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Saturday, June 11, 2011

TotalCon Game Day

We just got back from TotalCon game day at a store in Plainville, MA called Battlegrounds. A very nicely set up gaming store, and the regular TotalCon crew plus a bunch of people playing games. The event started at 10, but we showed up a little after noon.

I was very happy to see a group of four people sitting down to play Automobile. When I arrived, they had just about finished going over the rules, so it was perfect timing! I put myself in last in the turn order since I was a latecomer, and away we went. (Bronwen took the car to visit a nearby quilting shop for a bit, but showed up for gaming a little while later.) The first turn I took Sloan as a fifth pick - I've been burned by those loss cubes too often that I might be a little too careful and paranoid about them. I grabbed the first economy car space and used three salesmen to get rid of them, but since I made two factories, I ended up with two cars and two loss cubes, which Sloan put back to one. The second turn, I was earlier in the turn order, and took Howard. I built one of the luxury car spaces and again ended up with a decent, but not amazing turn - but very few loss cubes. On turn three, I was back to Sloan, and built a mid-sized car factory in the $650 range. Turn 4 I got Chrysler and put a second factory in that spot along with the parts factory and pumped out a lot of cars.

I'm fascinated by the ability to win this game with different styles. It seems like you can do well by being aggressive, building a lot of factories and making a lot of money, but also taking loss cubes, and sometimes a lot of loss cubes through gambling play. But you can also do well by playing the way I did this game - make sound, solid investments without overdoing it, keep your loss cubes low, and don't ever have to take a loan. Three of the other players took loans in this game. I ended up in second, but the first place finisher beat us by a sound margin, something like $4400-$3570-$3300-$3100-$2800. The winner also took no loans, so in this game the loans seemed really bad, although the third place finisher was more than the $300-$400 back he would have saved by not taking those loans. I find myself only wanting to take Sloan, Chrysler, and Howard, and shying away from the other three. There's a more to this game to explore than it might even seem at first. I have to say I was feeling the game was pretty mechanical and dry, which is pretty strange because I often love games like that - but this play went by much smoother than previous plays and hence was much more enjoyable.

My friend Andy - not the guy who runs GBG, but another Andy who has played at GBG, has been trying to get me to play Labyrinth with him for a while now. We've played Hannibal, Washington's War, and Here I Stand together in the past, so we share an interest in CDG wargames. I've been hesitant to get into this one though. I wasn't sure I was that excited by the topic it is portraying, and I want to get good at the CDGs I already have, not to mention play those I have and haven't played yet. (WW2 Barbarossa to Berlin, Shifting Sands, Unhappy King Charles) Somehow something snapped in me the last time I ran into Andy, and I started looking into Labyrinth more. I finally picked up a copy two days ago, read the rules, and ran through two turns of a solitaire game yesterday. The solitaire mode is a little tricky, since it's very procedural. You have to play the opponent as if they were a player, and a somewhat involved flowchart helps you figure out what they are going to do with their card on their turn. So it was good to see Andy at the game day and finally give him his chance to teach me the game. I would be playing the United States fighting the Jihadists.

Even after what I thought was a pretty careful reading of the rules and a careful two turns yesterday, there is still a lot going on in this game rules-wise that you need to keep in your mind or at the least constantly refer to the reference sheets for. You have a number of options on your turn - but each of them can only be played in countries based on certain conditions, so it led to a lot of rules corrections by Andy like "no you can't do that, that option can only be done to an Ally country". I wouldn't call the game elegant, but it definitely is interesting, and might just take time to grasp what is going on. It certainly wasn't clear what I should be doing to really have any shot of stopping the seemingly endless waves of sleeper cells spreading out from Afghanistan through Pakistan, eventually establishing Islamist regimes in Saudi Arabia (which I invaded to Regime Change), Pakistan, and finally Iraq, winning Andy the game in pretty short order. Granted, we played the shortest version of the game, where you go through one desk.

Based on this game, it feels like either this will be the way to play it and it will get much faster once I know the rules better. In that case, maybe the feel of the game is a close see-saw that at some point topples and you slide down to your doom. The other possibility is that the "two deck" version is the way the game should be played, and hopefully that will provide a little more opportunity for back and forth as perhaps some of the luck of the cards will even out. It certainly felt like a lot of powerful jihadist events were occuring... Definitely a fun and intriguing game, thanks to Andy for being so enthusiastic about it!

Most of the other people in the room were involved in a game - Bronwen was back and in a four player game of Brass that was only half over. So Andy and I decided to find a shortish game that might fill the time, and he suggested another one of the games he is obsessed with, Innovation. I had only played it once before, with him and another person last year sometime. I wasn't all that impressed, as it seemed fairly goofy and chaotic, but I wasn't ready to give that as a firm grade or anything yet. I was willing to give the game another go with just two players. I suspected that I would like it a little better that way, because you would be able to plan more, although the nature of the cards is still pretty tactical. I had fun with it today, as we both got close to winning but when Andy had a good chance of winning on the next turn, I played the fission card shown below, and won the game in the following re-start.... pretty crazy stuff.
Innovation is the game Fluxx wishes it were. That's kind of where I am with it, and I'd be glad to play it again, but I'm not going to own it or study it...

After that, I got in a four player game of Navegador. Why is it that the rondel games keep calling me back lately? This one featured Bronwen, another good friend Joel, and a guy we just met, whose name I believe is Star. This game creeps closer and closer to the line of me buying it! I thought I was in pretty good shape when I had four sugar colonies behind Joel's multiple sugar factories, but I think I let that opportunity slip away, grabbing a few early prestige tokens when I should have been building up my infrastructure more. I should have jumped on building cathedrals and then workers. In the end I was a little too diversified and came in last, and it was a great learning experience. This is a really cool game, and I think I just convinced myself to buy it while writing this.

To cap off the night, we had a four player Stone Age. I'm really glad this game came back to me at Unity Games - literally the copy I hadn't had in two years was returned to me! Star happened to have an expansion for the game which was pretty neat, six new huts that offered bonuses like +1 farm or +1 villager, but also some that generated a resource every turn. At the start of the game you remove 6 of the original huts, then shuffle these in. It makes the game a little less predictable for those who know the huts really well. I was the starting player and I grabbed a farm to start, and on the way back took a gamble to get a card for 2 resources that had the "magic dice" on it. Of course all the wood spots were gone, so I got to put 3 workers in for bricks. Luckily I just barely got two bricks and rolled a 6 on the magic dice to put me at two farms. I was able to get my farms up to 7 by the end of the game, and had 2 more babies to get 7 villagers, got 3x multipliers for each of them, had 3 tools, and was pretty efficient with the huts I built. This was probably the best I have ever done with a board that looked pretty diversified at the end as I won with 150 points even. The only other times I've done well in Stone Age are when I've done starvation and gotten tons of huts and meeple modifier cards, or I got tons of farm multiplies. This was a really fun game, although I do dislike the death spiral it seems that one player always ends up in. This time it was Bronwen in seat 3, but she handled herself as sportsmanlike as always.

Overall, another great day of gaming - it was nice to grab a win in Stone Age since I haven't been that good at it in the past... especially after getting destroying in Labyrinth (understandable) and Navegador. I was happy with my second place in Automobile, but I'm still not entirely sure what makes people win or lose in that game yet, but I feel something in my subconscious is working at it. Innovation... well, that's just crazy. Maybe I should not play it again and say I have a perfect record in two-player competition!



  1. Sorry we didn't get to play that day. I did get in the game of Brass with Bronwen after we took her quilting books away.
    I think Innovation is pretty wacky, but Andy thinks it is a great competitive 2-player game. I'm in no position to argue with that, its almost certainly true. But you probably have to know the cards at least moderately well to be competitive.
    Remember there is board gaming every second Wednesday at Battleground Plainville from about noon until closing after nine.

  2. I'd play Shifting Sands next time I can make GBG.