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Thinking Out Loud

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Geekway to the West - Day 2 - The Gaming

Wow. What a day. Folks started showing up around 8:30 AM, and stayed until 2:30 AM or so... Over the course of the day, the following BGG geeks were able to attend: alfredhw, armadi, astroglide, cbdarden, chaddyboy_2000, cornjob, DeiTass, hibikir, jpact, mrb88, MUKid, Ron Stuckel, spacerx, topdecker, yayforme and myself -- ynnen. My friend Phil, who's not currently a BGG member (heresy?) also attended. I have a feeling like I must be missing one or two folks, but I'm still a bit frazzled.

A few heavy hitting games started early while players were still straggling in. The biggest sluggers for the event were die Macher, Age of Steam and Struggle of Empires. While these games were going on, most of the others mixed it up with a variety of light- to medium- weight games to rotate through as many games and groups of players as possible.

Playing host as well as fellow gamer, I stuck to mostly quick games so I could greet folks as they arrived, work out gaming logistics, restock the fridges, and generally let my ENFJ personality loose. I ended up getting 20+ games played on Saturday, though, despite the host hopping -- that's what happens when you play a lot of For Sale and Monkey Madness! And the attendees were very gracious and supportive, allowing me to pimp -- er, playtest -- a few of my prototypes. The general response to the prototypes, especially for Defender of the Realm and Go Away Gremlins, was very positive, and I'm feeling more confident than ever that they'll go over well at GenCon.

I actually won a surprising number of games, given the breadth of both players and games played. I'm usually content to win 10-15% of the games I play, but I had a very good weekend. My lucky weekend included wins of a very close game of El Grande, a runaway win in Traumfabrik, and wins at Ingenious, Corsari, a few hands of For Sale and more than my share of prototypes.

I also got to play my first game of Werewolf, which was a real treat. Extra thanks go out to cbdarden for moderating the game and teaching everyone how to play. It was quite an accomplishment to get everyone together to play one massive game of Werewolf after lunch -- I'm pretty sure 15 or 16 of us were able to participate. It was a lot of fun, and afterward, cornjob mentioned how great it would have been if we had been able to tape our conversations and post them, as some of the commentary and accusations were hilarious.

But the big hit of the weekend? IT had to be, hands down, Reiner Knizia's oft-overlooked masterpiece, Monkey Madness. The game has it all -- red monkeys, blue monkeys, yellow monkeys and, of course, green monkeys. We probably got more games of Monkey Madness in than any other game, and everyone was eager to get home and log those games played as quickly as possible, as you can imagine.

Here's my final games played tally for the weekend, Friday night and Saturday combined:


  • Unpublished Prototype x7
  • For Sale x6
  • Monkey Madness x3
  • Carabande x2
  • Werewolf x2
  • Ingenious x1
  • Traumfabrik x1
  • Pueblo x1
  • Corsari x1
  • El Grande x1
  • Tutanchamun x1
  • Um Reifenbreite x1
  • Phoenix x1
  • Formula Dé x1
The weekend was a smashing success. I had a great time meeting so many wonderful Geeks, getting a lot of games in, and sitting around talking about games, sharing anecdotes, and praising BoardGameGeek for making this all possible.

That last point should not be overlooked -- coordinating this event would simply have been impossible without BGG... Not only were we able to promote our gathering to attract some players who otherwise wouldn't have been able to attend, it facilitated planning and logistics, but most importantly provided the means to get in touch with so many great people in the first place. Kudos to Derk, Aldie and all the admins of BoardGameGeek.com! While you weren't there in person, you were there in spirit. All your hard work made it possible for all of us to get together -- so here's a toast to the time and effort you put into the site!


Thanks to Tim Kilgore (Topdecker) for taking some snaps of the Geekway event. Here's a group shot shortly after lunch. Conspicuously missing are Phil, DeiTass, mrb88 and spacerx... The Geeks in the photo, from left to right, are: Giant Robot/Ron Stuckel, MUKid/Jay Moore, JPact/Jim Paprocki, Chaddyboy_2000/Chad Krizan, Ynnen/Jay Little, Cornjob/Chester Ogborn, Armadi/Michael Silbey, Astroglide/Justin H, Alfredhw/Alfred Wallace, Hibikir/Jorge Montero, Cbdarden/Chris Darden, Yayforme/Trey Dembski and Topdecker/Tim Kilgore.

A few notes about the photo. First, I am not that short. I just look short because I'm in my kung fu action pose, with an ultra-cool Fonzie-esque double-thumb's up. It didn't work quite as planned. I'm actually 5'10" but the photo makes me look about 5'2" ... And I have no idea why Jorge looks like he's posing while a bronze bust of his likeness is being cast.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Geekway to the West - Day 1 - The Arrival

Things went very well Friday afternoon/evening, and I couldn't be more excited about what the rest of Saturday will bring.

Alfred (alfredhw) arrived first, and we chatted and played a few hands of Phoenix until Jim (jpact) and his friend Matt (bgg nic?) arrived, followed shortly thereafter by Jorge (hibikir), Eva (DeiTass) and Chris (spacerx). We kibitzed and talked about games ad nauseum while grilling brats. Soon Trey (yayforme) and Michael (armadi) showed up and we ate and talked about games, gaming and BoardGameGeek.com.

Just as we put everything away -- literally, I had just closed the fridge after putting the leftover brats away -- Chad (chaddyboy_2000) showed up from KC. He was able to get here earlier than expected, and chowed down one of the last brats. Then we headed downstairs for some gaming and more chatting.

Trey, Michael, Jim and Matt played a game of Evo, in which Trey managed to somehow eliminate himself about 1/2 way through the game, despite the incredibly difficult odds of doing so. Alfred, Eva, Jorge, Chad, Chris and myself grabbed Formula De and ran a quick 2-lap race on the Monaco circuit. It was Chris' first game, but the game went smoothly. I was a bit distracted playing good host, and the group had to take my turn for me a few times -- odd how I went into that 3-stop turn in 6th gear, but go figure! :)

Chester (cornjob) showed up a bit later, with a box full of games and some extra chairs and tables. Chester joined the Evo-group and taught them Union Pacific. The game ended up taking quite a while, from what I gather, from teaching newbies and a few unclear rules explanations. The rest of us grabbed For Sale, looking for a quick, breezy filler, and went upstairs for a few hands. The stars and planets briefly aligned, and I won the first game handily (snatching a very high check with my lowest card at the time - a 14 - when everyone else assumed a high card was going to grab it anyway) but was brought back down to earth the second game.

We wrapped up our games early and sat around chatting and planning what we wanted to play Saturday. I finally ended up kicking everyone out around 10:45 -- or at least, that's when the first warning went out. Chester set up die Macher for play first thing in the morning, and a few others started picking and choosing what they wanted to do Saturday. Finally by 11:30 folks trickled out and I finally got some sleep.

Up bright and early at 7 AM Saturday, and eager to get a full day of gaming in! I'll post how our Saturday session went, with a complete roster of attendees, and hopefully games and high points, later. Cheers!

Friday, July 29, 2005

Geekway to the West - Day 1 - The Wait

A while ago, a few of my BoardGameGeek.com friends (or "GeekBuddies" as they're referred to on BGG) decided that it would be awfully fun to try and host a gaming weekend somewhere in the midwest, hoping that several folks could attend and meet some more avid gamers from the 'Geek. After discussing logistics with my wife, I offered to host the get together, which was eventually dubbed Geekway to the West by my GeekBuddy Chester (cornjob).

And lo, after several weeks of planning, cleaning, re-arranging, daydreaming, more cleaning, painting, trash hauling and even more cleaning, Geekway to the West has arrived. Folks should start arriving today between 2-3 pm, with hot dogs and brats on the grill around 6 pm. Tonight will be a casual, social affair (although I'm sure some gaming will take place) as we kibitz and plan on what big games we want to arrange for tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to El Grande, Cosmic Encounter (the Mayfair Edition, that is), die Macher and a few other games -- as well as meeting some people face-to-face whom I've only known via BoardGameGeek.com.

I'll post more information later, and hopefully a summary of who was able to attend and what games we ended up playing. But for posterity's sake, here are all the folks I invited. After the RSVPs and last minute changes, I'm hoping to see 15-18 or so of my GeekBuddies attend.

The invitees (BGG nics): alfredhw, armadi, astroglide, cbdarden, chaddyboy_2000, cornjob, DeiTass, geoffm74, GreatWolf, hibikir, jpact, Linnaeus, Malachi, MUKid, Ron Stuckel, scribidinus, skelebone, spacerx, TedTorgerson, telan, topdecker, verkisto, yayforme, zambo and a half dozen others I can't think of off the top of my head.

Wish us luck! Now -- off for one last round of cleaning, then time to set up the tables and chairs!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

D&D Session Recap - In Poem Form

As I was digging through some of my old Dungeons & Dragons campaign information, I found some scattered notes from one of my very first 3rd Edition campaigns -- suprisingly, one of the very few campaigns I played in instead of DMed. It also happened to be the campaign featuring my favorite character of all time, Mitriv the Bard.

Mitriv was cocky, melodramatic, grandiose and a helluva lot of fun to play. He never introduced himself the same way twice -- I had written up a small sheet with 100 different introductions for him to use (from Mitriv the Magnificent to Mitrive the Slayer of all things Draconic and Otherwise and the like). And he kept a very detailed journal recounting our adventures. As a bard, it made sense that it was all done in poem form.

Here's the crowning achievement of Mitriv's career, a recap of the harrowing adventures right before his unfortunate demise. As part of a small military operation, Mitriv bristled at the chain of command, preferring a far more laidback, freeform approach to problem solving. The party was fairly dysfunctional as a military group, as a whole, but I must admit Mitriv probably made more problems than he solved.

Anyway, here's the last poem he wrote, the last recap of that campaign. I was so excited to stumble across this. Hopefully you'll get a kick out of it.

The Wizard's Tower

Note: I feel this is my crowning achievement... a flurry of conflict, enflamed emotions and visceral confrontations -- the inspiration was almost palpable. If I am remembered for any tale told or rumors whispered, let this be my hallmark. -- Mitriv

(The party: Zul-Bha, or "Zul" was the human ranger commander of the group. Caelin was a human druid, and the only balancing force in the party. Trystyrian, or "Tryst" was a sorcerer of sorts, with a raven familiar named Munin. Endrin was a stocky dwarven cleric, who desperately strove to fit in with the rest of the group. Kark was a totally inept human monk, who was among the clumsiest creatures Mitriv had ever met)

"Honor and courage," Zul did command, "Apply as would a spider"
Zul promoted Caelin the wise, and went to stand beside her
"Poison is for the weak and lame, and for that woman Mitriv"
(Although our rules were firm and clear to let no witness live)

At which Trystyrian tossed his head, feigning not to hear
Then "I'll have no such nonsense," said the druidess dear
"Nature acts as nature will and none of us shall change it"
So to the Spider paradigm again and all asked to embrace it

"We shall do what we shall," Munin's master spake,
"Even spiders find it fit to poison the lives they take"
"To complete this dire mission laid before us by our masters,"
"If poison need, then poison be to reach our goals the faster"

Stout Endrin spoke up at the last, furrowing his brow,
"Havain has blessed us this far through, he'll not abandon us now"
"But, I disagree with Tryst, and many men shall do so,"
"I won't support the use of poison or those that would abuse so"

"Enough" roared Zul-Bha at this, hackles raising like a cat
"Fight with honor, or die without -- it is the end of that!"
"And should you want to second guess my ranking or my reason"
"Be warned of charges at mission's end for all your acts of treason"

Mitriv laughed a merry laugh, yet touched a tint with sorrow
"Words I spoke but yesterday, from Zul's lips come the 'morrow"
"Chastised when I last encouraged tact or a bit of patience"
"Now seen as the leader's words, you accept without reservations"

The fued raged on for quite some time with no real end in sight
'Til Zul and Kark, with Endrin's help, scaled the mountainside
Dragging off the giant's corpse to set it in the earth
They came upon a mountain cave that bore this creature's hearth

Within that giant's filthy lair, we came upon a stranger
An armless, legless desparate wretch, who spoke of coming danger
Hid within that foul cave, among many scattered things
Ashrem had us fetch for him his mighty magicked ring

Grisly growing legs and arms that once had been torn off
A stirring tale of death he told and other hazards warned of
Gritting teeth and steeling nerves, the party soon departed
Heading toward the wizard's keep and the secrets that it guarded

A Serpent and a Lion entwined, mystic symbols on the door
Another etched in symmetry upon the marbled floor
Puzzled by this strange device that none had ever known
Endrin approached with Havain's Mark to see what could be done

"Be the spider," Mitriv quipped, and set upon the walls
Climbing nearly thirty feet before his tragic fall
All the while, beseeching Havain, Endrin summoned grace
A grating noise, a tumbling sound, doors parting in their place

Unto a giant corridor, with strange markings on the floor
Some the lion and the snake that had been seen before
Still others, too, in sinuous script along the entranceway
But before we could investigate, something came our way

Legions of death's own minions! Leashed from the depths of hell!
Zul and Kark and Tryst advanced, each shouting a bloody yell
While Endrin fought among them with his mighty sword
Caelin and Mitriv and Ashrem used tactics upon the horde

A circle in the midst of this raging battle's corridor
A large ring with strange ruins had been set into the floor
At its center a platform stood, motionless in the air
Kark tried to jump upon it, but failed to jump with care

Down he fell into the pit for who knows how many yards
And with an "oomph" and thundrous bang he hit the bottom hard
A broken ankle and damaged ego but still a glimmer of hope
If he could jump up far enough to reach the dangling rope

Up above the battle raged as a sea of undead swarmed
To overcome the righteous group that had become alarmed
The sheer numbers were enough to send most others running
But no others could match their strength, or their wit and cunning

Dozens came and dozens fell, their bones littered the hall
A host of wights lept to the fray, as they watched their minions fall
Vision swimming with bloody rage, Mitriv charged the wights
Heedless of any other need than victory in this fight

Draining every drop of strength released by the adrenaline
Hacking and hewing at rotten flesh, sent them unto death again
Falling back, falling down, the wights were done for good
As our army cut then down exactly where they stood

Then Mitriv spied, along the hall, a horror unbelieved
An abominable automoton, in steel and metal ensheathed
Unleashing his pent up fury, he shouted barbarous cries
Then stormed the golem where it stood and knocked it from the dais.

Coming to and calming down, panting for a breath
Mitriv looked unto the rest, who had defeated death
Scores and scores of broken bones, upon those another score
As many sands as in the desert, or a beach has upon its shore

And then the group slowly made its way back into the middle
Whereupon the strange circle there posed to them a riddle
A magic lock of sorts it was, it kept their progress sealed
But with the last of the riddles solved, a stairway was revealed

Friday, July 15, 2005

Exhausted - a "crash" course in D&D module writing

Well, my pre-GenCon world is suddenly even busier than before. Just as Joseph and I were looking to scrap all plans to run any events for one particular Dungeon Crawl Classic (or "DCC" for short) module that had been put on the "back burner" for GenCon and push the deadline for the publication back to October or November, we found out the sponsor tie in is going to have a very strong presence at GenCon, and wanted to know last Friday if the module could be printed and ready for distribution by mid-August.

Crikey!!

As such, I now have been pressed into writing the first of three chapters for this massive DCC module as a standalone "serial" module for release at GenCon. Given the printing schedule and deadlines, I now have until next Friday to complete the module! Considering I hadn't even looked at the project for several weeks, that was a bit of a surprise.

Thankfully, insomnia has some side benefits. After 2 sleepless nights and 2 busy days, I completed my 15,000 word first draft, complete with maps and handout references. Not bad, all things considered. My reliable "playtest posse" pulled through again, and on short notice (as in, less than 24 hours notice) they created a great mix of 5th level PCs and met at my place to put the module through its paces.

These folks are great -- Jeff, Erin, Dave, Toni, Steph and Haden have helped me playtest some of my other work, like Crypt of the Devil Lich, Dungeon Interludes and Vault of the Dragon Kings (the official 2005 DCC Tournament module). We had a great time, and I got a lot of good ideas on balancing the module and revising some of the encounters. Despite being rough in a few spots, I'm very pleased with how the module turned out.

The highlight of our gaming session, which won't make any sense out of context (but I can't help but reprint it here) had to be the untimely death of the halfling rogue.

The halfling rogue was somehow "forgotten" while the rest of the group pursued a goblin rogue running away with an artifact they were looking for. The rest of the group, and the goblin, were all hasted, so the poor halfling fell far behind the others. In the group's rush to track down the rogue, the halfling had to pick his way to the cave entrance, and was promptly ambushed by the goblins that fled an earlier battle -- including their leader, a nasty goblin matriarch. He was promptly dazed, then slowly poked to death by their meager little daggers.

When the group returned to find out what was taking so long, they found the halfling face down, stripped naked, his head and eyebrows shaved -- and "I Love Grupthump" tattooed on his chest (a minor gobin hero noted in the module). The female bard actually had a spare set of clothes, but it was formal nobility clothing, so we decided it was a fancy dress. So for the rest of the adventure, the male halfling had to wander around, bald, dressed in a Medium-sized formal dress with the sleeves and hem hitched up. It was hilarious.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Game Session Recap for 7/11/05

After a long, exhausting day of getting various writing projects completed, and a toddler-induced struggle over what to have for -- or better put, whether or not to have -- supper, I was pretty wiped out. But thankfully, around 7:30, Eva (DeiTass) and Jorge (hibikir) were still up for some gaming. Chester (cornjob) was going to join us later, after his wife got back from running errands.

...

When I got to Eva & Jorge's, Eva was busy making supper, so Jorge and I started out playing Schotten-Totten. I had played Battle Lines a few times, and enjoyed it but found the leaders a bit too much extra chaos for what was a simple game. So I was pleasantly surprised to find Schotten-Totten a simpler, cleaner game. Has a bit of a Lost Cities vibe, which ain't a bad thing. You need to pick and choose your spots, know when to abandon an area, and assess the risk/options when you commit cards to a location. It was a close, tense game that came down to the very end. Neither of us got 3 in a row, and Jorge won 5-4. Schotten-Totten gets a 7.5 from me, and is a 2-player game I would play again and again.

...

After that wrapped up, Eva joined us and we played a 3 player game of Carcassonne: The City, which I had not played before. I had trouble adjusting to the complete change of negative space assessment -- the dark space was now what the light green space was in Carc: Hunters & Gatherers, etc. And the fact that tiles didn't have to line up perfectly took a while to register. But I loved the addition of the city walls and guard meeples, and the tower scoring, etc. Unfortunately, I only triggered scoring once during the entire 2nd and 3rd stack of tiles -- I never had the opportunity to close off anything for any player to get to place a tower until my 3rd to last move or so.

Jorge won by a considerable amount (130? 140ish?), I came in second with about 115, and Eva had 110 or so. Luck of the draw is clearly evident, but not as overwhelming as in some games as I felt I could still make good decisions and score well despite tile draws. Considering Jorge scored 18 points from Tower placement to my 3 points -- if I had closed off a scoring area one more time and he one less time, that could have been an 8-10 point swing... that makes for a pretty close game. I also really, really like the city wall element, of slowly but surely confining the playing area. It adds a bit more tension, another tactical layer and helps alleviate the biggest problem of standard Carc - the interminable end game. I give Carc: The City a solid 8.5.

...

Finally Chester arrived, and we got to play two more games I hadn't tried before. First up was Members Only, another Knizia game that triggered thoughts of Colossal Arena while the rules were being explained. After the first round, we thought the game would only last 3, or possibly 4, total rounds of bidding. We were waaaay off. The game, which I thought would be a breezy, 30 minute affair, clocked in just around an hour. I think we were all far too aggressive with our bidding early on, and now see the value in more conservative bids to inch toward that 5-pt scoring threshold. It was a fun, lightly interactive game which I'd definitely play again -- but I felt for the gameplay experience and mechanics, it wore a bit long. The game feels like it should only last 30 minutes, not an hour.

I think Chester won with 40 points, Eva had 30, Jorge had 25ish, and I had a whopping 17. For the last 5 turns of the game, I failed every single bid - both my conservative and aggressive ones. And 3 of my tokens never left their starting positions! So I think it was a solid combination of bad luck and completely sucking at assessing the game situation. I give Members Only a 6.5 -- I'd play it again, but it's a tad too long for the niche it fills.

...

We wrapped up for the night playing Elfenland, a game Chester's raved about for a while. Considering he raved about Age of Steam, a game I didn't enjoy very much, I was a bit leery. And considering my last exposure to an Alan Moon game -- Ticket to Ride: Europe (a game I never want to play again) -- I approached Elfenland with trepidation. Thankfully, it was a solid, enjoyable game. Much, much better than Ticket to Ride. You need to manage both your hand of transportation cards and devise a route using the transportation tiles to make the most out of all your options -- or try to find ways to tag along on someone else's plays to conserve cards. I felt that Elfenland had just the right amount of long-term strategy, and just the right amount of short-term optimization for my tastes. I enjoyed playing with the destination cities as an added wrinkle, but felt the hazards were a bit overkill on targeting other players. You have to plan ahead just enough to end one turn in a position to give yourself several options to proceed on the following turn based on the card draw and available tiles -- but even with a poor draw, you can proceed, albeit it could cost you in the long run.

Eva and Chester both ended with 17 points, with Eva winning on the tiebreaker. For having one turn where I only grabbed 4 points, I was pleased to end up 3rd with 16 points. Jorge surged early and had a few turns with lots of points, but had to move over a lot of empty cities on the last turn to get to his destination, and ended with 15 points. I think the game took about 90 minutes, which feels about right for the amount of decision making. There's very little player interaction, unless it's trying to predict someone's move and block it with ineffecient modes of transportation. I had a good time and would definitely play again, so I give Elfenland a 7.0.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Z-Man Games "Monster" Submission Contest

I finally de-lurked over at the Board Game Designer's Forum and officially registered. Glad I did, too, as there has been a lot of good information and generally friendly folks to help answer questions. The most pleasant surprise has been learning more about a contest Zev Shlasinger from Z-Man Games is holding for members of BGDF -- an opportunity to get a concept published by Z-man Games by submitting your best monster game design.

How cool is that? Very.

I was pretty stoked, as I've had a game sitting around since about the time I left Wiz Kids -- I lost my muse at the time, and it sat idle for nearly two years. This contest was just what I needed to spark my imagination and renew my interest in developing the game further. I now have what I consider to be a strong game ready to be prototyped, which I'm hoping will catch Zev's eye. Without tipping my hand too much, here's the overview teaser from my game synopsis:



A Night To Kill

All the monsters from legend and lore are out and about for a night of mayhem and destruction! Mummies, Werewolves, Mad Scientists and even mighty Dracula himself stalk the poor unsuspecting towns, leaving a pile of bodies in their wake. The Horde of monsters moves from town to town, claiming victims as they go. The player who claims the most victims by daybreak wins the game. A Night to Kill is a card game for 3-6 players, playable in 30-60 minutes (assume about 10 minutes per player). First time set up and reading the rules takes only 5-10 minutes.


Tuesday, July 05, 2005

4th of July Weekend Gaming...

I didn't get to spend as much time gaming as I wanted to over the weekend, but overall, not a bad weekend. We traveled to Iowa to visit my wife's family. Normally, I'm not too thrilled at the prospect of a long weekend with the inlaws, but I was really, really looking forward to spending time with my niece and nephew, who love gaming with Uncle Jay.

Unfortunately, once we arrived I found out that my nephew Spencer wasn't going to be around. He was attending a slumber party Saturday night, and had a baseball doubleheader Sunday. He came over after his baseball games, around 10:30 Sunday night, right when we were crashing for the night, and we didn't have any time to do anything Monday morning before we hit the road to head back to St. Louis.

On the plus side, we stopped by a game store on our way to my inlaws, and I finally snagged a copy of Ingenious, which was a big hit over the weekend. We played 5 games of Ingenious overall, and my brother in law and niece both really liked it. Blokus also saw the table a few times, as my mother-in-law really took to the game when she played it at our place over the spring -- so we brought a copy along for her. We also played Wizard, which always goes over well. I wish we had played more than just one game, but I can't complain too much since we did play other games. I also snagged Corsari on the way there, thinking that might go over well, but we never got it out.

---

Upon returning Monday night, Eva (DeiTass) called saying that she, Jorge (hibikir) and Chester (cornjob) were gaming, and wondered if I was available. After a long weekend with the inlaws, Trish graciously agreed to watch Benjamin so I could go play.

Chester was pleased to finally get Age of Steam to the table. He's played before, but it was my first game, and I'm pretty sure the first game for Eva and Jorge, too. While there's been a bit of a running joke about missing key rules lately when teaching a new game, Chester assures us that he didn't forget anything with Age of Steam... I guess we'll have to take his word for it! :) The final score was:

Jorge: 101
Chester: 69
Eva: 64
Jay: 56

I did horribly, as I expected after seeing the first 2 turns unfold. I was pleased that I avoided bankruptcy, as seems to be a real concern for first time players. The game took about 3.5 hours, including setup and rules explanation. I'd hesitate to say the game would go faster as you're more familiar with it -- in fact, I'd argue the game would take longer as you're more familiar with it, as the level and degree to which you can analyze everything increases.

As I said, I expected to do poorly from the get go. I was woefully disappointed with how much down time there was in the game. I would try to plan out my moves during other people's turns, but found that to be an exercise in futility, as the plan (or plans) I tried to map out were invariably thwarted by the plays of others. So when my turn did finally arrive, I made moves as quickly as possible, with little thought to fully optimizing my actions -- if the move made more money than it cost, that was good enough for me.

About an hour into Age of Steam, I felt like I was back in college taking a statistics course, not playing a game. Had I spent more time evaluating my position and trying to optimize my budget and my actions, I think this game would easily have taken over 4 hours.

Perhaps that perception would change after a few more playings, but it's really hard to say.

My rating: 5.5

My take: Very disappointed in the game. I've played very few games with more down time. Game rewards over analysis, and has no pace or cadence. Each turn can be analyzed to the Nth degree, and it boils down to mathematical projections and an ability to locate mathematically superior moves on the board. I'm not good at these types of games, as I'm not willing to spend the time (ie, drag the game out) to map out every possible permutation of my turn actions. Horribly unforgiving game, as it seems like early mistakes can doom you from the start. That wouldn't be bad in a short game, but for such a long game, you could easily find yourself playing with no motivation for a long time. I can also see how one player feeling out of it could simply call it quits and declare a winner by shipping along another player's route, as the game features several elements which could be exploited for kingmaking. There are a great many better games where I feel more involved and have more fun along the way.

For the time investment, I'd rather play Wallenstein (twice), die Macher, Road to the White House, A Game of Thrones, El Grande (twice) or Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition.

--

Afterward, we played Clocktowers, which I was interested in checking out. I don't know what caught my interest in the first place, but recall hearing something positive about the game. I don't recall the scores, but I think the order of finish was Jorge, Eva, Jay, Chester... Although it seems to matter very little, as we only played one game -- and scores in an individual game can be heavily influenced by luck.

My rating: 5.5

My take: Eh. Cute cards, interesting idea, but the game is too chaotic, even for a card game. Blind luck can set up phenomenally good moves for people that can't be overcome in such a quick game. Perhaps if you played to a higher score, like 50 or so, but the game lacks strategic depth to play for an extended period of time.

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Finally, we rounded out the evening by introducing Chester to Ingenious. It was a close game (Eva beat Jorge by virtue of the tiebreaker, with Chester and I only a few points behind) with a strange cluster of orange at the beginning. I drew 1 orange tile and was able to get 6 orange points early on, while the others drew several orange tiles and soon maxed out orange, then proceeded to seal it off before I ever drew another orange tile.

Once that section was sealed off, only 3 more orange tiles were ever played on the board, all by me, so orange was my weakest color by far with only 8 points, which was pretty frustrating... While orange was fairly low, it was never my lowest (except at the end) so I couldn't discard my tiles and draw a new hand in hopes of jumping in on that huge mass of orange at the beginning.

Toward the end of the game, I think the light went on for Chester, as he started to more easily count the scores, and see the benefits of defensive placement to seal off areas, create widows, or hold back on completing an Ingenious scoring track until you can really make the most out of your free turn. That's quite an accomplishment for the very first game!

My experiences over the weekend in Ingenious haven't dampened my spirits on the game, but have shown me how crucial turn order can be with 3 or 4 players. A defensive person can shut down the player to their left while reaping the rewards of casual play from the person on their right. Partnership will probably address that fairly well.