Game Daze 2014

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There Will Be Games

Every spring, Game Days is hosted at the Holiday Inn in Timonium, Maryland.  It focuses almost exclusively on open gaming, lasts from Thu-Sun, and ropes in at least a few hundred attendees.  I’ve attended every year since 2005, primarily because it’s only 5 minutes door-to-door from my house.

Game highlight for 2014:

My personal highlight of this year's convention was an incredible game of Napoleon’s Triumph against an experienced player. Our four-hour game of NT went the whole distance, with me winning as the Allies by denying the French their battlefield objectives. (The French player selected to bring in his reinforcements, so the onus of attaining land objectives was on him rather than me.) This is the first time that I’ve had a non-morale win, and I’ve played over a dozen times.  The win was particularly satisfying because I hadn’t played in 4 years, and it took me the first quarter of the game just to remember the basic combat rules and offensive strategies.

As an aside, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never lost a game of Napoleon’s Triumph.  The embarrassment is genuine, and it stems from the fact that NT is extremely procedural, highly novel in its implementation, and has no luck whatsoever. (There is uncertainty due to player behavior and hidden blocks, but no honest-to-goodness luck.) It’s nearly impossible for NT virgins to truly understand the full implications of the rules, and an experienced opponent will use that advantage to tear a n00b apart.  And since the vast majority of my plays have been against first-timers, most games were decided before they even started. On the positive side, Napoleon’s Triumph is an amazing and unique game that, for me, usually ends in 2-3 hours – and sometimes in only 60-90 minutes if a player’s attacks go horribly awry.

 Other highlights:

There is a Chili’s physically connected to the hotel, and they have margarita, beer, and appetizer specials on Thursdays (after 9 pm) and all day Sunday.   Sandwiching a con with margaritas is always a great idea, and that truism remained in full effect this year.  Beer is an acceptable margarita substitute for those of you with non-girly tastes in liquor.  I like beer, to be sure, but I’ll take a girly taste in my mouth over cold suds any day of the week.

 We ended Game Days with a three-player Descent scenario  - second edition, I'm not crazy - that I’d somehow never played before: Blood of the Heroes. The overlord had a marauding flair and a touch of doom, but the heroes (myself included) pulled out a hairline win.  At game’s end, both heroes had been knocked out every turn for three consecutive turns, but we managed to secure a victory when my partner revived himself with two fatigue to spare and escaped the board with our physical prize (no spoilers, so prize not mentioned).  Descent Mark II was a great way to relax, wind down, and close out our 4-day buffet of fun and camaraderie.

Full list of games played:

Concordia, Flash Duel x4, One-Night Werewolf x2, King of Tokyo x2, Cube Quest x2, Seeland, Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs. X-Men, Boss Monster, Guns of Gettysburg, Napoleon’s Triumph, Trains, Ghooost! x3, New England, Timeline: Diversity, La Boca, Suspend, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Star Realms, Rise of Augustus, Eminent Domain, Lord of the Rings LCG, A Study in Emerald (1st win), and Descent 2nd ed.

Random comments on games that were new to me:

Cube Quest:

If the physical board defects weren't so prominent (i.e., if the pads weren't so bumpy), this dice-flicker would be great.  As it stands, it's still awesome 5-minute fun, even if it does only support two players.  My favorite moment from our highlight reel was when I used my own king die to knock my opponent's king off the table; unfortunately, my king was also carried off the edge, thus guaranteeing a double-loss.  There is no winner in war, folks.  Let this be a lesson.

Cube Quest is one of the few literal "light" games that I've played, as the cubes appear to be made of a previously unknown polymer that manages to have a negative density.  My guess is that the dice have been engineered by a secret branch of the military that is allowed to violate basic laws of physics, within reason.

Seeland:

A harmless and fairly enjoyable game until the end, then it just gets annoying. In the last few turns, you might be able to grab a necessary tile and trigger your long-planned scoring coup, or the game might end too quickly and that scoring might never happen.  It just seems fairer to allow partial scoring for incomplete sections at game's end - perhaps half-points to unscored mills.

The fight for space and tiles is reasonably fun, regardless, and the rondel is put to good use.  Though unaware players will consistently set up opponents later in turn order for superhuman scoring opportunitiues, meaning that Seeland can (and will) suffer from "player to the newbie's left wins!" syndrome.

Marvel Dice Masters:

This game is a lot more like Magic: The Gathering than I expected. The designer(s) clearly started with Quarriors and Magic and spliced them together - pretty seamlessly, I might add - so the result is naturally workable and entertaining.

If there are any valid criticisms, I think they're the following:

The game wants to be shorter than it is.  I could play a real game of Magic in the same amount of time - sometimes multiple games - so I'm not sure that Marvel Dice Masters is a good substitute.

Someone within 48-72 hours will hit upon the single best combination of heroes - easy to do, since there are so few card combinations compared to MTG - and then the tourney players (and some casuals) will be netdecking like crazy. But if you play with friends who avoid that sort of soul-spoiling fun it won't really matter.

The game can degenerate into a downward spiral for the losing player once the scales are tipped.  In my last game, for example, I became locked into a cycle of needing to spend energy to put up as many units as possible to defend against my opponent's attacks, so I was never able to improve my dice pool by purchasing more (and better) units. It was a hole that I couldn't climb out of, and it was pretty frustrating.

The game (currently) only supports two players.  I can do lots of things with my 2-player game time, including short awesome wargames like Fading Glory and Quebec 1759, so Marvel Dice Masters wouldn't hit the table often anyway.  My kids avoid 2-player games at all costs, unfortunately, so this is a definite no-buy for me.

All in all, though, if you've got time, money, and opponents to burn, it could be a worthwhile investment.

Boss Monster:

I was starved for amusement five minutes into the game, but it only got worse with each passing eyeroll. Dungeon Raiders is SO much better. I had no clue that Boss Monster was a Kickstarter project until I started cruising the game comments on BGG, and now I can't believe I thought it was anything else.

The game is like the horrific scene from 1978's Invasion of the Body Snatchers where a pod victim - after being freshly duplicated - is shaken by a concerned friend, which causes the corpse's pink husk (an empty shell) to deflate and crumble to dust. There just isn't anything there. At all.

It's unbelievable that a game this awful raised over two hundred THOUSAND dollars and besmirched the reputations of 5,000 overconfident KS supporters. How is there not a class action lawsuit, and why isn't all of BGG asking for representation?

As Ralph Nader would say, this game is unfun at any speed - and a recall is most certainly in order.

Trains:

Sure, a designer might strike out from the deckbuilding pack by overfocusing on hand filler (Waste cards) and their removal, but then you're left with something like Trains.

Trash shuffling is a crushing bore, garbage collectors have stinky clothes, and a pigeon stuck in a disposal is a good start on a hot casserole.  If you can't connect those dots, I just can't help you.

The board and cubes do add another dimension to the game, but scientists have known for years that all dimensions beyond the 3rd are wasted without special eyewear.

Guns of Gettysburg:

At last, I managed a partial play thanks to a run-in with a friendly Virginian desperate to teach the game to others.  Our session covered the first third of the game (day 1 of 3), took 3.5 hours with rules explanation, and was engaging and enjoyable.

Don't think that prior knowledge of Napoleon's Triumph will help you grasp Guns of Gettysburg - which is superficially similar - as that misstep will result in a fatal concussion.  The boards and blocks belong to the same species, but movement, combat, and other details of the two systems are radically different.

In our incomplete play, I was able to see GoG's potential, but I could also see its foibles. It's significantly longer, more fiddly, and more complex than NT, and I'm not sure that even one of those issues is acceptable, let alone all three.

My personal copy isn't even stickered yet, as I remain doubtful that I can fully understand or retain the rules without cognitive implants.  I'm slowly becoming convinced (maybe) that it's worth prepping my copy and removing it from the trade pile. Though it remains to be seen whether I'll manage a full play in the next decade.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig:

Not nearly as interesting as Alhambra, as there are no substantive limitations on what pieces of the castle can be placed where.  Vegas Showdown is also superior, though I'm not its biggest fan.

Also, the version I played - a very late model prototype - didn't seem to be fully developed.  The low auction prices are too low, and the high auction prices are too high.  I didn't get the impression that the designer was still making changes to the game, but I hope that impression is in error.  The game needs work.

Suspend:

It's a forgone conclusion that every 10-minute dexterity game will receive a 6-7 rating from me, even though I'd never suggest a game and there's a chance that I'll never actually play it again.

Suspend is like all other "pretty good" dexterity games, except that it requires players to use marshmallow roasters with bumps, notches, and pretty colors.

Note: "Pretty good" is my highest possible dexterity rating, which can be useful or not depending on your philosophical leanings and the degree to which my cranium filling overlaps with yours.

La Boca:

A double-blind Ubongo where your temporary partner hopes that you'll die so that they can get a competent replacement. I like it, except when I'm on the less competent side of the table.

The partner-rotation system is cleverly arranged so that every player eventually partners up with every other player.  A gamer's equivalent of a key party, in other words.

Timeline: Diversity:

Perfect for gamers who like to squeeze things between other things. Oh, and everyone else also feels dumb while playing, so it isn't just you.

One-Night Werewolf:

Compresses everything fun about Werewolf into 600 seconds, without any aftertaste or side effects.

Its only drawback is that it typically gets played at conventions after midnight, and at that point my lips, brain, and tongue don't function properly.  But that's a problem with me, not with the game. After a grueling day of trying to learn Guns of Gettysburg, for example, I can barely remember my own role, let alone the possible identities of everyone else.

Star Realms:

A deck-builder that allows me to destroy my opponent via direct damage rather than scoring victory points. Thank heavens for small miracles.

Pros:

- Super cheap

- Fits in pocket

- Plays very quickly

- Great conversation starter when supermodels rummage through my clothes

Cons:

- Two-player only without multiple sets

- Probably doesn't play well with more than two anyway

- Won't start my car if I lose my keys

- Subject to washing machine damage if still in pocket at the end of the week

Augustus:

This is one of those interesting occurrences where a game works much better on paper than in practice.  You'd never know from the rules that Augustus is a shocking waste of time, and yet it is.

What it boils down to is that players get into a vicious activity-pain-activity cycle, where each "activity" is a 2-second burst of meeple movement and each pain is an empty timeless void that lasts forever.

The system is simple, admittedly, and mechanically sound. Players call out symbols bingo-style, complete cards, and select replacements. At the end of the game, there are typical euro bonuses for stuff that I don't care about, but you just might.

The problem is that players take WAY too long to pick out their new cards, so every microsecond of gameplay is interrupted with 3 minutes of indecisive downtime.  And when multiple players complete their cards simultaneously, it just gets worse. My impatience reached record levels in my first (and last) game, but since a Guinness representative wasn't present it'll never be entered into the official hall of records.

So I won't be coming near this one again.  Wow, was this ever painful.

Final thoughts on games played before:

Ghooost! still sucks, but it’s fast and others were in the mood.  Richard Garfield has far more misses than hits, in my opinion, so remember to thank whichever deities had an intervening hand in MTG and King of Tokyo.

In our session of A Study in Emerald, I won as a Restorationist by bolting up the VP track in the most obvious way possible: claiming cities like mad (15 points), using the associated city cards to bump up the Restorationist VP track (6 points), and recruiting a Restorationist agent (1 point).  Once I not-so-secretly hit the 22-point finish line, I revealed myself for the win. The lowest-scoring player was a Royalist, thankfully, otherwise I’d have been screwed.  With three games behind me, which I count as a fair shake, I can conclude that I’m just not an Emerald fan – so I’ll probably never play again.  Everyone else in my local group adores the game, however, so it may be tough to avoid.  Still, I will do my best.

Concluding comments:

There you have it.  I’ll continue to attend Game Days until the goblin apocalypse, as it’s a great con attended by many close friends.  If you’d like to be one of them, stop by next year, have a girly taste, and join the party.

 

 

 

 

There Will Be Games
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