brothers
1971 edition
Waiting for the main events to get started, I played a pick-up game of Mille Bornes (designer Arthur "Edmond" Dujardin, artist Joseph le Callennac, publisher Winning Moves) with young Josh and his father John.  I've always liked MB for sentimental reasons.  My family played it when I was growing up, and it brings back fond memories of my Mom (almost as much as Clue does).  Those memories were even stronger yesterday, because John and Josh had the same 1971 edition MB that was our first family copy of the game, with a chartreuse plastic card tray.  Theirs was an obviously well-loved copy, because the cards showed the wear of many, many plays.  It is especially appropriate that MB should be the first game I played yesterday, because its card-play mechanic provided the inspiration for the Travel deck in TPA.

I had time to play Can't Stop, the first entry in Mark Love's "America First" tournament series at CoG.  Clearly, I am way too conservative in my dice rolling in this terrific push-your-luck game.  I came in last place at a table of four players (with Phil and two more Joshes) because I just couldn't bring myself to be as aggressive as they were in the dice rolling.  The three central columns - sixes, sevens, and eights, were finished early, which made all subsequent dice-rolling risky.

I set up for my TPA demo later that morning in the same gaming room where the Stone Age / Ticket to Ride / Vegas Showdown Eurocaucus event was going on.  I had only one taker - young Josh from our earlier MB game.  (I didn't see as many kids at CoG yesterday as I thought I'd remembered seeing in earlier years, but perhaps I'm mistaken.)  Josh enjoyed playing, and the game attracted some attention from a few others in the room.

After lunch, I hooked up with TC Petty (designer of Viva Java, which I'd playtested at WBC last summer) and his friend Tim.  We had some time to kill, so I introduced them to TPA.  They seemed to like it, despite my ridiculous card luck with unlimited mileage airline tickets.

At this point, I made a pretty fundamental change in plans for the day.  Instead of playing Carcassonne or De Bellis Antiquitatis, I decided to head to the game design contest hosted by Josh Tempkin.  There I met Darrell Louder, whose unpublished prototype Compounded was ready for a run-through.  I sat down at what turned out to be a six-player game, the first time Compounded would ever have been played with that many people.

I have to say that I really like what I saw in Darrell's design.  As chemists, players accumulate crystals that represent elements (hydrogen, oxygen, etc), claim eligible compounds (hydrogen peroxide, sulfur dioxide, etc), and then allocate elements to those compounds to complete them for points, increased abilities, and new functions.  Compounds in progress can be undone by lab fires or an excess of oxygen.  What really impressed me was the way that the end-game conditions came together.  Game end is triggered by any of three conditions - running through the deck of compounds twice, scoring at least 50 points, or completing three of four experiments (solid, liquid, gas, or "wildcard").  In our session, all three conditions were met almost simultaneously.  Although the game was a bit lengthy for six players (five of whom were new to the game), I was hard-pressed to suggest any tweak to shorten the game duration that wouldn't disrupt the balance among the game elements.

Next post:  CoG Part II - More adventures in the game design contest room

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Poor Man's Incan Gold

I read an entertaining review yesterday of Incan Gold (designers Bruno Faidutti and Alan Moon, publisher Fred Distribution's Gryphon Games).  I really like risk management games (also known as "push-your-luck games"), even though I'm pretty bad at them.  (I got eliminated early in the Can't Stop tournament at PrezCon, which my buddy Grant G. won.)  In the case of Incan Gold, players advance into an ancient ruin to find and share treasure but risk encountering monsters that can force them to drop their loot and run.  At any point, each player has an opportunity to take his share of the loot back to his tent, which guarantees that he keeps what he has but means that the players who continue get a bigger share of whatever additional treasure turns up.

I found the mechanics and components to be straightforward enough that I could recreate the gameplay (if not the artwork) with simple gaming components.  From a normal deck of playing cards, I assembled the two jokers, the twelve face cards, and one each of black ace, two, three, four, five, seven, and nine, and red ace, three, four, five, and seven.  Each player gets a different colored pawn, and a set of poker chips serves as gold treasure.

In my version of the game, the aces and number cards represent treasure.  Black cards are worth their face value in gold (with an ace representing a value of one).  Red cards are worth their face value plus ten (so that the red seven is worth 17).  Jokers represent single artifacts worth ten each.  Face cards represent monsters.

[What follows is a description of the rules of the game, but the review I read illustrated them nicely and with a touch of humor.]

The game consists of five rounds.  Each round starts with the deck being shuffled and a card being turned face up to start the journey into the ancient ruin.  If it is a treasure card, the players divide the loot equally.  Now, players have two piles of money over the course of the game.  One pile is their "loot bag," which is where they add found loot but is also what is at risk of being dropped if a monster scares them away.  The other pile is their tent, which is where they dump their loot bag when they decide to leave the ruin and keep what they've found.  Treasure in the tent can never be lost.

When treasure from a treasure card is divided evenly among the players, any remainder is left on the card.  Each player now has an opportunity to decide to go back to his tent and keep the money in his loot bag, or to keep going deeper into the ancient ruin in search for more treasure.  This decision is simultaneous among all the players.  The way it is executed is that all players take their pawns and put both hands under the table.  All players then place one closed hand on top of the table.  When everybody is ready, all players open their hands.  A hand with a pawn in it means that the player has decided to go back to his tent; an empty hand means that the player has decided to continue with the expedition.

If any players decide to go back to their tents, they divide evenly among themselves any treasure that had been left on any cards so far in the expedition.  Then they move all the treasure in their loot bags to their tents, and they are done for the round.  If any players decided to continue with the expedition, they place their pawns on the table next to the face up cards, and another card is drawn and placed face up alongside the last one.

If the card drawn is a face card and it is the first face card of that suit (spade, heart, diamond, or club), then nothing happens.  Players again decide whether to continue or to turn back.  If the card drawn is a face card and it is the second face card of that suit, then all players who are still in the expedition lose all the treasure they have accumulated in their loot bags, no one gets any of the treasure left on any cards, all the cards are shuffled into the deck, and the round is over.  (Players that had previously left the expedition and returned to their tents suffer no loss.)

The Jokers represent special artifacts.  When a Joker is turned up, poker chips representing ten gold are placed on the card.  An artifact can't be divided among players, so if more than one player is still in the expedition, the ten gold stay on the card.  Later, if exactly one player leaves the expedition and returns to his tent, he can retrieve the ten-gold artifact along with all the other treasure still on cards.  If two or more players leave the expedition simultaneously, none gets the artifact (because they squabble among themselves), and it stays on the card.

A round ends when all players have returned to their tents or when a second monster (face card) of a suit is turned up and scares everybody out.  After five rounds, the player with the most treasure in his tent wins.

My son Liam, my wife Kathy, and I tried out this home-made knock-off of Incan Gold yesterday evening, and Liam bolstered my working hypothesis on teenagers and risk assessment.  He was always still in the expedition when the second monster of a suit came up, so he ended up with no treasure after five rounds.  I ended up winning because I adopted a thumb rule of bailing out of the expedition when three different suits had turned up; in my mind, the risk of getting a second monster of any of those three suits was generally too high to justify hoping for more treasure.  Often, I was the only one to leave the expedition, so that meant I got all the leftover treasure on the cards at that point for myself as well.

As I looked at the card distribution, I noticed that most of the treasure cards are prime numbers or at most the product of two prime numbers.  I find that significant because the intent of the designer seems to have been to try to have some remainder to leave on the card after the treasure is divided among the players, at least more often than not.  (There is no six-, eight-, 12-, or 16-gold treasure card, which would frequently divide evenly among a typical number of expedition members.)  The interesting effect is that as the expedition progresses, the motivation to bail out becomes stronger; not only does turning back allow a player to keep what he has in his loot bag and avoid the risk of a monster, but it provides the added "carrot" of picking up some or all of the leftover loot on the previous cards.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Eagerly anticipated box art

Hey, I just got a note from my publisher with a first cut on the box art for the "eagerly anticipated game."  They've got a good artist, and he's done a great job capturing the flavor of the game.  The company has also created a new trademark, apparently for their family game line, to distinguish those titles from their traditional wargaming base.  So it's all very exciting to see come together. 

It's a little intimidating to think about how important box art is to the sales of a game, but I guess that's a fact of the marketplace.  For my part, I'd like to think the outside of a game box doesn't drive my purchase decision.  To me, the most important factor in deciding whether to buy a game is whether I've played it before.  Second is whether someone has recommended it.  Third is seeing it demonstrated, as at a convention, for example.  Fourth is whether I recognize the designer or publisher and trust that I can buy something "untried" just because of their reputation.  Seldom will I buy a game based entirely on the box, but I have done it before, and with some success (as Can't Stop) as well as with some disappointment (as Clue: Secrets and Spies).  Conversely, I've seen some games I would never put money down for, just because the outside was so poorly done. 

I'm curious to know how many people there are who will buy a game just based on what's on the outside of the box, and what they look for.  I also wonder how big a company has to be to spend time, money, and effort on real research to analyze customer reactions to box art and appearances. 

A funny thing just occurred to me:  All else being equal, I think I'd be willing to pay more for a game if it felt heavy when I picked it up.  That sounds dumb, but it's important to recognize one's own human foibles, and that's one of mine.  I specifically recall a conversation at HistoriCon with the president of one wargame company in particular.  They have some excellent naval wargames, but as we discussed the latest release and why it was priced the way it was, I casually reached down and flicked the corner of the mapsheet with my thumb.  The map was essentially a glossy poster paper mapsheet, not hard-mounted.  Mind you, the graphics were terrific, and the reputation for the series of games is excellent, but to me, if I'm going to pay a lot, it has to weigh a lot.  That's dumb, but it's true. 

Something to think about if I ever get into the production end of the business.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Congress of Gamers recap - Part 1

Last weekend I attended Congress of Gamers in Rockville, Maryland.  This is a fun little convention that I try never to miss because it's low-key and good fun. 

Saturday morning I arrived to find my friend Grant G. playing Can't Stop (designed by Sid Sackson, published by Face 2 Face Games), which is a nice push-your-luck kind of game.  I had picked up a copy for my now-nine-year-old son for Christmas a year or two ago.  It's still something of a family favorite.  When I played it at PrezCon last February, I was astounded at how far teenagers will push their luck rolling the dice.  I'm much more cautious at the game, which sometimes works for me, and sometimes doesn't.  So in Grant's game, the table was cleaned up by a young player who completed three categories before anyone else got a single one; so I guess there's something to be said for calculated risk-taking.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
My first game of the convention was Carcassonne (designed by Klaus-Jurgen Wrede, published by Rio Grande) with the river expansion.  [Edit:  Carcassonne has since been picked up for distribution in the U.S. by Z-Man Games under a new contract with the original German publisher Hans Im Gluck. - PDO]  This was my first time playing with the Third Edition scoring rules, whereby each farm scores three points for each adjacent complete city.  I thought I won against Amy R., Meredith M., and Tom R., but my EuroCaucus card showed I came in second.  Oh well. 

Every convention I try to learn a game I've never played before.  This weekend it was Endeavor (designed by Carl de Visser and Jarratt Gray, published by Z-man), a colonial mercantile game of expansion, action placement, and the usual conundrum of decision-making.  Though I advanced rapidly in technology to acquire advanced buildings, I neglected to accumulate tokens for taking actions (rather like growing the family in Agricola), and so was left with few opportunities for growth in the latter part of the game.  The winner at my table was a delightful woman who, it turns out, has a monthly gaming group not far from us in Virginia.  So once again, the nice thing about a convention is that if I'm not going to win, at least I'm going to make a new connection.

Next post:  Settlers, robots, and ... you guessed it ... farming.