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BrakkeCon 2012: Of Eurogames and Americubes

Last weekend my family (including my buddy Billy Baroo) made our yearly trek to see Todd in Indianapolis. We take turns driving out to see each other once a year so this was our turn to make the three+ hour drive from the east side of Columbus.

Interstate 70 between Indiana and Ohio is as thrilling as it sounds.

These weekends are mainly boardgame fests and this was no exception although this particular weekend was bizarre in that my wife didn’t take part – she sat on the couch and worked all weekend. Her job sucks that way.

I always find it interesting to play with Todd and his crew. He usually has a few buddies come by to hang out with us so the games tend to be in the 5-6 player range, but watching the dynamics of Todd’s group compared to the one I play with on a regular basis – it’s interesting. For example, Todd doesn’t do civilization games like Small World and Brief History of the World (sucks for me..) but give Todd a pick up and deliver game like Railroad Tycoon or Fire & Axe and he’s a content little Todd. His buddy Jay on the other hand delights in ANY game that allows for direct conflict and laughter and ANY chance to put the screws to Todd. His buddy Jeff will make a deal with you at 8:00 and then by 8:10 absolutely renege on said deal and stab you in the throat. I saw this first hand in a game of Shogun.

“I’ll leave you alone if you leave me alone…”

“Sure!”

None of this backstabbing and Machiavellian shenanigans and prevented me from obtaining the title of King of Tokyo.

I adore King of Tokyo. I think it’s truly a wonderful game. The rules can be explained in five minutes and you get to bash other players, talk enormous loads of smack and you can play several games in an hour.

We played multiple games of KoT on Saturday and my daughter took part in a few of them and I could have played more. This press your luck dice rolling game about monsters beating each other up over Tokyo is great because it fosters what, to me anyway, games are all about – interacting directly with friends. I’d hate this game if played on the iPad. Or with strangers. You need to be able to taunt people into staying in Tokyo just one more round. It’s hardly a master class of intricate chin rubbing game design, but in some ways KoT is the perfect game.
I cannot recommend it enough. Unless you are a fun murderer.

(Before I die I will play boardgames with Barnes. NHS fun fact: Barnes is the only member on staff that I have not met in person. Well, Matt lives across the pond so he doesn’t count because I’m an American and we don’t care about Europeans.)

We met Todd’s new girlfriend Friday night for the first time. She’s a lawyer. Seemed like a very nice and personable woman despite her profession and so I decided to toss a game called Patrician on the table. Like I said, King of Tokyo isn’t for strangers – and it’s especially not for new girlfriends.
Patrician is classic Euro Filler. Themeless and easy to learn, it’s what some people call a “gateway” game – a term I have grown to absolutely despise. Still, I like Patrician. It’s a straight Euro that I actually enjoy.

I have a weird relationship with Eurogames.

I got back into the boardgame hobby around 2006 and like many I got hooked on Settlers of Catan and that opened up the door (gate?) to this bustling hobby with more games than I could ever play. Catan, however, isn’t a “gateway” game. It’s simply a great game. Gateway game makes Catan sound less than what it is – one of the best games ever designed.
I, like a lot of people totally new to all of this, (I hadn’t been heavy into boardgames since I was a kid when I devoured sports games like candy) stumbled upon Board Game Geek and started reading. This, of course, lead me to believe that luck was an evil thing, Eurogames were the best and only thing going, and Risk was for children and grown-ups who simply didn’t know any better. BGG has since evolved into a more rounded website but in 2006 the thought of rolling dice was like letting spiders crawl all over you. Right Todd?

So I jumped in with both feet and bought up Euros like they were subprime mortgages.

Caylus, Power Grid, Ticket to Ride, Puerto Rico, RA, Railroad Tycoon, Agricola, and so on. If this is what the hobby was all about I was going to give it all a shot. Of those games the only ones that “stuck:” were Railroad Tycoon (still one of my favorite games ever) and RA. (a classic auction game that I enjoy with my family). The others? All highly regarded on BGG – I found to be either boring as dry paint watching or fun for a few plays but in the end so rote to be pointless.

Engine games.

But I kept plugging away: Endeavor, Navegador, Age of Empires III (now called the Age of Discovery), Small World. The only game I still play regularly is Age of Empires. Small World was replaced by A Brief History of the World.

It took me a long time to really discover the types of Euros that I enjoy – almost all of them are hybrids. Shogun, Olympos, Cyclades, Antike, El Grande, Imperial, Wars of the Roses, Lancaster, Domaine, Eclipse – these are all favorites of mine and all share that same Euro/Ameritrash/Wargame hybrid quality. In other words there needs to be some conflict and not just “hey you stole my captain card.”

Anyway, Patrician

Patrician is a filler game – the kind of game you play when you have 30-45 minutes to kill. The theme is classic Euro. You are an Italian blah blah and you are trying to build blah blah. Here’s the game’s description:

Patrician takes place in the Middle Ages when men were men and wealthy men were inspired to build magnificent towers in order to show off how prosperous they were. As the old saying goes, the taller the tower, the more influential the family. Players are master builders trying to profit from these vanity-driven families. You build these towers floor by floor, ready to take credit for making them look good. From Mayfair’s description of the game: “You must shrewdly accept the building orders of the patrician families to position yourself in the right place at the right time. Play your cards right, and your name will be famous among the rich and powerful!” Patrician comes with 149 wooden tower pieces, 55 building cards, 20 prestige tokens, and a double-sided playing board.

In short, you’re stacking wooden pieces that are supposed to be towers/buildings in various locations, each of which are worth victory points. There’s just enough player screwage to make it interesting and enough planning involved to tax your brain a bit – but it’s not rote at all. You are not going to figure out this game’s “engine” due to the variability of cards that are played and the strategies that evolve during each game.

I think Todd’s girlfriend had fun. Although she did leave like 10 minutes after it was over…

Panic Station hit the table Saturday night. I was hoping this would be a faster and less laborious way to get the same traitor mechanic that makes BattleStar such an effective game. It wasn’t.
Barnes described this game as a “hot mess” in his review and he’s dead on. While the game provided some laughs, which earns it some points, it’s just so scatterbrained. The second game we played lasted literally 15 minutes.

The theme is more or less a spin on the movie The Thing. Remote station, one person is infected and looks human but is actually an alien trying to infect everyone. But you also have an android partner who somehow gets infected the minute your human does…and humans can’t use guns but the androids can…it’s all very fucked up. Plus it’s easy to figure out who is the “bad guy” and when that veil is lifted the mechanics can’t hold up. I doubt this sees the table again. That’s the issue with playing a lot of games. They rarely get a second or third chance.

Shogun was next and this is one of our go to games. I love Shogun, even if I’m in a funk with it at the moment. I ended the game with barely any units left on the map. This is a classic Euro/War hybrid design that is part Risk and part individual player mat Euro. Plus that damn battle tower is just neat. Shogun is such a tight design – mainly due to the fact that it’s not a wargame even though it sure looks like one. The game only lasts six maneuverable turns and two “winter” turns and each turn you are only allowed to plan two attacks so the most you will ever attack is 12 times per game and that rarely happens as each province you control is allowed only one action per turn and you likely will need to do other stuff aside from assaulting your neighbor. This makes the attacks you do make all the more important. The downside to attacking is that as your empire grows it requires more rice to feed your (almost always) angry peasants. So there is balance that needs to be struck. Just a great, great game.

And the tower provides so many laugh out loud moments and moans and groans and “are you kidding me” outcries that it reinforces why games are so entertaining in the first place.

I really want to get the Wallenstein reprint which is Shogun but Thirty Years War Wallenstein with a new map.

 

Sunday morning before we left we got in a game of Lancaster– a game Todd hadn’t played. Again, Lancaster is a hybrid of sorts. It’s one part classic Euro worker placement. However in this case your workers are knights of varying strength. You can place these knights in various areas: either in a “County” which provides either nobles (which provide votes and end game VPs) or a bonus of some sort (a castle upgrade, a higher valued knight token, money, whatever). Your knight can get booted from a county if a higher ranked knight from another player shows up with squires to remove you from the court. An underhanded move, no doubt.

You can also place knights inside your castle which provide a one-time bonus of some sort, or in the war with France which is a bit risky but also could earn you tons of victory points or you could get quagmired in a war for a couple of turns and your knights are wasted – which is bad.

The kicker to all of this, and what in the end makes Lancaster work for me, is that each turn new laws are voted on by all of the players and these laws dramatically alter how the game is played. This opens up the table to deal making, back stabbing and promises that can be kept or ignored. Perhaps a law will be on the table that provides bonus VPs to all players who are currently at war with France. Or maybe a vote will be cast which provides bonuses for all players who are fielding a level 2 knight, etc. There’s a slew of these and three new laws are voted on each turn. Each player earns “voting cubes” each turn so some players will have a LOT more “pull” at Parliament than others and again this can cause some interesting table talk to ensue.

In the end Lancaster works because it’s built upon a solid Euro foundation but it’s nowhere near a classic “multiplayer solitaire” design that so many Eurogames fall prey to. It’s got enough direct interaction to keep it interesting.

(Image courtesy of Hooded Hawk Blog.)

I wish I could have gotten Eclipse out, as Todd wants to see it but his table simply isn’t big enough. You need space for Eclipse.

Perhaps when he makes the trip to Columbus.

Time to dig into Lords of Waterdeep…