This week in review began on October the 7th, a day of considerable importance in the history of gaming, my birthday! Yes, that is right, your lovable Dirty Hamm was born 38 years ago last Monday and to celebrate I played exactly zero games. Fear not though, I was able to play a number of games the following weekend in honor of my birthday and much of this look back will revolve around those games.
As the IGS was not meeting last week I was not really able to find time for any gaming until Thursday. The plan was for my friend Nick Garwood to join me for a night of play-testing my game tentatively called Legacy Wars. Having redesigned the abilities for the elf and tightened up some of the language on the cards and in the rules I was looking forward to my first live playtesting. Sadly, he had to cancel, and once again I found myself testing with the goldfish. This coming Saturday I will be attending my first game design and playtest meet-up so I hope to have things in good working order by the time of the event. My solo play went well, for the most part, but you never know until other gamers get ahold of your creation.
Although I had plans for several people to show up on Friday, only my friend Eli (Bootch) was able to make it out. This was fine by me as he and I have a long and storied rivalry that stretches back almost 20 years to the height of our Magic days. First up was a game that I just acquired at a board game trade day, The Manhattan Project.
Two weeks ago, Bootch and I had tried to learn the Manhattan Project at about 1:30 in the morning. Normally I am good until the wee hours of the morning, but on this particular occasion my eyes went cross every time I tried to read the rules. My fault, not the game’s. After about an hour of trying, we gave up that night, but made sure to revisit it as soon as we had another chance. Last Friday was our chance and we took full advantage of the opportunity by playing two games in a row!
The Manhattan Project is, as you might have guessed, about developing atomic weapons. The players take on the role of their nation’s atomic weapons program leader. It is a race to see who can develop enough nuclear weaponry to earn the needed victory points to win.
At its core, The Manhattan Project is a worker placement game not unlike many other Euro-games. However, this is not some sterile “multi-player” solitaire game like so many of its predecessors. This game has interaction galore, as player may engage in fighter or bomber attacks on opposing player’s installations as well as use espionage to send their workers into enemy territory! Players construct buildings, gather resources, harass enemies with spies and planes, and build weapons of mass destruction until the predetermined number of victory points are reached.
Bootch was the winner of our first game Friday night. He achieved massive air superiority and the production to maintain it. There was no way that I could hope to overcome his huge edge. I tried to circumvent this by not building many of my own buildings and heavily engaged in espionage to take advantage of his. This may have actually worked if I was more familiar with the game, and I did come very close by the end, but he held on to his early lead to take the win.
Game 2 was a different story altogether. I actually had a plan and managed to implement it. I focused very heavily on acquiring the needed resource and workers right out of the gate and stayed on task of developing bombs as quickly as possible. He was not able to get a massive air force advantage this game as the requisite buildings did not come up, By the time he was aware of my very streamlined strategy I had a huge advantage. He was never really able to get rolling and I took the second game by a rather large margin!
After the Manhattan Project, it was once again time for Bootch and I to play some head to head Agricola with the Farmers of the Moor expansion. We are both huge Agricola fiends and have played tons of two-player against each other over the last few years. I would say that my win percentage is somewhere in the 70%-75% range but Bootch is still a very strong opponent.
The first game was pretty standard, with Bootch blocking clay to keep me from renovating, forcing my family to live in a drafty four room wooden hut. You’re a mean one, Mr. Bootch! While he managed to aggressively hate on my resource collection, I still pulled off the earliest family growths in the game and the extra action started to wear down his advantage. By the end of the game we were very closely matched, but I came back to win by a mere two points! Close one indeed.
The second game was quite different as Bootch tried to make use of an unusual strategy involving the occupation card, Chamberlain. This card gives a player access to the last three action of the game before the other players. Given the power of these actions his hope was to play small and efficient and blow up at the end of the game. The only problem with this plan was that it allowed me to play virtually unopposed for most of the game. In the end, he did manage to put together a pretty nice farm, but my score was much higher as I basically had free rein the rest of the game to do as I pleased.
On Saturday, Steve Jones, yes as in the High Chancellor of the IGS Steve Jones, came over for some gaming. Once again, we were supposed to be joined by a number of other players, but only Steve showed up. Regardless of the low turnout, we got down to some serious gaming!
First up was the only game that Steve brought with him, Libertalia. It is a pirate themed game in which players attempt score the most points by claiming booty and using their crew to the best effect. All player will have the same crew member during each game so the difference maker is in finding the right time to play which character. Many of the characters have negative effects as well as positives and finding a way to mitigate the negatives or even turn them into a positive is one of the keys to Libertalia.
Interestingly enough, Libertalia has many similarities to the game I have been working on, “Legacy Wars”, and this helped me to understand how to play right from the start.
Steve and I played two games of Libertalia over the course of the night. It was both the first and last game of the evening. In the first game I played well and managed to look ahead strategically while staying competitive in the early going. This was apparently a recipe for success and I won by are pretty good margin! Hey, I think I like this game!
The second game came late in the night. I think it is fair to say that neither of us were on top of our game, as we both made numerous terrible mistakes. Steve either endured his with more grace than I, or mine were more severe, but whatever the case he took the victory this time. This game has some problems. I’m kidding…
Once we realized that it was just going to be the two of us, it was time to break out the cold war epic Twilight Struggle! Although I had previously taught Steve how to play, and actually made it through the first couple of rounds, this would be his first full play. As the Soviet Union is considered to be the more likely to win, by some, but the definitely easier to play of the two, Steve took on the role of the commies and I that of the United States. While Steve played very well, and at one or two points had me a little worried, Twilight Struggle is a game that rewards experience (some might say dice rolls) and my familiarity with some of the later game cards allowed me to turn things around and take the win. It should be noted that the game did go to the final round and my victory was made certain by my total control of Europe. It was a great play and definitely look forward to playing it with Steve in the future!
Our third game of the night was Trajan, by Stefan Feld. Those of you who know me are well aware that Stefan Feld is one of my all-time favorite game designers. That being said, Trajan, while a good game, is not my favorite of his titles. Don’t worry In the Year of the Dragon, I will never betray you! However, as Steve owns a copy of Trajan in the shrink and wanted to give it a try it was next up.
After a fairly smooth explanation, we got right into the game. Once again Steve played well for his first attempt at a highly complex game, but my experience ruled the day and I took down the win. Experience is so crucial in Trajan, because learning to manage the Mancala action selection mechanic is sub-game in its own right. After several plays it starts to feel natural, but trying to master it and develop a strategy in a new game is a difficult task even for a gamer of Steve’s vast experience. It was a good play of a good game from a master game designer!
It was another great week of gaming with friends and working on projects for the future! Next week will discuss the coming game of Caylus in the IGS play-offs, more game design, and last, but not least some inside info of a coming Kickstarter that I am reviewing, Thrash Car! Stay tuned, for more exciting Last Week in Games columns and don’t forget to regale me with stories of your own!