Finally, the big gaming weekend arrived! It had been far too long since I had a real gaming weekend, but the wait was now over. The wife was off to Florida with a friend and the kiddos were heading to their Dad’s for the weekend leaving little old me to indulge in tons of gaming goodness! Here we go!
While a number of friends were invited, due to it being Valentine’s Day and a surprise snowstorm only my friend Eli made it out. Never the less, we played a number of great games.
The evening began with one our favorites, Stefan Feld’s Macao. We love this game and surely have to be pretty high on the list for most plays worldwide. While it supports 2-4 players and scales quite nicely to any of those number of players, we have played mostly head to head. This particular game was a little unusual, as Eli dominated the city and shipping deliveries and yet lost to me by a sizable margin. It turned out that I was able to create a money generating engine that allowed me to buy the imperial favor every turn from the 5th turn on. As there are 12 turns in the game, and the average points were roughly seven per favor this accounted for nearly 50 points! Eli was never able to get his money up and running and finished with a point total of 65. I easily eclipsed this mark with my 50 points in favors plus a little construction in the city and late game shipping, for a total of 83 points. This was a pretty low scoring game for us both as it usually takes 90 points or better to win one of our games. Still, a win is a win, and it was a good way to start the night!
The next game on the menu was Caylus. It does not get much more hardcore strategy than a two player game of Caylus. It is a zero luck game of pure strategy in which players are competing castle builders in medieval France. I was a little surprised when Eli suggested that we play this one, as I have a great deal of experience on him, and in a game like Caylus that means a lot. As we set the board up, and I refreshed him on the rules, we discussed the last time that he and I played where he quit after I built all three stone resource farms early in the second stage. It is pretty well accepted as fact that if one player gets all three of these buildings in a two player game it is over. Aware of his mistake from last game, he was determined to do better this time. I certainly respect that outlook! However, it was not to be for Eli, as once again the weight of my experience was simply too great and I was in position to acquire all three of those crucial buildings. Upon realizing the inevitability of this fact, he conceded the game.
Next up was a quick game of Got ‘Em, but this time we would use the brainy rules instead of the bright. Unlike the bright rules, where each player receives cards that say where a wall maybe placed and how far they can move the brainy version is a pure abstract strategy game. Players may place a wall anywhere on the board and movement is determined by the number of walls (including the edges of the board) plus one. The secret to this version of the game is to avoid playing directly next to your opponent’s pawn as it will only increase his movement options. You must first cut off the board at a distance and then close in for the kill. I am glad to report that my roll continued and I managed to trap Eli fairly early on for my third win of the night!
We closed the night out with London from Martin Wallace. Eli had played once before and I only had a few more games under my belt, so we figured it would be a fairly close one. In London, players are rebuilding the city following the Great Fire of 1666 through the year of 1900. You have to manage cash flow, poverty, and acquire victory points through the purchasing of boroughs, construction of monuments, businesses, and city services.
From the start of the game, Eli and I pursued vastly different strategies. He tried running a tight ship that shied away from poverty as much as possibly while focusing heavily on the card drawing boroughs. I on the other hand, built a massive 10 pile city and piled on the poverty right out of the gate. My intention was to trash my early game while preparing for a hyper efficient and victory point rich endgame that would allow me to clean up my mess. Eli led early, but as my city became better and better I slowly began to gain on him. He recognized this and started to take actions that would hasten the game’s end. When he finally caused the game to end I was not sure who had won. I felt confident that if I had been allowed one more turn it would have been a certain victory, but as it stood I was unsure. When the points were totaled up, Eli had managed to score 99 points and I finished with 111. In the end, it was all about the money, as he failed to pay back two loans and the penalty cost him the game. It was a very close and very good game that we both expressed a desire to play more often in the future.
So ended Friday night gaming with Eli, but this awesome weekend was just getting started!
It was time for this month’s Indianapolis Table Top Game Design and Test Group meet up and the event was being held at a local game/comic book store co-owned by my friend Dair. In addition to taking my design Legacy Wars for further testing, I was also looking forward to playing some other new games. My friends Nick Little and Travis Chance had their current Kickstarter project, Heroes Wanted, with them and I was planning to play it later in the day.
Things got started with me teaching Legacy Wars to Travis and Adam Baker. Yes, the Baker who is my Agricola nemesis. Yes, I am still planning my vengeance. Given that they are both highly accomplished gamers, it did not take too long for them to pick up on how the game worked. They played a full game with Travis emerging as the winner. Afterwards, I listened to their feedback, which was positive overall, but also included a few criticisms that I had not heard before. As I highly respect both of their opinions, I strongly considered all of their concerns whether I agreed or not, and we brainstormed a few possible solutions. Good stuff!
Next up, Baker, Matt, Cory Dawson, and I all set down to play the latest creation from IncrediBrawl designer Jake Leeman. I have not played IncrediBrawl, but it is basically a game in which players use champions from every realm of their imagination to compete for the most glory in a giant free for all. His new game seemed thematically similar, but instead of controlling an entire cast of characters, each player only played one. For example, in this game Baker was a Pirate, Matt a Robot, Cory a Leprechaun, and I was a Dinosaur. A player wins by either scoring three knock outs, or acquiring 20 glory points. Each player has a dice pool which they roll each game turn and allocate to abilities on their character sheet or on the battlefield in the middle of the board. The winner will be the player who most effectively assigns his dice to the right abilities and knows when to engage other players directly and when to hold off.
It was and epic battle, but in the end Baker’s Pirate came out the winner. I just could not get things going with my Dinosaur and that “wee” Leprechaun kept thwarting my plans. All in all, it was a fun game that will be really great for families and light-hearted gamers alike after a some more balancing and testing.
After discussing some possible fixes to Jake’s game, he and Matt gave Legacy Wars a play. I explained how to play in short order and they were rolling with very little help from me in no time. I wish that I could say it was a close game that is representative of how competitive Legacy Wars can be, but Matt pretty much dominated. For whatever reason, he got into Jake’s head in the second half of the game and always made the right plays to beat him. Still, it is always fun to watch one of your creations getting played, and the feedback and suggestions are invaluable. It was during the discussion afterwards that Jake gave it very high praise and offered a number of helpful suggestions. I immediately incorporated one of his suggestions regarding the way players stack their legacy piles as it was such a great idea! I always consider it a good sign when the player who loses still has a positive outlook about the game! Afterwards, we discussed possible ways to expand Legacy Wars and most importantly the business end of game design. I admitted that my knowledge in this area is essentially nil, and tried to absorb all of the helpful information he had to offer.
After a little more conversation about Legacy Wars, that included Jake, Matt, and Bryan, Cory Dawson asked if anyone wanted to try the new release from Cory Young, Gravwell: Escape From the Ninth Dimension.
Cory, Bryan, Nick and I sat down for a four player game, with only Cory knowing how to play. Players, are in a race to be the first to escape from a black hole by either pushing or pulling away from or towards the nearest objects. Gravwell has simple to understand rules with a very smooth resolution system, and as such was easy to learn.
From the start I felt like I had a good grasp of this game, and was doing quite well. Things shifted around a lot behind me, but I crept ever closer to escaping the grip of the black hole. At long last I was one move from winning and had the card I needed, only to have two players reveal cards to pull me back. Noooo! I tried to maintain position, but Cory and Nick zipped past. Two turns later, Nick was victorious and I had rocketed almost half way back to the beginning. Oh well, it was a good game and would definitely like to play it again!
It was at his point that Travis and Nick would have brought Heroes Wanted back to my house for additional plays before my upcoming review, but sadly my crew had cancelled and it was getting too late for Nick to head over as well. We unfortunately had to scrap the plans, but I will still be writing a first impression of Heroes Wanted based on my previous play.
Sunday was off to a slow start, and as I lay on the couch watching my fifth episode of “The Wire” for the morning, I honestly did not know if I would be gaming at all. I then received a call from Jeff Atkins informing me that he and Ryan Roe were interested in stopping by for some board game action. Shortly after they arrived, Nick Garwood showed up, and we settled on playing Sunrise City.
Both Nick and Roe were new to this one, but fortunately it is not difficult to teach, and we got started quickly. I felt very confident considering my experience advantage and the fact that I am quite skilled at Sunrise City, but I got off to a pretty slow start. I did not have the best building hand in the first round, and found myself in last place. Jeff, the other experienced player at the table, was doing very well and managed to stay one step ahead throughout the second round. I managed to close the gap in the third round, ensuring that only Jeff or I would win, but even though I had one extra tile worth enough points for the win there was nowhere to play it. This round to you Atkins!
We decided to give a four player “Brainy” game of Got ‘Em a try, and it proceeded much like I feared. The board simply fills up too quickly for four players to last very long in this incarnation of the game. Before long Nick and I were eliminated, and given the speed at which Jeff and Roe play, we opted to start a game of Legacy Wars. I believe it was Roe who won, but it took so long I think even they lost interest. They watched Nick and I play Legacy Wars for a while and called it a day. He and I then got down to playing a three game series, for some of the best playtesting I have had yet.
Game one saw Nick score the most lopsided first round in the brief history of Legacy Wars. No excuses…I played badly, he played well, and we were both rewarded appropriately. I gained back a ton of ground during the second and third rounds, but he successfully played defense to hold on to his lead for the win. I am happy to report that Jeff and Roe stuck around long enough to mock me for losing at my own game. Thanks guys…
Game two was a fantastic battle with the most exciting finish of any I have played thus far! The score was back and forth all the way with me gaining a small lead as things came down to the last three battles. In the third to last battle a tie occurred and I had the Stone of Fate currently valued at four points. I was leading 29 to 21 and he was going to win the tie for three points. The last two battlefields were enough to add up to seven more victory points and I realized no matter what I played he would be able to force ties and thus win the game 31 to 29. I gave away the Stone with two battles to go giving him five points but guaranteed my victory by doing so. This play allowed me to win 35 to 26 and was by far the latest exchange of the Stone to date! Even though he lost, Nick admitted this was the best game we have played against each other.
Game three saw us institute a change we discussed during the break. We decided to test the Stone starting at a value of zero instead of one and see how it affected things. Interestingly enough, this game saw only two exchanges of the Stone, as ties were rare because I completely crushed Nick from start to finish. It was hard to explain, but I just predicted every move he made and even when he won, he lost position for more valuable battles down the road. It was so bad, that the unshakable Nick conceded with two battles to go as the game had been over for at least three already. It is strange how sometimes you can just mind read the other player and it all comes together. I broke 40 points and would have closed in on 50 if we completed last two battles. Not the most helpful for playtesting, but the competitive maniac in me was glad to win two out of three! I know. I have problems.
This weekend was a long over due trip into full-on gaming insanity! Even though I was a little disappointed that Saturday night fell through, it was understandable considering the weather and that it was Valentine’s Day Weekend. Legacy Wars got in five plays, and I received tons of valuable feedback and suggestions from all involved. A special thanks goes out to Nick Garwood who has provided some of the most helpful ideas so far. His biggest contributions have been a complete redesign of the Ranger’s battle ability and inspiring major changes that are coming to the Monk. It was a great to play some of my old favorites like Caylus, London, Sunrise City, and Macao while also getting to playtest Jake’s new game, try Gravwell, and test Legacy Wars several times. It was truly a great weekend, that exemplified everything I love about gaming! See you next week!