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.