Spiral madly on in to Next of Ken, where this week it's a big pile of gaming talk as I recount all the games played at our 2nd annual "B. Brothers' Boardgaming Bash". You'll hear all about one-sided ass beatings, "Less Filling, Tastes Okay" space operas, Jesus versus Stalin, and thankfully, not a single pirate joke. Join us, won't ye? Er...won't you?
You Can Bury Your Dead, and Don't Leave a Trace
We kicked off the 2nd annual "B. Brothers' Boardgaming Bash" at The Foundry in Huntsville this year with a Friday night of gaming at local gamer Troy's house. Troy and Ian are two guys who alternate graciously hosting weekly Friday night gaming sessions. Since this was the eve of the bash, we made a push for a larger-than-usual turnout and ended up with 13, three tables' worth. Not everyone arrived at the same time. There were five of us and we hemmed and hawed over what to play before settling on The Resistance. As we were setting up though a stream of folks staggered in, and soon we had a full ten. I'd never played Resistance with the full compliment, so off we went.
I was not a spy, so it was up to me and whomever was loyal to the cause to ferret out the bad guys. My wife was the first leader and nominated a team, not including me but she did give me one of the mission cards. Troy was on that first team and the mission FAILED. We had Troy pegged as a spy for sure. I'm usually pretty good at telling if Erica was bluffing and I didn't get that vibe, so I played the mission card to become the next leader (this would have then made her leader again after.) This suddenly had suspicion on me and her, which in retrospect probably was stupid of me to have played it so certainly.
We had a difficult time with the next two team votes, and it passed to the player to Erica's left before one was approved. Neither she nor I were on the team...and the mission FAILED again. My brother is usually easier to tell if he's a traitor as he gets deathly quiet, so I had a hunch he was on the bad guy team, along with Gil and Troy. Again, much hand-wringing getting a team together...but in the end, that mission FAILED as well. Turns out, Jeremy was indeed the traitor, but none of our other suspects were.
We all had a good laugh, but I think it's obvious at this point that most games of Resistance, you just don't have enough--if ANY--information to go on. For the Resistance team with ten players, you might get a hunch on one or two of them, but I think the deck is pretty firmly stacked against the good guys and they'll need ridiculous luck to win. It's a fun activity, but if anyone ever called this a "Battlestar Galactica Killer", they definitely have another think coming. It's a decent social fifteen-minute exercise, but I'm definitely not as enamored with it as I once was.
With so many on hand, we split up into seperate tables. Our table dove into Seasons as it was a game that several gamers had been wanting to try. Since we were a table of battle-hardened gamers, we skipped the pre-set hands and went straight for drafting as my wife and I taught the game to the other two guys.
I drafted with hopes of maximizing my points on Magic Items. This backfired hugely because several items I had for year one needed grass energy, and Chris did a double-boots activation to skip us halfway through the first year before I knew what happened. I think he just wanted to see how it would go, but it meant I was short on the green stuff and really struggled to get any of my engine out. Chris and Erica had point leechers out, so not only were my cardplays not coming but I also had very few points to show for anything. I was getting destroyed. I was able to luckily recover and get some of my combos out, but not really in the order I'd hoped.
I did get 11 or 12 cards out by the end, and did run up a decent tally from very few points to nearly 100. Erica however had been just piling on the points and finished north of 140, well ahead of the rest of us.
Seasons is definitely fun, but can be fairly punishing if you make a mistake early. It's definitely a game that rewards multiple plays, but even then you'll occasionally need a little luck on your side. To me, that's a good mix. We also wrapped up our four-player game (with two new players!) in 90 minutes; I've heard of folks playing 4p and taking over three hours, which just boggles my mind...not sure how that is even possible.
We moved on to Libertalia, the pirate bidding game that I reviewed a few weeks ago. It's a game that rewards card combinations, so it's no surprise that I enjoy it. Erica and I were again the only two to have played it, but the rules explanation went quickly and smoothly. It's a game of manipulating card powers but not getting so wrapped up in that to the point you forget to actually successfully take "good" treasures and avoid the nasty cursed items and angry Spanish officers who kill your character for the "privilege" of capturing them....and yet they're worth no points at all.
At any rate, experience won out here as Erica and I finished within a few points of each other--though she once again won the whole shebang. One of the guys playing didn't like the game as much and my brother had a fairly negative reaction to it the first time he played it. Learning the layers of bidding/playing/cards in play can be frustrating. I still think it's a terrific game but it's obvious that this one may be a "try before you buy" game for some folks.
Next on the menu was AEG's Smash Up, where this time I tried out the Dinosaur Zombie mix. Funny moment in the game was where someone played a card that auto-destroyed any minion deployed there of lesser strength than it...unfortunately, this was at the base where if anyone had a minion killed there, they earned a VP. I tipped my hand too early to the fact that this was basically a VP generator if it was allowed to continue so the other players quickly
dislodged the problem combo.
Of course, like a numbskull I thought I was setting up a base to "pop" for the win, but I was off by ONE POINT--one point that, mind you, I'd killed off just seconds before. I was short what I needed, and my wife just waltzed in for the easy game-winning score. Feh! Curse your cleverness, woman! (Or my inability to do simple addition, take your pick.)
Folks were starting to wander off into the midnight air, but Jeremy was still tied up with some Eminent Domain action, so Erica and I did some King of Tokyo 2p slugfests. Truly, this is not the way to enjoy this excellent game, but we did have some fun rolling the bones and shredding some monster flesh. I would swear we played four games and split them, but the first game was disqualified because I gimped on the rules, awarding too many bonus points for the four and five of a kind numeric rolls.
Anyway...I either lost the series or tied, depending on who you ask. (Ask me! Ask me!) I joked with her that since she'd dominated all the games we played she would be banned from Troy's. (Seriously, the only game she lost was The Resistance in that lopsided ass-kicking of the do-gooders.) It was our turn to then stagger out at around 2 am, with Jeremy and I having to be at the Foundry the next morning at 10am. Yikes...
Wakin' Up Is Hard to Do
But arrive we did and shockingly on time, getting set up rolling right away. Gamers and early mornings don't always mix so we began with just six, diving into Road Kill Rally.
This is a game I'm not even sure I've ever gotten to play with the rules 100% correctly, but to be fair the rulebook isn't the best in the world. It is...ominously silent on many, many things. The same problem reared its head as had before--Jeremy and I had 1st and 2nd place, but 3rd place targeted me and wiped me out while Jeremy was allowed to peel away. He stayed about two track lengths ahead while the rest of us were mired in a viscious circle of blowing each other up. He cruised to victory fairly easily.
I will say that I had whatever RKR's equivalent of the Blue Koopa Shell from Mario Kart, but Dashboard Jesus saved Jeremy's bacon and he kept his comfortable lead.
We were playing a "short" version of the game that somehow managed to run 90 minutes...far, far too long for the type of game this is. I love the theme, love the bits, but at this point I'm pretty confident the game needs some damned house rules and something that keeps the game moving. Something to help with the whole "everyone else ends up in a big missile pile while 1st place zooms to victory" thing. To me it's a game kit that's in need of some serious help.
At this point, a lot more folks started showing up--I think we ended up with 22, maybe?--and the big Road Kill Rally group split up. Jeremy, myself, and a cool guy we met there named Aaron started up a game of Puzzle Strike to kill time before lunch. I'd grabbed my second edition instead of the new 3rd edition + Shadows (review of those are indeed coming soon), but we still had a blast. After showing Aaron the ropes, I toyed around with Setsuki setting up a quick econ rush into Double-Crash crush. Setsuki is crazy silly in what she can do assuming there's even one chip in the bank that supports that strategy. Puzzle Strike and Nightfall are definitely still my two deckbuilders of choice, and I'm starting to think that neither will be knocked off those perches anytime soon. Direct, fast, interactive, both are shining examples of what the genre should be.
There was a Subway next door (they were in the sandwich business, and cousin, business was a'boomin') so we grabbed lunch before heading back for more gaming. We'd missed the timing so everyone had settled into different games, so Aaron, Jeremy and I decided to plunge into Galactic Emperor. It's the original game labeled "Twilight Imperium Lite" and though I've owned it for awhile, I'd never played it. We set up a three-player galaxy and off we went.
Though the flow of the game is simple, we sort of stumbled through for a bit before everything finally clicked. I do what I always do in these games--seek out combat tech and amass a fleet. It's just how I roll. Jeremy was left alone on the other side of the board while Aaron and I prepared for war. Thanks to my solid tech and a few free ships from my choice of Warlord, I was able to steamroll his fleet and put him on his heels.
Then, noticing Jeremy was being left all alone, I used some Regent tricks to establish a couple of Starbases and offered a truce to Aaron. He agreed, and we both turned our fleets north. However, thanks to our rapid expansion and a lot of Regent and Warfare, we were reaching a point where we were already at the endgame. I only needed to place one more chit and my supply was done, triggering game over. But again, that's not how I operate.
I asked Jeremy, "do you want to die because I placed some random chit somewhere, or do you want a big epic space battle??" I'm sure over my screams of war he was protesting he'd rather have the peaceful game over, but I was out for blood, baby. My fleet shredded his like paper and we ended the game PROPER STYLE, with me coming out the victor after the finaly VP tally.
I've gotta say that this is definitely no Twilight Imperium killer. I liked the straightforward gameplay, but the Regent stuff is definitely gamey and has a lot more effect on the game than I'd like for it to. We were focused on War but it seems to me that you could just turtle up, play the Regent game, and win that way. That was by far the big Euro concession and while it does offer some 'political light' focus, it's a bit too abstracted to have what I feel would be the desired impact. The economy of the game is clean though, and if you want battles, it'll give you battles.
I'm also quite sure that 3 players is not the sweet spot for this, space was just not crowded enough and we actively had to seek each other out to have some 'splosions. I think if we had all been inclined we could've just played "optimize the private empire" and then stared at our own sectors until the game was over and we could all compare scores. The point? Galactic Emperor can be a fun time with the right people, quite probably hell with the wrong people, if you want to give it a try, just make sure you're playing with the former category.
Nexus Ops is certainly the better game in terms of what I call the "Army Economy Game" where you manage resources to buy your armies. But Galactic Emperor can be a nice light space opera romp with the right people. Very fragile in that regard though, I think.
After we'd cleaned up Galactic Emperor, we had Mike and Clay looking to join in on something, so I busted out another game of mine I'd had for awhile and hadn't played--Heroes of the World. This one's a French design that's a weird hybrid of Area Majority and Dudes on a Map. It comes with lots of little plastic figures but the goal of the game is to play cards and slap your dudes into different regions so you can score when the region "pops" after so many discovery tiles are played.
You play your guys by drafting a card from a face-up display, and these cards are leaders from various periods of history. Each is rated in four different stats, one for placing dudes, one for "discovery" (where you get to draw and place scoring tiles in their regions of influence), one is for combat/conversion, and last is for gold. I've never met an area majority game that I've liked. (Area control, a la Risk? Sure. Area majority? Not so much.)
This one is saved though by its inclusion of combat. When you use a leader's combat value, you roll a single special die that has one of six results on it. Based on the combat rank and die roll you'll either kill off some of their guys, convert them, steal gold, or it could backfire and you could have your own guys killed in the process. Hey, who said war was fair?
You can also use your coins to migrate your guys to other regions, which is useful when they're standing around in a region that's already scored. You can also use your money to purchase powerful wonders that give you once-per-epoch abilities. Some of these were indeed awesome (such as five free dudes anywhere on the board, awesome) and some...not as much.
Anyway, you play on a smaller portion of the map for the first epoch, then the full board for the second, tally up points, award the winner. It's a weird, esoteric sort of approach to design in that at its core, it's as basic as an area majority game can be...place guys, region scores, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd get a certain number of points.
Even some of the cooler stuff like influencing a region's value through chit draws and placement and moving guys from place to place have all been seen before. However, the combat's single d6 adds a large amount of unpredictability to the proceedings and for sure makes it feel more interactive even though you have no idea how that roll is going to play out. Most likely, it will go well. But not always. As a great man once said, "Sometimes...not all the time, but sometimes." I forget his name, though.
Definitely the only game I know of though that has character cards for both Jesus and Stalin. That's got to count for something, right?
It's a decent, clean design with cool bits but in the end it's not likely worth the trouble of hunting it down. It's worth a play just to see how certain bread and potato mechanisms feel when a designer approaches them from an odd angle.
At that point things were starting to wind down as we'd been gaming for eight or nine hours solid and folks were starting to wander out into the cool evening air. My brother and I picked up a few Magic singles from the display case before thanking our host at The Foundry profusely and heading home.
Towards the Crash at the Bottom, Where I Began
Not a bad weekend all-in-all...a nice mix of new favorites, a couple of old standbys, and a couple of games I'd been wanting to play for awhile as they'd been sitting on my shelf, patiently waiting their turn.
A recap of games played:
King of Tokyo
Road Kill Rally
Heroes of the World
We're not sure how we'll do things next year, but if you're anywhere within driving distance, we hope you can make it out next time.
Thanks for reading, another column in the books and a lot of reviews are heading your way very soon. Someone's asked for a new Hall of Fame entry, and I do need to get off my ass and resume those as well. See you again soon!
Ken is a weekly columnist for Fortress: Ameritrash and a member of our staff. When he's not knee deep in playing games for review, he's most likely opening the boxes and getting high off of the plastic vapours.
Click here for more articles by Ken.