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Bill’s Grab Bag of Gaming

There’s a lot of stuff to get into since my triumphant return from south Florida so let’s get right to it.

First off, congrats to Brian Rhodes for winning the No High Scores March Madness contest. Brian went out on a limb and picked Kentucky to win it all and that sort of hard noses handicapping paid off as he won by two points. For those keeping score at home I finished #15, Todd #24, Brandon #29 and Matt #31. Matt’s Norfolk State prediction of a title didn’t pay off. I’ll contact Brian soon about a prize…of some sort.

Anyway Florida. The time off was needed; my wife and daughter went para-sailing, which I have done before, and they had a blast. Most of our vacation was spent at the pool/beach.

I saw The Hunger Games which was…ok, I guess. I don’t see what all the fuss is about, though. That movie was about an hour too long. Nice costumes though.

I’ve been mostly out of the loop so I haven’t read any Pax East stuff so I have no idea what went down at the show. I’m going to assume that a lot of people got together and saw and played a lot of games and a lot of websites reported about that. That’s just a guess, though.

But I have been playing a lot of stuff of late, mostly of the iPad and cardboard variety.

Over my week long Florida excursion I rediscovered just how much I love Neuroshima Hexon the iPad. I bought the Babel-13 Armies expansion (two armies I never did buy for the actual boardgame) and it was like playing a new game. These two armies are wildly different and if you play Hex on the Pad I highly recommend them. The three of us played a ton of Hex on the plane and it made the flight, the layover, and the second flight leg just zip by. This is one of those iPad apps that make the physical boardgame obsolete. While I enjoy the physicality of holding the tiles, playing on the Pad is just a huge convenience. Plus it never screws up rules.

The only thing missing from the app is online multiplayer. It’s still a “pass the Pad” game but if you want to play a brilliant game on your $500 boardgame machine, this is exhibit A.

I finally played Titan, a game that was first released in boardgame form in the early ’80s. This is one of those games that I have read a lot about over the years but never took the purchase plunge because it sounds like a very “’80s” design — big, long, bloated, and potentially great. Games like Titan can be wonderful or can be hours and hours of “meh”. The boardgame Talisman falls in this same category for me. I have had awesome Talisman sessions filled with laughter and cries of agony and sessions where everyone quit halfway through.

The Titan iPad app makes it amazingly clear that I made the right call by not buying the boardgame. I have came close multiple times — literally had the mouse cursor over the purchase button, but never did pull the trigger. If I want to play a game like this I’ll fire up Heroes of Might & Magic. And no way would I want to sit through a 4+ hour game of Titan at the table. I don’t mind long games — I’ll play Arkham Horror or Britannia or Successors– but Titan is the sort of old timey design that overstays its welcome. Some people are huge fans of this game but the iPad app finally made it clear that I need to save my money. I consider that a win.

I have purchased Nightfall but have yet to fire it up. More on that later.

On the PC it’s all about Confrontation. I’m working on my review and I am several hours into the campaign and I keep trying to compare this to Dawn of War II but that comparison never did feel right. Confrontation, the more I play it, reminds of an advanced Infinity engine game without all of the role-playing dialogue bits. You have skills and spells and stuff like that but it’s 100% a combat game with a story tacked on to give you a reason to fight. But the camera, the pause/play design and the skirmish model reminds me a great deal of a Baldur’s Gate II in how it approaches combat. (You can spin the camera though.) It’s certainly growing on me. It comes off as a real-time (yet with the ability to pause) tabletop/minis game. I have no idea how faithful this is to the actual minis game it is based on but you can see hit percentages and damage numbers and stuff like that as you play. I do wonder if the constant “move here and fight” design will eventually grow stale but so far I’m having a decent time with it.

It’s damn ugly though.

Finally, on the table I got a game of Krakow 1325 AD in over the break. This is a strange 4-player only team based card game of trick taking and back stabbing. Imagine a 4-player game with two teams and only one person can win. It’s very light and combines elements of trick taking and…worker placement. Yeah, it’s odd. But I think it works especially with the right group. One team is the black team and the other white. In addition each player receives a secret identity card (green, orange, blue, or yellow – they are themed but really it’s the color that matters).

Each round the lead player plays a card (called an Intrigue) of a certain color with a strength value attached to it. The next player plays a card with a negative value targeting that same color. Then the original player’s teammate plays a card to boost the strength of the same colored card and finally the last player plays a negative strength card and you arrive at a total. If it’s positive the Intrigue works and you follow the instructions on the original card and add cubes to the board (which is supposed to be Krakow in 1325 AD) in a certain district. Each team is trying to “win” each district for end game victory points.

The kicker is that each intrigue, which is a specific color, will match the secret identity of one of the players, and if the intrigue succeeds it will earn that player additional points at the end of the game. So you may want an Intrigue to succeed even if it’s played by the opposing team so you may sandbag a round or two and choose not to help your teammate even if you can. This leads to a lot of this sort of banter:

“You seriously can’t help more than that?”
“Nope. My cards are awful.”
“I better bot see a -9 blue card from you next round”
“So…um…whose turn is it?”

It’s chaotic in that it can be very hard to determine who is in fact winning the game until the secret identities are revealed at the end and even if your team wins…you might not. Once you learn the rules you can play a game in about an hour. It’s a neat game and if you’re interested in getting it you need to step up because the publisher is out of business and the designer of the game is selling the final stocked supply at the Krakow website. Once they are gone, they are gone forever. I think the designer is in Canada now so North American orders should work, but I have no idea how many copies are left.

Wrapping up, I played a few games of Hansa Teutonica, which is a game that I mentioned before I left. Can’t say enough about this one. Just a great, great, game. It’s that sweet spot Eurogame that combines classic Euro elements (in this case Route/Network Building) with direct player confrontation. Slap a player mat in front me of me that requires me to look at nothing but that for over an hour and I’ll hate the game. Allow me to mess with other players and screw up their plans and I’ll usually have a good time. Hansa Teutonica asks you to do so much with so little time that it creates beautiful gaming tension each time you play it. Brilliant stuff.

Finally, my buddy Mace was in town over the weekend and we got games of Battlestar Galactica and the Blood Bowl card game in, both of which remain personal favs. That’s the thing about great games. Boardgames need shelf life. And so many games pass the initial smell test only to sit on the shelf afterward, but if you buy and play a lot of games your favorites will eventually get back to the table even after a hiatus.

So that’s a lot of gaming for a fella on vacation. And while Florida was nice, it’s good to be home.

So, Mass effect 3. How about that ending?