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F:AT Thursday: Pax Porfiriana, Sekigahara, and Star Fleet High

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There Will Be Games

A samurai with no liege is no samurai at all. He is a leaf blown upon the wind. A chip of wood in the rushing waters. He is ronin.

In the maze like back alleys of Edo, sits a small hut and it is here that several of these rootless wanderers have gathered. Their kimonos are stained from much use and little rest. The badges of their lost Daimyos nearly faded away. Only their matched pair of swords, the lethal katana and wakisashi, remain pristine. In at least this, they still display pride.

They have come in defiance. They have come to turn their backs upon the code of Bushido which demands  the ritual of seppuku, the only honorable end to a warrior who has lost his master. Nay, they will not end their lives this day.

Not until vengeance is served upon he who deprived them of their place. And not before a few final board games.

In the Land of the Rising Sun, it is F:AT Thursday.

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Many games have been played in the last week. Mainly owing to the advent of Trashfest Northeast, which was a mini-con I put together. Well more of a micro-con. For three days I had people come to the thriving hub of gaming that is Vernon Connecticut to play games, eat food and hang out.

All told I think we probably had a little over 20 people show up at one point or another. It was a really great time. It was a laid back casual affair. All the attendees were super cool, everybody was friendly and I think I speak for most if not all when I say it was FUN which, of course, was the main objective.

I got to meet some people that I had only known via the web. Mad Dog and Legomancer and Jason Lutes. I got to see some buddies that I don't get to hang with nearly enough like Billy Zavos and Bernie. Both nice guys who are down for any game at anytime and can make any game fun.

As promised, Peggy my glorious wife, provided food and what food it was. Just ask any of the people that were there. I did not lie when I said that woman can cook. From the Chicken Marsala to the all you can eat Taco Bar, it was all delicious.

As Engineer Al proclaimed, it is now "A Thing" and thus we will surely do it again next year. Hopefully with exciting new attractions like a Heroscape Tournament! I know, right! It'll be fantastic.

What did I get to play?

Friday night was "Games you can play while having some beers" night so no heavy games for sure. I did play Cornerstone which I think I've talked about before in the distant past. It's a game where you build a tower out of 3D tetras pieces and attempt not to be the guy who topples the tower. (Tower Topplers never win). All the while you have a little meeple adventurer who is attempting to climb the tower and be the highest when the inevitable disaster strikes. It was put out by Good Company Games back in 2008 and was reissued as Cornerstone Essential in 2010.

This game is ideal for such situations. A bit of dexterity, a bit of strategy, but not so much that you can't shoot the breeze. And of course there is always shouting when somebody defies physics in their piece placement or when the tower collapses.

Saturday I got to play my new favorite game Pax Porfiriana designed by Phil Eklund and put out by Sierra Madre games. I have been leery of Eklund games with their reputation for high complexity and inscrutability. I have had the opportunity to play High Frontier a number of times but always declined because from a distance it looked like more work than game. I am glad to say that after playing Pax, I'm a definite Eklund fan.

The game's theme is that you are a power player on the Mexican-American border in the years between 1890 and 1910 when the country was ruled by a dictator named Porfirio Diaz. Who is Diaz to rule, though, when you are so much more deserving? Nobody, that's who! Thus you seek to topple his government and take his place yourself!

The game is a "tableau" style game (cue the Engineer Al snicker..he can't hear the word tableau without laughing for some reason) akin to something like Race for the Galaxy. You buy cards from an offer to put them into your hand and then you pay money (varying with the card) to play it in front of you and gain it's effect.

These effects are numerous and varied. They can be businesses that generate money, they can be allies that give you a number of different benefits, they can be soldiers that can protect you or your businesses but can also be sent to extort your friends (Nice ranch you got there...real nice ranch...be a shame if something should happen to it.) There are also attack cards that unleash the nasty upon your rivals, bandits, and indians, and federalies.

So what you have is a game that disguises itself as an economic engine building game but is really a game of stabbing your friend in the face as fast and as many times as possible while you cling by your fingernails to whatever economic resources you can eke out while your friends are doing their best to stab YOU in the face (the nerve of some people).

In the end, you win by having the most of one of four victory points. Which of the four counts depends on what type of government is in play when Diaz is finally overthrown. Is the country in a state of Anarchy? Well then "revolution" points count. Has the US intervened? Then "outrage" points win the game.

What you have is a delightfully vicious and deep game with a multitude of strategies and tactics to employ in your attempt to be victorious. I don't know of any card game that has such a strong theme. I'm not playing a card...I am building a mine, I am sending out my revolutionaries to liberate the slave labor on that plantation.

If you must hear the downside and I'm sure you must, it is that the cards contain LOTS of info and much of it is text based printed in a teeny tiny font size so as to fit on cards that are bigger than FFG type tiny cards but not as big as standard playing cards. This isn't all that big a deal but it can lead to some downtime as your opponents must pick up and read every card in the offer to know just what they do.

Also the rules are strange. They are not good. But they aren't horrible. And there are some strange choices such as not explaining some game concepts fully until you read the glossary of terms at the end or putting the anatomy (is that the right word?) of the different cards on the side of the box rather than in the rules. You know where they describe what each element on the card is. 

It is one of those rare games where I was willing and eager to play it again the moment we finished. And one that I found myself thinking about long after the game was over. Both are indicators that I really really like a game.

The other game that I was super psyched to play was Sekigahara by GMT. This is a block game representing the battle between the two dominant warlords of Japan in 1500 to determine who would be Shogun.

Cards are the driving force of this game. You play them to determine turn order. You play them to bring new guys onto the board. You play them to move your guys around. You play them to make your guys fight. As you might imagine, what card to play and when to play it is of utmost importance. Play a card for movement when it was one you needed to fight and your whole day could be ruined.

The game is gorgeous. It looks beautiful when it is set up. It plays easy and can be taught in maybe 20 min or so. But knowing how to play is not the same thing as knowing how to win. 

I have played twice, once against King Put and once against Engineer Al, and was soundly defeated both times. I, as a self defined wargamer, find this situation appalling. It's one thing to lose to Pete Putnam but to lose a wargame to Al? He likes Talisman! He knows nothing of maneuver and tactics and yet....he beat me..badly. Ah well, I soothe my battered ego with the solace that there were no tanks...if there were tanks I surely would have won. 

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Alright all you high powered executives out there in Hollywood, I know you read my blog with religious fanaticism. I am about to give you the multi-million dollar idea of the year and I'm not even going to charge you for it.

I was thinking of how Star Trek could return to TV in a viable form and then it occurred to  me in a flash of genius. What if you combined Star Trek with Harry Potter? Huh? Wait...don't chuck your rotten vegetables at me just yet! Hear me out. "High School Drama" is all the rage. People can't get enough of it. Harry Potter, 90210, Glee...these are big! So, you do a high school show set in the Star Trek universe and call it Star Fleet Academy!
You're welcome.

There Will Be Games
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