Sunday 26 September 2010

boardgame marathon in Hong Kong

I recently visited Hong Kong on holiday. The main agenda was Disneyland, for the children, but I also planned to catch up with some old friends. My old friends - Chung and Ben - are not regular gamers, but Ben had bought a bunch of games from China on a business trip, and never sat down to read the rules or play them. So while I was there, we had a gaming marathon, going through many of his games.

Over the course of four days, we had a total of 33 plays (mostly on the weekend) of 10 different games. We played: Carcassonne x1, Dixit x1, Stone Age x2, Cash-a-Catch x3, Pandemic x13, Battle Line x3, Pick Picknic x4, Lost Cities: the Boardgame x2 (but I taught them the Keltis rules), Agricola x1, Lost Cities x3.

Dixit box, which is also used as a score track. This version uses discs instead of wooden rabbits as scoring markers. I think I would prefer the rabbits. I kept forgetting which disc was mine.

Some of the cards from Dixit.

Since Chung and Ben (and Moh Yen who also joined us for some of the games) are not gamers, most of the games that we played were light to medium-complexity games. I normally like heavier Eurogames, but I found that I had a lot of fun anyway, because of the company. It amazed me a little. I had thought I was a more game-centric person than a company-centric person, i.e. the games being played were more important that the people I played with in determining how much I enjoyed myself. I had a fantastic time playing with my old friends. We made a lot of silly jokes, just like the old days. It was like going back in time to when we were still students. We had a lot of fun.

I realised that from all the games played, only 2 were completely new to me - Dixit and Stone Age. I had thought I would have played more new games. There were some games that Ben had thought about bringing but eventually did not, e.g. Pack & Stack (which I have not played before). I'm pretty sure Chung's favourite was Pandemic. He kept asking to try it again and again. We started at easy level and eventually made it to hard level, and winning too. However so far the hard level wins had been with 2 players (easier to win than with more players), and had been with the more powerful combination of roles - Medic + Dispatcher and Researcher + Scientist. Next time we need to try with 3 players, and with other combinations. Maybe even add the expansion On the Brink.

I realised why Stone Age is so popular. It's good for casual players. It is relatively easy to learn, compared to other worker placement games. It clicks quite quickly. We played it twice, and even in the first game they were starting to strategise and explore the various possibilities. So Stone Age is a good gateway game, in that it is not too difficult to learn, and at the same time it is interesting enough to make the new players want to explore it.

Stone Age.

Personal player board of Stone Age.

The gold mine was fully occupied.

Throwing three 1's in Stone Age is very very very bad. I thought it was Ben who had this, but he said it wasn't him. I don't think it was me. Must be Chung then.

We did Agricola too, which they both found a bit complex. Good thing I only taught them the family game with no Minor Improvements and no Occupations. While I was explaining the rules, I found that they were approaching the verge of giving up. So I suggested to just get started and play a few rounds, and see whether they liked it. If they didn't we could stop. If they wanted to restart we could do that too. Eventually the whole game went by with no objections or pauses. I think they were probably a little surprised that although I won, it wasn't by any big margin. They probably still felt the game was a little complex. I doubt they'll play this again by themselves, at least not without a few more times of guided plays.

Ghost Stories was a game that we gave up on. Ben was keen to play it because of the theme. However after I had explained 80% of the rules, they felt it was too much, and we decided to give up. The time being 1:30am didn't help either. We had expected to be playing until much later than that, maybe not throughout the night, but probably until 4am or so. However after teaching 80% of Ghost Stories, we all felt sleepy, and decided to call it a night. Ben and I had two short games of Battle Line before bedtime. I think it was a good thing that we didn't try to push ahead with Ghost Stories. I think we would not have enjoyed ourselves.

Battle Line. We didn't play with the special cards, because I didn't know the rules for those.

Cash-a-Catch was a lot of fun. We got so excited that many times someone bought a batch of fish that he (or she!) didn't need at all. Needless to say, laughter ensued. And somehow Ben managed to end up with less money than when he started the game! We all teased him that he sucked at selling fish. Better stick to your day job Ben. Pick Picknic was hilarious too. Lots of cheers when a fox caught many chickens, or a single chicken unexpectedly managed to claim a huge pile of corn. Chung (I think it was him) invented a Cantonese term for the fast fowl (value -2) which I thought was very appropriate: "走鸡". Literal translation is "the chicken than ran away", and in Cantonese this phrase usually means to miss an opportunity.

Ben, me, Chung and Moh Yen playing Cash-a-Catch.

We had to make a rule that all hands must be off the table when the auction started, so that noone had any unfair advantage in reaching for the bell.

Pick Picknic.

Another game we thought about playing but didn't was Race for the Galaxy. I was reluctant to teach this, as I thought they might find it overwhelming. However Ben was interested, so we took the game out. However when sorting out the cards, we found that there were some cards missing. We couldn't complete the recommended starting hands. Probably a defective deck. So we put the game away.

We had one game of Lost Cities between Chung and I when both of us scored negative points! Sometimes we get rather competitive. Our second game of Stone Age was pretty tense too. It was a 3 player game - Ben, Chung and I. By our second game we all had some idea what to do, so the competition was more intense. After that tense game we decided we needed to switch to a cooperative game (Pandemic).

Cards from Lost Cities: the Boardgame.

Lost Cities: the Boardgame. They liked this enough that we played twice. I prefer the Keltis artwork and rules.

Pandemic. Asia is in trouble. These are not high-rise buildings. These are diseases.

I had a wonderful time playing with my old friends. Some people may question: you flew all the way to Hong Kong and spent a weekend playing boardgames?! I say quality time spent with friends is not measured by what you do, but how much fun you had.


kyle said...

I'd recommend Scott Nicholson's Agricola Review - as it's a good way of getting the basics of Agricola - I usually make anyone who wants to play with me watch that first. They all seem to pick it up fairly quickly

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I haven't seen the specific video about Agricola, but I have seen others and indeed Scott's videos are very good. Thanks for the tip!

deck said...

Yeah, my wife wondered how your kids and wife left you alone for a whole weekend while on holiday just to play boardgames?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Well, I kind of have an agreement with my wife beforehand that I'd be spending that weekend with my old friends. Also she was very tired after the previous two days in Disneyland, so she welcomed some rest anyway. The kids were even more content, with watching TV (in Cantonese, which they don't understand), playing with my friend's iPad, playing with a Lego set that we bought in HK (much cheaper than KL), playing with my friend's cats.

Unknown said...

Hey Hiew!

Big fan of the blog. Got a question. Might be going to HK soon, are there any good boardgame shops there? Thanks man!

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi Jake,
I only know of the Wargames Club in Hong Kong. Quite a good store, on 8/F (I think), 678 Nathan Road, in Mongkok. Very good product range (wargames, Eurogames, CCG's). A little pricey though. Search for their website via Google. You can see what they have and the prices.