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Monday, May 30, 2011

RoccoCon Wrap Up

RoccoCon 3: Neo-Takoma is about to E-X-P-L-O-D-E
For the third year, a bunch of friends descended on Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington D.C. for RoccoCon. My college roommate moved there a few years ago, so we meet up every summer for a long weekend of boardgames - always a blast! And yes, this year's shirt had the above motto for those Akira lovers out there. Thanks to Brandon for getting the shirts printed up!

For this year's RoccoCon, my wife and I decided to try flying instead of driving. Believe it or not it only cuts 33% of the travel time off, once you include getting to and from the airports, going through security and so forth. However, driving can be pretty annoying itself, so I think it was worth it overall. The big drawback was that it would be hard to bring a lot of games. I put four games into large sized ziplocs and put them into one backpack, leaving the boxes at home: Goa, Stone Age, Brass, and Automobile. Goa and Stone Age sadly went unplayed, but Shane did try to get Stone Age on the table. I've promised him a game of it soon. I've started to really like Stone Age a lot more, once I started to play it on BSW.

Here's a rundown of the games I personally played in:

Puerto Rico
This game is a little lost in the haze of the long weekend. I remember it had a stop-and-start feel because there were a lot of little interruptions as people were getting set up with breakfast and rooms. I can't even remember who won, which is very unlike me!


I actually played Brass twice over the weekend. In the first game, I think my explanation of the rules almost made Christian and Rocco lose their minds. It's always hard to know whether you should give basic strategy tips/concepts out when teaching a game like Brass that has enough going on with the rules. About 3/4ths of the way through the game, Rocco made the realization that level 1 tiles only score once, while level 2+ tiles score during both phases. This is definitely an important strategic consequence of the rules, but I'm never sure whether to keep talking or just get people playing. I won the first game pretty handily, and over the course of the weekend Rocco started to clamor for a rematch. We got that in on Sunday night, with Brandon taking Christian's place and my wife retaining the fourth spot. I definitely did a better job teaching the game to Brandon, and he's a computer/iPhone/iPad game designer, so he caught on pretty quickly. This game ended up being closer overall, and Rocco took me out. The score was something like 125-115-105-95. I never know whether it's worth teaching people games if they won't have a chance to play it again soon, even if I think the game is incredible!

Vegas Showdown

It seems like there is a game of Vegas Showdown every year at RoccoCon, and a game of it played at WBC by people I know there, and somehow I've never tried it before this. Vegas Showdown has a reputation as a light, solid auction game that is unlike the Ameritrash that is most of Hasbro's library. I would have to say it lived up to its billing. It has everything you want in a good auction game... a solid auction mechanic and different evaluations for items based on individual players' situations. The mechanic is reminiscent of Amun-Re, where you can bid on a selection of different items, and if you get overbid you can bid on another one, and the bidding ends once everyone is bidding on a different item. In Vegas Showdown, there are more items than players, and anything that wasn't bought has an automatic minimum bid drop for the next round. It definitely would take a few plays to get the hang of the scoring system and how that interacts with prices. You get VPs based on completing various parts of your casino (the items you buy are mostly rooms such as a slots room, a restaurant, etc.), having nicer parts of your casino near each other (the fancy places have special symbols near the corners that line up), connecting the two ends of your casino together, and so on. The game had a lot of depth for a pretty short play time, and I'd love to play it again soon.

Battlestar Galactica
Another game I had somehow avoided playing thus far, and I was pretty excited to finally have a chance to try it. This is definitely enhanced by the fact that I'm in the midst of season four of the show. Why didn't my friends who had seen this MAKE me watch it? I'll never know. I'm pretty sure it's going to go down as my second favorite TV series after LOST.
I'm still not sure how I feel about the whole cooperative game genre, with the exclusion of D&D, my eternal love. (I've been playing D&D on and off since second grade, which probably explains my feelings about it!) I think the game can't be purely cooperative because then it's just a shared puzzle to solve... which I guess can be fine if you think of it that way. However, these games seem to shine if they have some kind of twist. The most common twist is the traitor mechanic, although it's worth pointing out another game that has a great twist, Space Alert, where the key idea is that it is real-time, and each player has secret cards, so you need to really communicate as a team.

I was happy to be President Roslyn for this game, and I was "Not a Cylon". We figured out pretty quickly that Mark was one, so he revealed himself before we were able to deal with him in any other way. Rocco was the head of deduction on that one, and it turns out that he too was a Cylon, and thought it would be a good idea to frame another player - it just turned out that he was framing one of his own! Unfortunately, with their machinations, the humans had made too little progress, and we were rendered extinct by our toaster betters.

I have to admit the game was much better than I expected it to be. A number of the players had played before, so the game play was pretty smooth. The accusations and deduction was interesting and fun, although I can imagine that depending on the group. The voting mechanic works well to provide some evidence of who the Cylon(s) might be - for a number of game effects, each player submits as many cards as they want, and two cards are taken at random from a "destiny deck", so you don't have perfect information. Rocco agreed with my assessment about finding the game more fun than he thought it would be, and he hasn't even watched the show yet. I hope he watches it over the course of this year and we can play again at RoccoCon 2012!

I really like this game, but I'm never sure whether other people will like it. I managed to convince the group to get a five-player game of this going. I explained the rules and then went through an entire first turn myself, so everyone could get a sense of the goal and flow of the game, which I think really helped, although it took quite a while. After getting crushed by loss cubes the last time I played, I was a lot more careful this time, and I think I ended up taking Chrysler twice (you discard half your loss cubes rounded up). Brandon played excellently and took it down. I think I was in second or third at the end. I mostly focused on fancy and economy cars, using the parts factory to pump out cheap economy cars while using salesmen to get high profits from the fancy cars. This game isn't going to crack my top 10 all time list, but there is plenty to explore and think about. I'm looking forward to playing it a few times at the WBC in August.

The 18xx games are unfortunate for me, because I really like them but don't play them often enough to really ever understand them. I've played a game of 1870 all three years of RoccoCon, so maybe it's time I bought a copy of this game, as well as the upcoming reprint of 1830. I think I'm at least understanding the basics of 1870 at this point. Two years ago, I think I came in second through sheer luck, because I somehow avoided getting screwed, while the others all were somehow messing with each other. Last year was more of what I expected, and I think I came in last or next-to-last. Going into this game, I had two goals: avoid GMO, which I think I had last year and wasn't all that happy with, and avoid any risky play. During the purchase of small companies, someone mentioned that the Missouri-Kansas-Texas company had a high rate of return, and it came with a free stock, so I set my eyes on that one. I realized pretty quickly that it wouldn't be feasible to start the Katy railroad company the stock is for, so I decided to be a diverse investor who would ditch stocks if I saw an opportunity to invest in a better company. This worked out pretty well as a number of companies I had stock in ended up pretty high on the stock chart. After a few rounds I founded Katy and was able to utilize some infrastructure already built up by Frisco, but they had pre-emptively blocked the stations. I got to work on my track building skills, but Brandon creatively blocked my first attempt to get past the stoppage. I was able to get Katy's destination run in before the end of the game, but it wasn't enough for me to overtake Rocco, so I came in second. The money values were closer than I think we have ever had in this game, and I think it's taking us less time each year to play. A great, fun tradition!

Castle Ravenloft

During our 1870 game, we took a break during which some of us decided to break out Castle Ravenloft, which I had never played. I've been nervous about this game, since I love D&D and was afraid this would disappoint. Overall, it was fun but not amazing. I could definitely see how a few house rules could make a big difference. It just seems weird that you can move up to the edge of a tile and not know what is five feet in front of your face, then all of a sudden you see an entire room with a monster in it. I guess I would prefer something that was just a little bit more realistic or more like regular D&D. I did really like the components and concept of the game. We won the scenario we played, which involved leading a fledgling vampire to a magical pool and dunking him in long enough to reverse his vampirism.

Of course after having played Agricola and Le Havre a large number of times, and At the Gates of Loyang once, I have been very curious to try Merkator, especially since I heard it was a faster playing game that Uwe Rosenberg's others. On Sunday, we walked over to a cute little toy and game store that is only a few blocks away, and I found a copy of Merkator on the outside 30%-off table! I bought it for Rocco as a gift for his fine hospitality, and I walked through the rules with a few people later that day. Monday morning, before Rocco had to go to work and we had to head to the airport, I played a three player game with Rocco and Bronwen.

There is definitely some fun stuff happening in this game, which is basically a collect resources and trade them in game. One nice idea is that you can trade things in on another player's turn by giving them "time tokens". You can get time tokens by traveling to certain locations, while others cost time tokens. From what I could tell, the more lucrative contracts tend to be associated with the locations that cost a lot of time to get to. In our game, no one was really in danger of running out of time tokens. In addition to the points you get from completing contracts and getting more prestigious ones, you can also buy victory point "building cards". A few of these are related to how many time tokens you have. The one thing I am curious about in this game is how far you can really plan ahead. Should you be looking at the contracts that are coming up and use that information somehow? (They are in face-up piles.) I would definitely play this a few more times.

Wrap Up
Once again, RoccoCon delivered: great friends, great games, great times. I look forward to next year and more Battlestar Galactica and 1870, and perhaps getting Imperial on the table. A lot of my friends love Through the Ages, but I soured on it quickly and am thinking I should probably give it another chance. The RoccoCon crew might really enjoy that game, especially Shane - who brought the new Civilization game. I'm not sure what the rest of the crew thought of that one, but I did hear discussion of rules afterwards. At the game store I bought Merkator at, Rocco picked up Age of Steam, so I look forward to playing that one with him next year as well.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

General Gaming Update

I wrote this post before the one before it, but forgot to post it:

Here's a general update of some gaming I've done recently.

I played a very fast-paced game of Puerto Rico with 3 of the seniors at the school. It's amazing how fast you can get this game done in when all the players know the rules and play pretty swiftly. Somehow I always get shoehorned into being a builder in Puerto Rico... I thought I was in really good shape in this game, and didn't put a lot of thought into who had how many points. I got a somewhat early factory but didn't have a lot of goods production, so it worked out moderately well. I was the first person to produce and sell coffee as well. I got a Harbor not too long after all of that, but somehow it didn't really get me all that much. I ended up getting both Guild Hall and City Hall, and manned them both, but Ben on my right had 26 points in VP chips! I think the final score was something like 52-46-36-34, with me in second.

I've played Imperial a few more times online. I'm at the point that I need to play face-to-face a couple of times so I can process what's going on a bit more. In my most recent game, I got truly trounced, as I had control of Austria while Russia ran away with it. I never really even thought about attacking Russia, but that was probably what I needed to do. I was too focused on trying to think about what to invest in.


Monday, May 16, 2011

General Gaming Update

I just thought I would give a general update of the games I've been playing lately, and some thoughts about them:

Imperial: I've played this a few more times, most recently in real life yesterday after a couple of games online. I won the game yesterday with scores that were about 147-146-144-133, but unlike a lot of other games, I have no idea how I won or what lead me to win. This is a pretty strange sensation!

Caylus: I played a game online, and there's definitely one thing I either haven't figured out yet or I don't like about Caylus. It seems that whoever gets out the first stone production building almost always wins, and even more so if they get out two of the three. This makes the last 2/3rds of the game seem somewhat pointless. Is there a way to fight back once that happens?

Brass: Either I'm finally getting a little bit better at Brass, or I am finally getting a little bit of luck at it. I've won two games out of my last four completed games online. I am having much more success by starting with coal and iron, while developing and putting out ports. In one of my wins I finally found the time and money to develop and play shipyards, which is something I definitely needed to try out.

Fighting Formations: I've played the first five scenarios - the learning scenario 0, and scenarios 1 through 4. Scenario 2 is a mini-monster, and we didn't quite finish it, but we had a general sense of who was winning. Overall I really like the game, but not nearly as much as Combat Commander. I'll probably write a review for this at some point.

Puerto Rico: I played a game of this online with some of the expansion buildings and got crushed because I decided to fool around and built a Church earlier than I should have, while the other players colluded on craftsman-captain.

I really want to play more Automobile and Age of Steam in the next month or so, and I hope to finally get in a game or three of Napoleon's Triumph...