Gamesplosion: my good friend Justin’s visitation

The past several days have been, as one friend termed it, “gaming hibernation” for me – and after the past 7 week whirlwind of house/garage work, car work, and project’ing even more beyond… I needed this period of intense cerebral gamesplosion which is oddly like rest for me!  For those interested parties, links with each game below to their Board Game Geek pages for more details; for those only-slightly-bemused parties, photos!

Justin traveled from New Haven to a familial wedding in Ohio, and then arrived at my house with a treasure trove of a vehicle:

Justin's daily driver is a gaming treasure vessel

Justin’s daily driver is a gaming treasure vessel

In order from his arrival Sunday afternoon, we played a good number of the options between his selection he brought and my collection in the basement here:

1) Duel of Ages II

Duel of Ages II, set up for our second round of play!

Duel of Ages II, set up for our second round of play!

Have you ever wanted to team Kit Carson with a UFO and an elven pathfinder (and several other wacky characters), and throw down against Davy Crockett, Annie Oakley, a pair of Hobbits and the like?  Well this is the game for you – a hex map with teams of characters (up to 16 players, so it can be a crazy battle royale) brought to a magical realm across time and space, to fight with weapons and gear equally mixed up.

Mixed up to the point of “well my cave goblin drops his laser sniper rifle, and reveals his Sumerian war chariot to chase after Annie Oakley” – which is a bucket and a half of theme each time you play.  For the competitive amongst us, you can SERIOUSLY work your team’s attributes to match the scenario at hand (there are several different ones), but even for entry level gamers this is a bit of work to get the rules down but then it is easy to play (and hard to stop, you’ll want to set up the next round immediately thereafter!)

2) Lost Cities

(no photo)

This is a very quick and easy game to learn and love – Justin and his wife have given some 7 or 8 copies as wedding gifts to non-gamer newlyweds, who all end up loving it!  The premise is that there are 5 historical sites you’re funding expeditions into – but abstractly represented with 5 different color decks of cards.  It costs 20 points to start playing a color, and you gain the point value of the cards you play… but they can only be played if higher than the previous card – so hand management is a big deal here!  Check it out if you’re wondering where to enter the game world and only have one reliable gaming friend early on!

3) High Frontier

High Frontier - board view

High Frontier – board view

This one is a doozy.  This is a scientifically-accurate game about the notion of governments and organizations sending rockets of various sorts out into the solar system to prospect different planetary bodies (planets, moons, comets, asteroids) for water and in order to build factories.  It takes a very careful amount of planning, balancing the weight of the rocket, its components, and the fuel you want to bring versus the distance you want to move – and even then, nearly every planet and moon will have a risky landing sequence, with a 1 in 6 chance that you bungle the landing and crash!  The game has an absurdly small number of pieces and the physical set up is nearly instant – but we spent just shy of 3 hours learning the rules and making sense of them!  Probably the nerdiest thing I have ever played, and one of my favorite games of all time now.

High Frontier detail view around Mercury and Venus

High Frontier detail view around Mercury and Venus.  Lines on the board represent orbital paths you can travel along.

4) Glory to Rome

(no photo)

This is one of my games, one Justin and I played before several months ago, but one I always forget to suggest to people because the packaging doesn’t have a label on the side, only the top!  The notion is: we are each rebuilding a section of Imperial Rome and want to both construct buildings as told (some of which offer straight victory points, others offer benefits over the course of the game’s actions)… but we are also all crooked.  We are also trying to sneak building materials from our stockpile into our vault, and get points for all such “borrowed” materials at the end of the game.  Only ever played this with 2 people, hoping to get up to the maximum of 5 some day soon…

5) Space Alert

Space Alert, with all stressors/pieces in place

Space Alert, with all stressors/pieces in place

The other of my games we played during this visit was Space Alert –  hands down, the hardest cooperative game I have ever played.  We are intrepid scouts going into hyperspace and emerging into… bad things! Both external threats (space ships, asteroids, energy clouds) and internal threats (saboteurs, malfunctions, alien diseases) assault the ship, which isn’t too unexpected… but there is a sound track with the game, and it provides timing limits to plan out our strategy to deal with them AS WELL AS telling us when each threat arrives, and where.  In other words, we know the meteor approaches at Time 2, but have to play our respective intended actions face down in a coordinated way to make sure we volley fire the lasers at the right time and range, and get the shields up… but don’t forget the reactor needs refueling… but the computer will also need maintenance… and so forth!! A hell of a hard game, but hot damn was it fun.  I look forward to subjecting/introducing my friends around home to this game/suffering experience 🙂

6) Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small

Agricola, view of our respective boards (and the enemy farmer, Justin!)

Agricola, view of our respective boards (and the enemy farmer, Justin!)

Another one of those palate cleanser games (smaller and easier to learn, and quicker to play) was necessary after the adrenaline rush of Space Alert, and Justin hit another home run by having brought this game.  Based on Agricola, the very depressing and complex game of “build up your farm but sometimes fail to be able to feed your children because you needed that stove upgrade,” the creator of that game made this one for two players only, focused on animal husbandry and pasture management only, and it is a blast.  We only played the base game, which has 4 total special buildings to build… but there are two expansions, which each add 27 buildings, each bearing a special effect(s) to benefit your farm.  This game is so good that I not only bought it and the expansions… I am probably going to give the original, sad-panda Agricola another try… which I never expected to do.

Agricola, detailed view of my game board with sheep, pigs, horses and cows in their respective stalls and pastures

Agricola, detailed view of my game board with sheep, pigs, horses and cows in their respective stalls and pastures

7) War of the Ring (Second Edition)

War of the Ring, initial board setup

War of the Ring, initial board setup.  Mordor and its allies, red, start with a couple more armies.  A couple.

This was the juggernaut game of the visit, a two player epic which covers the entirety of the Tolkien Lord of the Rings saga in a single board game.  The main event is the military conflict, and each turn can also involve the side quest (which is actually the main event) either sneaking the Ring towards Mount Doom in Mordor, or as Sauron searching for it and trying to corrupt Frodo fully.  In a way reminiscent of other favorites of mine, like Twilight Struggle, it is a military game driven by events on cards, and the rules will incline you to follow the real story (the Cold War, for Twilight Struggle; the LOTR saga with this game)… but don’t force you to follow the way it really went.  Along those lines, then, I decided to pursue the military course, which is tough because there is a pronounced disparity of military forces initially on the map.  There are a few poorly populated Mordor strongholds in the far north, which I was able to take with massed Elven assault… but I was out of real units after that, and had no close and viable option for the final point I needed to take.  The Dwarves are very slow to get into the battle, and have significantly fewer units available… but are also the only Free Peoples faction without any significant enemy presence immediately around them.  So, by bringing Gandalf the White over to them, with his movement of 3 rather than Gimli’s movement of two, I was able to feint towards a better defended stronghold… and then sweep south all the way into Mordor in a single turn, as per below:

Red, Orange, Yellow were the 2 space moves by Gimli and the Dwarven army.  They were left within 2 spaces of the grey circle, a Mordor stronghold... but by bringing Gandalf the White onto the army I could move them one further... the green line sweep into Mordor itself, a complete surprise attack!  Because of dice rolling luck and some good combat cards, I was able to hold it to the end of the turn, and squeak out a military victory!!

Red (partially Gimli’s departing move from the Fellowship on his own), Orange, Yellow were the 2 space moves by Gimli and the Dwarven army. They were left within 2 spaces of the grey circle, a Mordor stronghold… but by bringing Gandalf the White onto the army I could move them one further… the green line sweep into Mordor itself, a complete surprise attack! Because of dice rolling luck and some good combat cards, I was able to hold it to the end of the turn, and squeak out a military victory!!

One hell of a main event for us, and our only regret… is not having had the time to play it again!

The surviving, victorious assault party into Mordor, known as the Fellowship of the Dwarves (plus Gandalf)

The surviving, victorious assault party into Mordor, known as the Fellowship of the Dwarves (plus Gandalf)

8) Yomi

Yomi, two unnecessarily purdy game mats which only have a place to count your hit points

Yomi, two unnecessarily purdy game mats which only have a place to count your hit points

Finally, late into Tuesday night, we finished with a few rounds of Yomi, a game designed by David Sirlin, a guy who worked for Capcom on fighting video games… and wanted a perfectly balanced card game equivalent.  Which is a crazy idea.  Even crazier: he did it.  By balancing all the moves VERY carefully (primarily through basing each deck on a poker deck), this game becomes primarily focused on bluffing and reading your opponent, and then choosing whether to attack or block, to throw or use a special attack.  And it is also possible to use additional cards as combos.  And each round is really quick to play.  Just like a video game but without the advantage going to whomever is twitchiest!  A delightful end to a delightful half week of board and card gaming overdosing.

___________________________________________

So, I am not sure if you’re tired having read that… but I am tired having done that, both the gaming over 3 days and then typing it all out!  All told, a truly wonderful and much-needed prolonged break, with my good friend Justin, and our gaming buddy Augalo:

Augalo, our gaming buddy

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