At one time, I enjoyed the luxury of having several different game groups. I had a core of old friends who we would get together once a month and play the very best that Ameritrash had to offer. I had another group that met weekly at work and we'd play tons of what can only be dubbed "lunch games", lighter fare that could squeeze into an hour. And of course I had my wife and family, my wife being a champion that will give most games a try, at least once.
Unfortunately, the AT group I played with, we sort of scattered to the winds. Where we used to live all within maybe fifteen minutes of each other, some of us now live an hour or more apart, which makes casually getting together very difficult. Not to mention we're all a little busier than we used to be so nailing down free time that works for everybody isn't all that easy anymore. Our lunch group stopped meeting mostly because we had an obnoxious player who made things miserable for some of the others, and that dampened the enthusiasm. Once my "work at home" day changed to the middle of the week, the entire lunch group disbanded for good.
If you've wondered why I've been able to cover more lighter fare as well as a heavier emphasis on family gaming, that's exactly why. I feel badly about that sometimes because I know that this type of gaming isn't what put the name of the site on the marquee. This also limited my review opportunities to those types of games. I didn't ever want to ask for a heavier game to review that might not get played for three months--no publisher wants to wait that long to see results, good or bad.
Luckily, several weeks ago my brother and I stumbled on a local group of players that all lived close to us. It mainly started through a Magic: The Gathering connection. We'd planned on attending sooner but the Christmas goings-on left little time. We've since been twice, and I've gotta say, I missed this type of gaming. A larger group, hungry for theme and not shy about a game's length.
They have several alternate ways that they play Magic, so we've tried to take the time to build some stuff that fits their mold. None of them are "tournament players", they're all super casual and just have fun with the game. I'll admit that in my past year and a half of tournament-play focus, I've missed that too. Commander is the 100-card singleton format where you have a Legendary creature as your General. You can break the format by using overpowered generals and combos, but at its purest level this is a very entertaining way to play Magic. If you've wanted to dabble and have friends who feel the same, you can construct a Commander deck for not a huge outlay of cash. You'll also be away from the money-driven degenerate combo style of play. Sure, you may have a powerful card, but you can only pack one of it, so who cares? The fun is in taking these cards that are normally too slow or too inefficient for the most cutthroat style of play and watching what they can do.
These guys are "board game collectors", and that's another thing that has been different and yet refreshing. Their exposure to a lot of what's out there has been limited, and now I have the chance to filter in the very best that our style of gaming has to offer. So far we've played it safe with what I'd call "bona fide hits", the stuff we all know and love that for most of us has 100% success rate.
First one I brought out was Cosmic Encounter. Cosmic is just...well, it's just the embodiment of fun. I prefaced the game by saying, "this is one of the best board games of all time." I also mentioned that this was one of the games that Richard Garfield was inspired by when he created Magic. And once set-up was done, we were off.
I did keep it to the "green" alien powers, though I probably should have been a little braver and at least included the yellows. It was a little surprising to me how bland a lot of the green alien powers end up being. But that was an old experienced attitude talking. These guys picked up the rules quickly and before I knew it, we were past the "learning game" stage and everyone was wheeling, dealing, slapping down cards, targeting the leaders, smashing ships, and abusing their powers as best they could. Basically, all the things that make Cosmic great in the first place. I had a chance to share a win with another player, but he was not confident in his ability to win the battle so I did not commit my vengeance tokens. Turns out if I had, we would've squeaked out the battle, and the victory.
This gave my brother time to continue to abuse his card-drawing flare and he was able to assemble a x3 40 Strength hand and plowed in to take the solo victory. He was giggly after that because it was his first-ever solo win of Cosmic.
We had time for one more game that first session so I busted out Ca$h n' Gun$. Again, I do feel like this is cheating because I am literally dishing out the can't miss prospects here. But I'd forgotten how old favorites might feel through new eyes. We didn't use powers and kept the gameplay vanilla. Boom, a couple of rounds in and we're pointing guns at each other's heads as though that was real money on the table. Humorously, one of the guys got a cell phone call and he took it during the game; the very next round, three guns (all loaded with bullets) flew his way and he was out. Clearly, there are expectations of manners amongst gangsters.
Playing the role of "MC" for Ca$h n' Gun$ makes it tough to always keep your eyes on who has the money. I assumed I had enough and only one other player was close, so I targeted him the last couple of rounds. Whoops, my brother managed to remain quiet and snuck to a decent-sized victory. After that, we had to bolt, but promised to return soon.
We did return two weeks later, and already were welcomed like old friends. We started again with some Magic with what they call a Chaos Deck--basically a central deck of cards that casts random spells every full turn around the table. These ran the gamut from minor cards that granted a point or two of life to the nasty spells like Armageddon that would nuke all lands in play. I was playing my fun green ramp deck that speeds out mana and then plays Genesis Wave to dump out most of the contents of the deck. The other guys were impressed with the combo-liciousness, especially when I played a Craterhoof Behemoth. That's a creature that pumps up your entire team for one big swing based on the number of creatures you have in play. I was able to eliminate three players in one go. Man, I missed Timmy-style Kitchen Table Magic!
After that we did Commander again, and I've come to the conclusion I'm cheating on lands too much for my Commander decks. If you get mana-screwed once or twice, you can blame luck, but if you're constantly low on lands it's time to take a hard look at your land counts. There are just so many cool spells that 'wasting' slots on land always feels bad. But if you want the deck to work, you've got to be willing to give up a few toys in the process. I'm still learning Commander as we didn't pick it up until recently, so every game of it has been a learning process for me.
We then followed up with another guaranteed home run, King of Tokyo. It is beautiful how easy this game is to teach. Explain the goals, the faces of the dice and what they mean, and you're all set. I continued my streak of risky play and got punished in game one, dying to a suprise burst of four claws. I always tell myself "I'm playing it safe this game" but I just don't have the patience for it. I usually end up clawing my way into Tokyo, getting punched in the face, waiting too long to limp off and nurse my wounds, and then getting picked off. I can't help it. But I also have a blast the whole time. King of Tokyo is gaming joy in a box. The funny thing is I can't remember who won the game, but I do remember all the bloodshed.
Game 2, we brought in the Power Up! expansion since that was easy to explain after going through one game already. I ended up doing what I always do--but this time, I was punished for it even faster than usual, and I was out. Someday, my strategy will have its day in the sun, just wait and see. After two early eliminations though the game started grinding and slowing down. What my brother and mentioned and I'm starting to agree is that Power Up puts so much emphasis on hearts that people end up doing way more healing and this slows the game down as lots of turns pass without anything effectively happening other than people padding their health and getting a power up.
Eventually my brother reached a point where victory was inevitable the next turn on points, as he had enough health to survive the last-gasp assault.
At this point, I don't know...I like the added complexity that Power Up adds. I like that it gives the monsters differentiation from each other. But there's no denying it slows the game down. I think this game lasted an hour and fifteen minutes or so, and that's too long for King of Tokyo.
We had to leave after that, unfortunately. Mike is the guy's name of the house we'd been gaming at, and he'd purchased Firefly: The Board Game not too long ago. They've yet to play it because the rulebook has been a bit intimidating. I've yet to play Firefly either but I've offered to download the rulebook and study up on it so we can learn it together. From what I can tell of it so far, it looks like pick up n' deliver with a healthy dash of adventure game to go with it, and I don't see anything at all wrong with that mixture.
I am grateful that we've found this local group of AT'ers, and with this I'm hoping that a lot more of my favorites that I haven't got to play as much will find their way to the table. I have found though that six is an extremely tricky number. I've got a lot of games that run four or five, but six is a lot more of a rare bird than I thought unless you get into party games. I'm eyeballing Shadows Over Camelot perhaps for next time, working our way up to Battlestar Galactica and A Game of Thrones. Whatever the progress, I'll keep you guys updated with my gaming exploits. But it looks like a lot of healthy AT gaming is back on the menu!