Background image is Les Dernières Cartouches (The Last Cartridges) by Alphonse de Neuville

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Back to the past

I was fortunate enough to find a solid, enjoyable group of historical game aficionados where I went to college. We played probably at least once a week, on average, frequently running semester-long campaigns, first at a local alum's house, later at the room we were able to swing in one of the student society buildings by the simple expedient of registering as an organized student special interest group.

One of my all-time favourites was the SPI boardgame Empires of the Middle Ages (EOMA). I was introduced to it, as I recall, by the aforementioned alum, one of the eternal corps of Ephs who can't quite bear to leave the Purple Valley and find work as graduate assistants, or researchers, or small-business entrepreneurs, or NGO start-up organizers. He lived in a tiny (but cozy) house off campus, and he and I and several others would meet there to play boardgames or roleplaying games (his long-running D&D campaign is still a thing of legend for those of us who played in it).

But equal in enjoyment were the many games of EOMA we played. Only several years later was I able to acquire a copy of my own (originally published in 1980 by the now-defunct SPI game company of New York, it became a cult collectors' item).

And, to my delight, it looks as if I have persuaded some of my local gaming friends to give it a try! I'm hoping that they enjoy it as much as I do, so that this becomes a regular part of our game stable, as it did for me and Jeff, and Bryan, and Dean, and Phil, and Scott, lo those many years ago. (Bryan may remember if I've got all the right names.)

I played through the "Charlemagne" starter solitaire scenario this evening, to be sure that I still remembered the rules (I do, but there are nuances I need to be sure to point out to new players tomorrow). I took notes, so I'll post up a turn by turn replay later. For now, I will just confess that I ended up with a sad "Mediocre" score, as Charles held everything together right until the end, then dropped the basket of eggs going down the stairs (as it were...)

Friday, December 6, 2013

boardgaming recents

While I prep more sets of photos, just a brief mention of a few boardgames I've enjoyed in the past couple of weeks.

I was on (an all too short) vacation last week with friends. We brought plenty of games to entertain us, but we ended up playing only two: MacRobber (now known as Highland Clans) and Alhambra. My friends enjoy Alhambra particularly as they have been to the real one; I just enjoy it for the geometry.

Alhambra consists of accumulating money of different colours (good for all you DOD budget geeks!) and using it to "buy" garden tiles (of yet different colours), hoping to have the most of as many kinds as possible at the end of three scoring rounds (the last being the end of the game). You also get points for linking up the walls that surround these tiles, but the walls constrain how you can place the tiles. You have a reserve space (the planning board, as it were) for tiles that don't fit in your planned garden yet, but you only score the tiles that are fully played. I pulled off several swaps to and from my reserve space during the game. This was neat, as I had never done it before, and it allowed me to fine-tune my garden-building. But it also took up valuable time I could have been building new gardens, so I think it hurt me in the end. Mel, of course, ended up winning.

We also had a go at MacRobber, which has been reissued as Highland Clans, a game I bought sheerly on the strength of its notional theme (building up Highland clan estates and raiding other clans) and have played several times but not regularly. I had misplaced the English translation of the rules, so we had the English cheat sheet and the (original) German rules only. Luckily, Melissa is fluent in German (mostly), so we had no troubles playing. Each turn, each clan gets some resources, which it has to allocate to building (herds, monasteries, castles), recruiting (warriors, pipers, monks), or what the modern military would call information operations (having a bard weaken your opponent's clan). Then you can raid, trying to steal or destroy other clan's cattle or buildings. Each player gets a go, then you score (# of cattle and bonus for most, most monks, total castles and pipers minus how rich in kine someone else is). Then you go again, until you run out of resources or one player wins a sudden-death victory. In a surprising twist, Mel won this handily.

I played this again with the guys this Wednesday. Mel not being present, and me having played the game recently, I managed to thrash my friends mercilessly. (The spirituous liquors I had plied them with helped.) We wondered, as I have before, why one would build castles, as they are both the most complicated to score and seem to give almost no return on investment. I've checked the BGG forums, but no discussion of this. Not much discussion at all, as this seems to be not a popular game; odd, as I quite enjoy it.

Another game I enjoy, though I have a little trouble keeping some of the rules straight, is Jungle Speed. The guys and I had several rounds of this, which I seem to recall Bryan and I won. Again, Hendrick's Gin was my friend in this, as it's a game of speed in pattern recognition. Players flip over cards, looking for a match between their card and another that is already face up. A couple of odd cards upset the applecart by both looking similar to other special cards and having very specific and different rules. Once you spark a match, if you grab the "totem" (a small dumbbell, originally made of wood but now of rubber for decreasing injuries :-), the opponent whose card matches yours takes all your discards and adds them to his unplayed pile (disposing of which is the objective of the game. But if you knock over the totem or grab it when you're not supposed to, you get *everyone* else's discards to add into your stack.

Well, enough boardgaming for now. I have a couple of DBA games slated with Jeff this Sunday, and my friend Mr Invisible is talking about getting together for a boardgame (perhaps Labyrinth, finally, or perhaps PQ-17. Maybe sometime this month I will be able to get some painting in, but between making up shutdown hours, holiday stuff, and a pleasant distraction that's entered my life, I think painting may have to wait until the new year.