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Thinking Out Loud

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Game Session Recap for 6/30/05

I'll update this in the morning, but just got back from the St. Louis Boardgame Meetup at Borders. Got to play a lot of good games with a lot of nice folks.

Mystery of the Missing Trey Solved!

I was confused yesterday why Michael Silbey (armadi) and Chris Darden (cbdarden) were calling the other guy we were playing with Trey... For some reason, I had thought he was yayforme from BoardGameGeek, and I thought that guy's real name was Steve or something. Well, mystery solved. I found out his real name is Stephan Dembski, III, so "Trey" is his nickname... Duh on me.

Yet another BGG member met!

I was pleased to run into another BGG user at the Meetup, Chris Schott, perhaps better known as spacerx on the 'Geek. He has far more color (and is much taller) than his current avatar might suggest. It's always nice to meet my fellow BGG enthusiasts, especially articulate folks who don't troll for flamewars with their posts :)

On to the games!

More details later, but here's the run down of games played:

Ingenious
Alfred Wallace and me
Alfred won 8-7

Cartagena
Alfred Wallace, Chris Scott and me
I won 6-5-4

Coloretto
Chris Darden, Trey Dembski, Nancy (lastname?) and me
I was 2nd: 36, 24, 18, 17 or something like that

Santiago
Chris Darden, Trey Dembski, Chris Schott, Nancy (lastname?) and me
I was 4th: 77-72-68-56-54 or something like that

Amun-Re
Chester Ogborn, Alfred Wallace, Jorge Montero and me
I was dead last: A bazillion, bazillion -1, bazillion -10, and about 24

I really liked the game, but we made a few mistakes. We missed not one, not two, not even three, but four -- count 'em four-- important rules that would have made a difference in the game.
1) Not taking 3 from the bank when playing your -3 card for the tribute (which was easily rectified)
2) That you keep your -3 card instead of use n' lose (also easily fixed)
3) That the largest pyramid bonuses were scored for each side of the nile, not only on one side or the other (which we didn't retroactively change, thankfully, or I'd have been even further behind)
4) That you can trade in a power card for 1 gold at any time (crucial, as it would have allowed me to offer tributes instead of the -3 card several times, and benefit from the extra boons granted by Ra).

Unpublished Prototype - Defender of the Realm
Chester Ogborn, Alfred Wallace, Jorge Montero, Eva Crespo and me
I was 3rd: 32-31-30-24-20

It was great to be able to try this prototype out. Aside from one glaring poor decision with a scoring mechanic (which was apparent once we played, but I had no inkling of when running through the mechanics in my mind or editing the rules), I was very pleased with how this turned out, and hope it goes over well when I showcase the game at GenCon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Game Session Recap for 6/29/05

Another good night of gaming all around. Michael Silbey (armadi from the Geek) invited me to join his regular gaming group when their usual 4th player had to miss the session. I had a great time, and got to meet two more of my fellow St. Louis area BoardGameGeek members, Chris Darden (cbdarden) and Trey something-something (sorry, I can't remember the last name or username!).

While we were waiting for Chris Darden to show up, Armadi and I played a game of Lord of the Rings: Confrontation. I wasn't sure if I had ever played before, but after setting it up and seeing it, recall playing once a little over a year ago. I was the Dark player, Armadi was Light. He won easily, getting Frodo to Mount Doom as I staggered about without really knowing what I was doing. The game reminded me why it had been so long since my first play -- I'm not a big fan of the game.

My Rating: 6

My Take: Easy to learn, but has some depth and nuance to keep it from being simple. That said, it features an element I dislike in many games -- the need to know everything about every piece in the game to be competitive. Not only do you need to understand all the powers and abilities of each of your units, but you need to be equally knowledgable about every single unit/ability of your opponent. This increases the learning/entertainment curve quite a bit for me, although I can see that it would reward long term commitment to the game.

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Once Chris showed up, we switched to one of my current obsessions, Tichu. Team A was Chris and Trey, Team B was Jay and Michael. All 3 games were to 1000 points.

Game 1
Chris & Trey: 100-something (several failed Tichus)
Michael & Jay: 1000+ (a few Tichus, but several 1st/2nd finishes)

Game 2
Chris & Trey: 1000+ (Several strong Tichu and one Grand Tichu hand)
Michael & Jay: 200-something (A failed Tichu and some poor teamwork)

Game 3:
Chris & Trey: 1000+
Michael & Jay: 300-something
... The third game was actually fairly close until the last and second-last hands, where Trey pulled out a Tichu and their team really lit into us with some stellar plays.

Great fun. I was a little concerned Tichu might be a bit stagnant face to face, as opposed to the wonderful interface and autmation from the BrettSpielWelt servers, but it was still face paced and very enjoyable.

My Rating: 9.5

My Take: My goodness, what a fabulous game. The online version of BSW hasn't spoiled me after all -- the manual shuffling and shifting of cards isn't so bad. It may take a few hands for new players to get the hang of the hand types and the four wild cards, but it is a stellar game and a must-own title for any serious card playing gamer.

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Next we moved on to my all-time favorite card game, Wizard. This was the first time any of the others had played, so I had a distinct advantage... knowing the approximate value of the Wizards and Jesters and the impact they can have on the game is the key to bidding, and my experience paid off. Still, I think the others enjoyed it, and would probably play again.

Chris: 120
Mike: 290
Trey: 300
Jay: 390

My Rating: 10.0

My Take: Simply the best pure trick-taking card game there is. A slight tweak to the deck by introducing Wizards (super-trump) and Jesters (less than trump) creates an entirely new gameplay dynamic. This is truly a fantastic game for any level "card" game player.

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The group introduced me to another game I had never played before, Liar's Dice, also known as Perudo. Cute little bluffing/press-your-luck game. I can see why it's so appealing. We only played a very quick round, and I was out after about 2 turns around the table. A few more plays would help get into the mood, but I can see this being enjoyed by my inlaws, niece and nephew, and other "non gamers" I hang around with regularly.

Didn't play enough to form a long-term opinion or rating, but I'd wager it could end up in the 7-8 range, and be a quick, breezy filler game for a wide variety of people.

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Wrapping up the night, I was glad to finally get to try out Nexus Ops. I had picked this sci-fi board game up several weeks earlier, but never had the chance to get it to the table. I had rated it a 7 based on my expectations from reading the rules and fiddling around with it solo, and I was not disappointed.

Michael: 12 pts
Trey: 11
Chris: 8
Jay: 7

My Rating: 7.5

My Take: First impressions are quite favorable, and the first playing was a big hit. 4 player game took just about an hour, and while luck-heavy, there's a lot of action. Good mix of luck, expansion and combat. Awarding VPs for winning combat and Energize cards for losing combat keeps the pace brisk, and prevents turtling. Interesting blend of game elements, and nice production quality.


Getting Back Into BSW

After a lengthy self-imposed exile to BrettSpielWelt (the excellent online boardgaming community/interface commonly referred to as BSW) I've finally started logging back in from time to time for some games, and have been pleasantly surprised.

I cut back my time on BSW back in January as I was getting increasingly frustrated with the rudeness, childish behavior and lack of BSW members willing to take the time to teach a non-German speaker some of the trickier game interfaces. I'm glad I finally logged back in, as things seem to have improved considerably.

First, there is an excellent online implementation of Einfach Genial, or Ingenious here in the states, fast becoming one of my favorite abstract games, as it scales remarkably well from 2 to 4 players. I had played 3 or 4 games face-to-face, and the interface on BSW was very easy to pick up, so I've been able to play more regularly.

The other pleasant surprise has been the friendly community members I've encountered. Aside from some very friendly German and other European players willing to "put up with" an English-only speaking player, I've run into quite a few of my BoardGameGeek "GeekBuddies" while on BSW -- offering a great opportunity to virtually meet and interact with folks whose gaming interests and attitudes are similar to mine.

Within 15 minutes of logging into BSW last night, Linnaeus (Gerald Cameron), GreatWolf (Seth Ben-Ezra) and Zambo (Steve Zamborsky) all dropped me a line. Linnaeus welcomed me back into the BSW fold and we chatted briefly about boardgames and RPGS, before he had to check out for the evening. Zambo strolled by a game to just say 'hi' and we chatted about a game prototype he's been working on. GreatWolf joined me for a few games of Ingenious while we talked about one of our other great passions -- indie RPG design. It was a great evening, and I got to spend some e-time with some e-friends I wouldn't otherwise have the chance to interact with.

If this is a good example of what can be expected on BSW nowadays, I'll definitely be spending more time online with some of my GeekBuddies, getting more gaming in!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Game Session Recap for 6/27/05

I actually have the time and patience to post this the same day as the gaming! Mostly... It's almost midnight, so it may not make it live until technically the next day, but it's damn close.

Michael Silbey stopped by tonight (armadi from BGG) and we got to play some 2-player games. We had talked about playing Hammer of the Scots or War of the Ring some time, but didn't really feel up for it tonight, instead opting for a few different games instead of one big game.

To get things started, we played Starship Catan, one of my favorite in the line of 2-player Kosmos games. As the first game with any player, I encouraged using the excellent script included with the game which teaches the mechanics while also slowly introducing strategies and tips. By the time the tutorial is through, you're ready to play a strong, competitive game. With the tutorial, the game takes about an hour and provides a pretty good game experience, with a nice mix of luck, strategy and light competition. I ended up winning (10-6) by rushing to build up improved versions of my ship's modules and completing a VP mission on the final turn.

Next, we played our long-discussed head-to-head Boggle match. Armadi had commented that after reading one of my GeekLists on BoardGameGeek about games I generally win, that he'd be more than happy to put my Boggle record and prowess to the test. We had put the match off several times before, wanting to make sure we were both at our optimum level of competition -- no starting at 2 am and complaining that we were fatigued, etc. Putting it politely, I upheld my honor. For not having played in several years (literally, since none of my friends would play it any more), I was very pleased at how well I "fell back into" my routine. I defeated Armadi handily, doubling his score in each of the games. We played three games/rounds/whatever you want to call them, after which, we agreed to move on to something new.

So to round out the evening, I was able to introduce Armadi to Silent Death, one of my favorite tactical ship-to-ship combat games, produced by Iron Crown Enterprises. Silent Death is a sci-fi game of dogfighting spaceships, with a wonderfully integrated damage tracking system and all-in-one die rolling combat resolution -- with one roll of the dice, you determine if you hit and how much damage is done. While it doesn't sound like that big a deal, cutting the number of required die rolls in half speeds things up considerably. We played the first two introductory scenarios.

In the first scenario, Silent Death, his two Thunderbirds took on my four Pit Vipers, and almost wiped them out quickly. My Pit Vipers barely scratched the paint on his ships, with three of my "hits" being negated by his damage reduction (curse the low powered pulse lasers!)... but a lucky shot got me to the critical hit table on his lead ship, and it blew up right quick -- a close game I barely won. In the second scenario, Moons of Something-Something (or something like that), his four Spirit Riders squared off against my two Night Hawks... My first shot crippled one of his Spirit Riders, and things looked grim for Armadi early on. Then he tore into one of the Night Hawks, stunning the pilot for a turn. A solid shot by by second Night Hawk decimated another Spirit Rider, but the Night Hawks wouldn't land another shot before being riddled with splattergun fire and being torn to shreds.

Man, I really like Silent Death. Sure, there's a lot of luck, but there's strategy, too, and the shortness of the individual scenarios helps soften the blow of having bad luck... And the ability to string scenarios together into campaigns, where pilots can earn experience and you can manage a roster of ships for each mission, is something I really enjoy. If Armadi got a kick out of the game, maybe that's something we could set up down the road.

Game Session Recap for 6/25/05

Got another solid night of gaming in tonight, with 5 players... Tonight's Usual Suspects (and their BoardGameGeek nics) included:
  • Eva Crespo (DeiTass)
  • Alfred Wallace (alfredhw)
  • Jorge Montero (hibikir)
  • Geoff (dunno his last name or if he's on BGG)
  • Jay Little (ynnen)

We got to try a wide variety of games over the course of the night, including 2 games I had never tried before. So by and large a successful night, although I must admit I had some sour grapes over Santiago and Merchants of Amsterdam. Ah well, I never said I was perfect!



Trendy (played 5+ times overall)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/1412

Eva: 132
Alfred: 116
Jorge: 141
Geoff: 120
Jay: 118

My rating: 8 (up from 7.5 last time)

The more I play Trendy, the more I like the light, breezy feel of the play. Rounds are quick, the pace is frantic, and everyone feels involved. If you get screwed over too badly, ah well, a new hand is only a few minutes away. I think playing around the table, so everyone is dealer once, and adding a running score for the game is a great way to spend 30 minutes or so. Very fun. Bang! should have this sort of rat-a-tat-tat pace to it.



Pickomino (1st time played)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/15818

Eva: 1
Alfred: 1
Jorge: 10
Geoff: 0
Jay: 7

My rating: 5.5

What an odd, dice-festy game. A few push-your-luck elements, and vaguely familiar of Cosmic Wimpout, but with some additional tweaks. Expect to spend a lot of turns simply passing dice to the person on your left, or having someone else steal a tile you finally got after 4 wasted turns. I'd play again, with booze, and it would fill the beer n' pretzel niche well.



Traum Fabrik (2nd time I've played)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/904

Eva: 51
Alfred: 70
Jorge: 56
Geoff: 51
Jay: 68

My rating: 7.5

Still a very fun bidding game, and with 5 players, felt a bit different than the previous game with four. Came right down to the wire, as I had a movie ready to complete, only needing a director, but failed to win a bid or get a director at a party over the last two turns of the game. Had I been able to get a 0 or 1 star director, I would have been able to seize the 10 pt Worst Movie Award bonus from Alfred... Had I been able to get a higher star director, I would have gotten a minimum of 7 points, which also would have been enough to put me over the top. So a bit frustrating that my only goal for the 2nd half of the game was stymied, but still a tense, exciting bidding game... Also interesting to note that Alfred wrapped up his movies early in the 4th turn, and didn't participate in any more bids -- just sat back to earn money from everyone else's bids, which worked out exceptionally well for him.



Merchants of Amsterdam (1st time played)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/531

Eva: 860
Alfred: 1090
Jorge: 1300
Geoff: 660
Jay: 720

My rating: 6.5

Clever decisions and interesting bid with the clock, but turn order heavily favors those going first. Luck of the draw can also have a significant impact with the timing of the event cards which move the turn marker along the event track. Taking out a loan is crucial, as the game seems to favor the rich getting richer -- they have the money to bid higher on items, gaining and advtange in the actions purchased, which leads to more money to spend on subsequent auctions, etc. Players with very little money can soon find themselves bid out of the game by never having the option to bid on anything, as their maximum bid ceiling is far, far below what anyone else can (and will) bid to keep them bottled up.



Santiago (My 4th play)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/8125

Eva: 59
Alfred: 72
Jorge: 67
Geoff: 77
Jay: 22 (yes, you're reading that right, 22!)

My rating: 8.5 (despite the serious drubbing)

I still love Santiago, and a 5 player game is a wholly different experience than a 4 player game. I did feel a bit sour after the first few turns, and never thought you could feel "out" of a game of Santiago based on the mechanics, but there you have it -- after the 3rd turn, I felt I was already eliminated from the game. Bidding last in the first round, the bidding was evenly 1-4, so I could either pass and get no guys on the board, or bid 5. So I bid 5 on a banana field and placed it next to the well. No one else placed adjacent to me, and the bribing (who was the $1 bid on the player immediately to my left) went to place the stream on the line that benefited all 4 other tile moves. So I spent 5 dollars, and had to either burn by only personal river or lose a guy on the first turn... so I lost a guy.

On the 2nd round, the same bid option came around to me -- pass and grab the overseer or spend $5. So I spent $5, placed my plantation somewhere I thought others would go, but again, all 4 other players padded out a field that the overseer placed with little bribing needed. Now down $10, I had to either spend my only stream and salvage my second plantation, or bide time hoping to get a good move later on. I opted for the latter, and lost 2 more guys. So after 2 rounds, I was down $10, and had only 1 worker on the board, as opposed to 3 or 4 for the other players, who all had substantially more money.

A combination of poor planning on my part, and a feeling that some players opted to exclude me from the beneficial moves, really killed me. I know that at times you have to target someone, but I felt that targeting the player in last place to receive the brunt of the impact for a bad turn was a bit overkill. So from that point on, I tried to play spoiler, and tried to end large fields before they could expand, or snag fields others wanted and put them in untenable places. Well, that didn't really work as well as planned... So a frustrating game, but one in which I learned a lot more about the subtleties and nuances to Santiago.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Game Session Recap for 6/24/05

The Usual Suspects (and their BoardGameGeek nics)

  • Chester Ogborn (cornjob)
  • Jorge Montero (hibikir)
  • Eva Crespo (DeiTass)
  • Jay Little (ynnen)

It was great to get together for some impromptu gaming, especially to get to meet Chester for the first time and welcome him to St. Louis. We got to play a lot of smaller, lighter games, allowing us to socialize as well as game -- no realy brain burners here. I really had a good time, since I love to try out new games. We played six different games seven times total (For Sale was played twice) and of those six, four were completely new to me. A successful night of gaming for me on all accounts -- except, as you'll see, on the scoreboard. Ah well, last weekend was my weekend. I guess I can share the spotlight.


For Sale! (My 1st time played)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/172

Game 1
Chester: 41
Jorge: 68
Eva: 63
Jay: 48

Game 2
Chester: 51
Jorge: 65
Eva: 53
Jay: 48

My Rating: 9.0

Wow -- what a great little game! Not many better for the 10-15 minute filler category. I absolutely love the two phase approach, where you bid in the first half to "draft" cards you want to use to actually earn money in the second half. Incredibly clever, easy to teach/learn, and a lot of fun. I wish I would have come across this game years ago!

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Tutankhamen (My 1st time played)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/300

Chester: 7
Jorge: 0
Eva: 7
Jay: 1

My Rating: 7.0

Fun, light, fast game. I like the idea that you can advance as far as you want, but at the cost of not being able to move back along the track. The first player, of course, has a significant advantage since he's always +1 tile over the other players, so I found it odd there's not a penalty of some sort for going first. Simple, fairly easy to understand set collection game, but with some unnecessary bits -- why have to put tokens, 1 at a time, into the pyramid? It's not like they're referenced or scored at the end... Stuff like that is a bit silly, and added to the production costs.

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Louis XIV (My 2nd time played)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/13642

Chester: 43
Jorge: 42
Eva: 37
Jay: 33

My Rating: 7.5

I still really like the game and the potential, but I realized how crucial even small mistakes can be. During turn 2, I was careless reading the tokens on my mission card and collected the wrong items -- so I ended up losing 2 power tokens (exchanged for 2 shields), failing to fulfill a mission (worth 5 points) and thus failing to benefit from its gameplay bonus. So that one blunder ended up costing me 4-6 points over the course of the game. Given how close the scores tend to be (especially with the shield bonuses determining the winner in both games played so far), even one careless mistake can put you out of the running.

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Santiago (My 5th time played)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/8125

Chester: 102
Jorge: 65
Eva: 66
Jay: 75

My Rating: 8.5

I really enjoy this game, and love the ebb and flow of the auctions and bribes. At the very end, though, it can bog down ever so slightly as folks try to pre-count the final game score based on different situations (I'll score X here if I take the 2-plot bean field, but Y there if I take the 1 plot potato field instead -- which is a gain of Z over Bob in the bean field, but a gain of Z+1 over Joe in the potato field, yadda yadda). I think this can create a bit of overanalysis toward the end, and the potential for kingmaking situations -- where you can't win, so by bidding meekly you ensure someone else will have a strong move. Still, a minor foible that doesn't seem like it would appear too often, unless you're playing with exceptionally analytical players.

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Oriente (1st time played)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/9792

Chester: 23
Jorge: 21
Eva: 18
Jay: 18

My Rating: 4.0

Wonderful art and neat concept. Unfortunately, a very confusing, lackluster execution. I just can't see this being fun for 4-6 players, as the distribution of roles creates a strong possibility that the weak Nofu (working class) will be working against each other instead of together against more powerful roles. Very, very luck driven, and felt like my decisions were either forced or only helped other people, and not myself. Disappointed.

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David & Goliath (1st time played)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/44
Chester: 136
Jorge: 116
Eva: 138
Jay: 132

My Rating: 7.0
I really like trick taking card games, especially ones with a little twist that adds a layer of nuance to conventional trick games. David & Goliath provides that twist, as the cards gained during a trick ebb and flow in value -- grabbing 1 or 2 powerful cards is great, until you get a few more dumped on you, crashing their value from the printed value on the card to 1 point per card. Rewards card counting and a bit more thoughtfulness/awareness of cards played than other games, keeping it from being lightning fast like, say, Wizard, but still a lot of fun.

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N-1 Scoring For the Evening

For kicks, I decided to summarize how well everyone did based on the N-1 scoring system I've used from time to time. Since the same number of players participated in each game, it works fairly well, especially since we got a lot of games in. So coming in 1st gets you "N" points, where N= the total number of players in the game. Coming in 2nd then gets you N-1 points, 3rd place nets you N-2, and so on. So applying this metric, the final tally for the night was:

Chester: 20 pts
Jorge: 20 pts

Eva: 18 pts (for only winning 1 game, Eva did exceptionally well)
Jay: 14 pts

Not my best night... Jorge and Chester dominated, as you can see.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

RPG Tidbits

I've been quite busy this week working on several roleplaying game writing assignments for Goodman Games. The main focus has been on the upcoming 2005 Gen Con Dungeon Crawl Classics Tournament module, The Vault of the Dragon Kings. I've finished editing the first 2 chapters, and started working on the third. I've also finished inking and editing the last of 9 player handouts I drew for the module. They're good enough for the time crunch before GenCon, and I'm hoping they'll be good enough for the final product, too. That would be very fulfilling.

I've also gotten a PDF proof of the upcoming 3.5 Wizard Strategy Guide, a power gamer's "cheat book" project that's coming out soon. I was the project lead, and got to work with some very talented writers, Glyn Dewey and Anthony Pryor. It's definitely a min/maxer's dream come true, which is ironic, since as a DM, I abhor that sort of player. But Joseph made a compelling argument that as such a DM, I certainly knew the sorts of things that irked me about powergaming, so what better point of view to write from? Aside from managing the writing assignments, I also wrote a good portion of the book, which was a lot of fun. It should be out in time for GenCon, and I can't wait to hold a copy in my hands!

GenCon is going to be a very busy convention for me. Aside from running several sessions of Vault of the Dragon Kings, it looks like I'll also be running a panel of celebrity D&D players through an unusual module I'm writing -- an adaptation of an adventure from the script of an upcoming movie. Some liberties had to be taken, certainly, but it's pretty neat to be working on a module based on the module that's appearing in a movie. Tres cool.

I'm also trying to wrap up production on my first complete indie RPG design project, codename PoD for the time being (an acronym for the full title). And as most indie RPG developers like to think, PoD has some really innovative concepts and mechanics. It is designed to capture the feel of high drama, over the top action and mystic intrigues. I'm really proud of what I've accomplished so far, and am trying to decide if I should simply prepare it as a PDF webbook, or go whole hog and secure some freelancers for illustrations and try to make a small print run of a physical book. Tough call.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Diary of a Middle-Age Game Nerd >> What's Happening To Me??

After a closely contested game of Hannibal: Rome v. Carthage last night, versus fellow BGGeek armadi, I was up late waxing philosophic as I am wont to do after gaming. We played for 2.5 hours, and called a draw as it was getting late, and as we chatted while we were putting things away, I realized something strange.

I felt that I was getting hammered relentlessly and was on the ropes the entire game (as Carthage) with little to no chance of winning, and feeling a bit of sour grapes over what I perceived as a really bad string of luck (dice rolls and card draws) that undermined my strategies. Armadi, on the other hand, revealed that he thought I was actually controlling the tempo of the game, and thought I had a good chance of winning had we played to conclusion -- which was a big shocker to me.

Was I so blinded by perceived bad luck that I failed to realize my position? Was I so disappointed in my own poor play that I failed to credit the clever play of my opponent? Was I so frustrated by the turn of events that I failed to realize the times when the cards favored me? Have I become a poor sport?

It's tough to say, and it's been challenging over the last few months to re-evaluate my gaming tastes, the people I game with, the types of games we tend to play, and why I play. Some games that I used to idolize and adore now seem flawed and fail to deliver, while other games I had always reviled and defamed suddenly had appeal or potential.

As my gaming tastes and regular group of gaming friends shift, I think I've hit on several things that best describe the overarching trends in my development as a gamer:

1) My tolerance for luck is diminishing. While I don't mind the presence of luck, I do not like luck to be an overriding factor. When I lose, I want to lose because of poor play on my part, or strong play by my opponents, not because he drew such-and-such a card, or I failed to roll 5+ on a 1d6 during a critical moment.

In our game of Hannibal, Hannibal and Scipio squared off in a decisive battle toward the end of our evening. Armadi forced my elephants to go crazy with a card, reducing my BCs by 2. I played a card to steal a BC from him. We ended up with 10 cards to 11, I believe, and played out all the cards, seizing control back and forth, until it was Armadi's turn to start a combat round and he had no cards. He rolled to withdraw, an succeeded. I rolled to prevent the withdrawal (which would have given me the victory) and I failed. Scipio withdraws after a long battle, and we each lose 1 CU to attrition. We both played as strategically well as possible. The only possible results were complete annihilation if he failed his withdraw roll (or I made mine) or escape with niggling effects. That's a huge discrepancy.

And that's part of what irked me. Where did I go wrong? Was there a flaw in my strategy? I think we both did the right things through the course of the combat (and in fact, during much of the game -- there were only a few moves we questioned by the other).

In a highly exaggerated look at things, if I can't succeed (to some degree) when I perform as strategically well as I can, then why try a strategy at all? Either my strategy and decision making is flawed, in which case I'm at a serious disadvantage to begin with, or luck overrides strategy often enough that planning isn't rewarded as much as getting lucky cards or die rolls.
Instead of enjoying the close battle and the time spent gaming, I grew increasingly frustrated with the feeling that my decisions didn't matter as much on the outcome of the game. Is this poor sportsmanship? Or a reaction to a game system/style I don't like? Or the result of having experienced more balanced, strategy-rewarding games that help me feel like I'm truly in control of my in-game destiny? Or just a general mounting intolerance for luck?

Theme, length of game, number of players, the actual players themselves -- all these things impact how much luck I like in games. I love Blood Bowl. In a zany two player game with all the rampant chaos going on, the number of die rolls represent risk management that you do your best to steer in your favor. Lots of luck, but fits the game, timeframe and 2 player aspect perfectly. On the other hand, there's plain ol' Risk. It may have the same number of die rolls, but there's a game where I think the luck is too much for the length of the game, especially if played with 5 ultra-competitive people. So the same amount/type of luck, but with a completely different result.

For me, I want just enough luck to:
a) throw a bit of the unknown into the mix
b) help level the playing field between experienced and inexperienced players
c) create interesting situations that increase the game play experience or replay value
d) still allow for player skill to compensate, more often than not, for a bad run of luck

2) Well-implemented randomness increases my interest and replay value. While it may seem contrary to point 1 above, I do like elements of randomness and chance. I like things that change every time so each game is different. In die Macher, there are different opinions, polls, regions and things like that to make each game different, but each of these elements has value and generally doesn't tip the game in one direction or the other. In Wallenstein, the action cards, event cards and turn order keep things fresh and dynamic. Perhaps it's finding the right balance, or the fact that more of this is public information to work from.

3) I do not like being undermined during my own turn. There are some games with backstabbing that I enjoy, but I find I like it less and less. And I'm also get increasingly frustrated with games that have a "Mother May I" feel to them -- you want to enact a strategy, but someone else can interrupt you, on your turn, and take away your advantage.
That's where Magic: The Gathering really started to wear on me Blue Permission decks and Instant effects. Some combos/actions got on my nerves more than others, especially all the cards that tampered with my ability to act on my turn. When you can no longer rely on anything as a given, the amount of time and energy you need to invest to develop strategies (or implement them in game) slowly shifts from fun to chore.

I think that's especially true (for me) for strategies with several steps - I want to perform actions A, B and C in order to get result D. If the opponent disrupts A, B or C, he's effectively used one action to stop 4, and sent me back to the drawing board. When that occurs often enough, it's frustrating, wondering why I bother investing time developing a strategy when it's so easy to overcome -- like building a house of cards. If the opponent can remove a card at whim when he likes, causing the whole thing to come crashing down, do you keep trying to build the house of cards, or find something else to work on...

It's a subtle difference, I'll admit. In Wallenstein, folks operate with more open information, by virtue of the events, actions and turn order. If you end up going before me and attacking the region where I was going to farm for the turn and taking it from me, that would bother me far less. I had assumed some of the risk beforehand, had better advance knowledge of what may happen based on the card order and the impact turn order would have, etc. But if the same sort of thing were to happen where I were about to farm, then someone plays a card interrupting that, stating "I'm going to attack you first" where I can't reasonably predict, plan for or respond to, that'd be more frustrating.

4) I'm not a very good player. This has been the most difficult realization for me to accept. Compared to the people I usually play with, I'm definitely on the low rung competition-wise. I regularly make poor decisions, fail to look ahead far enough to implement long-term strategies and don't always fully comprehend the nuances or subtleties of a system's mechanics to take advantage of them.

In quite a few games, I feel that I'm more of a kingmaker than a contender. That there reaches a point in the game where I no longer believe I have a chance to win for myself, and have to decide what to do next. Do I simply try for the best possible score regardless of the positioning of the other players (letting them duke it out for themselves), or do I play the spoiler and interact in the game the best way my limited role allows -- by impacting the eventual winner in how I throw around my resources.

And finally, and this is the hardest part about the self-assessment, I don't know if I'm a good sport... I try to congratulate good play by my opponents, but often I become disgruntled or distracted by some sort of persecution complex -- bad luck, bad decisions, getting ganged up on, you name it. When I realize I'm in that mode, I try to shake it off and roll with the punches, but it's not as easy as it once was.

What happened to the happy-go-lucky guy who used to love to just get together to be with some friends? When did I become so competitive? Have I become a grumpy old man? How do I put the fun back into this hobby, so I don't distance myself from my game group or become "that guy" that folks don't want at the game table?

My First Post to My Very Own Blog -- Huzzah!

I was finally convinced to establish my own blog after reading the blogs of some of my fellow online geeks. Aside from the usual stream of consciousness content, I'll post a lot of my game experiences and results from evenings spent gaming with my friends.

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Last night (Monday, June 20) we ended up having four players -- Jorge (hibikir) , Eva (DeiTass) , Phil and myself (ynnen) . Eva and Jorge were kind enough to host, and we got five games in. The highlight of the night for me was probably finally winning Hansa, although seeing Louis XIV was pretty interesting. I told Jorge and Eva I'm probably booked until Fri/Sat, but wouldn't mind trying to get a larger group for a bigger game like die Macher or El Grande sometime over the weekend.

Game 1: Ingenious (4th play)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/9674
Phil: 13
Jorge: 12
Eva: 11
Jay: 10


My Rating: 8.5 -- Very clever, very simple abstract game with wonderful components, easily grasped rules, and compelling decisions. I really enjoyed this, and can't wait to play again.

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Game 2: Traum Fabrik (1st time playing)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/904
Phil: 48
Jorge: 57
Eva: 96
Jay: 71


My Rating: 7.5 -- Interesting bidding game with zero sum money in play, and bid payment going to the other players. Felt a bit cramped with very few elements available to fulfill movies, so luck of the draw (especially for the party spaces) could really impact your ability to be competitive and complete a few films. A bit of "surging" in the games where a large bid may keep out out of a few rounds as your resources are now in the hands of the other players, so you really, really need to time your moves well. Still, an interesting bidding system which I enjoy far more than Ra.

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Game 3: Hansa (5th play)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/8989
Phil: 34
Jorge: 36
Eva: 34
Jay: 40 (first time not in last place)


My Rating: 7.5 -- I have enjoyed my 5 playings, and have finally won a game. I struggled a bit with my options and being able to plan far enough in advance to set up good moves, and balance that with not setting the next player up for a great move. With practice and the right group, this could indeed be a wonderful light-to-moderate strategy game.

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Game 4: Metro (7th play, mostly 2/3 player though -- first 4 player game)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/559
Phil: 52
Jorge: 64
Eva: 38
Jay: 66


My Rating: 7 -- Wow, I really enjoyed my first few plays -- very cut throat, very convoluted. Interesting to find the balance between aborting an opponent's lines for minimal gains versus protecting your own lines with an eye toward lengthy development. Not quite as "friendly" as I was expecting.

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Game 5: Louis XIV (first play)
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/13642
Phil had to leave before playing this.
Jorge: 44
Eva: 43
Jay: 43


Insanely close game, and 1 bad decision on my part during the 2nd of 4 turns cost me 2 VPs, and 2 bad decisions by Eva (one during turn 1, one during turn 2) cost her 2-3 VPs, as well. Almost too close? The bonus for having the most "shields" of a single color ended up changing the outcome of the game. A different random draw of shields could easily have given the victory to any of us, it was that close.

My Rating: 7 -- Interesting game with some elements reminiscent of El Grande and Shadow of the Emperor. Need a good understanding of all elements from the get go, since each bad decision may cost you a point or two, and with most Ruediger Dorn games, it appears scoring will be very tight. Felt that the luck of the shield draws/bonus was a bit overpowered given how close the rest of the scoring has been.