Which Gamer Are You?

Who are the friends that show up to your game night?  We’ve noticed among different gaming groups we play with that there are certain archetypes that show up at game night.  Here’s a few of them.

The one that has all the games – Also, usually known as the host.  You gather at his place to play because he doesn’t want to lug around hundreds of pounds of games.  He’s probably the most broke from spending all his money on table top games, so you’ll pitch in extra for pizza.  He can also tell you which games he’s currently backing on Kickstarter, so you’ll have an idea of what you’ll play in a few months

The social one – He spends most of your turn telling raunchy jokes.  He likes playing games, but he’s really just there for the atmosphere.  He doesn’t mind if he’s losing and is surprised when he wins.  Either way, he’s having a great time.

The one that is always on his phone – He can’t remember when his turn comes around because he’s too busy on social media.  When it is his turn, you got to get him up to speed on what’s happened since his last turn.  When his phone battery dies, he’s a bit more social, but everyone is already annoyed with him.

The one that doesn’t understand the rules of the game – He likes playing games, but needs to play several times through to really understand the rules.  He always has lots of questions, the same questions, on his turn.  When he breaks a rule or forgets to do something, you just let it go.  He’ll catch on soon.  He’s probably the newest to your game night, so you don’t want to scare him off.

The one that takes forever to take their turn – Sometimes there are just way too many decisions and too many variables.  No matter the play made, he’s kicking himself later for a move he should have made instead.

The one that is a stickler for the rules – He reads and prepares.  If it’s a new game, he’s teaching it to everyone.  When a rule is disputable, he can quickly find clarification in the rule book because he’s memorized all of it.  For further clarification, he’s the first to check the message boards online.  In his presence, everything must be done in the correct.  No house-ruling.

The one that prefers to be the traitor – This is your friend that always volunteers to play the bio-terrorist in Pandemic.  Even if he’s not the traitor in Dead of Winter, he still acts like he is.  He’s often the most competitive.  Quite frankly, he’s the asshole of your group of friends.  Even if he isn’t the traitor, he’ll sabotage the whole game because if he can’t win alone, no one can.  Thankfully, he doesn’t come very often.

The critic – He likes evaluating the mechanics of the game.  He looks at the pros and cons and puts the game on a rating scale.  He likes playing the same game over and over so he can gain different perspectives and see how each game plays out in different scenarios.   You know, for his blog or something

The one that doesn’t like any of the games you pick – He complains about the games.  Why did you even invite him anyway?

So, which one are you?  Am I missing any?

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You Win Some, You Lose A Lot

For the third week in a row, Dead of Winter hits the table at our weekly Saturday afternoon/evening gathering. So far, either we’re doing something wrong or we just haven’t found a good workable strategy to victory as each of the three plays we’ve had have ended in a miserable, depressing defeat for the colony. Yet, like masochistic Alzheimer’s patients, we chomp at the bit for the next opportunity to play. So while we may or may not be playing wrong, Plaid Hat Games has clearly done something very right.
Dead of Winter is a board game about survival; specifically, survival following a zombie apocalypse. Objectives thematically frame the game, with each player having a unique (and secret) objective to complete by the game’s end, as well as a primary objective shared for all players. On top of this, each round brings with it a crisis to be resolved, typically collecting X amounts of varying items committed to the colony’s survival. The aforementioned secret player objectives can (if you so choose) include a betrayal element. If you haven’t picked up on it, there’s a lot to keep up with while playing as far as what it driving the group forward. As if that isn’t enough, before each player’s turn, a crossroads card
is drawn by another player, the one to your right. If the event is triggered during the turn, play is stopped and the player(s) are faced to make a decision between two brutal options. Everything about Dead of Winter tells the player that surviving after the fall of humanity is anything but happy fun-times.
The majority of the secret objectives and crises each round require you collect certain items, ranging from fuel, food, and medicine, among others. The items are on cards drawn from one of the locations a survivor can move to and search. A player can choose how to play these cards. Even while working together semi-cooperatively, we found that each player must make difficult choices in how they play their cards. A player may choose to use food cards to ensure the colony survivors don’t starve, play a card to assist with certain actions, or even hold on to them for their secret objective. The cards a player contributes to the crises are placed in a pile faced down. This is a great opportunity for the betrayer to sabotage the game. If the crisis for the round isn’t met colony morale goes down. Once morale hits zero, the game is over. The goal is to achieve the main objective before the rounds are finished or morale hits zero. As I pointed out, we haven’t quite achieved this yet.With crises popping up every round, you might think that gameplay will feel derivative of Battlestar Gallactica. Surprisingly, you’d be incorrect. The crisis element is familiar (as is voting betrayers off the island) but what the player actually does in their turn is markedly different. Each player gets an amount of dice equal to the number of survivors they control (2 at the start), and at the start of each round the dice are rolled. Players use the dice to complete certain actions during their turn. These actions include searching for items, killing zombies, or building barricades. Moving from the colony to another location, such as the gas station, doesn’t require to use one of these dice. It does require you to roll the exposure die. Rolling this die when you move or when you choose to kill a zombie can be pretty risky. Your survivor can instantly die by zombie bite, get wounded or frostbit. If you’re lucky, you’ll roll a blank side and your survivor is safe.

We got more laughs in the game from the survivors themselves. Each character has a special ability. Some are able to pick up multiple items in the locations. Others are stronger when killing zombies. My personal favorites are the drunk Santa, who’s only special ability is to exile him from the game to increase colony morale, and Sparky the stunt dog, who conveniently seems to be featured in every game we have played. Once we get going in a game and refresh our memories of the rules, it is completely immersive and it’s easy to get caught up in the story. Overall, we couldn’t give this game a higher recommendation. We’ll keep you updated on our progress toward survival.

Breaking in the New Game Room

Who needs a formal dining room, when you can have a kick ass game room instead?  It’s not quite put totally together yet, but we did finally get a chance to break it in and host game night at our house for the first time–ever!  It is finally a relief to actually spend a weekend relaxing instead of moving, painting, cleaning, or making too many trips to Home Depot.

We finally broke out Dead of Winter, which I will have a full post on after a couple more games.  It is brutal to say the least, with a bit of humor in the choice of survivor characters, ranging from a stunt dog named Sparky to a drunk Santa whose only redeeming quality seems to be the ability to exile just to boost morale.  The laughter quickly diminished well into our first go round when we realized defeat was guaranteed and we weren’t even playing with the traitor.

Mice & Mystics also made its way to our table.  Now a personal favorite of mine, in fact.  I loved the storytelling component.  I can’t wait to learn more about the story.  We were defeated in the end by greedy roaches, a poisonous spiders, and the realization that we were playing incorrectly and making it harder than it needed to be.

Sushi Go was our warm up game.  Another favorite.  It’s cute, simple, and reminds me a bit of Spoons, which you should never play with forks and alcohol, by the way.  I don’t know that from personal experience or anything.

If you noticed, we also had to take a bit of a break from the blog, but I’m happy to announce that we can finally get back into it.  I have a hard time figuring out how some of the wonderful bloggers we follow manage to write daily and balance it with work and a social life.

Eldritch Horror: Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagnl

So, I asked Cam to help me out with a post. Eldritch Horror is a complex, intense game. We play it often. He received the new Mountains of Madness expansion recently. He enthusiastically responded and whipped up the following post. I believe his love for all things Lovecraft is fairly evident:

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Eldritch Horror, and its subsequent expansions Forsaken Lore and Mountains of Madness, make for a one to eight player board game experience. I don’t use the term experience lightly. Based off of the literary works of H.P. Lovecraft, the game is heavy on theme and fraught with peril. The players, through the course of the game, are attempting to prevent the awakening of a dreaded Ancient One. These beings, more accurately described as cosmic deities, once having been summoned through cabal ritual will release untold horrors upon the Earth. Cthulhu is likely the most recognizable Ancient One, but the game includes many others, numbering to 7 with both expansions, from Azathoth the slumbering daemon sultan at the center of all things to the perhaps lesser known Ithaqua, the Wind-Walker of the north or Yig, the Serpent Lord. Eldritch Horror’s reach includes much of the mythos established by Lovecraft and expounded upon by August Derleth and future authors.

The game is presented in the style of pulp fiction crossed with noir. The players act as globe-hopping investigators, attempting to uncover mysteries surrounding the chosen Ancient One for their playthrough. Once a sufficient number of mysteries (3 for most Ancient Ones or 4 for the newly released Elder Things), the investigators have claimed victory, preventing the rise of dreaded evil. For this day, at least. Victory, whether or not achieved, is not without its price.

Eldritch Horror includes an entire deck devoted to maladies that could befall your group: physical or mental ailments, pacts with evil, debts, or even becoming lost between our world the beyond. The list of possible conditions has grown with each expansion adding new cards or variations on existing ones. That is the beauty of this particular element of the game – while there are several cards that might pertain to your investigator be stricken with ‘Paranoia’, each card back is different in its effects. You’ll know what afflicts you and how, but should you not rid yourself of it in time, it will affect your investigator in different ways that you can’t predict. Fortunately, most conditions can be cured, either through applying a particular skill roll or simply resting and hoping the dice are lenient.

The players interact with the board, itself a representational map of the world, via actions and dice rolling. A second game board of Antarctica is included in the Mountains of Madness expansion. Investigators get two non-repeating actions per turn to traverse, trade, acquire assets, or what-have-you. Most investigators also have an action they can take unique to themselves. And the two action limit can be modified by items or inherent character abilities. Beyond the action phase, players will have an encounter on their space, either drawing a card representing their location or if they’re less lucky (or just brazen) entering combat with some horrible monster. Either route involves dice rolling. Rolling enough ‘successes’ in combat spells defeat for the monster, although an insufficient number could leave you a bit less mentally or physically stable. The success mentioned above is having a die result of 5 or 6 on a six-sided die. The location based encounters are where the meat of the game lies.

Each continent has a unique deck, with each city of it being listed per card. As well as a deck for locations that are less civilized, a deck for expeditionary excursions, and a deck for traveling through a gateway to the dreamlands and beyond. As it comes around to each player, a card is read for them based on where they are, generally presenting a challenge to overcome or predicament they’ve become mired in. These encounters test the mettle of the investigators through their skills, each investigator having skills at unique levels (which are naturally improvable). The player rolls a number of dice equal to the skill being tested and hopes for a success. Based on the results, a pass or fail passage concludes their encounter. Sounds straight-forward? Following the action and encounter phase, the mythos phase ends the round. A phase devoted the temporarily dormant Ancient One can be as bad as it sounds.

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Eldritch Horror is tense. Several games we’ve played have come down to the wire, victory so close at hand only to be torn away. It is tense, but it’s fun, as you play on the edge of your seat, hoping for a good card or a lucky roll, hanging on with your investigator by the skin of your teeth for one more shot at closing a portal to the Plateau of Leng or one more blow to down a Mi-go and secure a clue. This game is almost a one-of-a-kind experience, but I would be remiss not to mention Arkham Horror.

Originally published in 1987 and revamped in 2005, Arkham Horror is forebear of the Lovecraftian adventure game. While the theme and gravitas of Arkham outmatches Eldritch, so too does its complexity. As you have likely picked up on in reading this, Eldritch Horror is no lightweight. Our playthroughs with various groups have clocked in at over 3 hours. Arkham Horror, depending on investigator count, is just as if not more lengthy, with even more delicate rules making up its own gameplay. I do hate to compare the two, however. Arkham narrows its scope, as investigators scramble across the city of Arkham to keep the Ancient One slumbering, while in Eldritch Horror, Arkham is just one stop on the map for the investigators on their quest to solve global mysteries. Without going into depth in comparison, I can say that Eldritch Horror hits the table much more frequently than Arkham. Eldritch Horror’s rulebook is much simpler to work through and explain to new players. I haven’t even brought Arkham Horror to my newer Monday board game group, although I expect I will at some point.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is a strong recommendation to give Eldritch Horror a play, should you have the opportunity. If you get the chance to play Arkham Horror with an experienced group, don’t pass that up either. I do speak with a bias – Lovecraft’s work is unmatched in my opinion, and Fantasy Flight Games has published something worthy of putting his name on the box. Some of the better gaming experiences I’ve had have been sitting around the table with friends, with this monster staring back at us. Daring us. Playing with others knowledgeable in Lovecraftian lore and players a little less so is also a treat. Explaining to them exactly why going toe-to-toe with a Hound of Tindalos isn’t a good idea and getting to see the look on their face is priceless: “No, dude, you don’t get it. This isn’t some demon hound – it’s barely a dog at all. The thing is like a skeletal bat-dragon from time immemorial. They travel through and are tied to the angles of reality – materializing as a mist out of any corner until it assumes its form. If you start something with it – if it even catches sight of you, it will follow you until you are nothing.”

Eldritch Horror (and of course Arkham Horror) are like no other. Go play them. Or at the very least read some Lovecraft.

-Cam

Word Play

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So here’s something that isn’t necessarily a favorite at game night. Bananagrams still one of my favorites. Does it sound lonely to admit that I enjoy playing by myself?

Bananagrams is a quick game. Speed games are not Cam’s forte. He’s methodical, calculating. I like to think quick on my feet. I feel more productive when I have a deadline and time is running out. I could probably say the same for my day job too.

I like word games. Words with Friends—or it’s original, Scrabble, Scattegories, Boggle, Bananagrams, and even cross word puzzles are all pleasures I usually consume alone. Bananagrams is an easy game to play alone. I just follow the rules for a 2-4 player game. To make it more challenging, I try not to “dump” a letter, or exchange it for three more tiles to work with.

For 2 years while in the Peace Corps, I had Bananagrams to entertain me in the evenings when I was out of books to read. Playing with the village children could be amusing, until they spell their own names ten times and don’t really know how to spell any other English words. It was a game that was easy to carry around with me. I could always pack it with me when I was on my way to visit other volunteers. We always managed to find creative new ways to play the game. Themed games were always the hardest. We would challenge each other to only use words to describe yourself, or the person across the table from you.

I was also an English teacher, so I was always trying to come up with new word games to integrate into the classroom. The school library had a Scrabble board. I occasionally played with my fellow teachers. Unfortunately, English was their second language, too. Or third or fourth.

These days, they aren’t favorites at game night. It’s hard to convince the group to embrace fast-paced games or word games. We do on the rare occasion play Unspeakable Words. Of course, we’ll play that one. It has cute little Cthulhus to track your insanity.

Today, Cam and I whipped out and dusted off Bananagrams for a quick game. I’m confident that if he practiced as much as I do when I’m at home alone, he might beat me someday.

Game Night with the Guys… and the baby

The first game night in what seemed like months was organized and executed last night.  We tackled some new games, and I had to relearn some others.  I know Cam missed it.  Game night has been a staple in his life long before I came along.  I decided long ago I haven’t much to worry about when he stays out until 2 a.m.  I know he’s probably playing a game of Magic: the Gathering, Twilight Imperium 3, or some other game that went too long.

It was games as usual last night, except for one small difference.  About 12 pounds.  And crying.  And feeding.  And rocking.  One of our friends had a baby a couple of months ago, and his wife wasn’t able to come with him.  Lucky baby, he got to come to his first game night.

Kid doesn’t stand a chance.  He’s going to grow up to be a geek like the rest of us.  His grandfather was the game night host, fondly referred to as Grandalf.  Just to give an example of the geeky level of conversation: while none of us could remember when the Super Bowl was, there was far greater concern and curiosity given as to when exactly the Weird Al tour was coming to our town.

We kept it mostly light and simple last night.  Our first game was Love Letter, a simple and fun card game mainly focusing on deduction.  Our second was Coup — the bane of my existence.  It’s like Love Letter, but utilizes more deceit in being effective.  And I suck at lying.  On the flip side Cameron can win fairly consistently. Whether or not this should worry me, I haven’t yet decided.  After Coup increased my anxiety, we moved to Cosmic Encounter, which I had to relearn.  I have played it twice, and came in dead last both times. This game revolves more around alliances and playing the group to your benefit, with the caveat of special alien powers for each player.   We played Tsuro next. Well, I started to, but decided it was my turn to feed the baby and stepped away from the table.

After returning to the table we learned Sushi Go!  It’s a cute little game of cards in which you pass your hand around the table, trying to built the best plate of sushi for points, and at the end of 3 rounds, the player with the most points wins.  It reminded me of a slow-paced Spoons game.

The final game we played was Gloom.  It was my favorite of the night.  It’s a card game in which you each have a family in front of you that you are trying to kill. You draw modifying cards to place on each family member.  Some have negative points, while others have positive points.  The idea is to place the cards with the negative modifiers on your family, while putting positive modifiers on your opponents’ family members.  The cards represent events that happen to them.  You can really get into the storytelling aspect of the game if you wanted to.  The objective is to make your family as miserable as possible while making your opponents’ family happier before finally killing them off.  While this sounds depressing, the cards all feature an array of cutesy dark humor and alliteration — like playing a ‘Burdened by Boils’ card on my family or a ‘Delighted by Ducklings’ card on Cam’s. I managed to get the win.

Overall, the return to game night was a success.  I missed it over the holidays.  Hopefully we can get back on a regular schedule again. It’s getting harder, definitely.  Schedules get in the way.  Growing old gets in the way. Baby did not get in our way.  A pleasant but challenging addition.  A game in itself.

Now we get to train a whole new generation of geeky game-players.  Grandalf’s youngest usually joins us.  I sometimes forget to watch my foul language.  I really need to work on that, or Matt will never let me babysit.  I’m counting on baby returning next time.  It’s never too early to start learning about D&D or Cthulhu.