Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Risk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Risk. Show all posts

Friday, February 24, 2012

PrezCon 2012 - first day

I arrived at PrezCon first thing Thursday morning to demonstrate Trains Planes and Automobiles (artist Sean Cooke, publisher Blue Square Boardgames) at 9:00 a.m.  I shared the Promenade Ballroom with the Stone Age demonstration, but perhaps the hour was too early, because no one showed for either demo.  I have two more demos scheduled this weekend - one for this afternoon, and one for tomorrow morning, so I hope to get a little more visibility for TPA in the next couple of days.

Randy Dean found himself running the Risk tournament, and he hadn't even brought his copy of the game (nor had I brought my son's), so he ran out to Target and picked up a copy of the current edition before yesterday morning's first heat started.  I had assumed, since only two hours had been scheduled for the event, that we would play the new, objective-based rules.  As it turned out, neither Randy nor any of the other players at the table had ever seen the new edition before.  They were all surprised at the arrow-shaped armies and had no interest in playing anything other than conventional Risk.  So we adapted the new-edition components to the original rules.  Since the new-edition cards don't have the 19th-century infantry-cavalry-artillery symbols for reinforcement turn-ins, Randy established the rule for this tournament that four cards yields armies on the original progressive scale of four armies for the first turn-in, six for the second, then eight, ten, 12, 15, 20, and so on by fives thereafter.

The result was an old-style game in which I started with positions in South America,  North America, and northeast Asia.  Randy got knocked out of the game by Joshua S., who took Randy's cards and ended up getting two consecutive turn-ins for armies.  In retrospect, I was in a position to try to knock off the other player at the table (whose name escapes me) to go after his cards and then face off Joshua in a super-power slugfest.  Instead, I tried to knock down Joshua first, which I didn't yet have the strength to do.  At the height of my position on the board, I controlled Europe, North America, and South America, while Joshua was holed up in Africa and the other player in Australia with a stronghold in southeast Asia.  But I couldn't deliver the knock out, and Joshua was able to get another big turn-in, break out of Africa, and take me out of the game.  At that point, the other player conceded the game, and Joshua won the heat.

Our game did in fact exceed two hours, so I was unable to make the first heat of Down in Flames.  I expect to play that later this morning.

Although the session was fun in its own right, I stand by my often-repeated position that the newer edition of Risk is a much better game.  I don't expect to return to any later heats of the tournament here at PrezCon.

Command and Colors Napoleonics
I attended a demo of Command and Colors Napoleonics in my effort to learn at least one new game and to play at least one wargame this year.  C&CN appears to be a more complex iteration on the series of Richard Borg card-driven wargames.  It includes the attached-leaders element of Battle Cry (as you might expect in a 19th-century wargame) as well as some of the command card innovations and unit-type specialties of Memoir '44.  The handling of infantry vs. cavalry seems particularly interesting, as well as the counter-strike element of close combat.

Unfortunately, my schedule did not allow me to participate in the tournament itself.  It may have been just as well.  Again, the game master was thrown into the event at practically the last minute, so he made the decision that the tournament would be handled as a single-elimination event.  My limited experience in competitive play suggests that a single-elimination format is not well suited for a two-player game, but I didn't stick around to find out how well it went.

A Few Acres of Snow
At the adjacent table to the C&CN event, my friend Keith F. was trying his hand at the hot new game A Few Acres of Snow.  What was disappointing to him, though, is that the game master, Bruce Reiff, told participants that AFAoS is "a broken game," that the British player can not be stopped if he uses a strategy called "The Halifax Hammer," and that even three or four recent game modifications to mitigate the problem do not fix the game.  Although Bruce felt that the game was not well suited for competition, he continued to run the event "for fun" and to teach it to newcomers like Keith to familiarize them with it.  Keith ended up playing as the British against a very experienced player; I think his experiences with it were mixed.  He said the comparison many people make to Dominion holds up as deck-building wargame.  For my part, the bottom line of this event is that I am taking AFAoS off my wishlist.

Chicago Express
I got very excited about Chicago Express when Kathy and I played with our friends Sheila D., Keith R., Rebecca E., and Jeff W. some weeks ago.  It struck me then as the perfect capitalist game in which players invest in railroad companies and direct their development in an attempt to maximize income and make the most money.

I got to play in the first heat of the tournament here yesterday against Jim [missed his last name], Pat D., and Demy McB.  As it happens, Jim and Pat had played once before each, and Demy had never played before (but is a quick learner, as I've played her in a number of other games over the years), so the level of competition was fairly even among us.  I ended up owning three of five shares of the New York Central plus one share of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and I won the game in a fairly close finish.

[More entries to follow as time allows, and I will add pictures, links, and details to this entry as well.  PrezCon continues...]

Monday, February 20, 2012

Personal Pre-PrezCon

PrezCon open gaming and pre-cons started this evening (President's Day, hence the name), though I won't be arriving there in Charlottesville, Virginia, until Thursday morning.  But I had the opportunity to play a lot of games this weekend in a kind of home-style pre-PrezCon warm-up.

My son's red empire extends from
Buenos Aires to the ends of Asia
My 15-year-old's friend from Maryland spent the weekend with us, so Saturday afternoon started off with a reprise of our three-player Risk session from last July.  Last time, my son and his friend got pre-occupied with Asian occupation, and I ended up achieving an objective in each of the first three turns and winning the game in short order.  This time, I was not so fortunate, and they were not so inattentive.  My capitol was in New Guinea, and my dice luck prevented me from seizing control of Australia in the first turn.  It was all slow going from there.  My son gained control of South America and Africa, his friend dominated Europe, and I could do little more than throw roadblocks in the path of one and then the other.  Eventually my son rolled up the "Control two continents," "Control 18 territories," and "Control Asia" objectives to win the game.  I definitely prefer Risk (designer Rob Daviau, publisher Hasbroin the new objective-based format (rather than the old-style player-elimination global-domination victory condition).  I haven't decided whether to throw my hat into the Risk tournament at PrezCon, though.

That evening my wife and I played a two-player game of 7 Wonders (designer Antoine Bauza, artist Miguel Coimbra, publisher Repos Production).  It's not quite the same crazy free-for-all that a four- or five-player game can be, but it's still a nice way for us to pass the time.  She had the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; I had the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.  I won by a fairly narrow margin, as I recall.

Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved
Yesterday, our friend Sue C. came to join us for a couple of days, and we started with Cities and Knights of Catan (designer Klaus Teuber; artists Volkan Baga, Harald LieskeFranz Vohwinkel, and Stephen Walsh; publisher Mayfair), an expansion that I actually prefer to the original Settlers of Catan but which requires considerable familiarity to play.  Maybe I can develop some interest in C&KoC among my gaming friends.  With barbarians, knights, walls, commodities, city developments, and progress cards in lieu of development cards, the game takes on a richer level of complexity.  Dice luck is still a factor, but sound planning counts for a lot.  Kathy kept me from building a settlement on a contended road junction by occupying the corner with a knight.  Although I had a more powerful knight on the same road network, I hesitated to spend precious wheat to displace her knight and then have to move my knight out of the way again to make room for a new settlement.  My hesitation cost me in the end; she ended up building the settlement there instead, which left me to have to build new roads elsewhere and develop less productive locations.  Ultimately it was Sue, however, who stole Kathy's longest road and ended up winning, despite my late-game move to build a cathedral and get within two points of victory myself.

Next was Citadels (designer Bruno Faidutti, numerous artists, publisher Fantasy Flight Games), always a favorite of mine, and one that Kathy had never played three-player before.  I think that assassins and thieves are particularly dangerous in the three-player version, because when the roles pass around the second time, each player knows two roles that have definitely been chosen by someone - so the assassin and thief can guarantee that a target is in play.  I ended up running away with the win this time, in part because of an excellent hand at the start of the game.  Although I think Citadels is primarily a game of getting inside your opponent's head, card luck is still a considerable factor.

Box cover image courtesy
of Rio Grande Games
Today we opened with another favorite, Puerto Rico (designer Andreas Seyfarth, artist Franz Vohwinkel, publisher Rio Grande).  Kathy and I seldom get to play it in its original intended format of three to five players.  I had a pretty strong engine going with corn, sugar, and coffee, plus a factory and office that helped with the cash flow.  Kathy put her hospice to good use (as she likes to do), ending up with three occupied quarries that enabled her to pick up the fortress and capitalize on her excess population.  Despite one captain phase that saw me spoil a ton of product, I was able to eke out a one-point victory, helped by the guild hall.

After Sue left this afternoon, Kathy and I enjoyed our customary cocktail hour with a game of Ingenious (designer Reiner Knizia, publisher Fantasy Flight Games), which was a PrezCon acquisition last year and which I still appreciate both for its elegant gameplay and for its aesthetic appeal.  Kathy won, as she often does.  Although tile draw luck is a factor, I think Kathy did a better job keeping an eye on my scoring track and anticipating what I needed to do better than I did on hers.

So I got to spend this three-day weekend sharpening my teeth on some friendly competition before heading to Charlottesville later in the week.  I have to admit that I'm a lot better prepared to go have fun than I am to beat anybody; I think I'm a far cry from winning anything at the tournament level of competition that I expect to encounter.  But heck, it's all about having fun, meeting people, learning new games, and engaging with other designers and publishers.  I expect to do plenty of all of that.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Legacy: Constructive, or destructive?

I recently read Lewis Pulsipher's reaction to the rules of Risk: Legacy.  By way of background, Risk: Legacy (designers Rob Daviau and Chris Dupuis) is Hasbro's forthcoming variant on the familiar Risk line with an important distinction:  Over the course of each game, players will permanently modify board, cards, and rules with stickers and pens, so that each game modifies subsequent plays of that particular copy of the game.  I would not exaggerate to say that Dr. Pulsipher absolutely rejects this premise as merely destructive and, to some extent, commercially cynical.

I can certainly see his point.  In fact, the tone of the rules and the box art suggest that semi-random alteration and rejection of the status quo feed the theme of "making one's own legacy."  The word "Legacy" itself on the box cover is written in pseudo-graffiti fashion.  There is almost a counter-cultural, anarchical, nihilistic, "anti-rules" sub-text in the rules themselves.  Game alterations are referred to as "scars" and "marks."  The rules require that some components be "destroyed" - thrown away, permanently removed from that copy of the game, not to be used ever again.  Even from the very first game, when each faction is assigned a special power sticker, an alternative special power sticker will be disposed of, never to be used in that copy of the game.

This is a fairly jarring concept for those of us who treasure our games over a lifetime.  Why would I ever willingly deface or dispose of a game component, unless I didn't particularly care about the fate of that game (or had another copy that I intended to keep pristine)?

There is a school of thought among the boardgamegeek.com forums that suggest that Risk: Legacy provides an opportunity to customize each game copy in a semi-structured fashion.  Perhaps that's the appeal of the game - the idea that when I play the game, I leave my mark - my legacy - on its actual physical structure for future plays.  Part of the fun in playing a role-playing campaign is that players would alter not only the state of their own characters but the condition of the universe that the game-master had constructed, and those impacts would last from one stage of the campaign to the next.  One might consider each play of Risk: Legacy to be a "sequel" of the previously played game.  In that respect, this might be a boardgame that carries the "campaign" concept a little farther than other boardgames have, more literally into its own physical condition.

For all of that, however, I'm not convinced that Risk: Legacy is a game that I can embrace.  My objection comes less from Dr. Pulsipher's abhorrence at the destructive nature of the physical game - a legitimate gripe in its own right - than from my own fear for the soundness of the gameplay itself.  I have seen people tinker with rules in other games at the expense of sound game design.  All the playtesting and careful game design in the world can't prevent players from implementing a house rule that makes a game too random, too long, or too monotonic.  The latitude that the rules of Risk: Legacy provide for altering the gameboard and cards has no apparent self-correcting mechanism to preserve a game-designer's sense for balance and game flow.  How fateful might it be that permanent modifications to the board could render the game unplayable, predictable, or even boring?  Perhaps I'm too sensitive to the quality of an exquisitely crafted game that provides a rich option-space and keeps all players in the game while rewarding sound decision-making.  But my fear would be that player-imposed changes to the rules and components might inadvertently result in a degenerate strategy, or a game that depends too heavily on dice luck, or a perpetual push-and-shove war of attrition.

The aspect of physical change in Risk: Legacy got me thinking about the degree to which we alter games that we own and play for a long time.  Components like cards, counters, boxes, and folding boards can show considerable wear over many uses.  To me, this wear is a classic sign of a well-loved game.  I have a number of Avalon Hill games that show a lot of "love" from many plays.  And any game that has score sheets, record pads, damage tallies, or any similar written artifact leaves its own legacy of games for future reflection.  Games with written simultaneous movement leave a record of so much detail that the game could almost be reconstructed like a baseball box score.  So in a manner of speaking, some games have always left a trail of artifacts from past plays.  They don't necessarily alter the way future games are played, but they do constitute a legacy of an individual game copy, after a fashion.  And for a game that has been frequently enjoyed, there's a certain sentimental value to that legacy.

Wooden Ships and Iron Men "legacy":  ship's log from
World Boardgaming Championships 2011

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

He who will not Risk

"He who will not risk cannot win." -- John Paul Jones

1980 reprint of the
1959 classic (but lengthy) Risk
My son (15) and his friend and I played Risk (designer Rob Daviau, publisher Hasbro) Sunday afternoon.  I should note that I was never a big fan of the original Risk (designer Albert Lamorisse [director of the French short film The Red Balloon], publisher Parker Brothers), largely because it simply took too long to play.  It didn't really seem to be much of a strategy game, either, at least not at the age I was playing.  A lot of pushing and shoving, taking territory only to have it taken back. Worst, if it was a multi-player session, it became a player-elimination game, which as anyone who has followed my blog knows is a fundamental flaw in any multi-player game outside of a tournament.

2008 Revised (and much more
enjoyable) Edition of Risk
My opinion of the new Risk, however, is quite the opposite.  With the introduction of objectives and the change in the way cards are traded in for armies, players have some real decisions to make, and that's something I appreciate in a game.  Particularly nice is being able to identify a winner in a reasonable amount of time, rather than requiring world domination simply to end the game.  Generally speaking, a winner emerges long before any single player is really close to elimination.  I think I most appreciate the fact that the facelift addressed only the weaknesses of the game and retained many recognizable, likable elements, right down to the combat mechanism - which is an imperfect attrition system but still an interesting tactical problem at times.

In our three-player game, my capital was in Greenland, my son's in Australia, and his friend's in Argentina.  My son easily took over Australia and moved quickly into southern Asia.  In so doing he completed the "Control 18 territories" objective.  His friend took over South America and a substantial chunk of North America.  I sought my first objective by taking over all of Europe, and succeeded only on my last dice roll.  So I was in a pretty vulnerable position even after my end-of-turn redeployment, and feared that my son's Asian army would roll into Russia.

My son smelled blood in Asia, however, and ignored me in favor of trying to take over the continent.  His friend started the game with a strong holding in Japan, however, and would not fall, so my son's Asian campaign stalled.  His friend sought to finish taking over North America, but he, too, could not complete the task.  As a result, my European position remained unperturbed, which made my next decision rather straightforward - to take over Africa.  Europe gave me five additional armies, and I started everything in central Africa, whence came the great tide.  Once I'd conquered Africa, I agonized over whether to jump the Atlantic and attack Brazil to break up the South American stronghold - but that position wouldn't have been as strong (given the way I left my armies) as it was to attack the Middle East and shore up the defense of my eastern border.  At the end of my turn, I'd taken over my second continent and thus completed my second objective ("Control two continents").

My son and his friend discussed the fact that I held everything from South Africa to Greenland and ought to be squeezed from both sides.  It certainly would have made sense at that point in the game - after only two turns, when I held two objectives of three needed to win - to gang up on me and take apart my continental holdings.  Strangely, however, the desire to control Asia still consumed my son, and after re-taking the Middle East, he turned away from European Russia and instead attacked his friend's holdings, east across the steppes.  His friend then nearly took over North America at that point, but I held my ground in Greenland.  At that point, my continental holdings still remained intact, and I started my third turn with 16 armies and seven cities.  The next step was obvious.  I attacked Brazil to obtain my eighth city and third objective, to win the game.

So I won in three turns, largely I think because my son and his friend allowed their own agendas (occupation of Asia and North America, respectively) to distract them from stopping me from winning.  Nevertheless, I came away convinced more than ever that this re-vamping of Risk has breathed new life into an old classic and made it a fun game to play, far more fun that the original ever was.