Thursday, December 22, 2005


We finally got this to the table on Tuesday, and all I can say It combines auctions, negotiation, money-management, area control, player interaction, and screwage into one package--but it never feels like a mish-mash. I lost horribly--and I type those words far too often--but I enjoyed it. It's mathy, which may be why I lost, so it could be prone to slowdown with people who suffer from Analysis Paralysis. But I tend to play by the seat of my pants and in-the-moment--which is almost certainly related to the aforementioned losing tendency.

We followed that with a card game called Five Crowns. We thought it was a trick-taking game, but after Randy read the rules it was more like a rummy game. Similar to Phase 10, but without the urge to drink poison after 3 hours of playing and realizing you're only on Phase 4. One good thing that came of playing this was that, unlike any Game Night I'd attended, we actually talked. We discussed movies, music, books, funny stories. It was great! Usually we're too busy staring at a board and figuring out our next move to actually get to know these people that we spend one night a week with. I heartily recommend playing a fluffy game once in a while, just to connect. I had a blast.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hernia-Inducing Fantasy

Most of what I read is science fiction, and occasionally nontraditional fantasy that falls under the New Weird moniker (Mieville, VanderMeer, Ford). However, I've never completely turned my back on what brought me into the world of reading in the first place--the doorstop fantasy. I got the urge recently to delve into some epic fantasy and decided to break my own rule of never starting a series until all of the books have been released. I picked up George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, and away I went.
The quick and dirty? I like it. It's not full of elves and magicians and scullery boys who turn out to be players in a great prophecy to bring down the Dark Lord. It's very political, with various Houses vying for control of the kingdom's throne. It's not reinventing fantasy by any means, but it's fairly well-written and has some very clever concepts. Telling the story from various points of view also allows us to see more of the motivations of characters, helping us realize that even heroes have unsavory sides and that villains have motivations other than the need for some nebulous "power." I'll likely continue with the series. I won't be buying any volumes while they're in hardcover, however. It's escapist fantasy...something I need on occasion.

The board game based on the books is quite good, though. It's the sort of game I stink at, but I enjoy it all the same.

In contrast, I just got Gene Wolfe's latest collection, Starwater Strains. Reading Wolfe will likely make me rethink my estimation of Martin. Wolfe makes nearly every other writer look...well, pathetic. He's a wonder.

Going Over the Edge

Last night I realized just how far I've fallen for gaming.

Because I help out with the youth group and teach a Sunday school class, our church graciously gave me a gift certificate to Borders. So in I went with a 30% off coupon to blow that gift certificate. I saw plenty of books that I'd like to pick up, but I also noticed they had Knizia's Lord of the Rings. It's a cooperative game where players are working together to battle the game itself rather than each other.
Now I've played LotR once, and while I didn't think it was a bad game, I felt no need to own it. But I started to think about what a good deal 30% off was, and I knew people, such as Chris Farrell, who adore the game, so I figured I must be missing something. In the end, I picked it up since it was basically like getting the game for free.
My point? This is unheard of for me. I have always blown money on books, and for me to voluntarily choose a game over books is crazy. Part of my reasoning was that I'd just received the gigantic 22nd Annual Year's Best Science Fiction anthology as a Christmas gift from my I had a fair bit of reading ahead of me. But still...
As an upside, I think Janna might take to this because it's cooperative. Plus it plays as few as two. We'll give it a spin soon.

Tonight we're playing one of my new games, Santiago, for the first time. I am really looking forward to it. Report to come.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Goa and Vegas Showdown

Kind of a haphazard gaming night. Nobody brought anything because everyone assumed others would bring something, so lots of indecision...I hate that.

So when someone suggested Goa, I jumped on it. It's one of my very favorites, and I'm always willing to play. This game ended with two players tied at 39, and one (me) at 38. Doesn't get much closer than that.

Then we played Vegas Showdown, a newer Avalon Hill game. It has nothing to do with gambling; each player is trying to build the best casino. Better rooms, better connected rooms, and various other things give victory points. It's basically an auction game. Each round various rooms are up for auction. There's a minimum bid on each room, but for every round that that room isn't bought, the price drops. The bidding is very close to Knizia's great Amun Re. Once you purchase a room, you place it on your mat, a la Princes of Florence. Apparently there are similarities tto Alhambra, but I haven't played that one yet, so I can't comment.
In the end, it wasn't a bad game. It's nice to see Avalon Hill, whose games target a more mainstream audience, taking good mechanics from good games to showcase. But if given a choice, I'd MUCH rather play one of the games from which the mechanics have been taken.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Siena...Don't believe the hype

Siena has been getting a lot of buzz lately. So I wanted to see what everyone was talking about, and I had the chance on Tuesday. Bottom line? It's a game that's hamstrung by its own cleverness.

I can only assume that the game was designed around the painting that acts as the game board. It's certainly a novel idea. But just because something is novel, doesn't mean it should be acted upon.
Whereas with most games the art serves the game, here we have the game serving the art. What this ends up doing is constricting the game to the point that every single rule and mechanic feels forced to fit into the world of this painting.

The illustrious Mike Siggins said this: "Ridiculously overblown and fiddly game that presents as a full hour of impenetrable rules and card reading. We struggled through and found an average game that revolves around timing decisions. Too tied to the city theme, in need of a developer's careful trimming. Interminable game end. It takes a long time to play, and has that annoying 'feature' where you work away at something (in this case production) and someone else comes along at the finish and steals all your hard graft. I LOVE that."

This was my experience exactly...right down to the hourlong reading of the inscrutable rules. If you're curious, by all means play it...when someone else brings it. I wouldn 't rush out and buy it though.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

TV Wasteland--Part 2

I admit that I haven't watched everything new this season, but the truth is that most of it is dreck.
There are a few notable exceptions.

1) Everybody Hates Chris--I like this show a lot. Unfortunately, I've forgotten to watch it on at least 3 occasions. It's just not implanted itself in my psyche so that I set aside time to watch or tape it.

2) The Office--I never watched the BBC show, so I'm kind of sick of everyone comparing the two shows. Who cares that it's not as good as the original?! From where I'm standing, The Office is fantastic. There was one episode that was so over-the-top with the sex references that I almost wrote it off. They really went off the deep end with that one, but all other episodes are incredibly clever.

3)My Name is Earl--This is the kind of originality and hilarity that hasn't been duplicated since Scrubs showed up on the scene. Well-acted, clever, thoughful, and so funny that I find myself watching the entire show with a big, stupid grin on my face. Make room on your Tuesdays for this one.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Age of Steam in Korea and Revisiting Power Grid

We played Age of Steam last night, opting for the Korea map, which was a first for all playing. It was a 4-player game, and it seems that this is the ideal number for this map--room to expand at first before we start wrecking into each other. The thing I love about the Age of Steam maps is that each one isn't just different geographically--though they obviously are--but each one introduces a new twist that makes each map feel like playing a whole new game. The Korean twist is that instead of cities being a predetermined and unchanging color, each city takes on the color of the cubes contained within it. This makes long connections much harder since you're more likely to run into a city containing the color you're trying to ship. If that happens you stop and score from that city. I was able to make a couple of 5-point runs midgame, but on the last turn the best I could manage was a couple of 3-pointers since the cities were clogged with all kinds of colors. I eked out a 2-point victory...and for some reason winning at Age of Steam feels like a real accomplishment since things are so tight and it's so brutal. I love this game, and every time I play it crawls higher in my Top 10 list of games.

The AoS victory was needed because just before that we'd played Power Grid for the second week in a row, and I'd experienced a downward spiral like I'd never experienced before. In last week's game, Skippen had gotten behind early and was never able to catch up. Since it was my first time playing I wasn't prepared to say that it was the game's fault, but after experiencing the exact same thing I am rapidly losing confidence in Power Grid. So on my turn I'm pretty broke, which means I can buy a better power plant OR buy resources for my crappy power plants OR expand my network. We were playing a full 6-player game, so the power plants were being blazed through, and before I knew it I was having to pay 30+ for a decent one. Can't afford that so I buy lots of resources to power my obsolete plants just to power my pitiful 4-house network. It's a spiral I can't escape because every turn I'm making a piddly 40 bucks. If I buy a better plant I can't buy resources or get income. I'm just baffled; because this game is so adored on the Geek I was prepared to say that I'm just missing something--and that may still be true--but I fear it will be a long time before I'm prepared to give this game another go. Sitting there for 90 minutes, knowing from the 3rd turn that I would never catch up and couldn't affect the game in the slightest, was just no fun. And I game to have fun.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Merchants of Amsterdam and Power Grid

I finally got to play these two games.

Merchants of Amsterdam is one of the more overlooked Knizia designs. People seem to think it's just okay, and there's considerable debate about the damage-prone timer. We decided to each put a finger around the timer as the auction was going on. There was still tension, but the timer wasn't banged nearly as hard as it could have been.
I enjoyed the game. There are many arenas to remain balanced in, and the scoring rounds always seem to come around just before you get that ruling market in Africa (or wherever). I like the decisions about where to lay cards. It's a gamble, and it doesn't always pay off. Finally, the maligned timer is actually a great addition. The tension is just ratcheted up by not having the luxury to sit back and debate whether you'll increase the last person's bid. I'm not very good at auction games, and I'm always suspicious that a good strategy is to not buy anything (same goes for Modern Art), but what kind of lame game does that make for? Why would I want to spend 90 minutes playing a bidding game and not bidding? I'm still debating whether to purchase it before it's gone forever, but I'd definitely play it any time.

Power Grid is an enigma. I can think of few games that received more gushing praise over the last year, so I was really anxious to finally play it. As an aside, I think the map art is magnificent. Some complain that it's too busy but I just love it.
Three of the four players had never played before...and that was good because I think this is one of those games where someone who's played before has a huge advantage over a novice. First, the game is really fiddly--I don't particularly enjoy having to check off a bunch of little housekeeping things every round. The auctions are interesting. You see that great plant in the Futures Market, but do you wait and hope it comes up this round, or just buy something else? The commodities market is great. I love how certain commoditites get more scarce and thus more expensive, while others slowly beome cheaper and cheaper. I'm surprised I liked this game at all, simply based on the amount of math involved...but I did. It one of those games that after one playing I feel like there's a lot bubbling just under the surface--I felt this with Liberte, and Euphrat & Tigris too.
I definitely want to play again. And since the map is two-sided and you only play with limited sections, the replayability is through the roof.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

TV Wasteland--Part 1

It's that time of year...where I make an effort to watch every single new show that sounds even mildly interesting to see if anything sticks. In the last few years (or seasons, or whatever) the new shows have been just terrible, but this year I still have high hopes as the networks are trying to cash in on the Lost phenomenon and create interesting, mysterious shows. In my opinion, Lost and The Office are the only good shows to come out of last year--with Lost being the most gripping show I think I've ever seen.

I've taped a few of the newbies to be watched when I have time, but I did manage to see Supernatural and How I Met Your Mother.

Supernatural is on the WB, and was genuinely interesting and creepy. It reminded me of The X-Files: Weird happenings in small-town USA, complete with crazy local characters and some mild humor thrown in to diffuse the creepiness. Unfortunately, this probably won't get watched much by me, as it's on Tuesdays (my regular gaming night), and is on at the same time as My Name is Earl and The Office, which will be the recipients of my precious VCR time.

How I Met Your Mother...I have to read the USA Today for my job (looking for interesting articles to write my own articles about), and they gave this show 3 1/2 out of 4 stars--whoa! How could I not watch it?
This was beyond bad. The show is "cleverly" staged as a father telling his kids about how he met their mother (hence the title). But the believability issues start with the first of many sex references that are unlikely to be included in even the most liberal parent's love story told to the kiddos. The writing is lame, the dialogue unbelievable and unfunny, and it's delivered by actors who are clearly not used to doing a traditional sitcom. They deliver these stiff lines, and there's a hesitation, or maybe expectant pause, at the end as if they're leaving room for the laugh track. It's TERRIBLE. I want that half-hour of my life back...and I'll never trust the USA Today again. What witless simian is reviewing TV over there?

The good news is that so far Mondays are wide open TV-wise. If the MNF game is good, I'll watch. Otherwise I have an extra night. To be continued...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


I finally saw Constantine this weekend. It's a movie I wanted to see when it first came out, but it wasn't the sort of thing I'd go to a theater to see. Plus, since my son was born, we've seen a grand total of one movie in a that's precious real estate that I have to save for something worthy (like Batman Begins).

This is a fantastic movie that is just ripe with theological discussion starters. I don't know how anyone could leave this movie and not wonder if there's actually a hell...and if they could end up there. Aside from Gabriel's unbalanced ending, his (her?) plain and simple explanation of grace to Constantine was just brilliant.

And the line from Angela that she doesn't believe in the devil, and Constantine says, "You should. He believes in you." Fantastic.

Midnight is an intersting character. He runs a bar that is "neutral ground" for angels and demons to play in. But by the end of the movie he realizes that by remaining neutral, he's actually chosen the side of the devil.

Much of the theology was absolutely screwy, but there is a ton to think about, ponder, and discuss from this movie. Don't dismiss it as a religious Resident Evil. It's much more.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Crusader Rex

So Skippen and I played our first game of Crusader Rex, the new Columbia block game about the Crusades.

My first impression is that I'm going to like this. We played a MAJOR siege rule wrong, and surely some small ones that I haven't noticed yet. It was tense, and there were some interesting decisions to be made. It's also shown me that I don't have the mind-set for least yet. I never feel like I'm planning anything other than that very move. Long-term? What's long-term? I'm just along for the ride, and then the end comes...I've won or I've lost. And I'm not sure why, either way.

I read someone's session report and how they used the Turcopoles (I think) to block roadways to fortresses because they fight first and so can just retreat, slowing the enemy up considerably. I literally smacked my forehead on that one. It would have taken me forever to think of that...if I ever did. And that's a fairly basic tactic, I would think. D'oh!

I love wargames...and I keep buying them. In fact, Carthage arrived yesterday, and this thing is a Beast. In terms of complexity, it makes Crusader Rex look like CandyLand. Will I ever play it? Maybe. Will I win if I do play it? Most likely, no. Will I have a blast losing? Yes.

A First Attempt

Nobody will likely read this, other than my wife, who loves me and will at least feign interest.
I don't have an agenda with this. I love God, and I'll surely talk about that. I love my family, and they'll play a big part in this. I'm a fan of board games--German or Eurogames mostly...with a smattering of wargames thrown in--I'll likely talk about those some.
Books? Yep.
Music? You betcha.
Movies? Okay, sure.
T.V.? If anything other than Lost shows up on the radar.

That's it.
That's me.